Tuesday, 26 February 2013

My Biggest Lesson -- Nathaly Herrera-Lopez

My life in Canada is busy, with the combination of work, school, friends, family and my big involvement in church, there never seems to be any extra time to talk to strangers or those friends you are slowly losing contact with.  Being in Ghana, I have realized the importance of the smaller things in life like taking time to talk to strangers, to friends and family, and especially to patients. 

The first few days on a unit at 37 Military, there was some down time during my orientation on the unit.  This gave me an opportunity to talk to the young patients and their mothers.  Humility was the key to building these relationships; I was the stranger, or the Obruni, in their country.  I could have pretended I knew what their culture was about or I could humbly ask.  I started with the few greetings I knew in Twi (the language of the Akan people of Ghana, the biggest tribal group), which really helped to break the ice as I surprised the mothers caring for their children in the step down Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).  Every time after I stopped and chatted with them, they would teach me new words or ask about how I liked Ghana.  Not only did these conversations build on the relationships I established, but they also gave me an opportunity to learn from them, see how they care for their children, and how they diligently listened to the doctors in an eagerness to go home—yet their faces showed discouragement and stress. 

One mother in particular stands out: she was a diploma nurse, she knew her patient rights and appeared to have a strong personality as she was the most outspoken one of the mothers in the NICU.  One day, she excitedly prepared to go home only to find out later in doctor rounds that her baby had developed a new fever and could possibly have meningitis.  The doctors moved on and I noticed her eyes fill with tears.  When I asked her how she was doing she responded with “fine”, but her face told me a different story.  She did not want to share but she accepted a comforting touch.

Oberg describes six key aspects of culture shock, one of which is feelings of impotence due to not being able to cope in alien situations.  I felt that being the foreigner made me unsure of what was culturally acceptable in probing further discussion on what upset her, but I knew touch was appropriate (In Stewart, & Leggar, 1998).  I still felt impotent and unable to really help but it was a step in the right direction, and becoming culturally competent is not a destination but more of a process and unending journey (Crigger, & Holcomb, 2007).

These women are strong and care so deeply for their children and this is evident in my conversations and observations with the mothers.  They might pick their babies up less gently than our North American coddling style, or carry their child slung on their back without neck support but this is their norm and culture; besides, it leaves both their hands free to complete other tasks or care for their other children.  I have come to accept and admire some of the norms the mothers have here and maybe one day I will adopt them when I have kids of my own. 

One thing is for sure, I have learned the importance of taking my time despite the busy schedules to talk and share with the people around me.  Even a small greeting can go a long way as it opens the doors for further interactions.  The importance of humility has resounded within me being in a new country with new experiences and sights.  Just because something is done a certain way in one country doesn’t make it right and now I am seeing there is more than one right way to reach the same end goal.  In an attempt to be accepting, I have been able to see more than I would have thought and paved a way for me to interact with people in ways I do not at home, but hopefully I will adopt as my own.  It would be a lie to say I am truly immersed, but it is a journey and I am sure I will hit some road bumps along the way when my values collide with a different world view or experience.


Stewart, L., & Leggar, P. A . (1998).  Culture shock and travelers.  J Travel Med, 5, (2), pp.84-88.
Crigger, N. J., & Holcomb, L.  (2007).  Practical strategies for providing culturally sensitive, ethical care in developing nations.  Journal of Transcultural Nursing, 18 (1), pp. 70-76.                                                                 DOI:10.1177/1043659606294198

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