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The Koko: Truth, Reality, and a Chimera

“In my tradition,” Ayisoba said, “we pour a libation before things begin.” It was the start of the dry season and early in my fieldwork with several Nankani communities in Northern Ghana. This was my first formal interview with Ayisoba,* although we had chatted several times before. The savanna air was comfortable. Families’ granaries were …

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On Personhood and its Subjunctivity

This post reflects on tentative and malleable forms of personhood--a construct we often consider to be given and fixed throughout life. This is an enhanced version of material originally appearing in Spirit Children: Illness, Poverty, and Infanticide in Northern Ghana. [1,300 words] Elijah and I sat chatting with three elder men outside a compound. Earlier we …

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Rituals for Suspicion, Rituals for Fate

This piece moves further into how culture shapes our our interpersonal concerns. [2,900 words] I must have seemed unhinged. I was in the midst of an extended period of fieldwork and appearing irrational, anxious, and paranoid to outsiders. Julien, a visiting Swiss vaccine researcher, joked that I might "go bush" if I was not careful. …

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The White Man is My Driver

I'm working on a collection of essays and experimenting with different forms of writing. Readability and narrative will be privileged over theory and abstraction. In other words, the book consists of mostly the good parts. [1800 words] In rural Northern Ghana if you have a vehicle you likely hold a powerful position or are successful. Using …

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Risk, Hope, and Help-Seeking: The Case of Leah

The following is an excerpt from my recent book, Spirit Children: Illness, Poverty, and Infanticide in Northern Ghana. I present Leah and the challenges that her family had while caring for her. Experience-near, ethnographic accounts provide a much needed "human" and "lived" dimension to the oft-sterile health statistics and stereotypes that are used to inform …

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Finding Empathy Through Troubling Stories

This reflection was originally posted on the University of Wisconsin Press website to mark the publication of my book, "Spirit Children: Illness and Poverty in Ghana." As I wrote about infanticide and the “spirit child” phenomenon in Northern Ghana, I became interested in how narratives of vulnerability and difficult human experiences can evoke powerful emotional …

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