Monday, 29 December 2008
Since I arrived here, the elections have been the most abundant and interesting topic for everything and everyone; from the speeches at the Beauty Pageant to 3 hour conversations with the Bishop after lunch on Sunday afternoon, politics is everywhere! During the campaigning, tons of youth will pile into huge buses (and on top of them, and around them) and march down the street all day just cheering for their party. They go far beyond printing party T-shirts and memorabilia, they make music videos with the most popular Ghanaian artists and make up dances to symbolize their pride. I never thought I'd meet a society where the youth are so politically active - it's incredible!
Of course, this kind of passion is also known for creating violence, and fortunately enough Ghana has managed to keep the elections peaceful and stay out of international headlines by having a "free and fair" election - probably one of the first legit ones in West Africa.
The election was scheduled for Dec 7th and 72 hours later the government announced that they needed a run off because none of the parties managed to beat each other by the required 2% of votes. So they held a run-off 21 days after the first election day, and it's just now been 48 hours since the poles closed, and the streets are insane!!!
The current party is the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the one that was just elected is the New Democratic Congress (NDC). The NDC have a stronghold over the region I'm living in and for a long time, the majority of the other regions were set on NPP. Mid-day this afternoon the raido announed a 50.75 for NDC and 49.2 for NPP with 14 electoral districts still to be reported on. In the run-off it doesn't matter by how much you win, just as long as your numbers are higher than the other guys.
Despite being warned not to, the radio announced the winners before the official notice came in that the NDC had won. This is a little scary because if there is any backlash, finger-pointing, or appeals, there are towns full of overly politically active youth who have had two many beers celebrating their unconfirmed victory... I'm praying that all is peaceful, and I'm sure it will be. Still, that kind of thing would get a radio station sued in North America and causes potential for a lot of trouble.
I'm going to wander around town like a tourist and take pictures of the obscene, half naked, drunk men and women dancing to their drums, kalabashes and car horns. It's going to be a loooooong and loud evening.
Saturday, 27 December 2008
I’ll be completely honest. I spent most of Christmas Eve day gut-wrenchingly homesick. Hearing from all my friends back home about the snow and the celebrations and the parties – I was almost second-guessing being here. Feeling sad and missing home doesn’t exactly put you in the Christmas spirit either, so on top of not having any snow, no big Christmas parties, no streets lined with Christmas lights, and a totally different crew of people to celebrate with, I was getting depressed about Christmas. And then I felt depressed about the fact that I was depressed at Christmas time. And then I was depressed that I was feeling depressed and ungrateful while I was in Africa at Christmas time. And as soon as that thought hit me, so did this one: I’m in Africa… and It’s Christmas… and I’m surrounded by tons of loving people… and God… and all my friends and family are back home safe and happy… and there is absolutely NOTHING for me to be down about.
It turned out to be an amazing Christmas.
This has been a real mixed cultural experience. Not only am I learning how Ghanaians celebrate Christmas festivities, the house I’m staying in is celebrating in a very strict liturgical Catholic fashion. Advent is celebrated all the way up until Christmas Eve and then Christmas is celebrated for 12 days (just like the song) after the actual day (so in reality, I get Christmas all the way up until January 6th.)
Most of Ghana spends Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning in Church. I’m not kidding; it’s a very, very Christian society. Even though Santa Clause is known here, the idea of a child waking up to a tree surrounded by Christmas presents isn’t the reality. The kids have their own way of making Christmas exciting by getting biscuits from all their friends and families and then making little huts out of palm branches to eat them under. They have a special Christmas drink called Liha that they celebrate with. Father David made a whole batch of it and I think it’s an acquired taste. I’m not sure on the whole process of it, but I know it’s made from corn and caramelized sugar.
After a 3 and half hour Mass, which included an auction to raise money for the church, we came back to the house and immediately began entertaining visitors until dinner time. I always find the greetings and brief visits awkward. They have a specific formal greeting you are supposed to go through, and if you don’t do it, the people seem to not know what to do next and get really uncomfortable. I still haven’t completely figured out the greeting so I feel exempt from having to participate, but I get pulled in with every introduction Darrin makes.
All the children that came were eating cookies and drinking Liha, so weren’t allowed to touch the books because their hands were so sticky. I opted to read to them for a little while before Darrin and I began cooking dinner. It made for a fun afternoon or mostly little boys scrunching in all around me to see the pictures in the book.
Darrin and I spent the next 2 and a half hours in the kitchen preparing Christmas dinner; he was on the Turkey and potatoes and I covered the vegetables. We couldn’t get a whole turkey, but a bunch of turkey wings. And they don’t have regular Irish potatoes here, so he mashed sweet potatoes. Not sweet potatoes like the orange ones we have in North America, but these ones are more like yams. And I don’t mean the yams we have in North America. The yams here are more like an Irish potato, but have more starch and don’t have the same texture and taste blander. The sweet potatoes are [obviously] sweeter and have either a green or blue tint to them. Their texture is more like that of an Irish potato. I plugged my iPod into the speakers and we listened to Mariah Carey’s Christmas album and a dozen other Christmas songs while we chopped, sautéed and baked until prayers.
It turned out to be a marvelous dinner that I would normally just devour, but instead, my new esophageal problem made it hard to enjoy (swallowing is extremely painful.) We weren’t really sure how many mouths we would be feeding and were expecting a few drop-ins (some arrived, some didn’t.)
After dinner I was back to feeling a little down because the whole day of celebrations seemed to pass by without me once feeling Christmas-y. I opened a hymn book and began singing every Christmas carol I recognized while everyone was busying around the house. It helped, kind of.
Maureen, Father David and I took a drive around Ho to drop off some of our guests and look at Christmas lights. I should say ‘search for Christmas lights’. They were hard to come by, and not extravagant when we did, but it certainly made it exciting when we located them. Even though there wasn’t an abundance of festive looking houses, there was a profusion of camouflage and reflector tape covered police offers stalking around with AK47s in their hands. We must have seen over 60 police officers in our 30min drive. The three of us couldn’t figure out what the ridiculous amount of security was about on Christmas Day, but figured it was just a fear tactic to keep people from trying anything. I looked over at Maureen, “you know, nothing says Christmas like an AK47.”
After spending some time on the phone with family, I was feeling a lot less homesick and was truly grateful for having the opportunity to experience this celebration.
The entire day felt joyful and exciting and meaningful… but it didn’t feel like Christmas to me. I started thinking about what Christmas used to feel like and how it felt the last time. I couldn’t remember, I couldn’t remember what triggered it, nor could I recount the joy it brings. The red and gold lights on our Christmas tree caught my eye and I sat down under it as I finished singing “O Holy Night”.
It was in the silence after everyone had left, after the choirs had stopped singing, after the cat was let outside, after the clang of dishes being washed was done, after the phone stopped ringing, after my own Christmas melody faded, that I began to feel Christmas.
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
“Say Hi to General Hoyt for me!” – Matt Burns,
This remark in the Guest book for the Mountain Paradise Lodge made both Darrin and I chuckle. This same General Hoyt, a year later, had detoured Darrin and I for a chit chat and a small hike to a hidden miniature waterfall (which of course, he then asked us for money afterward.) This was a reoccurring theme on our weekend trip up to the Northern area of the Volta Region (Jasikan). It seems the locals have figured out the best acts to put on in order to get the Yevus to fork out some cash and, unfortunately for us, it works.
That was how our holiday started; running into this extroverted 68 year old who was telling us about everything in his farm (now I wonder if that actually was his farm or if he was just standing there to get tourists’ attention). I always hope that Darrin talking in Ewe will make them realize we aren’t tourists and they will leave us be, but it doesn’t help. I reluctantly gave in to his persuading to let him show us the waterfall and sure enough, he wanted some money to buy some mineral back in town (this means beer or soda.) He then followed us for some time telling us about his miracle medicines that kept him so strong at 68 (hot water and a tablespoon of honey in the morning, and eating lots of green vegetables, hardly genius, but he was pretty proud of himself for the discovery...)
The Paradise Mountain Lodge was a 5km hike from the village where our Trotro dropped us off. It was a little out of our price range, but worth it because the food was amazing. Not long after arriving, we went on a guided hike along this creek to see all the different waterfalls. Still fully clothed, I jumped in after Darrin at the largest waterfall for a quick cool down and we were nearly dry by the time we reached the end of the hike. The guide cut open some cocoa fruit with his cutlass for us. For those of you who don’t know, chocolate (or cocoa) grows on trees. The fruit produced are these pods (looks kind of like a yellow and red miniature papaya) filled with white-flesh covered dark purple seeds. To make chocolate, the seeds are usually dried and then shipped to processing, but you can also eat the flesh around it. It’s sweet and sour like the sugar apple I described at the beginning of my trip. Definitely another favourite.
Darrin and I walked over 30km the next day and at the mid point of our travels, in Amezofe (a village on top of the mountain), a man sat down and talked to us during our snack break for about 15 minutes. I knew where it was going. Eventually he told us that if we ever came by here, that we were to stay at his house, and then he asked us for money. It makes me cynical and I think it’s ridiculous, but at the same time, am incredibly curious and empathetic about that kind of behaviour.
I tried this new food called kafa and pepper. The kafa is made from corn flour and is steamed inside these large vine leaves until it becomes this jelly-like loaf that you dip in a salsa like pepper. After the snack, we climbed to the top of
We experienced the most immense generosity and hospitality with the family we stayed with. It was so obvious that they just wanted to see us have a good time and enjoy our visit. It was the total opposite of the random locals who make us pay them for talking to them. We had a group of men clear-cut a trail for us up to see these caves that we climbed through (ever had a bat fly so near to your face your can feel its wings brush against your cheek?).
There are these waterfalls that everyone raves about here. When coming from
Unfortunately, the battery on my camera died shortly after arriving there and I wasn’t able to videotape any of it. At the sight of the waterfall, Darrin and I had to go for a swim. This one was a lot colder and actually left me with goose bumps. I think it’s the first time I’ve felt that cold since being here. The fees for these tourist places are ridiculous – Darrin got us in for the volunteer prices, but the men tried to negotiate a price by asking to marry me (he even offered a trade for one of his nieces – how kind!). Of course, they are discussing this all in Ewe and I’m sitting there eating my groundnuts hardly paying attention.
We arrived back to a household trying to set up for Christmas. Since I arrived here, it feels like it’s constantly July. Just one long, hot month of July. It feels really silly to celebrate Christmas in July. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up on Thursday and see snow all over the place. Not that I’d pass up my plus 38˚C for a minus 15, but I can tell already it won’t feel like Christmas without the chilly weather and the white wonderland. But the weather is only getting dryer and hotter and I can feel the prickly heat starting all over my back and chest. I’m hoping not scratching will make it go away faster, but, wow, is it ever uncomfortable!
Meanwhile - Merry Christmas everyone! Enjoy your snow for me :-)
Thursday, 18 December 2008
So we have this group of rambunctious, cognitively under-developed children with a wide range of disabilities for the weekday mornings with a curriculum that involves recognizing shapes, drawing straight lines, tracing numbers, and counting.
I’ll admit I’ve never been more frustrated in my life. Frustrated with the educational system, frustrated with the lack of concern amongst the teachers, frustrated with my self for not being a bigger help, frustrated with the 17 year old who is only mentally simple and won’t stop grabbing girls inappropriately, frustrated with the 7 year old who will tell me to do things in Ewe and then hit me when I don’t do it (because I don’t know what he’s saying), frustrated with the teacher caning the students for fighting (violence only teaches more violence), frustrated with the language barrier, frustrated with God because I don’t understand…
But just being with those kids makes my day. Makes my whole week. In fact, the whole experience is a highlight of my year - how the simplest things make them break out in laughter; watching one of the girls play catch and seeing how excited she gets every time she manages to catch it; helping the children to take pictures and learn to use the camera. To us it must seem so little, but to these children, the things we do with them and teach them are so monumental. They wouldn’t get this experience any where else. They wouldn’t learn these things on their own. To these kids, just me being there, sitting with them, helping them to find the hole in the puzzle that fits the purple triangle is one of the best things I can do for them. And when I remember this, when I make it all that simple, all the frustrations seem trivial.
And I love God for it.
(The pictures are of some of the children in the class and some of the students from other classes)
Friday, 12 December 2008
I was reading an article in National Geographic a few days ago, written by Cynthia Gorney, about the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico. The way she described the lifestyle of the people seemed so familiar to me- the mixed western/ traditional culture.
I’m usually surrounded in poverty here; women usually wear their traditional dresses and head wraps; houses are made of cement with tin roofs, or clay with straw thatch for a roof; the local cuisine is typical of poverty – minimal, and what they do have is not healthy. And then there is this… modern side. Which doesn’t fit quite right. It’s often that I pull out my camera to take a picture of a somewhat traditional setting, but there is always something western “ruining” the shot. Some object, or clothing, or piece of equipment that doesn’t really fit with the rest of the surroundings; girls wearing skinny jeans; young adults talking on their iPhones; pizza on the menu at the internet café. I wasn’t even aware of how I perceived this until I read Gorney’s article. The way she was describing the combination of the cultures, the contemporary influences on the villages, reflected a lot of what I was seeing here in Ghana. And I’ll be entirely honest, it doesn’t look pretty. From my unknowledgeable, non-understanding perspective, all I can think is that the two don’t go together at all. It seems like an awful clash of turquoise and fire-engine red exploding into what could have been a perfectly beautiful portrait of nature.
‘Any outsider, including me, thinks: these people are better off with modernity held far away. But that’s cultural relativism. We have perceptions about what is and isn’t right, for us and others… I kept reminding myself how little I understood about this place, these people.’ – Cynthia Gorney.
When I read this at the back of the magazine, something hit home for me. I realized that despite how open and accepting I was of the culture, my biases were still making me judge the entire country, the people, their way of life. Because being here for 2 months, and feeling like I can relate to the people, makes me think I can determine what’s right for them. Yeah, right! Time to give my head a shake. I’ll never truly understand why anyone here makes the decisions they make. I might be empathetic and relational to some of their decisions, whether I agree or disagree, but to hold partiality because I’ve seen a more “efficient” way of life is absolutely naïve.
It’s difficult, though. And I know anyone who has traveled to impoverished areas with this much western domination knows what I’m talking about. If you deny that you ever feel like “this place” would be so much better without “all that stuff” then you are not being 100% honest. That or you air on the side of agreeing that MORE modernity would be a positive step. I say, as outsiders, we will never be able to make a decision for these types of cultures that can benefit them as much as the decisions they make for themselves. My confidence in my own judgments quivers when I encounter such monumental societal dilemmas, but that’s when I am happy to say I am only a 22 year old with a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology. Learning to put my judgments aside is simply a part of growing up and becoming more able to love the people around me without needing to understand their logic and decisions that go with it.
Saturday, 6 December 2008
It all seems so normal.
It’s not that things are less interesting or less fun. It’s just normal.
Day in and day out, I’ve… adapted. Even in the chaos that is
This makes the blog writing somewhat more difficult. Before, I could write about all the things that stood out to me; topics that would seem really interesting to someone who had never been to
I don’t want to sound like I’m taking the everyday moments and experiences for granted, because I’m not, but everything is so… recognizable…
… The straw and stick brooms we use to sweep the leaves up from underneath the mango tree in the front yard before the breakfast bell.
... Enjoying the soft breeze on a somewhat cool harmatan morning (with the
thermometer reading 26 degrees Celsius)
… The multi-coloured gecko that crawls up the wall of my shower.
… Feeding Joni (our goat that is right outside of our kitchen window) the fresh peels from our papayas.
… Collecting snails from the garden for someone’s lunch (I’m yet to be served them.)
… Buying plantain chips from a lady on the corner of the street who has a large steel bowl filled with them on her head.
… Dodging taxis and trotros on our bicycles near the market on a market day as though it’s a video game (with slightly more dire consequences).
… The large congregation of flies and bugs that greet us at the farm for a good twenty minutes before they leave us in peace to do our work.
… The scorching afternoon sun that feels as though it will boil your skin if the breeze stops for too long.
… The frustration of tossing and turning, unable to take my daily siesta because my bed is too bloody hot…
… Waking up on the cement floor because my bed was too blood hot.
… The school children chanting “yevu, yevu” as they chase us down the unpaved road on our mountain bikes.
… The dingy looking drinking spots Darrin and I keep finding ourselves stopping at for a coke and a shady place to sit.
… The squawking chickadees that fell into the sewer and can’t get out (I would totally help them if I didn’t find birds and sewers disgusting).
… Knowing who all the local politicians are and what parties they belong to, and what their careers are, and who their running mates are, and who I think should win.
... Eating dishes like Banku/ Akblay/ Kenke/ Fufu in goat/ okro/ palm nut/ ground nut soup for dinner… with my
… The electronic-like, rhythmic pulse of the fruit bats in the late evening.
… The 20th (plus) power outage since my arrival, that always seem to make the sky look like an unfinished painting, and as your eyes adjust, the stars appear brighter and more numerous.
… The drums and music from the cultural dance center on the street behind ours practicing…
… The church choir across the street preparing for their Christmas celebration in their local language…
… The 10th (sometimes plus) unannounced visitor that just thought he would “drop by” for a chat and a drink
and some food.
… Scrubbing the dark, red earth off my feet and toes to reveal my now-seemingly permanent tan lines from my flip-flops (chaddy-waddys, as they are called here) before crawling into bed
All these daily events that not so long ago would have had me completely enthralled are now just normal. The same things I saw/ heard/ tasted/ smelled/ felt yesterday and will probably see/ hear/ taste/ smell/ feel tomorrow.
… And I love every God-given minute of it…
Monday, 1 December 2008
I really martyred
I really martyred
I mean, we all know there is corruption here, duh. All those selfish people making selfish decisions with devastating outcomes that have an impact on everyone’s humanity, even if it just leaves a fingerprint on your soul when you heard about it on TV. I guess I thought the corruption was singled out some how. I guess I thought that all those “average African Joes” were dealt a shitty hand of cards and were practically helpless at sorting them out. I guess I thought it was only the “big men” that were making the “bad decisions”. Not that my thoughts were completely wrong, it was just a tad bit naïve.
There is a saying here – “Every man for himself and God for everyone.” Sort of makes “United we stand and Divided we fall” sound a little idealistic. I hate to say it, but being here has stolen pieces of my youth-given innocence. And in the same respect, the love I’ve seen here (amongst the corruption) has restored pieces of it. It is overwhelmingly frustrating to see the lack of respect some of the people have for each other. And white people, pfft, we aren’t human. We have money and power, not souls. I swear village children are taught from birth to say “white man, give me money!” What? Not even a “hello” first? Oh right, I’m sorry, I forgot, *point finger at self* not human.
I remember having a conversation with someone before coming here (can’t for the life of me remember who) about education serving as a solution for the poverty and corruption in this continent. My challenger was arguing that ‘obviously’ that wasn’t working. “They’ve had education for decades,” he claimed, “and it hasn’t changed anything.” Yeah, I guess if you are assuming that these children and adults have been getting an education equivalent to what the average Canadian child would get, you might be able to see his point. But after you’ve been here, and you’ve seen the “education” that these children are receiving, you’ll stand by the fact that education is still the solution to much of the problems they continue to run into. For instance, maybe it would help teaching some people in the area that bathing 50m downstream from the section of the creek you use as a communal toilet is probably not the best way to combat diseases like guinea worm and salmonella strains. Or even just giving some people the option of performing CPR, rather than a witch spraying sacred water (might I add the adjectives “contaminated” and “unclean”) with a combination of wild herbs, on a new born baby who has yet to take his first breath. And what about hand washing… good old fashioned hand washing. Most washrooms don’t have sinks let alone soap. Darrin and I bought some mangos from the sweetest little girl while we were touring. There was pot next to her that her mother washed the mangos in. The little girl would bite the peel off of her mango and spit it into this “wash” pot. Yum. Definitely giving those a good scrub and peel. Yeah, I’m going to go ahead stand by my original position that education is still a feasible solution. The people here are ignorant, not arrogant. Ok, some are arrogant, but lots of people in
So I’m caught between “Oh my God, these people are digging their own graves and are completely oblivious” and “Have a little mercy, they don’t know any better.” I mean, I really, really, really want to help. But it’s hard when they really, really, really are not helping themselves.
Darrin has a friend who works for the food inspection company here. He actually does want to enforce the laws and standards that are put in place. He goes around trying to help people and show them how to do procedures the safe and healthy way, but encounters more grief and defensiveness than people willing to listen. Why? Because his predecessors have shown these people that they are only in it for themselves by threatening to fine them huge amounts of money unless they bribe them, and then never report anything. This makes for a difficult starting ground for the ones who actually want to make a difference.
And the schools are “free” and “mandatory”. Yeah right, that’s why on any weekday morning
I can expect at least 5 children to come by for a glass of water (not in a school uniform.) And that’s why lots of teenagers aren’t in secondary school – because fees can costs upwards of 300USD. And even the ones that do make it,
it’s not like conditions are prime for learning. Like when the boarding schools overbook the dorms
and kids end up sleeping in the classrooms. And don’t imagine enclosed air-regulated buildings. More like sheds with desks and a blackboard. THAT
THE KIDS ARE SLEEPING IN!!! Oh, and don’t forget, it’s still legal to cane the children when they misbehave. In fact, the prefects are even allowed to cane the other students, b
ecause if their students are misbehaving, they’ll get caned. How c
ivilized... And teachers, when they show up, their state of alertness can range from intoxicated, apathetic, abusive, to, occasionally, asleep. I think they fail to see the soul reward in helping these children. Like the many of the nurses I encountered, teachers claim they need “motivation.” *cough* More money. I know their salaries are crap, but I still roll my eyes at this. I’m only 22 and I’ve already learned that money motivates no one to do anything except do whatever they can do to make more money. Such a riveting cycle of greed, self-fulfillment and, eventually, depression. Let’s all jump on that wagon!
As you can see, I still haven’t concluded my feelings on any of it. Just sorting out some junk in my spirit. I must end this by saying, if there is one thing this country has more of than I've ever seen in North America, it's hope. Faith and Hope. That's how I know it IS going to get better.
Friday, 28 November 2008
But instead, I’ve spend my first 7 days back home, in bed, with a massive headache, back and gut pains and nausea. No, not from the Typhoid, from the Ciprofloxacin that is supposed to cure the typhoid. I’m even having the craziest dreams (as I’m sleeping between 12 and 19 hours a day) about the most random things – like my ex-boyfriends investigating the death of a friend of mine from elementary school who died in drunk driving accident in high school or, for some reason, ‘tree climbing’ is an actual event that IF now promotes. I seriously don’t know how I’m going to sell that one. Seriously. So random. I think I’ve had almost every side-effect possible from this drug. And I’m drinking so much water that my stomach constantly has that ‘gushy’ feeling (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, down two liters of water on an empty stomach and then try and go for a walk.)
Anyway, between the antibiotics for my prophylaxis (against malaria) and the one to kill the typhoid salmonella, I’m sure I’ve wiped out all the good bacteria my body stores. I’d normally down all the yogurt I can find, but dairy isn’t exactly common around here (in fact, I don’t think you can even buy real yogurt in Ghana). I’m relying on my mother to send me acidophilus tablets as soon as she reads this.
I’m holding hope in the fact that I have only 2 more days of this medication, so maybe three more days of intolerable headaches, and then I’m back at the wheel, and hopefully, back to being able to get out of bed for more than an hour at a time without feeling weak and needing to lie down. I feel like I’m 90. Ugh.
Somewhere along my travels, my PEN drive picked up a virus and the anti-virus wiped out half my un-posted blogs while restoring it (including the one I had written just for Kevin :-( ) Sooo upset.
On a more exciting front, I’ve met a photojournalist who has invited me to come and take some lessons from her, which is amazing, because writing and photography have always been a passion for me. She came over for Thanksgiving on Thursday (I was able to crawl out of bed to enjoy a small portion of the feast.)
And I met a Spanish Priest who is going to give me Spanish lessons as soon as I’m feeling better!
I think Darrin and I are going to be painting the women’s dormitory next week as well – I’m just excited to be doing physical labour again. And I was super jealous watching him mow the lawn last Wednesday…
Alright. Going back home to crawl into bed with the house's new kitten - Coco.
Tuesday, 25 November 2008
But what have I done today?
I shall give out gold in a pricely sum…
But what did I give today?
I shall lift the heart and dry the tear,
I shall plant a hope in a place of fear,
I shall speak with words of love and dear…
But what have I done today?
I shall be so kind in the after while..
But what have I done today?
I shall bring to each lonely life a smile,
But what have I brought today?
I shall give to truth a grander birth,
And to steadfast faith a deeper worth,
I shall feed the hungry souls of the earth…
But who have I fed today?
Monday, 24 November 2008
I’m not sick.
It’s not part of the plan. I’m not sick.
The diarrhea/ constipation – it’s all just a part of traveling. Everyone gets it. And it’s normal that it’s painful to go to the bathroom when you are suffering with those.
The stomach pains, I’ll admit they are unbearable at times, but I’ve always had a sensitive stomach. I just don’t digest food well.
I’m just not used to the heat. It’s not a fever. Maybe I’m just not well-hydrated. I’m sure there is some perfectly logical and healthy reason it feels like I’m burning from the inside out. No, it’s definitely not a fever.
I’m not sick!
Don’t be silly, that’s not a rash. It’s, umm, from swimming in the ocean. It’s hardly even itchy…
I have allergies. The dog, he has a skin condition and there’s lots of dandruff. That’s why my nose is running. I told you. I’m not sick.
It hurts to swallow. Just a little though. Nothing major. The sores in the back of my throat were only bright red for a couple days. I’m sure it will all clear up soon. Maybe some weird form of heat rash? Inside my body? Ok, unlikely.
BUT I’M NOT SICK!
The heat is totally killing my appetite. Many people get that in the summer time, too. It’s just too hot to eat.
And that’s why all the weight loss. I mean, everyone loses weight in
No, I’m not sick. No, it’s pure coincidence that all these symptoms add up to….
… oh, Shit…
…I have Typhoid.
Wednesday, 19 November 2008
So I'm back in the South of the country. Research is all wrapped up. I'm still trying to sort through my thoughts on it all to try and conglomerate what I learned and how I feel about it all. It was probably one of the most obvious and significant learning experiences of my life. I'm not sure that I can articulate all the details of the impact quite yet so I'll save that talk for another day.
I spent Saturday with some friends and went to the Miss Malaika Ghana pageant (Ghana's 'Miss USA' equivalent) and then went out clubbing until 4am. It was pretty hilarious being one of the only white women walking into the theater for the pageant. There was 3 or 4 photographers snapping photos of me and my friend Sheila. They need their token white chick in the photographs I guess...
I have to admit its quite a strange feeling to go from interviewing the poor of the poor who have diseases like TB, AIDS and Guinea worm with no money to pay for their drugs, to driving around in my friend's Audi and hitting up the dance floor in a ritzy new club. There is this huge gap of middle ground that you can feel yourself stumble into and out of when you jump from one socioecomomic status to the next; it doesn't sit quite right in your soul. Nonetheless, I had an amazing weekend and I'm heading back to that city for some New Years fun.
Met up with Darrin Sunday evening and we are now in this little village on the ocean called Ada Foah. Yesterday just before dusk, Darrin and I went for a walk down along the ocean and waded out into the water up to our waists.
The ocean here is warmer than any swimming pool I've ever been in, which is depressing because I was really hoping it would cool me down. It was so beautiful to just stand there and take it all in. The soft, off-white sand under my feet; the nearly-violent splash of warm waves on my legs; the sound of the forceful wind muffling out all the other noises; sand coloured crabs scattering across the ground trying to find their holes before the lapsing waves catch them; the softly setting sun, sliding behind the clouds right at the point where it seems the earth might drop off; the wrapper from the water sachet... alright, so the beaches are far from kept clean and you have to see past the waste and garbage to see the beauty of God's creation. But it's still there, still visible, and not difficult to appreciate.
Sitting in that sand, just watching the world, was one of those moments in time you wish you record and replay over and over and over again. Just so much in peace in this one place.
It's interesting. In most respects, I should feel homeless. I have all my mail being sent to my mother's house. My stuff is scattered at my friends' homes all over Vancouver. My valuables are at the Madonna House in Ho here in Ghana. My 'basics' are the only things I have on me. I guess my place of residence, where I have a bedroom and such, would be in Ho. I was with Margaret for the last three weeks staying in different hotels or at her home. Now I'm with a couple of priests on the ocean.
Shouldn't I feel homeless??? Shouldn't I be missing some sense of stability by all of this? But no, I feel quite the opposite in fact. Everywhere feels like home. I'm so comfortable and secure with every bed I crawl into. Where ever God is, I'm happy to be.
This isn't to say that I'm not a little homesick. For about an hour once a week I'm struck with the longing to be in Vancouver and miss all my friends and my job and my apartment and the organization of the Canadian culture.
I think homesick is the wrong word.
But something about sitting by that ocean yesterday reminded me of all the long walks Kristina and I would take along Wreck Beach in the cold spring before the nudists arrived. And all the nights after work or church that I would head down to Kits beach and take pictures of the sunset just to have an excuse to sit next to the water, no matter how cold it was.
Being at the ocean again, it seemed to reconnect me. I realize how corny that must sound, but I also knowthat some of you know what I'm talking about. That symbolisim is just so strong that you connect to it on a level undescribable to those who have never experienced it.
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
So I’m munching away, re-living in my mind the numerous interviews we’d completed during the day and trying to word things for my summary for Dr. Price. I’m thinking about all the nurses and doctors we met with, I’m thinking about the patients’ stories we were told, and the tears I shared with that last girl I talked to who was diagnosed 4 months ago. And I’m also thinking about how much this driver’s need for control is getting on my nerves...
I combine all these thoughts in my head and find them a huge distraction to actually writing the summary as they begin to draw me to the sexism that I keep seeing all around me. The male domination in this society seems like a much less treatable infection than AIDS.
This is a story (and unfortunately, an all too common one) about a widow. She has 6 children her husband worked for the government. They built a house, and had a car, she worked as a nurse and made decent money. They got 3 of their kids through school before her husband passed away. Let’s say he died of sudden heart attack around the young age of 48. Well, after the extensive funeral services, the husband’s family has the right to come in and take everything that was his. So the widow’s in-laws raid the house, take everything they own. In fact, they even take the house. They could take the children if they wanted to, but they won’t, because they cost money, and leave the poor nurse with her 6 children, no home, no money, and all their hard earned belongings gone. And there is no legal policy in place to stop this.
From a very young age, girls are taught to do work. They cook, they clean, they farm, they carry, they fetch, they go to market, they work, they… do whatever is asked of them. The boys are, in a lot of cases, not allowed to do anything. This is obviously subject to different regions and tribes. Boys also get priority in school. Women should just marry well, right? However, educated men (especially the families of educated men) want educated women, so it doesn’t work that way.
“can you tell me how to get here?”
“I will show you”
“I don’t want you to show me. I want directions”
“I’ll take you there.”
“That’s not what I asked you. Can you just tell me how to get there?”
“No, no. Follow me.”
Ok, that might seem like me just not wanting to walk with him, but what it really comes down to is the need for control. Control of information. Feelings of being in control. Feelings of other people being out-of-control. Doctors do it to. It’s not common practice to be told what’s wrong with you, they just give you medicine and laugh if you ask what it’s for.
My driver hates when we know where to go and he doesn’t. He’ll actually stop and ask other men just to confirm with them. If none of us know, and we stop to ask a woman, half the time he calls them over in rude manors, tells them the name of the place we are looking for and says “where?” and then drives away without saying thank-you. Even the way he talks to Margaret is getting on my nerves. We want to go to this internet care. No, he thinks we should go to this other one. We say, No, take us to ours. He takes us to his. Why? Because he likes the control. We bought a knife and left in the car and can’t find it. He goes out to look for it and comes back claiming its not there. I tell him to check under his mat in the front seat because I saw it fall there while we were driving. He gets mad and me and says he looked. I go out to look. He gets even madder that I’m going to look and shouts “I already looked.” I say “that’s fine, I’m going to look again.” I find it under his mat in the front seat. He didn’t talk and/or look at me for a while after that. Petty, I know, but when you’re swimming in sexism all day long the little things add up.
From the time a girl is born, to the time she dies a woman, men will make all the choices for her. From her Dad, to her brothers, to her husband. She doesn’t know how to make any decision on her own. Not such a good situation for my friend the widow who just lost all of her belongings to her in-laws and has to make some hefty choices in order to keep life functioning. It’s kind of like tossing a zoo animal back into the wild and expecting it to survive. If you’ve never done it, chances are you won’t pick it up atthe drop of hat…
Then comes the talk of fidelity. You know in the bible how it says the only reason to allow for a divorce is marital unfaithfulness. Apparently that only applies to women here. Men can sleep around all they want and the most they get is an angry wife. Women almost never divorce their husbands here. Turn the tables, and a man sees it as a free ride out of commitment town…
So I sit here, eating my peanuts, and thinking about the destruction that all the pride and control and sexism is doing to parts of this culture.
And then I realize, you know, it’s not singing a song that out of tune from my own love affairs in recent past.
Control, manipulation, pride, unfaithfulness, testosterone driven shouting matches… yep, sounds like familiar territory to me.
I promise I’m not turning cynical. There are still lots of men I think very highly of and love dearly – but it’s just so freaking frustrating!!!!
...I can think of some other nuts I'd like to see roasted right about now...
Monday, 10 November 2008
I say "where I'm from? How do you know where I'm from?"
She gets a little embarrassed and says "oh, you know, I mean she's coloured... like you"
That was the weirdest thing to me. I'm thinking, I'm not coloured - I'm white. You're the coloured one.
I thought about this a little more and realized it's really all a matter of context (people who's skin colour is not like yours is coloured.) And in thinking about it a little more, I realized in all logic, she's right.
I'm the coloured one. She's black. Black is the absense of colour, the absense of light. She has no colour.
I'm white - all the colours rolled into one, absolute light.
I guess I'm the precise definition of coloured...
Friday, 7 November 2008
I was excused from one of the less exciting policy interviews today and my driver (yeah, I know, I have a driver, kind of outrageous) took me to a little village called Paga right next to the Burkina Faso/ Ghana border. There are all these crocodile ponds in the area and some of the villagers make money by taking pictures of the tourists with them. It was a pretty cool experience. I can’t really say I wrestled the thing to domestication or anything exciting, but I got to pick up its tail and feed it without being eaten! That was exciting enough for me!
The three of us (two villagers and I) approach the pond at a pretty casual pace. Three crocodiles start rushing out of the water. They throw one Guinea fowl to the side and two of the reptiles chase it into the water, and they wave the second fowl at the third crocodile and it turns towards us. Not gonna lie, even though I trust that they’ve done this many times, I keep thinking, “what if this one time, the crocodile is really hungry and just runs at me with the guy next to me holding this live bird?!?!” Needless to say, the crocodile doesn’t run at me. The guy told me to go around it and picked up its tail. I pretend I have a small amount of courage and approach the creature. Immediately, the man with the fowl grabs my arm – “NO! walk behind it! You don’t want it to see you” Ohhhh, now I was wishing I had listened a little more in Grade 5 Biology class when we covered reptiles…
By that time my nerves were shot from being yelled at so I had the guide pick the tail up for me and hand it to me. After a billion photos were taken, they let me throw the live fowl into the crocodile’s mouth. For some reason I thought that was the coolest part… I know, I know, how masochistic, right?
Well, if the crocodile didn’t kill me, the crackers I just ate might (I’m fully aware of how horrible that sag way is). I didn’t even think about the fact that the box of the cream crackers I just finished eating is covered in Chinese characters. Guess I just got my daily dose of melamine.
Thursday, 6 November 2008
I stated this before, but I’ll try to do a better job of explaining what kind of researching we are conducting to those who are not so up on the terminology I’m using. Up until late last year, everything to do with HIV/AIDS in this country was isolated from the rest of the health care system. Starting at the top with financial aid specified to ONLY HIV/AIDS departments and the boards, directors, and officials that governed that department of the medical system, all the way down to the nurses, counselors, doctors, and clinics that the patients visited. The patients not only went to alternative clinics, they went on specific days to see specific people. One hospital even used the term “Isolation Ward” to describe where they sent the recently diagnosed. How great would that be to hear? “I’m sorry, you tested positive for the HIV virus. Please follow the red arrows to the right of the gift shop. They will lead you directly to the ISOLATION WARD!” What a great way to make you feel normal…
I wasn’t entirely aware of all the problems that a seclude system causes, but after a few days of interviews, I see why there was a need to change. I’ll start with stigma, because I’m sure while reading this you are conducting thoughts in your head about it, and if you haven’t thought stigma, your thinking reducing the spread of infection (which, by the way, means you are contributing to the stigma.) Understanding this male dominated culture will help with this explanation: Men make all the choices within families here and they don’t cook - period. Alright, so say you are a faithfully married female, and your husband is very traditional. You are really sick and a nurse suggests that you get an HIV test. Here is what is running through your mind:
- “If my husband finds out, he’ll think I’m thinking badly of him and that he’s unfaithful.”
- “If I’m positive, and my husband finds out, he’ll abandon me."
- “If I’m positive, my husband must have it, which means he’s been unfaithful.”
People have learned that there is money in this department. Overseas funding hands over the cash with extreme stipulations on what it is to be spent on. You can’t imagine the frustrations of a public health director who watches 10s of thousands of dollars being poured into seemingly repetitive procedures when the rest of the medical system is hardly satisfactory. 3.2% of the population [reportedly] has AIDS. 96.8% [reportedly] does not. People are dying from a lot of things that aren’t HIV related and there is not a lot of money in this country for the “other” category.
Well, eventually people realized there was something wrong with this system, and the Health Services Departments in Accra developed a new policy that involves the integration of the previous HIV/AIDS care systems into the rest of the medical structure. Great move! And then they put it in a folder in a cabinet in an office. Not such a great move. Ok, that’s a hyperbole, the policy did get mailed out and it was ‘assumed’ that people would read it and follow it. I think anyone who has worked with policy knows how outrageous this assumption is. So a company called Ghana Health Partners and its founding doctor contracted Dr. Price to travel the north of the country and conduct interviews with everyone the new policy is supposed to impact and see
a) If they’ve heard of the policy
b) If it’s being implemented
c) How it’s being implemented
d) What are challenges to implementing it
e) Whether it is being accepted or viewed negatively
f) How it’s impacting them as an individual
g) How it’s impacting the health center as a whole
h) What can be done to improve the policy
So that’s a very simplified version of the research.
Like I said - experience of a lifetime!
I’m beginning to see the most magnificent blessings in these hardships and turmoil that hide around every corner – it’s in the opportunities these horrid situations provide for people to love each other. It’s no longer unbeknown to me how a place that is so pungent of deceit and greed could be strengthening my faith, hope and love for this world and God. These not-so-rare shining lights, radiating beings, that refuse to let the suffering take over. They refuse to give in. They refuse to accept what society says is the way they have to live.
From the Saki’s, who no longer charge their seamstress apprentices (very unheard of- apprentices here pay to work) in order to offer them an opportunity for a better life, to Dr. Price, who houses, clothes, and feeds vulnerable youth to keep them from heading down the wrong path, there are so many AMAZING people I’ve been encountering on my journey. Despite the corruption, these hope-giving individuals have taught me a lot about how much good a little sacrifice and selfless love can do for this world.
I met another such man during our interviews today. As per the research, we are interviewing numerous medical staff, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, patients, persons living with HIV (PLHIV) and policy makers to investigate how integrating the formerly sectioned HIV clinics and treatments into the rest of the medical system is being accepted.
I’ve met numerous really amazing individuals, but one in particular who I wish everyone could sit and talk with. I swear this man’s fingertips are capable of radiating more love than my whole body could. As the director of a clinic here in Tamale, Dr. David Abdulai says his organization is more involved with the social services than the medical aspects. Before the retro antivirus was ever developed to treat AIDs, he was housing, feeding and loving these people in a way that today still can’t be found in
With the retro antivirus now available and affordable, he helps the PLHIV live lives of hope and productivity. He encourages these people that with treatment, their lives are FAR from over; they are 100% capable of being fully integrated parts of society. He puts together income-generating projects which fund his self-made village on the outskirts of town behind his medical clinic. These mud huts house multiple PLHIV, lepers, and the mentally ill, and his staff. Some of his staff are PLHIV that have had miraculous recoveries and now help the newly infected deal with the physical, mental and emotional aspects of the disease. In our interview, he talks about how all these people want is what every person wants, whether they are sick or not, to be loved. With a disease that has so many stigmas, it’s horrific just to imagine the thought of being diagnosed let alone to go through it, and then be abandoned. His house offers a place for these people to come and be loved, no matter who they are, what they have and how many people have shunned them before.
David’s love for these people is so beyond what most of us have for each other that just sitting with him for an hour made me so excited about all the opportunities that could exist just by giving a little more love than we did yesterday. As ugly as the disease is, as ugly as poverty is, as ugly as violence and war are, as ugly as greed is, as ugly as lies are, as ugly as betrayal is, the love that opposes these acts of anguish is… absolutely and concretely beautiful...
Monday, 3 November 2008
We planned for me to stay with Dr. Margaret Price in Tema, just outside of Accra (Ghana’s capital) so that I could experience some city life and visit with some of the younger girls here. So when we came to pick up Father David from the airport (Yes, Christina, I’ll be living with a Priest for the next 3 months), I made myself quite at home at Margaret’s. She was asked to do a qualitative research project up in the northern regions for Ghana Health Partners investigating and evaluating the new integration policies of HIV education and clinics with Family and Reproductive Planning clinics. She asked me if I wanted to tag along. I thought ‘sure, spend a couple days up North and learn something new.’ It’s almost a two week long trip. Oh, what God has in store for me…
Doesn't matter though. I'm perfectly happy sitting in the back of my air-conditioned SUV, munching on my plantain chips, listening to my 250lbs, 5'8" African driver sing along to Chere's "life after love," while I pray that he doesn't kill Dr. Price or I, while he avoids the hawkers and bicyclists...
So I’m in a town called Tamale in the Northern Region, somewhat thankful our hotel room doesn’t have air-conditioning (it’s more of curse than a blessing here, I promise you) and I have no idea what I’m going to be doing tomorrow, the next day, a week from now, 3 months from now, 5 years from now, and I’m totally thrilled by it! Paul and Nate are probably far from impressed that all that work they put in helping me develop my planning skills are going to waste – I promise it’s not a total write off!!!
Not sure how much internet access I’ll have over the next few weeks, so if there is a hiatus in my blog postings, it’s only due to lack of resources, I will be posting when I can (yes Mom, I am safe and sound.) Darrin and I are doing some touring in the Southern and Volta region when I get back from the research trip, so I should have some exciting ones from that as well. The most recent one was long, but I hope you’ll take the time to read it and let me know what you think. I must have been trying to make up for the lack of postings over the last week and a half.