Thursday, June 08, 2006

Home, sweet home!

Since arriving in Canada almost two weeks ago, I have been incredibly slow to blog. I appologize for those of you waiting to hear about my first few days at home but I can assure you that it truly was not half as dramatic as I'd been forwarned!

I left CCS on Friday May 26th bound for the Kotoko International Airport in Accra followed by Heathrow in London, Lester Pearson in Toronto and finally, last but not least, Edmonton International! Leaving the kids and staff at CCS was one of the toughest things I've had to do. Although I was excited to see my family and friends once again I was also torn, as I may never see some of those truly amazing people again. The flights were long and slightly boring and offered little to comment on... that is until I hit Toronto. Since it was my first point of contact with Canada, I had to claim my bags, go through customs, check my bags through to Edmonton and make a mad dash for Terminal 1 to catch my flight home. As many of you heard, I missed the connection and British Airways "misplaced" my baggage. As stressful as it sounds (and it was very at the time!) I caught the next flight home and was awarded my luggage within the next three days. So in that respect, all went well. When the flight landed in Edmonton, I was more than overjoyed to see my family again! I rode down the escalator with a huge smile on my face and darted through the crowd to find them. I've never been away from home longer than a month so as you could imagine, it was amazing to see everyone! Finally I was home!

Since arriving, I've been welcomed with a party thrown by my family and friends, a barbeque, and even a few outings last weekend. I am just starting to get my feet back under me in this incredibly fast paced and jam-packed environment (hence the slow blogging!) Again, I want to say thank you to everyone who helped along the way. As mother Teresa once said, "No act of kindness, big or small, will ever go unnoticed" so my thank you extends to everyone who sent kind words and thoughts through my parents or packages of treats in the mail. I realize that I am so lucky to have the family and friends that I do... so thank you!

Photos are in the process of being sorted through and developed so hang on for a little while longer. They will be up shortly! Until then, take care and enjoy the beginning of summer!


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

"Time does not change us. It just unfolds us." Max Frisch

When I woke up this morning I couldn't get the idea out of my head that I've only got two days left. In some ways it feels as though I arrived last week and have just gotten settled and in other ways it feels like an eternity since I last had a cold glass of milk and a bed not made of thin foam. This is the first time that I've lived away from home - granted, I had an amazing lady cook meals for me and another to wash my bed sheets but the rest of my life was directed and carried out by myself. I can honestly say that it's been one of those utterly amazing and unique experiences that is difficult to sum up or put into words. I've never had to say goodbye to a group of people that I've grown incredibly close to, knowing that I may not see them again. The last day and a half will be well celebrated, however, as Ghanaians are rarely a somber or sad group of people even when it comes to impending departures or sudden losses.

Over the past few months I have gone through some totally amazing, stressful and even heartbreaking situations. As a result, some of you received late night phone calls, random emails or heaven forbid, BOTH! Although I was very far away and in a very different world, I've never felt so supported. I owe an incredible thank you to absolutely everyone who sent emails, letters, advice, packages of Beef Jerkey, new malaria medication, photos, post cards, toys and stickers. With more gratitude than I can show... thank you.

There is no doubt in my mind that saying goodbye to the children will be the toughest part about leaving. Since I arrived I've been completely amused and entertained by the kids next door. At first I played with them and treated them like the children that they seemed to be but the more time I spent with them, the more they surprisingly taught me. Raymon, for example, is roughly 5 years old and I assumed he was consistent with the 5 year olds at home who require assistance to put their shoes on the correct feet, are dependent on their parents and completly unaware of anything that may injure them in their environment. I was quickly proven wrong, and learnt to trust Raymon as if he were my tour guide through a tretcherous rain forest. Although we may be inept in each other's language, pointing, tapping and screeching are all he needs to get his point across. Thanks to him, I know which ants will bite me, which lizards are poisonous, how to spot a cockroach nest, good mangos vs. bad mangos, and last but not least, where I can find amazing coconuts. All he has ever wanted in return was a buddy to play football with or someone to give him a hug or lay next to on the sofa underneath the overhang as it rains. And the others are just as animated with their various personalities and quirky behaviors! Maushi (3 yrs) runs with her arms glued to her sides and usually leans awkwardly to one side. Midaow (2 yrs) refuses to wear pants and would play hide-and-go-seek from dawk to dusk if he could. Kobla blows kisses through the fence and waves incessantly with both hands when I leave for work in the morning and Yenu (1.5 yrs) has managed to pee on me every time I hold him. I could continue on for pages but you'll see their personalities in videos and photos shortly. Plus, I assume you get the point - the kids have been an unforgettable sounce of fun and I can't ever get tired of them or their silly games.

Besides the kids, I will be sad to say bye to the staff at CCS, the entire village of Woe and my good friend, Sarah. The villagers have been incredibly accomodating and helpful when I've gotten lost on runs in the morning or disorientated at market. They've created a setting where no one feels threatened or unsafe and I'm extraordinarily thankful for that. Sarah has been with me through the highs and the lows and has been an incredible friend through everything. Quite literally, she is the first person that I see when I wake up and definitely the last person that I say goodnight to. Although sharing my room with a complete stranger was at first a bit iffy, she broke any awkwardness with her entertaining Australian accent and hilarious dance moves. There was not one sad day that would end sad, as she'd crank up some 80's hit as loud as she could on really small speakers and make a fool of herself until I'd beg her to stop because it hurt too much to keep laughing. It will be nice to be back in my bed but lonely to wake up without my dear roomie.

I do not lie when I say that I could continue on for hours about the wonderful place I've lived in, all the amazing things that come with it and the incredible list of simplicities that I have found a new appreciation for, however, I will end it all here. As I prepare to leave for home, I will look at my inevitable departure not as a closing door but more of an opportunity to bring it all back in some way, shape or form. Besides, as they say in Ghana, it's "Miadogo," (we shall meet again), ... not goodbye.

"Time does not change us. It just unfolds us." Max Frisch

Friday, May 19, 2006

Flash Floods

Ever since I arrived in Ghana I've been asking about "rain season." Each person's response to the timing of rain season is different and as a result, that has become a long-standing joke around CCS. No one here, not even the elders in the village, can name you the month that rain season starts but alas, I need not an answer anymore, as it has come upon me this week. The weather has been touch and go from one minute to another. For example, this morning I had a flashback to the second morning that I awoke in Ghana when I honestly, no word of a lie, thought that my demise would be sweating so badly in my sleep that I dehydrated and expired by the morning. As I walked to clinic, however, this all changed and I was hit with monsoon type rains, thunder and lightening. Of course the rains had to come just after I'd settled down and begun clinic, leaving me to run back 20 minutes in the pouring rain. About half way back I realized that no matter how fast I ran, I would be soaked anyway so I enjoyed the rest of the walk meeting more kids along the way and stopping once for a small dance on the path. Doesn't matter how unhappy a child may be - when the Yevu starts to do "the chicken dance," they can't contain themselves! Although the rain is a nice change to the blistering heat, it brings about flash flooding and destroys crops. All over the Volta Region are flooded roads, crops under 2-4 feet of water and villages of people without a place to live. As I drove back to Woe from Ho the other day I saw maybe between 200 and 300 people walking single file along the highway with bags/tubs filled with home items. The group was obviously displaced and on their way to higher ground to stay with family, friends or quite likely, strangers. It is a part of living in a tropical climate but still devistating nonetheless.

Update on the volunteer with appendicitis: she is doing much much much better and should be discharged this weekend! With all that she has gone through, I'd have to sum her up as "one tough cookie!" I am amazed at her optimism and trust in the other CCS volunteer in Ho and I.
Of course there are still a few things to be worked out and frustrations to deal with (such as getting the appendix to Accra) but those are so trivial in the grand scheme of things. The important thing is that she's feeling better and on the mend!

I returned to Woe Wednesday night to start clinic on Thursday. I am under the gun to finish the two largest communities but hopefully, assuming the rain stays away during the day, will be able to finish and submit my presentation next week. This week the clinic is situated next to the Salvation Army school so during breaks, between 50 and 100 kids will be swarmed around, yelling, shouting and watching what's going on. It truly is like nothing I have ever experienced! There isn't a sense of privacy or individuality. At any given time one of the community members who doesn't feel as though they have too many other pressing matters to do that day will stick around clinic and lecture every person that comes through. No one seems to mind at all - in fact they all rally together to educate each other and provide support when one of them is found to have extremely high blood pressure. They don't support each other the same way we would, though, with hugs and looks that say, "it's going to be okay." Younger people will cheer and sing, elders will nod their head and smile and their peers will joke around and find some light in the situation. At first this perplexed me and I wondered if any of them understood that if their blood pressure was 200/110, they needed to go to the local doctor but as I've been hearing, they are all showing up! It's just a culturally different way of dealing with news that one may be "unhealthy."

This afternoon the last volunteer that was scheduled to leave before Sarah and I left. This sparked a small anxiety when we looked at each other, as the time we have left is very limited! I can't bare the thought of saying "goodbye" or "thank you for all the..." yet, so stay tuned for at least one more update on the projects at CCS and a wrap up. *GULP*

Until then...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Appendicitis in Africa???

My second last week has not gone entirely as I'd planned but that is truly the least of my worries. Early Sunday morning (2am), one of the volunteers woke me up complaining of incredible abdominal pain. She was visibly ill but due to the lack of tro-tros at 2am, we had to wait until about4:30am to get her to a hospital. And from there, the long and frustrating experience of appendicitis in Africa began. Although the volunteer has been extremely open and happy to share her experience (goes with the culture - nothing is kept a secret here), I still wish to preserve some confidentiality and privacy so I will not go into too much detail and instead, will share more of my personal experience with it than hers.

When I first spoke with the doctor at the Keta Government Hospital, he wished to keep her on observation for 24-48 hours which worried me, as I discussed normal treatment with a physician in Canada and it was recommended that she be on observation for 12-20 hours. But of course the cultural "relaxed-ness" took over and the doctor was neither concerned nor in any rush to send her to a different hospital (in case she needed surgery). As I've described before, the mentality here is very laid back and that is an excellent and stress-free way to live but in an urgent situation, it is truly the most frustrating aspect of culture to deal with. I discussed as rationally and spoke as slowly as I could to the staff at Keta Hospital but it was a solid 24-28 hours before the phyician in Keta agreed to transfer her to Ho and his reason for the transfer is more ludicrous than anything. It was not because he agreed that she needed surgery or that the possibility was really there - it was because he wasn't planning on coming to work the next day so he didn't want to be responsible if she became more ill. By this time, though, any reason for the transfer was good enough for me. After waiting for a ride to be set up (again, everything takes forever), we set off for the Volta Regional Hospital in Ho (3 hours away). On arrival, she was looked at by another physician and immediately prepped for surgery. Although I describe it as a smooth transition, it was definitely not but it would take me hours and hours to depict the frustrations and tribulations of being a foreigner in a hospital in Africa so I will leave it for another time, another day. A few hours later, I dressed into some MASH looking scrubs (remember that show?) and made my way into the OR, or as they call it here, "the theater." One hour and ten minutes after she was put to sleep, her appendix was removed and she was on her way to the recovery room. Since then, she has made small but progressive steps towards recovery and is being cheered on by all the volunteers here and a her family at home. Again, the ordeal has been indescribably testing for me, as I am taking care of her in the hospital, but all of that is starting to fade as I see her the progressions she makes day to day.

One small story that ought to make all of you at home a tad bit shocked! After surgery, I was sitting with her in the recovery room when the surgeon walked in to speak with me. I asked many questions on her projected recovery plan and when all was said and done, he handed me a small white plastic container and said, "take this to Accra." I glanced at the container and on the opposite side there was a large bandaid-type piece of tape with her name and age written sketchily in pen. I asked him what it was and what I was supposed to do with it and he replied, "it's her appendix. Take it to a lab in Accra." Apparently there isn't a lab in Ho that can analyze the appendix so I've got it in a jar of formaldehyde in my backpack. We've arranged for someone from CCS who is going to Accra in the next few days to take it with them but until then, I am responsible for it. Weird, no?

I will go back to Woe sometime soon and another volunteer (who is a physician from England) from the house in Ho will help take care of her for the last couple days in hospital. Thankfully she is doing much better and has made some really big improvements even in the last 12-24 hours! To everyone at home, take care of yourselves and I'll see you soon! Cheers!


Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Jiggas came back!

Yes, yes... we have had a few weeks without giggas (or as they are properly spelt, jiggas), but alas, they have returned and with a vengeance! I was happily sleeping under my net a few nights ago when I awoke to a bright light being flashed in my eyes. This was Sarah's tactful way of waking me up, followed by, "Kels - I think I have a jigga." After being convinced that it could not and should not wait until the morning, Sarah and I pulled out the jigga removal kit we've constructed (yes an entire kit dedicated to the removal of these nasty bugs) and proceeded to the "porch" where we could find the brightest source of light. A closer inspection revealed that in deed she did have a massive jigga in her foot and to top it off, the egg sac was massive so it must have been in there for a few days! We proceeded to pull the two toes apart (yes it was in between the baby and second-from-the-end toe) and extract the little critter. To spare you all the gory details, it was successfully removed and now Sarah is nursing the newly formed crater in her foot.

This week was a huge success for clinic! As the days went on, more and more people showed up! On Thursday, a Cross Cultural Solutions employee from the New York office was visiting and stopped by the clinic to see how it was run. He was quite impressed and took some photos for the new website so that's kind of neat. As well, the feedback from the community is so strong that the Country Director is giving me a new volunteer or two from the pack that arrives on Sunday so that they can continue the clinic when I leave. One of my biggest worries was to start a project that could benefit the community but see it collapse after I'd left but that doesn't seem to be the case. With support from some of the Public Health staff, the clinic will make big steps for the weeks after I'm gone, running full days and potentially weekends. If all goes according to schedule, I will have made my way through the entire village of Woe so the focus of the clinic will change from blood pressure to "Healthy Children" where mothers can obtain advice, support and counseling on avoiding infections, malnutrition and malaria (the top three afflictions). In addition to the clinic, my last two weeks here will be devoted to data entry and the construction of a presentation that will be given to the Director of Public Health in a week's time. There, I will turn over my stats and data so that as a group, they can decide what prevention programs to begin or what services to provide. Fingers crossed that it will all wrap up successfully!

Other than that, Sarah and I are in Accra just for the day to finish some last minute chores. It'll be the last time we get a chance to purchase some small things for home as well as hit up the high speed internet. Unfortunately I do not have any photos at this time but I will be home soon enough and will start an online library then! Until then, take care and enjoy the rest of the playoffs! GO OILERS!

The blog that was first sent as an email...

This is a copy-and-paste of an email that I sent out on Tuesday when the Blogger site wasn't working. Here's the re-cap!

Good afternoon, everyone! The blog site is down for the day so I've decided to send out an old fashioned email to y'all! I heard the Oilers lost the first game of the series a few nights ago but I hope they've been diong better since! Any updates?

Clinic this week has been slow! We've moved communities but that's not the cause of the problem. Lately, the catches down at the water have been huge so more community members are required to pull in the nets, scale the fish and send them to market than usual. So if everyone's working, no one's at clinic! I am happy that the community is doing well but hope to see them start to trickle back as the week goes on. With only a few weeks to go I'd like to see as many people as I can at clinic!

This weekend another batch of new volunteers are arriving. There are so many coming that Sarah and my's small itty bitty room will be invaded by one maybe even TWO more volunteers. Grudgingly, we will clean the room and make it "spick and span" for the newbs! Juuust kidding - we're all excited to have more people at the house so it's no big deal to do a bit of "spring cleaning."

In all my weeks of being here (and I say that as though I've been here forever! haha), I haven't experienced too much hassle or racism (except once), but this afternoon was a different story. I hopped on a trotro to come home and was met with a very rude and racist mate (the mate is the other person who works in the trotro who collects the money, opens the door and helps people in). To make a long and humiliating story short, I was BLATANTLY (and not jokingly) made fun of for a good 10-15 minutes and had some small items/pocket change stolen from me as I exited the tro-tro - all based entirely on the color of my skin. If any of you have experienced this, you will know how it feels as degredation is a universally understood feeling. It was an experience/feeling that made me realize just how lucky I am to be able to return to a country that fortunately, has very little blatant racism.

In happier news, Sarah and I have started to collect items for a small gift that we are giong to give the families next door. If I have not explained the situation next door, please let me do so for just a moment. There are 4 families living in a very small plot. They all cook, take care of kids and fish together. Unfortunately, however, making a decent profit off fishing requires owning the net/boat because the owner gets 2/3 of the fish at the end of the day and the helper gets 1/3 (split even further if there are two helpers). So as a result of not owning the net/boat, they receive very little money at the end of the day (about $0.80)... which causes a deficit in the basic necessities such as tooth brushes, soap, clothing, etc. Attending school is so far beyond their reach, as any pocket change would first be spent on those necessities. So to help the families save (indirectly) for school, Sarah and I are attempting to pick up some small basics at market - including toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, etc. Because none of the shops are labelled (other than with a religious title) it's taking a while to find all the items. Not to worry as we've still got a couple weeks left!

So there you have it - the update since last week. I hope all is going well at home and please cheer on the Oilers just an extra little bit for me!!! Take care!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

RECORD setting clinic days!

This past week (although not yet over) has most likely been the most exciting and inspiring thus far. Monday was a holiday, equivelent to Labour Day at home, so we were not at placement. But since it's re-opening, the attendance and support at clinic has been incredible. Clinic this week is situated under another mango tree, this time in a school yard in Aklobodzi (a-klo-bo-gee), which is a small extenstion of my village. The school is in a large "U shape" and I sit on the last open section of land looking out onto the school yard. When I arrived on Tuesday, there was a table, 3 chairs (one for myself, Comfort and the participant), as well as 4 or 5 benches in rows. On the benches sat roughly 15 people waiting for clinic to open, all saying "Miawoezo" (welcome) as I drew nearer. They were very patient as I prepared the table and supplies for the day, contrary to the dirty looks that the receptionist, nurse or doctor would all get if there were 15 people in the waiting room at home. If one were to take a snapshot of clinic this week it would resemble the following description. In front of me sits a lady named Peace, roughly in her 30's with a small child on her back held on by a yard-in-length piece of cloth. Comfort is asking her where she lives and other vital information as I am strapping the BP cuff on her. The child is screaming and yelling, attempting to get away from me, as many village children have never seen a Yevu before and I, quite frankly, scare the crap out of them so badly that they cry! The mother gives the small child a cuff on the head and tells it to be quiet but this only causes more distress. As the wind howls, I am attempting to listen with the stethoscope for the characteristic sounds but am struggling to hear over the wind and the wailing of a small child. To the left of me is a group of older small children who are not so afraid of the Yevu and have found great entertainment in attempting to brush off the freckles and moles on my legs, as they think they are pieces of sand or dirt. Behind me is a boy around 9 years old holding a machettie and cutting coconuts that one of the elders has sent over as a token of the village's gratitude. Surprisingly, I have acquired patience for being poked, prodded, brushed, sneezed and yes, last but not least, urinated on, by a baby that has been momentarily handed to me by the mother who is putting her other child on her back. This continues through the entire day with little variety! On average, I have seen 90-100 people per day this week! Hopefully by the end of the week I will have seen close to 400 people! I find it inspiring rather than tiring and I hope that the word continues to spread around the various communities that I will visit before my departure!

On the home-front, my drum lessons have continued but I must admit, quite sparsly. I was away up north for a few days and the instructor has been away as well. I believe this Sunday will be my last drum lesson and hopefully, if all goes according to plan, I will be the proud new owner of a bobobo drum! The next challenge will be getting it home...

I have held many of you in suspense in regards to news about the Newbs (new volunteers). To start with, none of them are staying past 3 weeks, meaning that it will once again be Sarah and I introducing a HUGE group of new people to African village life. In a week and two days, CCS officially becomes full to the max capacity so we must brace ourselves for 25 new people to take over our home. But.... back to these new volunteers. There are only three that are staying in Woe - the rest have gone to Ho, and let me say, they are by far the most "interesting" three volunteers. I am restricted by my conscience to be neutral and factual in my descrpitions but I can say that between three volunteers, they have brought 2 hair blowdryers, bags of makeup, a hair straightener, expensive jewellery, and costly clothing. Their backgrounds are very different and one girl in particular has, in the past, been kept so close to home that she finds walking to the road side alone an adventure that requires preparation and pep-talks from other volunteers. There are nice people (thankfully) but not entirely what we were expecting.

The new volunteers left yesterday for their trip to Cape Coast - the same trip that all volunteers go on in their first two weeks of arriving. This left Sarah and I alone at the house and yesterday afternoon we found ourselves doing the same thing we do many afternoons/evenings - playing with the kids. As we/they got progressively dirtier, Sarah and I had the same idea pop into our heads! We had just circled through the shower rooms the day before and had cleaned out all the old shampoo/shower supplies that past volunteers had left behind. No one was doing washing that day so the washing tubs were free and we had excess amounts of soap!!! Can anyone see where this is going? We filled the five tubs with water and added soap to make it a "bubble bath." At first the 4 kids (Kobla, Mauoshi, Wonder, Raymoni) stood there puzzled, as bath time in Africa is one of the more painful experiences that a child regularly goes through. It involves standing in a metal washing tub with a small amount of soap and a very coarse and rough scrubber. Their mother hovers above them and vigorously scrubs the child from head to toe to the point where the child is wincing and sobbing small tears. After the cleaning process is over, they are handed a small cup to pour water over their body to rise off. Drying off doesn't involve towels smelling like flowers and feeling soft from fabric softner, but rather requires the child to stand on a 12" x 12" plank of wood... just waiting until the water droplets evaporate. So given that information, one can understand why the children stood there half in fear and half in puzzlement. We slowly coaxed them to try our afternoon bubble bath in the sun and as they stepped in one by one, there was a change in their demeanors. We showed them how to blow bubbles, to sing bath songs, and to play around in the bath tub. There they sat and soaked for about an hour just playing with a few "bath toys" (a water bottle and a plastic bag that resembed a floating ball) and blowing bubbles at one another! It was truly one of those experiences that wasn't part of the "volunteer experience" but was very amusing and rewarding nonetheless! I'll be sure to send you photos of these 4 kids sitting in small washing tubs having a bubble bath! HAHA! Makes me laugh just to remember how funny they were sitting there splashing about!

With one more day left in the week, I hope to see more record breaking numbers at clinic before the weekend takes over with bubble baths and soccer games (or in reverse order!) Enjoy the weekend!


Saturday, April 29, 2006

What a trip! (Pt 2)

So as I was describing in the previous post, Sarah and I spent the remainder of the first day swimming and chatting to the other visitors at Mole. Although the general chatter to other foreigners is satisfying in itself, Sarah and I, however, had another motive for our friendly chat. Despite our repeated attempts, however, to appear clean and polite, we were unable to convince anyone that giving us a lift to Tamale or Accra in the next few days was good idea. Darn!

The following morning, Sarah and I awoke at roughly 6am to sit atop the wateringhole in hopes of seeing some elephants before we began our safari walk. Alas, we did not see any and as the story goes, they usually only come out to the hole at dusk and dawn so we were a bit disheaertened that we had missed them. We met up with a guide who took us in small groups of 3-5 through the park. Our guide's name was David and he was dressed JUST as you'd picture a safari man to be dressed! Khaki colored top tucked into khaki pants with large black boots. To top it all off, he had a gun the length of his leg strapped to his back "in case of...." (who knows what!) Anyway, we began our walk along the hot hot desert plains seeing only small warthogs and monkeys. As we got progressively disheartened that we wouldn't see any elephants, we entered through a clearing only to see about 20 meters in front of us... a young male elephant! He was deliciously enjoying several young trees for breakfast and eloquently posed for us long enough to take pictures before trampling his way into the brush. We kept walking, seeing some monkeys and warthogs until we circled around to two watering holes. There were a few crocodiles sitting by the waters edge and a few more lurking in the watering hole with their eyes sitting just above the water. As we approached the second watering hole, we saw about 8 or 9 elephants taking a bath!!! It was truly one of the most amazing things that I have ever seen! It was amazingly comforting to know that these giant and surprisingly graceful creatures have SUCH a vast place that they can live their lives unthreatened (unlike so many animals, mammals and even people in Africa). After watching for a half hour or so the elephants moved out of the water and we eventually made our way back up to the hotel.

True to style, nothing seems to go the way that we expect it and after having such a "moment" with the elephants were were destined to have an unfortunate, or as we say here, "interesting" incident with some other creature. Sarah and I were sitting by the pool talking to one of the Irish people we met when I decided to grab us a water from the canteen. I walked across the pool deck towards the canteen when Sarah started yelling, "wait! stop!!!" I stopped for an instant... and just as the moment allowed, a large baboon (up to my hips) jumped from the changing-room roof onto the pool deck and ran to steal someone's lunch off the table!!! Yes, I realize that in the face of danger, one may overexaggerate the size or the scary-ness of their encounter but believe me when I say "up to my hips." He was MASSIVE and easily would have taken me down if I hadn't paused for a moment! Now THAT would have been an entire blog in itself - being jumped by a babboon but lucky, I escaped that. Just as instinct would have it, I bee-lined it back to the other side of the pool and let the babboon steal the unfortunate soul's lunch - I wasn't about to ask him to stop or leave!

The following morning, Sarah and I boarded a bus back to Tamale and from there, back to Accra. The ride from Tamale to Accra was a gift from the Ghanian Gods! It was as though they had punished us too harshly on the ride there and felt a tad bit guilty, as Sarah and I found ourselves in the lap of luxury! There were no Nigerian films, the AC was at a reasonable temperature and there was even a spare window seat that Sarah and I could stick our arms out at trotro stations to get food! Yes, we were SO desperately hungry that we ate street/tro-tro food not once, but twice on the ride home and surprisingly (and luckily!) did not get sick!

No trip can be finished without a journey to the Cultural Market in Accra. It's a large center where you can buy all the "cultural" things like drums, masks, statues, bracelets, cloth and the list goes on. It is, however, as trialing and as frustrating as running a marathon with people constantly grabbing onto you! Shop keepers naturally want you to visit their store but instead of using the common-sense approach of whistling or asking the tourist to step inside, they paw and claw at you to drag you into their shop. It truly is like trying to run a race when everyone is hanging off you and dragging you back! I had to supress any instinctual reflex to put someone's grabby arm in an "arm bar," as that would not have facilitate the process. But in the end, I survived the experience (nearly) and have come away with some small things for home!

Overall, it was an amazing (but often trialing) adventure! Sarah and I are heading to Ho to "renew our visas" (when you apply for a 90 day visa, they give you a 60 day visa instead so you have to pay more $$$ to renew it!) and then back to Woe! If you've read this far, thanks! It's been a long post! Congrats to everyone at home for finishing exams and take care!

Friday, April 28, 2006

What a trip!

And so it began on Sunday.... the Canadian and the Aussie hitched a ride to Accra with one of the Americans heading back home. Yes, it was a tearful start the journey, as we had to say goodbye to our dear friend, Megan. Hopefully by now she has returned home safe and sound! We continued on our way to purchase a ticket at the STC station in the heart of Accra. Much of my experience comes from the small aspects of a journey, one namely being able to purchase anything out my taxi window. I am continuously amazed at the variety of products that one can purchase! Need some new running shoes? A ironing board? Or how about a shower scrub? Truly, one can accomplish shopping for all home goods in one simple taxi ride, however returns or exchanges are a bit out of the question. Once we arrived at the STC bus station, we purchased a ticket to go all the way to Tamale for a mere 160,000 cedis ($20). To me, this seems like a ton of coin considering I can purchase an entire meal at a tro-tro station for under $1 but hey, to travel across the entire country in a reliable bus with AC (yes, AC!) for $20? I'll take it! Because all the tickets are sold out the day of, Sarah and I had to purchase a ticket for the next morning at 11am. With an entire evening ahead of us, Sarah and I chose to adventure to a different hotel to stay the night. Now, when I say "hotel" most of us would think Best Western or some equivelent motel/hotel form but please... think dirtier and more unsanitary! I would not take off my socks for fear of acquiring a fungal infection, nor would I actually touch the toilet seat, to be graphic. Showering was completly out of the question, as was sleeping on the side of the bed closest to the wall. Unfortunately, I claimed the "free side" and sentenced Sarah to an unrestful sleep staring at the smears and unidentifiable dirt on the wall. Nothing could stand in the way of our excitement, however and we were cheery and excited for our travels up north. The bus ride to Tamale is worth an entire blog in itself! It is almost impossible for me to put into words an experience that I will most likely never forget. The entire ride, which initially was suspected to be roughly 8 hours, was horribly ruined by blasting Nigerian films and air conditioning to intense that it almost hurt. I speak with genuine utter honesty when I say that Sarah and I had to huddle together to share body heat - it was that cold! This physical suffereing was combined with a form of psychological torture that is unique, I suspect, to Africa. Imagine, if you will, sitting under one of two working speakers on the bus, pumped to their maximum volume in order to keep the driver awake (people here, i will admit, have a disturbing tendency to fall alseep!), for 13, I repeat, 13 HOURS, listening to and watching Nigerian films. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of watching such films, I will quickly describe their content and tone. Typically, the stories are about a family who has a daugther who falls in love wtih a poor boy and gets pregnant. Instead of talking or discussing such issues through, the entire movie is filled with shouting! No one speaks at a normal volume! The boy yells at the girl, the girl yells at her parents, the parents yell at the baby and the baby WAILS for hours on end. I do not lie when I say that Sarah and I could not hear one another when we were trying to chat. To top it all off, the series of films we watched were titled: "The pains of love" parts 1 AND 2 and "Everything we touch is blessed" (again parts 1 & 2). For your true Ghanian experience, I may purchase one of these cinematic rarities for roughly $2 for all to see when I return home!

Soooo after 13 hours of complete and utter insanity, Sarah and I got off the bus only to realize that at 1am it would be slightly difficult to find a taxi or a hotel to take us in. But no fear! A small 14 year old boy helped us find our way (Ghanians are quite helpful at times) and we checked ourselves into the Picorna Hotel - yes, another beautiful name attached to a complete dump. Oh, before I continue on, let me backtrack to one of our bus stops. Sarah and I desperately needed to use the washroom, which is a curse when stopping in small towns, but with no choice but to use the public facilities, we each paid 500 cedis ($0.05) to use the "female urinal." I will go no futher into describing such an event, as it has permanetly scarred me, but I will proudly state that I am confident in my squatting abilities.

Sarah and I awoke the next morning only to be completely pumped about heading to Mole National Park (a savanah type park filled with 4090km of animal reserves where one can safari around to see elephants, crocodiles, babboons, monkeys and many other awesome animals!) After 13 grueling hours of Nigerian films and coldcold AC, disgusting bathroom adventures, and two sleeps at icky hotels we were FINALLY going to get to our destination spot and see some elephants! The ride from Tamale to Mole was an incredibly bumpy and dirty one. Being a warm sunny day, both Sarah and I were wearing sunglasses. When we arrived in Mole and stepped into the reception to claim our hotel for the next two nights, we laughed hysterically at one another for the amount of red clay and dirt that was caked on our faces. It was the first time since arriving in Ghana (or ever, for that reason) that I looked as though I had a genuine tan. After all the pervious descriptions of our adventure, it might have su ggested that our trip was doomed, a tragic attempt to travel, but alas, we collected our key and opened the door to our room and stepped into heaven! Our room was at the top of the cliff looking over two watering holes where the elephants came to water at dusk and dawn. Two metres from the door was a swimming pool- not 100% clean but cool and blue none the less. Needless to say, we were happy as clams. We spent the rest of the day talking and swimming our little hearts out!

Oh, dear me, my vast internet time has run out and there are others in line for computers. I will continue writing about the adventure tomorrow, as the best parts are still yet to come! Hold tight!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

And then there were 2...

This weekend is a very big weekend of change. One of the volunteers left last night and three others leave tomorrow, leaving only Sarah and I from our original group! We will have to hold down the fort as a minority, as we will be sharing the house with four new volunteers arriving tomorrow. Despite the grave track record of minority governments, Sarah and I perceive this one to be success! ;) Haha, just kidding - we won't make their lives too hard but just difficult enough, as the others initially did to us when we arrived. We're debating either hiding all the cutlery except two forks, two knives and two spoons and telling them that they have to eat with their hands until the next market day where they can purchase their own silverwear OORR wait a few days before telling them about the gigga bugs!

Clinic wrapped up in the Dzakobi community on Friday. It was definitely a welcoming community, mostly of elders and some small families. Near the end of each clinic day, an elder would send over a grandson with a bowl of mangos, pineapples or coconuts on his head as a small thank you. Usually the child brought along a large knive to cut the fruit if we so desired to eat it at the time. When I first arrived I was quite frightened to see small children walking around with very very large knives but as I settled into my surroundings, I saw the functionality of such. The machettie (sp?) is a multi use tool for the kids. They trim off dead branches from their pineapple palms, cut the grass or weeds in their gardens, or sit by the roadside with a bowl of pineapples attempting to sell freshly cut fruit for some extra pocket change. There is no way that a 6 year old at home would be able to operate an 18" knife without cutting off at least one extremity but that's just the reality of the situation - at home no small child is "mowing the lawn" with a knife, doing garden chores or selling fruit for extra money. Just one of the many small differences ....

Anyway, the week is behind us and we are greeted by a GLORIOUS Saturday morning! It's hothothot and blue skyed! A perfect day for the pool, I'd say! As I was saying above, it's the last night for a few of the volunteers so we're having an afternoon pool party and an evening at Happy Corner. If I have yet to describe the amazing Happy Corner, forgive me! It's a small "spot" (as they call a restuarant/bar here) that is about a 20 minute walk from the house. It's a cement patio with one plastic table and rickety chairs with a door made of corrugated tin that scrapes loudly on the cement as you enter. Cornelius is the mate there and does an exellent job of serving us Cokes and FanIces. I'll take a moment to let you in on the magic of FanIce. It is the Ghanian attempt at icecream and although it somewhat resembles the vanilla flavor, it also has a "cake frosting" sensation to it as well. Now many of you may think that's a bit on the odd or disgusting side but when you lack the simple pleasures of vanilla icecream, any "vanilla/cake frosting" attempt will do. Just like everything in Ghana, it comes in a bag. You use your teeth to tear open the corner and suck it out from there. When we travel in tro-tros we rarely pack water, as our backpacks are so small and the water is quite heavy. Each time the tro-tro stops, about 15 kids run from all directions with bowls on their heads shouting "PUUUUURE WATER." Sticking my hand out the window with a 1000 cedis bill ($0.10) will get me an ice cold bag of pure water. To drink it, make a small hole with your tooth and drink away! Pure Water and FanIce are just two of many liquids/foods that come in a bag. One can also get a shot of whiskey. The name of the product? Whiskey in a Bag! HAHAHA! It's the most fowl thing you've ever smelt or if you're so unluckly to have been offered it from a fellow Ghanian, tasted. So, as I make my way to the pool this afternoon, I will most likely stick my hand out the window with 3500 cedis to get myself both a FanIce ANNND a Pure Water - what more could this day have in store for me?!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The clinic goes mobile! (entry #2 for today - read below)

As the title implies, the Woe Blood Pressure Clinic has gone mobile! At the end of last week, we figured that we ought to move around the village to other places, as not everyone has access to our side of town so on Monday, we did just that. Each day I have an interpreter (it varies who) and on Monday it was one of the older compound kids named Comfort. She is an aspiring nursing student and although I may be bit biased (because I think she's awesome) I truly believe that she is one of the smartest and hardest working youth I have met thus far. Comfort and I set off down one of the sand paths leading away from our compound and walked for probably 45 minutes to reach our new clinic spot. Of course we had to carry our supplies with us which was an interesting experience in itself. I was struggling to carry my box and my backpack and as I was leading the way, I wondered how Comfort was doing with her stuff behind me. I look back, assuming she was struggling as much as I was, and saw quite the opposite. She had her box on her head and was drinking out of a waterbottle (having both hands free)! Obviously my way was way inferior so we stopped for a moment and she tied a piece of cloth in a circle, placed it on my head and placed the box on top of the cloth, creating a relatively stable surface for the box to sit. That is how I carried my box for the remainder of the walk to the clinic and for the return walk in the afternoon! It is surprisingly much more comfortable to carry a box on one's head rather than have all the corners and edges dig into the body. As Yao (one of the CCS staff) would say, "there is always a cross..... cultural.... solution" and in this case, it was acquiring the skill of balancing and walking with a box one my head.

We arrived at the new clinic spot which was situated in the middle of school yard under a massive mango tree. One of the villagers had brought a small rickety table and two chairs for us to sit on while the patients sat under the tree awaiting their turn. On Monday there were not many villagers at the clinic (being a holiday and all) but as we came out of the farm fields today, there were already about 15 people waiting for the clinic to open! In total, I saw roughly 60-70 people including my highest record blood pressure (220/115), a very probably case of severe malaria in a young child and an infected umbilical cord of a very young infant. If I have not disclosed some of the myths in rural Africa yet, one of them is that in order for the infants umbilical cord to heal properly, mothers need to put green algae over the belly. Unfortunately, this often results in an infection (as seen today) and even more unfortuantely, the family sometimes does not have the means to attend the hospital so the unthinkable often occurs. Today was a lucky day, as the family had sold a few extra mangos on the weekend at the Easter celebration and could afford to take the young one to the hospital. Overall, it was a busy day at the clinic under the mango tree today! Next week I'll be at another location from Monday to Wednesday and then Thursday through Sunday are a holiday of some sort so Sarah and I are heading up to Mole National Park in hopes to see some elephants and such! Some of you have asked if I am in need of any supplies but as of now, I cannot think of any unless Cadbury's Mini Eggs qualify as a clinic supply!? ;) Just kidding! I am fine for now, but thank you thank you thank you for the offer!

After clinic, I met with one of the members of the Community Based Organization (CBO) for HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. As I explained in my last blog, I am also trying to have posters and materials for participants of the clinic to view/read while they wait. The village CBO heard about this and although they were delighted to hear I was doing such a thing, were a bit confused on my approach to preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. When I initially constructed the materials, I was aware that the perspectives from home may differe from those here, so I obtained an AIDS handbook from the District of Public Health as a guide. Apparently, though, there are conflicting ideas on AIDS prevention even in this region, as evidenced today when the CBO asked me to preach complete abstainance from sex rather than condom use. Now I'm hoping that you can imagine the problem with this approach, as it not only completly refrains from providing support/education to those who won't choose that avenue, but it also provides frightening simplicity to an issue that is as rampant as 1 in 4 in sub-saharan Africa. Needless to say, he and I politely differed on our perspectives and agreed to discuss the issue further at a later date. I walked away from that encounter stunned... almost inexplicably stunned! How can a country with such a problem just provide such a simple and completly unrealistic solution to a deathly problem? The scary thing is, Ghana is the ground-breaking country of West Africa in terms of health care and HIV/AIDS awareness.

Well, I will leave you all with that. I will hopefully get a chance to return on the weekend but if I do not speak with any of you until then, best of luck at playoffs (for squash people), studying/exams (for school people), and best wishes to all the rest!


It's no hockey game, but it'll do!

Good afternoon! I hope that everyone's Easter weekend was filled with good times, yummy chocolate and maybe even a scrumptous dinner or two. In Ghana, Easter is one of the biggest celebrations, especially in the south which is where I live. If I have not informed you on the religious practices of Ghana, let me pause for a brief second to let you in on a bit of the religious reality. Ghana, and the south in particular, is very very religious; predominantly Christian. The people are very kind and non-abrasive about their passion but it is very evident. The name of shops along the road are titled, "Jesus is Alive Beauty Salon," or my personal favorite, "Jesus' Hands are Clean Hands Restuarant." Every tro-tro either has a plastic photo of Jesus on the side or has a phrase in plastic letters along the rear window that bares a psalm or two. So if you get where I'm going with this, Easter was a frightingly massive celebration! We started off the weekend with a large family dinner on Saturday in which all the staff members from both CCS sites (Ho and Woe) brought their spouse and children. Some staff members have more than one wife (not divorced and remarried, simply more than one wife) so that means more children for them so the number of kids running around the compound was almost indescribable! Sunday morning we all awoke early to head to church. The sight of the street packed with people going to church was incredible in itself. It looked as though the entire town was picking up and leaving but in their best dresses and traditional cloths. We walked for about 30 minutes to a Roman Catholic Church where the first hour of mass was conducted as any RC mass would be but the second half of mass, however, was absolutely astonishing! Massive drums were brought into the church and every man, woman and child dance for the remaining two hours of church. The singing and rhythm will stick with me, as it was so well done! After lunch, we headed to the soccer pitch down the road where the CCS team was challenging the village of Woe. There were easily 1000 people in attendance and although it is with great apprehension that I take this position, I'd have to say that the cheering and intensity at this small match was superior to any Oiler game. Yes, I realize I am taking quite a risk saying that, for I could lose my family and friends back home, but it's true! Ghanians love their soccer (or football as it's properly called) and it was very evident on Sunday. The match was very evenly played until the second half when CCS took the lead to win the game 3-2. From that point on, it was just one big party in the street until night time! Monday morning gave everyone a few hours to rest, as the previous day's excitement was quite tiring! The CCS staff told us that there would be something going on at the beach in the afternoon so we slowly got our day together and strolled down to the beach only to find about 2000 people having yet another party, this time on the beach. When I say party, it's not like home where there are alcoholic drinks all around and a fight breaks out towards the end. It's a light hearted celebration where anyone who posesses a drum, rattle or bell brings it to the beach and together with all the fellow villagers, we dance and dance until the sun sets. Overall, it was an action packed weekend (for Ghanian standards) and very pleasant!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Village life... (con't)

Many of you are probably wondering what I'm up to these days with my placement. As you know, I have stopped working at the hospital and have opened up a clinic in the village of Woe. The first day was on Monday and thus far (to Thursday) it has been a huge success!!! The CCS staff were really helpful in getting me up and running with the printing of professional looking cards to record patient information, signs in Ewe and the translation and photocopying of a phamphlet for participants. Kofi, one of the CCS staff, had to turn away five or six people at 6am on Monday morning because I wasn't even awake yet! The word has spread through the village quite quickly and I have seen about 90 people so far. I have seen some of the highest blood pressures in my life (210/110) and have been asked some of the most obscure questions as well. I am getting a real sense of what the health issues are in the village and thus, am having the other volunteers madly helping with signs and posters to address such information. The top three priorities are AIDS/STD prevention, family planning, and malaria prevention. The task of educating the people sounds much easier than it truly is, however. Many people in the village do not read/write Ewe or English so the signs must be picture orientated but my idea of a picture poster is much different than theirs. Symbols in North America (such as a smiley face or a red circle with a slash through it) do not communicate the same messages here. As well, certain health issues are viewed differently here than at home. AIDS is a very very stigmatized issue! For example, if a person were to be reading a phamphlet on AIDS, the other participants waiting their turn may suspect that individual of having AIDS and the news may spread throughout the community. Soooo... the AIDS poster, for instance, must be a comical and light hearted poster that everyone can see to avoid stigmatization. Sarah teaches Moral Education at her school and the section in the book on AIDS teaches children that "having AIDS brings incredible shame to the family" and that "one must be foolish to acquire it." As you could imagine, the stigmas are incredibly ruthless here and education is imparative. One group of mothers came to the clinic asking questions about feeding their children. Fortunately I had an interpreter at that moment to help them out but that's another issue all together that I have a tough time communicating on paper. How am I to draw casavva and grass cutter if I have never seen them to begin with? These are only a few of the obstacles that I am running into when attempting to communicate health information to the residents but nonetheless, I'm working with the English speaking CCS staff to make culturally appropriate signs and such. It's an interesting experience!

The volunteers are coming from Ho this weekend to celebrate Easter. There's a massive soccer match at the beach between the CCS staff and the villagers of Woe on Saturday and a picnic at the beach on Monday. I'll hopefully return to blog mid-next week so until then, have a great Easter weekend! Cheers!

Village life...

Good afternoon!

My oh my it's been quite a while since I last blogged. I made a genuine attempt to come to Denu and Tuesday however the blog site was down. So I've purchased a bit of extra time today knowing that it'll take a little while for me to write all the happenings since last week.

The transition to village life is more evident than ever. It's very interesting to see myself adapt to the village and the villagers to adapt to the volunteers. I no longer walk through my compound/community and hear the word "Yevu." Instead, I am being referred to as "Afiyo" or the "Yevu nurse." I've learned the short cuts through the compound and have made new family friends along the way. Ghanians don't really have established property lines and so on any given walk home, I may tumble through a yard of children or even a house! No matter for them, as having a guest is an honor and very quickly I am brough a stool by a small child and given some bread from the family. It has really given me an opportunity to see cultural rules amongst family members which is extremely unique. Also, a remarkable number of Ghanians speak French so I no longer have to sit in silence with my poor Ewe skills! I knew those years of French school would one day come in handy. One family, for instance, has adopted two extra children from another lady who passed away. The youngest, Midaow, was playing the other day when he tripped on another child and hit his head on the corner of the stove. I just so happen to have some med supplies in my backpack so I did the nurse thing and semi-bandaged the little tyke up. Because the mother spoke French, I could tell her how to keep it clean and that I would be back in the morning to take a look at it. Thus far, it's not infected which is a rarity among children with wounds. It's unfortunate to say but some of the families truly have nothing more than their surroundings to take of their children with, so wounds are attended to with leaves, algae, dirt and if a child is lucky, a very dirty old piece of cloth. So although it's just one child and one wound, I was happy to of some help.

I've acquired a little Ghanian buddy! I've introduced you to him before but to recap, his name is Wonder and he is roughly 10 or 11 years old. School is out for a few weeks for Easter break so he's often hanging around the compound. In the morning, he sells crabs to Giffah and in the afternoon, he and I head out on small adventures. We've gone to the beach a few times which involves Wonder going swimming and me sitting and just chilling. Apparently the villagers say that there is quite an undertow so I choose not to swim and Wonder just kind of splases at the shore line. Due to our large language barrier, we spend the majority of our walks kicking a dried mango back and forth in a pretend game of soccer. Just the other day, Giffah dropped a tub of mangos in my room. Completly perplexed, I asked her why the heck she had given me so many and what I was supposed to do wtih all of them!? Apparently Wonder had dropped them off that morning as a wee gift for myself and the others. Sweet kid...

My drum lessons are still continuing about twice a week. I'm having a really good time attempting to learn the various rhythms but believe me, it's not easy. As soon as the drumming begins, the kids from next door come over and have a total blast dancing around our litte drum circle. I find it SO interesting that such young children (young enough not to talk) know how to dance the Ghanian way! The kids fall to the ground and roll around in utter laughter when the volunteers get up and dance with them - it's worth the embarassment just to see them roll around in the sand laughing! Haha!

Oh I've got to switch computers, so I'll continue in just a minute!

Saturday, April 08, 2006


Hello everyone!

This is going to be one small blog, as I am trying to do a million and one things while I'm on high speed internet. I have sent about 5-6 photos to Vanessa and if you would like to receive them, first clear your inbox because they're pretty large and second, email her at She'd be happy to send them on! Cheers!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

New sleeping attire

One of the most important things that I have learned in Africa thus far is to just roll with the flow. Since I last wrote, Sarah and I have been attacked and taken over by a number of large insects and possibly a rodent or two. On Monday, we were getting ready for bed when we looked up above Sarah's bed and there was an ENORMOUS spider. Now, I realize that in the moment of fear a person can overestimate the size of spider but I am being as objective as possible. The spider was quite possibly the size of my palm and really very hairy. After a quick game of rock, paper, scissors to see who would deal with it, Sarah valliantly climbed atop her bed with a cup in one hand and a post card in the other in attempt to catch the freaky beast and set it free far far away from our dwelling. And she did just that! She caught it (amidst some screaming) and handed it down to me. It was what we call the "African relay" as I ran like the wind once I had it in the cup. I ran and ran and ran a bit more to a pineapple tree far from the compound and gave it a toss. To ensure that it didn't stick to me in any way (it was dark, I couldn't tell) or follow me back to the compound, I ran fast and swatted at my clothing. When I got back into the room I heard a terrifying scream come from Sarah once again. There was ANOTHER spider (even slightly larger) but this time ON my bed. Great, on my bed. What could be better? As it crawled closer to Sarah and I the screaming got a bit louder. I know, for all of you who think we're pansies for screaming, you didn't see the size of this thing. It was no "daddy-long-legs" or whatever we have at home. It was large, extremely hairy and potentially dangerous (it's Africa, it could be dangerous!) so there was a bit of screaming. All of a sudden Wisdom, the night guard, ran into our room with a small broom and said "wwwwwhat? Wwwwwwwhat essss it?" As soon as he saw it, he began beating the heck out of the poor thing. Unfortuante for the spider, luck for the Canadian. That wasn't the end, though. As I was talking on the phone to home I felt a faint crawling sensation. Thinking it was a piece of my skirt brushing up against my leg, I didn't attend to it. Later, I looked down and saw the most incredibly terrifying cockroach on my leg. Yes, a cockroach. I won't even begin to describe the new level of fear but since then, I have decided that night time is a scary time for bugs, and have thus changed my sleeping attire. As entertaining as it is for all of you to think, I now sleep with my t- shirt tucked into my pants, my pants tucked into my socks and my mosquito net tucked into every possible nook of the bed in attempt to keep any creepy crawly things off my body and from feasting on my flesh. At least I haven't had a mouse nibble on my face like another volunteer experienced! That's one reason to sleep with a mosquito net!

Old news alert: we had a solar eclispe last week. I forgot to blog about it but it was my first solar eclipse experience. Sarah has some good photos that I'll bring home for all to see cause there's no other way to explain it. Completly amazing!

Clinic update! I've met with the Director of Public Health and the Assistant of Public Health to facilitate the opening of the clinic. I've been diligently working with a nurse who has been educated in English but also speaks Ewe to translate an information sheet on blood pressure. It will be given out to participants in the clinic. Documentation cards are being printed in Ho and will arrive this weekend with one of the CCS staff and referral cards to the local hospital will be ready by Monday. I've been asked by the public health staff to also consider chat with participants about family planning. It's apparently a big issue where I am and it's very interesting to see the rural views clash with the educated urban views. The tradition in the village is to have many children to help with farming and fishing however, nurses and doctors are being taught to counsel families to have only two or three children to provide better care to those few. I will consider the idea but one thing at a time!

I will be traveling to Accra this weekend to access a good computer for registration for university and such. I am also going to attempt to post some photos of the trip thus far but don't be too excited just yet. I'm not sure how probable it is to happen. So until then, good luck in the exams and papers for those of you still in school! Cheers!

Friday, March 31, 2006

A week of new events!

Wow! I cannnot believe that (a) it's been almost a week since I last posted a blog and (b) it's officially been 4 weeks since I landed my two bare feet in Ghana! Crazy if you ask me! Some weeks are slower than others but this week has been action packed so I'll see what I can do to remember an entire week ago!

As you know, I was hoping to get set up with a few drum lessons over the course of my stay. On Monday, a man named Eric came to the compound with a huge bobobo drum and said, "Cessy, I am drumming your instructor. Let's us start soon now." As you can tell, the pronouciation of my name was skewed, as was his English, but nonetheless I had my first drumming lesson. Those of you who have heard any music come from my hands or mouth can attest to the fact that I'd be better off sticking to athletics. I'd have to say that playing the bobobo drum is something that I may have a shot at if all my other possible careers fail. The drum is about 3 feet tall and quite skinny with an amazing mural carved into it. Eric is a good instructor and patient with me which has helped a lot considering we barely communicate. He began by teaching me the first rhythm. Although the rhythm seems simple enough with only four different sounds to it, creating the four different sounds is difficult. The first sound is created when the drummer hits the flesh of their hand against the side of the drum, allowing the fingers to "flop" onto the skin of the drum. Makes a "popping" noise. The second sound requires the drummer to lift the drum with his/her ankles/knees while striking with a cupped hand (as if you'd catch water in your hand). The third and fourth sounds are created with stiff fingers hitting on the first 1/3rd of the drum. Yes, this basic rhythm is what took me well over an hour to grasp. Whenever I would mess up, Eric would say "no," and take the drum to show me again and then pass it back. I had a two hour lesson only using the words, "no," and "listen." Ghanian music usually has two other instruments in it, neither of which I know the Ewe names for. One resembles a cow bell and the other is a head-sized maracca (sp!?). All three instruments are played to a different rhythm but together they sound amazing. Monday night's lesson was about learning the basics of each instrument. I'll have to admit, however, that Monday's lesson was not the best sounding drumming that the village of Woe had heard. Somewhat embarassed, I decided to practice a bit over the week (to everyone else's disagreement) and by Thursday, I definitely felt pumped for the second lesson. Eric came on time, which is very odd for a Ghanian, and we started where we left off. Within a few minutes I had the rhythms of Monday's lesson down and was moving on to learning how to transition to other rhythms. When the master drummer wants to change the sound, he/she must play a certain beat four times for all the others to be aware that the sound is about to change. I was focusing so hard that I hadn't realized what was going on around me. All the compound children had come running over when they heard the drumming and even Wonder (age 3) began dancing around. Every few minutes more and more kids would trickle in until we had about 15 kids of all different ages dancing to the beat of one bobobo drum, one marraca and one cow bell. I will try to take some video on my digital camera of the kids dancing as you have never quite seen anything so amazing.

Four of the volunteers left for home today, as their placements have come to an end. Our group has sadly been cut from 10 to 6 but at the end of April comes an enormous group! Apparently another 15-20 people are coming! It will be just as we were getting used to having the luxury of not waiting for a shower or having to fight for elbow room at the table! I wish all the volunteers a very safe journey and best of luck jumping back into the busy life of work and school!

I have spent the past two weeks in close contact with with staff at CCS, the nurses/doctors at Keta Government Hospital and as well, the Director of Public Health in hopes to branch out of the hospital work and get more involved with the community. I submitted a proposal to the Director this afternoon requesting partnership and support as I open a blood pressure clinic in Woe. My monotonous work at the hospital, which has consisted of taking vitals 3x a day, has shown me that an incredible number of people have very high blood pressure (e.g. 190/120) and are completly unaware. The health system here is not focused at all on prevention so the majority of people have never even heard of the term. Obviously, there is a definite need for education and awareness in the community and since I currently do very little at the hospital I thought it wouldn't hurt to entrepreneur a clinic of my own. I have not much to lose and everything to gain at this point. Many nursing students from home would giggle right now not at the idea of the clinic but at the fact that I will be doing community nursing. I've always been the nursing student dedicated to tertiary nursing (fixing the problems as they arrive at the hospital) rather than the "primary prevention" kind-of girl but hey, look how things change! I will hopefully have an answer from the Director by early next week so that the clinic can begin on Monday April 10th. Between now and then I have a number of things to do such as find an English and Ewe speaking person to help me translate a phamphlet, take a tro-tro to Denu to find a photocopier to make copies and meet with a physician who has agreed to see the patients with incredibly high blood pressures. I'll let you all know how it goes this upcoming week! *fingers crossed!*

In other news, I have sadly acquired my first gigga. Yes, the girl who was incredibly anal about preventing them has found herself with a momma gigga and a sac full of eggs. I know exactly when I would have gotten it as well! During the drum lesson on Monday, Eric said it would be easier to lift the drum with bare feet so I did. Two hours with your feet in the sand will grant you a gigga in your left baby toe! (Don't worry, by Thursday I convinced him to let me do it with my shoes on so hopefully this will be the first AND last gigga!) Sarah and I did our microsurgery as sterile as possible and not to gross you all out, but it was a huge gigga! Definitely was worth a photo which some of you may be graced with when I return!

To go along with the bugs in my feet are the two very unidentifiable but odd looking spider bites on my left leg. They are roughly "twoonie" sized, red and hard to the touch. Ester and Giffah are quite certain that I've been bit by a common spider. As well, I have been hosting a family of bed bugs which have taken a kind meal out of my tummy at night. Alas, as much as I've tried to avoid all the bugs in Africa, I have not prevailed. It's okay - I still believe it's been worth the trip! ;)

A bit more random news before I go. My Ewe is becoming better and better by the week! I can now have "child level" conversations including my name, where I have just come from, where I am going, what I am in Ghana for and bidding people a great day and to see them again tomorrow. The other day on the tro-tro I was asked incessantly about my husband back home so I told the man that my husband's name was Abraham, that he was a direct descendant from a ninja clan and that I had two sons named Lincoln and George W. Bush aged 9 and 7 (meaning I would have had to have been 12 when I gave birth to my first child!! HAHA) I've decided that the more persistant the person is, the more elaborate the story will become!

Well, alas, the time has come for me to say "miadogo" (see you again soon). I will be trecking back to the CCS house in a terrential downpour singing early 90's remix hits with Sarah that we heard on the tro-tro here (e.g. Twist and Shout remix with regae!!!!) Thank you for the blog postings! Great to hear from y'all!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

"White white person with a black beard!"

Good afternoon, everyone!

What an amazing Saturday! It's exceptionally hot today but also exceptionally breezy so it all evens out in the end. I got to sleep in today till about 8am thanks to my body's ability to adapt and overcome the noise of the roosters outside. Slowly, day by day, I am able to sleep a bit longer until finally my nemisis wins the battle and I am awoken to him. After reading over a few of my past blogs, I reailze that I have been chatting tons about tro-tros. I was determined to blog this afternoon without mentioning the condition or the happenings on my tro-tro ride here but I just can't! Something weirder and more warped happens every time! Today I was sitting in the verrrry back by the window 'cause that's a prime spot for breeze. I was leaning on the window sill with my elbow and about 10 minutes into the ride, I felt something plop down onto my arm. For some reason I didn't pay attention to it until I felt a clawing sensation. When I looked down there was a 5 inch long crab crawling up my arm! I screamed and shook my arm and the crab flew out the window but to everyone else's humor! The entire tro-tro doubled over in laughter at the Yevu that was freaked out by a crab crawling on her! How did it get there, you wonder? It's market day in Aflao so people put their goods on top of the trotro and loosly tie them down but this time, a few crabs escaped and fell off the roof as we swerved around a corner. If I'd been a little less jumpy, I could have deftly caught the crab and given it to Giffah at home - she would have made some scrumptous unidentifiable dip with it or something.

Yesterday after work at the hospital I decided I'd walk home. The other volunteer that works at the hospital and said it would be about an hour and a half if I didn't stop to say hi along the way (like that would ever happen!). The entire trip took me roughly 3 hours because every child had to come out and say hello as well as every shop keeper. I made a ton of friends along the way, all offering me bits and pieces of their scarce lunch. That's what's so amazing about the people here - with not enough food to go around their family, they're still eager to offer guests a taste. The kids get a huge kick out of coming to see you. They have this song that they all sing when I walk by that means, "white white girl with a big black beard!" I'll admit, it's somewhat funny cause they all jump around like little monkies yelling this song when you walk by and errupt in enormous laughter when you start dancing on the side of the road! Haha! I've learned the Ewe words for "black black girl with a white beard" and they almost fall off their stumps and out of their trees when I sing it back to them! Every so often they are so entertained that they dance with me down the street singing their song while I sing my song and afterwards, they come to hang out at the compoud. As I've said in other blogs, no one ever worries about their children being abducted or lost - they're all around so if they follow us home, it's okay. Children as young as 3 will dance traditionally, which involves a lot of foot stomping and arm swinging. I've had one Ghanaian dancing lesson but it hasn't made me a master of Ghanian dancing yet, as evidenced by the kid's laughter at me. The kids are so genuine, though, that they'll dance slowly for you to follow and as soon as you get the hang of it, they'll speed up and bust out some new groovy move that's really complicated. If you gather a pack of children, usually one takes the responsibiilty of "beat keeper" while the others stomp along. It's really quite amazing to watch them groove along the road together! When we finally got back to the compound, the kids next door heard all the commotion and came running out. They're funny kids but true rascals! Wonder (#1) is about 11 and causes a constant rucus with his friend Moses. Koblah is about 6 and teams up with Raymond, 5, to be as loud as they can. Maushi and Wonder (#2) are both about 3 and are "hit and miss" with their clothing. Sometimes it's there, sometimes it's not. Yenu, 1.5, is always naked and sandy but soso excited to volunteers come home from work that there is no way to avoid a naked sandy baby from jumping on you! They usually have a clan of 5- 10 that comes with them as well but those are the "consistent 7." We hung out, played a bit of ball, and danced for a good 2 hours or so before it was time for them to head out. It was one memorable walk home, that's for sure!

As you know from reading the other blogs, the Ghanian way of life is very different from home. It's very family orientated and time-less. Shops do not open or closed at a specific time but the hours are typically between 5am and 11pm. If one of us were to own a shop at home, it would be very odd to have such long hours. We would be away from our friends and family, unable to play sports or do hobbies and since it's unethical to sleep at one's job, it would be very tiring to only have a few hours sleep between close and open. But here, the setup of life and the work mentality is completly different! Most shops are run out of the home and most homes are in a compound-like form. The shop may be open, but the person running it is usually across the street visiting his/her sister, playing soccer behind the store with a buddy, or napping on a bench. Running a shop is literally like being at home everyday with your family and friends except people come and see you for an egg or two. Shops are usually about 3meters x 4 meters (so quite small) and sell only a few products. To get a chicken, you go to the shop near the broken down trotro on the side of the road. To buy dish soap, you need to walk in past a few compounds, under a line or two of laundry and inside the small shop near the obituary pole. I can see how someone who is only here for a few weeks would have an entirely different experience than someone here for a few months. There is not a need to search for these items when the stay is shorter so learning the map and variety of shops is not needed. Until I recently was sent on a mission for toothpaste, I thought all the shops sold roughly the same things but how mistaken I was! Giffah and Ester go on missions all the time to find the items that we need to cook at our compound. For example, one evening a volunteer suggested a dish that the new volunteers had not yet experienced. It required bean flour, which we thought would be relatively simple to find. To our dismay, it required Giffah to go the market in Anloga, purchase beans, find a piece of tin and dry the beans in the sun for three days and then crush them into a very fine powder with a rounded rock and bowl. Who knows what else she had to do to create that meal but often around the compound you will find beans drying on sheets of tin, or if you're lucky to have chicken for dinner, you'll notice one less pesky chicken around. It's odd to think that making chicken and potatos for dinner requires Giffah to go to Togo (the next country over!) to purchase the potatos and then to catch and cook the chicken herself. Life is lived "day to day" here, as tasks like grocery shopping that would require 1-2 hours at home require an entire days travel and an up-to-date/valid visa. In some ways the efficiency of home is a savoir and in other ways, it lacks personality, as each tro-tro ride and each visit to the market is one more friend made and one more unique experience.

Unfortunately, the time has come that Sarah and I must catch a rickety old tro-tro home. It will weave in and out of traffic beeping it's horn for no defined reason as we travel at high speeds on really poor roads. Chances are we will nearly hit a goat or like one of the trips last week, lose a door while driving down the highway. It's always just one more thing to laugh at!

Until next time...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

"Conservation is the key to preservation" - Aussie Sarah

As the days fly by, so does the extra food that Sarah and I purchased at the western market, Koala's. Our day often begins with me scrounging for an extra biscuit and her yelling from the top bunk, "Remember, Conservation is the key to Preservation!!!" We have to ration our tea bags, Digestive biscuits, and Ghanian candies, as we won't be returning to Accra for quite some time.

Sarah and I had planned to jump on a tro-tro and come to Denu (the town with internet) yesterday but our plan was foiled by a terrential storm! Just as I was getting off the tro-tro after work, the wind picked up. It resembled a true hurricane this time (not like the one that I previously thought was a hurricane that really wasn't) and as I attempted to run back to the compound, I was repeatedly blown into bushes and branches. About half way there, someone turned on a faucet above us and rain just started to pour. I maybe had about 100-200meters to run but by the time I arrived at my door, I was drenched! My clothes were dripping wet - completly saturated! Welcome to African rains! We still thought we'd go after the rain stopped, but alas, my naive non-African knowledge failed me and we sat around for the entire afternoon thinking that the rain would stop. The rainstorm was quite refreshing, though, as it cooled everything down! The highlight of the afternoon and evening was requesting a sheet (yes, a SHEET!) to sleep under and turning down the fan from a 5 to a 3 in our room. It was the first time since I'd left Canada that I was able to comfortably settle into bed completly dry without one bead of sweat.

This morning we awoke to a bright and hot day so there were no excuses not to come to Denu after work. We hopped in a trotro and began to pick up other travellers along the way with all their stuff. It's amazing how efficient the tro-tro system is. For instance, we stopped to pick up a lady on the side of the road who had three large baskets of fish (stinky, I might add), a basket of ducks (alive and quacking), and a box of small dogs. As soon as the car decelerated to a speed of about 2okm/hr, the second worker in the tro tro jumped out and started pciking up her baskets. She jumped into the tro-tro while he popped open the drunk, shoved it all on top of the preexisting baskets of stinky fish and random animals and slapped the side of the trotro (which tells the driver to start driving). The man runs for about 10-15 meters to catch up to the van and then jumps in! No time wasted!!!

Some of you actually emailed and asked questions about life here so I'll take a bit of time to get to those. The first question was asking who cooks all the food at the house? Well, her name is Giffah and if it had an English translation it would most definitely be, "Ghanian mother and the most supreme chef in all of Ghana." The Aussie describes her as, "basically,....God." Each day, she makes enough food for the entire clan on one fire. Yes, we have no stove, no oven, no microwave and often, no power. Giffah has a small square spot by the house that is no larger than 8 inches x 8 inches that has coals and a small make-shift area to cook on. From there, she cooks pots and pots of rice, soups of an indistinguishable nature, baked beans, bread, spring rolls and other yummy dishes. Imagine, cooking for 10-15 people on a small fire pit every day, having to pay almost more attention to the heat of the fire than the dish. She's also takes requests which puts her higher and higher on the cool-meter every day. Ester is another helper around the compound but she is younger and shyer. She also is responsible for doing tasks other than cooking such as collecting bed sheets, washing towels, and making sure things run smoothly. If you leave your door open on Fridays, Ester comes along and takes the bed sheets for washing. I've buddied up to Ester in the past week hoping that this weekend she will let me choose first which sheets I want for the next week. As silly as it sounds, a luxury is being able to have bed sheets that (a) fit the bed and (b) resemble something from home. Last week I caught her finishing folding laundry and got to pick first! My choice? Pokemon and Mickey Mouse. All the other suckers got solid grey or faded striped sheets!!!

The other question that I found interesting was, "Can you speak the local language?" Let me tell you that Ewe has no sensical logic to it so it's a bit tough to pick up. Once a week we have an Ewe lesson and with working at the hospital, I have come to pick up common daily phrases. I can say: "Hello, how are you this morning?
I am fine, thank you
What is your name
My name is ______ (depending if I give my Ewe name or English name)
See you later
Where are you going?
I am going to ______
Can I come in?"
That's about it! It gets me pretty far because the majority of people that I talk to during the day are kids, as I work in the Children's ward and also play with the kids at the compound. It's amazing how we barely speak to one another but can play for hours and hours on end with small symbols, actions and the words, "yes", "no," "stop," and "see you soon."

Over the course of the week, some new children have been coming to the compound. One girl, named Fortune, 11, is particularly entertaining. We've been hanging out every day and just yesterday, we got to chatting about school. Her English is pretty good and she told me how she is not doing well in math. I told her that if she brought her math book to the compound that I would help her out. All of a sudden, she just ran away into the bushes/tall grass! About 10 minutes later she came back with all her school books. We spent about an hour doing math homework and she's agreed to come back tomorrow for some more help! She's totally bright but the problem is sometimes there are no teachers for the classes so the students do not learn certain subjects (although they still have exams on them). Hopefully she comes back tomorrow at 1:30pm.... just as we'd planned.

As I stop and reflect on the past week, it's been quite an up and down one. I will have breakthroughs with Fortune while teaching her math and have downs while working in the children's ward at the hospital. One child came yesterday at about 12:30pm and by the time I arrived today at 8am, he had passed away. It was especially tough, as in my mind, it was completly preventable. His family simply did not have enough food for all the children and what really made an impact is the mother is expecting another child in about 1 month. I pray that she will have better fortune for her family in upcoming years.

The rain last week facilitated the breeding of more mosquitos so when I started to spike a fever and feel ill on Monday, the group was concerned about malaria. The fever never continued to rise so it must just be a bout of the flu - aches and pains, fever and headache. Another volunteer contracted malaria right before the start of her volunteer time (she had been travelling around Ghana by herself) but since it's such a common illness, she was easily treated and sent on her way.

Sarah and I have been documenting our transition from Yevu to Ghanian. We think it may make a good National Geographic story one day if we ever stayed long enough! Haha! The other day we were on the tro-tro and we saw two other Yevus riding bicycles. Almost instinctually, we started yelling out the window, "Yevu Yevu!!!!" The two guys looked back, looked forward and then did a triple take! They were being called Yevu by some Yevus! As it turns out, they're from Holland and are here to do a building project of some sort - I can't really remember but the point is, everywhere we go, we single out the other Yevus just like we are singled out by all the Ghanians. EXCITING NEWS! I got my first Ghanian dress made! Ghanian fabrics are soooo colorful and cheap that if you go to market, you can buy 3 yards of fabric (enough to make a dress and a skirt) for about $3.00/yard and then Justine, the lady living near the compound, will make you a dress (any style!) for about $2.50. It's a steal of a deal if you ask me! The fabrics are quite well made and intricately designed!

One more piece of exciting news before I go - I am starting drumming lessons on Monday! Kofi, another one of the workers at the compound, said that he'd get one of the local elders to come to the compound on Monday nights at 7pm to teach me some drumming. Hopefully it works out that I can (a) learn to drum and (b) bring one home. Sorry for everyone back at home in Canada - you may have to deal with some drumming now and then! ;)

Sarah and I need to head back as the tro-tros to Woe stop running between 5pm and 6pm. Thanks for the email questions and for the blog reponses! I really enjoy reading the little notes!!! Keep on sendin!


Sunday, March 19, 2006

"Excuse me, are you Canadian!?"

Oh, fellow Canadians! How great it was to meet one of my countrymen on the journey in Cape Coast. Dwayne, the Nova Scotian, was passing through the large restaurant on the shore of the ocean when he saw my Canadian flag on my backpack and stopped. His introduction was, "Excuse me, are you Canadian?" It was all history after that! He just finished working in Alberta doing carpentry and now he's doing a project here to build a library for a small town! The people you meet on the road are amazing - there are so many volunteers scattered around, all with such different jobs! Being a minority is a feeling that I have never truly experienced but it seems as though there is a secret society for all the Yevus. When we see each other on the road (which is quite rare, believe it or not), we smile or wink just for an instant in passing but it is a link between us saying, "you're foreign, I'm foreign, and this tro-tro type transportation is disgusting!" Haha - the number of smiles I've gotten while in utter pain on a tro-tro are too many to count but they do make you feel better, if just for an instant.

Yesterday I went on the Canopy walk in Kakum National Park. The canopy, for those of you who do not know your rainforest terminology, is the top layer of leaves waaaaay up high in the rainforest. Kakum National Park (KNP), has a tour of the canopy for a measly $4USD. Sarah and I signed up for the canopy walk not truly understanding the tour in it's entirety. It may well have been the scariest thing I have ever done in my entire life! We started the tour as I assumed we would: walking into the rainforest and just looking at animals and weird stuff. About 15 minutes into the walk (it was a steep walk uphill), we came to a set of stairs and at the top was a platform. I walked up the long staircase to the platform and just about peed myself. The rest of the "tour" was across the canopy which essentially involved a number of platforms at the top of different trees connected by a plank roughly 1 foot wide with two ropes to hold onto on either side. No word of a lie, I though I was going to biff off the side and fall down into the rainforest (but luckily, my ninja husband has taught me the art of balance!) You have to stop and understand here that the canopy is VERY high above the rainforest! It's a completely stunning view!! As far as the eye can see is amazing foleage with stunning birds and the sounds of animals in the trees. When I wasn't shaking in utter fear of death, I was awe-struck by the experience. Sarah, unfortunately afraid of heights, saw less of the canopy while walking above it than she would if she was glancing through a pamphlet. As you can all tell, we made our way through the canopy safe and sound!

I only have roughly 15 minutes left on this internet station but in that time, I will genuinely try to express to you the joy I felt when Sarah and I stumbled upon Koala's. Koala's is a western style grocery market with REAL FOOD! No word of a lie, the song "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" played as we stood at the cookie aisle and drooled. Neither of us have been able to recognize our food for the past 17 days so for us to lay eyes on normal food was entirely amazing. Mom, you would be proud! I not only bough 12-grain bread but also invested my precious dollars into some fruit and vegetables but alas, I cannot pretend as though I did not purchase one box of chocolate chip cookies. Sarah and I split the bill so it wasn't even too bad. Just before we hit the checkout, my eye caugh Aunt Jemima! YES, AUNT JEMIMA! Alas, all of the day's troubles had left my memory as I laid eyes upon her sweet sweet smile. Unforuntely, however, I had to leave her pancake and syrup products on the shelf, as the syrup alone was $11. I know, though, that if I ever get really really really desperate, I can always hit up Koala's in search of Aunt Jemima.

The Ghanian gods must have felt bad for inflicting such a terrible tro-tro ride on us yesterday that we were shone with yet another miracle: Frankie's Restaurant. For as little as $4, one can get (ready for it?) REAL FOOD! Yes, you can see a trend here: although I am adjusting to Ghanian food quite well, the thought of fresh vegetables or soup without fish heads in it literally makes me cry. I endulged in a hamburger and a milkshake - two of the essential nutrients that I have been missing so far. I could feel the calcium and iron slowly regenerating my meat and dairy deprived body. There was no talking at our table... just eating.... in complete and utter glory. If any of you wonder how I will spend my first days at home, it will be making chicken stir frys, drinking loads of milk and chomping on fresh carrots. I would almost pay a hefty sum for a bag of baby carrots right about now! *drool* As I write this, the Aussie gets emotional about the thought of sweet creamy milk touching her palate once again... only to be in 10 weeks time!

At this point, I must stop talking about food. I have not eaten breakfast this morning (mainly because we stumbled upon this great internet place on the way to finding food), but more importantly, because as soon as Sarah and I leave Accra, it's back to fish-head soup and unidentifiable dishes (which, as I was saying before, is truly great but the lack of meat and dairy is tough to deal with).

Before I go, however, I just want to ask everyone one question: what do people need? And I stress the word "need." What is it that people need and where is the line that seperates this "need" and "improved lifestyle?" For instance, if someone has a 2meter x 2meter dwelling with a roof on it that keeps them sheltered and houses their children, are their needs being fulfilled? I often wonder this when I walk aruond the village in Woe. Western views have trained us to think that bigger means better but when I stop to watch the family, they function fine with their very small dwelling. Do they need more or is that the western view in me wondering that? It seems like things that we value (ie. personal space and privacy) are not important here so why have seperate rooms for every child? Perspective is everything I find...

Well, Sarah and I are embarking on our journey home this afternoon. I will chat with you whenever I can hop on another incredibly uncomfortable tro-tro and make my way to Denu (the town an hour away from Woe where there is VERY slow but reliable internet). Cheers!!!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Rules of tro-tros

Well well well, it has not been long since I last blogged but hey, if I can find internet around here I am happy to sit and write. I am in the capital city, Accra, so that's why I've had quite a bit of time to blog in the last day or two. Hopefully I will get on tomorrow morning as well but we'll see. Anyway, I have been travelling all around the country for the past few days and let me tell you... it has been a crazy adventure. To start off, however, I have devised a few basic tro-tro rules that I think everyone should follow (as I know some of you will be taking public transport not only at home but during your travels as well). Here we go!

Rule #1: Everyone must take a shower or use deodorant before entering the tro-tro
Rule #2: Falling asleep on the person beside you (when you do not know each other) is unacceptable
Rule #3: Obscenities and insults such as, "move over, you are fat" are completly banned

Why have i made these rules? Because the trotro that Sarah and I took from Cape Coast back to Accra was the stinkiest, most disgusting tro-tro in the world. I am not kidding you when I say that we packed 43 people into a bus slightly larger than the "mini ETS buses" so the next time you are on one of those little buses and feel slightly claustrophobic, remember that in Ghana, they pack 4x that many people. Not only that, but the seat i was on was equal with the window level (and because it was roughly 35 degrees today, the window was fully open) and I honestly was scared for my life that we would bounce on a pot hole and I would fly out of the window... so I linked arms with the Aussie and honestly held on for 3.5 hours. BUUUUT I have made it to Accra and am safe and sound but if you think you are ever hot, sweaty and cramped, think again, my friends! ;)

Accra is very different than the small rural fishing village that I have become accustomed to. It's loud, stinky, polluted, and very populated with many many men that constantly hiss at you while you walk down the street. I thought that I had a lot of patience but it has turned out that, alas, it runs thin after about 2 hours of hissing. In traffic there are people that walk between the lanes of cars selling everything from a clothing iron to bananas, string, cigarettes, dish detergent and fish. It is all carried on their heads and people bargain and yell out all the windows. It's really quite loud and confusing to be honest, but I guess if you can get all your grocery shopping done while waiting at a traffic light, then good on you!

I am so confused by all the days because they all blurr together that I forget what I have told some on the phone, others by email and what I've put on the blog. But I don't think I've told anyone about the waterfall yet so here we go! A few days ago (I have no idea which one!), the group hired a tro-tro to this canopy/rainforest area about 3 hours away from Ho. We got up REALLY early in the morning (4:30am) so that we could catch the monkies in the rainforest around "breakfast time" before they retreated further into the forest. We got there just in time! Each of us received a banana from the tour guy and juuuuuust as I crouched down, out of the shrubs came a monkey! About 2 feet tall, he looked at me, inched his way forward and snatched the banana right from my hand! It was way cool! We kept on walking and about 1.5 hours into the rainforest we came to an opening where there was a waterfall. It is the largest waterfall in West Africa and the second largest waterfall in Africa!!! It was HUGE! So what do you do when you see such a large waterfall? JUMP IN! And we all did just that! Ditched our backpacks on the side by the rocks and hopped in the falls! I swam underneat the point where all the water fell and came up behind the waterfall.Looking around, I climbed and crept up into a small crevace and sat there for a good 15 minutes just listening to the deafening sound of rushing water. Being from the prairies I have obviously never seen a waterfall, let alone sit behind one by myself! Definitely one of those experiences that you cannot describe but only imagine when you think back on it...

Another entertaining story for you all! I did my second load of laundry the other day before we left for Ho. It had been piling up for about 5 days by then so I took my laundry sack out to the well and began pailing water. I was doing what I thought was a good job when a few of the compound kids came by. No joke, they are about 4 or 5 years old. Anyway, they began giggling at me (as many of the children do here), and I asked the what was so funny!? Well, apparently, Yevus suck at doing laundry so these little kids came over and started scrubbing my stuff! No word of a lie, they are better than a washing machine! They giggled and laughed as they did my laundry, holding up my Western tank tops and weird clothing! At the end, in exchange, I gave their little brother a bath with some shampoo and a small tub of water. It was a great deal in their eyes and in mine as well!

Not long ago, someone emailed me asking about the kind of food I eat in Ghana. I began to laugh, as I don't necessarily consider it food all the time, but nonetheless, I will try and describe it for you.As you know, breakfast is a solo event. Whenever we get ready for the day, we head to the kitchen and fix ourselves some toast, corn flakes or fruit. Now this all sounds like a luxury but let me tell you, it's not. The bread is very sweet (it's made of rice flour), the butter is not butter, the peanut butter is really called "ground nut paste" (close enough, say the Ghanians), and the only selection of jam is pineapple, which at first was gross but is starting to grow on me. The banans and oranges are excellent (nothing to complain about there) but as for the stale Corn Flakes, they may be over a year old. It's quite amusing to see the volunteers concoct various breakfasts in the morning! We have gone so far as to put groundnut paste right onto bananas to feel as though we are eating PB and bananas. Sometimes we mush the bananas to make "banana jam" and if we are really desperate for something new, we sprinkle cocoa powder on top of the butter to make a nutella like flavor. After that scrumptous delecacy of a meal, we head out for work only to return for lunch. Typical dishes for lunch or dinner include FuFu (essentially unidentifiable mush), fried plantanes (kind of like bananas), fried yams (surprisingly good), potato wedges (potatoes cut into the shape of wedges, nothing special), fish soup (still with the fish heads in the soup!) and rice. SOMETIMES we have ground nut stew which is a mix of vegetables in tomatoe based soup with groundnut paste (which, if you can remember, resembles peanut butter). Interesting, no? So now you can all understand why I miss having milk (there is none), cheese, meat, cold vegetables, other fruits, and salad dressing!Oh my! I have to go! The internet place is closing in about 3 minutes but I will hopefully blog tomorrow before I head back to Woe for the week. Nite nite!

P.S. If you have any questions about what's going on here, just ask! I sometimes forget what I have previously described and what I haven't so feel free to ask a question in the Comments section and that will help me write to y'all! Cheers!