Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ghana Day 22; 8/24/14

As I’m sitting by myself at the gate for my flight tonight, I can’t help but think that coming here was  one of the coolest experiences and best decisions that I’ve ever made in my life. I’ll keep the final reflection of the trip on another post, but I’m so very grateful for the opportunity I’ve had and the relationships I’ve built in just three short weeks.

I passed out on the second half of our bus ride to Accra because I went to sleep really late last night, but one thing that I immediately noticed was the difference in wealth distribution in the city as opposed to the country, where most of our work was done. At the beginning, we saw cows that were so thin we could see almost all their ribs. 

When we got to Accra, we passed by several of the embassy houses after dropping off two of the interns with early flights, and the embassy houses were absolutely beautiful. I wasn’t able to get as many pictures as I would have liked from the moving bus, but it was so interesting to see what an affluent country like Canada could do with the land and resources it had in a developing country. We also passed by the White House-equivalent of Ghana, which was 100% beautiful. It was so classy and looked like a simple structure but obviously had a lot of complexity to the architecture, and it was in the middle of an otherwise barren land, so it drew a lot of attention.

We ended up going to one of the markets around town for the early afternoon, which reminded me way too much of a Taiwanese night market, but with tighter hallways. When we stepped off the bus, we were immediately greeted by a bunch of shopkeepers (interestingly all men) that came and started pairing with us one-on-one. It was very intimidating at the beginning, but they were just trying to be very friendly so they could take us to different shops to buy their items. There were so many things to choose from – lots of things like bags and bracelets that we saw in Cape Coast, and then lots of things that we didn’t see, including little sculptures. It was fun to be able to look, and I ended up spending a good bit of my remaining money buying a painting, some bracelets (and one made with tiny beads with flags of all the countries in the US and Ghana World Cup bracket, as well as the Brazilian flag! It was made by a guy named John who claimed it took 30 days to make, which seems excessive to me, but it really is high quality), and a small horse made of ebony wood. I’m extremely excited to gift them to people and keep some to myself!

We then made our way to the main mall of Accra. It was comparable to a mall you might see at in a smaller city in the US, and I wasn’t the only intern that found it a little off-putting that there were other foreigners in the area. It’s funny how time as short as three weeks can change your perspective and your perception of the norms of life. There were TVs showing a PSA about Ebola awareness, the same that I’d seen from the TV at Aaba lodge, which is great to see as a public health major.

We split in two groups and I ended up going to the chicken restaurant in the food court to order a chicken sandwich, which was delicious. I can’t wait to get some typical food again; rice, beans, noodles, fruit, and tomatoes are great, but it’s difficult to eat the same thing for so many days in a row.

We then split up even further because some people decided to get the 25GHC manicures (that’s less than $8), and I didn’t think I needed it. Instead, I walked with two other interns to explore the grocery store on one side of the mall and the Target or Walmart-style store on the other. It reminded me of how much excess there is in the United States, especially in supermarkets; a typical HEB/Trader Joe’s has more selection and stock than what I assume to be one of the biggest malls in Ghana.
Since we couldn’t really pay with anything with credit card, there wasn’t much point in browsing the clothing stores any further; the book store seemed to have all kinds of products, including a significant section dedicated to erotica. LOL

We got really excited when we came across the movie theater, because it meant that we didn’t have to figure out a way to waste the next two and a half hours. We decided to see Let’s Be Cops, starring two main cast members from New Girl – Nick and Coach (Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr.) – and it was cool to see that the inside of the theater room was almost exactly the same as one you’d expect to see in a typical American theater, minus the accessibility seats. The interesting thing was that we weren’t allowed to go into the room until right before the ads started.

The way that movies worked in that mall was that there were about 10 minutes of ads, then 15 minutes of previews that all started at the listed time of the movie. In other words, you could be 25 minutes late to a movie and still be fine in seeing the beginning. Note to self – the movie “Unbroken,” a WWII film directed by Angelina Jolie, looks like it’s worth watching.

Either way, some of the ads that were played were really great. One for toothpaste asked if anyone in the audience was on a date and whether they thought their brand of toothpaste would last them the entire movie, which I thought was clever and a great way to tailor to the audience. My favorite, however, was one that featured someone who looked to be a famous radio DJ or something who spoke against the stigma against HIV/AIDS, drawing on the fact that these people could be anyone. I loved that the obvious public health issue was so candidly discussed in an environment that made it unexpected, and that organizations involved with HIV awareness even bothered to address these issues to begin with.

With regard to the movie itself, I don’t know exactly how I feel about it because it’s one of those movies that has humor meant for all adult audiences – as in, a little crude and can allow you to turn off your brain for its duration. It was a cute concept and the 25 GHC that I spent on it was worth it, but it’s really not a movie that I’d spend more time watching again.

After that, we went to the airport directly to catch the flights of some of the interns. Accra, as I suspected, is a small airport marginally larger than Austin-Bergstrom. It only has five gates, but I thought it was interesting that all the shops in it except one are of distinctly-Ghanaian products, presumably because I think it only hosts international flights. Passengers are required to walk through at least one shop right after they get through security (and the items are not only similar to those that exist in local markets but are way more expensive, so I hope that the profits don’t just go to some airport CEO.

Just like when I arrived, the departure gate requires all passengers to take a shuttle about 50 yards to the entrance of the stairs that lead to the plane, so again, I wonder about accessibility because we have to walk at least one and a half stories up those stairs.

I’m disappointed to see that the movie selection is the same as it was when I came, so I don’t really have any more movies that I could watch that would be ones that I would actually want to watch. I guess, in some way, it means that I can get some sleep before I get to London, but we’ll see how it turns out, I guess!

P.S. The cabin was sprayed with what I assume is disinfectant before we took off, and the sky gets dark at 6:00/6:30 pm. 

Ghana Day 21, 8/23/14

We started off our last full day of the internship with a meeting about our experiences and our perspectives of sustainable development work as shaped by our internship and interaction with The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty by Nina Munk, which was required reading us. Anyone who has an interest in this type of work should read at least a little bit of it because it really has some great information about how one of the most influential professionals in the field has failed in some of his work.

Honestly, I’ve read less than half of the book at this point (and I do plan to continue because it’s incredible interesting and relevant to my goals for the future), but I enjoyed having a more skeptical perspective on the importance of working on the ground and closely with the peers of the community to change practices that have been in place for longer than the United States has even been a country. This was my sentence about what I think sustainable development is when Deanna asked us to come up with one:

Sustainable development is ensuring that community members have the knowledge to know how they can improve their current standard of living for the indefinite future and how the resources they already have can be used to achieve it.

Building on that, it seems as if each person in our group has, to some degree, an interest in global development work. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation about many of Sachs’ attempts to improve health and educational standards in his Millennium Villages Project program because The Idealist made him seem to be a very idealistic but somewhat ignorant champion of his initiatives; his background is in economics, and he seems to assume that people think the same way that he does. With the MVP program, he was managing millions and millions of dollars of funding but seemed to fail to understand basic considerations of culture and uniqueness of communities he was working with. He antagonized hundreds of experts and ground officials with his stubbornness and his inflexibility, driven by confidence after major successes early in his career fixing Bolivia’s economy in1985 and driving down inflation rates. His plan in Bolivia was great, but it was a simple solution because it was impersonal and didn’t require changes in the fundamental behavior of everyday citizens, which is the part that makes development work so complex and difficult.

The plans that he wanted to implement to improve his Millennium Villages Project communities were complex and he seemed to believe that his charisma would be enough to motivate people into doing what he thought was right. Obviously, he’s not, or else the Millennium Development Goals that expire in 2015 would have been surpassed by now, but keeping his perspectives and failures in mind as I continue to explore this career path should only help me out in the future.

After our conversation, we piled into the van with the German team and headed to Mankessim to buy ingredients for the dinner that we were going to prepare for our last night at the lodge. It was fun to walk around a little bit and great to see the everyday fruits we could buy; I bought some of the tiger nuts that I liked and ginger cookies, my group tried some of the peanuts some ladies were selling (they were roasted to perfection!), and had some more bread. One of the first stands we stopped by had really great avocados – large and ripe enough to eat plain. It seems as if that’s the norm (at least in southern Ghana), so when the stand owner offered each of us a little piece of it, I took it. It was admittedly really great, but it was a little weird to eat it plain.

As per usual, our group heard “Abroonie!” over and over, especially by the children and aggressive shopkeepers, but I only heard “你好” once. Another lady asked me where I was from, so I assume that she was trying to figure out whether I was from the United States or Asia.

One of the coolest things we did today was go through a supermarket on the outskirts of the market. It was nothing like supermarkets in the US, obviously, but it wasn’t too different. Before we went in, we had to leave all our bags outside on a shelf with a store employee who guarded it and gave us a cardboard piece with the number of our little cubby on the shelf. Inside, there were rows of different types of food and freezers in the back for ice cream. I thought it was hilarious to see just how many types of alcohol they sold – wine, rum, beer, vodka, whiskey, etc. I guess people around the world just really enjoy drinking.

There was one employee that grabbed me, asked me my name, and then proceeded to tell Noah that he was a bro. Another employee tapped me on the shoulder and told me that he’d call me if I would give him my number. LOL. Interesting experiences indeed.

When we looked around, the store sold sugar in plastic bags, smaller versions of the bags that you use to carry produce at the grocery store in the US and tied at the top. They only had one kind of chocolate, which apparently wasn’t very sweet anyways. The back half was completely storage only, so the shopping part itself was not much larger than a standard classroom of an elementary school or so. We had to carry our items outside to an employee who checked everything and our receipts before giving us bags and directing us back to the entrance of the supermarket to retrieve the items that we had left there.

As we walked back, I wanted to stop and buy plantain chips, but each time I saw a seller (they are much rarer than bread-sellers), we were in a part of the street where we had to keep walking or risk getting lost. Darn.

When we got back to the lodge, we had lunch and some time to chill before starting to cook dinner for ourselves. I’m a little disappointed that we only got to see the kitchen resources on the last night of our trip only because there are is not much room to store all the dishes and pots and pans, especially when the staff is cooking for a large number of people. When the Loyola brigade was living in the lodge with us, we didn’t see a decrease in the quality of food served even though the staff almost tripled their output for every single meal. I’m not a huge cooker and don’t spend much time on a regular basis doing it, but our group’s fruit salad was easy enough to make.

Here’s a look at everything that we had:

Not everything was as delicious as I could get it at home, but for the cooking of college and med students, it was pretty good. There were some dishes that the staff we cooked for (read: Aziz and Frances, the interpreter) made a face at trying (more specifically, the guacamole and the seeds for our tomato dishes), then lied and said they liked it. It’s a crucial part of Ghanaian culture to do that, but it’s difficult for Americans to understand that fundamental cultural gap. We’ve come to accept it by now, but it doesn’t make the practice any less weird. Plantain chips used for the guacamole was a genius idea, even if the dip needed more salt.

We decided to make banana splits only after everyone finished eating to prevent the ice cream from melting. We wanted to flambé the bananas and used the rum that we’d bought from the supermarket to cover the bananas. Our many attempts to set the rum on fire in the banana pan were not very successful, but it actually was pretty cool to have a faint alcoholic taste in the sweetness of the banana split; I think that the bitterness of the bit of rum was excellent in bringing out the sugar of the chocolate spread, which I was worried about because it wasn’t very sweet to begin with. 

Between the meal and dessert, the seamstress that had come to take our cloths and measurements on Thursday night brought back our clothes, and we looked so, so cute in our custom-made Ghanaian clothes!

We ended up hanging out pretty late after that, and the Germans were being great sports in playing games with us. The saddest part of the night was the fact that Rachel, who is the US-born in-country director of GB Ghana, was staying at Aaba Lodge tonight, and she didn’t allow loud music to be played. Kwame, one of the cleaners and managers of our lodge, had specially gone to his house to bring his speakers to play loud music for us to dance to, and was really disappointed when Rachel came because that meant he couldn’t use them. It was emotional to think about how our relationship with him (and the other GB staff!) had evolved and developed so much over the course of the three weeks we’d been in country.

It would have been a great day if it had ended there, but it didn’t; the reality of having to go back to our lives and responsibilities in the States hit some of us, especially one intern who found out that her boyfriend had cheated on her with her best friend right before she left for Ghana from a third party. It turns out that alcohol has its merits – it can really connect people in a way that nothing else really can, and empower people to make decisions that they would otherwise be too timid to make otherwise. But tonight, it was clear that it is often an escape – something that allows the consumer to get away from problems and reality and just have a good time. She drank way too much and threw up. Luckily, someone else was really great at making sure it was cleaned up and took the rest of it into the bathroom, but it just makes me remember the risks you take when you decide to pursue happiness for yourself. The happier you are, the more it kills you when (or if) it falls apart. At one point in the night, she said that best friends don’t exist. I can’t even imagine. 

Ghana Day 20; 8/22/14

We woke up ridiculously early today to get to community to paint our latrines and make sure that the families we were building for understood how to take the best care of it. We were told to wake up at 6am to eat breakfast and be ready to leave by 7am, but when that is said, we all know that it’s not actually going to be the case. At the earliest, we might leave by 7:20, but 7:30 or so is much more likely. The interns and Deanna call it “Ekumfi time” as a joke.

When we got to the community before 8am, there were a good number of kids running around already. One of the first things that we saw was this adorable concrete block on the ground that one of the kids from the house had made:

We then mixed the paint that we needed to make the design that we agreed upon, which was white on top and blue on the bottom, blue polka dots on the white background. It turned out to be really great, and the kids that we’d gotten to know came around and helped us paint, which was really cute.

It turns out that I have a really memorable name or something because a lot of the kids remembered it and came to play as the morning went on, and it was a little crazy to think that there were so many children that we interacted with over just the past three days. I had some time to play with them, and one of the (the same one from yesterday) braided my hair again. Interacting with the kids was really cute today especially because one of the interns was really sloppy with paint and got it all over the rest of us, but the kids started trying to get it out of our hair and off our skin.

Right before we left, the girl who braided my hair asked me to bring her “biscuits” (I think she means cookies) if I come back. Aww.

When we finished the latrine, this was our final product:

We made sure at the end that we could talk to the family we had built for about maintenance of the latrine. It was surprising to see that everyone else wanted to jump straight into the instructions and forgo formalities like thanking the mother for letting us work with her family. After we’d done that, we started explaining to her how to make the most of her latrine (families pay 250 GHC). That included not throwing toilet paper or excess water into the latrine to help the sewage pit last longer, the fact that the waste from the pit can be taken out after 15-20 years when it is full to use as fertilizer, and that Global Brigades will fix anything that has gone wrong for only the first three months after construction. She ended up giving us some watermelon and other fruits as a thank you as we drove away for the last time.

After lunch, we headed to the Global Brigades Ghana office to give our final presentations for the internship in front of some of the key staff of GB Ghana. It was a little intimidating because the economic development interns (Ed, Noah, and Megan) gave a really great presentation about their proposal to create cooperatives in different communities to increase the impact and sustainability of latrine building and the construction of a soap factory in Ekumfi Egyankwaa. I hadn’t ever heard a business proposal presentation before, but it was awesome to hear the business students present because they have skills that I’ve never learned about, can draw on facts and figures, and explain to help a layperson understand. Those are acquired skills, but it was obvious that there was a difference between their presentation and the global health ones.

The nine global health interns decided that we would present in three groups, each of us talking about a different aspect of our internship and our suggestions for it. I think that all the groups, mine included, probably should have spent more time preparing for the presentation overall, but I didn’t think that anyone did a poor job of portraying the general consensus about our stances on different issues.

The thing that made the presentation difficult and stuck with me for a while was the fact that there was one GB professional who was new to the organization and had not yet been briefed about how everything works. Our presentations assumed a basic understanding of what we did and our subsequent recommendations, and he seemed to be very interested in everything and wanted to grill my team especially about our suggestions for the medical brigade portion of our internship. I’d forgotten what it was like to have to think on my feet like that about a topic other than myself (for a personal interview, for example), and it was hard for me to keep on my feet. Though I was complimented on my handling of the questions and the other GB staff members that were directors and other people like that helped answer questions, I felt like I’d left a lot on the presentation stage. It’s not a good feeling, but I guess it reminds me of how important it is to keep up my skills. One of the coordinators asked my group for our presentation via email afterwards, which was really awesome.

Another group that presented made a joke about their coordinator for the public health brigade not helping them, which did not go over well with the GB higher ups. They immediately wanted to know who it was and what exactly it was that he didn’t do, but the group was just joking because he helped more with directing the ladies in his group rather than the manual labor itself. The cultural differences between the presentation group and the audience created the gap awkward situation in which a joke was misunderstood, but I’m intrigued to learn more about humor and how it varies according to culture.

Throughout the program, we were given Coke in a bottle (!) and meat pies, which was a surprising combination. I didn’t particularly like either one, but when in Ghana, you take what you can get.
Afterwards, we had a little bit of a photo shoot:

At night, we split everyone (including the 6-people German brigade that was constructing latrines) into 3 groups to decide what we were going to buy from the market tomorrow to cook for everyone (us and the staff). My group of 6 decided to make banana splits and a fruit salad with an alcoholic refresher, and then I had some time to talk to Kristoff, one of the German medical school students. When we were trying to think of how much of each ingredient we would need, he kept checking if we knew how much a kilogram or liter was, which was simultaneously funny and adorable. It was so fun to talk to him because the Germans in general are so classy. They eat everything with a fork and knife, all know more than one language, are polite, quiet, respectful, adventurous (they’re staying in Ghana for 4 weeks after their brigade!), and are eager to ask and answer questions as they come. It’s refreshing to meet them and be able to see a little bit into their world without the pressure of having to be the expert on America or seeing them as the experts on Germany because we’re meeting in Ghana.

He was saying that he took a year off after high school to work in Italy so he speaks fluent Italian before going to medical school. He’s going to his 4th year out of the 6 that are required for a degree (they don’t have undergraduate/graduate distinctions). He likes to snowboard, and he did tae kwon do and skied before that, but he’s never tried yoga. He lived in the States for a year when he was 4 or 5, and has traveled to both the East and West coasts a lot just to visit. His favorite city out of all the ones he’s visited (it sounded like a whole lot) is San Francisco, which makes sense because it’s not as busy as a NYC or LA and has a certain classiness to it, and he said that it’s probably the closest to Europe that you’ll get in the US. 

Ghana Day 19, 8/21/14

For breakfast today, I decided I wanted to be traditional and eat some milk and cereal (regular unfrosted corn flakes). I was really excited because it’s something that I would definitely conceivably eat at home, so it was a good reminder of that. When I tried the combination, however, it tasted like the milk had spoiled even though it hadn’t because it was goat’s milk. From what I remember when I was little, I really enjoyed goat’s milk but for some reason, there was no part of me that could continue to eat the sour corn flakes that taste terrible. I’m not one to waste food often, but that was completely inedible.

On our way to Ekumfi Akwakrom , the radio was playing a news story about how some people in Ghana don’t even know that they’re pregnant until they’re 6 months or so because of the lack of education and tests available for them. Some women don’t know that they only have to have sex once to get pregnant or that their stomachaches and lack of a menstrual cycle indicates pregnancy. It’s so interesting to know because women in the United States know they’re pregnant at least within the first two months because they stop having a period but such basic information is lost to women who don’t have the access to the education we do.

We were finishing the latrine today; we had just 3 layers of bricks to finish stacking and the outside and insides to cover with a layer of concrete to smooth it out. It would get too messy if too many people tried to work on that at once, so there was a significant bit of downtime. Our driver, Clifford, who has been with us for the whole time, came up to a couple of us and started chatting. There were several topics that I thought was weird that he brought up, but I enjoyed that he also talked a little more about Ghanaian culture. Some of the things we already knew (not using the left hand to address elders, etc.), but some, like the fact that children take after their father’s last name because taking after their mother’s last name means that you have somehow disgraced your father’s family.
He then asked about how I thought I was going to recount my trip to Ghana because those people who can afford to travel to Africa are only going to if they think the trip is worth it, and personal stories and accounts are the most important factor in making that decision. It was really interesting that he said that because I hadn’t yet thought of the importance of my personal account of my trip, but Clifford’s right. If I go back and rave about my experience, there are people that are inevitably going to want to come. If I say only bad things about it, they may think twice about planning a trip here. As with anything, the single story, no matter how true or untrue the content is, can have more impact than one can ever imagine.

I also had the chance to talk a little more to Aziz, one of two coordinators working with our internship, and since Regina, the other coordinator, is sick, he’s been filling in a whole lot over the last week. Somehow we got to talking about school in Ghana, and I asked him about what they learn in history about British colonialism and the slave trade. He said that the children learn way more about it than I think that children do in the United States, which makes sense. He’s no longer in school, but when he learned about the slave trade, his class apparently took a field trip to the Cape Coast Castle, the destination from which hundreds of thousands of Africans left Africa to be a part of the slave trade. It made me think back to the issues of social justice and the historical context for so much of what the modern world looks like. He also said that he works with his father on his gas station when he’s not working for Global Brigades and would like to own one himself one day. He doesn’t think that he’s going to inherit the one his father owns now because he has a lot of siblings, but he wants to buy his own land and own a small business someday.

During the day, one of the kids came up to me a started braiding my hair:

There was also a kid that came by later with corn kernels, cooked to look like popcorn kernels that haven’t yet popped. He started chewing them and sharing them with other kids, which was really cute! He gave some to me, but I didn’t know how clean his hands were (most likely pretty dirty), so I ended up just giving them to another kid around me. Before I did, however, I saw how hot they were. I would not be surprised if they had just been pulled out of boiling water.

Some pictures of the final product that we built!

After we’d come back to the lodge, we exchanged some information about the day. The group that built the other latrine apparently had a really great conversation about Ghanaian culture, so they were able to share some of what they learned with us.

Apparently, when a man wants to marry a woman (all homosexual activity is illegal), the woman’s family provides a list of things that he needs to buy for them as a dowry to get her. Since some people can’t afford these things, there are many people who will start a life together as if they were married, but just forgo the legal ties. We also have a clarification on the goat-giving ceremony for women who birth 10 or more children; the goat is apparently given to the man from the woman’s family as a thank you for continuing that family’s lineage. For each child, the woman receives 2 chickens from the man’s family.

When Muslim children are born, they are named with their Muslin/Arabic name after a week after their birth. The first-born in a family is named after the father, and the second-born is named after the mother. Any subsequent children can have whatever name the parents desire, but the first two always have a set name. Additionally, when female genital mutilation was the common practice, it used to be part of a puberty right. When this happened, females used to receive sex education at this time so that they were prepared in the future. Now that mutilation has been stopped, the sex education is no longer given and a subsequent rise in teenage pregnancy has resulted.

The father of the house that they were building for recommended any health information be given through a community gathering of children and parents separately because they require different information and what they hear on the radio or through television won’t necessarily be translated into action.

He also shared a little bit about the history of Mankessim, the name of the market that we stop at almost every day. There are statues of three men, as well as an eagle, an elephant, and a whale in a roundabout at the equivalent of an entrance to the market. The three men, who started the market, are recognized for their efforts. Each of the animals represents protection of an aspect of the land; the eagle protects the sky, the elephant protects the land, and the whale protects the sea.

When we were talking, Deanna also mentioned that only about 10% of people who live in the Ekumfi district, where most of Global Brigades Ghana has worked, have education pas a senior high school level. Out of these people, most of them leave the community for the cities, leaving Ekumfi communities in a cycle of poverty. 

Ghana Day 18; 8/20/14

I woke up this morning not as sore as I anticipated in my arms because I quickly discovered that I have about a hundred muscles in my back that I didn’t know I had. I was really sore and feeling kind of unpleasant, but it wasn’t that bad.

It was much of the same work today as it was yesterday. We left off yesterday having finished the sewage tank but not yet started the actual part where the toilet would sit. We worked a lot with that and mixed cement (called “mortar” by the mason), moved bricks, put cement between the layers of bricks that we had, and again interacted with the kids. There were a couple of them who remembered my name and kept repeating “Alice! Alice!” which was cute for a little bit. The 12-year old kids who had helped us out found us again and continued to help. It was awesome to play with them again.
 During lunch, we were able to climb to the top of the little hill we were working on to sit on the bench there and look over the view of the whole community. Some of the kids told me that it was called “Ekumfi Akwakrom.”

The other group that was working told us that Nick, the primary in-country coordinator for the public health brigade projects, is a jokester that likes to talk about pregnant women. He tells terrible jokes and riddles, including one that asks, “There are three people who walk up to a river. The first sees the river and puts their feet in. The second sees the river but doesn’t put their feet in. The third doesn’t see the river and doesn’t put their feet in. Who are they?”

Apparently, it’s a pregnant woman with a baby strapped to her back, which is the primary way that women carry small children in these parts of Ghana. They put them on their back, cover most of their body with the cloth, and tie it to make a small pocket for the infant to rest in. When the interns tried to explain to Nick that it’s hard for us to understand that riddle because we carry small children in strollers and don’t necessarily think fetuses are people, he had an extremely difficult time understanding that. He had them repeat themselves several times over and eventually gave up on trying to understand, but I thought it was really interesting that humor can vary widely because of the cultural context.

By the time we got back to the lodge, we were all exhausted, so my group of interns only did a tiny bit of work for our presentation on Friday. We’ll have to catch up a lot tomorrow. 

Ghana Day 17; 8/19/14

The day started out really well because I was able to snag a couple mango slices for breakfast. They’re not my usual choice for fruit, but the bit of variety and the sweetness of the fruit here makes the mangoes a pleasant surprise every time we get it.

For most of the rest of the day, we traveled to a community next to the Mankessim market we frequent every time we leave Abba lodge that I don’t yet know the name of. The nine global health interns were split into 2 groups to work on 2 latrine projects.

The hole that was already dug was extremely deep, and the mason we were working with went down almost immediately and started working. We started mixing cement and lowering bricks to him to start building the sewage tank that was meant to hold about 15-20 years of waste from the latrine and could be dug up to use as fertilizer after that time.

I knew how much work it was to build a latrine from our project in Nicaragua, but that didn’t make the process any easier; I tried to use my legs and not my back as much as possible, but it’s so much easier to move with back muscles rather than arm muscles.

Throughout the day, we saw a lot of kids stop by, many of them eager to interact with us. They ended up crawling all over us and pulling at our cameras, wanting to take selfie after selfie. Some of the ones that were taken:

Along the way, there was a young girl that was carrying a 3-month old. Some of the boys had started a makeshift band with some sticks and buckets and things, which was adorable, but the fact that such loud noises were being made next to the infant made me nervous.

Some of the boys, especially a 12-year old named Prince and his friend Kwame really helped us out in terms of moving cement, bricks, etc.

During lunch, I had the idea of taking some of my paper from my notebook and making paper airplanes for the kids. It turned out to be a really popular idea, and quickly had many a child lining up to get a paper from me. I was happy to do it, but I hated how aggressive the children became when they tried to get either the paper or wait for me to fold an airplane. There were kids grabbing at each other’s until they tore the paper, bumping each other in line, getting to the verge of fights, etc. It makes me wonder how that translates into a larger scale aid program, where poor people are suddenly provided with a ton of valuable necessities, and the kind of violence (and dependence) that results from it.

Eventually, the children also started to write two words in particular on the pieces of paper they got. When one came to show it to me and ask me to say it, they all laughed. Because I’ve had brothers who are immature to ridiculous levels, I can feel when something is sketchy, and it turned out that the two words that they kept writing and asking us to say translate to “vagina.” Oh, kids these days. It’s funny that the immaturity of kids in Ghana matches what my brothers were doing at that age.

One thing that I’m not sure I mentioned before was that most of the women, especially young girls, have very short hair (less than 1cm). That is apparently because girls have to keep their hair short if they want to stay in school. I was told this from Deanna, who is obviously not a native Ghanaian, so I’m not sure about the validity of statement but I’m interested in why this is a requirement for school and the social/gender equality implications of such a rule.

It had been sprinkling for most of the day. Near the end, it began to pour heavily. It was fun to be out in the rain for a little bit and feel the raindrops fall on me, but the last time I really played in the rain, I got sick. I 100% do not want to be sick in Ghana, so I went inside.

By the time our van pulled around, the rain had let up a little bit but it had rained so much within that short time that there was a considerable amount of water on the ground and forming puddles. I stayed in the van for a while as our driver played music. When everyone started to pile in, the car didn’t start after several tries, and that made me extremely nervous because I wanted to change into dry clothes as soon as possible to make sure I wouldn’t get sick. Our driver, though, was able to open up the hood and do some quick work to make the car start up as planned again. What he did was a mystery, but it was kind of cool to know that it was so simple.

At dinner, we all finally got a chance to sit down with the German medical students in town to build a latrine in another community. I had the opportunity to talk to Ricky, a young woman who spoke English with just a slight accent (she said she only learned it in school, but it was really good!), German, and some Swahili because she had gone to Kenya a while back and that’s the primary language they speak. It was the first and only time that she had left Europe before because she grew up on a farm and didn’t always have the opportunity to travel with family. It was interesting to hear that some things (like wanting to live away from family for college) are common among college students. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ghana Day 16, 8/18/14

We meant to head out and start work on our latrines today, but since the family apparently had not yet dug a hole of the proper 3× 3 × 1 meters3, our plans had to change on the spot.

We ended up spending the morning in a community called Ekumfi Ekrawful, which was hosting a medical brigade in its last day. We worked on speaking to individuals about some of their demographic information and the best way to deliver information to them and their community members, specifically about reproductive and sexual health. I was working in the team of 3 that I’ve been working with since our first couple days in country and focused on speaking to people under 30 years old. It was a really great experience because we got to see another group carrying out a brigade that was busier than ours, interact directly with patients, see some of the doctors and other health professionals that we worked with before, and do a little hands-on work. What detracted from my experience, however, was the fact that my team (The Strong Black Men, made up of me and two other ladies) had to work with our first interpreter again. She was the one that I didn’t think really enjoyed doing her job, and perhaps had solely selfish motivations for her work.

It was weird because she insisted on translating everything we said in Fante even when, according to the survey answers and our interactions with the community members, our survey participants could speak and read English without a problem. Having us say what we wanted to say and then having her translate not only took up time, but I felt insulted the intelligence of the individuals that we were talking to. I didn’t know how to tell her how I felt about what she was doing, but it made me uncomfortable each time it happened.

In addition to that, she didn’t translate when we wanted to first thank our participants for taking the time to talk to us even though they are under no obligation to whatsoever. I had to ask her to specifically translate what I said for her to do it, and even then, I’m skeptical because she always spoke for at least two times longer than we did when she translated. I suspect that she was adding her own information even though her instructions are clear to only translate what we have to say and act only as a medium of conversation, not a party in the conversation (unless there are special circumstances) as well.

There was one question on our survey that asked the top three ways that our participant thinks information would be best received, including about 10 different options such as TV, radio, community PA system, school, pictures, lectures, writing, etc. When whichever one of us asked the question and paused before listing the answers choices, she would just go ahead and read all the answer choices herself. I want to try to reserve my conclusions until I have more information, but the fact that I have no idea whether she is actually translating what I’m saying or just putting her own spin on everything because she has the power to is extremely unnerving. I hate that helpless feeling.

The information itself, though, was good. I could see that the young people who were still students did not have children and seemed to be the ones familiar with speaking and writing both Fante and English. Each one that I talked to, I wanted to see if they were going to go on and live awesome, fulfilling lives as advocates for themselves and the causes that they were passionate about because I wanted to see how their education and motivation could drive them to achieve their goals and begin to surpass them. These were two young men and one young woman.

What was a little discouraging, though, was that we talked to several young women who looked to be on the path into cyclical poverty – born into poverty, and having pretty much set their future up as one that will ground them in poverty for the rest of their lives. The information I received from them, however, reminded me how important the work we were doing could be if we carried out our part in all of it. There was one 15-year old girl (at this age, it’s hard to even say teen) that was carrying a baby that looked to about 1 year old – her first born. There was another 19-year old teen carrying a baby and saying that she had one more that she wasn’t carrying on her. There was a 23-year old that had 5 children already. Unsurprisingly, they were all dropouts from school, couldn’t write Fante, and didn’t understand English.  I’m currently 20 years old. There is absolutely no chance that I could do what I do and continue to pursue what I want with one child, much less 3 or 4. Even just during this short hour of interviews, I could see how important it was to educate community members about these reproductive health issues and work towards educating and empowering them, especially the girls and women. Wow.

Some pictures of the community:

There was also a little stall next to the clinic setup that sold refreshments, where I found this gem. If you are unaware, Kodjo is a very popular Fante name, which I was extremely surprised to see:

Right before we left, we had a chance to interact with some of the kids at the clinic that were waiting either for their parents or just hanging out in their free time. They were so cute! Again, I saw a great fascination with my and other interns’ sunglasses:

In the afternoon, we stopped by a resort called “Stumble Inn,” which rejuvenated my love for puns! They had a little store next to the beach area, so I was able to get some beautiful necklaces while I enjoyed the view:

One of the coolest things about it was that the paths were lined with empty glass bottles:

I was wearing athletic shoes because of our earlier trip to Ekrawful, so I didn’t want to go down to the shoreline and actually get into the water. After a while of just relaxing, I ended up heading back to the other of the two stores and just looking around. One of the other interns was already in there, having a bracelet made, so I was able to plop down and join in on their conversation. The guy who was running the store was eager to get to know that I had to say and not hesitant to share his experiences, so I had a good time speaking with him.

I forgot his name (L) but we talked a little about my impressions of Ghana (which I can speak a little about) and Africa (which I can’t make any judgment on yet). He eventually said, “Man is one day born, one day die.” It wasn’t the first time that I’d heard it, but here, it means that you truly never know when your life is going to end. Our required reading for the internship is The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty by Nina Munk, and she chronicles (among other things) that you truly can be healthy one day and die the next from many, many more reasons in Africa than one can in the Western world, and that motto takes on a new meaning in the different context. He was explaining that Ghanaians love to drink, but he prefers to smoke marijuana because it relaxes him rather than makes him more aggressive, the way alcohol does. He wished that he had some with him because he would share it with me and the other intern, but I don’t think I would have taken it either way.

From our conversation, I could also guess that he didn’t know very much about Asia. He, like many others, guessed that I was from China, about which he knows only that kung fu exists. I explained to him where Taiwan, where my parents emigrated from, was. We talked a little bit about the Ghanaian foods that we had tried already, and when one of his coworkers came in with a bowl of one kind of specialty fish soup, he offered some to me. I hate how strong the taste of fish is in stews like that after trying the fufu from the other day and refused, but it was cool to see it.

Looking around the shop, there was similar stuff from the shops that we’d passed through in Cape Coast near the Castle, with bracelets and shirts and masks. One of the signature symbols in Ghana, one that looks like a vertical squiggly line where both ends create a circle around it and means “one god,” was all over the shop. In addition, there were good sized cloths with “Greetings from Ghana” written around it and a picture of a woman that was printed in the middle. She was the same one that was in Cape Coast again, and it turns out that she is the most recent Ms. Ghana and she might have been from the Central Region where we have been this whole time, so that fascination with her picture makes a little more sense.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but the smaller roads in Ghana are not paved, and that makes many of them extremely rocky. When we drive along them, we bounce like nobody’s business on the seats, and the roads leading to Stumble Inn were especially bumpy, which made the ride extra uncomfortable back to our lodge.

After dinner, we had a meeting scheduled so we could input our data from this morning and run it through STATA to analyze it quantitatively, but Deanna, our visiting professor, canceled it because she had a newfound fascination with trash she found at the beach (empty liter Coke bottle, sticks, the bottom of flip-flops) and combined them into a little car that was actually really awesome. It didn’t have special features, of course, but it looked like a viable toy that the children could make easily from discarded materials. She knew that the other brigade staying with us was leaving the next day and going to party it up tonight, so she decided to push back our data analysis and let us enjoy a night off instead. Here she is with some of her beloved materials:

As a result of the night off, we all piled into the bus with the Loyola Chicago students and headed down the 5-minute or so drive to the other lodge. There, we walked in on a cultural dance performance that had already begun and looked like it was pretty far along.

Even so, it was an awesome thing to be able to sit down and just watch the dancers take the patio as their stage. There were 8 of them total, 2 men and 6 women, and they danced at least the entire time we were there, about an hour. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had danced for a while before that. What made their movements so fascinating was their speed of movements. The moves themselves were not terribly complicated, but they were all done extremely quickly, with precision and coordination in a full-body performance. They didn’t even wear shoes because their details go that far; the dancing is a show of athleticism more than grace.

The dancers were constantly moving, and the details along with the beauty of the starry night sky behind them made for a picturesque view. They had a drum line accompanying them, loud enough to shake the air and make me feel the beats around me. The drummers were an integral part of the performance process, not just for the drumming. Occasionally, they dancers would chat something and seem to have a short conversation with the drummers, which was a cool touch even though I couldn’t understand a word of the Fante they spoke.

It was really cool to be in the audience watching them, and I’m disappointed that it was already so dark and I couldn’t get quality pictures because the dancers moved so much and so quickly and they performed in the dark.

Right before we left, I followed some people up to the roof of the lodge, about three or four stories into the air. I couldn’t see much because the sun had gone down over 4 fours earlier, but I could see the lights in the distance and hear the waves of the ocean crashing to the shore not so far away. It was peaceful and away from the distractions at the ground and the view of the stars was even better. I thought it was a truly fantastic way to end the day. 

Ghana Day 15, 8/17/14

Today was a great day because it was a nice mix of busy and relaxed. We spent the morning doing a little bit of research on surveys that have been done to assess the extent of teens’ knowledge of reproductive and sexual health. The questions that we were able to find, we used as a starting place to create preliminary questions that we could use on a survey that could be paired with future medical brigades here in the Ekumfi district to gather data to show how we can best educate teens about these topics.

After we finished, we spent a couple hours entering data informatics. We had the rest of the afternoon off, and I took the time to catch up on some work that I’ve haven’t yet done. While I was working, one of the interns came running into the room exclaiming that there was a goat in the courtyard, and she couldn’t get it to leave.

I thought at the time that the highlight of the day came right after dinner, when all the interns gathered in the girls’ room. We were calmly minding our own business when one of the maintenance men, Ebenezer, came in to hand back the laundry of some of us. We thought that would be it, but then he started a 40-minute soap box speech that unintentionally had us all trying to keep straight faces so we would not offend him. He, apparently, had walked in on one of the ladies resting during the afternoon, and he was incredibly apologetic that he did not knock because he saw the rest of us outside working. Throughout the 40 minutes, he got on his knee at least 4 times to apologize to her, and we kept asking him to get up but he clearly worked on his own schedule. That took him on to an extensive rant about how Ghanaians behave before they enter a room. They knock twice and say, “Ahh may!” and if the person inside wants to allow the knocker to enter, they respond, “Ahh go!” If they don’t, they keep quiet. Even though we understood this concept and had used it during family profiling in the first few days that we were in country, he felt the need to demonstrate this to us several times with the door we had that led to the hallway.

He also talked to us about the fact that our air conditioning has been dripping, because he said that he has called the mechanic person to come fix it for tomorrow. That being said, he kept asking us how we liked living here and wouldn’t take our nods of approval as how we truly felt. He said that Americans were blessed because they give so much, and implied that air conditioners don’t break in America when we told him that it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. It was hard not to laugh at that but we all seemed to hold it together alright. He raved about how American leaders are good at delegating the tasks that they don’t know how to do, and whereas African leaders just try to solve the problems themselves and don’t cooperate. While that may be true to an extent, he accounted for American and European ingenuity and power to that. All I have to ask about that is whether he knows the history of colonialism and the history of Western exploitation of Africa, from exporting raw materials to slaves to the drawing of arbitrary country lines because the British wanted to break up tribes and create factions to weaken resistance. I wonder what he’d say if he truly understood that history. He also rolled his eyes at us when we talked about how beds in America also break, considering we’d seen one break here in our lodge. He repeated over and over that, “God bless you!” and our families, and our children, and our grandchildren, and our grandparents, and our great-great-great-great-great-great-great-etc. grandchildren, and something about that reminded him to talk to us about religion.

I know that religion is incredibly important to the people of Ghana, and even more so than the Southern United States. The emphasis on belief runs to the core of the culture and lifestyle here to an extent that I’m not sure I could ever understand, and I think it was the same way for Ebenezer. He went around the room to the 11 of us that were here and asked each of us to share our religious beliefs, nodding at all the Christians. We have one Jewish guy, to which Ebenezer said, “Oh yeah, so you’re Christian too!” To the five of us who were non-religious (no religion, but not necessarily atheist), he stopped everything and told us to repeat after him. I could see immediately where he was going with it and didn’t follow his lead, especially when he started saying things like, “From this day forward I take Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior” and other religious words that are said in such a ceremony. He looked extremely pleased with himself after he had us say it (even though afterwards, those of us he was trying to convert all just thought it was completely hilarious) and promptly declared us all Christians. He kept telling us about how God made the heavens and the earth and how he was going to bless us into eternity. He also apparently really likes that “In God We Trust” is printed on all our money because he repeated it over and over and had us chant it along with him regardless of our beliefs. As if I’m not reminded that there is a distinct lack of church-state separation by everyday life in the States already.

His fascination with the United States ran even deeper than that because he started talking about Obama, whose campaign slogan was, “Yes, We Can!” Equipped with “Yes, We Can!” and “In God We Trust,” he had a great time getting us to repeat after him over and over, and I couldn’t help but grin at the ridiculousness of all of it, the best part being that he was completely lost in this dialogue with himself.

Randomly during the conversation, he also asked each of us whether we had half- or step-brothers and sisters. When he found out that two of us did, he immediately started talking about his own experience with his half/step siblings, saying that it caused many problems in his family and others like his; the kids were put in the middle, and whichever parent had more money would try to bribe the children to come with them (it sounded like he was talking more about divorce than the sibling relationship). He kept implying that all families had these problems when that isn’t necessarily the case. When we tried to contradict his statement in the most polite way possible, he just brushed it off as a result of having enough money for all the kids. To be honest, this was the most depressing part of his soapbox speech.

After he eventually left, we had only a couple minutes to laugh it out a little until we had a short debriefing with Deanna again. We were able to see some of the final presentations that the previous interns had so we could have an idea of what we would need to do in the week before we leave. After she gave us all the relevant information we needed (along with the reminder that we are working on latrine building over the next 3 days!), she casually asked us how we were.

That was like opening the floodgates, because after we told her all about our encounter with Ebenezer and how much we wanted to laugh about it, we had laughed a lot and started down that giggly path (it’s a dangerous one!). We then started to tell all the funny stories we had over the past two weeks, which turned out to actually be quite a bit. The next thing I knew, we had been laughing for a little over an hour, and it was still going on. There were times when I’d laughed until I cried, and I can’t remember the last time I’d laughed that hard for that long. I’m sure I’ve done it during the school year and over the summer with the Orientation Advisors, but each time you laugh like that, it feels like you’re being reenergized and starting fresh again. It’s a good feeling.