Ghana Team Journal

Nearing the End

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Today I didn’t go to school in the morning, because I’ve spent the last few days being nauseous after I eat, but I feel better in a few hours without too many issues, so then I feel silly for not going to work.

We walked to library by ourselves. The people on the way know us now and so we offer greetings back and forth, in Twi. They know we know the traditional greetings, so they switch it up a bit to test us. I keep getting confused between the reply to “Etusen?”, which is “Eya” and the reply to “Aiko!”, which is “Ya-e”. I always have to pause and think about “Ya-e”, which makes them laugh at me, but we are laughing together.

We pass a school that is always getting out just as we come by. Cliff and I were thinking that the chorus of, “Obroni, Obroni!” make us feel like superstars. Perhaps we’ll have to put on a show, now.

Kara had a bag made to take back all the lovely swag that is, wood and hand crafts, that we’ve gotten here, but the zipper isn’t big enough, so we dropped it by for Noah to put another zipper in. Which brings to mind that our days here are numbered: we go home in just a few days.

This is a beautiful place, and the people here have left an imprint on me. Each day when I teach, I meet the children under a mango tree during their break, to play. Mango trees are ubiquitous, here. They’re everywhere! So, when I think about coming back, bringing my family and my friends to enjoy some of the things I have discovered, and some of the people I have met, and who have let me into their community and their hearts, I do not think about good-bye. I think, someday, I’ll just meet you under the Mango Tree.

The Clinic

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Today was a teachers meeting so there was no school for Cliff and Rhonda wasn't feeling well so she stayed home from work. I went to the Senchi Ferry clinic today and it was again very busy which I enjoyed and the people were again welcoming, but this time did not get in a tizzy when I made a mistake.

I worked with Charity the head nurse today and her assistant. Their roles here are more complex than mine at home. I had to explain to her that some things are not in the scope of my practice so I can't diagnosis, but I can do some things under a doctor’s order and assist with vitals or paper work as needed. Once my role was clearer to her she was more apt to be assistive.

Another procedure I watched was the I/D of a finger abscess. It was also done in the office with the woman sitting in a chair, her hand hanging over a regular waste basket, unsterile technique or instruments which were not washed afterwards. The woman had a gaping finger wound, no anesthetic besides one extra strength Tylenol and then a sloppy dressing placed which will not promote healing. I was grossed out and terrified by this practice. She used scissors and a spreader to open the wound. The patient almost passed out so they had to move her to the table to lie down, give her some oral rehydration salt water. She was told to get up after a few minutes they gave her some oral antibiotics to take home and she left.

After clinic time had lunch then Margret came with our dresses, mine were great and I was very pleased as I know I can wear this any where I want. We lay down for a while then learned library was canceled so we laid down some more. Everyone is getting some good rest and feeling better today.

Beginning of the Last Week

Monday, March 19, 2012

We entered our last week today. I headed to the Senchi Ferry clinic and Rhonda went to the New Akrade clinic. It was much busier at this clinic and felt more welcoming today as they started off with all the patients and providers singing and praying together, then discussed the process of checking in. We saw 26 patients in the 1st hour of opening. I helped do vitals while another man did the intake paperwork. The check in process was complicated as the patients had to go from station to station before they were seen by the nurse. Several forgot their ID cards which show their folder number and this is what allows the nurse to see their history. This clinic doesn't charge for the cards or folders as the New Akrade clinic does. The practices and availability of services between the two clinics are like night and day.

Rosemond one of the cooks at the St.James guest house checked in today as she was still quite sick and might have malaria, but she didn't have her card so they made her wait a long time to check in as they allowed others to check in before her. It would be easier to use the patients name rather than a number to make their folders and that way they don't have to bring another card with them other than their insurance card.

We had my favorite meal today curry sauce over rice. Then napped until library time. It was cooler today, but very humid so I was sweating a lot. The kids were quieter than they have been in the past, but there were more of them today. When we returned Cliff was gone, but Margret came with our dresses. Mine were a little tight, but can easily be fixed so I ordered a few more items and will have them before I leave.

Things I've learned about Ghana

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Day 15, Saturday, March 17th, 2012
Since we have made it through 2/3rds of our stay in Africa, I thought I would revisit some of the things I’ve learned since I’ve been here.
Things I’ve learned in Ghana:
1.      Africa is made primarily of hot.
2.      Lizards will come into your house. Deal with it.
3.      Hand sanitizer is essential.
4.      Toilet paper is not.
5.      Neither are toilets, for that matter.
6.      The romance of a mosquito net over your bed is inversely proportionate to the amount of time you’ve spent sleeping under one.
7.      Vascular clamps make good clothespins.
8.      It is possible to take an effective shower using just two, 1.5 litre bottles of water.
9.      It is possible to drink or eat almost everything, including spaghetti, out of a plastic bag with no utensils
10.  It is okay to love someone for the color of their skin.
11.  It is not okay to hate them for it (I knew this one before. I just thought we should all review).
12.  Greet people. All of them. All the time. Preferably in their language. It feels good.
13.  No matter how many times I tell people my name, I am still the Obroni in the purple hat.
14.  Obroni is the word for “White person” which people, usually children, use to call out to us wherever we are. It must be acknowledged by a wave or reply, or it will continue in sing-song fashion. Sometimes they will come running to us, yelling “Obroni! Obroni! Obroni” and jump into our arms. This is always wonderful, and sometimes makes you cry. It is okay, they can’t tell because of the sweat. It just mixes in. Your cheeks were already dripping.
15.  It is okay to reply “Obibini!” when you don’t know the child’s name, and which means black person. The children are delighted by this and giggle. I think this type of exchange would not go over well in the States, but in Ghana, we are all honored by acknowledging our differences and celebrating our similarities.

he only time you run out of chances is when you stop taking them.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Today and yesterday were fairly typical days for work, although I did more teaching both days. Yesterday, I had the class by myself for most of the morning. Today, I had the class for the second half of our work day, and I broke the class up into small groups to work on the skits we will perform for the rest of the class tomorrow. The children have trouble taking initiative in planning, although they are eager for the learning and the experience, they often need both very specific instructions and permission to act on their own. They need lots of encouragement to share their own ideas and implement them. It’s very different from home.

After work we ate a quick meal of sandwiches (an egg and cabbage mixture that was fabulous) so we could get to Akosombo market again. This is the first time I had been on a market day, and the market was booming! Stalls were everywhere and seemed to go on forever. People were often surprised to see the Obronis there, but eager to show off their goods. The fabrics, as usual, were stunning, and there is always more I want to buy. It would be easy to get myself in trouble in such a place.

The girls ventured out again after dinner and went to the Volta bridge. What a moment to have the batteries in my camera die! I walked quickly through the market square on my own while Ashley and Kara walked the bridge, so I could replace my batteries. Being an Obroni alone in the market at the end of day is quite different. Many of the vendors can be insistent, it is the end of the day and they are eager to sell the rest of their goods. It can be a lesson in assertiveness, although played out in another language, which can present difficulties. Success in finding the batteries had me back at the bridge where I took the most amazing pictures as evening fell. The clouds were afoot, and the evening shadows lent an incredible effect to the photos. We met many people, and, as usual, many men who were interested in coming to America with the Obroni women, but all were unfailingly polite and interesting to talk to.

As we were looking for a tro tro in the dark we met Desmond., a cabbie, who was very eager to carry us to our African home, so much so that it didn’t cost more than 60 American cents to take the taxi over the tro tro, and it was totally worth it. We jammed out to reggae music on the all too short trip, and queried Desmond about his life growing up in Akrade. I arrived home ready to dance the night away, but instead we stayed up for “Girl Talk” in Ashley’s room while she showed us what treasures she was bringing home as she leaves tomorrow.

I am really going to miss Ashley as she leaves the team after just one more work day. It’s very odd to get close to people so quickly, but new experiences tend to forge stronger bonds, and we have confided in each other about our experiences here in this beautiful place. I wish she could stay another week so we could have more adventures like today.

Another Typical Day

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Today was another typical day.  Kara and Rhonda went to the clinic after breakfast, and Cliff and I walked to school with Uncle Meow.  At this point we don’t need him to find our way; we just like his company.  He teaches us songs and makes us laugh.  Its also nice to have someone around who can teach us new words in Twi as we greet everyone we pass. 

The school is becoming more like a second home as we get to know the children and teachers.  Every day we spend a little time in the classrooms, play outside with the children for a while, and then return to the classrooms for a little more learning before uncle meow picks us up.  We walk back for lunch, and show up late and after the clinic girls every day.  We could leave early, but it isn’t easy to leave such an eager bunch of students.   After a short rest, we set off for the library.  There were lots of children there again yesterday since it didn’t rain.  The time passed quickly and soon it was time to close and go home. After dinner Uncle Rabbit, Uncle Meow, Madam Macaroni and I walked to a little place past the school for some drinks.  I saved the bottles for science class.  Then we went to another place to watch football.  This was one more thing we don’t have in the US.  It was a building much like a lot of the other buildings around here, but there were two TVs set up next to each other, each showing a different football game.  All the chairs were set up facing the games.  The people watching with is got very heated and into the game.  A couple of them even looked like they were going to fight.  It was a great time.  After the games were over we walked home with our friends and went straight to bed.  It had been another full day and we were exhausted.

At the Clinic

Monday, March 12, 2012

Rhonda and I awakened and today the others were already up when we went to wake them, this was a pleasant change. After breakfast we had our meeting and then departed for the clinic while Cliff and Ashley returned to the school.

The clinic was busy today with many people coming in pairs. The clinic is seeing a lot of new patients. We held reorganize the patient folders and remarked them to make it easier to read and easier to find them. I was relieved that we did not meet any resistance on this and the nurses continue to be very welcoming. Lydia's son was here again today and Agnes and Mary are over their illnesses so it was a full staff today.

After clinic time we went home and I attempted to wrap up my beautiful woman wall hanging and Ester took it to the post office to see how much shipping would cost. I loved lunch as it had so many vegetables. Then the dress lady came and we were able to get premeasured and tell her what we wanted.

Cliff and Ashley headed to the Akosombo market for fabric and Rhonda and I hung out with Lydia then headed to the library early. We were there before most of the kids and when they did come in they were quite shy. The younger children were much more rambunctious  and I had to stop a few from hurting each other. One girl was very obnoxious, but was so beautiful it made me sad to watch her. The walk home seems to be getting easier, but I still would be lost on my own. When we returned home I was really hoping for a shower, but instead I got a large mouth full of bug spray. What a bummer. So we watched a movie on Rhonda's laptop then the power went out and we had dinner by flashlight. It was fun, but hot and then suddenly the power was back on. I showered and called my husband then read for a while before going to sleep for the next day.

Saturday at the Market

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Today we engaged a taxi to go to Accra by way of Aburi market. We wanted to go to the Arts & Crafts market, and then we need to drop off Jennifer at the airport, since our first team member is going home.

The market was smaller than I expected, just 20 stalls on each side of the road. This was primarily a market for woodwork, and the work was incredible. I immediately fell in love with a traditional man and woman statue set, and then a nativity, which I forgot to go back and buy: heartbreak! We found many traditional masks and wood wall hangings. I bought some things for my sons, and a leather box for my daughter.  Most of the team came away with beautiful handcrafts for their families back home.

We went to the Botanical Gardens for lunch and met Kwame (Saturday born) Michael, an artist who is soon going to the Bronx, New York to teach woodcarving! He showed us around the gardens and we saw the oldest tree in Ghana. We also saw a dead tree whose trunk and branches Michael had carved into a sculpture of people helping each other to climb up. It was so beautiful! I got a picture, and then we had to say good bye to our new friend. I gave him our contact info, and he will call when he gets to the US.

It was hard to say goodbye to Jennifer at the airport, and now our team doesn’t feel complete. It’s so sad to see her go!

The drive back was long and hot and we bought our first drinks from street vendors through the windows of the van while stuck in traffic (Sprite/Coke) it was heaven, since our water was quite warm at that point. After we got out of town, the traffic was not bad, and we made it home in time for dinner: spaghetti with spicy tomato sauce! Wonderful!

Day two at school

Friday, March 9, 2012

Today was cleaning day at the school, so the children had the desks outside and were wiping them off when we arrived. I wanted to get some pictures of this kind of activity, but the minute you turn a camera on the children they stop what they are doing and ham it up, and other children try to crowd into the frame. I was able to alleviate this problem somewhat by pointing the camera in a direction I wasn’t going to photograph while I set the zoom, and only turning to take the picture when it was ready and I could do it quickly.

The girls surrounded me not long after I arrived and wanted me to do the Downtown Baby song with them again. I taught them another move at the end. If I teach one new move a day, we should have the song finished by the time I leave here. They had asked me yesterday if I would write the words out for them, and I did, so they could copy it. I am hoping to have a laminated copy made in Accra, for the wall of the classroom. .

I was much more comfortable in the classroom today, and the teacher opened up to me a bit more as well, asking questions and telling me about the school and class structure. During break, the girls immediately surrounded me again, and we played until a boy came to tell me I was wanted in the school. He led me to a classroom that held three teachers, chatting to each other, and I explained the child told me they wanted me. They said it was a mistake, they were asking for someone else, but we started up a conversation and they were very interested in what my life was like in America. They were fascinated to learn that my husband did much of the cooking and grocering, and that he brought me tea and rubbed my feet at the end of the day. I asked them if they were married and they all said no, but then I told the one male teacher there that now he would know how to make a good husband, and they all had a good laugh.

After lunch we went to the Akosombo market to buy fabric to have dresses made. It wasn’t a market day, so all the stalls weren’t open, but it still had quite a bit going on, with many people and taxi’s coming and going. The fabrics were incredible! So many beautiful patterns!

Day Two

Sunday, March 4, 2012

We were up at 4:30 am here because of the time change. No worries, the hotel pool is open 24 hours a day! Kara and I enjoyed a swim under the night stars, and then under the sunrise. A lizard watched us from his perch on the hotel wall. Today we travel into the interior where we will be working, so this is the last of pools and hot showers for awhile. Also internet. I'm adjusting, as you can clearly see!

Piling into the van with, again, far too much luggage, we are agog at the differences we see in this world. I am reveling in the browns and tans, and earth tones of the landscape against the red clay that is everywhere, but Jennifer is exclaiming how lush and green it is! The difference in perspective coming from Oregon, where everything is lush and green year ‘round, including the moss-covered roofs of our houses, and coming from California, where the dessert sits outside your window is profound for being adjacent states. But it allows us a window into the differences and similarities that make up our different team members.

Before we left the capitol city of Accra, we saw a significant amount of livestock, cattle of an indeterminate type, some of which were longhorns, lots of chickens, and many, many goats.

Shops are small buildings, usually cheek-by-jowl to each other, or larger, roof-covered areas open to the air. In more than one of these we saw caskets for sale on the side of the highway. This must be the local funeral parlor! Actually, they are wood craftsmen, and these are some of their wares. Pots are many in these markets. I was taken with the most beautiful columns made of cement that you bring home in segments and construct on site, they had incredibly ornate capitols, often in Corinthian style, and designs in the body of the column that Esther explained were Ghanaian. I saw some of these incorporated into local architecture later.

We arrived at the Guest House and the entire staff, The gatekeeper, Emanuel, Philip, Bless, Abigail, and Rosemunde, was on hand to greet us. They said “You are welcome” which means just that here, that we are welcome to be here, not the traditional American reply to a “Thank you” we are used to. Getting settled into our room was easy, as it was quite large and comfortable, with an en suite bath.

The day had already been full, but the best part was still ahead of us. We were welcomed in a village ceremony to the town of New Akrade by the Chief, his second in command, and the Queen Mother, the designated representatives of the three local royal families and their tribes, the Akans, the Guan, and the Ewes. He welcomed us not only to the community, but into the community, and promised us that the people of the town would look after us and watch over us and our safety, and that he would be our father, and the Queen Mother our mother as long we were here.

After the ceremony Esther explained that the Chief had inquired about marrying Kara, then me when he discovered Kara to be taken. The Chief, apparently married but able to support more wives, was fascinated with our hips, and zaftig appearance. They like their women big, here. Many people would come up to us, exclaiming on both our skin and our robust hips. More than one woman wanted Kara to donate some of hers. They think we are beautiful. Ghana is a good place for the ego of a large woman.

On the way home we were talking with Esther about the ceremony and the different tribes and states of Africa. We chatted about how the Chief had promised that the town would keep us safe, and all would watch over us while we were here. She said we would have no trouble in New Akrade or the surrounding areas, but sometimes in Accra, there is trouble (kidnapping) and it is always found to be Nigerians. She said it is a Muslim country that has not gotten its “stuff” together and there is always trouble. I found it interesting to note prejudices between African tribes and states, or customs and cultures, when at home most people look at Africa, a place 3 times the area of the US, as one vast, singular culture.

Day One

Saturday, March 3, 2012

We arrived with far too much luggage, largely due to donations, and realized that most of the team was on our flight. Upon leaving the protection of the airport terminal, the heat hits you like a solid wall of steam, and you are instantly clammy and too warm, but we didn’t care. Finally, we were in Ghana!

We met the fifth member of our team at the hotel, he having arrived one day prior. The hoteliers immediately proffered each of us the coldest water bottle we would find in Ghana, apparently kept in the freezer. Mine had ice in it. Heaven! We unpacked in a room that was very much what one would find in a mid-priced motel in the states. Everything was clean, but there were stains on the quilts which was a pity, since both were actually quilted and pieced quilts. There was also no water pressure to speak of to either the toilet or shower. Whatever! Be flexible, we were told before we arrived, and we are. An hour to rest and I fell asleep. This would become my pattern in this beautiful country. Every time I lay my head on a pillow, I quickly fall into restful, exquisite sleep. This is so far out of my norm that I have to attribute it to the magic of Ghana.

Meeting for our first team dinner we learned more about Esther, our leader, and Lydia, her assistant, and a few phrases in Twi (pronounced tchwee) that we instantly forgot. We were very tired, yet surprisingly energetic and excited about this new adventure. It is a heady combination! We also learned that to wave in the manner that a baby waves “Bye-bye” is not what we think it is, it means “come here” and is likely to net you a flock of Ghanaians who have been previously calling to you, “Obroni! Obroni!”. We also learned the word “Obroni” that would become the background music to our journey. It means “White person.”

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The morning started with an egg and toast again. At breakfast, it was obvious that Judy was still not feeling well. She laid back down in her room and would be going to the hospital around 11am. The team has been concerned about her as this trip can be difficult even when feeling well. We all went to our respective schools and started in on another hot and muggy day in our open-air classrooms.

My class started with some marching practice for the independence day festival. Next, we moved into mathematics. We worked through some long division scaffolding problems, and then went for break. During our break, the children enjoyed some soccer and taking pictures and the occasional wrestling match. The weather has been becoming increasingly hot and humid. Everyone was sweating after our break, but no one more than myself! The people here are certainly more accustomed to this type of weather.

After returning to the classroom, our class gathered and walked to the library to work on the computers. However, when we arrived at the library door, we realized no one was home and we could not get in to have our ICT class. So, after cooling off in the shade of the library’s front patio, we hit the road again and walked back to our classroom.

Since ICT was canceled, I decided to hold a competition of board games. We divided the children into two separate groups and then one child at a time from each group would come to the blackboard to write the answer to the question I gave from our various lessons. The kids were shouting, screaming, jumping up and down and trying their hardest to cheat so that their team may win. I realized, as did my teacher, that competition was quite a powerful motivator. It was sad, however, that most of the children could not spell Senchi-Ferry, their teacher’s name, or Akosombo. Yikes!

After class, we returned to the guest house for lunch – rice again, sheesh! – and soon after lunch Judy returned from the hospital with what sounded like a clean bill of health. We are all glad that it was nothing really serious, but she will be taking it easy to err on the side of caution. The afternoon was another hour at the library reading and working with the children from various schools around the community. My class from B’Akoto decided to come for some ICT practice in the computer room. Unfortunately, our class teacher decided not to come, and without her, we could not proceed into the computer room. It was nice to see some of my students reading and being able to hang out with them outside of the p5 classroom. I decided to try to convince our teacher to attempt to come back for ICT class the following day. The children had only one thing on their minds for the next day’s class however – board races again! I told them I would try to host a rematch on Friday due to their extreme enthusiasm. Upon returning to the guest house, we cleaned up and changed and caught a tro-tro to the Continental hotel for dinner and relaxation along the Volta River. We enjoyed a diversified menu and a few beverages with good conversation. The group feels pretty ready to head home on Saturday. We tro-troed back to the St. James guest house and went to our rooms. There is only one day left of service here in Senchi-Ferry and our group went to bed as visions of returning home danced in our heads.