Monday, July 17, 2006

just a brief update;

So, extreme apologies for not posting my blog forever and then suddenly (shazaam!!) posting a billion zillion entries; as you probably already know, I don't have internet access, unless I come to Tamale. Well, this is the first time I've been to Tamale since May and its been extremely busy since we got here!

We just had an intense retreat with all of the MoFA volunteers, some of the new long term volunteers (including Christian, my new boss, who is replacing Robin, who is going home) and they are all doing awesome! We've had a few challenges (work challenges, home challenges, emotional challenges - and then crazy ones - my friend Chloe got attacked by a babboon at Mole National Park and had to take rabies shots!!) but all in all, we're in one piece and enthusiastic about development, life and Ghana.

My time here is winding down and every time I remember that, I get quite sad and a little scared about the amount of work I still have left to do. But in the same vein, I'm quite excited for the upcoming year and all the exciting things waiting for me in Canada (my awesome EWB chapter, obviously my family and my cool brother, great courses at school, my dance company, my friends - boy do I miss you all)!

I might be back to Tamale some time in the beginning of August for an Advocacy Campaign training with some of the members of my district food security network; I'm not sure but I'm going to try. Next week (I'm really excited for this) I'm spending 8 days in the village of Balai, which is in my district and about 1 hour from Salaga. No electricity, no running water (obviously), and just farming yam with my friend Madame Mercy - the best yam farmer in Ghana (she won an award!) and learning more about rural livelihoods.

Other than that, I'm super happy that all you guys are reading this; its very supportive and I am so glad for your comments (sorry I don't reply, time is not plenty..) :)

I hope you are all keeping well!!
lots of good wishes and Tamale pineapple (what a treat!!),

just a brief update;

So, extreme apologies for not posting my blog forever and then suddenly (shazaam!!) posting a billion zillion entries; as you probably already know, I don't have internet access, unless I come to Tamale. Well, this is the first time I've been to Tamale since May and its been extremely busy since we got here!

We just had an intense retreat with all of the MoFA volunteers, some of the new long term volunteers (including Christian, my new boss, who is replacing Robin, who is going home) and they are all doing awesome! We've had a few challenges (work challenges, home challenges, emotional challenges - and then crazy ones - my friend Chloe got attacked by a babboon at Mole National Park and had to take rabies shots!!) but all in all, we're in one piece and enthusiastic about development, life and Ghana.

My time here is winding down and every time I remember that, I get quite sad and a little scared about the amount of work I still have left to do. But in the same vein, I'm quite excited for the upcoming year and all the exciting things waiting for me in Canada (my awesome EWB chapter, obviously my family and my cool brother, great courses at school, my dance company, my friends - boy do I miss you all)!

I might be back to Tamale some time in the beginning of August for an Advocacy Campaign training with some of the members of my district food security network; I'm not sure but I'm going to try. Next week (I'm really excited for this) I'm spending 8 days in the village of Balai, which is in my district and about 1 hour from Salaga. No electricity, no running water (obviously), and just farming yam with my friend Madame Mercy - the best yam farmer in Ghana (she won an award!) and learning more about rural livelihoods.

Other than that, I'm super happy that all you guys are reading this; its very supportive and I am so glad for your comments (sorry I don't reply, time is not plenty..) :)

I hope you are all keeping well!!
lots of good wishes and Tamale pineapple (what a treat!!),

Sweet delicious juju gifts..

So, good old Mahmoud. I’m sure you’re wondering what he’s up to, my picture-snapping friend. After a few days of avoiding his calls (I avoid everyone’s calls. The other day my parents were trying to call and I wasn’t picking up because my phone was on silent. Sometimes your “friends” here call every single day and want to talk forever, about nothing, and its annoying. So when I see their numbers, I just put the phone on silent and let it ring.. Plus, anyone who knows me well back in Canada knows that I hate cell phones, and cell phones ringing, and mine is usually off..) he showed up Saturday morning unexpectedly. With a giant bag that I was hoping wasn’t for me.
Well, it was. The bag’s contents: 2 full loaves of bread, 4 tins of carnation evaporated milk (the only milk anyone drinks here – its 9% and orange..but its for tea), and two boxes of tea. I tried to give it back to him, but then in the end just gave up and put it to the side. I was confused, because here, when you come from the city to a smaller town (or from a town to the village), you have to bring bread. “Tamale bread” is better than “Salaga bread”. “Salaga bread” is better than…no bread in the villages. But Mahmoud wasn’t coming from Tamale…With my sisters rapidly gesturing from the corner I realised – oh, I should serve him some. Dutiful hostess that I was, I whipped up some tea, pulled up a bench and was kind of asking random mumbled questions until Mme. Janet and Boncat strolled in.

[Mme. Janet had been in Tamale for the last week, to see the doctor regarding some weird pains she had in her abdomen for the last 3 months. The doctor here said it was “muscle pain” and gave her ibuprofen and weak antibiotics and Tylenol. Anyway, it turns out she has appendicitis and they might have to remove her appendix, and now she’s taking some ultra strong antibiotics and waiting. I’m pretty worried, but trying to act brave because if I worry, then they’ll really panic.. The week they were both gone was sad, because I missed them both, especially Boncat. The house is quiet without his constant chattering and awesomely cute antics. ]

Anyway, they saved me because I proceeded to ask them questions about their stay, and eventually Mahmoud got bored, or something, and left.
Sketchy visitors or no, I was about to open up the tea and bread and offer to everyone (tea and bread is what we eat for breakfast at the house) when Madame Janet shot me a funny look. “Apoorva, the boy’s father, he’s a powerful man. A very powerful man.”. Okay. He’s the chief of the Fulanis isn’t he? Sure, he’s powerful. Plus they have 2 cars…

“No, I mean he is a powerful medicine man. A juju man. I would be very careful. Don’t joke with things. Don’t joke.”. Huh? Ohhhhhh boy. Juju. Clearly I have no intention of “joking with things” anyway as I’ve mentioned in advance…but juju… oh boy. Soon, the advice is flowing – don’t eat anything they give you in their house, don’t even drink the water. Don’t take anything that they give you. Do not go places alone with them. Then the clincher – “Apoorva, wear your other sandals when you go to their house. Don’t remove them.” What? I have two pairs of sandals – the green flip flops I bought here and wear everywhere (you remove them when you enter someone’s house) and my hiking sandals, which I would remove too..but they are harder to take off, I guess. “They will use your footprints – even the dust from your feet – and do powerful medicine on it. They will throw it into the sea. You will love the boy and stay in Ghana forever..”
At this point I’m no longer laughing. As I’ve mentioned before, juju is “very real” here – not in that I believe in it, but that if other people believe in it, you will upset them by being nonchalant.
Then, the clincher. “Don’t eat any of the things the boy has brought. That is, unless you want to stay in Ghana forever…” Damn. So much tea. A week’s worth of milk for the house. But, okay – if it will make them upset, I guess not.

Three days have passed now, and that law has been relaxed: they deem it “okay” to eat the stuff, but they are watching me carefully. In case I start going crazy? I’m not sure for what.. I joke about it lightly, but only with Megan. “Do you want some juju bread? How about some juju tea?”

But the advice still stands. Do NOT go to their house, and if you go, don’t remove your shoes, don’t brush your hair, don’t eat their food or drink their water. Say you’re fasting, say anything…but don’t.

The thing about juju is that it’s the intention behind it that makes it scary. My friend Renee, a Canadian volunteer who is staying in Kpandai (about 40 miles from here) for the last 2 years, she was telling me about a coworker who found some juju things that his wife had put in his room. (What are juju things? I’m not really sure. Sometimes rings, sometimes cowrie shells and feathers and weird bags and amulets made out of goat skin..). He wouldn’t eat, he wouldn’t do anything: he lived in fear. Eventually he left her.
I mean, even when you analyze it from an objective point of view, its bad. I mean, juju may not be real, but your wife wanting to harm you in some way – indirectly or not – is real. Sketchy business.

The thing with juju is that its sometimes the best non-scientific explanation for an illiterate person. If they are trying to do juju on someone and kill them, and then the “victim” contracts tuberculosis and dies, how are you going to explain the germ theory of infection to them? “The man died because of small animals – so small you can’t see them – went into his lungs.” How ridiculous does that sound to the average illiterate villager? They will insist that he died of juju. And in their reality, its very much a reasonable explanation.

Juju persists because of a lack of education. It’s a harsh way of putting it, but “superstitious beliefs” are now in a large part associated with the ‘Northerners’ in Ghana because they are seen as less civilized and developed; especially by the more affluent Southerners. In reality, the rampant poverty here, coupled with illiteracy and lack of infrastructure connecting them to other realities outside of their own, keeps juju alive. Its also a vital part of what in Ghana is called “ATR” or ‘African Traditional Religion’, which many a time seamlessly incorporates itself with local Christian and Islamic beliefs. And I always struggle with that fine line between what is my own disbelief in something, and when does it become a cultural judgement? Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t believe things that don’t have scientific proof, and juju is just one on a long list of those things.
Then there are the points where juju, usually ignored by most volunteers in the country, clashes with the work they are trying to do. The best example of this is “AIDS is juju”. It is not even the foreign volunteers (who are ever vigilant about cultural sensitivity) that this really disarms – it’s the local volunteers and NGO workers. I was talking to a man complaining in frustration about this idea, now confined to small villages, but very much alive. I mean, culture is vital, but if it hinders a group’s progress so much, it too must be subject to change. The man I was speaking to, a reproductive health worker, talked about how most of the time they tried to educate the people about the true causes of AIDS: but some workers had taken a radical approach. They ‘marketed’ the condom as a ‘fetish’ or ‘medicine’ against the AIDS juju. Not my favourite solution (though innovative) considering its not really sustainable, and its long term results may be good, or sketchy.

Its now however been two days since I’ve been eating (and my sisters too) the ‘juju bread’ and I’m still alive and kicking. Maybe the Canadian juju is stronger than they thought ! ;)

“I want you to be my friend..!” “Uh oh….”

When do the words “friend” begin to ring off alarm bells? When you are in a completely foreign culture and you have no idea what the beginning and ending connotations of words are; when you have to relearn a way of thinking, acting, and being, just to get by – day to day.
Let me explain: for the last two weeks, I have strengthened my realisation that I haven’t even scratched the surface of East Gonja life; there is SO MUCH that I don’t know. If you stay here a while, you get a routine. You start to know people, you start to go to the same places to buy your peanuts and bananas and sew your dresses – you understand the language, at least enough to get by. You get complacent – reckless maybe even.
In training we learned that we will go through phases during our stay - 4 in total – ‘unconscious incompetence’ where you have no clue, that you have no clue. Everything is fair game; you will hand things to people with your left hand, you will chew your fufu and forget to bow when greeting elders. No problemo; you don’t even know you’re wrong! Then ‘conscious incompetence’ – you know you’re doing SOMETHING wrong, but you’re never really sure what. Sometimes people laugh when you even open your mouth, you’re not sure if its something you do did, or just the hilarity of your foreignness. I like to call it “Do I have something in my teeth?” syndrome.
The next natural progression is ‘conscious competence’ – so you know what you have to do, but you have to think about it all the time. You anticipate seeing people and what you’re going to say; when I ride my bike into town I practice in my head what I’m going to say when people see me “Mey yo Salaga to, mey sha kwaya. Hana fey yo? En shi lan..” I’m going to Salaga, I want/like soap [I want to buy soap]. Where are you going? I’m coming from my house. Its like nothing I can describe, the days tire you. Sometimes when I go to Kpembe and return home, I’m mentally exhausted. You can’t let your guard down even for a second.
Of course, supposedly next in line is ‘unconscious competence’ where you just do things without thinking; you have integrated completely. Why they even told us about this phase in training, I’m not sure. I’m pretty sure its imaginary at best. Or unrealistic in the time frame provided. Maybe SOME things you will be unconsciously competent about; now I don’t have to think when I greet people, when I eat, how to buy things and dress and to an extent I have adapted to living here. But its ridiculous to assume, as I have lately noticed, that you know…anything. That may take years; and then even still…
But I wasn’t foolish or facetious when I titled my blog ‘adventures in Ghana..’, truly life here is adventurous. You never know what is thrown to you at any moment, and just when you become complacent…..
Of course, on to today’s story. The Fulani are a pan-west African nomadic cattle-herding people who comprise of 20 tribes and are found mainly in Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Togo, and Senegal. Pretty much .. everywhere. They are indigenous in the sense that they live in all of these places, and have, for a while – but they look different (more north African? The best I can describe is that they sort of look like me) and as far as I have noticed, are treated differently. The Gonja are traditionally a cattle owning people, and sort of .. outsource their herding duties to the Fulani people. While clearly this is a relationship of co-dependancy, the Gonja peoples (well, I’m generalizing, but this is what I’ve observed) treat the Fulani as sort of their ‘hired work’. While you would never pass somebody on the street and call out “Hey! Gonja! Come here!”, people here do not think twice of addressing Fulani peoples as “Hey! Fulani! Come here!”. Anyway, other than fairly saddening bit of cultural observation, my fascination stems from the fact that I “studied” (again, I don’t like that term.. or idea) about the Fulani people in cultural anthropology. Plus, since I resemble them, everybody in this town (and especially in villages amongst people who don’t own televisions or have power and have never seen “Indians” anywhere) think I am a Fulani. So I naturally wanted to know more about them.
But its not just “them”. All the cultures in this area are fascinating; the difference is that usually I have an English speaking ‘cultural informant’ who tells me things. Or I read my sister Megan’s social studies textbook. However, for the Fulani – most of them are nomadic and have not attended school, very few speak English and ‘outsiders’ do not know much about their culture to tell me anything.
I expressed this to my friend Mahama at the pharmacy and he said that it was not a problem – that he had a Fulani friend who is attending school and speaks English. I casually mentioned that I would be interested in speaking to this friend… No sooner do I reach home than my sisters are giggling away about my visitor on a motorbike. What?! There is Mahmoud, the son of the Fulani Chief, waiting in our courtyard. At first, I’m gung-ho, asking lots of questions and very excited to be getting first hand answers! Mahmoud has just finished his SS (Secondary School – high school) and is 17 years old. He has his own motorbike (Very Very Rare in these parts) and kind of reminds me of my brother. Anyway, while we are talking, he invites me to his house, to meet his father and his family. How exciting! I draw a map, and say I’ll visit in the next few days.. When is a good time? He says “6 or 7 is good… early”. In the morning? Yipes. Anyway, today I got up bright and early and got ready to go.
While I’m drinking my tea in the morning, he shows up. Apparently 6 or 7 meant evening (oops?) but, as his father is going to Accra this morning, he wanted me to come and greet him early. So off we go, on Mahmoud’s motorbike, to his house. Now, already I’m feeling awkward. I’m not used to riding on anyone’s motorbike but my dad’s, and I’m still kind of squeamish about the whole idea. I mean, I’ve been on motorbikes with Mr. Mumuni and Mr. Francis, and Mr. Losinah (my boss) from work, but they’re all old and I kind of just grin and bear it. But .. I don’t know how to explain; I’ve got short legs, I can’t even climb on the “moto” (as they are called here) without holding someone’s shoulder. Sketchy, if you’re a stranger.
So, we get to Mahmoud’s house and I’m well aware the not only does nobody know any English (he told me this before) but they also don’t speak any Gonja. And I don’t speak any Hausa or Fulani. I see his mother and sisters and greet them and then we sit in a fancy room with couches and wait for his father.
The Fulani Chief knows small-small English so he understands me but directs his questions through Mahmoud. They are mostly the usual questions; how long have you been here? When are you going back? Oh, 4 months is so short! (it is..). Are there Fulanis in Canada (I have no idea.. maybe? I answer; in Toronto. I mean, Toronto is like a small globe, I’m sure there is at least one..)? Where are you working? (Agric). You send Mahmoud to Canada to study (when he finishes his college, I answer, he can apply to study further – Mahmoud wants to study Agriculture at a university in Accra. The family is clearly fairly wealthy and he is the only child out of 9 who has been to school… ). Then we sit for about half an hour, awkwardly, not really talking, watching the tele.
It’s a German news program in English, and I lap it up, as I haven’t had any global news in.. 2 months almost. Of course, eventually I tell Mahmoud that I have to go to work (its around 9h00 now..) and we take our leave. On our way out, he asks me if he can have my picture.
Now things are getting..weird. At first I don’t hear him. What? You want my teacher? Pitcher? Oh.. picture..
Well, I don’t have my picture. Really. I don’t have any pictures of me except maybe on my computer, and I can’t print those.
Then he suggests that we go snap some pictures. I think he means ‘sometime’ – in the vague future, so I say sure. I hope he doesn’t mean now, I have left my house without more than 4000 cedis (about.. 50 cents.. it can buy you food, or coke, or a lot of water..).
We approach Kpembe road, near my house, but keep going. Huh? So soon we turn into a picture place. Uh-oh. Mahmoud speaks to the man in Hausa and we are going inside to a dimly lit photo place with a giant backdrop of a tropical island made of vinyl. I guess we’re taking pictures. We sit in some plastic chairs and I smile – my awkward no teeth showing kind of smile. Then we stand and snap a photo ‘shaking hands’.(meanwhile the camera man can barely contain his laughter. Is it because I’m foreign? Is it because Mahmoud (or “both of us” are) is Fulani? Those are both the usual sources of humour..)
Soon we leave, and the camera man says “tomorrow next” (as in day after tomorrow, collect the pictures). We are speeding down Kpembe road and all my usual friends that I greet are looking surprised. They never see me taking rides from anyone (I usually just ride my bike, or if I’m walking.. I keep walking) and I’m not with any Agric people (I’d be wearing a helmet then..). They inquire anyway “Hana fey yo? Fey yo adukurso?” Where are you going? Are you going to the village? Nope. Just, home.
We get home and Mahmoud asks if he can come tomorrow..? Welll…I stretch, I have to go to some villages and do some work and.. (I don’t but.. I’m starting to feel weird). Villages? How will I go, he asks. By bicycle of course. He is shocked – isn’t it far? Shall I send you the moto, can you ride? No no no! I can go by bike, thanks.

He leaves. I have no idea what really just happened. Are we just friends? Do friends snap photos? The word friends here itself means… many things. If someone is really your friend, you will call them your Sister or your Brother. But if you are dating/married/common law with someone, you will ALSO call them your Sister or your Brother. Like, Madame Janet calls her husband Imoru as “Bra Moru” – or Brother Imoru. Girls will say that they want to be ‘free with you’ which means, your friend. Boys will say they want to be ‘free with you’, which means, your.. friend with “benefits”. If you don’t like someone but you know them, you will say that ‘you are not free with them’.
I’m feeling weird. Megan, Krofiye and Sadia have gone to school. Madame Janet has been in Tamale (seeing the doctor, with Boncat the baby) these last few days and usually I would ask her for advice regarding stuff like this.

The thing is, I was not prepared for this at all. I have no idea if its just hospitality, because his father is the Chief (its customary..), or if he wants to go to Canada, or …? Usually, the people who hit on me do it as a joke (thank heavens), are vulgar and open about it (I tell them off) or are otherwise clear in their intentions. Since I never viewed Mahmoud as anything but a “small boy”… But I don’t even know if its totally normal and this is how friends act here. Ohhhhh boy. The messes I get myself into. He’s already called me twice while I was at work. Oops?

But the point is not Mahmoud, or my fairly ridiculous capacity to get into messes, but that you can never really “understand” or be ‘unconsciously competent’ of a culture in 4 months. Or even a year. Or even forever, I guess, if you don’t try. There are things you simply could not have known, even by asking around, or reading in a book (like yesterday, when I weeded out some sorghum from the farm I was visiting, by accident. But later, the farmer was hacking at some onion plants with his hoe, muttering about ‘weeds’..).
I guess though, not knowing is part of the adventure? Incidentally next time I see Mahmoud, I’m going to have to casually name drop my (fake) boyfriend Thomas who is being a nurse in Mali, at least a few times.


A month of football, finished..

So a month of football, following Ghana’s Black Stars – their triumphs and tragedies, until elimination; then supporting France (my long time favourite) all the way up to the final match versus Italy tonight.

France has lost. 5 – 3 on penalties, with an extra time and full game end score of 1 – 1. I’m feeling a little sad (but not really, just kind of disappointed and more thinking of how I’m going to miss football – it got me through a lot of difficult times here, believe it or not) but most especially because my favourite player, Zinedine Zidane, got sent off in such a tragic fashion.

In the second half of extra time, some words were exchanged between Zidane and Materazzi of Italy – suddenly, they got heated and Zidane hit Materazzi. This isn’t to say that the general audience even caught any of it – the camera was elsewhere, but the commentators showed it in the replay. Funny, because unless you were right there on the pitch, you wouldn’t know what provoked it. It was not some ongoing animosity between the teams, just something mentioned between the two players: probably something pretty horrible, to motivate such an act of temper and long term stupidity (I might imagine). Zidane, the captain, my favourite and probably the favourite of a lot of people (1.3 billion in total watching worldwide), got shown a red card.

A legitimate red card, unfortunately – there’s no real argument if you hit somebody on the field – but a tragic one at that. With France’s captain and one of their phenomenal penalty takers gone (as well as Thierry Henry, another awesome player, injured and not able to take penalties), and the match going into penalties.. well, the results showed.

The worst being however, that this is Zidane’s last international match, afterwards he will go into international retirement, due to his age. A phenomenal player right up there with the world’s best, he should have at least some kind of graceful exit – at least losing as the captain of the 2nd best team in the world. But no – due to that red card, he had to leave the field, and wasn’t allowed to watch the penalties from the bench (FIFA rules though..), or even take a 2nd place medal (this one I’m kind of appalled at, doesn’t that bite?!) for leading his team through this far. Commentators mentioned – ‘must be the loneliest man in the world right now..’ and seriously, what a horrible feeling to have. Sitting alone in the dressing room…

Anyway, the world cup is over, and since we have one channel only, its unlikely they will show more football unless its relevant to Ghana (its not..).

But its striking how I feel empathy for this guy, who I don’t even know, from a country I don’t even belong to, who ended a long and glorious career with an act of temper that messed everything up. What do I know about temper? Oh, plenty.

Its slowly cooled down especially since I left high school, but I once was, and in certain circles still am, renowned for being a hot-tempered firebrand. I would just get angry and let loose and the worst possible things would exit my mouth with phenomenally eloquent speed. I even lost a best friend of 7 years over something stupid I said in anger. So I know that feeling, all too well, of sitting alone thinking ‘for the love of everything good - ?! why the hell did I say/do that?!? g’d I’m an idiot!’. I know the feeling a little too well for my taste.

Being overseas somehow moulds your patience; having realised that I’ve run out of patience, I always look to find more. The fear of cultural insensitivity, language barriers, permanent negative repercussions have sealed my mouth and made me endure in many situations where I might have just exploded. Interesting. The only time I really remember losing my temper in the last two months was with those chickens… the ones that shit on my clothes… hehe.
It makes you also realise how impermanent and non-binding are some aspects of your ‘personality’ are, despite having claimed the contrary. I’ve not lost my temper – me, short tempered Apoorva, I’ve thrown up at the side of the road while 7 people watched – me, shy Apoorva. I’ve eaten termites and goat and killed a chicken – squeamish, vegetarian Apoorva. And the girl that my parents probably think is somewhat lazy and a ‘princess’ – I have never, not even once, not even a sock, let anybody wash any of my clothes here. Or draw my water. Or sweep my room. Why? To be honest, left to my own devices I’d have never changed any of these things – some, like my vegetarianism, I’ve given up with reluctance and will reclaim as soon as I get home. But its definitely largely in part of the attitude and environment of Engineers Without Borders Canada, and the mindset with which all of us (and I’m sure my friends have made similar changes) were placed here, that I’ve become flexible, patient, enduring – somewhat anyway.

I mean, everyone fails, which I’ve realised before, but has been reinforced today. Even Zinedine Zidane, my great hero, also has a temper. But its contrasted by what I’ve learned while I’ve been here – that you are what you make yourself to be; the myth that your personality and actions are utterly out of your own hands – “This is how I Am” syndrome – is mostly a lie. Your actions are what you make them to be; your attitude is based on what you decide it will be.

Then if change in the world, change in your country, your city, your neighbourhood, yourself – if that change comes from your actions, what is stopping you from achieving that change? It is that inflexibility – the “this is how I Am” syndrome –the apathy which accompanies that inflexibility and the growing disease that will flow outwards from that point.

So I guess, a lapse of temper, however sad may be the repercussions, is an acceptable risk at a football match. Even the World Cup Finals, even your last international game, even if your heart and soul are in the game of football – because (and many of you may wince as I write this) it is only a game. But these lapses of judgement are sadly infectious – this stubborn clinging to the idea that there is no choice in action and attitude – they are spreading into every realm, and eventually lives and truly, the future of humanity and the world, begin to be concerned. What in a microcosm is merely a disappointment becomes a devastating and disgusting failure and tragedy on the macrocosm – the world and its people, and creatures, and land, simply can not afford many such failures.

It is evident, especially at this critical time in humankind’s history, that the team that plays best together, will win. The team that sometimes compromises, that is willing to change individual attitudes and actions, to advance a collective cause – that team will triumph. The game we are playing for, the trophy if you will, is higher stakes than we can even realise in our short lifetimes. And I hate to say it, but right now, all of us are collectively failing. Our team is not doing well. We can afford maybe one or two mistakes, but if each member decides that they are ‘as they are’ and simply can not change, that they will act in the manner they alone see fit…… we’re screwed. The future of humankind lies not in some individuals being ‘selfless’ and well intentioned (but badly planned) vanity projects deeply entwined with the belief that the ‘wealthy’ should give to the ‘needy’ – it lies in that vision of common cooperation and codetermination of what is to come for our species on this lovely planet. That you have to cut your own growth down sometimes, compromise, to make room for everyone to share. This alone will bring about a future, and even a present, that we are proud of: one that will change us from cruel keepers of the caged bird humanity, but guardians of something beautiful – about to take flight.

Offside goals: What referees do when they see black faces….

Ghana lost to Brazil 3 - 0. While I had ample faith in our ‘first-time-world-cup’ abilities, I had always thought that Brazil is as famous as they are for a reason. I wasn’t really sure that we could beat Brazil, especially 2 – 0, as some of the predictions ran.
However, despite the score, we played phenomenally well and really made an impression. I’m convinced that next time around (South Africa 2010) we will progress even further, even with a good chance of winning the cup.

The controversy however was in the fact that two of the goals that Brazil got (especially the 2nd goal by Ronaldo) were offside. And the referee didn’t call them. As we all saw with our own eyes, and indeed in many, many, many, replays since then – the goals were clearly offside, without a shadow of a doubt. There is no way you could think of them as anything else. Well…the referee did. Ghana was outraged. Africa was outraged. Our Serbian coach, Ratomir Dukovicz was outraged – he asked the referee “Why don’t you just ask Ronaldo for his yellow jersey, so you can play with them?!” Of course, he got a red card and got sent off.
Then there were the funny calls. One, a clear foul and possibly penalty on a Ghanaian player, ended up with him having a red card. Fouls with free kicks always awarded to the Brazilians, but empty hands and oversights when it came to Ghana being fouled..

All in all, it left a bad taste in Ghana’s mouth. Our boys came home, and we received them heartily, with parades and honours and interviews. But still, Ghana was seething. Phone calls after phone calls came in to GTV and ‘lim group’ which produced the world cup games for the African continent – “How can it be called a World Cup if they systematically try to eliminate African teams?!”, “Franz Beckenbauer doesn’t want the prospect of Africans winning the cup!”, “FIFA hates blacks!”, “The referee just has to see a black face, and they call yellow cards..”. Interesting statements, and a very telling sample of Ghana’s feelings on the world stage – they know they’re the underdogs, and they’re sick of it.

As for the ideas themselves – I don’t know what to think. I’m neither a FIFA official or a vast source of football history and knowledge. I’m apt to believe that FIFA wouldn’t go so far as having an ‘anti-African’ conspiracy to eliminate the African teams. It seems a little bit ridiculous. As well, I had many a time explained (mostly to my co-workers) that “black players” did not exist only in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, and Angola – surely they had seen the French team, even the Brazilian team, the American team – even the German team with its 2 Ghanaians. They all had ‘black’ players did they not? How then could FIFA pull such a stunt? The referees are not racist.. But as of yet, Ghanaians are disgusted.

As for the problems that Ghana faces – poverty, lack of infrastructure, illiteracy, AIDS – Ghanaians always take full responsibility for those. Sometimes you have to work hard in the argument to convince some people here that outside factors such as the world bank and global economics are responsible for some of the problems here – Ghanaians will take too much responsibility. But football? They saw their boys play well, on and above the skill level of many other teams, in front of their own eyes. They took full responsibility for the success – after all, all these boys are born and raised here, began playing their football here, coached by Ghanaian coaches – but when they tried and got slightly screwed over…

It brings up powerful questions too – what do Ghanaians feel about race and racism? I’ve always been a firm believer in having non-academic answers to questions regarding discrimination – no statistician or sociologist can tell you as well as a regular person on the street, especially the ‘discriminated against’, whether these problems are real. Its also a question about information spread. The information that reaches here about other countries is often terribly inaccurate and builds up equally inaccurate portraits here. A man told me that he saw on television how everyone in the west had robot servants. What?! Or that there are no black people in Canada at all… how there are no poor people, or street children, or crop failures, anywhere in the west. When I told someone about hurricane Katrina they were surprised – how can a natural disaster kill people in the west? Surely they were invulnerable to such attacks. To a degree some of the perceptions are based on fact – farms flooding in Altona doesn’t mean that all Manitobans starve.. but it is nevertheless an occurrence with fairly devastating economic consequences.
People in rural Ghana don’t have internet – most of the time, if they get electricity even, they will have a television. The only views of the west and westerners they get will be seen on their televisions, and more and more I’m starting to loathe t.v as the vehicle for ‘junk’ transmission.
It goes both ways though – what we see in Canada on t.v about ‘Africans’ is mostly crap too.. I wonder, if we require (although to what degree does it happen..?) corporations to be socially responsible, why isn’t information transfer also held to some kind of standard? Its implications and repercussions are far wider than we could have ever dreamed of, so where is the great responsibility that should come with such ‘great power’?

Ghana dances in the streets; Brazil mourns..

Its been a few days since the Black Stars of Ghana lost tragically (3 – 0) to the Brazilians, offside goals, Ronaldo’s jersey, and all. Eliminated from the top 16, they made their way home. The Black Stars are currently in a special reception with President Kufuour and Vice President Aliu Mahama, where they are being decorated with special medals.
John “The Rock of Gibraltar” Mensah, captain Stephen “Tornado” Appiah, and the rest of the gang receive special sashes and medals while the president congratulates them on being ‘gallant warriors’ and ‘uniting Ghana like never before’. Smiles, handshakes all around.
A sedate celebration compared to the one that greeted them in Accra when they got off the aeroplane; champagne and riotous colours and dancing in the streets: huge crowds of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, school children, grandmas, babies, dogs…. Everybody came to greet our heroes.
“They have done well, they have done well..” rang everywhere. Because, truly they did play their hearts out, beating the FIFA ranked #4, and #2 teams effortlessly and being voted the best midfielders at the World Cup.

GTV news at night, after the regular Ghanaian news, shows some clips from around the world. Usually it is serious politics like the annual meeting of the African Union, the indictment of the ex-President of Chad for heinous crimes at the International Criminal Court, earthquakes in Indonesia. Tonight, the last clip they showed was that of Brazil as their football team made their way home, after losing to France in the group of 8 matches. Crying; weeping in the streets – old ladies, women, children, fathers, - pretty much the same bunch of everyone as the Ghanaians, minus the dogs. Nobody greeted them (except family) as they walked off the plane and the whole atmosphere was somber and disappointed and unenthused in the most. As if the president had been shot and they were carrying his body on the aeroplane or something. Seriously, if you showed that clip to someone and asked them to guess what caused the weeping, they would have suggested some scenario of the like. Not a football loss.

And that is Ghana for you. In a nutshell that is the mentality of the people; resilient, proud, brave, and endlessly optimistic. While we’re sad about “this time”, everybody’s eyes are already on “next time” (South Africa 2010) and how to improve our offensive strategy. While we had high hopes for our boys, it was only that they tried their best for us to be proud.

Development is no easy business; dealing with the problems that people face in a “developing” community/nation, means you are dealing with the most complicated problems that humankind may face in its time. But with attitudes like this, despite the hardships and challenges they face, you can’t but help thinking that success will be inevitable….

How far is Brazil anyway?

Baba is 23 years old. Probably Baba is a nickname and his real name is something like Nasratullah Fateh Ibrahimu or something.. that happens pretty often here, but to be honest I don’t know.
He comes to our house often; I think he’s a distant cousin or something, but anyway his house is in Kpembe and therefore it must mean that he is somehow related to us. Every time he arrives, he’ll be riding a new bicycle (with gears, oh.. the extravagance compared to my faithful steed Moushou, a one speed ‘ladies cycle’) and wearing “Tamale Clothes”. Nice pants and fancy sneakers and football jerseys. But to me, Baba is “Areeba Boy” because of the “cat-in-the-hat” style red, gold, and green Ghana flag hat that he always wears. You get it free as a promotion when you sign on for cellular service with ‘Areeba’, a local network, to display their sponsorship of the Black Stars football team.

Baba’s Gonja is plentiful, but his English is meagre. He will of course pepper his English attempts liberally with Gonja words, substituting for his lacking vocabulary. “Mantanso (my name) you are looking very ‘apuskeleke’ today!” In my time in Salaga, I’ve never seen Baba go to work. He claims to have completed “SS” (or secondary school) in 1998.. which seems improbable.. (nobody here completes early, especially when they are 15), and says that his parents give him money for things.

Whenever I bike into town, Baba will be sitting in front of the clothing store that sells football shorts and shirts (secondhand from small towns across North America.. I even once saw a shirt from Dauphin, Manitoba -!) playing cards or watching tele with some other guys who also, seemingly, have no jobs. Any time of the day, Baba will be there.

Yesterday when I went into town, I sat down to drink some water on a bench and Baba wandered over, to chat. We started talking about football, and the upcoming Ghana vs. Brazil match. Baba was supporting Ghana of course, but other than this fateful match, generally Ghanaians are big Brazil fans – he LOVED Brazil. “They are all play sooooooo fine, soooo fine! Especially Ronaldo! I want to go to Brazil!”. I also chimed in, yes, Brazil is a nice country and I’d love to visit there one day too.

“How far is Brazil anyway,” asked Baba thoughtfully, “from here to Tamale? That is far!”. Oh. Salaga to Tamale is 60 miles. At first I thought Baba was joking. Surely he couldn’t be serious. He went on to add “It can’t be further away than Accra – that is very very far… very very far!” Oh boy. I began to explain – Brazil is much farther than that. You have to cross a big ocean to go to Brazil, it is not even in Africa (a fact that Baba greeted is incredulousness I can’t even duplicate..). It was then I realised that Baba had no idea how the world looked; further questioning revealing that he didn’t know whether it was round or flat, or of oceans , or really of Africa or Asia or any continents. Germany, England, Canada, America – they were all far, far, far away somewhere (further than Accra even) and full of only white people and cars.

I went home and asked Mme. Janet – had Baba been to school? Oh, maybe to P6 (grade 6) she replied, maybe not even that.

I don’t know the backstory on Baba, I don’t know why or why not he didn’t complete school, or where his money comes from, or any of those things. I do know that one day (anyway) that money will run out. And then what? Baba is not an enterprising guy, mostly he sits around doing nothing and hasn’t taken it upon himself to learn a trade. What will he do if he has children?

In my two months in Salaga, and the surrounding villages, I haven’t seen even one proverbial “starving child” – World Vision style. What I do see, when I dig deeper, is Baba, and maybe a thousand others (98% of the women in the northern region are illiterate), who haven’t been to school……… somehow, it is more shocking and tragic than I could have ever imagined.

Spaghetti and Zambian Postmarks..

Yesterday was horrible. But it was nowhere near objective; I think coupled with the combination of having been sick for about 3 weeks straight, and a fantastic letdown with the workshop, I entered my first real big crisis here. I always hold my workshops, my meetings, everything important here, on Thursdays. Thursday is the preferred day at my office, but also it lets me relax on Friday, think about other things, and then write the report and go over what happened during the weekend. Plus, Friday nobody comes to work.

So I woke up this morning, not really ready to ‘relax’ per se, but to maybe put my mind off of what happened by thinking of other things. In the morning I washed a ton of laundry. Not exactly fun, but tedious and arduous enough to distract me from yesterday. Then I biked to the market, and it was market day. That was nice. I decided to make spaghetti in the evening so I bought all my ingredients: spaghetti is my ‘western comfort food’ and making it is a family wide affair. Krofiye teaches me how to grind on the grinding stone, Sadia helps me light the charcoal fire, we all cut the vegetables. Plus, I like cooking. I like working with my hands – there is something soothing and realistic and marvellous about it.

I got back around 13h00, learned some weaving from Sister Helena, who finally untangled the yards and yards of red and white threads and had threaded the weaving loom. Finally, around 15h00, I started chopping up vegetables, learning Twi songs from my sisters and making my spaghetti. Then in comes Harouna, my friend and Madame Janet’s nephew, from the Post Office. At first, I don’t even think he’s coming to visit on some kind of official capacity – I think he’s just in to see Mme. Janet. Then he walks towards me with a letter… “Its for you, mail from Zambia.” I no sooner clutch the envelope and glance at the address written in Sarah Jane’s all too familiar handwriting, than I begin running around the compound, letter in hand, yelling “wahooie! Wahooie!”. My family thinks I’ve gone crazy. Eventually, I calm down enough to explain to a slightly afraid Harouna, and bemused family, that this is a letter from my best friend, that I haven’t seen or spoken with in almost 2 months, from Zambia.

But I don’t tear it open. Nope. I go to my room and put it carefully on my desk and return to make my spaghetti. After eating the spaghetti (I did well if I might say so myself. The best spaghetti in all of East Gonja…maybe the only spaghetti?), we watch some GTV news, and then it starts raining heavily. I make some tea, and go to my room, to sit down and read the letter. Not only is it a great letter, but somehow it was precisely and magically timed. Just when I needed a friend the most, just when I needed something familiar, something from the world outside of the challenges at the office and being a “development worker” but not doing so hot at this particular moment – a letter from my best friend. I read about her very evangelical family, her washing clothes at night and eating ‘super mahea’, which apparently isn’t so tasty. Going in an army truck to pick up a pastor and news about their different pre-departure training. The letter was proof that I was a person outside of these circumstances and that, even in far away places, the people who cared about me hadn’t forgotten me entirely. It was so refreshing to hear about what SJ was doing, and there was so much familiarity echoed in her experiences. The letter made me miss her, but also so glad that we could be penpals!

I got a little bit more confidence to re-analyze my problems with a less pessimistic slant: to remember that I, ApoorvaTRON, ninja extraordinaire, was not a quitter and would get through this. Its amazing how much something so small can brighten your whole day, renew you for the complicated tasks ahead…

I called Robin, my “boss”, friend, and EWB longterm volunteer, to figure out a strategy with which we could tackle the problems I fact at work. Robin helped me realise that what I thought was a personal lack of trust building amongst the field staff was an indicator of bigger organizational and leadership problems in the office. Things were, of course, not magically better at all – the problems I face are not rooted in the lack of attendance of my workshop, but come from widespread structural weaknesses and some sketchy “history” that my partner office has, things that have been bothering me since I arrived… But the problems seemed more like challenges than insurmountable damage. I don’t know what I’m going to do to address these issues yet, but at least I’m thinking now……

So, SJ, my friend the Zambian Renegade Combinosauras development ninja, thanks for making my day. You are awesome and I can’t wait for us to share our experiences!!

System failure; reboot..

Today; today was hard. I’m not sure I have it all figured out yet, and I’m still holding some pretty hostile and uncoordinated feelings in my mind so I’ll not discuss it quite yet. Let’s just say that it wasn’t a “learning experience” or “a place from which to grow” but just left me confused, angry, and upset.
I cried in front of my family for the first time (they didn’t even see me crying with the malaria, I did it all secretly); and I had to listen to The Song.

Everybody has something special from home that they will turn to if they are terribly home-sick and culture shocked; the equivalent of a teddy bear or a hug from your best friend, except neither of those because both were tragically left at home in Canada. Anyway, mine is the song “Plea from a cat named Virtue” by The Weakerthans. It’s a beautiful song, and the lyrics have gotten me out of pretty much any sort of horrible emotional mess I’ve ever been in. The added joy is that The Weakerthans are from home (Winnipeg) and they remind me of home and a lot of good things I love. I haven’t listened to that song since I set foot on Ghanaian soil: I left it as that Special Last Resort. And to be honest, I haven’t really felt the need to….until today.

So I don’t know what I’m doing here, I don’t know if I’m wasting my chapter’s money, I don’t know if I’m being effective – I would trade somebody else’s first born child (hee hee – I hope my sister Megan won’t mind! :P) for my teddy bear or just to see Sarah Jane or my family or someone who believes in me, because I don’t believe in me very much right now.

The only good thing about today was that we won at football, and that was heartening. We played USA, who to be honest played a pretty mediocre game – I haven’t seen them play before and I expected their men’s team would be like their very famous women’s team. They weren’t. We celebrated a little. I went on a walk to Kpembe to buy milk with Megan. I balled my blanket up into a small ball and pretended it was teddy and lay in my bed for a while. I started reading more of “Future Positive” by Michael Edwards, the phenomenal development book I’m reading right now – but I didn’t want to read or think about development. I wish I could pick up the phone and call Kelsey or Melanie right now. I want a hug.

This is dismal and I don’t know if it will go in my blog. It probably will though, because I’m sick of writing perfect entries about only awesome things, because I’m not some model development worker. I don’t know the answers and despite wanting to present a “better” picture of Africa to the people reading the blog, that picture has to include the truth.

So I’ve evaded what the issue is long enough so I might as well attempt to detail it in an objective fashion. My workshop today went craptacularly. It just crashed and burned in my opinion. It’s a biased opinion, but yeah. It started off with rain in the morning, a small drizzle, but I guess that gave the people living a 5 minute bike ride away an excuse to not come. Out of a projected attendance of 23, a grand total of 5 people came. That means that tons of budget on food and stuff was lost. Okay. I gave the best possible workshop I have ever prepared; brilliant examples, participatory and inclusive and made “Results Based Management” about as exciting as possible; for my 5 people. Then the football match; they demanded that I finish a full day workshop before the football match at 13h00 – or else they would leave anyway. So I finished, and then they complained that I was rushed for time. The fuel money was “unfair”, the food was “bad”, the refreshments didn’t have enough choice – where is the Guinness? They didn’t like Coke. One man was annoyed that I didn’t have extra food for his “starving” children – his brother is the chief. Out of 5, two were either severely visually impaired, or almost illiterate. I couldn’t tell, but they couldn’t read or fill out the feedback form I sent out. My director was there but he didn’t come into the room for more than 5 minutes. The worst part is, the people who live in Salaga town itself, they didn’t come. The day before, when I saw them in the office, I inquired whether they would come for my workshop tomorrow. The answer? “With your fuel allowances? HAHAHAHAHA!!”. Okay.

One workshop going off with many challenges; I can handle it. Those are learning experiences. Those are places where I can improve in the next workshop. But two failures in a row? System Failure – Reboot. I have tried so hard. I can now speak Gonja haltingly, I visit these extension staff, I inquire with genuine concern and affection about their children, about their favourite football teams. I design and attempt to implement, if I might say so myself, excellently prepared workshops on tremendously useful topics. Its not even my call that the topics are useful – MoFA itself had decided that. What am I doing here? Why am I here if they don’t need my cooperation in any way at all? Nobody comes to work; even Megan has noticed and she doesn’t really have much to do with the office. They all have attended “gender sensitization training and workshops” but they actively discriminate against women. There are no women in my office. None. The closest is Madame Janet, because she takes care of the “Women Farmers Demonstration Home” where I live, and they don’t even respect her.

There is inconsistency, inefficiency, lack of cohesion and accountability across the board with the Ministry of Agric in my district. In fact, out of all the NGOs I interviewed for the District Food Security Network, most of them spoke of MoFA laughably – they are so used to picking up MoFA’s dropped threads in this district. How do I change this? It seems over my head. I don’t even know where to begin. Can one person do all this – what’s more, an outsider? In four months? I have failed before I have started.

I have failed to win the AEA’s trust and respect, but I don’t have the kind of funding they seem to demand to “reimburse” their fuel and provide lavish spreads for workshops. I don’t know what more to do. I am waiting with bated breath for Robin to return to Tamale so I can call her (yet again, to say that I’ve failed. Maybe I just suck at development work in general…), or Louis, and ask them to visit.

I want to stop writing this. There is no way I’m putting this up. I’m going to cry and I’ve just gotten more depressed reiterating this. Enough: more Weakerthans and then sleep. I’ll dream of teddy and big, happy doggies, and my friends and my bicycle Wembembe and my mom and my dad and my brother. I want a hug. I want a friend. I’m not a superhero anymore, I don’t have any answers – I give up. If I got this district because you thought I was confident, I apologize a hundred times. I lied – I don’t know anything. Give me a school full of children, I will teach them. Give me – I don’t even know. A hug. Because as of today, I am close to quitting. I won’t quit, I won’t even type the words “I quit” without the quotations because I don’t do that. But I’m so close and I’m sad. Good night.

kelilangε soup

This morning I woke up late; I asked Megan to wake me early, around 5, so I could wash some of my clothes (I had a daunting pile of laundry ahead of me) but I spent a mostly sleepless night with a splitting headache and five o’clock rolled around just as I had gotten to sleep.
So I got ready, took the last dose of my malaria medication, a hefty whopping dose of “Tylenol”, or what surmises for it here, and decided to go to town.
Thursday is my 2nd workshop, and I had to run some errands in town; buy some pens and markers, interview a few NGOs for my District Food Security Network meeting next week, and maybe pick up some fruit.
Mme. Janet had mentioned to me, passingly, that the Salaga-wura, the Grand Chief of Salaga and surrounding areas, had passed away last night. The funeral would be today, so don’t expect anyone to be in the office. She went off to see the doctor, and I wrote some letters and left to go to town.
Now, I’m pretty weak. That malaria really took it out of me, and as of yesterday morning, I could barely walk up and down our house compound. I’m getting better, but still – so riding a bike to town wouldn’t be hard, but riding it back, uphill was going to be difficult. I had some pretty important things to do, so I thought it’d be worth it.

The first thing that greeted me as I was riding down Kpembe Road to town, was the graveyard. It was expectedly quite full of people, but then there was also a large mob fighting angrily, and about 50 bicycles parked outside, some with dead chickens in the baskets and dead goats strapped to the back. Okay, I guess its just a custom I’m not familiar with. I ride on. I’m used to greeting a certain set of people on the way to town, some hairdressers I’m friends with, the man who sold me my bicycle, the people I buy limes from, the people at the Ghana Audit Service; today, they are absent, and their shops/places of work are closed…. Strange, its not a Sunday, and even then – mainly Muslim Salaga stays open. And then, I get into town. The shops are all boarded up – every single one. The street vendors? Gone. The roasted yam seller? Packed up. The stationary shop? Closed. Even the shoeshine man, even the pharmacy – everything is closed. Its mostly deserted, except now and again you meet clumps of people avidly discussing something – probably the Salaga-wura? He wasn’t murdered – I know there was an intense tribal war here a few years ago, but this has nothing to do with it, the man was sick, and kind of old. What is going on? So anyway, my NGOs are closed, the civil society group I was supposed to meet has left, so I turn back around to ride home, uphill.
I pass the graveyard again, still with the angry mob, and decide to try the post office – both to check if I have any mail (but no mail today, sadly) and to see if its open. I meet my friend Haroun who works there, and ask him the details. Apparently, some people decided to kill anyone and everyone’s animals (goats, chickens, sheep, cattle) as a gift/token/payment to the Salaga-wura. Without asking them. So random animals that were wandering Salaga were slaughtered and their owners are angry and somehow all the shops are closed. Okay… this is routine; the way things work here, you have to make at least 3 completely different plans for each day, because chances are, at least 2 become impossible somehow. Guess I’m staying home and working today.. I ride on, completely exhausted at this point, past droves of schoolchildren sent home early, stop by the drink seller who is the only person who dares to be open today (granted he is almost near the border of Kpembe, which has a different chief, the Kpembe-wura) and grab a pineapple Fanta. Drinking it furtively, lest anyone see me so openly (possibly?) disrespecting the custom, I rush home.
So, my family is utterly surprised at the turn of events; it is not customary for everything to close, especially government institutions such as the schools, and Megan is home early. Krofiye is not, as her school is in Kpembe.
This is when we realise that there is no food. Not “there is nothing cooked for us to eat” – this is customary, we have to cook lunch. But that there are no ingredients from which to prepare lunch. And Mme. Janet, when she returns from the doctor’s will not bring any – because all the shops are closed. So my sisters are hungry, Sister Helena who is a weaving apprentice at our house is also there and we don’t know what to do. She decides to visit Kpembe to see if some friends of hers have any okru or okra. Nope.
Meanwhile, I’m starving. The two bananas I’ve had in the morning plus that Fanta is doing nothing for me.. So we decide to cook. And by ‘we’ I mean ‘I’. Krofiye has returned home, and both her and Sadia think I’m crazy, and that “Ati” how they call Mme. Janet, will be angry. Megan is sick and goes to lie down. Oh well, all the more adventure. So we scout the house and fridge – its decided, I will make rice with some stew. Seeing as how I don’t know how to make any of the “dough” like banku or tuo zafi – T.Z … So, the stew. The fridge has the scrapings on the bottom of a can of tinned tomatoes, some “garden eggs” or yellow small eggplants (about the size of an apricot each), and about 6 tomatoes. The pantry has plenty of onions and 3 cloves of garlic, and some weird spices that do not look or smell familiar. Here goes…
I start the charcoal fire and start the girls, my “assistants” grinding and chopping while I carefully remove the 34635457457 insects from the garden eggs. An hour and a million sceptical looks later, the stew is finished, the rice is cooked (with spaghetti – everybody here puts spaghetti randomly in things and calls it “macaronia” or “Italia”…), Mme. Janet has arrived home and not only approves but LIKES the stew! Today, I’m proud. If only my mother were here so that she could have definitive proof that I can not only cook, but I can cook while beating away chickens and with random ingredients. And vegetarian to boot. Ha!
Now that I’ve eaten (and it was tastilicious, I assure you!), I’m back to work, making my workshop plan and drawing flipcharts on “Results Based Management: Valuing Results Over Activities in the Field” for Thursday. Incidentally, Thursday is also the pivotal Ghana vs. USA game and I have my fingers crossed that it will not be during my workshop…

As follows is my recipe for “kelilangε soup” – kelilangε is Gonja for “preparing for a funeral feast” and its my own little irony that in dying, the Salaga-wura hasn’t let anyone feast as our stores are all closed.

3 tomatoes, preferably ground on a rock, or if you’re lucky, in a blender
1 half tin of tomatoes
5 small eggplants, or any random vegetable you can find, especially weird ones
3 small onions chopped
1 large onion, also ground on a rock
3 cloves of garlic, see above
1 plantain, chopped into small circles
1 finger length of ginger
1 handful of random spices, but not anything you wouldn’t put into soup like cinnamon or nutmeg
2 tbsps of soy flour…at least I think it was soy, or maybe it was maize?

Grind the 3 tomatoes, 3 cloves of garlic, spices, 1 large onion, and the ginger on a giant flat rock. Or in a blender. If using the flat rock, wash the rock first and have a small girl handy to kick away the stupid chickens are that are so disgusting they eat onions, festering feet wounds, and meat. Remove all insects from the eggplants, and chop into small pieces. Add the chopped onions, the ground up garlic, onion, and spices, a small bit of oil, and the eggplants and cook for a while. When fanning the charcoal, try not to burn your legs from the sparks. Add the ground up tomatoes, the tinned tomatoes and water. Boil for a while. Add the plantains and more water and boil. Add the flour and stir until thick. Make the rice mixed with the spaghetti, mix and serve hot to starving household members (and self). Oh yeah, salt, add salt somewhere in there.

Malaria – Part 2

I am forcing myself to get up and walk around. The worst of it has passed, and now it’s the interminable weakness I must get over. My fever has dropped to a comfortable low 37.5, and my eyes are burning less. Beside me is the half empty bottle of tonic water (long touted as a sort of urban legend cure for malaria, as it contains micro amounts of quinine; but really, the amount of stuff you have to drink before you get cured….its not reasonable) and the bottle cap. I collect bottle caps here. I don’t know why, but I’ve always liked them.
This one, this bottle cap with the micro amounts of quinine listed as ingredients, I’ve pounded flat and poked a hole in. I will wear it around my neck, as a sort of reminder and talisman against malaria. It’s a very Ghanaian thing to do, to invoke the very thing that harms you, to wear talismans; a form of “medicine” if you will. Luckily for me, its partially a joke and I’m not relying on it to cure me of any illness.

I’m ravenously hungry but I have no appetite. I put away vast quantities of liquid and am always thirsty, but food brings me no enjoyment. I think to myself “What if this were your mother’s rasam or soup, or mandarin oranges?” – my favourite foods. But in vain, I’m sure even if those things were here right now, I’d be reluctant to eat them.

My battered copy of “Farewell to Arms” , something I bought from a salvage bookseller in Madras, dated September 27th, 1955 by the previous owner is bringing me immense comfort. When I read the book in 11th grade, I thought it tremendously tedious and boring; now it is a marvellous piece of writing, and Hemingway’s brilliant style is obvious in its simplicity and omissions. I feel a little bit of Federico Enrico’s misplaced lack of purpose and stranger-in-a-strange-land feelings. But then, I definitely don’t feel his alcoholism, his badly scripted love story, or the hopelessness of war.

As for this place, I’ve been here now 42 days, 6 weeks. I have fallen utterly in love with the peculiarities and immense honest charm of this place and its people; it is a critical love, some times I just want to scream about certain things, and other times I accept them with a somewhat graceless resignation. What I haven’t encountered is that it has become somehow home; I’m always somewhat tentative to accept things wholly as a portion of myself, and this ‘thing’, this Ghanaian-ness ranks no less. Just as my fluency in the English language and Canadian customs are never to be doubted, in the same vein there is always a lack of familiarity in my brain with these things. I’d much rather eat with my hands, I’d much rather think not in English. In the same way, I have begun to understand how things work around here, and if not totally being comfortable with things, I have figured out a method of faking it well.
But to become an African? I’m told daily (especially if I do something well, or manage to hold up a simple conversation in Gonja, or eat a sizable amount of banku) “You have become a Ghanaian”. It’s a compliment of the highest order, surely. But is it true? Before I arrived here, I used to hate statements like that. ‘There is no such thing as a given mindset from a geographical or ethnocultural locus’ – truly, something such as the “Canadian” mindset or “Japanese” mindset, I argued, did not exist. But being immersed in a culture in this fashion, I have to take back my arguments. Culture provides a frame with which we view things, albeit a dynamic and everchanging frame, but it is always there. Every experience we have in our lives contributes to the uniqueness of our personal mindset, but if your experiences in certain arenas are shared in a widespread fashion with others, than surely, this also affects your group mindset – culture.
The thing is, when these patterns emerge, people are apt to stereotype, to make assumptions. I have noticed that many Ghanaians are not punctual – indeed this is echoed within the culture I have observed and the mindset towards time. But to meet a Ghanaian and assume that he/she will be late? Inaccurate in the most.
Anyway, I digress; the point I’m attempting to make is that I haven’t become a “Ghanaian”. Maybe in small and or large ways it has affected my mindset and personal culture, but it’s a case that I’m simply too old. If I came here when I was younger, before I had solidly integrated certain elements of thought into “Apoorva”, then it would be possible. Also, if I spent many, many years here, its likely I would forget those things and become more and more a “Ghanaian”. I’m in some sort of flux state, where I’m neither an outsider looking in, nor an insider looking out. I’m more of a close friend who visits. Who comes from outside, but is allowed in from time to time.
A person who uses the word ‘our’ a little too freely on both sides. A person for which the word ‘home’ does not indicate any one geographic.
I guess culture shock stems from this fact; people assume you move back from your flux state to become an ‘outsider’ in totality, the second you return. Obviously, you don’t. Things that have become familiar are absent. When I think about it this way, it becomes obvious that this sensation is in no way new to me: it is probably a description of my life. But it will be difficult when I return, I’m starting to see it now. It will be heartbreaking and horrible to walk into a room and have nobody greet you, to become anonymous again in a world of anonymous people. At the same time, the everpresent and utterly tiring unfamiliarity of culture and conduct will be removed, and I don’t have to worry that I’ve offended someone or broken some age old taboo. It will be a course that I know, that I’ve played blindfolded.

On that note, its time to bath (yes, bathroom here is a noun indicating a small tiled room with a drain in which you wash yourself, and bath indicates a verb – to wash. Not bathe – no, bath) the sweat, hallucinations and insect spray off of myself before I got watch football.

Malaria Central.

Malaria. I wake up around 9h00 in the morning, uncommonly late for Ghanaian standards, and for my household standards. My sisters are already up, singing, washing clothes. And all I remember thinking is, holy bananas, I’m freezing and I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus. Every limb, every finger, my eyelids – they ache. Throbbing, powerfully weakening pain. And my head? Its about to explode. Like the smallest dwarves are mining for something in every blood vessel in my brain. I try to turn, and feel like I’ve biked 50K just doing it.

What the hell? Last night I went to bed fine; we watched Angola vs. Mexico – a phenomenal tie by the way, and the first point for the African countries in general, way to go for their amazing goalie João Ricardo – and read some “Farewell to Arms” and slept. Bam.

The doctors are on strike, the power is cut, its rainy season and the entire sky is falling down on our small courtyard; Mme. Janet has rushedly handed me some tea, some bread and sent me to my room. Now I’m reading the “artemisinin – artemether in soyabean oil” insert by my flashlight and wondering; so I have malaria? And if I do, how the hell am I going to lie to my mom about this? She was supposed to call in the last few days – if I tell her I have malaria…. Or might have?

The sketchiest part is the self diagnosis. I don’t really believe in self diagnosis, although with my foot infection, it did me well – all I keep remembering is my friend Doug, an emergency physician, misdiagnosing himself with appendicitis. How the hell am I going to fare? Anyway, better to take the drugs than not take them…err on the side of caution and all that.

[And luckily, my thermometer became a sort of fun scientific toy in the last few weeks, and I’ve taken my temperature daily and graphed it. A solid 36.4 degrees Celsius. The thermometer reads 37.7 right now; hardly a fever, but a fever. My eyes are burning and red and I had difficulty getting out of the bathroom standing up. I’m wearing the pink sweater – the only sweater I brought – that I always joked was “in case of malaria”. Well, its doing its purpose now..]

Its been almost a day since I last began writing this, and now I have not even a small doubt in my mind I have malaria. Wave after wave of intense chills; I have every single blanket in my house on my bed right now. And the chills – you feel your body, its burning, its abnormally hot, but you feel like someone has put you into a tank of icewater; a cold that sinks into your bones. And then like a flash, you fall asleep and wake drenched in sweat; its hot, its so hot, you throw off all the blankets, all of your clothes. At some point delirium began to set in; I decided there were chickens in my room and got up and began chasing them….there were no chickens. I thought my mosquito net was suffocating me, that my room was filling with water..

It upsets my family, they’ve seen malaria no doubt countless numbers of times, but they didn’t expect that I’d get it – they know I take the doxycycline preventative every morning, have a mosquito net, use the mosquito repellant…how? Madame Janet walks into my room to see how I’m doing – I’m awake, so I try to greet her, try to move the mosquito net with my right hand; I grasp and I grasp feebly, struggling to hold the net so I can move it.

A few hours, advil, and malaria pills later, I text message Bryn. “I have malaria!”. He is watching the Ghana vs. Czech Republic game with Ian in Wa. The game I had waited all week to watch. If I could get out of bed, if I could walk, I’d be watching it. He replies, telling me we’re winning, currently 1 – 0 for Ghana. Hooray! This gives me enough strength to get out of bed. I wander over to Mme. Janet and Boncat’s room, and lie down on the bed, watching momentuous Ghanaian football history as we beat the Czechs, whammo-kablammo 2 – 0. Fantastic. But, the second the 93 minute buzzer rings, my energy runs out. I hobble back over to my room and collapse on the bed.

Its night time. Megan has come to sleep in my room with me. Around 2 or 3 in the morning, I realise I have to get up – I have to throw up. The nausea is slight, and I contemplate “thinking” my way out of it for a few minutes – I’m barely strong enough to get out of bed – but then it becomes intense. Somewhere, some splash of adrenalin helps me grab my glasses, torch and slips my feet into slippers. I reach the door – its locked! In desperation I turn the lock, once, twice, three times, I’m out! But making it to the latrines, about .5 kilometre away, in time, is out of the question. There, 4 feet from my door, I begin throwing up. Nothing. Of course, I have barely eaten all day. But I can’t even kneel to throw up, the energy is too much. So I fall over on my back, onto the cool stone floor. I lay there for a few minutes, imagining a weaving shuttle going back and forth, comforting monotony. Then again – nausea. But I can’t get up. I begin to throw up and realise, if I don’t get up, I’ll choke on my own vomit. I can’t call out to Megan. At the last second, I manage to kneel and empty the nothing and fluid that was in my stomach.
I crawl back to my room and fall onto the bed.

And now? Its morning. My fever has dropped considerably (at its peak though, it wasn’t high – only 39 degrees), and I’ve managed to get up and move to my chair. The artemether seems to working…..I think. My biggest fear is that this will last into the week and hinder my second (and more important workshop) and the tight schedule I have for work. I’m tremendously weak. I don’t even think I can get to, or on my bicycle let far alone ride it anywhere.

But, its getting better. Small-small. Hopefully the worst of it is over. Except for the delirium and hallucinations and nausea, this was pretty similar to the scarlet fever I had in 11th grade. The horrible irony of it all is that indeed, its “all part of the African experience”. Truly, it could not get more authentic. When you read this however, I’ll be better and this will be at least 3 weeks past. I won’t die, I have powerful drugs helping me. But for millions of Africans each year, this is a reality, and then they die. There is no “artemether – artemesinin in soyabean oil” for them, not even a blanket. And they lay there, in huts, or by the side of the road, shivering, until the malaria hits the brain, becomes cerebral malaria, and the end is in sight.
It was hard to truly understand until I finally got it myself – and I think, every five minutes; if you get this twice a year, with no drugs, with no comfort of any kind? If you have to go farm your field to feed your children, and you’re suffering? Incomprehensible. As for diseases like AIDS, much preventative work can be done; even universal condom use would drop the statistic hugely. But malaria? Treated mosquito nets reduce the chances a lot, but in the end.. This disease wears down the Ghanaian economy, hinders development to a tremendous degree, and in general, bites. I would like each middle aged to old man (for, its always them who hold this view..) who has ever told me that “Africans are too lazy to get out of poverty” to come here and have for at least one day, this horrible fever. Malaria is not this continent’s only enemy; there are the other diseases - HIV/AIDS, yellow fever, Marburg and Ebola and their lot of viral haemmorhagic fevers – and the fact that soil fertility is just generally low here, and the fact that colonialism has established weird country boundaries which group warring factions within the same nation. The list goes on (the author/anthropologist Dr. Jared Diamond has a lot to say on this subject) but the point is “lazyness” as a quality and hindrance is hardly more prevalent here than in any other place on earth.

So now, counting myself lucky, I’m slowly eating bananas and limes and drinking tea and practicing walking up and down my house. I’m imagining the small “schizocytes” or whatever having their endoplasmic reticulums and in general membranous structures disrupted and become unable to synthesize proteins thanks to my medication. I’m making plans for Tuesday, and my life will go on. Counting myself lucky, very very lucky.

Like little David beat the giant Goliath…..

I am crestfallen. My sisters have gone to bed early, and the brief attempts at making light-hearted jokes has died.
After all of our prayers (Catholic church, Presbyterian church, Assemblies of God church, Baptist church, and while it was not properly announced at the mosque, I’m pretty sure it was a recurrent thought there as well…), all of our rallying cries, after each house – not only in Ghana, oh no! – in probably most of Africa watched and listened with bated breath tonight…..
….. we have lost, the Black Stars have lost, and what’s more lost 2 – 0, to Italy.

I’m thinking back to the last World Cup I remember with clarity, 1996 or 1998… elementary school anyway, where it was Italy vs. Brazil and all of Winnipeg was polarized for this event; cars draped with Italian flags (especially on our street, and down Corydon) and everyone else supporting Brazil.. And I’m bitterly hoping its not the same right now, with Italy fans all down Corydon rejoicing.. That would only make our defeat more devastating, knowing that they are celebrating back home.

Let me tell you a little something about football here; it has become far more than football, in fact, around 2 or 3 this afternoon, I became convinced that if Ghana began winning international football matches, we could surely have the drive and resolve to kick out poverty. I won’t say football is religion here – far from it, but religion has certainly embraced football! This is not just the World Cup – this is Ghana’s chance, its “God’s way,” (to paraphrase the Presby pastor – “my” church here in Salaga…) “of showing us that we can do it.”. Wow. Momentuous words for a small nylon latex black and white object being kicked around a field. But don’t get me as cynical – I have bought into football fervour hook, line and sinker.

There is something about football that is…just, not the hockey I’m used to. Its graceful, its powerful, and best of all its inclusive. There is the gracious way players greet each other before they begin, the way even the smallest trip, the smallest push is a yellow card (compared to the out and out acts of repugnant violence required to get a penalty in hockey..); the exchange of jerseys at the end – its how a game should be. I like how football can transcend culture and language and integrate itself deep into a national ethos; I love the way I stride into villages, ever the ‘obruni’ or ‘baturia’ or “foreigner/white lady”, and weird power dynamics come into play, but I stride onto a football field here, with my skirt weighted with safety pins (I can still hear Mme. Janet’s voice “Apoorva! Get some shorts! People will see your under and you will be ashamed! Next market day I will get you some shorts!!”), and I become a footballer. Can you kick? Can you run? Can you defend? You have become one of us.
That inclusiveness, that way my sisters repeatedly pulled at my sleeves excitedly – “Look! A black man on the Portugal team! A black man! How?!” – something that portends of how international cooperation in all aspects should be; Can you play? Are you in? We don’t care who you are.

And then there is the universal access of football. Do you want to play tennis? Do you want to play cricket or hockey or swim competitively or even play American football? All those things require equipment. They require fancy nets and pools and bats and sticks and padding. But football? You will see every small village in East Gonja district, and I will extrapolate to say – in Ghana, or perhaps even in West Africa, will have a wide cleared patch, rectangular of course, with “goal posts” – roughly hewn tree trunks hammered together. And they will pool together one football, and if it is flat, they will patch it with shoe glue and inflate it with bicycle pumps, and everyone will play. Barefoot, in falling off shorts, and the little ones that can just run, they will join too – in their underwear no less. You ask any boy under the age of 15 what he wants to “be” or “do” when he grows up – footballer, just like Steven Appiah, captain of the Black Stars. Or Michael Essien, or Suleimana Muntari – the star of the north. Even the women’s football movement is gaining power, with the Black Queens, Ghana’s ladies’ team.

And now, for the first time ever, we have made it into the World Cup! We have fought long and hard and finally – a ha! With the five African teams (Ghana, Togo, Cote D’Ivoire, Angola and Tunisia) in the cup with Ghana at its helm, we have made it.
But…. Defeat. Cote D’Ivoire in a bitter match with Argentina, losing 2 –1, Angola vs. Portugal, again, losing, and now – this. Of course, even the commentator (the one we’re hearing anyway, a pretty funny British guy) is on our side, saying we played tremendously (and we did!) but – we’ve lost!

What does this mean for us? In the shortest term, it means we’re playing the Czech Republic on Saturday (and damn! The Czechs! They just whopped USA 3 – 0 today… what luck..). It means we will need a miracle to beat them. Hopefully we will, but even if we don’t (likely – if we lose, please let it be with some dignity!), we will push on. There will be other World Cups, there will be more chances; now that the first has arrived, the time of African football has come. And with football, everything else.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being facetious here; what Ghana needs, alongside many other fancy schmancy development things like policy change and civil society making government accountable and competitive markets and value added outputs, is a good dose of self confidence. Ghana needs to get rid of the signs everywhere that say HiPC (Highly Indebted Poor Country), and realise that with our strong culture that we have retained even through the scourge of colonialism, with our fierce pride, our gentle humour and wonderful nationalism – we too can compete on the world stage. We have arrived; truly, we are still at the door of the Big Kahunas, hesitantly wiping our cheap, brightly coloured flip flops and wondering what to do with the coat rack and why the air conditioning is so damn cold (and I digress here, but the commentator kept mentioning how it’s a “Hot night in Hanover – TWENTY FIVE DEGREES!!” while Mme. Janet and my sisters marvelled – at 25 degrees here, they break out the hot water, and sweaters and socks..).
It has been so drilled into the Ghanaian mindset that “poverty plagues Ghana” that even when big strides are being made, even when powerful possibilities and grand accomplishments are taking place, there is no notice given to them. We are too rooted in our ‘poverty’. They are so busy bemoaning how the “Ghanaian economy no good!” that there is no one sticking it to it for the economy. Its like trying to make jello harden, outside, in the Ghanaian heat. Where is the fridge? Why are our efforts not being nurtured and supported?

I’m not sure who to blame. I’m not sure if its colonialism, or the “aid” games being played since independence; I’m not sure if it’s the big NGOs that come here (some of them craptacular!) and inform the people of their ‘destitute status’, or the fact that international publicity just bites and all we hear about (even in Africa) is African Poverty and Disease, and how the west is just awesome – actually, as usual, I’m pretty sure it’s a rich combination of all of those things that result in Ghana believing not only that it’s the underdog, but that it has no right to even dream of success. It comes a surprise to most people here that there is poverty, or even crime in Canada and the west – hell, people here keep telling me they want to go “India or China” because they are some kind of economic promised land. So much is needed to change here, but without the crucial support and sustainability push from Ghanaians, it won’t happen!
But we will leave blame for a moment and look back onto football. And why is football the subject of my three page dissertation here? Because football has achieved, in a small amount of time, something many NGOs, GOs, social scientists and church groups have taken years at not achieving – it has achieved ownership. It has taken Ghanaian pride, diversity, unity, integration and complexity and translated it into the Black Stars, in Germany, with the rest of the world and Europe, holding it down (well, losing to Italy, but still!). In football, we can begin to believe we have arrived, something I’ve seen little of in other sectors. And if we can translate some of this fierce nationalism and determination, if we can pray with such tenacity regarding all of our other initiatives, and if these things will fall into place, then Ghana can remove the brightly coloured flip-flops, greet the coat rack fondly, and stride in, albeit a little shyly, into the house of the big players. Soon there will be room for all of the world here….. As they say in Gonja, Insh’Allah, God willing..

Tonight, when heads of Ghanaian churches submitted their “good luck” prayers to the Black Stars before the game, one of the archbishops or somebodies mentioned that “like the little David beating the giant Goliath, we shall triumph”. And if for a moment we forget all the other implications of that story, the violence etc., we will remember that David did not spend hours a day commenting on his littleness. He just took to Goliath and said, “Hot damn! I’ll just giv’r and see…”. Who won? Yep. If Ghana would just giv’r…

- Apoorva, who will be sitting anxiously, with the rest of Salaga, East Gonja, Northern Region, Ghana, West Africa, and probably the rest of Africa too watching on Saturday, watching the Black Stars WHOOP those Czech Republic dudes! (Hopefully).

[Edited to add – June 25th, 2006 – that Ghana not only kicked the Czech Republic’s behind, 2 – 0 to boot, but we also devoured the USA 2 –1, and are now in the top 16. We will be playing Brazil for a spot in the quarter finals on Tuesday. The possibility of winning is small, but anything can happen.]

The Gritty Realities, full of unromance and blah.

After a long discussion last night with Bryn about ‘romantic’ messaging – that is, writing wonderful stories on dancing in the rain and seeing elephants (the latter, I haven’t done; I’m pretty far away from Mole Park and won’t be seeing it at least until July), and painting an inaccurate picture about life overseas for those reading our blogs I’ve decided to make an attempt at the “nitty gritty” of life here. But the thing is, I’m not sure who’s life I’m going to attempt to discuss.
In terms of an average northern Ghanaian ‘subsistence’ farmer – I’ll do that later after I’ve spent a week in a village (around the first week of July). I guess what we came up with though is that in no way should people reading this get the impression that we’re on vacation – while we’re not all living in the villages, or even in small towns, its not white-sheet hotels and having laundry done for us.

1) I work. Because I’m committed to achieving my objectives, I spend hours after regular working hours, and pretty much every evening devoted to figuring out how best to make change in my District Office. Its stressful at times, and definitely harder work than I’ve done all year at school. So pretty much I would compare this to a co-op term more than a ‘trip’.
2) I do my own laundry. I’m sure this sounds ridiculous but right now – yes, this instant – go look at your full laundry basket. Now imagine each one of those things, especially pants and shirts, is dirty like a Tide commercial, with ground in dust, and chicken shit, and whatever you might imagine. Now imagine taking a bar of blue soap, mostly lye, and scrubbing the holy bananas out of each of those things, then rinsing them twice, then wringing them, then hanging them to dry.
3) I’m isolated from westerners and ‘western’ things. They have things like juice (real juice – with real fruit!), and cheese, and internet, and books; I’m sure they do in Tamale. In Salaga? Nope. When I’m bored, I read Megan’s “Agriculture in Ghana – Junior Secondary 2” textbook, or draw crayon pictures of my family and friends, attempting to do it “cubist” style for added oomph. Usually, I’m rarely bored..
4) There is no running water. My sister Megan, my sisters Krofiye and Sadia, and their friend Sister Helena usually draw the water in large metal basins from the bore pump (about a kilometre away) and carry them on their heads back to the house. We fill a huge oil drum, and a black retaining tank with water. When the water is “fresh”, or it has just rained, its clean. When its ‘old’ (ie, reaching the bottom of the drum), the frog eggs, random worms, small insects, that have all had 4 days to grow are all swimming around in it. Awesome. You will be amazed at how you have to re-structure your life when there is no running water. Also we drink this water. Now, all EWB volunteers have “pristine” chlorine drops with them that we’re supposed to treat our water with, but imagine drinking poolwater daily…yum! I haven’t really got the runs really bad since I arrived, and I’ve never “pristined” my water. But because the water comes from bore-pump, and a ground source, its far safer than surface water.
5) Because of the abovementioned constraint, the toilets are not attached to the house. We have a “bath” room, for bathing, which is just a tiled room with a small drain. You bathe out of a bucket. Supposedly everyone here pees in the “bath” room; I can’t bring myself to do that because .. I don’t know. But I don’t. So anyway, the latrines, half way to the bore pump, are built to “development gold standards”. They have doors, they have windows, they have a roof, and they are painted a standard Ghanaian yellow and green. Because there is no water in the house, likewise, there is no electricity in the latrines. They have been wired for it (I see switches, but they don’t turn on and off..), but yeah – no go. So at sunset (around 6 in the evening) and afterwards, its pitch black. The actual apparatus of latrine is a hole in the cement. I guess it goes to a retaining/decomposition area beneath. Of course, like most things, it has mud termite and wasp nests growing out of the walls, its infested with bats, and if you drop your flashlight, you’re screwed. Compared to the bush, this is marvellous set up, but yeah, compared to a bathroom back home? Try waking up at 2 in the morning, righteously nauseous, scrambling to find glasses, flashlight, (oh wait – the power is cut! Awesome!), can’t find the flashlight, running to the latrine, to throw up into a hole, afraid your glasses are going to fall in. That is not a vacation.
6) Its hot. Obviously its hot, and I won’t expand too much on this, because I’ve spend summers since childhood in Madras, India – which is also equally hot. However, I can’t wear any tanktops. Or any shorts. Or any skirts shorter than mid-calf. Salaga and surrounding areas are pretty conservative Muslim towns, and out of respect for their traditions, and to ease my integration and acceptance, I have to dress appropriately.
7) Throw away every lesson on sanitation, surface growing bacteria and food microbiology you’ve ever learned; once you’ve visited a rural Ghanaian meat stall.. So, pretty much the entire cow (sans head, hooves, tail) is hacked up on a wooden table COVERED at all times, in flies. A dirty machete is used to chop up the meat, with all of the parts touching each other (ie intestinal contents touching ribs touching, I dunno, other cow parts). Then its put in a polythene black bag, tied up, and you take it home (the parts you want). There, it sits outside for a few more hours until you cook it. Luckily they cook things until they’re hard enough to be dangerous weapons; I guess that kills the bacteria. Everything, and anything, will be covered in insects if you don’t cover it. That is a sub-tropical rule. Of course, most food is not covered – this practice is slow to take hold.
8) And don’t ever try to ask “what am I eating?”, especially if you are a girl who has never even had a big mac, let alone chicken mcnuggets in her life. You just chew. And chew some more, and eventually swallow. At least the meat is free range! Some of EWB’s overseas volunteers have managed to remain vegetarian, but in this house, its really not an option. Most children here suffer kwashiorkor or protein deficiency to some degree – because if you don’t eat the meat, the food you are eating is ground up maize, tomato, and maggi cube. There are no beans, there are eggs only when the guinea fowl lays them. There are no vegetables except okra, tomato and onion. Oh and cassava, which is pretty much 100% starch…
9) There are no cars. If you want to go somewhere, either you find someone with a motorbike (rare), you walk there, or you ride a bicycle there. Yesterday, when I had to take myself, and my festering leg, to the hospital – I biked there. I’m sure if I mentioned it to my family, they would have Megan bike there, with me sitting on the back of the bicycle – but yeah.
10) How many doctors would you guess the average hospital had? I bet the doctors reading this would have a pretty close answer, but I’m least 20? At least? For a mini-micro hospital? Ours has….2. And they are the only doctors in town, so if you have a cold, or if you have malaria, or if you are having a heart attack (heaven forbid…), you will go, and wait in the same hospital. To see one of the two doctors. It really puts in perspective the luxury of health care we all possess – and really makes you delve into the sketchy realm of ‘self-diagnosis’. Of course, all sorts of things that you never thought possible are available in a pharmacy/dispensary here. If I went, and requested heart medication, or some viagra analog, or pretty much whatever – I can get it, without a prescription! The medication is all cheaper as it comes from mass-scale no-name pharmaceutical manufacturers in India. When I was buying antibiotics yesterday, the shop owner pointed out that I look “just like the girl in the Cold-tab package!”. I sure do.

In short, I reiterate this thought again for added emphasis – I am not on a vacation. Sure, its life changing, and there is so much beauty and interesting things to learn and grow and share and love – yes, in that manner of thinking it is phenomenal. But living here is one of the more difficult things I’ve had to do in my life. Its not the adjustment, it’s the mindset with which you approach things – all the “challenges” above are simply ‘physical’ challenges – they have nothing really to do with society or people interactions. But if you make up your mind to complain, to ‘suffer’ – go home. The latrines, the puking, the days when you want to cry and miss your teddy, and would do almost anything for a vegetable or five; even on those days, the hardest part is to put it back into perspective. I don’t think I’ve really even once broken down. Everything, everyday is just a ‘learning experience’, a point from which to grow. We are trying as much as possible to live close to how people here live, to really understand their lives and problems so we can begin to work with them and find a solution.
EWB is phenomenal for that – every single person overseas right now has that same ‘learning’ mindset towards their experiences, and every one of us is striving to be humble in our approach and integrate as much as we can into the local cultures. I don’t find that emphasis on humility and integration in other organizations, and that’s tragic – I believe its tantamount to co-operation and making any changes in a society/structure. Nobody will want to give your ideas any weight or want to co-operate with you when you insist on maintaining an “us” and “them” structure! I have learned more in these past few weeks about myself, about interacting with people, about society, culture, and “anthropology” than I have ever picked up in my lifetime; and I’m so glad I’m here, and I’m so glad I’m here with EWB. No regrets!

Diagnosis of a foreign frame of heart…

Have you ever seen people waiting in a hospital waiting room? They are exhausted (at least in Canada, where “hallway medicine” is the plague of the socialized health care system) from spending hours in the most unencouraging environment possible – but let’s be serious, even if it was painted bright colours and had patient, thoughtful counsellors on hand, it would still be a hospital. You would still be wondering whether your friend/relative is going to make it. They have the smallest of hopes that keeps collapsing like an ancient vehicle revived with duct tape and shorn bolts; the babies are crying and crying and no amount of cheering up can make the noise go away; the 5 year olds are bawling away, and their fathers are pacing up and down, up and down, to quieten them. Harried looking doctors, nurses, therapists, emergency paramedics, are running in and out, and the whole business resembles some sort of sick twilight zone.

I won’t say that I hate hospitals – I don’t, and to be honest there are few places I’m thoroughly uncomfortable in and hospitals aren’t one of those few. But I hate the feeling of helplessness. I hate that everyone is wholly alone in their silent but intense worries, I hate not knowing the answers.

I still remember, when I was 8 or 9, in the emergency room waiting for my mom (who was very sick at the time), seeing a doctor sitting on a bench, rip his green cap off, and just cry. I almost threw up. I had unending, almost mythical-power imbued confidence in the medical system. It was just a question of getting there in time, and voila - ! Illnesses would be gone. (Don’t be quick to blame television – I was not an E.R watching child). That was why I always wanted to be a doctor, so I could make people feeling powerless and hopeless feel better. Magically. So here, here was that hero that I so admired, that smart, thoughtful, caring, and all-knowing doctor, of the same variety that should be curing my mother, broken down?! My world was shattered.

I am no longer 8 years old, no longer full of naïve optimism regarding those questions of illness and wellness, or sickness and health. I know how quickly people can go from the laughing, joking, sanguine and ebullient individuals we know and love, to a loose assembly of decaying collagen and broken systems, lying in a box in a hushed room. Mortality is viewed with uncompromised realism on this continent; I’m told constantly (in regards to many things: why haven’t you married? Why don’t you have children? Why are you away from your family?), “you can die tomorrow”. And indeed, you can. And when you do, life will go on, as it has enduringly, for eons on the flat timeless grasslands of the sub-saharan Sahel.

So armed with these thoughts, and of course curiousity (admittedly, I’m still wanting to be a doctor; with some back-of-the-mind thoughts regarding using my profession to build people’s capacity and help them escape poverty..) of seeing a Ghanaian hospital, I hopped on my bicycle this morning and made the 5 K trek to Salaga Hospital.

[What was I doing there? During the last Tamale training, I slipped and fell in a gutter. I had a bunch of small cuts and bruises on my leg, and thought nothing of it. A week and a half later, small cuts have turned into festering sores and boils. My leg is infected and the infection is spreading around my ankle and up towards my knee. The whole apparatus of leg, ankle, foot, knee – they’re not happy and its clear. I would have just let it take its course, but recalling stories of previous EWB volunteers suffering the severe repercussions of this kind of negligence, I’ve decided to give the Cuban doctor in the hospital a go..]

So I arrive. Ghanaian hospitals, I find, don’t have clear signs on what to do and where to go – I wander through the X-ray clinic, the reproductive health centre, one or two sick wards, and finally I see a family friend, Mme. Maria. She directs me to the nursing station to ask them some questions. Already I have a growing fear that while striding past rows of people seated on grass mats, holding babies, that I’m bypassing the regular line, in the worst way. But the nurses see me and call to me.. Soon I’m asking them how to get a card to see the doctor, and instead they’re examining my wound. ‘Do I want to see the doctor or do I want a card’ I’m asked… Well, I want to see the doctor, but I thought the card was how…? Before I can speak, I’m taken through rows and rows of people, by hand (the nurses are all men, and tremendously “impressed” that I managed to bike to the hospital in my “condition”. I’m starting to get worried. I don’t have a serious condition. I could have waited even a day or two to get there…) right to the doctor.

Hold the boat. There are rows and rows of people, collapsed on wooden benches (no fan), outside the doctor’s office. Shivering with malaria, screaming babies, and red-eyed mothers, hacking coughing and laboured breathing – the most acute of cases have been brought to the Cuban doctor – and all too sick to even greet one another (tantamount in Gonja culture). As I walk up with the nurse; their eyes follow me asking, who is she? Is she a new Cuban doctor? Is she a nurse? Meanwhile, I’m all but thrust past the curtain to the doctor – WHILE she is seeing another patient. I’m about to cry. No, no, no! I don’t want to see the doctor now, I’m not dying, I don’t have malaria, liver pain, or fever – I just have a stupid sore that’s infected. I could probably hold off another few days with neem poultices and salt water baths! Please!

But no, they insist. They ask me, will it be quick? Well…yes. I know my foot is infected, there is little question about that (its happened before – summer of 2005, I stepped on a pencil and wore my dirty folk fest sandals. Bam! Tendon infection..couldn’t walk.). I know I need antibiotics, either ointment or pills. I just need her to write the prescription. I can wait.

But my fuss making is even wasting time. What do I do? I give in. I explain rapid fire, my situation. There are no Apoorva jokes, there are no greetings, there are no questions. Foot infected, need antibiotic. That was the totality of my explanation. Dr. Lien Lopez gives me my prescription and I bolt out of there, past the rows of watching and waiting eyes, too embarrassed, ashamed for them to see me. I don’t ever want to be back there again, robbing the people who have waited patiently for their health care, for hours, of their chance to see the doctor. I don’t ever want to feel that sickening nausea of privilege, I don’t want to remember the $100 box of doxycycline malarial prophylaxis in my cupboard at home… four months salary for a East Gonja farmer. The nurse chases me down; “Madame! Madame! Do you know where to buy the medicine? You left so quickly!”. No, I don’t. I was too guilt-stricken to think logically. So they send some boys on bikes with me to show me the dispensary.

About 25 minutes later, I’m biking home, uphill, exhausted, upset, and my leg is now killing me. All I can think of is getting home and not riding this bicycle. I have promised the nurse at the hospital that I will come and volunteer there a lot whenever I have time.
I’m still working out what I think – do I pity the people who are waiting? No, I don’t pity them. Pity is a disgusting emotion, it’s an ‘us’ and ‘them’ idea, wholly connected to money-throwing solutions. I’m disgusted more that the people who have become my friends, my family, the hairdressers who I greet each morning biking into town, the ladies who make soap with Mme. Janet; Sister Rebecca and Sister Helena and Auntie Maisie, they who graciously treat me as their friend and take care of me, if they were sick they would have to wait hours. And I have just bypassed them all in line. I didn’t even get a card.

Would we do that in a Canadian hospital? “Oh, you are German! British! Brazilian! Ghanaian! Fijian! You don’t have to wait to see the doctor! We don’t need your insurance or your medical card! Just go on ahead!” Yeah, right.

So now, I’m sitting in my room, upset that I can’t go out to the villages today with my friend Mr. Al-Haji Skipio Osman, because my foot is too swollen to wear shoes. I’m surrounded by the tons of antibiotics I was prescribed and the waiting, the patient, hopeless waiting, of the people in the benches – it just won’t leave me. There was nothing different here that you wouldn’t see in a Canadian hospital (okay, the Malaria..but still), the people were no more pathetic, no less dignified or worried. It was how quickly they were bypassed, their lives and waiting and patience was devalued by my arrival.

I’m at a loss for words; what do you do, in the afternoon, when everything seems the same, but your life has suddenly been given immense weight? When the final and ultimate privilege of health has been extended to you, and you didn’t even ask? I have fought with privilege for many years, but now I’m admitting its existence – what do I with it? When everything you’ve ever done comes under that sharp scrutiny of that perfect Galilean lens; when you miss everyone and everything familiar and you speak to your pillow (because Teddy is miles away, at home..), and ask – what am I to do with this imperfect offering that I’m supposed to call my life?