Hope for the Future

Hope for the Future

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Espanola Continued

While my trip to Spain was awhile ago and I have been very remiss in updating my blog, I feel I cannot continue writing about my adventures in Ghana until I wrap up my month in Spain. The three weeks were a whirlwind, We stayed in Grenada for a week in an amazing apartment that was provided thanks to the study abroad program at UPS. Walking around the city was amazing, around corner and down every alleyway there was incredible graffiti done by some professional artists of every subject imaginable. We also got to visit the Alhambra, which is the most stunning example of Moorish architecture probably anywhere, its a palace which was built and run by the Islamic Empire in Spain for hundreds of years before the Jews and Muslims were kicked and the Queen and King took over the establishment. The intricacy in detailed carving covering every inch of the palace is overwhelming and breathtaking simultaneously. After Grenada, and after I complained for a wee about how cold I was, we finally headed down South to the coast to visit another professor, who like my dad was on sabbatical and working really hard at doing nothing in Spain. We explored the caves on the coast line, had some beautiful hikes up very steep hills, and stumbled on to a nude beach full of old wrinkly naked men in the process. After staying the in a few little towns on the coast and having some beautiful lazy mornings looking at the sun rise over the Mediterranean and the fishermen working to cast their lines deep into the sea, we headed in land for more cold and majestic cities. We stayed one night in a small town in Southwestern Spain with more churches than people before heading to Seville. Seville turned out to be my favorite city, we stayed in a great apartment about a thirty minutes drive from the city. The first night our landlord told us about a tradition in Sevilla of all the choirs from all the different universities and schools in the area singing late in to the night to mark the Christmas season. We ended up staying in a densely packed square next to the main cathedral, the largest still used example of Gothic architecture in Christendom, for four hours. By the end of the night or early in the morning I should say because we didn't leave till after 2am, we could not feel our bodies but the singing and the costumes were worth it. We also saw two flamenco shows, in very personal settings, same place twice we were so enthralled the first time around. All it was was a small stage with seating for maybe thirty, a guitar player, a singer and a dancer, and for an hour yo were transported into another world full of rhythm and passion and intensely fast tap dancing. I basically gorged myself, not only on food, but on Spanish culture as I knew I was leaving soon. After a week of getting to know our third city well I got on a super fast train and headed for Madrid and my flight back to Ghana. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Cold, Cold, and Colder

Once we landed in Madrid coming back from Morocco the first thing I noticed was how I could no longer feel my body. Marrakesh was chilly but at least when we were walking in the sun it wasn’t too cold. Also, my body has been adjusted to 110 degrees, as Ghana was over 100 every day for the two months before I left. Immediately after we got to Madrid we picked up the rental car and drove to Toledo, about an hour outside of the city. It took us about an hour to leave Madrid, the streets are insanely laid out with no clear markings and every street changes names with no warning. By the time we found Toledo and our apartment, it was close to 7pm. Toledo is broken in to two parts, like many small Spanish towns there is an old part of the city, cathedrals, stone streets and old houses, often-times classic gothic architecture, and the newly development part which looks like any modern city. We were staying right in the heart of the old city, which was actually a sprawling medieval castle turned fortress turned city. Once we settled into our apartment we went in search of food, early by Spanish standards, it was only 8:30pm, it is considered much more civilized hour to eat closer to 9:30 or 10. On our way home we took an incredibly circuitous route due to the nature of the town, i.e. everything looks exactly the same with small crowded narrow alleys and no street signs. It took us an hour to get home, and by that time it was after 11, which if you knew my mom you would understand how late that is for her. The next few days we spent exploring the town, which was really incredible; we realized the restaurant where we had eaten was only a ten minute walk from our place, and got to see the cathedral and walk the walls surrounding the town. It was really cool for me, my parents had already been traveling around Spain or three months so had seen many such towns, but it was my first introduction to these towns in Spain. The second day we were there my mission was to find a jacket, since I have been living in Ghana for the past six months warm winter clothes didn’t really fit into my every day wardrobe. Once obtaining the much needed puffy winter coat, we were able to walk around the city unhindered by my constant teeth chattering. One great thing about the way the Spaniards eat it is more in the style of frequent snacking, you go to a bar and order a drink and what is called tapas, little side dishes, which usually aren’t quite so small, for just a few euros. It is great because you can try lots of different dishes without overeating, theoretically, or you can just eat a lot but different types of food. Toledo was great because many of the old homes and cathedrals had been turned into free museums that you could go into and learn about the history of the town and the people in it. After three nights in Toledo we headed south for Grenada. 

Africa or the Middle East?

Spending a week in Morocco was like spending time in a very confused world mixed up between traditional Arabic/Muslim customs and ones typically associated with the African continent. I started my month vacation with my parents November 14th by flying to Madrid to meet them at the airport then heading straight back to Africa and spending time in Marrakesh. We had a great apartment right next to the Medina (what any ancient city is called in Arabic).  The place was great as it had the tiling all along the winding staircase leading up the three floors to our bedrooms. We spent most of the days wandering around the new and the old city. The old city, typical of most ancient cities, was completely surrounded by a huge red wall that fairly glowed in the sunset. Walking, and getting extremely lost, in the little side streets encountering spices, hanging racks with colorfully beaded shoes and jewelry of every kind was very reminiscent of being in Israel back in the souks. There were some amazing landmarks which helped guide us on our ramblings through the city, mostly a giant mosque called the Katoubia which was initially built to house the largest collection of Islamic scripts and basically act as a giant ancient bookstore. The main tower was incredibly tall so we could always orient ourselves by looking for it. I tried to pick up a little Arabic and a little French, since most people did not speak English, and I managed to impress a few shopkeepers by saying thank you in Arabic. One of the best parts about the trip was getting to know the people who we were renting our apartment from. They were a family who lived in the same complex as us, and had three of the cutest kids. We would go over to their house after being out all day and the mom would pour us tea and make us dessert and we would talk to the dad about the politics and history of Morocco. The kids were great and it was my job to teach them how to do head stands and cartwheels. One day the mom took us out and helped my mom and I shop for some beautiful had knit tunics in the souk. For the most part it felt like I was in Jordan or Israel, but every once in a while you would see some lady walking by with distinctly Sub-Saharan features carrying a basket overloaded with goods or twenty people crammed into a small public transport vehicle and I would remember I was still on the African continent. Coming to Morocco was a little crazy as I had to spend a night in Madrid before meeting my parents at the airport, so I went from a rural village in Ghana, to the most built up city in Spain with soaring cathedrals and high-rise buildings back to Africa and what felt like the Middle East. It was difficult to adjust to being in Morocco at first considering our first experience with the city was rather harsh and overwhelming. We walked into the city and promptly got lost, a young boy said he was walking into the city center and we could follow him. We then started on the most roundabout way of entering the city and once he took to a square, not even the right one, he became aggressive and demanded money in a really nasty way. After we refused to pay him he turned on us and tried to take it but we walked away with him yelling at us. Once in the square a lady grabbed my hand and started putting henna on it even though I tried many times to pull away she was strong and managed to put a flower on the top of my hand. When she was done she asked for money, again I refused and she too got angry. The first day felt extremely antagonistic and had an overall bad feeling, like people were targeting us as tourists in a much worse manner than we had felt elsewhere. Fortunately after the first day things got better as we familiarized ourselves with the city and could get around on our own. Also the more people we met the more we started to really enjoy the people of Marrakesh. I was happy because we were drinking good coffee every day, something which does not exist in Ghana. Overall by the time we left the city I felt that not only did I get a good feel of it but I had come to really appreciate the charms of the place. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Off to Morocco

So the building is almost completed, really almost done. All that remains is painting and paving the front to make a porch. The week after the festival and leading up to my departure to visit my family and take a break was insane. I was trying to get the building as completed as possible before I left, and succeeded in mostly reaching that goal. Along with Chris from WAAF and Innocent, my regular business partner, we started setting our programs in motion. Our first focus is the educational agenda, which is starting in the schools and with classes at the clinic. While I am gone the goal is introduce ourselves to three schools in seven villages in the Keta Municipality in the hopes that when I return we can begin right away implementing the health clubs. One of the main problems we hope to address is not just the basic understanding of the diseases, but the social and psychological impact they can have on the general population. As I mentioned earlier the younger generation is becoming much more sexually active, and they are aware of how the STDs are spread and the basics of what malaria is, but what they are missing is a venue to ask questions regarding the more personal nature of these diseases and various other health issues. By creating a safe place, clubs run by students and only supervised by adults, we hope to allow kids to not only get their questions answered but really become involved in their own health safety. Planning for this, as well as finishing the clinic as much as possible occupied all my time in the week preceding my trip. I left November 12th for a reunion with my family. My dad has sabbatical this semester and my mom took the year off from teaching  so they have been traveling round while my dad ‘works’ and researches renewable energy. I flew to Madrid for one night to meet my parents on the 14th to travel to Morocco together. I booked a hostel in the center of town, and promptly got lost looking for it. Not only was it overwhelming and a bit of a culture shock to be walking around downtown Madrid carrying all my luggage, but the hostel was located near a Starbucks which was extremely unhelpful given the amounts of Starbucks in the metropolis area. Eventually after annoying many of the baristas in town I located the hostel. Putting on all my clothes I ventured out in to the city for an evening of wandering and over eating. Having food that was not rice and chicken and beans was heaven and I literally ate and drank coffee till I was sick. The next morning I made the trek back to the airport to meet my parents and fly back to Africa to see how the Northern Arabic half lives. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hogbetsotso Festival

Without a King, the Volta Region has been suffering for the last thirteen years. After the past King died there was a dispute between the two sides of the family as to who is the rightful successor. After thirteen years, and many lost opportunities for development and growth in the region, the Anlo Kingdom finally named a King. The Hogbetsotso Festival, which should take place every year, is a way for the many chiefs to show respect to their King. Luckily, I happened to be around when the adorning of the King took place, and was determined to make the most of it. I have recently become very close with the new Regional Director of West Africa AIDS Foundation (WAAF), Chris Cice. We both wanted to do something at the festival as a way of introducing our organizations to the community and mobilizing forces for HIV and malaria testing and counseling. The weekend of November 4th was booked with events, on Friday there was a health walk which started in town and ended at the beach. We employed local counselors, five from the hospital, to come and provide their services to the general population. It was very interesting to see the caliber of individual who was willing to get an HIV test at a public festival. The first day of testing we had over 150 people participate, and they fairly mobbed our station asking for condoms. There are a lot of young men and women who contrary to the beliefs of the older population in Keta have become very sexually active and aware, probably as a result of their exposure to Western cultures.  There were a lot of young people at the station, some girls, and only three older men who were willing to be seen in public. On Saturday the main event of the weekend took place, and an insane amount of people flooded the small village of Keta. There was actual traffic on the one road, enough as to make it necessary for the police to stand and direct the cars. We had a tent set up in a square next to the main festival grounds, and along with HIV testing and counseling we provided free eye screening. It felt great to be out amongst people, talking to them about the clinic, about various illnesses, the benefits of continual screening and various methods of protection. For the past four years so much of my energy has been focused on construction, something which is not my focal interest but a necessary one, that it was so nice to get a glimpse of what it will be like once the clinic is actually operating. One thing which I will have to improve or gain more insight in to is ways of convincing people to come and get an HIV test. Many people were standing on the outskirts of the tent watching us, but were unwilling to come inside and tested themselves. Even those who accompanied their friends were too afraid or shy and withstood our coercion too well. One problem is people insist upon not wanting to know, they would prefer to die quietly in their homes of some unknown disease rather than know their status and try to do something about it. The festival itself was great, the President of Ghana came and many ambassadors, even the Israeli Ambassadors which seemed a little random but was interesting to see nonetheless. In the evening they had a huge stage set-up in the middle of the road and an all-night dance party with musicians from Accra and different parts of Ghana. I went home early, around 3am because I had to work the next day!

Whats Wrong? Where Are You Going?

Every time I try to exercise, try being the operative word, everyone is so concerned that something is wrong with me.  A friend of mine lent me a bike to use and I have been trying to use it more to get to work and to run errands around my house. Without fail kids always run next to me and attempt to match my speed, some are able to briefly but then they fall behind with a shout and a general laugh from the population at large. I pulled out my running shoes and a few evenings went for a run along the one paved road in Keta, and that produced a rather hilarious effect. Most people asked what was wrong, why was I running or from whom was I was running. Many kids also ran alongside me and I am sorry to say were usually faster than I was.  It is interesting as there are lot of athletes in Ghana, soccer players, track runners, etc… but as a white person running it just seemed to confuse them.  There is more of a bike culture in Ghana, many people use it as their main mode of transportation, and I very often got the nod of approval from fellow bikers. Every once in a while a very excited individual would shout good job and give me a thumbs up, as if providing encouragement for me to continue. People in Ghana, and much of Sub Saharan Africa, do not expect that we can work like they can. It is part hospitality, they want to make sure we are comfortable in their country, but it is also a perception that we all have maids and people and machines which do everything for us and so are incapable of performing many basic tasks. Everything from fetching water to taking out the garbage they are amazed to see me perform. In 2008 when I brought volunteers from the US and Canada to help build the clinic, the amount of onlookers we accrued on a daily basis to watch all the Yevu’s (white men in Ewe) mix cement, carry blocks on our heads and shovel sand was amazing. I had to threaten the mason, who was supposed to be utilizing the volunteers as labor, to actually teach us and allow us to work on the building. The heat, the attention, and crowd one attracts while attempting to exercise in Ghana I enough of an excuse to either join the one meager gym in the area or continue to be lazy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Garbage truck or ice cream man?

The garbage trucks here play almost the same tune as the ice cream trucks at home. Every time I hear the jingle the little girl in me gets really excited and I start eagerly scanning the streets for the ice cream man. Without a doubt I am disappointed to see an overloaded three-wheeled blue truck slowly making its way down the street, men hanging off the side picking up the trash floating in the streets. In an odd way this phenomenon is similar to my daily dealings with people here. There are some who you expect to be friends or allies, and sometimes it turns out they are closer to garbage than ice cream. I have recently had this experience with some people I work with; when money gets thrown around people's true colors are shown. It has happened before so I was prepared for it, but it does not get any easier too see people whom you have to trust and rely upon turn a little crazy. It is always in a devious way as well, oh we need extra here, project manager fees for this meeting, transportation and food costs... the extra fees start to add up very quickly. I have in some ways become ok with a certain amount of skimming off the top. Business is not conducted the same way, and people expect different methods of showing appreciation. That being said, having someone demand this or try to get his added cut through sneaky ways when we are supposed to be helping his community is infuriating. I find more than anything this process just makes me sad that I have to keep my guard up against everyone, even my friends.
It is not all depressing, luckily I currently live in a beautiful country which provides many escapes when one is in need of some down time. This past weekend some friends of mine came to visit me in Keta and we spent the whole weekend at the beach making giant planes and Mayan temples out of sand, and getting really sun-burnt in the meantime. The dry season is really setting in, not to be confused with the Hamatan, or the hot season. It has been roughly mid 90's for the past week and will stay like this until November when, finally, we get a little heat around here, and the temperatures shoot up to over 100, with 80% humidity added into the mix. I am working on building up a nice base, admittedly more red than tan, but I hope to be blending in with the locals fairly soon.  We are buying the wood for the roof, the tiles for the floors and the window panes today, with the hopes that in the next few weeks the building will be completed. It is still fairly unbelievable to stand inside this building in Ghana knowing that I not only own the piece of land I am standing on but have built this building around me, with the help of many others. We are starting to plan our educational programs, which is more exciting than anything, because that means this building and all the work that has gone into it will start actually being useful and helpful. I am meeting with the Chiefs of Woe, the township where the clinic is located, this Thursday to introduce myself and the clinic to them, and to get their permission to start surveying the people in the surrounding area. I have been experiencing difficulties with my internet but hopefully I will be able to keep everyone posted as to the progress we are making!