A Sentimental Reflection

Happy Thursday, family and friends!

Today is the last day of the week for us here in Ghana, as Election Day is tomorrow and everyone has the day off from school/work in observance of the important day. Four years ago, there was no clear winner after the first round of voting, so the country went into a second and then later a THIRD round of voting to determine who the next president would be…more than three weeks later the country finally received the results. We all have our fingers crossed that this year’s election will go more smoothly and that a winner will be declared within 72 hours (the standard time allotted for counting the votes), so that there is no need for extra rounds of voting. Then life can go back to normal here, as the past few weeks have been filled with campaign rallies (which are really just a bunch of pick-up trucks decked out in different parties’ logos and slowly driving around blasting really obnoxious music). The campaign rallies, I will not miss.

Some things I will miss:

1. Walking down the street, everyone  I pass will take a second to say “Hello, how are you?” in either English or Fante. And unlike back home, they will actually wait for your response and tell you to have a nice day afterwards. I love this. It’s amazing how much you can brighten someone’s day simply by acknowledging their presence…I have felt the effects of this first-hand. I think that this is something we should all try to work on back in the States; it will make everyone much happier and more pleasant to deal with!

2. Living without many of the luxuries that I normally take advantage of, I have come to appreciate the simpler things in life–it’s borderline amusing how excited  I can get when someone mentions going out for ice cream or that the lady down the road is selling pineapples 3 for 2 cedis (we LOVE making fresh smoothies for lunch: pineapple, mango, and bananas with strawberry “yogurt”–yum!). Talking to my mom and/or dad on the phone is always the highlight of my day when  it happens, even if we aren’t really talking about anything of actual importance, because being here I have come to truly appreciate the importance of my loved ones in my life.

3. The untouched beauty of Ghana. I live about 1 km from the coast here, and these are the kind of beaches that companies put on postcards–clear water, hot sand, homemade boats on the shore, and palm trees lining the border of the road and the beach. It’s going to be so weird not to be able to see the ocean every day once I go back home, because it is such a pivotal part of life here (fish is a major commodity in the local markets and a staple in every Ghanaian’s diet).

4. The beautiful colors of the clothes here is something I am definitely going to miss when I return to Upstate New York. The fabric here is so intricate and full of color that it’s hard to focus my eyes when I’m in a crowded place. Most of the fabric is made in Ghana, and there are just about as many seamstresses as there are taxi drivers here to make unique clothes for everyone!

5. My friends and homestay family here have been so welcoming and have taken me in to their homes without any hesitation, and for that I am eternally grateful. My closest friend here, Pat, who I met in my nursing classes, has helped me survive UCC without too many scrapes and bruises. She made sure that I always knew what was going on in our classes, copied the lecturer’s notes for me, and forced me to study with her before our exams–without her, I can’t say that I would be in that great of shape academically. She also took time out of her schedule to teach me extra Fante, so that  I could converse with more people here. My homestay family has also taught me a lot about what it really means to be a Ghanaian, and have helped to improve my understanding of their culture through food, language, and conversation. I will never forget all of the wonderful people who have made my stay here worthwhile.

It’s a difficult time for me, realizing that I am now down to less than 2 weeks left in Ghana. I am thrilled at the idea of going home and spending time with all of my family and friends, but I am also sad to leave behind the friends I have made here and the culture that I have fallen in love with over the last 4 months. I guess all I can do is live a life that reflects all of my new knowledge and start looking forward to the next  time I can return!

Much love,

Adrienne

Home: Where the Heart Is

Happy belated Thanksgiving!

I was so very fortunate to spend the holiday at City of Refuge with my good friends and all the wonderful children there. We had a TRUE Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday—they had all of the fixings brought over by a group of volunteers from the US, so we enjoyed everything from turkey and gravy to green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, and my personal favorite, pumpkin pie. It was an absolutely wonderful experience to be with people I love at my home-away-from-home, and to share the experience with the children, who had never experienced a true American Thanksgiving before. Stacy and John also ordered the sports package for their cable for the month, so we were able to watch the Houston-Detroit game after dinner, which was an added bonus…it was the next-best thing to being home with my family for Thanksgiving.

Everyone here keeps asking me what it is that I miss the most, having been in Ghana for nearly 4 months now. When I think about it, there’s no “thing” that I really miss, it’s the people that I miss: my parents, siblings, siblings-in-law, good friends, and extended family are always on my mind when I’m here, surrounded by unfamiliar faces. When people ask me what my plans are for winter break I tell them that I have no set plans, I just want to be around people that I love and spend time with everyone that I have missed so much here. Before coming here, I thought I would miss some of the things we take advantage of back home—constant Wi-Fi connection, coffee shops on every corner, running water, and superstores where you can find anything your heart desires. While these things are very convenient, I believe that I could live without them. But I know that I couldn’t live without my family and friends that have been there for me through all of my tough times (and the best times, too!). I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for all of my loved ones who support and encourage me to follow my dreams and do what I love. It is hard for me to believe that none of these important people will have been with me throughout my experience in Ghana, and that all they will know of my time here is what I tell them. This has been a difficult idea for me to come to terms with, but at last I believe I am finally seeing the good in it. This semester has been a time for me to develop entirely on my own, to meet new people with no mutual friends, and to form opinions without the influence of others. I have become a stronger and more independent person over the past 4 months, and I hope that I will continue to grow once I return home.

That’s all for today, I think I’ll leave it short to spare you all of my novels that I have been writing to you lately. Know that each and every one of you are missed and on my mind here, and I can’t wait to see your familiar faces when I’m back home in the states!

With love,

Adrienne

Education Woes

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

My stress level has finally dropped below a critical point, as my lectures are over at UCC and I now have an abundance of free time. The month of October was especially stressful, as I had multiple quizzes, papers, and projects due for all of my courses. Instead of sprinkling assignments and tests throughout the semester like schools do back home, UCC’s strategy seemed to be to wait until the very last minute, then quiz students on just about everything that will be covered on the final exams, and assign group projects to cover topics that the teacher didn’t have time to go over in-depth during her lectures.

Many people have been asking me how schooling differs between Ghana and the US—both people I meet here and friends from home. The major difference that I have noticed in my classes here is that the main objective is for students to memorize their lecture notes exactly as the professor gave them, word for word. On quizzes (which is quite a deceiving term, as they are just as stressful and just as important as prelims back at Cornell), I’ve had answers marked wrong when prompted for a definition of a term because I did not quote my notes verbatim, instead writing the definition in my own words (a practice that has been drilled into my head since I was in elementary school). I find that this is a practice that is used in all levels of education here—the primary schools that I have been working at also emphasize the importance of memorization of facts, and the children take everything I say very literally. When I have discussed this with my peers here, many of them concede that this method of teaching is not conducive to entering the workforce and even university graduates are faced with the problem of applying what they have learned in the classroom to real-life scenarios. Sure, sociology students may be able to rattle off information about Spencer’s theory of social evolution (a topic we covered in my Society and Development course), but how can they apply it to societies in today’s world? Can they use their knowledge of modernization theories to help Ghana become a developed country? This is what sociology students need to be tested on. Not whether or not they can regurgitate a definition that can be easily looked up with a few keystrokes.

In my opinion, a country’s education system is one of—if not the—most critical aspects of its development. Unfortunately, Ghana’s biggest problem is not that university students are not as well-equipped for the workforce as they should be, but that the majority of students do not even make it that far. Tertiary school (i.e., university and technical institutes) is, for most Ghanaians, an unattainable dream; up until very recently, senior high school wasn’t very popular, either. Why? Because it is expensive; for many families, very expensive. It is not uncommon today for a middle-class family to have a young girl living with them as a maid for a few years, and in exchange paying for her to attend JHS or SHS when she is ready. In other cases, students end their education at 6th grade or complete junior high, then find work to begin earning money for their families. One of the presidential candidates here is campaigning for free SHS, which I believe will be a huge step forward—the more educated young people there are in a country, the greater their chances of moving out of poverty and into the developed world are. Once all students have the opportunity to attend SHS, then Ghana can begin tackling the challenge of better preparing their students for the workforce.

As for my experience with Ghana’s education system…let’s just say that I’m not sad to be done with classes at UCC. From never knowing if class was going to be held on a given day, constantly changing lecture venues and times, and assignments without any rubric/expectations given until after the paper has been turned in, it has been an unpredictable experience for me. I am grateful to have indirectly learned much about Ghanaian culture and points of view through lectures and class discussions, especially in my Gender Studies course. But for the time being, I am excited to experience more of Ghana first-hand during the following weeks that I have left here.

Much love,

Adrienne

Waterfalls, Monkeys, and Cheese

Hello loved ones!

GEEZE it’s been a while since I’ve posted on here…hope you guys don’t mind the novel that is about to follow!

First of all, I want to tell you about the wonderful/terrible trip we took two weekends ago–Kieran, Danielle, Erin, Geoff and I went on a trip to the Eastern and Volta Regions of Ghana, right near the Ghana-Togo border. The good news: we got to see some amazing sights, and we definitely bonded as a group over the three days. The bad news: we were traveling in a Land Rover, circa 1975, and our butts/backs/bodies were crying out by the second hour of the trip. One of the back doors wouldn’t stay shut, so we had to be careful not to lean on it while driving, and the passenger seat slid back as soon as the car wzas moving, crushing the legs of the person sitting behind it. And in the trunk were two benches where 3 people sat, knees to chin. Not to mention our driver did not have the slightest notion where we were traveling to, and got us lost on several “short cuts” throughout the trip. Transportation issues aside, I am so glad to have had the opportunity to travel to the Eastern Region–it was so nice to get out of the touristy “obroni culture” of Cape Coast and be immersed in what I see as the true Ghana. The landscape that surrounded us was absolutely incredible and the people there were so kind and hospitable. Although there was a new language barrier for us to get used to…while we have been learning Fante every-other week at ProWorld, in the Eastern and Volta Regions they speak Ewe, which is quite different and left us without much means of communication between ourselves and the locals. (Even though English is official language of Ghana, only educated people can speak it well.)

The sights we saw in the Eastern and Volta Regions were breathtaking–the first place we went to was Wli Falls, which is the tallest waterfall in West Africa. Ithaca’s gorges, as much as I love them, ain’t got nothing on Wli. It was a little bit of a hike to get to the falls from where we parked the death mobile (Land Rover), and once we got there we went right into the water at the base of the waterfall. The next day, we went to a monkey sanctuary, where we got to play with some monkeys. No seriously, I had monkeys crawling all over me for a good hour–we brought a big bag of bananas and held one in our hands (tightly) while a monkey would climb up, peel the banana, pop it in its mouth, and hop off. It was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life…so awesome. The last day, we went to the Akosombo Dam, which was opened in 1965 and as a result of its creation, displaced a large number of people living in nearby communities at the time. The view from the dam was so beautiful and peaceful…I could’ve spent an entire day there just relaxing. But unfortunately, we were loaded back into the Land Rover and hauled off to Accra, where we spent 2 hours at our final destination…THE ACCRA MALL!!! The mall is a very metropolitan place with a large number of Western-style stores; I was just so excited to enjoy some “American” food and buy some cheese to bring back to Cape Coast with me (cheese is a staple food of my diet back home, but it is not in any Ghanaian dishes or even sold in stores in the Cape Coast area, so I was mildly thrilled about that prospect). We got back to the ProWorld house at 12AM Monday evening, and I think it’s safe to say that we were all thrilled to be able to sleep in our own beds that night.

My new project with HALP (Health and Life Protection Foundation) has been so rewarding–I love going to the school to teach the children, and I think the children like it when I come, too. Whenever I walk into the schoolyard, a chorus of “Sister Ekuwa, Sister Ekuwa!!” greets me, instantly putting a smile to my face. It is quite a change from the typical “Obruni, obruni!” that I get when walking through town. After each education session, I leave time for the students to ask me questions about what I talked about (lately it’s been sanitation and dental health), and they ask great questions! They are often very specific and detailed, but I love that they are applying what I taught them to their daily lives.

Let me quickly explain why the kids call me Sister Ekuwa. In Ghana, everyone has a “day name,” based on the day of the week that s/he was born. The day names (or as they’re called here, Fante names) are supposed to speak about your personality and strengths. I guess you could compare it to our use of Zodiac signs. My name is Ekuwa, because I was born on a Wednesday. The male version is Kweku. What I’ve been told/read about Wednesday children seems perfectly fitting for my personality: fully in control of every situation, does not want to be told what to do, knows it all, is spontaneous, vibrant and cordial. I think my mother would agree, too.

Here is the Wikipedia page for those of you who want to learn more about these names, and you can google your birth date to find out what your name is! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghanaian_name

That’s all I’ll put you guys through for today. Thanks to everyone who read the whole post! I love you, too 🙂

-Adrienne

Back to My Roots

Hello my dears!

I had an amazing weekend this past week—I was reunited with my old friends from City of Refuge, an orphanage in the Greater Accra Region that I volunteered at last year. It was so great to see familiar faces and reconnect with Stacy and John, the couple that runs the orphanage. Some of the kids even remembered me! It was an awesome experience, seeing all that Stacy and John have accomplished in little over a year. They are now located at a new site than where I was with them last year—they have a huge plot of land on which they have built homes for the children, a primary and junior high school (senior high school is underway), a staff house, a volunteer house, and a house for their family. City of Refuge is literally a miniature city, and a safe haven for the children that they house: John and Stacy have rescued most of the children that live with them from slavery. The school at City of Refuge is for the children at the orphanage, as well as children that live nearby whose parents wish to send them there.

The effect of Stacy and John’s love for these children was so incredibly evident to me when I was visiting—there was one little boy, Melvin, who I remember being one of the shyest little boys I had ever met last year, and when I saw him last weekend, I could not believe it was the same boy! He was so playful, giggly, and outgoing, and ran right up to me for a hug as soon as he saw me. It was so beautiful to see him transformed into the confident child that he should be, and there were many other children that had undergone the same transformation. Even the newer children there were very receptive in meeting me, and by the time Sunday rolled around, they were clinging on to my skirts, sitting on my lap during church, and constantly smiling up at me. I am so happy that these children are given a second chance to have a “normal” childhood, and feel comfortable enough with themselves to interact with complete strangers who come by their home.

Stacy and John have another project underway—a water plant! In Ghana, filtered water is either sold in bottles or in sachets, little squares of plastic (what I normally drink from here). There are many different sachet brands, and Stacy and John have created their own brand—“Save a Child.” Their sachets are printed with educational material about child slavery, in order to spread awareness of the issue in local towns. They employ single mothers at their production plant (on-site at City of Refuge), giving the women a chance to provide for their families and empower them to achieve their goals.

After my stay at City of Refuge, I made my way to visit my friend Alex (a former ProWorld participant) at the orphanage that she is currently working at called Potter’s Village. It was so nice to see her again, and to meet the children that she was always telling me about. Seeing the circumstances that the children at Potter’s Village live in was devastating, though, especially after coming from the new-and-improved City of Refuge. There are over 100 children living at Potter’s Village, and they live in very cramped quarters—as a result, there were many children with skin irritations and rashes. The children there are very fortunate to have volunteers like Alex working there, who are so passionate about helping the kids stay in school and receive enough food every day, but the woman who runs Potter’s Village is very corrupt, from the stories I have heard. It is so unfortunate that there are people who, under the guise of helping others, take advantage of others’ generosity and trust. Alex is working hard to have outside organizations such as Feeding the Orphans come in to assist the children at Potter’s Village, and I know that she will continue to commit herself to this task until she is satisfied with the results.

Being back at City of Refuge was a lot like going home from college for fall break—it was so comforting to be with people who know me, who wanted to hear what I have been up to, and who genuinely cared about me. Stacy and John are two of the most welcoming people I have ever met, and it was so nice to be “home” with them again. They have given so much to others in their lives, and they are nowhere near stopping. Their next project is to build a health clinic on-site so that the children will not have to go far to be treated, and to also serve women with HIV/AIDS who are so greatly stigmatized in their small villages nearby. When I asked Stacy what they were going to do with a new plot of land that was recently donated to them by the local chiefs, she told me that their ultimate goal is to build a university for their children. How awesome is that.

With love,

Adrienne

Livin’ la Vida Local

Goooooooooood morning! I’m in an especially chipper mood today, as I just drank a delightfully refreshing iced coffee (made with gourmet Nescafe instant coffee), thus having ingested more caffeine in the past 30 minutes than I’ve had in the past 2 months. Normally my morning beverage here is a cup of Milo, Ghana’s version of Swiss Miss hot chocolate, (which is quite tasty) but despite it’s claims to be an “energy food drink,” it doesn’t give me the kick that my normal jumbo-sized iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts brought to me every morning back home. But this morning I came to the ProWorld house to pick up my computer, and decided to indulge in a cup of java before heading over to UCC for my afternoon class.

And then I realized—it’s been two months since I’ve had a real cup of coffee. Sure, I could buy a pound of coffee in Accra for 15cedi (about 8USD), but then I wouldn’t be living like a Ghanaian. Most Ghanaians (at least most that I have met), don’t drink coffee, opting instead for Milo. So every morning I drink the cup of Milo that my host mom serves me, banishing any thoughts of how nice some caffeine would be. I’ve tried applying this thought process to many aspects of my daily life here—making decisions based on what a Ghanaian would do, rather than what a homesick American living in Ghana for 4 months would do.

Instead of taking a taxi to reach a destination, I walk whenever possible, to save money. While a 1cedi (approx 50 cents) taxi ride to school may seem like an offer too good to pass up, most Ghanaians cannot afford this luxury ever day, especially my fellow students whose parents are sacrificing a great deal to send them to university. So I walk to classes every day—about a 45 minute walk which I have come to enjoy as a time to clear my head and contemplate the meaning of life (I’ll be sure to let you know when I find it). The walk to classes is more often an easier one than the walk home, as my home stay is located on top of a MASSIVE hill. I often return home at the end of the day sweating more than I would like to admit, and appreciative of the cold shower that awaits me.

While I am often tempted to go in to town and buy a yummy tofu-avocado sandwich at a vegetarian restaurant popular among the tourist crowd, I restrain myself and instead enjoy the packed lunch that Auntie Evelyn sends me off with every day. The lunch usually consists of typical Ghanaian fare: fried plantains, yam balls, or fried rice with a vegetable stew that Auntie Evelyn quickly recognized as a favorite of mine. In Ghana, if you are eating in the presence of others, it is customary to let them know that they are welcome to your food (even if they’re really not). So, whenever I am eating on campus at a table with other students or at the ProWorld house at the table with the staff, I always say, “you are invited,” before digging in. (Seriously, I’ve gotten glares from people when I ate in front of them without inviting them, before I learned this rule.) Most people politely thank you for the invitation but do not make any moves for the food. But I have had a few people (especially when I was working at the clinic with the nursing staff) take me up on my offer and go halfsies on my lunch with me. Hunger, in the name of culture.

And yet, despite all of my efforts to walk, talk, and act like a Ghanaian, I am constantly being called out for being a foreigner. “Obronyi, Obronyi!” is a call I hear at least 20 times a day. “Obronyi” means foreigner in Fante, and is what everyone–children and adults alike–call white people. The children often yell to us, “Obronyi, how are you? I’m fine, thank you, and you?” in sing-song voices, mimicking us. At first I found all of this entertaining, but slowly it has become more and more annoying to me, and I constantly feel as though all I am to these people is a white lady. While I know this is not true, as I have made many friends and have had wonderful conversations with Ghanaians, I can’t help but be bothered by the taunting on the street. The children do it playfully, and I don’t mind that. I have even begun singing back to them “Bibinyi, otse den? mo ho ye, medaase, wo seE?” Which is the Fante version of their song. Whenever I do this, the children are shocked that a foreigner can retaliate and reduced to giggles, which always makes me smile. But when I am constantly being called to by men, “Obronyi! Obronyi! White lady! Hey! Hey!” and grabbed at in all directions, I become frustrated. I am tired of being recognized as a foreigner in a place that I have called home now for two months, constantly trying to adjust to their ways of life to blend in. Yet the one thing that makes me stick out is something that will never change (despite how many days I spend on the beach)–my skin. Even if I were to live in Ghana for 10 years, I would still be called “Obronyi” by the people I walk by on the street. And so here I am, a paradigm of two contrasting lives squeezed in to one, trying to find my place in this country for the next two months.

A Rambling, of Sorts

Hello again family and friends!

This week marks the start of my new volunteer project–I will be doing health outreach at local primary schools through HALP Foundation (Health and Life Protection). I am very very excited to be working with my new project partners, Emmanuel and Ben, and believe that I am going to be very pleased with this placement. Today, after my morning class, Ben and Abena (another HALP staff member who is also attending UCC) took me to the school that I will be working at this month, which is located on UCC’s enormous campus. We went today to talk to the headmistress about what we would like to teach the children and our tentative schedule. It was actually really nerve-wracking! The headmistress almost turned us down, but Emmanuel’s sister is a teacher at the school and she stood up for HALP, saying that she believed our work would be very beneficial for the students. The headmistress finally accepted our proposal, and  sent us on our way (I will start going to the classes for the education on Monday).

I decided to switch projects because I was feeling under-utilized at the clinic I was working at with Needed Life. While I am very passionate about working with young mothers, I was unfortunately unable to do much at the clinic, as they are overstaffed as is. So while I was there I conducted surveys to find out what these young mothers knew about HIV/AIDS and Family Planning (disappointingly, not much). After the surveys, a nurse would give a brief education session on the two issues to the women, though 99% everything was communicated in Fante (the local dialect in Ghana’s Central Region), so I understood very little of what was going on. I was sad to leave the clinic, as I had made many friends among the nurses, staff, and regular patients there, but Fati, my project partner with Needed Life, told me that I was welcome back any time, so I plan to visit before I leave in December.

Classes are going well here, though I am still adjusting to all of the differences that exist between Ghanaian education and American education. The two nursing classes I am in are proving to be the most difficult aspect of my schedule, as my classmates are often aware of many things I am not. In Ghana, it is typical that a student only enrolls in classes for his/her major, so most of my nursing  classmates are in every class together, and often there are announcements in other classes about a class that I am also in, but alas I do not receive said announcement….etc. Thankfully, I have made a couple of friends  in these classes who keep me informed and up-to-date!

Speaking of friends–since my last post, my ProWorld friends and I have gone to the ocean a number of times, and every single time I have gone swimming. I LOVE IT. I can’t believe I was too scared to swim in the ocean before. AND, the other day, we saw whales in the distance, jumping and splashing on the horizon. It was incredible! We watched them for about 15 minutes, then they disappeared…but it was a nice flashback to my childhood days of watching “Free Willy” day after day 🙂

Tonight we have a cooking lesson at the ProWorld house, during which we will learn to cook Red-Red, a popular local dish (and one of my favorites), consisting of fried plantains and a bean “stew” made with black-eyed peas. YUM!

With love,

Adrienne

The Tide is High…

Once a month the volunteers of ProWorld participate in what is called an “Impact Project,” a day-long service project at one of our project locations. Last Saturday was this month’s Impact Project day, which we spent at my clinic (Elmina Urban Health Center), cleaning, replacing carpets, and collecting garbage outside. We learned how to sweep with the brooms that Ghanaian women and girls use, which are small strands of bamboo tied together–a lot smaller than our typical brooms, which led to some sore backs!

After a full morning of scrubbing, sweeping, mopping, and sanitizing, our group headed to the beach to relax! We took a 30-minute drive out to Anomabo, a beautiful beach resort with a great restaurant. It was cloudy and (surprisingly) pretty cool on Saturday, so we decided to spend the night at the beach resort in hopes of a sunny Sunday…and we truly hit the lottery. Sunday was a picture-perfect day: about 95 degrees, perfectly sunny, and  even a light breeze to keep us sunbathers cool. And sunbathing was all I wanted to do, as many people who know me well know that I am absolutely terrified of fish. Growing up, I spent many a summer day on the lake with family and friends (Upstate NY is FULL of lakes), and was known to be very good at tubing…because I was deathly afraid to let go and end up in the lake, swimming with the fish. I’ve never actually swam in the ocean, though I’ve had plenty of opportunities. Putting my feet in was enough.

But last weekend, I seemed to forget that I was afraid of fish. When Alex, a fellow volunteer, asked me if I wanted to swim with her for a little bit, I didn’t even hesitate. I went right into the ocean and stayed in for almost 2 hours…coming out a little bit worse for the wear, I’ll admit. Having never swum in an ocean before, I wasn’t anticipating the strength of the waves! But it was the most fun I’ve had here yet. I completely forgot about everything that had been stressing me out lately–classes, missing home, struggles with my volunteer work, and my short bout of dehydration from the day before (not a pleasant experience. I’ve been drinking more water since then than I’d ever imagine)–and just literally lived in the moment, from one wave to the next. It was so refreshing.

So now I am trying to live my life here  as though I am riding the waves of the ocean, tackling one problem at a time and losing my inhibitions. Because I’m only in Ghana for 3 more months, so I shouldn’t let anything hold me back (especially not a fear of fish).

That’s all for now, but I’ll post again after the weekend.

Love and miss you all,

Adrienne

School Daze

Well, it has been an interesting 2 weeks here, to say the least. Let me just say that school here is VERY different from back at home…even more so than I was expecting. Allow me to walk you through some of these differences…

1. Registration is not done online. I had to go from department to department in order to select the classes I wanted to take, register for them, and try to resolve any scheduling clashes (which would be completely pointless once classes started, but I will get to that). At a couple of the departments, I was asked to pay a fee in order to have my registration form signed as a way of “supporting their department.” I was advised by the CIE (Center for International Education, my guiding eyes at UCC) to refuse to pay this fee, being an international student. You’d think the people working at registration would recognize that. So anyway, I made it through registration with a new-found love for Studentcenter, Cornell’s online registration system. And no, that was not a paid endorsement.

2. Just because you show up to class doesn’t mean the professor will. Actually, I’ve been to four lectures so far where the students have waited for 45 minutes or so, realized that the professor was not coming, and left to go about our days. It’s rather frustrating, as you might imagine…there’s no such thing here as list-serves for each class, through which the professor can warn the students that a scheduled lecture will not occur.

3. Just because your class is supposed to be held from 3:30-5:30PM doesn’t guarantee anything. In order to accommodate as many students as possible, lecture times are moved once classes begin. This is done in the most efficient way possible, of course: everyone talking at once, telling the professor what time works best for him/her, and with very little compromise. Or, if you have a professor like Mrs. Abane (my Society and Development lecturer), she will decide that the most convenient time for her (and therefore what time our lecture will be held) is 6:30-8:30. AM.

Alright, enough of my ranting. Most of my frustration has subsided and I am finally starting to appreciate my classes, classmates, and professors. As I am often the only white person in the classroom, I have become very popular among my fellow students. Already I have had offers from students to let them cook me dinner, take me out to town one night, and one girl even invited me to travel with her last weekend. I’ve made a few good friends here, especially within the exchange student program–two Swedish girls are in one of my classes (the one that starts at dawn) and my fellow ProWorld volunteers have proven to be a lot of fun and very easy to get along with.

One last thing: the other day, I was outside the clinic buying a water when a bird pooped on my hand. I expressed this to my friend, Mackenzie, and the women from whom I was buying the water. Mackenzie proceeded to laugh and dug a wet-wipe out from her bag to hand to me, while the women started exclaiming that I was going to give birth to a healthy baby girl soon. To this news I had a couple of different reactions: 1. No, I’m not pregnant, thank you very much. 2. …why is the sign that one is going to give birth to a beautiful baby girl A BIRD POOPING ON HER? What is the symbol for a boy? A bird dropping a pound of gold at my feet? And that concludes my feminist rant for the day.

Until next post,

Adrienne

When in Rome…

As of today, I have been in Cape Coast for 21 days. I keep repeating this in my head, but it still doesn’t make sense. I feel as though I have already lived a lifetime here: between working at the clinic, making a bunch of new friends through ProWorld, adjusting to life with my homestay family, and reconfiguring my internal clock to recognize (though not yet appreciate) Ghana Man Time, I am slowly becoming Ghanaian. At least that’s what my homestay mother, Auntie Evelyn, keeps telling me.

Auntie Evelyn is a teacher at a high school in Elmina, about a 15-minute taxi ride from our home. She has four daughters—Acquabah (11), Maud (8), Charlotte (5), and Edna (1)—who make sure to keep me entertained at home. Evelyn is also a cook for the ProWorld house whenever there are large groups here, and I never tire of her cooking. Last night, she made fufu for dinner—a staple in the Ghanaian diet made from pummeled cassava and plantains, with a consistency of silly putty and mashed potatoes combined. Okay that sounds a lot worse than it actually is, but bear with me. Like most dishes here, it is served with a stew made from some sort of nut and eaten with your hands. Evelyn made my dish separate from hers and the girls’, and I soon discovered why: Charlotte was chewing on a rubbery-looking piece of meat, and when I asked her what it was, she stared at me blankly and said, “it is the skin of the goat”. Like, DUH. Evelyn was quick to inform me that mine was made without goat, but that I was invited to try theirs. As much as I would like to be the person who would shrug, say “when in Rome,” and dig in, but alas I politely declined (as politely as I could while trying to mask my surprise).

Life at the clinic has been an eye-opening experience for me, to say the least. I have been spending the majority of my time thus far with another volunteer from ProWorld, Mackenzie, in the PMTCT unit (Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission), administrating HIV tests to pregnant women and new mothers and conducting surveys to find out how much they truly know about HIV and family planning. To be 100% honest, it has been very discouraging work thus far…there is so much that I wish I could do to help improve the lives of these women and their children, and knowing that there are millions of others just like them in the world breaks my heart.

While conditions are improving for PL (people living with HIV/AIDS, as they are referred to here) with medications becoming more affordable and accessible, their lives remain scarred by the stigma of HIV/AIDS held by those in their communities. Mothers here are encouraged to practice exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first 6 months after their newborns are born, regardless of the mother’s HIV status. When I first heard this, my anger was visible; how could this be ethical? Fati, my boss, explained to Mackenzie and I that if they were to discourage HIV-positive mothers from breastfeeding their children, there would be a huge increase in these newborns suffering and likely dying from malnutrition because 1. Infant formula is way too expensive for the mothers to afford, and 2. The mothers would be too afraid of being ostracized in their communities and even within their families if they were seen bottle-feeding their infants, so they would simply refuse to bottle-feed. The second point is two-fold: not only would the women be criticized for being “neglectful” for not breastfeeding their children, but those who realize that the mother is bottle-feeding because of her HIV status would then discriminate for this reason, as well. The idea is that the babies are better off breastfeeding for the first 6 months while their mothers are on ART than suffering from malnutrition. The problem with this theory is that there are still many women who refuse to take their medication and continue to breastfeed and put their infants at risk of contracting HIV, as Mackenzie and I witnessed at our clinic.

Despite all of the frustration I have been experiencing at work, there have also been times of joy and feelings of success. My first week at the clinic, I witnessed a young woman give birth to a healthy baby girl—it was probably the most incredible experience of my 20-year-old life. The strength that the new mother showed left me awe-struck: the entire process lasted almost exactly 30 minutes…30 silent minutes. No screaming. No complaining. And definitely no help from any drugs here. Five minutes after delivery, once the midwife assessed the baby, the young woman was ushered out of the labor room and into her bed in the room next door. I was speechless.

Classes begin this week at UCC, so I will be managing work and studies after Tuesday—wish me luck!

Hugs,

Adrienne