Sunday, June 22, 2008

HAPPY BIRTHDAY EVIE!!! 2 on 22!! That even sounds super special! I love you and miss you! (Please give her extra hugs and kisses from me!)

Last night our day guard's nephew, Salam, came over to the house with his two friends to show us a traditional dancing and drumming show (sans the traditional costumes). The boys dance at the local Culture Center and sure can put on an incredible show! They did an hour long performance filled with elaborate drumming and INSANE dancing that moved joints in ways I didn't know they could move! We invited the Canadians over to join in the fun and we had a really, really fun night. We moved all the furniture in our living room to give plenty of dancing space and seating lined the room. We saw our night guard sitting on the front porch listening so we invited him inside to enjoy the show. They went around and took turns bringing each person up to dance with them and, WOW, what a work out and such hard moves!! I took some great videos that I will be loading onto my blog once I'm in the states and have time to figure it all out. Bottom line, an amazing experience and I'm so excited that they were generous and thoughtful enough to offer us the opportunity!! To make them EVEN COOLER they just stopped by our house to drop off a cd of local music they thought we would enjoy!!! Soooo awesome because I've been loving the music here but couldn't figure out how to get my hands on it. Now we have tons of wicked fun music and I couldn't be more stoked on it!

Today we went to the crocodile ponds in Paga, right on the border of Ghana and Burkina Faso. It was a 2.5 hour drive for about an hour of fun, but it was totally worth it. Dr. Wanye was even able to join us for the adventure!! Actually, he spoiled us and made the trip so much fun. He said he hasn't been able to see us as much as he wishes because of all the overnight surgery trips he's been taking and wanted to take this opportunity to hang out with us (he's so sweet!). The ponds were pretty crazy! Lots and lots of crocs who are oddly docile. There are goats, sheep, donkeys and one horse chilling around the two ponds, even drinking the water which I thought seemed risky but apparently wasn't at all. It is said that there are over 200 crocodiles of various ages and sizes residing in the ponds. The crocodiles are sacred and, therefore, live unharmed by any humans. It is said that there have never been any croc attacks and the locals view the killing of a croc to be as horrible as homicide. (There are two legends that explain the crocs being sacred, both dating back to the late 1600s when a crocodile saved a humans life and, therefore, was repaid by not being hunted.) At the pond, live chickens were used as treats to reward the croc for coming out of the water and allowing tourists to pet them. The poor little chickens!! Mark told me not to give them personalities but I know the little guys were aware of their fate and were chirping “damn, this sucks! Get it over with or just let me go!” I accidentally saw one be chomped but didn't make that mistake again! Apparently, crocodiles attack only when their tails are submerged in water. I got some great pictures of the crazy close encounters with the scary creatures and will post them one back in the states. After the crocs we went across the road to visit Al Hassan's compound which is a great example of the extended family homesteads characteristic of the Burkina Faso border region, a traditional style called Sahelian. The compound, said to be over a century old, was a fortress-like construction with a wall surrounding the many homes and a spacious yet cosy courtyard. The walls are curvaceous and made of mud and dung with flat rooftops that are slept on in the hot nights. Intricate and beautiful pictures (more like murals) decorate the exterior walls. An interesting feature of the homes are the extremely low doorways. It is said to be a relic of the slaving era – a low entrance and high rim immediately inside made it impossible for somebody to enter a home without giving the occupant ample time to whack them on the head! Interesting...

After the road trip we went to Dr. Wanye's house to watch the Ghana Black Stars (national team) crush Gabon in a World Cup qualifying game. He treated us to a HUGE feast of fufu, groundnut (peanut) soup, light (tomato/pepper) soup, jollof rice (cooked in palm oil), guinea foul and steamed yams. YUMMMM!!! It was overwhelming and we all ate ourselves into comas. Sooo good!

As some of you may know, I am conducting research while I am out here. I am looking at the prevalence of eye conditions in the Northern Region and the rationale for treatment. My idea was that a solid understanding of their traditional healing and beliefs behind eye diseases and treatments would allow modern medicine to complement their traditional medicine in a way that would appeal to more patients and, therefore, improve eye care. What I am finding is really interesting. I've conducted over thirty interviews so far (aiming for at least fifty by the time I go) and have found that the issue is not that their beliefs in traditional healing is holding them back from seeking treatment. Actually, less than half the people I have interviewed have even seen a traditional healer and those who have only go because it is cheap and accessible, not because they think it will help. Everyone, so far, has said they trust modern medicine more so because they have friends who have had good results. While traditional healing is used in a variety of treatments, the healers really don't do much pertaining to the eyes. The healers will typically give a concoction of grass and roots in water to wash their face with or bathe in, but they say it only helps a little (usually decreasing swelling or pain) but never improves their sight. Basically, what I have found so far that the only thing keeping people from seeking medical attention for eye conditions is the cost and accessibility. Everyone I have interviewed has been really grateful for our organization because we travel directly to the village and provide free screenings, so they don't have to take time away from their daily work or pay for transportation or service. Unite for Sight's chapter in Accra goes even farther by providing transportation to the cataract patients from the village to the hospital and even pays for accommodations for the night. Unfortunately, here in Tamale we are unable to afford that so the number of cataract surgery referrals is much higher than the number of patients who actually get the surgery. I hope this gets addressed soon because I have only seen a small number of patients who aren't interested in surgery while all the others would happily have their sight restored if given the opportunity. (Dr. Wanye shared a funny story about a few people who thought that surgery meant that the eye ball would be taken out at cleaned and then put back into the socket and the patients wanted to know about what if the eyeball fell out after. Surprisingly, it's a common misconception so they typically avoid the words “operation” and “surgery” and rather says “fix”.)

As I have already mentioned, Marielle and I are being giving a really sweet gift of having a driver take us wherever we want on the way down to Accra. Dr. Wanye encouraged us to see a sight or two and just pitch a few dollars to the driver for gas. (I think we may buy him a little gift, too.) Our flight is Wednesday so we would have to leave Tamale by Monday in order to get there in time. Since we wouldn't be able to work that day, anyway, we've decided to take off Saturday morning. We'll spend all day driving (fresh twelve hours) down to Cape Coast, a few hours west of Accra on the coast. We're going to spend most of Sunday at Kakum National Park and end the day visiting the Elmina Castle. We'll spend another night at Cape Coast and spend Monday sight seeing around the city. We're going to spend Monday night in a quaint fishing village between Cape Coast and Accra and get into Accra early Tuesday morning. We've rented a hut on the beach at Accra (for WAY cheaper than you'd expect, only $5 each) and we'll spend Tuesday and Wednesday seeing a few sights and lounging on the tropical beach. Our flight leaves late on Wednesday and I'll spend a few hours in London then fly into Boston a little past one on Thursday afternoon, July 3rd. (I can't believe how quickly my time here has flown! I'm already going home!)

I'm completely torn on whether I am happy to be leaving or not. On one hand, I feel my time has flown by and would be so happy to be spending another month or two here. On the other hand, I feel confident that I made the most of my experience and don't feel the trip has been too short. I am really excited to spend a few quality weeks in Maine (summer's obviously the best time on the island!) and see my whole family again. I've got to say the thing I will miss most (besides the people) is the most amazing, freshest mangoes I will probably ever encounter in my life! (Until I come back, that is.) The thing I am looking forward to the most, though, is a washing machine!!! Hand washing my clothes is not only a wicked chore but I can't help but be aware of the fact that my clothes are never truly clean because there is always at least a little dirt in the water that you can't rinse clean. A washing machine that spins dry, adds fresh water, and spins dry again... brilliant! The food here is good but I don't really see myself missing it when I'm back home, maybe banku and fufu but that's about it. They eat mackerel here!! I find that to be crazy! I've never thought of those fish as more than a fun catch and useful as bait.

Iodine deficiency is an issue here, as in most developing countries, and I finally saw the effects of it last week. A community we went to had multiple patients with goiters on their necks but one man's was the size of a baby. It was shocking to see and very disturbing. I interviewed him about his eye condition and he kept referring to the pain throughout his whole body and how it affective his daily life. It was so sad and made me wonder why it is difficult to get iodized salt. From what I can remember in biology, it doesn't take much to avoid the deficiency and after seeing what it can do... there's so much that has to be done and it's upsetting to know it's not getting done any time soon. Sad realities.

Well this is most likely going to be my last post while here in Africa. Once I get home to Maine I will post another one to wrap up the trip and tell about our incredible adventures through Southern Ghana. I will also post more pictures on my webshots account and the blog in addition to trying to load videos onto the blog. Thank you to everyone who took interest in my journal. I've had a great time writing it and am honored that people beyond my family were interested in hearing about my experience. I am going to leave this blog on something I have found highly entertaining. One of the ways Ghanaians like to demonstrate their faith is by naming their business after religious sayings. The unintentional humor is great! Here are a few of the best:
*Innocent Blood Restaurant
*Holy Spirit In Charge Communication Center
*Trust in God Hair Salon
*Solace of My Desire Spot
*Jesus Loves Fashion
*Consuming Fire Fast Food
*Blood of Jesus Hair Care
Alright, everyone take care and I will see you all so soon! Best wishes!!


Elizabeth and Tom – We found a local food called bo froot and it is a deep fried ball of dough, just like ollie bollen (sp?)!! I have to assume they got the recipe/idea from the Dutch because the Dutch influence is very obvious here. All the bikes here are used bikes shipped in from “away” and I am convinced they are all from Holland because they are exactly the same with the cool tire kick stands and generator lights! Apparently the Netherlands do a LOT with the agriculture programs here so it makes sense that their influence continues on past once being a Dutch colony. Thought you may find it interesting :) (I was stoked to have something to similar to ollie bollen!)

Mummy – strawberry rubharb pie when I get home??? hehehe

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Hey again,

Last night all the girls went out dancing! It was so much fun and, as to be expected, an experience. One of the Canadians we met, Jessica, is dating a Ghanaian who shows her all the good places to go. Last night he took us to a dance club called The Corner and we NEVER would have found it on our own! It was weaved inside this side street, that side street, and looked like a little hole in the wall. Once you got inside, though, it was a really spacious air conditioned (wicked bonus) dance area with black lights and bathrooms with toilets! (Not to say that made them “good”.) Us five girls did a really great job of keeping a constant eye out for one another. It was nice because if a guy came up dancing and you weren't loving the situation, you knew you would be saved in a matter of moments. That said, we told the guys we are all married and felt bad dancing with guys who were not our husbands so we tried to keep it as everyone dancing in a circle. To be honest, though, it wasn't the guys who had issues keeping it appropriate. It was the girls! The guys, who are the most amazing dancers I have ever seen in my life and put all the guys in the States to shame, were so into dancing they tend to dance with each other and not really pay attention to the girls. The girls, however, have no issues coming right up and totally invading your space. I had to get forward with one because she kept saying “you likey! you likey!” while grabbing me and physically pulling me from my friends so I had to yell at her and let her know that, no, I didn't likey. Around 2:30 the sea of guys got more intoxicated and graby so we decided it had been a fun night but it was time to go home. Marielle had found the ONE highly respectful guy who spent the whole night dancing with her by holding hands and skipping around the dance floor (even bought her a beer!) and, fortunately, he had his own taxi and was able to give us a lift home, free of charge. (Not exactly free of charge, he told Marielle he was in love with her and gave her a kiss on the cheek... that's kind of a fee.) No doubt, it was a wicked enjoyable night and I'm really happy that's how we got to spend our last Friday night in Tamale! Tonight we have a group of traditional dancers coming over to our house to give us a free show with drums and (I think) costumes. We're all really excited for it because we know they are wicked talented dancers and very handsome, to boot.

Last weekend, while I was being tortured and made into a joke (braids), the girls went to a futbol game at the new stadium in Tamale. (This stadium was built last year by Chinese architects to host the Africa Cup this past February. It clearly cost a pretty penny and really upsets Dr. Wanye because the hospital is falling down and couldn't be a less appealing health care facility. He said it clearly shows the priorities of the people and it's a shame.) At the game, they met a girl who Dr. Wanye has told us about because she has a very sad story. The strikingly beautiful eighteen year old girl has one eye constantly shut and can only open her other eye a little bit, but prefers to keep it closed. During a traditional celebration in the streets this past March, she was an unlucky victim of a misfired shotgun. The incident left eight people injured and one dead. This girl, a senior in high school, was left with seventeen shotgun pellets lodged in her eyes causing her to lose her sight forever. Dr. Wanye did extensive operations on her eyes to remove the foreign bodies and try to minimize her pain. She still feels pain but it is not that bad, she said. The girls went by her house on the way home and the mother warmly welcomed them and showed them x-rays from the accident. They were all very moved by the sad story and felt for the girl.

(On a side note) I don't know if I mentioned, Dr. Wanye is the only ophthalmologists for over two million people in the Northern Region. For this reason, he is very well known and greatly loved by all. He was fortunate enough to travel to Europe to go to college on scholarships. There he met an ophthalmologists from Russia who appreciated his dedication and wanted to sponsor him through medical school and ophthalmology school. He humbly accepted and received the rest of his education in Moscow where he met his beautiful wife. He spent twelve years practicing in Russia and, after a lot to convince his wife, finally moved his family to Ghana. He felt an obligation to use his specialties in his home country where it is so badly needed. It's really sweet to hear him talk about certain luxuries he buys (such as spending ten dollars on a block of real cheese and importing quality chocolates) for his wife because, as he sees it, she compromised so much to let him practice here and wants her to not miss anything. You can tell he is very well off my Tamale standards and is very generous with his money and takes great care of his employees. He's a man of great integrity and we've all fallen completely in love with him and find him to be an inspiration.

So, as you can probably assume, it is pretty rare to see fair skinned people around here. We've estimated that we have seen no more than twenty other “whiteys” around town. When we travel to far villages on outreach, we are certainly one of the few, if not the first, fair skinned people the children have ever seen and, in some cases, the adults too. Because of this, we become an attraction. (Apparently this is why we do what we do for volunteer work. A few weeks ago we asked why local people don't do the work of screening, refracting, and acuity because it seems it would go a whole lot faster without the language barrier and they explained that it is because we are here that the people take it seriously and actually show up for the screenings.) They run up and say “salaminga! salaminga!” (“white person! white person!”) and usually touch our hands. Some kids are scared and cry (I had to get used to this because I felt really bad the first few times I made a kid cry by looking at them) and some kids are completely enthralled by us. At the village yesterdy, though, the kids were horribly suffocating. They circled around us and would grab this and that and say “give me” or “I want” or “water!” One girl even tried to take CuRi's hair! They wanted our rings, water, clothes, earings, hair... anything and everything, all while yelling “salaminga” at us. It wasn't the day for this, though, because it was wicked hot and our Trooper (which we have to push start whenever the engine gets cold) finally died completely and we pushed it down the road, up the road, down the road, and back up the road before finally accepting the fact that we were stranded an hour away with no way home. The kids worked our nerves and we finally had to yell at them and tell them to give us room. It's not uncommon for the locals to ask for your possessions right off your back, though. When I was getting my hair braided, the woman loved my Chacos (shoes) and told me to give them to her. Later she and her friend noticed my rings and told me to give THOSE to her. They even had the audacity to start moving it up my finger (which are swollen from the humidity and heat, so there was no chance of it coming off so easily). I've had a woman at a village tell me she liked my hair clips, give them to her. Lots of things like that happen. It's kind of an awkward situation because, no doubt, I have more than these people but it doesn't mean I should feel obligated to give them my possessions. If it is something of little value to me or easily replaceable, that's one thing, but my ridiculously nice sandles that I don't have the money to replace and my priceless family rings?? Hell no! I always just laugh and say, “I like them even more, sorry.”

Getting hollered at around the city being called “salaminga” gets old, for sure, but not as old as what poor CuRi, Yue, and Jessica have to deal with. What do you see around here even less frequently than Caucasians? Asians!! While the three girls do get called salaminga (which they respond with, “we're not white, we're yellow!”) they also get “China! China!” or “Japan!” CuRi and Jess, being Korean, yell back “wrong country” but Yue, who is Chinese, proudly states, “they guessed right!” We had one funny experience when our car was parked and we were waiting inside with our windows open. A man comes up and pointed to CuRi and said “From China?” and CuRi said nope, she was from Korea. The guy then laughed and said, “Don't you all look the same? Isn't it the same?” She laughed, rolled her eyes, and said “I guess so.” CuRi said she's going to make a shirt that says, “I'm not a country” or “If you can guess right, I'll be impressed.” It's a daily annoyance we all have a good time laughing at.

CuRi and I have been doing a really good job of running everyday for the past week and a half. We run just around our neighborhood, staying to the dirt roads and avoiding the main streets to minimize the number of people we see. There is a school that we pass, though, so we do see end up seeing a fair amount of people and their reaction is always so priceless. You won't find any African here just exercising like that. They don't need to. They do so much manual labor as a part of their everyday life that they certainly do not need to lift weights or go running. Plus, every single person under the age of thirty plays soccer at any spare moment. They get enough physical activity just living and find it totally strange that we actually go out and run for a period of time on our own free will. We get a lot of laughs and smiles and a fair amount of confused expressions. It's funny.

One last thing before I go. As I've mentioned, the kids love to hang around us on out outreaches. They LOVE to mock us and repeat what we say. “Palm” when we are telling them to cover one eye with their palm, “other eye” and “you're good!” What they really get a kick out of, though, is when we (try to) speak Dogbani. My accent sucks and I'm not great at distinguishing between similar sounding sayings that come in sequences (like the typical Good morning, how are you, good day. If someone puts those out of the expected order, I'll respond incorrectly and give the person a good laugh). What we have down PERFECTLY, though, is “debyerra” (is there pain) and “dezasarah” (is it itchy). Obviously we have to ask every patient these two important questions and can understand a head nod and shake. If they respond with a full explanation, though, we're lost. I usually politely smile and nod my head because they are going to see the nurse either way. The kids think it's so funny that these are the only words we really know, though. They'll be behind us mocking us in a high pitched voice, “debyerra?? dezasarah?? hehehehe!” At one village, a whole group of young men who never got their eyes checks but just sat on a bench watching us do acuity spent the whole day laughing at us and repeating those two sayings in a mocking tone. Annoying and funny, but much more enjoyable to go with the funny aspect so we just laughed and rolled our eyes.

Alrighty, that's all for now (as if that's not enough)! Sorry I've been writing a novel for each entry, I didn't realize how much I've been writing until I scrolled down my blog the other day. I'm long winded, nothing new :) Dr. Wanye is taking us to the crocodile pond tomorrow!! Apparently we can sit on the crocs and hold them my their tails... I'll get some epic pictures. After the croc pond we are going to his house (which has to watch the Ghana National team (futbol) play on tv and then we're all going to make fufu for dinner at his house! I'm pretty sure I've talked about fufu and the involved process of pounding the boiled yams with a huge oversized morter and pestle, slowly adding water until a gelatinous ball of yumminess is made. We're excited for our day with the doctor!

I hope everyone is doing well! See you soon!


Daddy – I'm getting wicked excited to play cribbage with you in less than two weeks! Get ready to be skunked!!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pictures Posted!

Ok, so I posted 46 new pictures from the past few weeks, be sure to check them out! No picture of the crazy bug, yet, but soon enough...

(I post-dated a new entry for June 12th, so don't miss that one)


A Short Novel...


Something the roommate's were talking about last night that I thought would be interesting is a cultural difference here that everyone says what they think you want to hear. Though it sounds like it may be nice, it can get really irritating. An example of this is two week when our driver dropped us off at the market so we could quickly exchange some money and get a few groceries. He said he would park just down the street in a short twenty minutes. We were there in fifteen minutes and started the waiting game. Waiting... waiting... forty five minutes later, we called Sanusi and he said “yes, I am on my way.” Ok, annoying but wait a little longer. After an hour, we called again. Same response, “Yes, I am on my way.” This time we asked where he was and how long it was going to be, but he just repeated himself without answering the question. It was frustrating because we had just finished an extra long day of work and it was when I had my cold and just wanted to get out of the sun. An hour and a half after our meeting time, we called him AGAIN. Surprise! Same response. Finally, two hours later, he showed up apologetic and claimed he couldn't help it. We were pretty annoyed and asked what, exactly, he meant by not being able to help it when he was the driver of the vehicle. He explained that the hospital gave him the task of dropping of two doctors at the airport and he just picking up the doctors when we called the first time. We were so frustrated! We explained to him that we would much more appreciate him to be honest. If he had just explained that he was going to be a while because he had to run this errand, we would've happily taken a taxi home and it wouldn't have been an issue. He kind of understood what we were saying but couldn't get over the fact that he was supposed to be driving us, though, and would rather just tell us he was on his way and make us wait. Argh! Another example is one we deal with everyday, but isn't nearly as frustrating. While screening patients, we have to ask questions such as if their eyes are irritated or if they have any problems. The go-to answer when they can't understand us is, “yes” with a nod. We caught on to this pretty quickly so will ask the same question in the negative and find that the answer still remains the same. We've learned little ways to try to avoid this and, if nothing else, will get a translator in to get an adequate response. We've learned to just laugh at this fact, and any other frustrating cultural difference for that matter, because it makes it easier and more, ultimately, enjoyable.

Ok, now for my crazy scary experience! I have never in my life been such a whiny, scared, pathetic little girl as when this happened to me two nights ago. Mark was asleep and all the girls still awake playing cards. I was exhausted so decided it was time for bed. After brushing my teeth and collecting my things, I took off my house shoes and pulled open my mosquito net, foot up and ready to hop in. Just as I was about to put my foot on the bed, I saw it! The most disgusting, biggest, CRUNCHIEST looking bug I have ever seen in my life!!! I've seen big bugs here (bigger than anywhere else I've experienced) but not in my bed! I let out a pathetic squeal and jumped back, nearly falling. I threw on my shoes and ran out to the girls in the living room, hysterical, saying they had to come see this and help me. They thought I was being pretty ridiculous and reluctantly followed me to my room. Once they saw the bug, though, they freaked out too! Honestly, this bug was the size of a small hand. Easily four inches long, two inches wide, and very thick around! It looked like the ugliest cricket ever with the big bent hind legs, but it was the coloring of a cockroach and had four gnarly looking pinches in the rear. It had wings, but didn't fly well. The scariest thing was that he had gotten INSIDE my mosquito net! In my bed! Oh man, creeps me out just thinking about it. I was freaking out and didn't know how to approach the situation, I just knew I desperately wanted him out of my bed! I didn't want to squish it because it looked like it would make a wicked mess. I also didn't want to grab it, though, because it looks like it could pinch or bite. I told the girls they had to help me figure this out. CuRi ran out of the room and came back with her camera, bug spray, and a fly swatter. I couldn't help but laugh at the absurdness. Not only would it take a whole bottle of spray to poison the monstrous thing, but I didn't want my bed covered in deet! And the fly swatter? Yea right! The camera was brilliant, though, and it was necessary to take a video of us wussy girls and pictures of the alien bug. (I hope to post a picture of the nasty thing!) We did try to swat it, but it merely made him flip over and he'd jump right back up (which was scary). We tried waking up Mark, but he refused to wake up because he thought we were being stupid. I found a bag that I figured I could grab it with and bring it outside, but the girls said they wanted it dead. Meanwhile, the bug is climbing all over my bed, in and out of the sheet and my pillows (EWWW!). Finally, we decided the help of a professional. We went out to the night guard and told him we needed help with a bug. He started laughing but was happy to come in and help us. Marielle ran into the kitchen and refused to watch. The rest of us followed him in but when he boldly grabbed the bug with no hesitation, we all ran out of the room screaming. He was getting SUCH a kick out of us!! (We were being completely ridiculous.) On his way out of the house, bug in hand, he pretended to throw it at us which just made us freak out more. We thanked him profusely for “saving our lives” and brought him out an orange, bug spray, and water. He was grateful but thought we were pretty ridiculous. I promptly got a clean sheet and made up the spare bed in CuRi's room with a clean net, refusing to get into my bed until I could wash everything on my bed and check my room for a colony (which I never found). Everyone, except me, had crazy nightmares about the little bugger.

We told everyone the story the next day and, come to find out, they eat those things! They call them “panga” and (typically) boys will go searching in the cockroach holes and pull out a bunch at once. They drop them into water for ten minutes to drown them and saturate them, then fry them up in oil. It's extra yummy, apparently, over rice. Hmmm, interesting. They said it tastes like corn on the cob. I don't think I'll be trying that local dish...

Oh! So I always think it's funny to see the white girls with braids. Somehow, though, I was convinced by the roommates and Nurse Lydia to get my hair braided so my hair would be long enough to put in a ponytail without pins. HA! Sunday morning I went to a woman who braids hair for a few dollars and spent the five painful hours of hair pulling to get weave braided into my hair. In the spirit of the whole trip, I am interested in doing anything new because it makes for a new experience, which is what I am looking for. Oh, wow. After getting braided, they pour boiling hot water on the “hair” to straighten and soften it. This did make it look better, but it didn't make it look good! Has anybody seen Axle Rose since his awful make over?? Yep, I looked like a black haired Axle Rose, not cute! It was like having a carpet on my head! I kept it in for two days, but only because Nurse Lydia was so adamant about getting braided so I had to show her. Funny enough, she thought it was SO beautiful! She couldn't get over how “well it suited” me, which was certainly the exact opposite of my perception. Oddly, all the Africans thought it was beautiful. So funny because I thought it looks so ugly and funny to see the white girls with braids, apparently they love it.

We had an unfortunate experience the other day. Harsh reality of how people see us. We have been aware of the fact that people assume we are rich because we are white and from America (though it is assumed that all Caucasians are wealthy). This in itself is a frustrating thing because every one of us took out loans to pay for this trip, but they don't understand that. Dr. Wanye has warned us from the first day that we must be weary of people who want to be our friends because they may have ulterior motives and it may take weeks, even months, for these to surface. He explained it as that people think we have crazy amounts of money and don't know how to spend it all and are hoping to grab a portion of the “excess.” Well we finally got our first experience of this.

Olu is a Red Cross volunteer. He is very friendly and eccentric and has been eager to show us around since our first day meeting him. He took us to a futbol game the other day, which was exciting, and brought us to his house to see his monkey and python. He had become very close with Mark, who was always willing to take him out to lunch and dinner with the understanding that he would have to pay because Olu could not afford it, no big deal. We started having doubts about his intentions when he would ask for a cedi (equal to 1USD) here or there for a cab ride or whatever else. Mark had no issue of say, “no, I'm not your bank.” Then he asked CuRi for her to get him a US visa when she gets home. She had to explain she can't even get her Korean cousins visas so her answer was no, which he got upset about. He then started dropping hints about how previous volunteers and Dr. Wanye pay for his tuition and we should, too. The breaking point came two days ago when, after dinner, we were hanging out at the house and he was sitting in a chair while we were doing data entry at the kitchen table. We noticed he was being sketchy by getting a bag from the corner, going over to the side of the room that has all the glasses lined up by prescription, and filling the bag. He then sat back in the chair, pushing the bag out of plain sight, and looked around suspiciously trying to figure out if we saw him. Being aware of it, we locked the door (with the bag in the house) as he went outside to say goodbye to Mark. We tried to just say goodbye without him coming back in the house but he said he left something inside. We told him he didn't come with anything so what could he have left? He pointed to the glasses and claimed he was gong to drop them off at the clinic for us. This, of course, makes no sense because we are in charge of the glasses and the Red Cross has nothing to do with it, other than sending volunteers on the outreaches now and again to translate. We stood our ground and he eventually left, but we felt odd about the situation. That night he borrowed Mark's motorbike to go home (against his better judgment) and was 45 minutes late the next morning returning it. Mark had to wait for him, which he was wicked upset about because it made him late for work, and was really confused when our driver came back to pick him up because he explained he'd just take his bike in. Well we figured it all out at the end of the day when Mark rode his bike and realized Olu had crashed it pretty badly and done serious damage. Olu, trying to avoid confrontation, called our driver back to pick up Mark so he didn't find out right away. He never said anything and, when finally confronted, said he took it in to get washed and it must have happened there. Clearly the damage didn't come from washing (busted horn, brakes, alignment, etc), but he refused to come clean. Mark was totally ripped and, I think more than anything, was really upset with himself. We all made it clear to Olu that we weren't happy with his dishonesty and clear attempt to steal glasses. He hasn't come around since then and sent a text message to CuRi apologizing and saying it wouldn't happen again. Upon talking to Dr. Wanye, though, he's no longer welcome in our house and there will be no opportunity for “it” to happen again. Apparently there is reason to believe Olu stole from a generous volunteer last year who even bought him a passport! Also, he doesn't go to school so there is no tuition that has ever been paid by Dr. Wanye or the volunteers! We found out a plethora of lies he told us and were so upset to hear about it. It really hit home that you have to be weary of all “friends” because, thinking logically, they probably only want to befriend you for one reason. Mark was really upset because he has befriended a number of local who he now has to second guess, a sad reality. It is hard to decide who you can trust and who you can't, but to be safe you have to go with not trusting, which is such a bummer! Some traditional dancers came over the other night with Salam, who we were told is the nephew of our day guard, and while the dancers were talking to the girls, Salam told Mark that they are lying and not trustworthy and not really his friends. He said they had followed him and they are merely acquaintances, but don't trust them. Later that night, we find out Salam isn't really related to Yakubu and shouldn't be trusted too much, either. He is said to have a reputation of befriending the white people and then asking for money. It's so upsetting! The way I am trying to look at it is I will take each person as they come. I will not put myself in the position to be at a loss, such as leave my computer out when company is over and keep my wallet in my room, but I will be friendly and assume they mean well. If the situation of asking for money ever does come up, it won't be too hard for me to say no because I honestly can not afford anything and will then know what intentions the person had. It is just so upsetting that we are commonly seen as just money, not as friends. Oh well, I guess it's just the way it goes.

I think the past volunteers have added to the false perception of wealth because they did crazy things! Last summer, one girl bought Olu a passport (as I already mentioned) and bought a few girls school outfits. Another girl, a 22 year old Yale student, ADOPTED two students so she is financially responsible for them!! When Dr. Wanye asked her how she would pay for everything she said her parents would help if she can't afford it, which she expected to probably not be able to. Unfortunately, Olu is the person who she communicates through to find out what the children need and he has been caught, by Dr. Wanye, writing e-mails filled with lies of burnt down houses and sick mothers to receive more money. Finally, another woman told two children in our neighborhood that she will financially support them and send for them to come to America and attend private school. (naive) She realized how difficult it was to do that and is now sending checks periodically to them. It's a difficult situation. It's obviously really generous of them to do that but it makes it perpetuates the stereotype of us being made of money. A few of us were talking about if we feel bad for not doing as much or smarter for not being as naive and I said that I certainly do not feel bad. I am doing all I can do, even going beyond my means to do so, and I think that is more than enough. If I actually were made of money I would undoubtedly be doing so much more, but I'm not.

Ok, I think the novel I've written is enough for now. Oh except for one last thing that I think is SO cute. As I've talked about, our day guard, Yakubu, loves his chickens and guinea fowl. Well, given our crazy rain storms, all the houses are built with intense drainage systems with gutters that drop into a trench that surrounds the house. The chicks go into the gutters because it offers nice shade beneath the steps during the hot hours of the days. The other day we noticed that the little ones weren't able to hop out of the trench. The next day we saw a series of rocks piled in a way to make steps for the chicks to get out. The guard made steps for the chicks!! So cute!! It reminded me of the “Sammy-ramp” at the foot of my parents be so the little runt can get onto the bed. Aw, it was precious!

I'll be posting this as soon as I can and will probably be writing another one or two before I leave. Sadly, my time here is limited and I don't really desire spending it at the internet cafe so we'll just see how it goes. I'll likely post one last one once I return. Everyone take care! I'll talk to you soon!!


P.S. On the walk here we encountered a HUGE herd of cow! At least twenty or thirty of them walking our way that we had to walk through. It was funny and certainly the first time I've ever had to walk against a whole bunch of cow and bulls!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

unreliable internet!!

Hey guys!

So I have had a blog all written up and ready to be posted since Friday! Unfortunately the internet has been down until today and, even still, it won't work when I plug the Ethernet cord into the computer so I can't even post the blog or my pictures, which are all ready to go.

I only have eleven more days here in Tamale :( But then Marielle and I get a four day vacation in southern Ghana visiting national parks and historical sights (and ending the whole trip with a day on a beautiful tropical beach!) before flying out of Accra on July 2nd. More to come on those details, but we are very grateful for the opportunity to experience more of Ghana!!

Check back soon to see my blog entries that I will post as soon as I can! Also, a whole bunch of new pictures!! I hope everyone is doing well. Love and miss you all!


Elizabeth and Tom: Please tell Evie happy birthday from her Auntie in case I don't get back on the internet by her 2nd birthday! I'm a horrible auntie and didn't put anything in the mail to her before leaving! When I get home, though!

Stef: Happy birthday!!

Gina: I have a FIVE PAGE e-mail all typed up and ready to send!! (I know, ridiculously long.) I can't get it off my computer, though, so you will just have to wait. Sorry!

Faith: I hope Portland is rocking your world! Let me know how it is going. I am calling you as soon as I am back in the states!

Everyone in SLC: I've been thinking of you guys a LOT! I hope all is well. Take care and give Maxwell extra lovings from me! Has he forgotten about me yet?? :(

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Surgery in Yendi

Hey there!

Yesterday I traveled to Yendi with Dr. Wanye, Nurse Maggie, and CuRi to do seventeen cataract surgeries. The hour drive out to Yendi was a scary one because it was storming like crazy and our driver was driving way too fast! Apparently our car doesn't have a windshield defrost and I don't know how the drive could see anything. Even if it weren't all foggy, the solid sheet of rain alone made visibility next to none. There was another health care provider sitting in the passenger seat and CuRi and I in the backseat. After trying to watch the road for the first ten minutes I decided I ought to just close my eyes and go to sleep because it was scaring me wicked. I heard the passenger say every now and again, “child!” or “goat!” or “turn!”. I figured if I were asleep, at least I would be limp in the case of an accident :) We did finally make it to the hospital, which is a beautiful facility with running water and an operating “theater” at least twice the size of ours at the eye clinic. It was lots of fun because it was only us four in the operating room so CuRi and I got to help a lot and we all had a fun enjoying one anothers company. CuRi and my main job was to keep a sterile environment and clean the operating utensils. The last surgeries I watched were conducted at our clinic here in Tamale, so it was interested to see how they maintain (to the best of their ability) a sterile enviroment while traveling.

First and foremost, Dr. Wanye and Nurse Maggie are the sterile people and are not able to touch anything that is not sterile. The clinic has a huge duffel bag that is packed in advanced with all equipment needed. Every gauze, cotton swab, eye cloth, tool kit, gown, etc. is individually wrapped in clean wrapping paper with it's contents written on the outside. Upon arrival, CuRi and I disinfected two stainless steel table tops with alcohol. These were to be the two sterile surfaces that we were not allowed to touch from that point on with ANYTHING. Below each table top was another shelf where we were able to store extra supplies so we could unwrap them as needed throughout the day, and these were not considered sterile zones. To set up the stations, CuRi and I were in charge of unwrapping the marked packages in a certain order WITHOUT TOUCHING the actual contents (I messed this up the first time) while Nurse Maggie, all scrubbed in and gloved up, would take it out and place it where it was needed. After the stations were organized, we had to unwrap seventeen pairs of gloves with care. We were allowed to touch only the outermost wrapping, but nothing beyond that. To accomplish this, we pulled the tabs at the top and had to turn the envelope sideways, taking care not to let the outer paper touch the table top, and let the gloves fall onto the table top. Again, I messed this up the first time and accidentally let the packaging touch two of the sterile eye clothes so Nurse Maggie had to put those clothes in the laundry and we unwrapped two more.... oops! After the operating room was all set up, the surgeries began. After each surgery, CuRi and I traded off the task of taking the tools into the wash room to wash them with antibacterial soap, soak them in alcohol, then soak them in saline. Relatively speaking, it's a clean procedure. However, at the end of the day when we cleaned everything, my heart dropped to see Nurse Maggie had put the syringes and hollow needles in the bin to be cleaned. Clearly written on these objects is, “Discard after one use.” I realized not only had the few we have been reused through the patients of the day, but we were going to use them for at least one more day of surgeries ,and I have to assume many times beyond that. Of course, they have no choice about it. Ideally they would have new needles for each patient and throw them away, but it just isn't and option to them. They aren't giving the funds or availability to buy them. Despite this, Dr. Wanye said it is very, very rare to have anyone suffer from complications of infections and they do administer a heafty dose of antibiotics directy into the eye before bandaging. Still, I couldn't help but be saddened by the realization.

Every surgery yesterday was a difficult one, Dr. Wanye said. Because of this, each one last closer to 20-25 minutes, making for a long day. Dr. Wanye started a little before eleven and went straight through to 6:30 with a ten minute break to eat some banku. (He's a rockstar.) He loves to joke about how we should give him a break and take over for a while. CuRi and I enjoy playing into this game and say how it doesn't look too hard, anyway, we can handle it. A simple cut into the eye and *pop* the lens comes out. I am amazed out how the lens does seem to just pop right out after he scoops around for a little while, making sure it is fully detached, and scoops it out through the little incision. He thought it was hilarious that I say it just “pops out” and now uses this term to explain that what he does isn't too difficult. I got a perfect video of exactly what I am talking about and hope to load it onto my blog today we'll see how it goes. (Daddy, don't watch this. Mummy, enjoy it, it's wicked cool!!)

I did see two really neat cases in the day of surgery. First, a woman with no left eye ball! After completing the surgery, Dr. Wanye made a quick comment of how she had no eye. Her eyelids had been shut tightly since coming into the room, but I didn't think much of it. In disbelief, I asked him to clarify, “You mean NO eyeball in the socket?? Nothing there??” He smiled at my amazement and said, no, nothing there and then pulled open her eye lids. She didn't have an eyeball!! I never really thought of what a socket with no eye would look like, but if I had to guess it wasn't actually as gross as I would've thought. It looked like two little pillows the same texture as the inside of the eyelid with a small button pinching it in the middle (the remains of the optic nerve). I then realized that this woman must have been completely blind for quite some time, due to the mature cataract in her one eye. Dr. Wanye said he guesses she has had no vision for at least five years, based on the maturity of the cataract. Today (the day after her surgery), when she goes to her post-op visit, they will take off her bandage and she will have nearly perfect vision! It's amazing! A woman who has been completely blind for years upon years has been given back the gift of her sight. It was a pretty moving story and a really cool sight. Second, I saw the doctor fix a case of pterigiym. This is a case unique to the tropics where UV damage cases intense scaring of the cornea, starting from the corner of the eye and moving inward. Once the scaring covers the pupil, sight is affected and eventually lost. To fix this, the doctor simply used his scalpel to cut the scar tissue loose from the cornea and then cut it off. So simple! So neat!

After our day of surgery, the ride home was fun. Dr. Wanye asked CuRi and I about our views of our politics which, honestly, I hate to get into because I could go on forever. This one was a good one, though! He said he found it interesting that Bush has ended up being one of the most notorious presidents and I explained why I thought it made pretty perfect sense. It was funny to hear Dr. Wanye speak so eloquently about US politics and I realized he undoubtedly knew significantly more than most all US citizens, myself included. The real kicker was when he asked what we thought about Hillary being out... oh my gosh I am so embarrassed to say we didn't know she was out of the runnings!!!! We don't have tv, haven't come across a paper yet, and the internet is so slow I am on just long enough to check my blog, Tom and Liz's blog, and my e-mail if I'm lucky! Later that night we were hanging out with the Canadians and I was even more embaressed to find that they have all known for well over a week! They asked how they could have all known without us knowing and I told them they seem more interested in our politics than us, anyway, probably because it's a form of entertainment and they don't actually have to live with it to the extent that we do. Oh gosh, soooo embarrassing!

That's about all for my day of surgeries. Lots of fun, new exciting cases, always a fun time with such a fun crew. Now we are on our way to go to an open mic pool party just outside of town, yay! Before I go, I have two quick little stories I find really funny: 1) We were at a community the other day and there were tons of little tykes all around. After a while of “being in the way” they were all put into one room near our screening stations, kind of like a daycare. All of a sudden, they all starting screaming REALLY LOUDLY, crying and running away. Turned out Ali, one of our coworkers, had told them that they were all getting injections that day, so they freaked out. It was pretty humerus, but a little mean of him :) 2) Jessica, a fellow volunteer, had something huge click in her head the other day. She actually saw a yam for the first time ever and was SHOCKED to see it was a root! She thought yams were an animal!! Mind you, we eat yams at nearly every meal here. For the past three weeks, she thought she was eating animal and was really confused as to why Yue, a vegetarian, would eat them. Wicked funny, she will never live that one down!

Ok, I didn't get around to uploading the pictures and video onto CuRi's computer yet, so I'll do that tomorrow and get them up onto WebShots early next week! Sorry, Dad, I know you're excited to see them.

Everyone take care and I hope you are all doing well!! Lots of love and missing!!


P.S. Can anyone explain to me why the children have extremely swollen, enlarged bellybuttons? I am assuming it has to do with malnutrition, but why does it seem to cure itself? (The adults do have these kind of belly buttons.) Also, why do the bellies get swollen? We have all been sharing theories, but none of us can remember the actually cause.

P.P.S. Marielle and I just found out we are encouraged to leave a day or two early to Accra and have the driver available to us to take us to a sight or two before taking off! We are so stoked because we didn't know we would have this opportunity and now are going to go to Cape Coast to see some amazing historical sights that date back to the 1600's and be able to spend a few relaxing days on the tropical beaches. More on that later!

Tony – Darling!! I keep thinking about you and thinking how you would love it here! I foolishly lost your e-mail address and haven't been able to send you a message. If you read this, please drop me an e-mail and let me know what's new in your life!! (At this point you could just as well wait until I'm back in the states...)

Beth – Thank you so much for your note! I would love to talk to you about your experience in Africa when I get back to the island. I am certaily staying safe but am being sure to take in every moment possible. Thanks for the birthday wishes and thoughtful note!
Hello everybody!!

I only have a few minutes and didn't do the usual thing of typing the blog at home and cutting and pasting it in, so this one won't be as long but I'm sure I'll make up for it later :)

Monday night was a wonderful birthday evening. After dinner, my roommates and I went to the Jungle Bar and met up with the Canadians we met over the weekend at Mole NP. It was really enjoyable and we all had a good time drinking a beer and sharing stories. The Canadians bought me a box of red wine for my birthday like I had never seen before. It is in a carton like you would buy milk! It's funny. Certainly not the best wine, but not as bad as you may imagine.

Two days ago we went to a local school to perform screenings. Up to that point we have screened approximately 1,100 people in our 2.5 weeks of work. That day, alone, we screened over 500! It was a wicked crazy busy day, but always fun. It was really cute because the kids do a little bow as they come up to hand you their form. It was so sweet!! I have NEVER had anybody bow to me before! Also, where we put "age" and "sex" a lot of the children wrote in full sentences, "I am a female" or "I am eleven years old." It was really precious. I fully enjoyed the children!

Today we went back to the school because, surprisingly, there were still a lot of children to screen. Two hours into our work a HUGE storm blew in! As the wind was picking up and the sand was flying around I kept saying it was just a matter of time. When the rain finally hit, we all took shelter in a classroom. This was the first time I have been inside of one. On the chalk board was the Ghana National Anthem, which the children sung for us. I thought it was a beautiful song and wrote down the lyrics:
God Bless our homeland, Ghana.
And make our nation great and strong.
Bold to defend forever,
the cause of freedom and of right.
Fill our hearts with true humility,
make us cherish, fearless, honest.
And help us to resist oppressor's
rule with all our will and might.

The storm has yet to let up. "When it rains it pours" REALLY applies to this country during the rainy season! This is really the first real rainy day we have had because it usually passes within an hour, if not sooner. I actually got goosebumps today! I definite first here in Africa. It is quite a nice break from the incessant sweating though, I must admit. I'm even wearing a long sleeved shirt!

And, on that note, I am out of time! I am traveling to Yendi tomorrow with Yue to help with surgeries. Yendi is about an hour east of Tamale and is currently experiencing an intense water crisis. I am excited for the experience.

I'll be in touch! Much love to everyone! Take care!

P.S. Oh yea!! I started interviewing patients for my research project (more on that later) but an interesting one was a 70 year old woman with cataracts who believes the cause of her condition is a toothache she had a while ago and let go untreated. I'm excited to gather more interviews, for sure.

Gina- I keep meaning to e-mail you!! You will have an e-mail coming from me shortly. Sorry for the long wait, I've been thinking of you tons!!!