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

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