Ghana has come to an end!!
Every morning around 5:20am, I wake up to the bright sun and sound of Helena, my host family’s maid, sweeping the ground outside my window. I lie in bed and read until my watch alarm goes off at precisely 6:02am (it was difficult to set at exactly 6… and that’s boring anyways). Usually the jerk of Raquel climbing down the bunk bed ladder jolts me back to reality; got to get ready and eat breakfast before work. Our host mom, Mama Esther, always has a feast prepared or us; hot dog and cooked cabbage (yeah, it’s interesting), an omelet with onion and tomato in it, and about half a loaf of the most delicious sugary bread I have ever consumed (seriously a bread form of cotton candy). Oh, how could I forget? I also drink out of a mug every morning that says, “I ❤ my husband”, um yes please. By 7:15 each morning, Francis, the CCS (Cross-Cultural Solutions) driver arrives and drops me off at Tessa’s house when he picks up Georg. Tess and I usually spend about half an hour eating more bread and joking around with her host parents, Gifty and Bismarck, before Francis comes back to take us to work. By 8am sharp, we are at PolyClinic in the Reproductive Health office waiting for our head nurse, Elsie to arrive. Elsie takes time between her home visits and work at the clinic to sit down and teach us about the Vitamin A deficiency, malnutrition, family planning, and basic health concerns found in Ghana. We observe her appointments and home visits both her and her nurses go on multiple times a week. She has also allowed us to explore the other parts of the clinic like adolescent health, mental health, and infectious diseases. We sit in on adolescent counseling, watch mental health talks at local schools, and learn about infectious diseases, such a leprosy, in health classes. At around 11:30am, Francis picks up Tessa, Georg, Raquel, Nadir, Abby, Jon, and I from our worksites and take us all to CCS for lunch with the rest of the group.
At CCS, we either have a guest speaker, seminar on public health, or discussions about who we are (haha, they are just called “Who Am I” seminars so that’s how I will describe them). That is also our time to come together as a whole group: fight over the laptops (just kidding, we are civil), play ridiculous card games, work out (not my thing), and giggle about all the crazy things we experience on a day-to-day basis. But, we are promptly kicked out at 5:30pm and taken to back to our host families for dinner. You never really know what to expect for dinner, and sometimes that is fun, but for the most part I am wishing that there is no meat or hot soup they expect me to eat with my hands. By 8 every night, I am tucking in the bed net to the side of the bunk and mid rolling over I fall asleep.
As we wrap up our first core country of the year, I can’t help but feel all the nerves building up. Ghana has made me appreciate all (seriously, ALL) the little things back home; access to reliable healthcare, hot water, reliable electricity, an assortment of food to choose from (mostly French fries at 1am), laundry machines, animals without rabies (this one kills me). I have learned so much from my clinic that has made me rethink the public health system. We are so lucky to be able to drive to an emergency room or make an appointment with a doctor when we are feeling sick, but we also have a lot of work to do on making those options affordable to everybody in the states and making sure everybody is taking advantage of the services. Not only the western healthcare system, but how healthcare is dealt with on an international level. There are organizations coming into under developed countries from more developed countries just telling them how to fix a health problem without adapting their response to the different cultures. Or, companies from more developed countries making the medicine needed to cure a disease an “intellectual property” so that they can sell it for lots of money. Lots of money that these countries could be saving if they could just make the medicine themselves. We learned a lot about foreign aid corporations and my initial views of how foreign aid is affecting third world countries were challenged. I have learned not to just take one answer as concrete truth but rather to look at a situation from multiple perspectives.
Akpe kakaka Ghana!
I am sitting at an internet café in “Poly District” of Ho, Ghana.
I can look out and see many shops that people run to help support their families and lives here. Most of them sell the same things: bread, Fanta, cookies, powdered drinks (milk, coffee, hot chocolate, etc.), soap, calling cards, and plenty of other similar items. Then there are shops with what seems like used clothing, fresh squeezed juices, and Ghanaian “fast food” (I have not ventured there yet).
The people often ask me, “What were you expecting before you came here?” That is a tough question because I didn’t really have that many expectations before coming here. The biggest thing I have noticed here is how welcoming and loving everybody is. When a van of young white kids pulls up, instead of being annoyed by these “stupid Americans”, everyone is clapping and waving with huge smiles on their faces. We often are greeted in the native language and taught how to answer, so we can be included. People love that we are visiting and want to be part of their culture while we are here.
The only topic where the welcoming attitude seems to simmer down when we talk about it, is religion. I am not a Christian. I am not religious, but I don’t identify as an atheist. I grew up going to a Christian church for the first 16 years of my life, but was eventually decided I didn’t want to be part of an organized religious group any longer. In America, that is not an issue I have had to face. I’m not religious? That is fine! Here, however, religion, specifically Christianity, is so important. Almost all of the population is religious and of that group, about 90% of people are Christians.
My host family was shocked that I was not religious and insisted I join their church service the upcoming Sunday. I agreed because I think it is important to experience as much as I can while I am here. We left our house around 8am and walked to “King Jesus Palace” about 5 minutes away. It was a small, cement building filled with plastic chairs and a couple of microphones and instruments at the front. There weren’t that many people there, maybe 30. We started singing for about half an hour and people prayed and walked around for about another 15 minutes. There were multiple sermons and testimonies, all told in English and Ewe. By 12:30, my roommate and I had to leave early in order to make it home for lunch and get to our program in time. While we were walking home, the hundreds of little shops, usually bustling with people, were all closed. Everything is shut down because everybody is at church on Sundays.
Even at work, Tessa and I are constantly finding ourselves in situations where the people we work with are trying to convert us. Tessa teaches them what she knows about Judaism and I try and explain that not everybody needs a religion. This never really satisfies them. They want us to believe in what they believe in because, for them, it works so well. And, they can’t marry us unless we are religious (bummer)!
I find it so ironic that in choosing this program I specifically made sure it was not religious. I did not want to be imposing my beliefs or a group’s beliefs on someone in their own home and culture (or any culture for that matter). And here we are, everyday running into somebody willing to show us the LOVE OF GOD AND CHRISTIANITY.
When the customs officer let’s you into Ghana even though you have 2 passports
When you only have 10 bug bites when you wake up instead of 25
When you don’t get malaria
When the water and electricity are both working
When you can buy a calling card at a small hut on the side of the road to talk to your family
When your work place changes your call time from 5:30am to 8:00am
When you’re not expected to eat burning hot soup with your fingers
GHANA IS BEAUTIFUL. I do not even know how to describe it. We have been busy going through orientation, moving into our homestays, and finding out where we will be working for the next 6 weeks. The food is delicious, besides the burning hot soup you eat with your fingers (but even that is pretty good): rice, beans, tomato sauce, lots of chicken, kasava, banku, phuphu, and plantain!! We have, as you can tell, been appreciating all the little things that we are used to back at home but are different here.
I promise these blogs will be more put together at some point, but today I rushed to an internet cafe after work and spent most of my time posting pictures.
It is August 31, 2016. I just got back from a quick 31 flavors stop with my friend Breanna. See, on the 31st of each month they have a special- one scoop, $1.31, and Breanna and I never miss one. Except, tonight we realized we are going to miss more than a couple; because in 10 days I am taking off for the next seven months.
I am about to start my adventure learning about cultures and communities in Africa, Asia, and South America. Actually, I have a ton of things to do before I can say that: wait for my jeans to come, try and fit that dress in my bag, pack for D.C., ship my kindle to myself because I left it in Boston (haha, typical me), download all my music, order a new passport (which is super confusing and stressful), AND APPLY FOR COLLEGES. Also, I may or may not have to finish the reading that is assigned for Thinking Beyond Borders (It all depends on who is reading this- mom? yeah, I do- one of the program leaders? no, I finished it a long time ago).
Yeah, clearly I am a little frazzled and stressed, but I have been messaging with some of the people who are in my group and I cannot help but be so excited to meet them in 10 days (hi guys!!). This is something I have wanted to do for years and I am finally getting the opportunity to do thanks to my amazing parents and friends supporting me.
This is the start of my “adult life”, and I could not think of a better way to begin (except maybe to stop procrastinating).
I hope you guys keep up with my blog throughout my trip and stay in touch with me whether that is through e-mail or Facebook.(: