No Moles on the Mole Safari

My dad has been in town for the past week! Pim and I met in Tamale and started our trip with a visit to Mole (mole-lay) National Park.  We hadn’t planned on going on a safari the first day, but the animals had other plans. Warthogs grazed in front of our room while baboons lounged by the pool, stealing beer and biscuits off of the tables at their own leisure.

Baboon

The next morning we went on a walking tour of the park, which involved hiking down to the watering hole near the hotel.  I promptly informed our ranger that I had to see elephants on our hike.  He promised we would, and five minutes later we stumbled upon a gang of six enjoying a feast of leaves!

Elephants

We were actually extremely close to them, and we were luckier than many other groups who did not get to see any elephants at all.

Leahy & Babar

In the afternoon we took a driving safari and spotted some antelopes, monkeys, and exotic birds.  Our ranger was very knowledgable and had a sharp eye, so he was able to point out things we never would have seen otherwise.  The only downside was that during one photo op we opened a window and let in about 15 biting flies, which then began attacking us. I still say it was worth the pictures…

Antelope

After Mole, we traveled (in luxury by private car) to Eremon, where we spent the next few days teaching classes, greeting chiefs, and wrapping up the latrine project (170 completed latrines)!!

School

Eremon Chiefs

We finally traveled down to Accra using public transportation (to my dad’s dismay), dramatic Ghanaian TV series blasting and all. I slept like a baby on the bus.

Traveling

 

We ended our trip with a some souvenir shopping and a lovely Valentine’s Day dinner at a posh Japanese restaurant. It was a whirlwind of a week, but totally worth it!  Special thanks to Jacob 😉

Failed by the System

A few weeks ago, while monitoring latrine construction, I came across a very sick child.  Standing naked in the doorway of the house, he gazed at me through puffy, slitted eyes. His stomach was severely protruded and his breathing labored, coming as short wheezes through a grating cough.  Not being able to communicate well with the family, I asked the assemblyman to assist me in determining the next step in helping this child.  Upon inquiry about his medical history, the grandmother told us that he had been in and out of the hospital several times.  Each time, they gave him a blood transfusion and sent him home.  She suggested we ask the mother directly…same answer. It seems that no one had any idea what was wrong with him or how to go about solving the problem.  The assemblyman knew a doctor at a hospital in a neighboring district, so I took them there personally the next day.

The doctor had agreed to come in on a Sunday, so after a long and dusty tro ride, we arrived at the hospital and were seen right away.  The nurses took his vitals and he was examined by the doctor.  His liver and spleen were both enlarged and he showed signs of anemia.  The doctor suspected some sort of infection, so he was admitted to the hospital for tests. I left them with money for food and transportation and took the doctor’s number so I could follow up the next day.  After all was said and done, all of his health problems were being caused by malnutrition, both in lack of calories and protein.

2013-12-21 12.06.22

Normally, the hospital gives a substance called “plumpy nut” to malnutrition cases, looking to boost daily intake of calories and protein.  Unfortunately, this hospital did not have any on hand when they released the child, and suggested they find it elsewhere.  I inquired at the clinic in Eremon and the hospital in Lawra to no avail.  Everything they had was expired, and the region had not yet supplied the district with new stores of plumpy nut.

Normally, the “African time” people talk about here is nothing more than an annoyance, resulting in last meetings and long travel days.  This is a situation in which I have absolutely no patience for it.  Delaying the restocking of a product needed to combat malnutrition in children is unacceptable, and it leaves me with a dilemma.  My ideology has always been to help people to help themselves, teach them how to do things, assist them in gaining access to services they have a right to.  I have tried to do just that, simply to be failed by Ghana’s health system.  This child is not the only one suffering from malnutrition, and I cannot buy food for every hungry child in Eremon, as much as I would like to do so. How responsible am I for this child’s life, and what more can I do? I feel responsible.

Water Wishes

The afternoons are filled with images of young girls balancing basins of water on their heads, the weight threatening to snap their slender necks with every step.  They gather for hours at the borehole after school, pumping away until their arms are exhausted and their palms are calloused.  Each takes a turn in helping another to lift the metal containers onto a cloth used to protect the closely shaved scalp of the carrier, desperately trying not to spill even one precious drop of water that she labored so hard to obtain.  These girls fetch water in this manner every day in order to provide enough for bathing, cooking, cleaning, and drinking for the entire family.  During the rainy season, every bucket, basin, and bowl in the house is left outside during the downpours to collect water and spare the girls at least a few trips that day.  The rest of the year, however, offers no relief from the scorching sun and dusty roads of Ghana.

Borehole

A borehole is basically a deep well with a pumping mechanism installed to provide a closed circuit protected from contamination. Each borehole is meant to serve up to three hundred people, and is placed at strategic locations in an attempt to reach as many households as possible.  Still, there are houses that are at least a half-mile walk from the nearest borehole, which means a round-trip of a mile in order to fetch one basin of water.  While this may seem a very antiquated method of water distribution, in a tiny rural village, the likelihood of piped water being installed any time soon is dismal.

In a place without running water, a toilet is a hole in the ground and bathing means filling a bucket and using a smaller container to pour the water cup-by-cup over your head. Most Ghanaians can get sufficiently clean with about half a bucket; imagine the amount of water you use while taking a fifteen-minute shower.  When turning a handle provides a seemingly infinite amount of water, this fact suddenly becomes very easy to forget.

In addition to being an inconvenience and somewhat tedious, the lack of water creates a web of negative impacts that extend into different aspects of community life. If running water were to be brought to Eremon, afternoon hours could be used for studying instead of fetching water.  Diseases spread due to poor sanitation could be curbed, resulting in higher personal productivity and lower medical costs.  Simple personal hygiene would improve, leading to healthier living and improved quality of life.

The lack of reliable access to clean water is by far the largest of many obstacles presented by life in Ghana, but it is a slow step-by-step process to approach water-related goals.  Building pit latrines to prevent open defecation and encouraging the use of covered water containers are only small victories. The hope is that eventually, running water will extend to this village, but it will require education, motivation, and resources to do so.

Ghana According to Harrison

This post was written by Harrison and is a very thorough description of just about everything we did while he was here…

Sunday 8/11:

I had left all of my packing until Sunday when, in a mad rush, first thing in the morning, my Mom told me to pack everything I would need into my bag. What I needed consisted of seven shirts, seven shorts, seven pairs of boxers, three pairs of socks, a pair of jeans, my sneakers, and my flip-flops. That was about 25 lbs. of the total 150 lbs. of things that we brought with us in our checked bags. The rest of the weight was made up mostly of food flavoring packs, cookie dough powder packs, and pizza dough powder packs. Plus a 4-pound jar of jellybeans that Jared (Leahy’s boyfriend) was “happy to pay for”.

jellybeans

Monday 8/12:

I woke up like any morning: had breakfast while watching TV, then turning on my computer to watch YouTube for the last time before the trip. Our flight wasn’t until ten, but Leahy and my Mom decided there was a possibility that we could be stuck in security for about three hours, so we got to JFK at 5:30. Leahy and I made it through security in about 30 minutes and then we sat around for a bit then went to have dinner at an airport restaurant. I ended up getting a burger that was slightly underdone in places. Then we went back to waiting. Another couple hours we had our boarding passes stamped and were getting ready to get on the plane. Once on we proceeded to wait for another hour until the plane was finally allowed to take of. Then we sat for eleven hours in the plane, barely sleeping at all. I managed to take some pictures of the sun as it rose over the horizon.

Airplane

Tuesday 8/13

When we landed Leahy had to do something, which, if you’re close to Leahy you can probably guess. She had to pee. After that we made it to our hotel. After walking around looking for a giraffe and a bracelet for my cousins Neal and Darien respectively we got some very spicy Pad Thai, watched some Parks and Recreation, then promptly went to sleep.

Wednesday 8/14:

We woke up, had egg sandwiches for breakfast then met up with another Peace Corps volunteer and walked around a very large market with an under ground section that definitely did not meet up to safety code. After, we got smoothies and slowly made our way to the bus station. On the bus we sat for hours just reading and listening to music. At about 11 they put on a movie called “Sheena” and another movie called “Escape from Sobibor.” During both movies a woman across the aisle gasped every time a soldier was assassinated and every time Sheena kicked a guy while swinging from a vine. We basically sat for 12 hours without sleeping and finally made it to Wa.

Thursday 8/15:

From there we had to take a tro to Eremon which was another 2 hours, and when we got there it was still mid day so we couldn’t go to sleep for many more hours.

Friday 8/16:

On Friday we went to Lawra were we had egg sandwiches, and then met a local missionary, Sue, for some spaghetti and meat sauce. Later we went to a local “spot” (bar) to meet Leahy’s friends, Habib and Gabriel, then had dinner at Habib’s house. The next morning we had egg sandwiches again, had lunch with Gabriel and Habib at Gabriel’s house. Afterward, we took a tro back to Eremon.

Saturday-Friday 8/17-23

The majority of this time consisted of us biking around the communities, checking up on the unfinished latrines and delivering photos to the finished latrines. In the evenings we watched more Parks and Rec and BBC Life. The most stressful thing that happened to Leahy during this time was when her hard drive stopped working and Jared had to google up how to fix it.

Saturday 8/24:

We took another overnight bus back to Accra, unfortunately they weren’t playing good movies, just some local shows that looked like they were directed, filmed, acted, and produced by 12 year olds.

Sunday 8/25:

We took a tro from from Accra to Cape Coast, and once there took a taxi to a “fancy” hotel called the Bridge House. Later in the day we went to the resort that our hotel was associated with, swam in the pool, and had linner (lunch and dinner).

Poolside

Monday 8/26:

We went to a canopy walk called Kakum National Park that has rope bridges suspended over the jungle.

Kakum

As we were walking I spotted monkeys in a tree in the distance. Luckily we had brought the long-range lens with us and managed to snap a few pictures. After, we went back to the pool for another few hours and then had dinner.

Monkey

Tuesday 8/27:

We took a tro back to Accra today. We dropped our bags at the hotel and went to the Peace Corps office. Then we went back out for pizza and now I am currently writing this blog.

Wednesday 8/28:

Tomorrow I go back home. My flight leaves at 10 again, but we are getting there at 5. I am sure it will be difficult for Leahy, but I’m also sure that she can take care of herself and she’ll be fine for the last 7 months of her commitment.

Us

Thank you for your time, and I bid you adieu

Harrison Winter

Peace Corps is Out for Summer

Yes, I know it has been a while, but that only means I have more to tell you. Here is a quick overview of my summer! Get ready for a bonanza of pictures.

June/July:

GHANA! Days, Hours, Miles…that’s how long it took to check in on every latrine being built in Eremon. On our new bicycles, Lucy and Steve the Pirate, Jared and I trekked across the red African dirt to monitor the progress and success of the project. Everyone in the village was thrilled, though not as thrilled as I was, to see Jared back in town. Our goal was to evaluate the progress of each family’s latrine, mark the GPS location and take pictures of all the finished ones. It was successful but exhausting, and not without a number of obstacles in the road (literally, including a near collision with a cow). About one third of the houses were completely finished and most of the others have at least started to build.

Finished Latrine

In a wonderful coincidence, Sarah was back in town during that month to do work for ATE.

Sarah

Breakfast at the tea shop, family dinners, and dancing at the house were regular events. We even held a one-year anniversary party for SNAP (Special Needs Awareness Program), during which the chief of Lawra district addressed the members of the group and we played games and did face painting.

Roar

After a month in Upper West, Jared and I headed down to Accra. We finally made it to the beach for a few days before flying home!

Jared

 

July/August:

HOME! My month at home was a complete whirlwind of people and places. One month may seem like a long time, but not when you have to try to fit seeing just about everyone you know into that time (and eat every type of food you have been missing for the past year and a half). It started with a trip down to D.C. to see the oldest and bestest of friends, Rachel Brody.

Rachel

The next week was spent in Armonk, acclimating myself with the changes made to the town while I was gone (a.k.a. the beer isle in the new supermarket).

Diciccos

We had a Winter/Hinrichs BBQ

Hinrichs

and I was able to attend a birthday celebration for the a-maya-zing Maya Zung Maya

before heading to the Cape for family vacation.

Family Pic

We went boogie boarding, walked out onto the pier in Provincetown, and celebrated Dad’s birthday with some new records for his collection and homemade pad thai and ice cream sundaes.

Dad's Birthday

Jared and I stopped off in Boston for a night to catch up with some friends before almost missing the ferry to Cuttyhunk (my fault, but disaster averted).

Ferry

That week was spent sleeping in, jogging, reading, relaxing, and going to the beach in one of the friendliest and most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

Cuttyhunk

The biggest excitement was that I dropped my ice cream cone and got a new one for free…and that Jared turned the big 2-6! I got him a game with a million rules that makes no sense to me and that I will probably never learn how to play, so a perfect gift.

Munchkin

My time at home ended with a family picnic at the house, which was a perfect send off to make my way back to Ghana.

Cousins

Only this time my brother, Harrison, accompanied me! Read the next blog to hear what he thought about the third world.

Eremon Health Champions Round 2

On May 31st, the three JSS Health Clubs in Eremon gathered together for the second inter-school health competition in the village.  As a continuation of the last year’s competition, twenty students from each school (Tangzu, D/A, and Dazuuri) showed their skills in different areas of expertise.  This time, activities were based around lessons taught on sexual and reproductive health, including topics such as reproductive anatomy, teenage pregnancy, family planning, STIs, and HIV.

It began with four students from each school racing to label diagrams of male and female reproductive anatomy.  While making copies of these pictures in Lawra, I was swarmed by people curious about why I needed copies of a penis.  I actually ended up teaching six adults about male anatomy while my copies were being made.Image

Competitors then moved outside for an HIV based game of tag.  One student from each school stood in the center with the goal of tagging runners from the other schools. Four runners from each school had to move between the bases of “A,” “B,” and “C” meant to represent three methods of HIV prevention (abstinence, being faithful, and condom use). If on base, the runners could not be tagged, but they were only allowed to stay there for five seconds at a time before being forced to run to a new base.  We had one bad fall, but it only resulted in a few scratches and no one threatened to sue.

Image

The next event was the writing of instructions for condom use.  Two students from each school were expected to mention checking the expiration date, opening the wrapper with ones hands (not sharp objects), holding the tip of the condom before rolling it down, tying the condom after use, and disposing of it correctly.  A condom demonstration was done for all of the spectators to ensure comprehension. Unfortunately I was making the funny face you see below…

Image

Groups of four students from each school then competed in the “Risk Game,” borrowed from the Journey of Hope kit.  Each group received a copy of the cards, which they were to divide into high, low, and no risk activities.  Examples included sharing of razors, sex with a condom, and shaking hands (high risk, low risk, and no risk respectively).

IMG_2173

The last event was a game of jeopardy, with categories including reproductive anatomy, teenage pregnancy, family planning, STIs, and HIV.  Five students from each school formed a team to answer questions on different topics for points ranging from ten to fifty. With all of the points added up, Dazuuri came in first place with 370 points, Tangzu was second with 335 points, and D/A finished third with 170 points.

IMG_2209

Dazuuri JSS is the newest school in Eremon, having been built two years ago. The student there have the most difficulty with English and general comprehension.  I found out that the health teacher I have been working with and a local nurse called the health club together the day before the competition for three hours to study.  I try not to be partial, but I am honestly thrilled that they won…they truly deserve it.

On a different note, I am picking Jared up at the airport tomorrow and we are headed to the coast for a few days!  Two things I haven’t seen since last year: my boyfriend and the beach.

The Tippy Tap

It has reached the point where almost all of the slabs are finished and families are building their latrines! This past week, we also molded the school latrine slabs, which involved hundreds of students doing their part by carrying rocks and sand, fetching water, and holding the pipes in place while the contractor poured the cement.  While the school will receive tanks they can fill with water for hand washing, the households will need to make their own hand washing stations. I did some research and this is what I discovered.

Invented for exactly this purpose, the “Tippy Tap” is a hands-free way to wash one’s hands without running water. Two sticks, each with a fork at one end, are placed in the ground (dig a hole, put the stick in, fill it with rocks, pack it, the whole deal). A straight stick is put through the handle of a jug and then hung between the two standing sticks. One end of a rope is tied to the mouth of the jug while the other end is attached to a stick on the ground. Any time someone want to wash his hands, he simply needs to step and the stick to tilt the jug and pour out some of the water. Brilliant, right?

I was skeptical at first, but I tried one the other day and it worked perfectly!

Tippy Tap

Now I merely need to encourage the other 197 households to do the same. If any part of me has grown since coming to Ghana it is my patience (and my hair).

Next time you hear from me I hope to be relaxing at the beach and eating banana pancakes.  I’ll tell you all about it then.

One Step at a Time

The Kuubaare House is next door to the clinic where I live.  Chris is a carpenter who has also been trained as a latrine artisan and contracted to mold the slabs for my project.  ImageTwo of his daughters, Diana and Michelle, live with him and his wife.  DIana is a JHS student who comes to my house daily to read, paint, or help me with my housework. ImageSometimes, she comes with Michelle strapped to her back screaming and crying at the sight of me (the terrifying white lady). Not only is Chris molding the slabs, but this family is also part of the project, since his house has no toilet. I went on site to learn how to mold the slabs. Just take it one step at a time. Here is how it’s done:

1)   The mold is constructed and the iron is cut into smaller rods.

Image

2) The iron rods are then placed inside the mold and bound together to ensure a strong structure.

Image

3) Cut-outs are used to make the holes for the toilet and the ventilation pipe.

Image

4) Sand and small stones are mixed in with the cement, a technique also used to strengthen the slab.

Image

5) Water is mixed in, and the cement is ready to be poured into the mold.

Image

6) It is important to make sure there is a layer of cement beneath the iron rods, so that they are in the center of the slab when it dries.

Image

7) Make sure the cement is level while evening it out.

Image

8) Add some dry cement to the top of the slab to smooth out the surface.

Image

9) Remove the placeholders for the holes, and allow the slab to dry for one week.

Image

10) If you feel so inclined, you can carve writing into the cement before it hardens.

Image

This engraving has a double meaning…it was done on special request from a donor, but also stand for Kuubaare House. How perfect!

One Step at a Time

Not Just a Girl

When I think of summer camp, I mainly reminisce about daily sessions of eight hours of intensive gymnastics.  Any other references I have about camp come from Wet Hot American Summer or The Parent Trap, both of which are great movies but not exactly true to life.  Although, finding my long lost twin at summer camp has always been a dream of mine ever since it happened to Lindsay Lohan.  As I have recently experienced, however, camp in Ghana is definitely different from that in America (with the main similarity of unbearable heat).

I spent the last week of February at an Upper West Girls’ Camp in Lawra, organized by our regional Peace Corps volunteers.  Each volunteer brought three JHS level girls to a four day long camp dedicated to educating, inspiring, and improving the leadership skills of the participants.  I brought one girls from each of the health clubs I have been meeting with in Eremon. Smart and beautiful! 

Image

Each day was built around a central theme, with educational sessions in the morning and concurrent workshops in the afternoon. Themes included the importance of education, alternative livelihoods and food security, HIV/AIDS and malaria, and disabilities and diversity.  All sessions were taught either by volunteers or Ghanaian guest speakers. The girls learned why it is important to stay in school and continue their education, how to raise rabbits and chickens to eat or sell, how to ensure food security in their households, and how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS, STIs, and malaria. Three of the students who participated in the camp are attendees of Wa School for the Deaf, so all of the girls learned some sign language, statistics on disability in Ghana, and the prominence of discrimination against that specific population.

During the workshops, the girls learned how to do different activities including sewing drawstring bags, making a hammock out of plastic water sachets, tie-dying tee-shirts, using fabric scraps to make coil pots, and learning how to turn on a computer and type a document.  In the evenings, we held fun events, including astronomy night, movie night, and a talent show.  Unfortunately, to everyone’s dismay (especially my own), dance night was rained out by a very unseasonable storm.

It was hard work but an undeniable success.  Girls from different villages were interacting and became friends over the course of the week.  They acquired so much information and learned so many new skills that they can bring back to there hometowns.  These are all of the participants who took part in the program saying thank you!

 

Image

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHzOOQfhPFg

P.s. I am also more than half way through with my service…check out my pizza pie!

https://sites.google.com/site/imissleahy/

Momma in Ghana

Health Club

Leahy asked me to write something for her blog about my impressions during my visit with her in Ghana.  It feels a little premature to put my thoughts into words, as I am still immersed in the experience, but I will try.

For starters, being with Leahy again has been mind-blowing.   While she is still the same beautiful, spontaneous, spunky girl she used to be, she has transformed into this confident, determined, “don’t even try to mess with me” woman who demands and receives respect from everyone she meets, from the smallest child, to the chief of her community.  Watching her navigate so many situations, that I know would have overwhelmed her in the past, was both eye-opening and reassuring that she is doing just fine.

Ghana is a very interesting place.  I thought I would be prepared, based on what Leahy had described to me, but being here makes it much more real.  Just getting to her site from the airport was a lesson in the Ghanaian culture.  The people are very friendly, always greeting you with a “Welcome”, wanting to know your impression of their country, treating you like a very important person.  This is even more evident in Leahy’s community, where she is treated like a celebrity.

Eremon is a very remote, fairly undeveloped village made up of mud huts.  Leahy’s main mode of transportation is her bicycle, which she rides through the sand and dirt trails.  No matter where she rides, people of all ages call out, “Nayirima, Nayirima” (her Ghanaian name, given to her by the chief ).  They also greet you with “Ansoma, Nmenna or Zemaane” (depending on the time of day), to which you must respond with “A be song”.  This goes on all the time.  I found it charming; by now Leahy finds it annoying, but she puts on a good face.

On most days, Leahy has scheduled several health class presentations, women’s groups, or other events.  In addition, she has to travel from home to home inspecting the progress of the latrine building work.  To give you an example of what this means, we spent an entire day (from 10am until 5pm) visiting 15 different families, spread throughout the community.  I will be posting the photos from these visits on her project website when I return to the States.  We arrived home exhausted and covered from head to toe with a reddish dust that gets into every crevice of your body.

Which leads me to the single most unforgettable impression that I have about Ghana.  It is a very dusty place!  Because of the climate and geography, and because most roads and walkways are unpaved, there is no way to escape it.   As most of you know, Leahy has no running water; that means no shower to clean off all of that fine orange dust.  Arriving home after a long day of work, we had to fetch buckets of water from the borehole (which is a well with a hand pump, as opposed to the“boar hole” that I had initially envisioned), before we took turns “bathing”.  There really is no bath; it’s just a bucket, soap and this plastic net cloth to scrub off the dust.  I hadn’t been that dirty since working in the banana fields in Israel; only there we had hot showers at the end of the day.  I was able to do it for 5 days, but it’s really amazing how Leahy can manage to be so clean and sweet smelling after a year.  She has also mastered the art of hand-washing her clothes.

On Thursday evening, we left Eremon and traveled to Lawra to have dinner with her good friend Sarah (who will be returning to the UK next week) and a number of other people staying in that town.  I learned that it is very common to eat outside under the stars, without any light.  One relies on the hands to feel the food and bring it to the mouth, without having to see what one is eating.  In my case, that resulted in a very shocking surprise.  Wendy bit into a chicken head, beak and all!  I think I am ready to become a vegetarian again.  Otherwise, it was a really wonderful evening, and I was so happy to see what good friends Leahy has made.  I know that she will miss Sarah dearly, but at least Habib and Gabriel will be around to give her lifts and take her out for a meal.

On Friday, we began the journey to Accra, which was the beginning of Leahy’s brief vacation and marked the last part of my visit.  We took a bus, which involves 10 hours of travel on the one unlit road from the north to the south of Ghana.  When it was too late to back out, Leahy informed me that we should split up our cash, so that if we were stopped by “highway robbers” we wouldn’t lose all of our money.  Great!

Anyway, we were not stopped, and we arrived at this beautiful resort on the coast, where we have had a couple of days to relax, shower, sit at the pool, shower, eat at a restaurant, shower and sleep in an air-conditioned room.  It feels like heaven.

IMG_1759

I will have to say goodbye to my daughter in another two days, and I am dreading it.  But, for now, we are off to explore a castle.