Walk of Shame

Currently undergoing Tamale-based technical training, my group and I have been carted to different villages all around the Northern region to practice projects that we can potentially implement in our own communities.  During the past couple weeks, I have painted a mural at a nutrition clinic, taught a health class at a primary school, and built a latrine (ironically with bricks and mortar during Passover).  However, the most memorable and controversial activity we did was take one village’s community members on a “Walk of Shame.”

This walk is part of a behavior change method called Community-Led Total Sanitation.  The idea behind this approach is to trigger communities to change their sanitation practices (particularly that of open defecation) by “igniting a sense of disgust and shame.”  This walk involves bringing community members to sites of open defecation and grilling them on why they do this, where they think it goes, and how they think it effects their food and water.

Now, if you ask me, it’s one thing to open people’s eyes to proper health and sanitation through education and experience.  It’s a whole other thing to come into a community that does not know or trust you, gather a large group of people who are more excited to see white people than anything else, show them how feces are entering their food and water, and then tell them you plan to go to other communities to spread the word that this village literally “eats shit.”  And this is exactly what Peace Corps asked us to do.  I am aware that the shame method can be effective, but I simply couldn’t and wouldn’t do that last part.  Betraying the trust of people I am supposed to be helping is not the way I plan on going about things.

That day was a hard one for me, but the other activities we have been doing have been significantly more enjoyable. During mural making, my group painted a hand-washing scene while another group drew an animated condom warning against the transmission of HIV.  The talking condom actually made quite a splash in the village, and while it wasn’t always good feedback, no press is bad press.  While teaching at the school, I came across a child wearing a dress made out of American flag fabric with a huge picture of Obama on the front. And just for fun, we got to go to a sacred pond to see crocodiles!  I think I fancied myself as somewhat of a Crocodile Hunter though, picking up it’s tail and pretending to ride on its back…Don’t worry, I only lost my left hand, which you aren’t really supposed to use in Ghana anyway.

So next time you hear from me I’ll be officially moved-in at site. Wish me luck!

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Site in Sight

Finally, some insight into where I will actually be spending the next two years!  In proper Peace Corps fashion, there was an unnecessarily suspenseful ceremony that involved a map of Ghana in chalk, with dots representing the geographical location of our sites. One by one, in no logical order, we were called up to stand on our dots, receive the folder containing our fate, and meet the person we will be working with for the next couple years. Mine is the most northern blue dot in Upper West (bottom right part of the picture)!

That folder listed off all of the basic information on where I am stationed and what I will be doing. My community is called Eremon, and it is located within the Lawra district of the Upper West region. Lawra lies right on the Western border of Ghana, where it touches Burkina Faso (can you say baguettes and cheese on market days?).  There is also a crocodile taboo, meaning you cannot kill or eat these animals, which I was quick to inform my counterpart Gaeten would be less than problematic for me. Eremon itself has ten different communities, so I have my work cut out for me. Speaking of, my work has been clarified to focus on HIV/AIDS education, family planning/teenage pregnancy prevention, education on unsafe abortions, and proper sanitation practices.

After a few days of training in Kumasi, Gaeten took me up to Eremon to check out the area and move some of things into my new house.  It was basically fourteen hours of feeling carsick on the bumpiest roads I’ve ever driven on.  Our bus also broke down, and between heaving sessions on the side of the road I had to recruit some people to help my sixty-five year old counterpart transfer my luggage from one bus to the next. Pretty typical travels here in Ghana. Upon arriving, I found out I have a room in one of the houses at the clinic with facilities that I share with one of the nurses.  There is a borehole right outside my door, which is great for fetching water, but also means that the entire community now has a somewhat legitimate reason to come gawk at me. I also have been given the local name “Nayirima,” which means “mother of our people,” so no pressure.

During site visit, I also was taken to introduce myself to all of the important people in the area to inform them of my arrival and business in Eremon. I first had a meeting with the chief of Eremon, during which we were seated in plastic chairs placed in a circle around a bunch of pigs rolling in the mud. How no one else was distracted was amazing to me. Then I went to Lawra to see the members of the District Assembly and the Paramount chief.  On the way back, I took the hippie bus that had peace signs in the colors of the Ghanaian flag and simply the word “HOME” written on the front windshield. For a second I slipped into a daydream where everything looked like the images from The Yellow Submarine and this magical tro-tro somehow flew me back to the States. I came back to reality when my head hit the ceiling; I realized I was one of four sitting in the back row of the Tro and that there was a goat in the trunk trying to escape under my feet. WHERE AM I?

I am now at training in Tamale, but next time I go back to site I will be navigating the transportation “system” alone.  This song pretty much sums up my fears about that upcoming adventure…