New Year, New Toilet

The New Year is here, along with the $6,242 we raised for the latrine project!  Thank you again to everyone who donated! There really could not be a better start to 2013.  Celebration in Eremon was limited to church going and local “jams,” which I was unfortunately too sick to take part in (referring to the latter and not the former).  However, the music was loud enough for me to host a dance party in my own room, had I wished to do so.  I once asked someone why the music is always so loud and learned that it is, in fact, rude not to invite others to celebrate with you by allowing their ears to also hear your music. Brilliant.

Schools have been out and everyone has been busy during the holiday season, so things have been pretty quiet here.  I have been going stir-crazy, planning school health lessons weeks in advance and formulating projects for the future.  I even painted a hand washing mural at one of the schools. I am also trying to organize a Community HIV Awareness Day this month, where my HIV Club will come and do education and activities with spectators.  The hope is that it will take place during the week when my mom is visiting Eremon, so she can meet the students and see some of the work I am doing.

I also recently started conducting pit inspections, which have to be done before we move to the next step of the latrine building process.

Pit Inspection

So far, people have been really great about digging.  We do have a few cases where the soil is a bit rocky, though, so some households definitely have a more difficult task than others.  They’ll get it done, even if I have to get in there with a pick axe myself.

For your viewing pleasure today, please see the youtube video below as an extension of my last blog post.  Just a warning, I am really dancing hard in this video. Flashmob Video

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World AIDS (Amazing International Dance Session) Day

This past Saturday was World AIDS Day, and Sarah, Janette and I organized a program in the district capital to celebrate. I wrote an article to report on the occasion:

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This past Saturday, December 1st, hundreds of students of all ages gathered in the district capital of Lawra in the Upper West region to celebrate the annual World AIDS Day.  Participants came from a number of surrounding villages with the goal to raise awareness about the transmission, symptoms, and prevention of HIV/AIDS.

Organized by Peace Corps volunteers Janette Ambauen and Leahy Winter and VSO volunteer Sarah Gardner, all of the participants gathered at the Lawra Community Center to prepare for the day’s events.  Everyone sported matching shirts in the traditional red with the slogan “Love Life, Stop AIDS” printed on the back.  At noon, with the help of the police escorts, the marching began, and a sea of red paraded through the streets of Lawra, carrying signs and chanting along with the marching band to get the community’s attention.  The excitement and energy of those involved was inspiring, and many people joined the parade as it made it’s way towards the center of town.

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Upon arrival at the round about, the students organized themselves in lines to perform an original dance to a mash up of popular Ghanaian music.  Some jumping, clapping, and a little Azonto attracted the attention of passers-by, who sang along and applauded after the unified grand finale shout of “Get Tested.”

After the conclusion of the dance, the parade marched back to the community center for an afternoon of education and activities.  A lecture was given to educate the crowd on the basic facts of HIV/AIDS, and two students demonstrated the proper use of both the male and female condoms.  Three teams of six, one team each from Eremon, Lawra, and Yikpee, then competed in a question and answer game based on the information discussed in the lecture.  A panel of ministry dignitaries was called in to judge the answers, and while it was a close call, the team from Eremon won in a final tie-breaking question on the methods of reducing the risk of contracting HIV.

Other activities included an Azonto dancing competition, an eating competition, and an egg-on-a-spoon race.  Prizes were handed out to those who came in first and second place.  Participants, as well as community members, went back and forth between observing the activities and getting a free HIV test, administered anonymously at the Lawra District Assembly.  A total of 66 individuals were tested, all of them yielding negative results.

The program really promoted a sense of unity between all of those involved, creating a single force working to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.  It was an amazing day, made possible by hard work and dedication and filled with excitement, education, and healthy competition, all in the name of HIV/AIDS awareness for the community of Lawra.

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Here is one of the songs used in our Ghanaian Mashup:  Chop My Money

On another note, for all of those who have not heard, my project proposal has gone through! To learn more information and to donate, visit eremonlatrineproject.com. Thank you!

Eremon Health Club Champions

Every few weeks I hold health club meetings at the three JSS schools in Eremon.  They have each had four lessons so far, and I thought it would be a good time to put what they have learned to the test.  This week I put together the first inter-school health competition in Eremon!  Each club put forward 20 members to compete in 5 different areas.  The activities were as follows:

1)   Hand washing relay race: A team of four from each school participated in a relay race in which students must wash their hands before or after doing certain activities.  The first leg was from the starting line to a table of snacks, which they ate after washing.  The second leg involved students running with a broom, sweeping the dirt aside and then washing their hands.  The third leg went around the school urinals, requiring the runners to wash their hands after passing them. Finally, the last leg required the students to wash their hands before crossing the finish line to represent “after play” hand washing.

2)   Mosquito net hanging: Four members from each school were given a mosquito net, rope, and scissors and were told to correctly hang the net as quickly as possible.

3)   Nutrition Sorting: Cards with pictures of different types of foods were given to four members from each club to be sorted into Go, Grow, and Glow foods as quickly as possible (Carbs, Protein, and Vegetable/Fruit foods)

4)   Drama: Each club put on a short skit about one of the topics discussed in our lessons. In the picture below, the boy in front is pretending to be a mosquito biting the family who does not sleep under a bed net.

5)   Jeopardy: A group of eight members from each club played a game of jeopardy, answering questions for points.

Sarah and Janette came to judge and I gave out candies and bars of soap to each of the participating students.  The winning team won the honor of hanging the lovely prize below in their school until the next competition, during which they will have to defend their title to keep the flag.  As you can see, they took their victory quite seriously.

The health competition was an amazing success! The kids were engaged and motivated to learn the information and put their skills to practice.  I’ve already been asked when the next one will be held…I think a real rivalry has been started.

That’s Okay, It Was Kobine

Last weekend was the annual festival in Lawra, and that sentence was the excuse for every missed meeting, cancelled program, and night of drunken mischief.  The festival, or Kobine, as they call it here, is an excuse for everyone who has any connection to Lawra to make the pilgrimage back to celebrate the harvest and culture.  If your mom’s cousin’s friend’s wife’s grandfather had once been to Lawra, you were here.  The festivities went on for three days, a long weekend full of dancing and pito.

It began with with the marching of the sub-district chiefs from the palace to the field where we heard an address from every political figure in Upper West, including the Regional Minister.  His speech focused mainly on keeping the Dagaati culture alive through dancing, clothing, and food.  As we can’t dance the local dance and don’t own a Northern smock between the three of us, Janette, Sarah, and I went back to our favorite chop bar and enjoyed a local dish, washing it down with some of our own concoctions of “Kobine Cocktails.”

The next day was the dance competition.  This is not at all what you picture when you think dance competition.  Each sub-district sends a team to the festival to show the local dance, which looks to me like some sort of chicken dance in fast forward.  I can’t count the number of times the women in Eremon have made me try to dance this dance, but if I can at least act as a source of entertainment I feel as if I have done my job.  I didn’t take part in the competition, to everyone’s disappointment, but it was amazing to watch. Plus, Eremon Senior High School was awarded second place!

The last day concluded with a beauty pageant to determine Miss Kobine and a night of dancing TDB (‘til day break).  No I did not make that up. The term was already in use in Lawra, but I’m bringing it home with me.  These Ghanaians really know how to party.  Additions for next year: 1) Learn how to dance the dance and 2) Enter and win the Miss Kobine pageant.  Don’t laugh.

It’s a Doggy-Dog World

Before you try to tell me I got the saying wrong…I know, I am merely quoting Gloria from Modern Family.  Also, this post is not about some awful incident leading me to believe it is a dog-eat-dog world; it is simply a post about my new dog Baxter! I bought him for 5 Cedis last weekend, gave him a bath to rid him of his fleas, and took him home.  For those of you who know about the Xena/Zorro incident, yes I double-checked that it was a he.  I pondered for a while about what to name him, finally coming to the conclusion that I would name him after the poor dog punted off of a bridge after a tragic burrito-motorcycle accident (see Anchorman).  Unfortunately, I soon learned that Ghanaians do not know the name Baxter and cannot pronounce it properly, a combination of circumstances leading everyone to believe I have named my dog “Bastard.”  He already answers to it, so no, I won’t be changing his name.  He is tiny; so small, in fact, that when he eats, his stomach expands like a balloon until he can no longer walk and has to sleep it off, so we have that in common.  We like to take food coma naps on the couch after lunch, making the two of us a match made in heaven.  Gosh, I really don’t understand why my boyfriend thinks this dog is replacing him.

Now I like to believe that Karma is a real thing, and that we get back just what we put out into the world.  That is why I just can’t understand why my good Karma with dogs has not transferred over to cows.  I was riding my bike back from a health club meeting a few days ago, and out of nowhere came a herd of cows running through the road.  As agile as I am on my bicycle, as I weaved in and out, I hit one.  I have never been in a car accident in my life, but now I have been in a cow accident.  The cow was completely un-phased, uttering a quiet “moo” as it continued on its way.  The two boys shepherding, however, will never let me forget it.  Choking on their laughter, the pointed and screamed at me in Dagaare, words I couldn’t translate but could very clearly understand.  I used to like cows.

On a more serious note, I have started a huge project to build about 300 latrines in Eremon.  The registration in under way and the grant is in the process of being written.  Once everything has been approved I will publicize all the details and let you all know what you can do to help, if you’re interested, of course!

Anybody Want a Peanut?

Here in Eremon, the crops are growing, school is back in, and the number of projects that are in the works right now is a little overwhelming.  I have given a couple talks during Sunday market, the first of which involved demonstrating how to hang a mosquito net, while the second simply demonstrated what I like to call the “Ghanaian mob effect,” which occured while giving out free samples of Neem Cream (home brewed insect repellant).  I have never in my life been touched by so many people at once, and I can’t say that I liked it.  I am also back to attending Women’s Group meetings, one of which resulted in me returning home with a sack of beans and three yams (which I have no idea how to cook).  The school health clubs are starting up again, and I plan to organize an inter-school health competition between the three clubs. I also planted three hundred moringa seeds in baggies on my back porch, which I am eventually going to transplant to the schools.  Finally, meetings to discuss latrine-digging are being planned, and I have a new sofa!

Even in the midst of all this, I found time to exercise my true passion for farming and went with a friend to harvest groundnuts (aka peanuts).  First of all, I don’t understand how Ghanaians go to the farm wearing flip-flops and normal clothes. I was wearing my hiking boots, long sleeves, and insect repellant, and by the end I was dirty, sweaty, and bit all over.  The groundnut plants are relatively short, and you have to dodge the corn stalks and break your back trying to find and pull them up, roots and all.  Luckily, I went on the last day of the groundnut harvest, so I only had to do this part for a couple of hours.  We then loaded all of the up-rooted plants onto a tricycle moto and drove them back to the house.  I was granted the honor of sitting on top of the huge pile of groundnuts, and was greeted on my way by pointing and laughter from all the locals.  We then spent the rest of the day plucking the groundnuts from the roots, which was thankfully slightly less strenuous. As thanks, I was given a bag to take home with me, which I shelled, roasted, salted, and ate.

Otherwise, I am back to running every day.  It was difficult to get into it at first, but I have found a really great support system to keep me going.  There is one curve in the road, where the assemblyman lives, that seems to have an excess of children.  They like to stand by the road and scream my name as I run by.  Recently, I have trained them all to stick out their hands when I run by so I can get a line of about ten high fives.  It is “inconthievable” that feeling like you are about to win a marathon is not motivation enough to keep going.

Don’t Rock the Boat

Grace and I took a little vacation down to the coast to visit another volunteer and to catch up on some much needed  R&R.  Although a little difficult to get to, it was well worth the trip.  After being so far away from water for so long, I remembered how much I actually love it. Taylor’s site is literally located right on the beach…as in, the town is made up entirely of sand and you fall asleep to the sound of the ocean.  As much as I love the Upper West, I could really get used to that.

Upon arriving, I learned that the site was previously built up by the British who settled there initially, so all of the original buildings are beautifully made stone structures. Between this and the elegantly carved fishing boats littering the shoreline, I had a hard time pulling myself away at the end of the day. I was only able to do so because I knew I had to get some rest for what was coming the next day…a trip to Nzulezu, the stilt village.

We woke early and walked two villages down to the information center. From there, the guide led us to the boat that would be taking us through the wetlands to the stilt village.  To be honest, I was a little nervous, because half of the boats were half under water and the one we were in had a plastic bucket to be used to fish out water.  There was a bit of splashing and tipping, and we did begin to take on some water, but we made it there alright.  Let me tell you, it was very strange to see a village existing entirely on the water.

There was a school and a church and spots, just like in a regular village, and the people weren’t even remotely phased by us. I imagine they see more white people than any other place in Ghana, due to tourism. Seeing the village on the water from afar was stunning, and the construction of the dock, walkway, and buildings was quite impressive.  From a health, water, and sanitation point of view, however, it was quite dismal.  The people there have no way to dispose of trash, so they simply throw it into the water.  Their only latrines drop the waste directly into the water, and there is no way to dig a borehole or a well obviously, so this water also serves for drinking and cooking purposes.  No clinic exists, so anyone who does get sick from drinking the water has to paddle 45 minutes just to get to land.  It is sad to think that, although the community gets a significant amount of money from tourism, it may not be going towards what the people there really need.

Otherwise, it couldn’t have been better. I find that I never feel more relaxed or sleep deeper than after a day at the beach, even in Ghana.

Smile for Me

I have spent the past week in Accra volunteering with an organization called Operation Smile during its mission to Ghana to fix cleft lips and palates.  Basically, exactly the sort of thing you would expect to be doing in Peace Corps.  Children and adults of all ages were bussed to Accra from the various regions of the country in the hopes of getting the reconstructive surgery. Operation Smile provides money for transportation, lodging, two meals a day, and free surgery for all of those who qualify.  Days 1 and 2 are for registration and screening, Day 3 is the creation of the OR schedule, and Days 4-8 are all surgery all day. Volunteers helped out at the shelter and at the hospital, entertaining patients, running charts, transporting people back and forth for surgery, and distributing food. It’s nice, because we truly get to know the patients and see the direct impact the surgery has on each individual.

Most of my time was dedicated to the shelter, but I did get to go to the hospital and observe a surgery! Yup, I gowned up, put on my shower cap, face mask, and booties and walked right into the OR.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were two rooms with multiple surgeries going on in each at all times. I peered over the surgeons shoulder as he mapped out where he was going to cut and got to it. With cleft lips, all of the tissue for the lip already exists; it is just in the wrong place. He cut the lip open and searched around in there until he found the tissue from both sides.  Then he pulled the pieces together and began the stitching.  This was my favorite part because right before my eyes a mangled face became a work of art.  The surgeons precisely placed the stitches, pulling each tight to create an almost seamless new lip.  Any squeamishness I thought I might experience was completely overpowered by the beauty of the process and the success of the end result.  Plus I got to see the inside of an OR before Jared… medical school, shmedical school.

111 surgeries were completed over the week, and I am sure that each of those was a life changes. All in all, a great week.  And in honor of Operation Smile:

Biking Fast-o to Burkina Faso

Things I have recently acquired: coffee, granola bars, macaroni and cheese, Nutella, a ton of movies, an iPhone, and a Jared! I know you’re all envying my Nutella right now.  No, but seriously, Jared fits right in here. He’s been given the local name “Bayoh,” which means he was born on market day (we don’t really know if he was, but we accepted the name anyway).  Now, anywhere we go, the chants of Bayoh rival the ones of Nayirima, and there are constantly children knocking at our door, begging him to come play football with them.  He even bought me a fan to combat the heat…although I’m beginning to this this was more for him than for me.

Last weekend, we decided to go down to the river that marks the border between Ghana and Burkina Faso, also known as the Black Volta. Quite ominous sounding, right? The rainy season has really kicked in, and there was the promise of somewhat raging waters.  The most flexible mode of transportation is by bike, but it also means you have to leave relatively early to avoid biking in the sun and cross your fingers that the rain doesn’t sneak up on you.

Waking up with the sun (that was me, as Jared needed a little coercing), we made coffee and got our things together for the trip.  We pushed off and began the 10km ride from Eremon to Lawra, taking turns doo-dooing the Indiana Jones theme song.  As we pedaled we responded to the many morning greetings and the screams of children chanting “Nan-sa-la, how are you? We are fine, thank you! And you?”  A nice gesture, but they never wait to actually hear how you are.  Plus, I never asked them how they were, so why are they telling me that they are fine?  Anyway, forty-five minutes and a Cliff Bar later we were passing through Lawra and approaching the river.

The water wasn’t as high as expected, but the view was amazing.  There is no border patrol in this area, and there was a single canoe taking people and their cargo back and forth across the border.  This included bags, bikes, and bottles.  We saw one shop owner taking across empties to buy mineral from Lawra and take it back to his small village in Burkina.

The grass on the Burkina side was looking pretty green, but we resisted the temptation of crossing and settled for taking some pictures and placing bets on which people coming across would respond to French, as opposed to Dagaari. On our way back, we stopped in Lawra for a vegetarian dinner with a few other volunteers at Delphina’s – a restaurant owned by a local woman who cooks the best Jolof rice in all of Ghana. We raced the darkness back to Eremon, dodging bugs and looking over our shoulders to watch the sun set. Maybe it doesn’t quite challenge the adventures of Indiana Jones, but it was a great day to say the least. Hum this next time you go biking…it makes the ride much more exciting.

You Got Schooled

This past week was school health week, which consisted of updating immunizations and holding health talks at the three Junior Secondary Schools and the Senior High School in Eremon.  I went along in an effort to meet the headmasters and health teachers and acclimate myself with the locations of the schools.  It was quite successful! I formed health clubs at the three JSSs and played health hangman with the kids – and when I say kids this also includes the 22 year-old student at one of the schools. I truly admire him for his persistence, but I have to admit that I gave myself a little pat on the back for completing college at an age younger than that at which he will finish middle school.

For the High School, I was chosen to give a talk on teenage pregnancy.  Personally, I prefer to hear about these things from someone who has actually gone through it.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), I have never been a pregnant teenager, but I did the best I could.  We discussed causal factors, consequences, and prevention strategies (use a condom, duh) and took questions from the audience.  I had one student ask me if it is true that she will “become sick if she stays a virgin for too long.“ My guess is that another student despicably tried to persuade her into having sex with him by citing this false information. I clarified for her that this was not the case, but I doubt it will be the last lie she hears about the topic.

At the same school, I worked with another Volunteer and some students visiting from North Carolina on the World Map Project.

They don’t learn geography, so most of the students don’t even know where Africa is, let alone Ghana.  I demonstrated how small Ghana is compared to the rest of the world and went on a tangent about how small we each are in the grand scheme of the universe.  People who know me well know that I hate thinking about space and how the Earth is a minute object floating around in our solar system, which is only one of many in the galaxy, which is only a tiny pinpoint of the infinite universe. And how can there be nothing outside the universe? Does something really exist if there is nothing to compare in relation to it? By the time I finished my rant, I was a little panicked myself and had about five students staring at me with blank faces. I think I may have lost them at “solar system.”

Painting the world reminded me of a my favorite game from childhood…do you remember this one?