Sunday, October 18, 2009

NY Times Article

As someone working on address labels for an upcoming wedding, I completely related to what was said.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Typical Day in Kumasi

Today was a typical close to the business week. I have been tirelessly tracking down different health officers, bureaucrats, administrators, and medical personnel, and collecting the data I need to write my report and generate some of the other materials I am contracted to do. I have gotten much of what I needed, and today was meant to bring my collection close to 85-90%.

That didn't happen.

My first appointment was at one of the largest hospitals in the country. I was sent to meet someone at the storage units next to the ambulance drop off. Well, being one of the largest hospitals in the country, ambulances go to more than one place. I picked one, and there was a storage unit there - the central storage unit. I thought I was where I needed to go, but apparently there is more than one central storage unit (go figure). I happened to be at the one in the building as far away as possible from where I needed to be. So I walked for 15 minutes, along the "veranda," from X-ray, to theatre, to blood bank, to children's, up some stairs to the maternity ward, down the stairs to the clinic, down a hall to central storage (woohoo!), and of course the person I was looking, never mind the fact that they weren't there, the people at the place never heard of them. Finally I located the person, who was up to their eyeballs in inventory. After waiting for 15 minutes, I opted to arrange a meeting at another time.

I went to the Regional Health Offices to meet with a gentleman who has been away all week. He, of course, wasn't there. His colleague had no idea where the data I needed was located, nor did the biostatistician, who wasn't there actually (both started a few months ago). A woman I have been trying to track down for days (I even followed her to a national AIDS conference, I wasn't invited, but no one really questioned the bruni who looks official I guess) said she can't find any of the data I want because she is also new. I gave up on locating the TB person.

I went to get a tour of one of the hospitals. They were sitting down to a staff meeting, of the entire staff (hospital was still open, mind you). The administrator said come back Monday.

I tried to get some information on the National health Insurance scheme. The head of PR was out, and her assistant was leading a talk back on something (she asked me to join, but it was in Twi, so I passed). The people processing information were all occupied and the only other people available were in the complains department, and they certainly weren't about to stop chatting to give a poor girl a little background information.

I went to the district health office, and the data manager, accountant, and health officer were all out, both times I checked today.

I eventually gave up. So instead, I satified my need to feel like I accomplished something today, so I went for my history and cultural lesson, and visited the Ashanti king's palace, and took a tour of the adjacent museum. It was no Buckingham (although it was built by the British), but it was a fascinating palace of one of the past Ashanti kings, and much of the furniture and artifacts are preserved as the king left it (the current king lives in a new building behind the museum). The king's bookcase was still on display, and he had a copy of the Tanach (Torah, Prophets, and Judges), as well as a copy of "Bobby Locke on Golf" (I have no idea who that is, but I found it interestingly placed). I got to see a lot of the jewelery, traditional garments, phones, stools, and pictures of the Prempeh II, king for 31 years. It was a perfect tour - in English, short, well-informed, room for questions, and visually fascinating.

Now is the start of the weekend, where I get to sit on my hands for 48 hours, sweat is the oppressive humidity, and wait for Monday to roll around, where I get to fight the traffic of Kumasi to make it to my now packed second to last day here.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

These tidbits of information don't get old.

Did you know that "blog" is short for weblog?

Did you know that the word google actually describes a number?

Did you know that there is actually a town in America called Sundance? This is where Robert Redford's character in Butch Cassidey and the Sundance Kid gets his name. The Sundance Film Festival is named after Robert Redford's character in the aforementioned film.

Did you know that St Augustine is the oldest settlement in America?

Did you know that I met a tailor herein Kumasi named Elvis? I have also met a Justice, Peace, Precious, Peace Precious, Grace, Patience, and Benedicta.

Other interesting trivia are welcome.

The Image from Today

Today, I was walking from a hospital on my way to a meeting at the Regional Health Authority. I turned the corner at the Military Fort Museum, and I saw what looked to be a man with fabric flowing down from his waist, held onto his body with some rope tied around his midsection. It looked like he had a cape on his waist - but covering the backside, not the front. As we got closer to each other, what I thought was his display of the full monty was correct. There he was, with his backwards loin-cloth, just walking down the street with his junk hanging out, as if nothing was weird about this.

Maybe it's me - is there something weird about this? I mean, this is the equivalent of a guy walking naked through Times Square or Wall Street. Oh right, the "Naked" Cowboy - but at least he wears underpants and boots.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thougths from a Health Care Data Collector in the Center of Kumasi

1. Kumasi, well, Ghana for that matter, needs to sell caffeine, in some other form than Coca Cola. I'll drink instant (gladly?) if it was more available.

2. There are few shoe stores here. Shoes are lined up on the curb, one of the pair, and advertised that way. And this type of selling is everywhere - I mean, how many loafers and sandals can a guy own? Out of the dozens of people I have seen selling shoes on the street/curb/out of basins on people's heads, I have only seen shoes sold in a permanent space twice.

3. I met a local foodie - this guy is awesome. Every day we talk about food, how to prepare dishes properly, and how to "take" them nicely (read: eat well).

4. Everyone should read "The Lost Continent" by bill bryson. It is awesome.

5. One of the few vegetarian snacks sold here is called Rock Bread. There are also Rock Buns. Who names a food after a hard object (here, try my specialty, cement stew)? In case you are interested, rock bread is a fried corn muffin with mild flavoring.

6. I finally found wheat bread - it is twice as much (two cedi, as compared to one) as the fluffy white bread of little nutritional value and substance, and weighed about 3 kilos. But it is wheat bread!

7. I bought oranges this weekend. I was really excited as I peeled one, because it revealed a pink flesh, and I was expecting to have something that tasted like pink lemonade, a mild blood orange, or possibly a grapefruit. After I got off the ruffage, I took a bite of a slice. How shall I describe this? It wasn't gaggingly terrible, it wasn't terrible. It actually had little flavour, but the flavour it had was off-putting in its subtleness. I even tried putting sugar on it, and no dice. What a waste of 20 cents.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

A day spent in chaos

Today I decided to brave it, and return to Kejitia Market, the central market of Kumasi, and the largest market in Western Africa. It is truely the antithesis to shopping as people know it in America - the suburban malls are a tame petting zoo compared to Kejitia - which is certainly in the the major league of shopping.

I learned today that it is the third largest on the continent of Africa (third to the market in Legos, Nigeria, and another in Cairo, Egypt). I failed the urban planning profession, and forgot to bring a map of the city when I came, but I have been getting around (more or less) by identifying a few markers, and walking in their general directions, assuming I will eventually get to where I am going. Thank god Kumasi sprawls out among many hills, and this method of spot location has worked pretty well so far. My markers are the prison/police station/Wellsley Church to the west, and St. Peter's Basillica (the other one) to the east. Of course, these cardinal directions are only guesses, but they work for me. From the last time I saw a map of Kumasi, I remembered that Kejitia was north from my hotel, and down a nearby road. So I started walking. I felt like an idiot, as I made a perfect circle around my block to get to the road simply at the back of the hotel, but after about 10-15 of ambling, the concentration of petty traders became more concentrated, and I figured I was on the outskirts of shopping mayhem.

I was right.

I chose to follow a few determined people who looked like they knew where they were going, and off we went, around vegetable sellers, through shops, around corners, and into the breath-taking vastness that is Kejetia. It was as crazy, chaotic, smelly, and overwhelming as I remembered, but this go-around, I wasn't responsible for five teens. This time I was let loose to get lost at my own leisure, and explore the market by taking whatever alley or turn that inspired me. I started wandering, through the zipper section, flip flop sections, shovels and sledge hammers, chicken wire, vegetables, baby clothes, miles of fabric. I don't know how I did it, but amongst the 10,000+ vendors, I spent 6 hours making friends, shopping, drinking a Fanta on some steps with a few new aunties, hanging out with my new Ghanaian auntie and uncle while their friend made me napkins from some fabric I had purchased 10 minutes previously, and visiting with Mabel as her mum made me a skirt (for 4 cedi).

I made a list of some of the things I saw for sale today:
Live chickens, sitting calmly (yes, calmly) in basins on people's heads
Cows' feet, and I think pigs' feet
Fish - fresh, cooked, dried, and prepared other ways
Ground nut paste
Junk jewelery and Gold plated jewelery
Fabric - miles of it, literally
Spoons and Stoves
Angry Preachers running up and down the aisles of the market shouting out the gospel (I assume)
Seamstresses and Zippers (not always together)
Candy and Crackers
Foam Matresses
People Sleeping on their wares
Children Sleeping on the stones
Children sleeping in their own urine
Soaked cow skins, wrapped in a little larger than bit-size pieces (a guy offered me some, but I kindly passed)
Blankets, towels, and bathmats
Scarves and sandals
Roasted Corn, grilled plantains
Prayer Rugs
Hair Weaves (and women weaving each other's hair everywhere)
Microwavable dishes - a real curio to me as electricity is intermittent here
Handbags, wallets, and mesh bags (these were a really popular item)
Machetes and mousetraps
Rope and thread
Soda, nail polish, shovels, and glue

Now, all of these goods, and hundreds more, were not only sold in the thousands of stalls, but all of these items were being carried around on people's heads, either in basins, on metal trays, or balanced precariously in piles on the crown. Several men walked around with fresh cuts of meat, and I got a lesson in the best cuts of meat in Ashanti (the region in which Kumasi is located). I passed on tasting and purchasing some of the marbled selections.

There really is some semblance of organization to the place. There are aisles of metal works: mousetraps, machetes, irons, shovels, chicken wire, etc., and this is bordered by patties and logs of what I guess is dung (sometimes used as fuel). There are areas in which cloths are concentrated, and then the flip flop section, pre-made clothes, children's clothing, children's underwear, and babies' things. There are several pockets of vegetable sellers, and a whole covered area for meat (I was too afraid to enter that place - I saw enough hooves and innards, and more importantly smelled enough raw meat baking in the sun for one day).

I just want to say that in the internet cafe I am patroning at the moment, Dolly Parton just came on, and the attendant turned it up. Globalization is a great thing sometimes...

Where was I? Right, stinking raw meat in the heat...I think I still smell of it.

How can I top that?
Until next time my friends...your happy Texan bruni in Kumasi signs off.

(bruni is the third word I have learned in Twi - it means white person)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Just three days into this visit...

Just three days into my visit, and I:

1. Finally caved in, and bought ground nut paste and bananas. I thought I would never eat this snack again, but I was wrong. There is only so much fried egg, bread, and laughing cow cheese a girl can take.

2. Watched Oprah.

3. Put on make up (I had a meeting today though).

4. Met Israelis (no kidding!)

5. Got in trouble for taking pictures of a supermarket. Apparently photos aren't allowed into the Pick N' Pay (actual name), but, honestly, how could I resist taking a picture of a box of corn flakes that advertised "adopt a monkey for free"?