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"?

Adieu, Golokuati

Leaving Monday morning was a mix of hectic dashing to get bags and purchased items onto the tro-tro, and trying to remember a place I might never again visit in my life. It was an emotional goodbye, more so than I had anticipated. The 6 of our fellow workmen (who had attended the community ceremony the night before) came to see us off, and Gladys, our cook, and her daughters tearfully embraced us as we ran back and forth from our rooms to the tro tro, packing last minute items. Henry, our NGO liaison and general savior, was one of the hardest people for us to say thank you and good bye to, and he made fun that we Americans cry too much.

It's strange that people I lived with for two months I probably will never see again. I know a great deal, and at the same time, pitifully little, about the people I lived with and the neighbors I befriended, partially from having to run after teens all day and partially from the language barrier, and partially from not taking more time to sit with my friends and learn more than how to pound fufu or make palm nut stew. In many senses, we are worlds away. Many people we met had never been to Kumasi or Cape Coast, and leaving Ghana was a pipe dream. I, on the other hand, have visited 26 countries, and travel around relatively freely, and have had incredible opportunities in my life to study what I want, live where I want, try out new professions, and hop on a plane and be a thousand miles away from home in a few hours. I don't feel guilty about this, but wanted to share the strange emotions that come with knowing someone, and at the same time, knowing your paths may never cross again, purely because of the hand life dealt you.

Libation send-off

Sunday evening, the community hosted a ceremony for us, similar to the welcome ceremony from the beginning of the summer. In typical Ghanaian fashion, the 2pm ceremony became, 4pm, then 6, then 7, and then whenever the elders showed up, which they eventually did. Sammy, our foreman, Raymond, the chief's chief warrior and our go-to man on the worksite, the masons, Idi, Fred, and Hashana, and the nameless old man who collected the worksite's tools every day from different people's homes and brought them to the work site for us to use, also showed up. We arranged plastic chairs in our compound's courtyard and our group sat in one half, while the community members who showed up sat in the rows across from us. An elder in a matching purple and white tie-dyed pants and shirt addressed us, and thanked us for the work we did on and for the community center. Then two women got up and placed kente cloths around the group leaders necks. Kente is a fabric identified with Ghana, that is woven on a special type of loom, only by men. They are traditionally worn by royals in special ceremonies. Anyhow, these women came around and then placed a kente cloth around each of the participants' necks. Then an older gentleman with cloth wrapped around his waist and shoulder in traditional fashion, came to the front the community's row, and offered libations, from the two bottles of gin we offered to the community (appropriate thanks for their hosting us this summer). The man was the strongest and most sinewy human being I have ever laid my eyes upon - you couldn't work out to get this kind of muscle definition. I can only presume that this anatomical definition came from lifetime of physical work. Anyhow, Mr. Sinew in Wrapped Cloth made the libations offer, took some shots, and then passed the bottle to the elders, and community members, of which all partook. When you take a shot, you drink most of the alcohol in the glass, and then pour out a few drops, to honor the ancestors. Ben, Sara, and I were offered a shot, and to this, we acquiesced, but stopped the bottle before it touched the lips of any participant. After the ceremony (it pretty much ends when the drinks come out), there was a drum circle and dancing, a festive and great way for us to spend our last night in Golokuati.

I wish I went to church more often.

Sunday morning we went to church - the Queen of Peace Catholic Church to be exact. This is one of 25 churches in our town of 3500, and the church that Gladys, our cook, and her family attends. We got dressed in our Shabbos clothes (unlike some of the other women, I chose not to wear a dress with printed pictures of the Hohoe archdiocese and Ghana bishop on it...), and one participant wore his kippah (head covering). At church, we sat with Gladys and one of her sons, quietly listening to the preacher's sermons, which were a mix of Ewe and English. In the first (of four) sermons, the preacher gave us a shout out, and welcomed the white people to the congregation. He welcomed his white brothers, and white sisters. There was drumming and singing throughout the whole service - by both men and women, and no kneeling (while we were there). Holy water was splashed on us a few times (not a sprinkle, but a full-on splash). We were told not to take communion because we weren't Catholic (another shout out to the group). It was really beautiful, and I wish we had made more efforts to attend church while we were in Golokuati.

The highlight was the end of the service. The preacher called up the group, and 17 awkward white Jews nervously walked up the aisle to the bimah (I don't know what else to call it). The preacher gave us a blessing for the work we had done, for what we believed in (he said it was the same thing as Christians), and then pulled up the kid who wore the kippah. He really stands out because of his bright red hair. The preacher said something about him, the congregation laughed, and then we got more holy water drenched on us. The congregation laughed, as we didn't know to turn our heads down as the preacher blessed us, and I walked away with water dripping off my hair, into my eyes, and down my blouse.

I wonder how many 50 kg bags of cement I lifted this summer?

We brought our efforts on the work project to a close a week and a half ago. In the course of 7 weeks, we made over 1300 bricks, learned how to mix foundation and mortar, laid the bricks for the exterior wall, leveled the remaining property, and nearly completed the excavation of a manhole (for a septic tank) - an 8 foot deep hole, behind our site. It was without a great deal of fanfare that our last work day ended - there were a few more pictures taken than usual, and the participants kept jumping in and out of the manhole to see if they could get out (they all eventually did), and we said goodbye to Sammy, our foreman, Raymond, the chief's chief warrior and our go-to man on the work site, and the masons, Idi, Fred, and Hashana.

That evening, we had a wonderful Shabbat at which we invited the NGO liasion who worked with us, and our cook and her family. We had baked several challot this week, and we have come a long way from the over-risen, rock hard cracker that characterized our first forays into bread-making in temperamental Ghanaian ovens and humid weather. The rest of the weekend was spent packing and cleaning our rooms - amazing the mess that can be made by 15 teens (and 3 group leaders) in just 7 weeks!