Sunday, July 26, 2009

"Madam, give me..."

It's Friday, mid-morning. There is only one teacher to control the entire primary school. The kids are a bit unruly -- playing games, screaming, doing god knows what. However, their favorite activity is antagonizing the White Lady. They clamor onto my porch, smash their grubby hands and faces against the screens. Anything to get a glimpse into the fabulous world of the White Lady. I hear them shuffling and shouting, calling for me and my dog. No matter how many times I respond to their greetings, they can't be subdued.

I finally go outside and face them head on. "What do you want?" I ask in Dagbani. Typical response -- "Madam, give me ______!" Give me money, toffee (candy), your dog, book, pen, shirt. Anything really. I say, "No, I will not give you anything. You are very rude." I go back inside and as I'm busy closing windows in the children's faces I hear, "Madam, my hunger." As I slam the last window shut I say, "Then go home and eat rice." I think I'm jaded.

Over the past ten months in Ghana, I've often wondered, where does this 'give me' mentality come from? I think it lies in the role NGOs play. Ghana is simply flooded with NGOs. This makes sense. It is in Africa, the land of destituion and despair. And unlike many other African nations it is quite stable, peaceful, and friendly. It's a pretty logical choice. So Ghanaians (to some extent) have grown accustomed to us whities coming in and giving things away. Unfortunately, this makes things quite difficult for Peace Corps volunteers who are placed in communities for an extended period of time with little to no financial resources. It also tends to completely eliminate any needs assessment activities which, in my opinion, are of utmost importance in development.

I think it is extremely important to allow communities and individuals to determine their own needs. It is easy for NGOs and do-gooders to enter a community and say, "Well, there are no latrines here. This community must need latrines." They will then proceed to provide latrines. However, unless the community has actually expressed any interest in these latrines, they will probably go unused. Or in one case in my village, be used as a chicken coop.

In response to this problem, I decided to only try projects specifically requested by the village. Especially after watching the failure of projects which were not specifically requested. I attempted a latrine project at the request of my counterpart, which failed. Villagers claimed a lack of funds. At the urging of the assemblyman and community women, I attempted to establish a community center which would contain a pre-school, nutrition center, and library. The District Assembly prepared a budget for the building alone which exceeded 100,000 Ghana cedis. Peace Corps has deemed this project too big and improbable. After reading "Banker to the Poor" by Muhammad Yunus, I wanted to try micro-credit. My parents graciously agreed to donate $100 to the cause. At the first meeting the women complained that the money was not enough and that I did not bring them sodas. The second meeting has yet to occur because it rained during the morning of the meeting. The meeting was scheduled for the afternoon.

So I'm a bit frustrated. I feel as though Ghanaians skipped, or want to skip, some development steps. Shitting in a hole rather than in the bush? Nah. Cell phones and motorcyles? Definitely. Although people in my village claim to see the importance of things such as mosquito nets, latrines, and soak-away pits, they always tend to put them quite low on the priority list. One man spent 60 Ghana cedis wiring his house for lights when there isn't even electricity in Lungbunga. Yet he supposedly cannot afford the 2 cedis for a mosquito net. It's a matter of priority.

Ultimately, this isn't such a bad move on the part of Ghanaians. They figure eventually an NGO will come around and give them these materials -- mosquito nets, latrines, boreholes, etc. So why bother spending money on them? This is perhaps my greatest irk with development work. There is a huge push to bring health, water, and sanitation materials to communities at no cost. However, it is likely that these communities can afford such materials, if only they re-prioritized.

This "give me" mentality is so pervasive that even an educated, Ghanaian adult working for an NGO asked me what I thought Obama would bring to Ghana. I told him I thought Obama would bring his friendship and that should be enough. I feel like something is amiss. If children can say "give me money/toffee/whatever," but few other English phrases, what does that say about the culture? Or maybe more importantly, what does that say about us do-gooder whites?

Whenever I ask Ghanaians about this "give me" issue they say it is mostly a joke. Who thought it would be funny to demand possesions from people? Adults in my village demand my food, money, clothes, dog, pretty much any possession I have that they like. How did this turn funny and why would anyone perpetute this problem by continuing to simply give?

Why does no one else seem bothered by these things?? And finally, am I turning into a conservative?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fastest Six Weeks EVER

I know, I know, it's been a long time since I've written. I've been busy. Well, relatively (no pun intended haha I didn't even realize that was a pun at first which makes it even better).

First and foremost, my lovely family came to Ghana! If you want to see lots and lots of pictures than go to Picasa website and search it up. It was wonderful and ridiculous, just like most things in the Trottman family. They all did very well and I am very proud! And besides, if I can live the Ghanaian lifestyle, the rest of the Trottmans DEFINITELY can. Some highlights:

1. Mama got The Heat Stroke! She decided it was a good idea to take not only one, but TWO bike rides down the dirt road under the blazing mid-day sun. Each one was about an hour long. After the second one she came back and didn't look so hot (literally, actually - she wasn't sweating at all) and she acted all woozy. The LB set in shortly after. If you don't know what LB stands for, ask someone.

2. Dad learned all about why my village doesn't have electricity! Or rather, why it actually does have electricity, but no one has it. Through traditional Doug Trottman interrogation methods he learned that electricity runs through all the wires in Lungbunga, transformers are in place, and many houses are already wired and equipped with meters. The government, however, has yet to install some small thing (yes, I forgot the name) and so no one can have electricity. Pretty lame. But it provided me the perfect opportunity to chastise my counterpart for spending 60 cedis on getting his house wired (when there aren't even lights), while claiming he can't afford a latrine (20 cedis).

3. Paul played doctor! After finding out he's going to become an actual doctor one day, he decided to do some warm-ups. An NGO called United for Sight came to Lungbunga primarily to conduct eye exams and give out low-cost glasses. They also thought it might be helpful to get some blood pressure readings, since obviously everyone in Lungbunga has access to blood pressure medication. So Paul got the job. I played documentarian for the whole event. I think it was the first time in my life I had operated a video camera. Good luck to whoever's editing it for fundraising propaganda. Sage really is a cute dog though...

4. Angela survived two weeks of Trottmans! Enough said.

We also learned a lot about sheep. Americans new to Ghana have a different, I would venture to say cleaner, smell, which seemed to attract the sheep. Also, sheep really really don't like my dog. One actually chased her. An unprovoked adult sheep chased my dog. And another sheep accidentally head-butted my shin because I was standing between it and Sage.

The Trottmans also experienced a traditional Dagomba drumming and dancing festival, hosted by a family friend living in Tamale. Even dad danced.

Paul and Angela stayed in the motherland for an extra two weeks, so they got to witness some more joys of Ghana. For example, a "meeting." Which means travelling an hour and a half on terrible roads to see someone for maybe ten minutes. And then coming right back. Also, "medical attention." My friend has been terribly sick and was diagnosed with both malaria and typhoid. Which is interesting, because most other Peace Corps volunteers who went to this particular hospital were diagnosed with both malaria and typhoid.

Then came the hardest part - tearing myself away from Ghana long enough to vacation in Europe. I spent about two weeks travelling through Europe with a good friend from high school and college. We went to Germany, France, Switzerland, and Austria. Needless to say, it was amazing. Except for the part at the end when a bag containing most of my possessions was stolen. But I think the non-boxed wine, real cheese, and creamy chocolate were worth it. I also got to see an Army base. A Peace Corps volunteer visits an Army base. Hmmm...

So now I'm back. Home sweet home! It actually is though, which is nice. Although I just arrived about 12 hours ago, it's surprisingly comforting to be back in Ghana. I'm looking forward to going back to my village and seeing Musah, eating TZ (hopefully not with the phlegm soup), and watching sheep follow Sage girl. I missed that.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Operation

Today I took Sage for the big operation. I don't really know if Ghanaians know the word "spay," so I just stick to "operation." That's what they usually say anyway.

So the vet tells me to be at the clinic at 8:00am. I arrive around 8:04. Surprise, surprise the veterinary clinic is locked and empty. Around 8:15 I call the vet to make sure I am at the right place at the right time. Yes, he will be there in "a few minutes." Slowly, the clinic employees trickle in. The vet arrives around 8:45 and we are still waiting for more people. Apparently this operation is a multi-personnel event.

The vet, Sage, and I are relaxing on a veranda when his Nicaraguan wife appears, who is apparently also a vet. She helps him with the Saturday morning spayings. They go inside to prepare and when the vet man comes out he has a syringe full of something. He says to me, "Do we need to muzzle her for an injection?" I say, "I don't know...I don't think so..." Muzzles sound scary. So he says, "Ok, hold her front legs." When I said that she didn't need a muzzle, I was assuming that I would not be involved in the injection process. As he's sticking the needle into her thigh Sage girl is struggling, crying, even half-heartedly trying to bite my hands away.

So then she is drugged. She stumbles around like a drunk person who can't keep her balance. I keep trying to get her to lay down or something, but she's not cooperating. The vet man just stands by, watching. I feel like I should be receiving some advice or assistance, but no. I just stay on the floor with Sage until the assistants have prepped the outdoor, wooden table where she will be shaved.

I guess they forgot soap and water because after the vet man begins shaving Sage he asks an assistant to fetch some. Sage does not like this. Especially the soap and water part. She is moaning, yelping, and crying. I am standing maybe two feet away, trying not to cry. It was distressing!

So she's shaved. They pick her up under her armpits and lug her into the "operating room." (Operating room?) Apparently Sage girl is as stubborn as her mother and will not go under the anesthetics. They keep giving her more and more but she stays awake. And to make it worse, she is increasingly confused and irritated by the people holding her down on the table. She momentarily lifts her head to make deranged, drugged howling sounds. It's kind of heart breaking. The vet man and assistants keep tapping her eyes to see if she is out or not. She's not, clearly.

Finally the vet man decides that a different anesthesia is necessary. Unfortunately the large bottle which they keep in storage is "finished." The Nicaraguan wife has to drive somewhere (maybe their home) to retrieve more. Meanwhile Sage is beginning to come out from under her drugged state. She thrashes and groans more. One of the assistants is called elsewhere so it becomes my job to hold her front paws down.

Sage girl is finally out! Of course they have to administer another round of local anesthesia since the original one wore out after such a long time. I decide it's a good idea to hang around and watch what happens. The vet man cuts open her lower abdomen and begins. He starts by pulling out her bladder and exclaiming on how full it is! Lovely. I circle around the table trying to find the best angle.

Things seem to be going smoothly. Using some forceps he removes the uterus, I think. There's a lot of blood. It even smells like blood in the room. I feel pretty good about the situation, except for the disconcerting glances exchanged between the vet man and wife. What are these looks about? Do they know something that I don't? After all, there is a LOT of blood. And organs just hanging out there. It's understandable that these secretive glances could cause concern.

I guess everything turned out alright. Except towards the end. The vet man pauses in his work and leans back against the wall. He lets out a big sigh. "Is everything ok??" I exclaim. "Oh, my back! It is paining me! You see, we should have a table which can move up and down." I sort of feel better, but would also prefer if he would just put my dog's organs back on the inside. Then the assistant swings open a window. Vet man says, "Oh, I can't see because I am getting old, that is why you opened the window." Please sir, don't disclose your lapses in vision to me at any point during a surgery. Lastly, as he is stitching up the wound and explaining the importance of doing it well, he comments on his shaking hands. "See how my hands shake? Oh, the coffee." What??

Afterwards they swab her off a bit and carry her gingerly back to the veranda. I ask, "So what will you do with the uterus, just throw it away?" "Oh no! We will bury it!"

Poor uterus-less Sage girl rests lifelessly on the veranda. I sit down next to her, not really sure what to do. The wife offers me a ride back to the Peace Corps office, which I gladly accept. No one instructs me on how to move my limp, dead weight dog, so I just pick her up like I always do. I haul her to the car and put her in the backseat. When I look, I have blood all over the front of my shirt. How lovely.

So now we are back in the Peace Corps office. Apparently I was very wrong in thinking that I could take her back to the village as early as...tomorrow. Most of today she spent in a drugged, groggy stupor. When she finally emerged from it she could barely walk and started to bleed from her stitches. Of course I freaked out. I spent most of the evening sitting at her side, stroking her and trying to keep her from licking her stitches. Now I understand why American vets keep the dogs in custody for at least 24 hours after the operation.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hermaphrodites, Aliens, and Drugs

So I feel like quite a bit has happened since my last post. A lot of new things. So here we go:

School Health Lessons - I've started going to the JSS (equivalent of middle school) about twice a week teaching lessons. I worked with another teacher doing a malaria lesson, then did nutrition, then did one HIV/AIDS lesson. The kids are fairly receptive and actually seem to know quite a bit about this health stuff. I think it's pretty funny that I'm teaching. I mean, what do I really know? I'm standing up there talking about types of malnutrition like "marasmus" and "kwashiorkor" and I'm thinking, What? When did this happen? Who gave me the authority to teach these kids?

The funniest experience with this, by far, was the HIV/AIDS lesson. I went through the basics, which they mostly knew, then asked if they had questions. The questions began with condoms, but quickly took a turn for the absurd and bizarre:

"I am hearing that there are people with both penises and vaginas. Is it true?" Well, yes. They are called hermaphrodites. Wait, why am I saying "hermaphrodite" in a Ghanaian classroom??

"Can I wear a condom if I am not having sex?" Umm....and why would you want to do that?

"In the movie I am seeing two women having sex. Is this possible?" Ok, first, where are you getting these movies from? You only watch Nigerian or Dagbani films...and I'm pretty sure homosexuality is illegal in Ghana.

So I quickly had a SWARM of kids around me, all shouting "Madam! Madam!" and flinging their strange questions at me. One smaller boy (whose name is apparently Good Boy) kept repeating, "When you bring condoms, bring MORE! When you bring condoms, bring MORE!" Needless to say, I was exhausted after this. I went outside and began telling to the teachers what had just happened. One teacher explained the importance of condom demonstrations with a wooden penis (which Ghanaians pronounce pen-nis). Apparently some other health educators had gone through the village demonstrating, but were using their fist as a make-shift penis. Months later many village women were pregnant because the men had been putting the condoms over their fists during intercourse. Oh boy.

A Birth - Yes, I saw a birth. I've wanted to see one since I've been here and one day after teaching I went to the clinic to say hello. The midwife told me a woman would be giving birth soon. I asked if she would inform me when it happened. So an hour later a nurse came over calling, "Suhiyini, Suhiyini, it's time, come quick!" So I head over with a weird sense of trepidation. I had the same feeling I get before going on a roller coaster or watching a scary movie.

I enter the room and there's the lady, all laid out on the table. I say to the midwife, "Is it ok, are you sure she doesn't mind that I'm in here?" The response: "What does she care, who is she to say whether or not you can be here?" is her body and her vagina. So I'm hanging out. The midwife is literally slapping the poor laboring woman's thighs, shouting at her to spread wider, push harder. The woman is SILENT. No tears, no screams, nothing. I am impressed. The midwife demands that I stand right at the foot of the table so I can get a nice view. And then it happened. It was like an alien encounter. I swear. I have never seen anything like that before. The little head starts peeking out and then all of a sudden, whoosh!, here comes the body! And it's creepy because the skin color is less brown, more...purple. So it kind of looked like an alien.

So then the midwife proceeds to grope around inside the woman's vagina to check for bleeding and tears. The blood is just pouring out of her. The midwife constructs a makeshift diaper/pad devise out of strips of cloth and cotton. Then the woman's mother, or someone, comes in and proceeds to make a cup of tea for the new mother, who is already sitting up, getting dressed, etc. And just like that, it's over! WOW. That's all I can really say.

Guinea Fowl Purchase - The long-time vegetarian is now buying an animal to keep and feed in preparation of it's slaughter. A friend from southern Ghana is coming up to visit this week, so I thought in his honor I would buy a guinea fowl to eat. They are not common in the south and figured he should get a taste (no pun intended haha) of northern culture. So on market day I meet up with my counterpart to go in search of a guinea fowl. The whole experience kind of felt like buying illegal drugs. We were just strolling nonchalantly through the market, seeking potential sellers. The birds are all kept in these basket things that are impossible to see into, so you don't really know what it is that you're buying. We found a few different sellers, then went back and forth trying to get a good price. So I finally secured one for 5.50 Ghana cedis. Not bad. So then I'm walking around the market holding this live bird. I just kept laughing at myself. I think mostly because it felt so normal. Which obviously is strange.

Ok, so now that this is the longest post over, I'll stop. I also started a debate club at the JSS, which has been interesting, and I have some newfound ideas about development, both of which I will write about later. Again, I apologize for no pictures, but I promise they will come soon. I will be at a week-long Peace Corps workshop soon with lots of internet time (I hope!). And now I will go in search of a hotel with satellite so I can watch the Tar Heels beat Oklahoma! GO HEELS!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Is eating rocks bad for your teeth?

Ok, so internet is down at the Tamale office yet again. So even though I actually took lots of pictures in preparation for multiple blog posts, I won't put them up now. It's entirely too difficult and annoying to do at an internet cafe. But just look forward to many, many pictures to come!

I'm trying to remember highlights of the past few seems almost like a blur actually. Things are going well though! I'm feeling more and more comfortable in my village. Getting used to people and people are getting used to me.

I've been going to help out at the clinic on antenatal and baby weighing days. This is interesting and also terribly frustrating. I go and stand around for a while and ask if I can help out anywhere. Sometimes they let me make tallies in a big book, recording the number of pregnant women coming, their trimester, how many kids they've had, etc. So this is nice. I don't mind doing that. But then sometimes they will pair me up with a nurse and give us a task that one person could do easily and probably more efficiently. So then I try to sort of step out. It just seems insane to me. Also, there is NO system or organization at these days, so I want to try to develop a sort of routine. Maybe. Concepts such as "systems" and "routines" and "order" are somehow out of the grasp of many Lungbungians. Maybe most Ghanaians really. So after standing around for a long time doing absolutely nothing I say "Okay, I'm going to go take my lunch." And they proceed to laugh at me and act like I'm skipping out on work! But how can I explain to them that if I stand here and watch the inefficiency and lack of productivity any longer that I might go CRAZY?? It's easier to say that I'm hungry.

The teachers are all still around, which is great. Most of the teachers are really awesome and we can relate in a way because they are generally from Tamale and we have similar complaints about village life and living away from home. They are also great with Sage. One in particular likes to do this weird arm-flailing dance/hop thing and repeat her name over and over. I think he's trying to play with her, but she just looks confused. I've started teaching in the schools a bit. Well, I have once so far. But it's a start. My friend and I taught a lesson about malaria. I'm going to try to get in the routine of going to the JSS (junior high school) at least once or twice a week. The primary school is kind of my worst nightmare, so I tend to avoid it. Dozens of children screaming in Dagbani...why would I want that?

Last Monday was the first day of a two-day Dagomba festival. It was great! It's called Damba and is held to celebrate the prophet Mohammad's birth. The second day will be this coming Monday and is supposed to be even bigger than the first. So I went to the chief's palace with my camera and everything is great, I'm watching the drumming and the old men dance around in their smocks, but then the GUN MAN had to come in and ruin it for me. Apparently I am absolutely terrified of guns! The village thinks it's hilarious. And then they lie to me and say, "Oh no, he won't shoot again." So then I get angry and say, "You are LYING to me!" Haha it's pretty funny though really. I just follow the kid's cues and cover my ears whenever they do. But it's hard to take good pictures and enjoy the festival when you're constantly on the lookout for the gun man!

Lungbunga's been having some crazy weather too. A few nights ago there was an intense storm - I mean like hurricane intense. I had just finished dinner and was getting all excited for a little evening rain (since I rarely ever see rain anymore), when suddenly the lightning started to flash and the wind started howling and my back door completely blew open even though it was latched. Oh and a panel in the bedroom ceiling started popping off. So my excitement kind of turned a bit panicy, but once all the windows were closed and everything valuable was safely away from the wind and rain I started thinking about the implications of natural disasters in the developing world. You don't get any hurricane watches, or hurricane warnings. Nope! It just COMES and pretty quickly too. I feel like I have a better understanding of the devastation communities go through due to weather - failed crops, floods, houses destroyed by wind. It's crazy! We're lucky in America! I remember back in elementary school doing all those drills for different natural disasters. Get in the hallway, duck and cover, go in the closet, etc. All those annoying tests on the radio all the time for severe weather. But that's nice! It would be nice to get a little heads up on these things.

That pretty much sums things up. My house is definitely starting to come together and I'm feeling very much at home. I really do love my house. I'm also still learning how to cook. Slowly getting better at the whole rice and beans thing. I need to be better about cleaning the rice though, I think eating rocks is bad for your teeth.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"The public latrine is occupied with feces."

I hope you all liked the pictures! I wonder if it's at all what you imagined. I will try to be better about putting pictures up. So here's what's been happening in Lungbunga --

I've started to do a bit of small work. I started doing a census where I go around from house to house with my counterpart asking questions about health, water, sanitation, etc. A lot of the answers are redundant, but it has given me some good project ideas. I'm finding out about mosquito net usage, illnesses, water sources, what they want me to teach in the schools (one person said singing haha), this kind of thing. Most importantly I discovered that there are hardly ANY latrines in Lungbunga. No one has private household latrines and the public latrines are apparently "occupied with feces," according to one respondent. So they just go out to the bush. Which is gross. This is a good project for me to work on - bringing my village a place to defecate.

Also, the school holiday ended. This is good and bad. Good because the teachers moved back to the teachers quarters where I also live, so I have some neighbors and people to hang out with. Also good because I can go to the schools and help out. Bad because kids are annoying. This is a very important lesson I've learned that I forgot to mention last post. I used to think that non-American children were somehow cuter than American ones. This is NOT true. Not at all. My house is right by the primary school so when the children go on break they come rushing to my window to terrorize me. They yell my name, yell my dog's name (except the usually can't pronounce "Sage," so they say Sadie or Seidu), ask for things, mock me, etc. Many times I go running outside and tell them that it is rude to look through people's windows and if they want to speak to me they can come to the front door like normal people. So yes, African kids are just as annoying as American kids. If not more so in some cases.

Oh and last weekend we had kill dogs day in the village! I let Sage out to run around and the teachers warned me to be careful with her because the villagers were going out to kill dogs. Yes, apparently they were fed up with the wild dogs eating their sheep and goats so they rounded up the guns. They assured me that since everyone knows Sage belongs to me that she will be fine. Also that she is too small to kill any goats or sheep. So I felt somehow reassured.

Other white people came to my village last week! Two older British people who come to Ghana every year for three months as volunteers work with an NGO called King's Village that I also work with. So they just showed up one day! It was exciting to see other white people, and even more exciting because they are more cynical about Ghana than I am! They looked at me and said, "How are you coping?? How are you finding the food? What do you do for friends?" They were also highly suspicious that the meeting we scheduled for this week would actually start on time. And very vocal about it. So that made me feel better about my own cynicism.

So those are the Lungbunga updates! Of course I have good days and bad days, but who doesn't? I'm still feeling good about being here and that's what matters I guess. I'm continuing to get more settled in my home and making more friends, which is nice. And sometimes they bring me food which is even better.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


So here are some pictures! FINALLY!! I know it's taken a long time, but I'm not very camera-savvy. And I'm kind of lazy about taking pictures. Oh and I'll write a real post later on. But I thought pictures were most important. So, welcome to my new life in Ghana via pictures.

Ok, so that first picture that sort of resembles a food is fufu and groundnut soup with some kind of meat. Maybe chicken. Maybe goat. Mom, dad, Paul - get ready! Then there's the local dam that I walk to everyday. Then my bedroom and kitchen. The next one is a girl I often see on my dam walks. This is the path to the dam. And the third to the last is my backyard. See, I really do have a village in my backyard! The last two are my little babila (meaning small dog in Dagbani), or Sage. So there you go!