After six months in Kenya and two months in Ghana, I am now at the final post of my first African journey. My new roommate, Celia, and I arrived from Accra on July 11. Celia, from Rome, Italy, studies anthropology at Brunel University in London. She is 21 years old and has traveled extensively, including trips to several other African countries, and fluently speaks Italian, French, German, Spanish, and English. I feel quite deficient, only speaking English.
This last assignment is by no means my most enjoyable or satisfying, but the town and region are beautiful, and I am excited to travel this region. The town center of Have (Hav, as in lava; the e as in eh) is the most picturesque and tidy of any I have seen, either in Kenya or Ghana. The road is in good condition through town, and mostly throughout the region, at least as far as here from the coast. Have is nestled at the foot of lush green Weto Mountain, which is part of the Akwapim Togo Range, bordering Have on the east, with the Dayi River and Lake Volta to the west. Farming, trading and fishing are major occupations. Have is a collection of 9 villages, the main one being here at Have-Etoe, with a total population of about 6,000. The people are Ewe, which is the local language. English depends on education level.
There are two programs here for Village Volunteers - a clinic and a sustainable agriculture farm. Celia and I were both placed at the clinic. No nutrition education for me here, as almost no English with clinic clientele (still hoping to organize some nutrition talks with village groups). Duties include registration, taking weights and temperatures, recording and dispensing prescriptions, and working with the public health nurses on immunization day at the clinic and outreach clinics in small area villages. The work is very simple, but we are helpful, as patients tend to come at the same time, so the rush can be chaotic. There are no appointments. And, while the extra hands we provide improve patient service, and reduce staff load, I feel my most important contribution is kindness, and welcoming care. Patients are often mistreated by clinic and hospital staff, especially in government facilities (Celia and I have both been close to tears at some of the verbal cruelty). Something about being in a higher position makes some people very arrogant - I’ve seen it in both Kenya and Ghana. I think it’s related to the whole “power corrupts” thing that has plagued African countries. Anyway, I try to compensate by being extra friendly to the patients, welcoming them, smiling, thanking, etc. - human kindness and consideration not given by their own practitioners who are supposed to be serving and helping them. So, I’m not saving the world - or even one person, but doing what I came for: cultural exchange, and to extend a friendly human hand.
Living and meal arrangements are a bit strange. We have adjusted about as much as we can to the living situation. We live in a large house of an absentee owner, whose brother, John (Ewe name is Kofi - born on Friday) is the live-in caretaker. Kofi is highly principled and religious, and we are comfortable with him and becoming closer friends by the day, however, other people often come into the house that we do not know. We have learned that some of those that pop in unannounced are family, mostly brothers, who use the house when they come in from out of town. I’m sure they are all okay, but this last weekend, one of them got on our bad side when he ate two of our huge beautiful mangoes that were ripening on the dining table. By the time we knew he was there, the mangoes had disappeared. We believe it is the same brother who apparently used the room we are now in. We also believe it is the person who left a used condom under the bed that was in the room when we arrived. Prior to us, the female volunteers stayed in another house. They had just arranged for us to stay in the current house, and it wasn’t prepared. So, we set to cleaning, and under the bed found, among other things, a pair of men’s shoes and a used condom. When the family came to stay for the festival weekend, the brother in question was surprised that his room was no longer his. When we were asked if we had found a pair of shoes in the room, Celia and I looked at each other with a big “Aha!” The other offense I’m not happy about is the toilet area, which we have to share with all the “intruders.” They dirty it and do not clean up after themselves, and I refuse to be their maid. So, we clean it enough for us to use it, but not clean up after them, which is difficult. I’ll just be glad to get out of there, and will be suggesting to the program director here that other arrangements are needed for the clinic volunteers. The farm volunteers have another house, but even better, will eventually be in their own quarters that are currently being renovated at the farm.
Meals also are not the most comfortable situations. Our cook, Florence, lives in town, a 10-15 minute walk away. Our first day, she appeared at 7 a.m., with quick oatmeal and scrambled eggs, and waited while we ate, then cleaned up after us, and left. Same for lunch and dinner. Not enjoyable to have someone waiting for you to eat. And, she was clearly impatient if we didn’t gobble down, which I refused to do. In addition to having an audience while we ate, sitting in the large house at the large dining table was not pleasant. Florence quickly changed from delivering our food to sending it with her nephews, Sampson and/or Richard, which makes sense, since we are near their school. One arrives with breakfast about 6:30 and leaves for school. Then, we eat in peace outside on the veranda. For lunch, we now walk to Florence’s for exercise, and a change of scenery. Dinner we were also taking at Florence’s and enjoying her outdoors and family, but Celia, especially, was getting mosquito bites, so we take dinner at our house. Dinner can be a bit unpleasant for me when people, especially young men, are hanging about. I have to say, I will welcome the end of this strange part of this experience, and am actually glad to end on this note, looking forward to returning home, rather than sad and not wanting to leave, as with Kenya.
The best part of this final leg of the journey is the Volta Region - stunningly beautiful. The Have program director, Paul Kpai, is committed to development in Have. He works tirelessly, and is involved with a multitude of development groups. One of his dreams is to develop tourism here, and he has started taking us on tours so we can help promote the area to Village Volunteers, as well as give him feedback on his vision. So, my remaining blogs will be on our sightseeing travels in the region. We are immensely enjoying Paul’s tours (mostly at his own expense) and the regional beauty.
In less than one month, I depart Accra for New York, via London. Time is flying by. Soon I will be job hunting in Seattle, and do not have a clue what I want to do. I was so sure that my path would follow from this journey, but the waters have only muddied, as my interests have broadened. The road ahead is still a mystery.
Looking forward to seeing many of you soon. Peace and love,
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