I’ve been sitting at the computer for a few hours now, trying to figure out a way to convey to you some of what I’ve been going through in the last two months in one short blog entry. I’ve decided it’s impossible. So I’ll tell a few stories and leave it up to you to come visit and see for yourself what it’s like to live in a rural Ghanaian village.
I arrived at the Tamale Sub Office (TSO) yesterday morning. I haven’t taken a day off in over a month (day off in this sense meaning getting out of the village, because even if I’m just at the house reading, I’m not relaxing, because there’s always something going on around me). In order to preserve my mental health, I decided to come here for the weekend, to spend some quality time with electricity, toilets, showers, and other things I don’t have at my site. I splurged on some cheddar (a small piece was 9 ghana cedies – more than my 6 ghana cedi daily pay) and made some chicken fajitas and jollof rice for dinner. It was just me and Mike (filling in for Allison as PCVL for the weekend – she’s at one of the ISTs). After dinner, I browsed through the library and found a collection of Hemingway stories. What a way to spend the day. 24 hours later, I am feeling so much better. I’ve been under way too much stress, so taking a day for myself was amazing. And I have another 24 hours before I’m supposed to go back to site, so I’m going to live it up (and post some pictures and words, of course).
The major reason for my stress is Guinea Worm. Fufulso/Junction is still leading the country with the highest number of active cases. When I left on Saturday, we had 25 cases for February so far. It’s not a pleasant disease. Because we’re leading the country, the Carter Center and the Ghana Guinea Worm Eradication Program (GWEP) are throwing a lot of resources our way. This includes 1) a “stop team” – five guys who have come to stay in the village and help with the daily activities that are needed to stop the current outbreak from causing the disease to spread. The team is living in my compound, which makes for a much louder, busier environment for me 2) a treatment center, consisting of a couple of large tents, lots of bandages and antiseptic, and one awesome technical advisor, Mr. S.S. (he won’t tell me what the S.S. stands for – he says it’s his secret name). 3) Weekly nighttime case searches, conducted by me, the stop team, community health nurses from the clinic in Yapei, and whoever comes down from the GWEP office in Tamale. 4) New dam guards, to ensure the women filter not only in their homes but also at the waterside when they fetch. 5) Lots of education – at the schools, in the homes, and at big events, like the huge concert/drama thing we had this Friday. 6) And on and on.
Because of all this, just about every day is spent doing something Guinea Worm related. I’m glad to be doing so much in a way, because I can say that I’m part of something historical – we’re very close to eliminating Guinea Worm not just in Ghana but in the world, and it’s not everyday that a disease gets eradicated. But at the same time, the constant work is really starting to wear on me. I’ve been having trouble sleeping (lots of work and emotional stress + really really hot nights + cultural adaptations = sleepless nights). And while I like going to help at the treatment center, it’s very depressing to walk into the tent and see every bench full of small children suffering from Guinea Worm at various stages. There’s one little boy that I’ve become rather attached to.
His name is Jabiru. He’s three years old and has a Guinea Worm coming out of each foot. Sometimes it’s takes several of us to hold him still to change his bandages. I usually give him toffees if he’s a good boy while we’re dressing his wounds, but sometimes even that doesn’t help. Like earlier this week, when he bit me while I was holding him still for bandaging. If you have a strong stomach, check out the pictures I’m posting on flickr today. It’s going to be difficult getting rid of GW completely for us, as we have no safe water source. Dam water is notoriously unhealthy - not only does it harbor GW, but lots of fecal mater ends up in the water, thanks to the cattle and donkeys and free-ranging small boys. Because our village sits smack dab on the water divide, drilling boreholes isn’t a realistic option. All their attempts (including one as recent as this month) have come up dry. The White Volta is only 4 miles or so away as the crow flies, but politics and economics mean that we’re not going to be getting water piped in from there anytime soon (just like the lights – power poles arrived three days before the election, but not a single line has arrived since then). That leaves us with a few hand-dug wells and a handful of primitive rainwater collections systems. But these are all part of why I’m here – to work with the village to either solve these problems or find a way to live with them.
On a more positive note, the latrine is finally under construction. John (my Peace Corps boss) came for a site visit last Saturday and ripped my landlord a new one for not having already completed the project. So hopefully by this time next week I’ll have somewhere to poop that’s not a six-minute walk from my house (and more importantly, is accessible at night). I also managed to get rid of the river of sewage flowing outside my bedroom window. All the way from the compound drains from one hole (bathwater, dishwater, wash water….) and it makes quite a smell mess. So we used the broken pots from our ceramic filter distribution (UNICEF donated a ceramic filter for every household in the village) to make a soak-away pit. You dig a hole where the water drains, put rocks (or in this case, ceramic pieces) in the hole, cover with a screen or sheet metal and cover with dirt. The water goes in the hole and the rocks/ceramic shards help the water soak into the ground in a much cleaner manner. Not only does this help with the smell, but it also means that you’ve eliminated another mosquito breeding ground. Score one for the community health volunteer.
And joy of joys, my kitchen is finally operational. I broke down and bought a three-burner gas stove (it runs on a propane cylinder). Though initially expensive, in the long run it’s cheaper than charcoal, as it only costs about 5 ghana cedis to refill the cylinder. And it’s a lot cleaner and easier to cook on. I had the carpenter build me a table and some shelves, and except for the lack of oven, my kitchen is complete. Cooking has been a major stress release for me these last few weeks and the stop team guys really like my cooking (we’ve all decided that the landlord’s wife is a terrible cook, so the guys buy me ingredients and I cook for them as well a lot of the time). Leopold the cat has also helped keep me from going insane. She’s getting big, mostly because I give her a lot of fish to eat. She still likes to cuddle, sleeping in my lap as I’m reading in my hammock and curling up at my feet when I go to sleep at night. I don’t know what I’ll do with her when I have to go back to America but luckily I don’t have to think about that for quite a while.
Thank you to everyone who has/is sending me care packages. You can’t imagine how it helps to get stuff from home, even if it’s something as simple as a Texas Monthly magazine or a roll of Charmin (note – we do have toilet paper her, and I can even get it in my village. It’s just not very high quality). I like letters too and though it might take me a while to respond, I will reply.
And a note on communications. If you’re calling me through Skype, I have my skype account forwarded to my Ghanaian cell phone. If it’s not going through, it’s usually because our cell network frequently goes down for hours at a time. That and I have to send my phone out for charging. So if you don’t get me, just keep trying. Eventually you’ll get through. And when you do, I guarantee it will make my day.
Okay, I think I’m going to stop here. I want to go to the market so I can make something tasty for dinner, since I have access to an oven here. Until next time…