Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ups and Downs

One night, about two weeks ago, I was sleeping peacefully in my hammock when I suddenly woke up and realized that I was FREEZING. I got up, went inside, and curled up in bed with my two-yard as a blanket. The next morning, it was still cold (this is all relative of course – it was probably only about 65 degrees) and a haze had settled over the village. It was then that I realized – Harmattan is here. For a couple of months each year in West Africa, winds from the north bring cool nights and dry, dusty days. Though it’s a lot easier to sleep now, the dust is more than a little annoying. By the end of the day, even if I’ve done nothing but sit at the Guinea Worm center, I’m as orange as an Oompa Loompa. Then there are the itchy eyes and runny nose – a result of who-knows-what being tossed up into the air by the winds. But even with all these problems, it’s still preferable to the hot season that follows it.

I’ve just returned to Tamale from a week in Accra. The main reason for my trip was to see the PCMO for my mid-service medical exam. This is not quite as exciting as it sounds. Though the exam itself takes very little time, we have to be there for three days so that we can go poo three times. Yay, stool samples! I passed with flying colors. I also weighed myself on an accurate scale for the first time since arrival. I was 135 when I came in, and even after several days of gorging myself on the food in Accra, I was only 121 when I weighed myself on Wednesday. And here I was thinking that I had gained back all that weight I lost in January and February (I got down as low as 110 at one point, according to the shea nut scale at Zak’s place, which is probably not that accurate). No wonder my jeans are falling off. We also had to visit the dentist as part of our exam. Let’s just say that it wasn’t nearly as thorough as a dental cleaning in the U.S. But they did have free mochachinos in the lobby.

The powers that be decided to bless me with an awesome schedule for mid-service medical. I was scheduled for the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Thanksgiving, making it possible for me to attend the Thanksgiving festivities at the Ambassador’s Residence. This year, the Ambassador decided to extend the invitation to all volunteers, and even though they wouldn’t pay for transport or lodging, Peace Corps did set us all up with host families for Wednesday and Thursday. I stayed with a nice USAID family in a very nice house. The food at the Ambassador’s was AMAZING. In addition to twelve turkeys, there were copious amounts of mashed potatoes and gravy, carrots, green beans, salad, stuffing, and cornbread. And of course, the pies – pumpkin and pecan (thanks to the Ambassador’s wife’s foresight – she ordered pecans from Waco in September). We also had sangria in addition to the usual offerings at the bar. I somehow managed not to explode, and when I got back to the house at which I was staying, I was just in time for the family’s dinner too. I went to bed bloated and groaning, but happy as a clam.

Needless to say, it was difficult for me to get on that bus to Tamale on Friday morning. I’ve been in a “sophomore slump” of sorts. Apparently it’s not uncommon for volunteers to have existential crises around the one-year mark, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying. It just seems like I’m not getting enough done. The rabbits are dead, victims of some mysterious rabbit disease. The HIV programme for truck drivers hasn’t gotten off the ground yet for a number of reasons. And of course, there are the saboteurs. The emergency water system that UNICEF donated was finally operational for a couple of weeks when it suddenly stopped working. As it turns out, some … jerk cut the main pipe with a cutlass. This isn’t your average PVC pipe – it took effort to get through this one. There was no way it was accidental, nor could it have been a small boy or woman. I have my ideas about who it was, but lacking proof, there’s not much I can do but wait for the chiefs to find and punish the culprit. And we all know how long things take here.

Understandably, I’m pissed off. Before I left for Accra, I was a wreck. But getting away for several days, and especially, talking to other volunteers helped me to realize that even though some things are not going so well, I still have a lot of stuff that IS going well, and plans for other things to keep me occupied. First of all, there’s still no Guinea Worm in Fufulso/Junction, and only a couple of cases for the district in October (none so far for November). We’re still not in the clear yet – we have to wait until March to congratulate ourselves. But it’s looking good so far. The Health Club I started at the Junior High is going really well. We have about 35 members, and about 15-20 of those are really excited about and committed to the club. We’re working on putting together a program for World AIDS Day (December 1st), which will include a drama and HIV quiz for the rest of the students at the school. The Health Club kids wrote the drama themselves and it’s fantastic. They’re also helping with Guinea Worm case searches and I have some other ideas for how they can help me with educating the rest of the community on different health issues. The moringa trees that I planted in April are now taller than the house (at least on one side of the house – on the other side some kids destroyed the fences and the seedlings got chopped by goats). My plan is to start a compost heap now so that by the time the rains come again, I can take down the moringa fences and make a vegetable garden around the trees. I’m thinking tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, green beans, squash, and carrots. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

Getting down to Accra made me realize how badly I need a proper vacation. Since it’s really expensive to fly to America, it’s looking like I might hop up to Europe for the first couple weeks of February. Plans are still in the works for that. I know – I’m going to freeze. But at least I won’t be melting for a couple of weeks.

Anyway, I think that’s all I’ve got to say right now. I just posted some pictures on flickr, including Halloween and Thanksgiving pictures, and some cute shots of adorable African children. See them here –

I hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving and have a great Holiday Season.