Sunday, July 15, 2007

Do you know the national anthem?

Before I left the U.S., I was watching one of those mindless entertainment shows, probably on VH1 or E!, about celebrities and famous people who gave embarrassing renditions of the national anthem in public--or worse, forgot some of the words. To be honest, I haven't sang the song for real since middle school, and when they play it at sports events, I usually zone out. (I sure sound like a terrible American, don't I?) In Ghana, I've actually had the chance to show off my singing skills (or, rather, lack there of) by singing the U.S. national anthem on a few occasions. Two weeks ago, we visited the elementary school where two of our Duke friends were teaching, and we spent the morning teaching math and spelling. Later in the day, the kids all sang us the Ghanaian national anthem, but then made us promise to sing the U.S. national anthem to them in return. Luckily, I remembered all the words.

The other night we went out for dinner with those same two friends, since it was their last night in Ghana. Per usual for our time in Ghana, the night turned out to be a bit odd--our Ghanaian friend George showed up with a video camera and filmed us; uninvited guests kept on arriving and sitting at our table; and someone got in an extended argument with the waitress about peppers. One of the stranger moments was when we spontaneously broke into song--one particular song, the Ghanaian national anthem. Stesha and I only know the first two lines ("God bless our homeland, Ghana / and make our nation great and strong!") so needless to say, our singing ended rather quickly. But having felt deprived of Ghanaian patriotic knowledge, we later decided to ask around so we could learn the rest of the song.

The idea quickly turned into one of those sketches on Jay Leno, where people on the street are asked very basic political questions, but no one seems to know the answer. The most amusing response was from our taxi driver Friday night, who was so excited when we asked him to sing the Ghanaian national anthem, but then realized he didn't know past the fifth line. He also gave us a few amusing interpretations such as, "Go to the fair forever!" (The real line, according to Google, is "Bold to defend forever.")

We still don't know the national anthem. But maybe we'll learn it before we leave...

Friday, July 13, 2007

Trying to call the police

Today and yesterday we had our final interviews with -new- organizations, though we'll continue re-meeting with all our organizations up until the day we leave.

Thursday was one of the most successful interviews yet, and the contact person--a woman who heads up a major part of the organization's programming--was enthusiastic and helped us with the last bit of information we needed for our resource booklet. She provided us a copy of the recently passed Domestic Violence Act, which we've been searching for everywhere, and also let us use their legal library. But once again, I was struck by the information that she didn't have.

Recently in Ghana, the government set up a subdivision of the police department that deals strictly with domestic violence. The impetus for the change was that a large number of women complained that when they brought domestic violence complaints to the police department, male police officers sent them back home without addressing their complaints, usually attributing the violence to some fault in the woman. In order to address this, the government established the separate DV department so women would have their complaints adequately addressed. Women are encouraged to contact the department directly. So it follows that I naturally want to include the most up-to-date contact information for this division in our resource booklet, but we've had some difficulty finding it. Online searches, for instance, came up with nothing. So on Thursday, after discussion the DV division with our contact person, I asked the organization--which specializes in gender violence--if they could provide me the phone numbers for the DV divisions in major cities in Ghana.

The woman looked confused for a second, then wrinkled her face in thought.
"Hm.. I'm not sure where that number would be. One moment."
She got up, looked through some papers, then came back.
"So, do you want to interview them, or what?"
We explained that we just wanted to include the number as a resource for at-risk women.
The woman shuffled through some more papers, put the thought on hold, and said she would look for it later. Eventually, she did find *a* number, although cautioned that it might not be current.

Why wasn't this number plastered on their walls? Why would a major DV organization not have the contact information on hand for the DV unit in the police? It was troubling, if not frustrating, and I'm thinking more and more that our resource booklet will provide a needed service. Today we met with the representative for a consortium for women's empowerment NGOs, and we asked for a list of contact information for the member organizations.
"We only have the phone numbers for a few of the organizations," she said as she handed us the list. Stesha and I looked at each other--not surprised, but frustrated nonetheless.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

A Ghanaian Fourth of July, Part 2

In the middle of the night, our shaky bus, now almost empty except for a handful of Mole visitors and a few park rangers, pulled up to the "Mole Motel"--the only place of lodging for about 100 miles. Our friend Muhammad, whom we met in Tamale, had helped us negotiate over the phone for a room, and we been told that we *probably* had a room to stay in for the night. If we didn't, we had mentally prepared ourselves for the prospect of sleeping in the lobby.

Luckily, we did have a room, and exhausted, the four of us threw our stuff down, and fell right asleep.

The next morning we woke up at 6am to go hiking in the park. The Mole Motel sits on a cliff overlooking savannah that extends indefinitely. At the bottom of the cliff is a watering hole that is normally populated by a wide range of animals. Clutching a rifle, our guide led us down the cliff and into the savannah. We hiked for a couple hours, and if our guide had disappeared, I'm sure none of us could have found our way back. Along the way we ran into warthogs, baboons, crocodiles, and plenty of water bucks--but no elephants. Later several did come, and we sat by the edge of the watering hole and watched them for a while.

The great thing about Mole is that it is very un-touristy--it practically disappears into the wilderness, and animals constantly overrun the motel. We were eating lunch when a troop of baboons descended upon the area. Baboons have very sharp teeth, and can do some damage when they want to, so we gave them their space and backed away from our table. One of them hopped on my chair and began going through our things. It decided on a box of sangria, then scurried several feet away, tearing it apart.

When the baboons left, monkeys arrived, hopping over all the tables and sending visitors running. Meanwhile, several warthogs appeared, and climbed over the short wall to the motel's backyard. Apparently, even the elephants come close now and then, and one elephant in particular has been known to drink from the motel's tiny, very dirty pool.

The next morning, we woke up at 3:30am, since the only bus leaving Mole departs at 4am. And thus began another 20+ hour bus trip, back to Accra, to continuing working on our project.

Friday, July 6, 2007

A Ghanaian Fourth of July, Part 1

On Wednesday, while the rest of Americans woke up and prepared for the usual red-white-and-blue festivities, Stesha, Lindsey, Elizabeth and I sat down for lunch at a gas station restaurant (humbly called "Restaurant and bar") across from the bus station in Tamale. Tamale is a big, dirty city in northern Ghana where motos and goats rule the road. In northern Ghana, Islam has more of an influence, so there are beautiful mosques dotted throughout the city--along with a few more traditional mud-style buildings that seem to be less common in the south.

So, question: why were we a "12 hour drive" from home? (They told us the bus ride was 12 hours, but it turned out to be an even more grueling 15... and that was just leg one of the journey.)
Answer: To visit Mole National Park, a very remote nature reserve that allows lots of hiking and relaxing, as well as the occasional elephant sighting. And by "remote" I mean very, very remote--the closest town, Larabanga, apparently doesn't have it's own running water. They have to hike several miles down the road to Damongo.

After briefly toasting to the Fourth of July, and drawing more than a few stares, we ran to catch our final bus at the station across the street. The bus station was so filled with people that at moments we grabbed onto each other, worried someone would get lost in the flurry of people. We finally reached our bus to find that it was similarly packed, standing rooming only. To give you a mental image, picture a normal American public school bus--now, instead of 4 young children fitting in each row, imagine 6 adults, some without actual seats to sit on, crammed into each little row. Luckily our tickets guaranteed a seat, but this meant that the people already on the bus had to squish out of the way, and I had to climb over several rows of people to find my seat amid the increasingly angry crowd. As it turns out, the bus company overbooked the bus, and right after we boarded, two men had had enough, and began to scream and push at one another in the row directly in front of me. In a moment, the fight spread to more and more passengers, until it seemed half the bus was fighting and yelling. My new seat mate leaned over to me and pointed to two of the loudest protesters: "They're both police officers. They're probably going to beat someone up now."

Meanwhile, the four of us were thinking up what the headlines would be if the uproar turned more violent: "4 Americans start riot in Ghanaian bus station."

Thankfully, it soon calmed down, and before anyone else could protest, the bus took off, and we began the final leg of our journey--a 5 hour bus ride on an unpaved road into one of the most remote sections of Ghana. Needless to say we were quite relieved to arrive in Mole Park late that night, after nearly two days of traveling...

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Our final project idea

Stesha and I have begun to work on our final project, and with only a week and a half left, it's going to be a bit of a crunch to get everything done. Right now, our idea is to compile and synthesize a lot of the major human rights and health problems that we've encountered in our research into one basic handout that could be distributed at a low-level in clinics and women's support groups. The idea is to present--in an easy-to-read format--the specific legal rights, privileges and access to support services that a woman is guaranteed by the Ghanaian constitution. Although the legislature is making great strides in increasing constitutional protection of women's rights, the majority of women are unaware of these protections. Along with rights, the handout will also present basic women's health information. The level of health misconceptions among women (and Ghanaians in general) has sometimes been astounding, not to mention very dangerous, and we hope this will work to address that with the women we reach. Examples of what will be covered include the most up-to-date domestic abuse legislation or health precautions for pregnant women or women who may become pregnant. Finally, at the end of the document, we want to include a comprehensive resource list for women, where they can follow up in any of the topics covered in the booklet.

Again and again, professionals have said that one of the biggest problems is that many women, and men, just aren't aware of modern health practices or the most recent legal codes, and since many don't speak English and support documents are normally printed in English, they don't have a way to be directly reached. What we want to do, in turn, is have our handout translated into Twi, the most widespread local language, and then have it printed and distributed throughout the capital. We're starting follow-up interviews next week. So far NGOs and professionals have been enthusiastic about the idea, and we intend to seek their aid in distributing the document effectively.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Views of the U.S.

I have to admit that we haven't run across too many Ghanaians who are particularly in love with the United States--or at least its government. Not many have had problems with Americans themselves, but when we start asking locals' opinions on the U.S. in general, they don't mince words on what they think of the U.S.'s foreign policy, domestic politics, or economic decisions.

Last night we went out to dinner with two Duke friends and their friend, a young Ghanaian man in his late 20s/early 30s. Somehow we began discussing U.S.'s international aid for Africa--a point that we thought would be a positive check mark for the U.S., but instead turned into tirade by our new friend about how the U.S. was using its money to control the world. I, and most of the rest of us, disagreed vehemently with many of his points, but either way, it's disconcerting to me that the U.S. has assumed the role of some greedy, capitalist demon in the eyes of many of Ghana's educated youth. One of our friend's host mothers casually asked over dinner: "Do you think the U.S. is going to colonize Ghana like it did Iraq?" (no sarcasm, I was told)
Last night Stesha and I met a computer programmer who studied at Princeton about 10 years ago. Despite the fact that he received his education in the U.S., he similarly had harsh words for everything from the U.S.'s health care policy to the U.S.'s decisions of where to import resources.

Even though the average person in the U.S. knows little about Ghana, the young and educated here have been surprisingly fluent in U.S. politics--more so than quite a few young and educated people I know. I'm not necessarily trying to make a point, but it's at least something to think about.

In other news: Stesha's back to good health, and we've gotten back into the thick of our project. We want to do a final component, something tangible to improve some of the problems we've come across, and we're beginning to brainstorm what that might look like.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cape Coast and back

Last weekend we traveled to the town of Cape Coast with two other Duke students, who are teaching in nearby Tema for the summer. We spent a large part of our time touring two colonial castles that served as hubs for the slave trade until the 1800s. The castles were stunning, but the history was, not surprisingly, dreadfully dark; the tours take visitors to every corner of the castles, including window-less, underground chambers where hundreds of people were held captive--in stark contrast to the airy, spacious governor's quarters that sit atop each of the fortresses. (My background picture is from Cape Coast castle.)

Unfortunately, our visit was cut short when Stesha suddenly fell ill; her diagnosis is still a bit unclear... malaria, or parasites, or a stomach virus, depending on which doctor's diagnosis we choose to believe. While Stesha stayed in bed, recovering, we put our research on hold for a couple days. To kill time, I explored our area a bit more, and made a couple friends along the way. Venturing out around the dirt roads of our "neighborhood" alone, I quickly found that people are much more likely to approach me when I'm by myself. Indeed, it seemed that every 30 steps a new person would come up and ask my name and where I'm from. It's very odd, knowing that I'm a walking spectacle (or freak show, depending on how you look at it) but it's also a nice way to make friends--except in the few instances where they start asking for money...

Today I had a bit of an epiphany in one of our interviews, building upon the words of a Johns Hopkins professor we met recently. She and her family, expats from America, are subletting from one of Stesha's relatives, and so we were invited over for dinner on Tuesday. Coincidentally, Laura, the professor, happens to specialize in reproductive and women's health--one aspect of our project--and in Ghana, she's currently working to tackle the high number of unsafe abortions that occur. Laura said that one of the biggest challenges wasn't that technology wasn't up-to-date, or that professionals in the field were lacking education; she emphasized that the information gap existed between the professionals and the public, and that, especially in Ghana's many rural areas, women were unknowledgable of the facts and dangers of abortion. This gap, she said, is very hard to reconcile.

Florence, the founder of the Eve's Foundation who we interviewed today, paralleled Laura's thoughts almost exactly. With limited resources, she said, it was difficult to get basic health information out to Ghanaian women, many of whom are illiterate or don't speak English, the chosen language for many health documents.

Now that this particular obstacle has caught our attention, we have decided to focus on it a bit more in our research.