Tuesday, April 16, 2013

World Malaria Day 2013

World Malaria Day is April 25, 2013.  I am organizing my football (soccer) team, the Eagles, to be educated on malaria and then host a football match for malaria awareness.  My nurse Paulina Derry will be leading the education for the team as well as the community.  Materials for the event were provided through Standing with Africa to Terminate malaria (SWATm) to which I am the treasurer.  We hope that through the education we will see behavior changes such as increase in long lasting insecticide treated nets (LLIN) use, increase in early and complete malaria treatment and increase in pregnant women taking all three doses of prophylaxis offered for free at the clinic.

Here is a letter to the Philadelphia Eagles from my friend, Ibrahim Yussif. Please show support for him in telling Americans about malaria in Africa. I only changed a little bit of the grammar and chose to remove the name of his village. 

My name is Ibrahim Yussif. I come from _______ Junior High School.  I am in form two. I am one of the Eagles members as a player.  The position I play is defense. 
Hello my good friend, how are you? I hope you are fine as I am.  I want to tell you about malaria and how it affects us and the symptoms.  I know by the end of reading this page you will know well about malaria.
First in Ghana we have a lot of malaria.  Most of the people get it through mosquito’s bites and these mosquitos come from clean water.  There are many mosquitos that bite and don’t give you malaria.  The mosquitos called anopheles, which primarily bite at night, do give you malaria.  It kills very fast.  In my family this malaria killed my brother’s baby girl. In Ghana every year it kills more than a hundred people [actually 14,000 children under 5 years old die every year in Ghana].  It is a bad disease, which affects our people.
Secondly I will like to tell you the symptoms of malaria. If a person gets malaria these are the symptoms: [cyclical] fever, chills, headache and vomiting. This is how you prevent yourself from malaria.  You have to sleep under mosquito net, weed around your house and clear excess bathroom water by digging a hole for the water to go in [and cover it] so that mosquitos cannot produce new ones.  Sometimes we burn dry neem leaves to produce a smoke that deters mosquitos.  My friend, this is my idea I have for you. I hope you will be able to read this in person.

Ghana Eagles in the Upper West Region, Ibrahim Yussif is featured on the far left of this photo
To learn more about World Malaria Day activities happening across Africa in Peace Corps check out Stompoutmalaria.org

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas in the Krom

 My last Christmas spent as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana, was celebrated in Sean’s village in Western Region. We decided a local celebration would be best, because it was our last chance and quite a once in a lifetime opportunity. Now a morning safari in Mole National Park (Christmas 2011) may sound more interesting, but Christmas in the village was uniquely memorable. 

Tree, presents, fire and stockings
Planning happened months in advance. A package was sent from my mother and father with ingredients to make a grilled tamarind duck with smoky plantain cream over white rice and stovetop peach cobber.  Oh and we still had the premier canned ham.  Several taxis and tros finally brought me to Sean’s house on December 23rd.  We had a duck picked out from a neighbor’s flock. An adult female who is smaller and tenderer cost about 20 GH Cedi. The adult male is 30 GH Cedi.  We went with a delectable female. The 24th was a day of preparations. People were putting up their tropical Christmas trees decorated with balloons.  A medal pipe which looked like a ancient bazooka was filled with cobalt and lit by adults and children. Now I have never shot a shotgun, but I imagine that this was a similar sound.  We were warned that they would be shooting the bazooka off at 4am on Christmas morning and not to worry. It’s a tradition. The sound alerts people that a cow has been slaughtered at this house and you are invited to come and enjoy. 
The men with our duck.

Christmas colors! 
We decorated Sean’s house with a tree and lights, presents wrapped in newspaper for the kids living around Sean’s house, a picture of a fireplace and our stockings with gifts and candy sent from the Braun family. The first gift was some red wine (in a bottle) and olives to commemorate our wonderful time in Spain. Christmas Eve we enjoyed Penang curry chicken with veggies and rice.  I finally made coconut milk from scratch! Even though a small boy did the entire grating of the coconut, I am still proud of my cooking abilities.  After the dishes were washed we checked to see if the duck man would be sure to deliver our duck in the morning and we paid our 20 cedis. Then we went home to watch It’s a Wonderful Life.  This is Sean’s favorite movie and I really tried to stay awake and watch it all.

Grilling the duck.
Early in the morning we were not surprised to be woken up by the shotgun sound several times; however, we are so used to being woken up by things in the village that we soon fell back to sleep.  When I finally did venture outside I saw our tropical Christmas tree sprinkled with flour. I pretended it was an attempt at snow and smiled.  People were already gorging themselves on local dishes.  It reminded me of the Muslim holiday where people go house-to-house sharing food and eating plenty, especially cow meat.

Dada showing off her nails and bracelet.
The rumor had spread that Sean’s “wife” was making duck.  As we started cooking more and more women and children gathered to get their taste.  Besides having ingredients that they have never seen, marinating and grilling the meat were strange concepts in preparing food.  After a bloody finger, dropping a can of jalapeños, and having the duck resurrect after not being slaughtered properly the food was ready.  Sean and I fixed our plates and gave the rest to the crowd. We decided to have one woman be in charge of giving out the rest of the food so we did not have to deal with a mob or any people telling use that they didn’t get any.  We opened up some Champaign and ate under the neem tree.  Sean was lucky enough to have scooped out the head of the duck for himself (it’s really not my best).  After the duck the crowd disappeared and we ate the cobbler. YUM.

Following the food we called the children in to get their presents. The girls got earrings and bracelets and the boys got balls.  I painted some of the girls’ nails too.  Later on that evening we went around with a candy cane shot glass and introduced the candy glass to men in the community. They really enjoyed it!  We tried to visit the chief, but he was already passed out at 7:30pm. The night was filled with thanks and love for this community.  This was definitely a Christmas we will remember forever.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Peace of Islam

I take comfort listening to my radio every night and morning. My solar charger keeps the batteries ready to go to bring me my world news.  One of the stories that I have been hearing is about is the drama surrounding an American made video about the Prophet Mohammad.  I hear about riots or protests in mostly North African countries against America.  All this strife is very upsetting. I live in a Muslim village, my housemate is a Muslim young man and I am an independent American woman.  There is no conflict in my community. Sometimes I wear shorts or shirts with no sleeves and no one throws rocks at me. Male training teachers whom I befriended would question me about my beliefs. Ghanaians love asking about your life; they are extremely courteous especially about America. My friends told me that since I am a “free thinker” it would be easy to become a Muslim. I told them how I have gone to mosque once in Northern Region and I found the prayer to be quite relaxing. Standing, bowing, prostrating it is all like a moving meditation that last about 5 minutes then you continue your daily routine.  In the dry heat of Africa it is refreshing washing your face, feet and general body each time before prayer.  The time for prayer is beautiful and peaceful and I enjoy being amongst the women.

I recall the Catholic Church I attended in America as a time to observe others. During the hour service I would be watching other families; how they were dressed, how they prayed, if there were any cute boys. Also I would fight with my brother if the kneeler should be up or down. For myself the Catholic way of praying did not inspire me to speak to God or reflect on my life. However, here in the mosque I felt the peace that I have only felt on lone hikes through the wilderness or meditation at the Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Ithaca, NY.

Should I become a Muslim? My village would be so proud of me. The schoolteachers say I already have a Muslim name. I have a nice voice to recite the Koran. The selfless lifestyle I have chosen through Peace Corps indicates that I am a good person. Lastly they believe I would look even more gentle wearing a head scarf.  My response, “While it does seem that I am quite qualified to become a Muslim woman, there is a problem. I like to eat pork and drink alcohol and I refuse to give that up.”

I find Islam to be a wonderful religion. I wish more American’s could experience the beauty that I experience in Ghana. You don’t have to be apart of a religion to appreciate it.  You don’t have to be a member to attend a service.  When I go back to America I hope to reach out to the Muslim community. Previously I never knew where mosques were or how Muslim Americans felt. Are they experiencing prejudices? I encourage all readers to become educated about Islam and if it is possible visit a mosque.  American’s have so much access to information via the Internet and well run library systems, you would think we are the most enlightened country in the world.  Always read and have new experiences to broaden your mind and heart. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Cape Coast Festival with the Parents

After being in Jeyiri for one year. My parents have finally arrived! They packed tons of food for their “starving” daughter. Two suitcases full of food were presented to Sean and I at the Novotel in Accra. We have not been slightly hungry since that day.  Six types of cheeses, bloody marys, good beer, homemade cookies, bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon and chips… magical.

Cape Coast/Elmina was our destination after Accra. The original plan was to have a spa day for my 24th birthday in Elmina, but it just happened to be the Fetu Afahye harvest festival in Cape Coast. It has been described as one of the most colorful festival in Ghana.  Villages in the surrounding areas all dress in the same cloth or in similar color. The chief and queen mother of the village parade down the main street under an elaborate umbrella. Since President Atta Mills was from Cape Coast many people wore red and black as traditional morning colors. Also the leaders of the villages walked in the parade rather than being carried to show reverence to the past president.

Walking among the colorful dancing Ghanaians, I was proud to show my family the people who I am working with. You can’t really compare a celebrating, smiling, dancing Ghanaian with anyone else. They were at their best.

All pictures were taken by Sean Blaufuss on September 1, 2012.
A chief in the Cape Coast, Ghana in traditional clothing. RIP Atta Mills in the background. 

Each chief has their own gang of drummers that follow him and the Queen Mother. Cape Coast, Ghana.

A Queen Mother dancing next to the chief. Cape Coast, Ghana.

Fetish priest dancing with flag and covered in white clay. Cape Coast, Ghana.

Young men dressed as warrior walking in front of their chief. Cape Coast Ghana.

Friday, May 4, 2012

World Malaria Day

April 25th, 2012 was World Malaria Day (WMD). According to WHO 655,000 deaths in 2010 were a result of malaria. A majority of those deaths were children. A more updated statistic is that over 700, 000 deaths are caused by malaria every year. 90% of those deaths were children who never reached their 5th birthday. In my host country Ghana, 1 in 15 children will be in that 90%. SWAT Malaria (Standing with Africa to Terminate Malaria), a Peace Corps Committee, had the goal to hold events in every region of Ghana for WMD. We had less than two weeks to organize and implement our activity.

Being in the village I couldn’t do much besides calling people to setup the venue, schedule and organize volunteers.  Jugaba immediately asked if he could come to the WMD event. I told him that I am finally going to be on the radio. I could see the excitement in his eyes. The way this boy loves music, how could I say no? I call him my Jukebox because he is always singing. When I explained to him what it was he said he would like to buy a Jukebox so he could listen to music and save his money inside. Yes Jugaba, the musical bank!

Jugaba and I before we go on the air.
When we finally got into the studio he was quiet and was only responding to our questions with a smile and a giggle.  We made him sit next to me close to the microphones.  After PCV Rachel and I finished our talk about malaria and promoted the event, the DJ at Radio Progress, Robert, began talking to Jugaba in Waale.  He was so taken aback that he was going to be on the radio that he paused and greeted, “Ansoma” too far away from the microphone for anyone to here. After some encouragement from all the PCVs in the room, Jugaba gained his voice and answered all the questions from Robert. What a memorable day for him.

Later that day we organized at the basketball courts outside the Ministries in Wa. We had a tent, speakers and DJ and a bed net to hang up. The bed net was the most difficult to assemble do to the strong wind blowing across the court. At around 3:45pm is when the music stopped and the education began. All the PCVs there were amazing and took part in different activities. Our main audience was a bunch of boys who lured in by all the nansalas (white people) playing basketball and dancing. The net never blew away, but had a couple close calls.
Demonstrating how to hang your LLIN outside.

Our translator educating about the myths of malaria.

Coach giving us a pep talk before the game.
After the education the Wa Unicorns (Yes this is a serious name of a basketball team composed of jacked tall African men) came because we challenged them in a game.  We had enough players to sub-in every couple of minutes. We were not used to this kind of physical activity.  Although they went easy on us, they beat us by only 6 points. We all had such a great time that we could be making the game an annual event. It is no wonder the Upper West Region has some of the closest friendships between volunteers; we love to get together and create something big.

Rainy season is beginning again. Which means that malaria cases will soon be increasing. Some new preventative measures Jeyiri has to protect themselves is long lasting insecticide treated nets (LLINs) and the community has be selected for Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS).  With the proper use of the nets combined with IRS in every house, Jeyiri should have a reduced malaria infection rate in humans and mosquito. A decreasing infection rate could cause for the eradication of the malaria sporozoan parasite in the female anopheles mosquito, thus eradicating malaria.  Between 1955 and 1978 most developed countries including America eradicated malaria, what is holding back Ghana? We have the tools and the knowledge, now is the time for the change.
Jeyiri woman proud to show me her new life saving LLIN.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Kayayo Mosquito Net Distribution in Kumasi

I would like to share with you an article from our latest Gender and Youth Development newsletter. The author is the notorious Zoe Sugg, the previous volunteer of Jeyiri.

The Strength of a Woman: A Story of Kayayo
By Zoe Sugg PCV

Looking into my friend’s bloodshot eyes I can see that she is tired. She wipes the sweat from her brow with a dirty rag, and smiles at me as she rolls the cloth and strategically places it on her head. She calls three other women over to help her lift an enormous sack of onions. I watch her bend down as they lift the sack and I see that she has lost weight; her shoulders, back and arms are rock-hard. Once the sack is positioned comfortably on her head she turns and says she is “going to come;” I take a seat on a bench. Onlookers gawk at me, surprised to see a white lady amongst the grit and grind. It is an area of Kumasi called Racecourse; it looks very much like a shanty ghetto, the structures all made from rotting plywood and scrap metal; the environment is hot and crowded, dirt paths snake between shacks as though pedestrians have been cautious not to step in muddy patches and filth. litter covers every square foot of the ground..“I’m going to market in Wa” – that is what she told me before she left and never came back. Six months passed until I heard her voice again.
Currently a third-year PCV in Cape Coast, I served my first two years in a small village in the Upper West Region. The three northern regions, in comparison with the rest Ghana, are predominantly underdeveloped and deeply influenced by Islam. Most of the population is illiterate and their main livelihood is suste- nance farming. Through the circum- stances of poverty, lack of education and various social obstacles the women of the north are at a great disadvantage. Many of the young girls are discouraged to attend school as it is seen to be a waste of family resources (females are con- sidered more useful on the farm). And education isn’t seen as a way to feed hungry bellies – it is a long-term investment that many homes cannot afford. It’s not uncommon for fami- lies to participate in the tradition of marrying off their young daughters to remove the stress of another mouth to feed in an already-impoverished household.
When it comes to work, there is a noticeable difference in the amount women are expected to complete daily versus men. Both attend farm and have various jobs to complete, but women are also given the tasks of firewood collection, caring for
the children and bringing back the harvest. It is a rare thing to see a
man fetching water, but a woman can walk upwards of 10k each day with heavy loads on their heads. All of this is done with grace – a look of ease, even as they carry a newborn baby on their back.
Without education or money to change their situations, the only es- cape for many is taking a chance on Kayayo (traveling for work as porters in Kumasi or Accra). Women who re- turn to the village from working in the south walk taller; they come back in new clothes, lobes sparking with shiny earrings; they can afford the things they need to make life better; they don’t have to ask any man for coins – they have a better sense of independence and confidence. But not all Kayayo stories are so successful. The mere facts of being
a woman and a stranger to a large city can result in a completely differ- ent lifestyle than what they are used to in the village. Most of the girls head to Kumasi with the intention of making some quick cash and going home, but city life can catch them like a predator. Vulnerable, they get trapped into prostitution, drugs, and theft; it isn’t until they arrive that they realize how difficult it is. Many girls sleep on the street and they are highly competitive – doing whatever it takes to make more money, more money! Young guys who stay in
the area hustle and scam to make a buck, usually they take a liking to one of the girls. Offering security by providing a place to sleep (in his metal shanty hut) it isn’t hard sell to a girl who is used to the safety of her compound. He’ll begin to make more demands of her; using his shack as bait, the young girls fall into a trap they can’t get out of.
When my friend returned from off-loading the sack of onions she was able to sit with me. I was wor- ried, I had so many questions – I’d heard so many different stories about Kayayo, but I wanted to hear her story. Tagging along, her older brother helped with the translation; her particular job site was the most competitive – they had regular pay and could go home with seven, sometimes eleven, cedis per day. It was an area of Racecourse filled with cattle trucks, brimming with yams and onions. She told me that many women coming to work for the day couldn’t finish the job; that it’s only for the very strong. Women on the street aren’t strong enough to carry from the big produce trucks, she said, sometimes they can’t carry at all – they beg; only posing as Kay- ayo. For women begging to carry personal luggage or empty a cargo truck near a store, the competition is very serious. They’re not guaranteed a single Ghana cedi a day; worse, they sabotage each other – hiding one another’s silver basins, they make it virtually impossible to carry loads.
My friend’s job was to off-load bulk produce and carry it to vehicles transporting it to buyers (restau- rants, chop bars, and market sell- ers). She was saving her money in a communal Susu box – every day she would take what was needed for food and the rest would be put into savings. Though the work was hard, her situation sounded ideal and I wanted to see where she was lived; I hoped she wasn’t secretly living on the street.
We walked through the makeshift ghetto and reached a very old (prob- ably condemned) structure. Outside of the abandoned warehouse naked kids were running around; some women came in and out of the bath- ing area, others perched over TZ coal pots. We entered a long room lined with suitcases – clothes dried on crisscrossed lines; prayer mats were propped or spread out; empty bowls lay everywhere. As I walked in women began to shout my local name – they were from my commu- nity – with true joy they rushed for- ward and hugged me, offering me a spot on their prayer mats and calling their new friends to meet me. I was bombarded by greetings. Many from my village asked to call their hus- bands or parents, some hadn’t been in contact for months; my phone was passed around and my credits finished in no time.
The warehouse was simply a trans- plant of village life; women had divided themselves by language and took turn babysitting and cook- ing – they created their own com- munity. As a custom of greeting, my friend came to bring me water; I sat with women hovering over me until the excitement died down. Soon
my friend was able to get back to her story; she’d seen girls leave the warehouse to move in with boy- friends, thinking they had made it big. Those who didn’t make enough during the day would try to make money at night; this I took to mean prostitution. She promised me she didn’t plan to do that; her goal was to save enough money to sustain her once she returned to the village. She considered herself a divorced woman, only thinking for herself and her children; she missed them ter- ribly. This took place about a year ago and my friend has since returned to Wa; she is no longer with her hus- band and is living a life independent of him. She took the money she earned and is now an apprentice at her aunt’s seamstress shop. Though her experience turned out well, not everyone is so lucky. Education in HIV prevention is important, but efforts also need to be put into helping safeguard these women in large and dangerous cit- ies; resources need to be invested in accommodating their transient sta- tus, instead of allowing them to be subjected to street life. Something as simple as open communication has the potential to go a long way in improving their lives; it’s only when they become isolated from their fam- ily and homes that they are truly in danger. The issue with Kayayo is not that women run off to Kumasi and end up in prostitution; it’s about women seeking independence through financial security. In a society that makes them feel inferior, incapable of bettering themselves, this is often their only choice. These women are courageous, driven, strong, and intelligent – they know they’re going into a hard life, but they weigh the risks versus the opportunies if they stay. The work these women do is vital – a good portion of the economy is carried on their heads – and un- less the financial and cultural situa- tion in the northern regions changes drastically, Kayayo is inevitable. What needs to happen now is the investment in keeping them safe.

These are the women I worked with for a week during the Long Lasting Insecticide Net (LLINs) distribution in Kumasi. This was a ProMPT-Ghana (Promoting Malaria Prevention and Treatment) initiative and funded by USAID.  Stomp out Malaria is the Peace Corps group supporting this program in which I am involved.

Previous to my arrival, PCVs along with Ghanaian volunteers went house to house and registered the Kayayo. Sleeping groups were given a ticket with a day, time and location to pick up their net.  My job was supervisor of Sylvester and Afia, Ghana nationals, from 8am-3pm at Roman Hill Street Children Project in Kumasi. Educational videos of malaria facts and care of the LLINs were shown and discussed with each group of Kayayo coming in.  The first day we quickly realized that our target group 1) couldn’t read the tickets, 2) were busy during the day, 3) didn’t believe they were going to get a free net, 4) generally didn’t trust the program. At Roman Hill tickets for 90 nets a day were handed out. In reality the distribution was about 30 nets a day.
A new plan was devised, a night distribution in the neighborhoods of the Kayayo. This would serve as an advertisement for the nets and encourage the people to come to the daytime locations.  I don’t know if the new strategy got more people to the distribution points. The first week was generally slow. The overall success of the project is hard to determine. We can only hope that the Kayayo are using the nets properly and consistently for their own health.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Jeyiri Happenings

Baby monkey at the chief's house...his mother was eaten.

Ace please open your eyes for the camera.

Master P. in his new bed.

Running through a cow herd on a run.