Day 11 - "Strong Women and how they survive"
Blog Day 11
Today is our departure from Kpando. We make our final goodbyes to our friend Eyram at the Internet café, Sam at the Happy Spot bar and our special friend Edith( more about her later). We have some donations to deliver and we make those to Margret Marquart Hospital and the Kpando outpatient clinic. There is not as much as last year due to the increased cost of shipping. Each box over our own 2 piece luggage allotment would have cost $200. We had to leave some supplies at home.
Our big bus rolls out of town and it is a bit sad but I also look forward to the next part of our trip. We make a quick stop at Anfoega hospital which is about 30 minutes away from Kpando. Last year our American Marine friends met us here and it was a more formal presentation. This year it is a quick donation and back on the bus. We are journeying to Accra which can take 3 hours on a good day but with our traffic luck lately that is most likely going to be longer. The long times we spend in the bus is one of the negatives this year. The traffic in the city seems much worse than last year. Our journey takes us 5 hours.
What I wanted to write about today is the role of the women in Ghanaian society. As a woman I find this most interesting. Women are highly regarded in the modern Ghanaian culture but there are still obvious divisions of labor and status. I have observed woman to be much harder workers than the men. The females are observed doing most of the domestic chores around the house and also the tasks to maintain daily life in the family. The majority of the homes in the rural region are 1-2 room mud brick huts with a thatch or corrugated metal roof. The floor of these homes is usually bare dirt but sometimes there can be poured cement. Most people prepare the food outside on open fires or small briquette stoves. There may be a public bathroom somewhere in the village but not usually in the home. The bathroom usually consists of a 4 walled structure with no roof that resembles a animal pen. Within that pen is a pile of rocks in one corner and that is where the person urinates or defecates. There is no soap or water to clean your hands. In a few of the “nicer” public bathrooms we have had a toilet but many do not have water to flush unless you bring a bucket of water with you. Toilet paper is non-existent unless you bring your own.
Water sources are not easy either. Sometimes a village will be lucky and there will be well and a pump centrally located. Other times ( like in Tsakpe), there are open wells deep in the woods that must be accessed along winding paths. This is one of the chores of the women and the children. They must go to this well one or two times a day to retrieve water. They pull the water up by hand in a rubber pouch or bucket on a rope and then fill their containers. These containers are very large metal bowls, plastic buckets or jugs. Each container must hold at least 5-7 gallons if not more. After these containers are filled the women or the child will lift that up on his/her head and carry it out of the woods. As we have traveled down some of the paved roads( highways) we have seen people at all hours carrying these water containers home from some nearby well. Usually it is a woman or young female child. Often there is a small baby tied to her back with cloth. This method of carrying the infants is very common and actually ingenious. The infant spends much of his/her time bundled to the mother’s back in an interesting use of material that is wrapped and tucked, actually not tied.. This is similar in concept to our American infant snugglies but the babies are on the back to allow the women to work. The baby sits there comfortably while the mother fetches water, tends the fire, carries wood, cleans the house, mans the store or sells items by the side of the road. The women in Ghana never seem to rest while the men in Ghana seem to have an easier life. If not employed or working in a fishing boat or farm, they are often seen relaxing on long wooden benches. I am not sure if there is a lot of sleeping or just sitting but I see more men in that position than women. There are some businesses that men seem to gravitate to like spare metal parts, electronics, bar operators and casket makers. The women seem to run the majority of the small stores and roadside stands that sell food. They are usually there with their children if the family cannot afford to send the child to school. Very often working long hours in the hot sun with a baby strapped to her back and other small children in tow.
The Ghanaian government is making education of the females one of their priority initiatives. We are told of a Ghanaian saying, “ If you educate a man you educate an individual; if you educate a woman you educate a family”. Although the women are respected in this culture my sense is that it is still somewhat of a 2 tier system and that the better jobs and educational opportunities are given to the men and boys. The politicians are mostly men but there are some women who are in the upper levels of the political world in Ghana so things are slowly changing. Nursing is one of the professions that women are the majority but there are also Ghanaian male nurses. If a woman has the resources to get an education a nursing job is a very good job to have. They work extremely hard and for poor salary compared to the US nurses but at least it is a job. This week we have learned that some of the nurses regularly use mosquito nets at home to prevent malaria but when they get to work at the hospital there are pockets of mosquitoes under their desks and they regularly acquire malaria. They recognize the symptoms and get treatment and go to work battling the side effects. It is like the common cold to them.
One amazing woman we met was Edith. We actually met her on our 2009 trip and Maura and I have maintained contact with her. She was widowed early and according to her her husband was shot and killed by a Ghanaian police officer. She was left to parent her child alone. As she neared completion of her child rearing duties and well into her late 40’s or early 50’s she accompanied a pregnant friend to the hospital. When the woman died in childbirth the doctors handed the baby over to Edith to raise. Instead of complaining about this she turned to her religion and decided that God had a plan for her. Since then she has worked tirelessly to provide for this child in addition to her nearly grown child. I was appalled when I first saw her house. It was basically four mud walls with a roof held up by large tree limbs. The total square footage of this dwelling was about 100 square feet. No electricity of plumbing or windows. She cooked outside on a fire by her front door and slept on a broken down army cot with no linen or other furniture. Her primary piece of furniture are 2 plastic chairs which she places in front of her door. Last year we saw her laboring in the hot sun removing corn kernels ( by hand) to send to the market. She has some farm land somewhere in town and this is her means of financial sustenance. When we met her we were struck by her friendliness and command of the English language. She is a self taught woman who prides herself on her intelligence and knowledge of the word beyond her meager surroundings. She offers us a parcel of land so that we will be enticed to stay in Ghana and open a school or orphanage. She talks very proudly of her sister who lives in the United States . But above all of these characteristics I was impressed with her commitment to God and the belief that she is so blessed. She is happy to meet us and does not complain about her lot in life. We are humbled by her beliefs and personal strength.
This year when I go to her home I am surprised to see the old mud shack is no longer there. I am sad because it appears as if something has happened to her and someone has purchased her small plot of land and is building a 2 room structure. To my delight she comes running toward me with such glee that her American friend has returned. Somehow she has managed to build a slightly better structure although there still is no plumbing or electricity but she does have access to water and her home is without doors but she uses 3 plastic chairs to create a barrier. She still sleeps on an old army cot with no linen but she has a small room next to her living space that she is planning on opening a small store. These small stores which essentially are not much bigger than a childs playhouse are the lifeblood of so many people in Ghana. The fortunate ones are the people who have 4 walls and a roof. The majority of people set up a stool and a blanket on the ground to sell anything from fish, to vegetables to used clothing. Edith as bigger plans for a “Provision Store”. She recognizes that she is getting older and can no longer support herself with the backbreaking work of farming. I guess her age to be at least 60 but it is hard to tell. She prays that God will help her with this new career. In the meantime she has applied for a job with ZooLion which is the local trash collector. She proudly states that she will pick trash up on the side of the road if it means she can support her family. I am amazed at her fortitude and resilience in surviving in the harsh world. She remains forever grateful to God for her blessings and she is a joy and inspiration to know.
When we leave Kpando today the we all gather any extra clothes or supplies and donate them to Edith. She is overcome with emotion as we bring her a large plastic tub of food items, clothes and other small items. I use some of my own money and some of the funds my own church friends at home have given me to help Edith in her efforts to open her own store. She is the embodiment of the strength of the Ghanaian woman who works from dawn to dusk to provide for her family all the while maintaining a positive attitude and appreciation of the blessings from God. As we drive away from Kpando we look out of bus window and see Edith surrounded by her new treasures. She is proudly wearing my sunglass readers and pouring over a Suduku book. I can barely do Suduku puzzles but I know that this smart and tenacious woman will figure it out, just like she has figured out all the other challenges in her life. I will forever be amazed by my friendship and memory of Edith.