Day Two : “Bugs, Buses and Beliefs” By Valerie King
Today was a good day. I started with a cold shower but the toilet flushes and the AC worked all night. Some of the students lost their AC in the night and woke up to a hot room. The heat did not keep the lizards and bugs away but I am pleased to tell you that my most bug-phobic student is making great strides in conquering her fear. I told her it was well worth spending all this money to cure her bug fears!!
We had a day of touring the capital city of Accra. It is a very busy city with much traffic and congestion. It can be an interesting range of sites. We can be passing a shanty type community and 1/2 mile up the road pass by affluent gated compounds. The disparities in wealth are incredibly sad.
The UML students are amazed at the number of street vendors who sell anything by the side of the road. We see little children with large bowls of water bags on their heads who have likely been selling at the busy intersections since early in the day. No school for them. They are probably being used to sell items to help the family finances. The UML students pay five times what they need to pay for a small bag of water. The little girl does not know what to do with the extra money even when urged to keep the extra money to herself. It is sad to see how children are exploited in some situations and this child may never finish grade school because she is more valuable as a street hawker.
There are all kinds of merchandise on sale. Cheap toys, candy, fried chips, water, maps, jewelry. They are there just trying to make enough money to live another day. I worry about the small children by the side of the road and realize how easily a predator could scoop them up and drive off. The UML students seem subdued when they see these sights.
We were supposed to meet with the Minister of Education today but after waiting for him for about an hour we were told his schedule did not permit a meeting. We then proceeded to do some touring of the city and we ended up at Frankies which is a local restaurant that features American food. This is a treat I usually save until the end of the trip. We haven’t experienced any real hunger yet and here we were today at this restaurant eating American sandwiches and French fries. It is a welcome respite for the students because we are now approaching our busy time.
We hope to meet the Minister tomorrow and I will have to come up with some greetings on behalf of UML and the nursing students. I was asked if I had a “gift” for the minister. As is customary, people often bring gifts when they meet the minister and last year I gave him some bottles of OTC medicine because that is all I had to give. That bothered me tremendously because those medications can be easily purchased by any person working in these government jobs and I felt it was depriving a needy patient of much needed medications.
This year we did not bring as many bottles of medication due to shipping costs so I had nothing to share. I told our coordinators that the Minister of Education was going to have to settle for the “present “ our of “presence” in his country. That was kind of a snarky response but I have a real issue with inequities in health resources (in any country) and I am not going to promote those inequities because of the “custom” of giving gifts. At some point in time a person has to stand up for their beliefs and this was in important issue for me. I know that I risk offending a very important politician but I think it is better to stay true to one’s own beliefs.
Tonight we returned home to our hotel and had our first debriefing session. This is such an important part of the day where everyone gets a chance to voice their observations, concerns or questions. I am proud to hear the comments from the UML nurses. They are absorbing so much and I can already see that this experience has begun to change their perception of social and health problems in a developing nation. UMass Lowell has taught them well.
Maura and I have a few glasses of wine and some peanut butter crackers and cookies for supper (we need to have some food to take our malaria medicine with). The wine is relaxing and I play a few rounds of a fun and crazy card game with some of the students while the other group is busy in their hotel room revising one of their assignments that is due for Community Project. Everyone is getting along well.
The marriage proposal count is at one. I told the students I will keep track of their marriage proposals and one of the students was proposed to today by a Ghanaian military guard. I predict our marriage proposal count will go much higher when we get to Kpando. I will give updates on the proposals.
It is about 12:30 and time to go to bed. The rooster just crowed outside my window. He needs to have his circadian clock fixed. He woke me up at 3:30 this morning also. Tomorrow will be an interesting day as we have been invited to our American Embassy in Ghana to meet our Ambassador. Last year we almost got arrested for taking pictures and this year we are invited guests. Funny, how a year can make all the difference in the world.
Good night to all and come back to read some student blogging. I have been keeping them busy but hope they will start blogging soon.