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Atidekate » Blog Archive » Babies, Babies everywhere….

Life in Ghana has been good for collecting stories, but bad for recounting them to those at home. With rolling power outages, it has been tough enough to catch the internet. Add to that the sudden, pounding rainstorms and the fact that I am not really allowed to leave the compound at night and the result is me feeling a bit cut off from everyone back at home.
Thankfully there has been so much happening here that I don’t have time to miss home. My days have been packed. I usually start around 9:30, sometimes later (I usually sleep in because I stay up late observing in the maternity ward), I hang around the dispensary and see if there is any work to be done. Usually I wander away pretty quickly. The new insurance system is so confusing and there are so many people scrambling around in such a small space I don’t really feel like I am getting anything done. In addition to most of the yelling being in another language and the names of the drugs being equally confusing and I end up tired before I even start! My new favourite place to work is the records office. I can ask for someone’s age, home address, birthplace, age and if they have been to the hospital in Ewe, so that is kind of funny to all around me. They are all pretty impressed with how fast I learn everything. One of the teachers’ said it was because of how we are taught at home, we don’t learn by rote, but have more emphasis on creative and independent thinking. If I don’t know something, I am more than likely to take a educated guess and get it verified than to not do the work. Anyhow, one of the eye-opening things at records is how many people are not registered with the national insurance scheme. Even though almost everyone is eligible, many people are illiterate and don’t know how to figure out the forms. Many people have to sign with a thumbprint, so the chance that they would be able to fill out forms is slim. Another huge benefit to working the records office is the access I get to the disease and demographics charts. They collect a lot of information on what goes on in the hospital so it is really interesting to see who is using the health care system. For the most part, it is heavily relied upon by women of childbearing age and the main illness seems to be malaria.
Depending on how the day goes, I will wander around trying to find the most interesting cases to witness, or might go down to the school campus. The building project hasn’t started yet, but there is a lot of enthusiasm from those involved. We have had two estimates, but it is hard to tell how official it all is. One might say we need 100 2×4 planks the next will say 70.
Gathering information has been interesting to say the least. Sometimes I have no clue what is going on and just have to really trust whoever is translating for me. The first day we went to take an estimate, it was like a sketch comedy. There I am trying to figure out what the carpenter is saying with about 45 kindergarteners standing around me chanting in Ewe. The carpenter seemed to be pulling numbers off the top of his head because I never saw paper or a tape measure (they later came back with measurements and it about halved the material they initially quoted!) There have been other meetings, which I am happy to say have been quick and effective (and have started on time!). I met with the chief last week, although I have no clue what that did, besides him saying that I was welcome” about a million times.
One of our major issues will be labour. It can be of great expense and no one seems to be willing to donate their time. I understand that it can be difficult but this is what could make or break the project. It seems that my rock-climbing skills will be put to use in a few weeks because I said I would play carpenter’s mate and climb up on the roof. The committee acted shocked but I think they are secretly looking forward to seeing a white girl putting up roofing sheets… Seems that all those summers helping Dad build the deck will pay off.
It seems that the town library was converted into the new police quarters, but no one can say where the books went. The building is now empty again though (it was completed March 2006 when I was here last). The reason? It is not on a main road, so the cops weren’t able to collect enough money from passing motorists. That is a big thing here, the police will set up roadblocks and stop every passing vehicle, which I am sure equates a handsome salary in bribes.

Anyhow, after poking around to see what can be observed in the hospital or around town, I usually go back to the pharmacy or to the emergency department. While it is nothing like the emergency room of the famed “ER” it is still sort of exciting. You never know what will come in. It’s weird but the doctors seem to spend a lot of time laughing. But when you are so understaffed and the situation is so desperate what else can you do? One disturbing trend is how many women come in who have been injured by their partners. Whether it is a broken nose or injured eye, women here are defiantly marginalized. Makes me wonder how many more there are who don’t come to seek care.

If there was one thing I could wish upon the hospital pharmacy it would be free birth control for all young women. It being a catholic hospital (besides probably never being able to afford it..) they are not allowed to dispense it. But it seems almost every day there is a girl that comes in with an incomplete criminal abortion, as they call it. Believe me, the process in which they complete the abortion appears positively barbaric. Assisting on one last night was enough birth control for me for a long time…

So yes, every day I witness awful things. Things that make me feel weak and powerless and guilty that I will probably never have to suffer like the people here. But there are so many good moments. Moments like being allowed to deliver a screaming baby boy, or showing a mother, who had lost her first baby, her beautiful baby girl. She smiled at me and couldn’t wait to hold her. Moments where the midwife tells the doctor that she successfully resuscitated a very blue baby. Moments where even though I have no clue what a patient is saying nor does she know what I am saying, but holding her hand and smiling is all the communication necessary. I get it. I get why people work so damn hard to become doctors. I get why they come back day after day, even when the last day all you saw was death.

So this game, this game of, as the doctor put it, being born on the wrong continent can be cruel. It should make you want to just give up, but that doesn’t seem to. So they will keep fighting until balance becomes a reality.

Well… I started this post with no intention of being philosophical. I wanted to write funny stories like how people are worried that I am getting too lean, which is in part because of all the biking but also because I was sick most of last week. Being sick here is funny because of how much explaining you have to do when you are not able to eat goat stew made by some woman in the back of a bar in a small village with no bathrooms in sight or why all you have been eating for a week is 7up and tea biscuits. The pharmacist cure when I begged for Cipro (an antibiotic) was making me eat the hottest raw pepper and tomato relish with fried yam. Don’t ask me how but it totally cured me. Other things that make me smile is how the little girl next door always says “Ciao!” to me because her teacher at school is an Italian volunteer. Or how I have taken up the habit of singing while I walk around because that is what everyone does here, like the people on the buses at home who forget they are singing along to their ipods. Or how the power has gone on and off about 8 times since I started writing this blog. Or how a few days ago I apparently told someone to “not abort my baby” when I meant to say “do not bother me” in Ewe, apparently the intonation on one letter changes the whole sentence…great.

People here say the funniest things. Some of the best ones these past weeks have been:

“Come and lie on my belly so I can produce a white child.” –said by old woman in town translated by Vincentia from Ewe who was laughing so hard she tripped over.

“Julia has a good pelvis for children” –Doctor #1
“True, she could give birth to twins, side-by-side” –Doctor #2

“You have a big buttocks… (pause)… marry my brother!”
-Young woman in small town just east of Abor.

“Give me money, so I can buy at small car”
-Headmistress at Junior secondary school.

“Julia, I don’t like going to town with you… you’re too conspicuous.”
-Doctor, trying to get errands done but realizing how long it takes me to do anything done when small infants scream at the sight of me and people almost crash their bikes.

So life goes on here, each day brings something new. Things keep me smiling, like my adopted little sisters next door, who like to watch me do cartwheels and headstands on the grass or who I teach to ride my bike or type on my computer. In exchange they help me do my washing, which always takes me hours and drives me insane, because it usually starts raining right as I hang it out to dry. I like that about living here. The woman next door told me that my return was like having a daughter come home.

Alright.. I tried to make up for my delinquency when it came to contacting home. Keep texting me, I love to get all the messages at night. Allison, I got your letter, I will have to look up ur address in Pointe-Claire because you will be home soon. Mia, my love, I hung your drawing in my living room. People were very impressed by how well you draw. Seems that mail takes about 8 days from Canada and less than 20 from NZ! Amy, there is a letter in the mail for you, to conclude our conversation the other day.

I am off to throw rocks at a rooster, apparently if I kill it I can eat it…the thing is driving me insane it crows outside my window everyday at 4:30 and then continues all day long.

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