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 payfive 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 oneof 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.

Day One: Someone to Watch Over Me by Valerie King

Our journey began at Logan airport with a fairly painless check in procedure at United Airlines. I was busy herding students to the desk with their passports and helping to tape up our 14 boxes for shipping.

Maura and I decided to upgrade for extrafiveinches of legroom.We wanted to see if it made a difference in our ability to sleep during the 10 hour flight from DC to Accra. At Logan, all the parents were hugging their children and there were a few tears. What a leap of faith these students and families take when they agree to go to Africa. I know what to expect but it will be interesting for me to see their shock and reaction to this new experience.

Once on board our long flight we tried to con the very nice flight attendant, Jeannette, to upgrade us to First Class. She could not do that but she was very respectful of our challenges and proceeded to give us some goodies usually reserved for first class. We had some mimosas, wine, special dessert, vanity pack and large bottled water for our journeys. With our extra leg room and special treatment it felt a bit special and a some pampering before our upcoming journey over dirt roads and hot temperatures. We had a nice United Airlines angel watching over us.

We stopped at a mall in Accra to purchase cell phones and some last minute bottles of wine and water (hmmmm I wonder which one we will like better after a long day!). One of the students said to me ‘Wow … this is not as bad as I thought it was going to be.’ I chuckled because I know there will be so many more shocks and adjustments yet to come. The students are all happy and excited so I am hopeful it will be a great trip for them.

We checked into a small hotel on the outskirts of Accra and I was pleasantly surprised to have clean rooms with air conditioning and wireless internet. As we were winding down for the night we heard some screaming and found out that we have other guests in the rooms (a few small lizards). What can we do? We are here and the lizards won’t kill them. I am looking forward to going to bed in a few minutes and catch up on some missed sleep.
Tomorrow will be a busy day.

Come back to hear more stories and check out the student blog that will have some entries soon.

Every Journey Begins with a Thank you! by Valerie King

This is the first entry of my 2011 BLOG about Nursing Students Without Borders trip to Ghana. I wrote a series of entries last year and I think they are still available to view. There will also be a student BLOG written by a few students and I encourage you to read that at They will have a wonderful stories from a student perspective.

I must begin this journey by saying thank you to all of the people who helped us get to Ghana. Of course top on the list are the families of the students and my own family who have put up with multiple fundraisers and meetings. None of us could do this without the strong support of our families.

University of Massachusetts Lowell has been very supportive. It would take me many pages to write accolades about everyone but I wanted to specifically thank Chancellor Meehan, Provost Abdelal, Vice-Provost Pierson, Dean McKinney of SHE. Christine Gillette, Karen Angelo, Elaine Keogh, Jeanne Keimig, Shaun Sullivanand most importantly Dr. Karen Melillo and all the faculty of the nursing department. My colleagues have been very supportive of my efforts and those of all the students on this trip and previous trips. As the politicians say, “it takes a village to raise a child” but I would like to alter that and say “it takes a village to educate a student.”

My own church family at Central Congregational church in Chelmsford has been very supportive with prayers, encouragement and monetary donations to help further some of my special projects in Ghana. We have had other church donations and I would like to thank the Lutheran church (Redeemer) in Woburn as well as Tewskbury Congregational Church. These donations help us to truly make an impact on the people in Ghana.

I leave Massachusetts in a little more than 24 hours. I leave tomorrow with ten senior nursing students. We will be gone from January 2- January 19th. There is still much packing and preparation to do. I am again joined by my friend Maura Norton from Chelmsford who is a UML alumna and has made this journey with me the last 2 years. We have learned so much about the needs of Ghana but also how sometimes just a small little effort on our part can make such a huge difference in an individual’s life. We are truly blessed to live in America but I am fortunate to be able to travel to another destination and see another way of living and hopefully by my actions and those of my students be able to make some lasting impact in Ghana.

Stay tuned for more stories and updates of our travels. Sometimes the stories are joyful, sometimes they are sad. They are the story of our Ghana trip.

Home Sweet Home

It is now one week since we returned home from Ghana.The adjustment period always takes a few days or week. Sleep can be problematic as our internal clocks have shifted aboutfive hours.I find myself dropping off to sleep in the early evening and then awakening much earlier than usual in my own bed.

I am not awakened by the the incessant roosters as I had been in Ghana but rather by some internal mechanism. When I awake I am still trying to process all the happened while we were in Ghana.

These BLOG entries cannot begin to capture the emotions and experiences but they are a start. Pictures will be added but that also involves some sorting of photos and re-sizing for web based applications. I have over 1500 pictures collected from my own camera and some of the students. Please be patient as I go through this process but I really want you to see some of the images.

‘There is No Place like Home’ – January 18, 2010

We wake up early for our 8 am departure which turns into a 9 am departure. This is typical of our trip and the alteration in our schedule is often frustrating for us. Our day begins with a visit by a few of the Nurses at the Kpando Health Center. I am sure due to Shine’s intervention that they have traveled 3 hours to Accra to present us with a gift of appreciation to us for all of our donations and hard work in their community. Each of us is presented with a length of fabric with the distinctive imprint of the Ghana health services logo. Maura and I admired these last year. I think it is the hope that some of the UML nurses will make some nice scrub shirts with this material for our next trip tip Ghana. We are deep touched by their generosity.

We have been told that arrangements have been made to meet with the University Of Ghana School Of Nursing. I am somewhat disappointed that the dean has either been non-committal in her decision to meet with us or our leader has really not made the appropriate inroads in scheduling this event. We are told on our drive in that the Dean is very busy and is trying to gather some of her nursing educators but our proposed meeting with the student will not happen. We drive through the University of Ghana for one last time. It is actually a large campus. We are ushered into a room to meet with dean and few other educators. I have brought with me a folder of information about UML and a gift of one of our senior textbooks. Introductions are made and I explain that our purpose was to meet with them to begin a relationship that may be one of reciprocity with both Universities that that there is potential for future collaboration. The dean seemed interested in our graduate programs specifically if some of her educators could get a PhD at our campus. I will put her in contact with our departmental leaders. I had hoped for more dialogue with the UML nurses about their educational preparation but not too many questions are asked. After our meeting we quickly use their washroom and go on a tour of their bookstore. We see may interesting titles but I am struck by the age of the text books. I consider purchasing a book about the health care system in Ghana but then I read that was first published in 1975. It was ‘revised’ in 2005 but all of the charts and statistics are from 1963-1980. I find this unacceptable to be selling books to their students that contain likely outdated information. They have an unusual assortment of textbooks in the nursing section. American paperback novels are available for a small fee but most are not recent editions and I wonder where they get their supply of books. Many appear used.

We had also been promised a visit with Dr. Karl Kroman who is an infectious disease specialist who is workingon a malaria project. Again somehow either he changed his plans to meet with us or possibly the plans were never finalized. He is unavailable due to a meeting.

We are then treated to a very nice surprise. Lt Col Holly has arranged to have us spend an afternoon at a local hotel pool for swimming. We are thrilled because the hotel has also given us a room for the day to use for changing and there is internet and a lovely restaurant. I spend some time on the internet (thanks for all the communication from home). Maura and I enjoy a nice club sandwich with more French fries and a diet coke on a lovely table with linen tablecloths and warm towels to wash our hands. We can almost feel like home. Our waiter is a nice man from the Volta Region and once he hears about our recent journey he lobbies me to include his village in our trip next year. The request for visits by the UML nurses is growing and growing. We have a nice concluding ceremony poolside as Kwando thanks us for all of our hard work and the statement that we have made such important impacts on the communities that we visited. It is hard at times to believe that we have made a difference because logic would tell me that these people will have ongoing health and welfare issues long after our departure and it will take generations to solve. For the time being I guess we have to be satisfied with what every little bit of care we can offer.

We return once more to Oxford Street. I have told the students and Maura bout GLOBAL MAMAS and we return for one more shopping trip. Some of the students did not eat at the hotel so we have our last meal at the place where we had our first meal in Ghana. As was the case last year many of us are down to our last cede and there is much skimping. We manage to pay the bill and I take a few moments to offer my thanks to Nicholas, Kwawdo and Mawuli. These men have the best of hearts and will work hard to ensure improvement in the health and welfare of the people of Ghana but more specifically the vulnerable women and children. I applaud their dedication and I am so appreciative to have them as our leaders.

We arrive quickly at the airport and mass chaos happens. There is a mad rush for carts and we try to stay together as we make our way to the long line for customs examination of our bags. Nicholas is able to use some of his political power to get me to the front of the line and the officer in charge marks my bags. As long as the UML students follow behind me then that is a quicker way for us to navigate this process. After an hour we have checked our bags and it is time for our African friends to leave us. Hugs and kisses are given and we are left to maneuver that last few obstacles on our own. We are becoming seasoned travelers and know who to stick together and make the best of the ‘hurry up and wait’ mentality. We are fortunate that it is a Monday night and travel seems a bit light.

I sit here and write this last entry on the British Air flight on the final leg of our journey. I slept through much of the first leg. The virtual map on my headrest indicates that I think I am somewhere over Eastern Canada. Home is getting closer. We land in less than 2 hours. Our first order of business is a long hot shower and the next is a warm comfortable sleep in our beds. The trip has been successful beyond my expectations and I hope to be a messenger for others who want to hear about the plight of the Ghanaian people. I will be adding photos and possibly addendums to my entries as I start to remember more details. Please feel free to contact me if anyone has any question or you want a presentation to your school or church group. Well that is all for now.

‘Shop till you Drop’ – January 17, 2010

We have plans to sleep a bit later today as we have not had too many early mornings. Maura and I enjoy our typical breakfast of peanut butter and jelly crackers and today we have cold diet cokes to go along with our feast. We are compatible in our food likes and it has become our easy routine to set up our ‘breakfast table (a Sterlite container lid) on our bed and chat over our crackers. We spend some time working on repacking our bags. We also need to complete our 4 page evaluation for AFRICED and we want to carefully word our suggestions and comments. We also need to have some private discussion about the distribution of our funds for various projects. We have both come prepared with some money to help donate to some projects but we have questions about some of the quoted figures and we need to find a way to make our money be most beneficial. We are somewhat taken aback that we received a text message from someone in Kpando inquiring about our ‘promised’ plan to fully support their well project. It is interesting that our tour of that tragic site left them with the impression that we were going to fully support this project. Of course originally we were given a figure of $600 for a bore hole for a new safe well. This figure did not seem accurate to me. Now are given an estimate of over $900 just to make the current hand dug well safer (i.e. concrete platform and a metal cover and gate to prevent children from falling in) and a rough estimate of a bore hole project that is about $4000. We text back that the UML student nurses club is in no financial position to fully support this project but we will take under advisement how we may help them with this project. It is important for us to see how much of their own funds from the community and their government that they themselves have tried to procure for this project. We have also been told that the Kasseh health center is looking for us to purchase mattresses for their maternity unity. Again, I will say again, there is so much need and many of the Ghanaian people have the hope (expectation) that visitors from USA will fund their projects and needs. I would like to see how much governmental money is being used to help some of these projects also and I need to be assured that any donations made for these projects is safely and appropriately disbursed. Maura and I come up with a plan of donation and we feel comfortable with our plan. We hope to initiate other donations from our friends and colleagues in the USA. We have trust in AFRICED that they will help to distribute these funds in a fair manner. We both would like to see an organized sponsorship program for the orphans in Peki and ultimately a completion of the orphanage structure. We have been given a rough estimate of $250 to support the living and school expenses of child in Peki for one year. I would like to personally support one child a year and I hope some of my friends how are reading this might consider doing the same either independently or jointly with friends. Please contact me if interested.

We are told that our friend Nicholas is here with a large bus for our needs for the day. This was not a negotiated expense for our trip. WE have planned to use taxis today. I have told him that the BANK of VAL is closed. I have subsidized various aspects of this trip and even our trusted organizers assume that our funds are endless. I am conserving my funds for more charitable donations. After some negotiation (everything here is a negotiation here!!!) we agree to pay for the fueling costs of the bus. I believe that the Minister of Education office may be subsidizing some of the expense because Nicholas works in that department. He has been very instrumental in getting us through certain logistical hurdles due to his diplomatic status and I am very grateful. On the other hand I believe that the presence of our group has also provided some political impact for him and our other leaders. Our presence here in the country has been noticed by some of the Ministers and the media. We are the model for future trips by nursing and other student groups. We are taken to a local arts center where we once more face the lions of local commerce. We have to negotiate every purchase. They say 10 Cedes we have to counter with 3, they counter with 8, we counter with 4 and then the price ends of being 5. I hate this process but some of the girls enjoy it. Again, I feel like it is a feeding frenzy with the American tourists and I am anxious to buy my last minute souvenirs and re-board the bus.

Nicholas takes us on a driving tour of the city and we see more of the local buildings. We are dropped off at Oxford Street and told to walk the 5-6 blocks to visit some last minute vendors. My Ghanaian cash is almost gone and I find a local Barclays Bank ATM. I withdraw some money and for some reason I glance down a side street. Because I am known as Mama Val my eye catches the sign of GLOBAL MAMAS. It is a small shop off the main street and they sell Fair Trade products. These are items that are made by women who are supported by some micro loans and the profit of their craftsmanship is again funneled back into their businesses. Items are sold in this one location but I think is it like a consignment shop type of sales. The items are somewhat standardized in that they use a lot of locally made products of beads and batik fabric. They also sell items made out of recycled water bags and ice cream wrappers. The designs are ingenious. I am happy to support these artists and I relaxed to know that I do not have to negotiate any pricing.

We board the bus and Nicholas takes us on a short drive past the American Embassy. Unbeknownst to us the taking of pictures is prohibited and no sooner than we click off a few pictures our bus is stormed by angry Ghanaian officers demanding to be let on the bus to confiscate the cameras. There is much shouting between our 3 Ghanaian escorts and at least 3 Ghanaian officers. I do not see an American presence. The door is open and I forcefully identity myself as an American citizen with proper identification and that as a leader of the group I am willing to take responsibility for any snapshots taken. I think for a moment he considers taking me off the bus (and inwardly I am shaking but I must do this to protect my students). Our Ghanaian escorts continue with their shouting and ultimately 2 cameras are taken (mine, which did not take any photos and one other student camera). Our escorts leave the bus and head over to the embassy. We are all watching from the bus. There is some fear but probably more indignation about the way we are treated. The whole situation could have been simply solved with a normal tone discussion (and negotiation’. That word again) and erasure of the alleged photos. We have the phone number of our new friend Lt. Colonel Mike Holly. He is fortunately only a few blocks away. It is Sunday and he is not working. He arrives to help calm the situation. Cameras are returned and we leave the area with the mantra ‘no photos, no photos, no photos’.

I had made previous arrangements with our hotel to utilize their small kitchen to heat up of feast of Mac and Cheese and then our plan was to take the girls to a sports bar in town. The proprietor of the hotel has had a change of heart and does not want to let me in the kitchen to boil water. I do not even bother to negotiate with her. I am disappointed with the hurdles to provide a feast for my students. They are all low on cash and this was going to be a fun American comfort food feast. Instead of staying there to have food and drink at the hotel I instruct the students to get ready ASAP for our journey to CHAMPS. I eat one of my last packets of tuna because I have not eaten since my crackers from this morning. I am dead tired but the students want to kick up their heels a bit and wear their new dresses. I have no option except to join them.

Champs is a non-descript bar that sometimes has fun entertainment like Karaoke but tonight is Sunday and it is movie night. There are large screens with B-rate American movies and Arabic subtitles. The sound system is right next to me and is blaring. The students are all sitting together and the Mamas (Maura and I) nibble on beer, Smirnoff Ice, French fries and nacho chips. When the bill comes 2 of our Ghanaian hosts do not offer to pay for their food. There is this expectation that the Americans will pay for all. The “Bank of Maura and Val “has to pay for this. Part of me does not mind doing this once in a while but the daily expectation for us to subsidize their food and transportation is tiresome. We also do not receive appropriate words of appreciation. After a while I urge the students to leave. They have full bellies but we manage to go back to my room to have a birthday celebration with cake. One more day in Ghana. After we return to the hotel we pack up the last of our items in preparation for an early departure tomorrow. We have a very full day. I need to do some more work on my evaluation and reports to Kwadwo. I finally go to bed around 1:30 and I think about all the reading I was going to do on this trip and I have barely cracked open a book. At 4:30 am there is an insistent knock on the door. The proprietor’s wife is telling me we have to evacuate the hotel because of a radio announcement to the community about a potential earthquake. We have all been on edge because of the earthquake in Haiti and it creates in me a few moments of fear but then common sense prevails I recognize it for the hoax it probably is but for the safety of the students I have to wake them up and evacuate them outside. It is somewhat surely to be up at that time and hear the activity of the local neighbors. Everyone is milling around but I do not hear any warning bells or sirens in the distance. I suggest to the owner that he turn on the TV In the restaurant but he is complying with what her perceives is the emergency plan and will not walk the 40 feet to his kitchen and turn on a TV. I spot his car parked nearby and I urge him to turn on his car radio for any updates. In the meantime I call home to see if my husband can see anything on the internet. After about 30 minutes we find out there is no official order to evacuate and we return to our room. My adrenaline is high and sleep (the remainder of my 90 minutes of sleep time) is hard to achieve. Tomorrow is our last full day in Ghana. Home is getting much closer and that makes me happy.

“Castles and Catwalks” – January 16, 2010

Today we get up early and drive to Kakum National Forest. We are told that this is only one of 3 National Forests that have a catwalk. I have done this attraction last year and I remember how arduous the hike up the trail was and I elect to stay below with Maura and people watch. The students make the hike up to the elevated platforms high above the tree line. The students expect to see animals but there are no animals in this part of the rainforest. It is the dry season and they have gone to other locations where the water is. Even if there were any animals they would not make an appearance with the screaming of the tourists as they cross over the roped walkways high above the floor of the forest. We have a few students who are afraid of heights but I am happy to announce that they all made it back in one piece. There is another group of white students who are also returning from the walkway. They are an assortment of students from various countries who are working on some humanitarian projects here in Ghana. When we see a group like that we always go over and see what they are doing. We are truly the minority in this country and the color of our skin binds us to these strangers.

We then travel to Elmina Castle which is one of the first castles built in this region. Originally it was a Portuguese trading site for gold and other items but very soon these traders realized the value of human trading. We have a wonderful guide who has been doing this for years and his name is Clifford. One important piece of information that he shares with me is the history of slavery before the adoption of that practice by the Europeans. The Africans themselves used slavery as a means to conquer other tribes and to use the prisoners of war during these conflicts as human barter. I think this is an important thing to hear. As a white American our history books focus on the role of the Americans during early slavery here in the US and ultimately the Civil War and abolition. I think slavery is a stain on all nations and that reparations and change in attitudes have to happen with all races and not just the white Europeans and Americans. We also need to modify our history books to reflect some of the origins of the slave trade.

As I tour this castle I am reminded of the comments I heard last year from out tour guide. This year we learn a bit more. He is trying to use words and stories to help us understand the emotions and fears of that era. We are locked in a small dungeon cell so that we may experience some of the sense of despair and fear that the African slaves felt. The stories of the rape and exploitation of the female slaves is especially troubling and when he talks of the separation of the families I start to realize the horror and lack of hope that must have been felt by these people. I am again appalled to see a Portuguese church sitting right on top of the dungeons and realize that the worship of God happened mere feet from the suffering of the slaves. There is a plaque on the wall and I am going to post the picture. Last year I gave a lecture at a church and I ended with that picture of the plaque in the hopes that it might generate some discussion. It was interesting that the audience did not want to discuss this. I think deep down we all know it was a horrible part of human history but it is easier not to talk about it. That is why we must continue to have dialogue about how these events have shaped who the white and black people today in 2010.

After the tour I am able to take some photos of the harbor at Elmina. It is like going back in time and I hope some of my pictures will help to demonstrate these aspects of the African fishermen. They carve out and build long boats from the local trees and each afternoon they leave their harbor to go out into the deeper water to catch fish. The boats have at least 10 men on them. We are here in the early afternoon and some of the boots are returning with their booty. These boats are lying low in the water and when other people in the harbor see these boats return there is a loud cheer and clapping. The returning fishermen are heroes to their community for bringing home the fish that helps to sustain the economy of this village. It is hard for me to imagine how monotonous this life must be but that is the only way that they can survive.

As we leave the castle we are mobbed by local vendors trying to sell us their trinkets. I do not need any of these items and I know that if my wallet comes out I will be swamped like blood to the piranhas. I hate to be rude but I push ‘my girls’ on to the bus and close the doors. The incredible poverty is overwhelming and it is wearing on us a bit. The students are anxiously awaiting a return to Coconut Grove resort for an afternoon of swimming. We have planned these last few days of relaxation and I think it was a good thing to do. We have worked so hard since our arrival and the students need some rejuvenation before they return to the rigors of their academic schedule upon our return. The pool is lovely and we pay a small per diem fee to use the facilities. The pool area is mostly empty and I think the addition of 10 beautiful young nursing students is something they do not see too often. I remove myself from their group and find a chair on the other side of the pool. Maura has left me for the afternoon to meet up with her son who ironically is also here in Ghana with Babson College and they are about an hour away at a competition about entrepreneurship. She leaves with Kwando to make the trip and I am with the students. They are having a great time but I need to maintain my distance a bit. I think it is important for them to be kids and for me (the mother and professor) need to be separate. I take advantage of a shady lounge chair and try to read but once I start to relax I find myself asleep. I am told later that the students came over and took some pictures of me with sleeping with my mouth wide open (not a pretty picture) and they jokingly said it is blackmail material for an A in their next class.

I meet 2 people that day at the pool. One is an American woman in her later years who travels around the world. She is in Africa and will be here for a few months. She travels alone and makes up her itinerary as she goes along. She tells me of her stories in India and Asia and I am curious about how she supports her travel because she stays at nice hotels along the way. She does not reveal her source of income. I also meet another man who is currently in Ghana doing some epidemiological research for a petroleum company. He does not get into details and I wonder if he thinks that a nurse would not understand the nature of his work. He is currently attending MIT Sloan School and has 3 degrees from Harvard. I do not recall his name but he has a former colleague who currently teaches at UML and I need to make a connection when I return. It is funny that when I am in my own country I usually do not walk up to people and start talking( well at least not all the time) but here in Ghana there is some liberty in starting discussions with people you know are from your own country.

The girls try to cajole me into delaying our departure and I give them an extra 45 minutes. We have a 3 hour trip home tonight to Accra and I am ready to leave. After a few posed pictures at the pool we leave. Out 3 hour trip turns into a 5 ‘ hour trip from hell. Actually the first 2 hours were not bad but once we approached Accra we sat in stop and go traffic for hours. At one point our driver took a short cut through some local neighborhoods and we were stopped at least 4 times at police roadblocks. I am angry to think that these Ghanaian police officers are stopping all these drivers but do not offer any assistance on the main roads to maintain some type of order to chaos on the roadways. Because our journey home is taking so long we must stop for gas again. I am amazed to find myself in a VERY clean store at the gas station and imagine my delight when I find some diet coke. I buy 4 for our last 2 days and I know Maura will be thrilled with my purchase. It is now Saturday night and we only have a few more days left. Tomorrow is our shopping day and I have planned a birthday party for tomorrow night. We have had 2 UML students have Birthdays during our trip (Allison and Jody) and I have ordered some cakes. We make an inventory of our remaining supply of American food and we realize that we have 12 packets of Easy Mac left between us. I have also hoarded some Starburst candy so I have planned a birthday feast of Easy Mac, Starburst Candy and Cake for tomorrow night. We are all getting homesick and are anxious to return home.

” A Day at the Beach” – January 15, 2010

We have finally arrived at our day of rest. We leave our hotel in Accra and battle the traffic to get out of the city. They are doing a large construction project and the main road is being torn up. I think the attempt is to build a flyover to reduce congestion in the city but right now it is a mess. There are no traffic cones or overpaid state policemen directing traffic. It is a free for all. We are lucky that we are traveling in a larger bus because some of the smaller vehicles are yielding for us but it is a bumpy and stop and go process and it takes us over an hour to leave the city. Our journey to Cape Coast takes about 3 hours and along the way we see some of the affluence of Accra turn into the typical mud and grass huts that are the standard of living for many people in this country. I am reminded again of the extreme poverty of this nation. We are traveling to the sites where much of the slave trade occurred in Western Africa. Over 11 million Africans were carried across the ocean from the mid 15th to the late 19th century. There were no American forts but the Americans played a significant role in this terrible human tragedy. I urge you to watch Traces of the Trade which is the story of the slave trade that occurred in Bristol Rhode Island (available on PBS).

We are told that Cape Coast is the educational center of Ghana because it is the home of many fine schools and universities. It also used to be the seat of government many years ago but that has all moved to Accra. The buildings are very old. We see a 500 year old building. We drive down ‘stone house road’. Is it lined with very old brick and cement homes that were the original homes of the mulattos. The mulattos were the product of rape of the female African slaves and the British and other military soldiers in the 17th-19th centuries. These children were actually respected by both the white and black population so they served as important liaisons between the two races. They were usually not shipped off as slaves and enjoyed a different quality of life than their mothers and African family members. Many of them have Anglo names such as Taylor, or Williams. The city is very old and sometimes if you don’t look too close at the cell phone kiosks or the blaring of the taxi horns you could imagine yourself back in time. We arrive at the Cape Castle which was owned and operated as a slave castle (among other things) by various countries but it was last operated by the British. Our tour is very well done and it is amazing to be walking in the dungeons where hundreds of men and women were imprisoned. We see a mark on the wall which is about 2 ‘ feet from the floor. We are told that when they first started to prepare this as a historic site they thought the floor they were walking on was the original floor. It turns out that there was about 2 feet of dried blood, excrement and other fluids that had dried over the years in those dungeons and eventually the level of the floor rose. We can now see a groove around the perimeter and through the center of the room. It is the trough that bodily fluids are supposed to drain out of the room. I can almost feel the human suffering as I touch the dark cold stone. The lights are turned out and we are told that 500 men would be in this room. Many died from starvation and infections. If they attempted to attack their captors they were put in a cell in complete darkness and deprived of water and fresh air until they died. Their bodies were then shown to the other captives as an example. The heat in the dungeons is oppressive but there is no odor of dying but I sense the pain of those people. Outside the male dungeon there is a new plaque that was not there last year. It is a commemoration of the visit by Barack Obama. The visit to this Castle touches me in a way that is hard to explain. I can only hope that someday many of you will get a chance to see this site.

Our time is running short and we cannot visit Elmina Castle today but instead we decide to go to the Coconut Grove hotel for lunch. This is a very nice resort right on the ocean. We have a wonderful lunch in a gazebo overlooking the rough surf of the Atlantic Ocean. There are some American food items on the menu and everyone is happy. The UML students get to play in the surf and take some pictures. We buy some beaded jewelry from a Rastafarian student. The mood is high and we are looking forward to another fun day tomorrow. We are staying at a nice hotel (running water, AC and a TV that gets one American channel) and it is a relaxing night. I am sipping some Californian wine and realize that home is getting closer. I watch a bit of American TV and catch up on the news of the earthquake in Haiti. We feel somewhat disconnected to the world events right now. Last year the pilot landed on the Hudson River when we were in Africa. It is interesting how we have become isolated from the news due to lack of access to TV and newspapers. One interesting item is that last night while checking my email I find out that our meeting with the Ghanaian Minister of Health has been shown on national TV here in Ghana and also picked up on the internet feeds to international news sources. I am forwarded a copy of an article that appeared on the internet regarding that conference and the Minister is quoted discussing his goals for improved health in his country and then I am quoted discussing the need for compassionate and competent nursing care.

The article also mentions UML and AFRICED as sponsors of the program. It is bizarre to have this email forwarded to me from the PR people at UML. I am proud to that we have made a positive impact while representing our university.

“Almost Home Sweet Home” – January 14, 2010

We arrived last night at Samartine hotel in Accra. Our hosts Sam and Martine are excited to have us return to their hotel. I am gladdened by their friendliness and feel very comfortable here. I did some laundry last night and ask her if I can hang my pants to dry on her line. She is very accommodating.

Today we had hoped to be done with most of our work but we are told that one more BP clinic is needed in the village that we first visited 2 weeks ago. It is near Ada and the name of the village is Adanor Kopeh. It is a very poor village. We were supposed to leave by 9 am but the bus does not arrive until 11 am and we have an hour drive (it actually turns out to be a 2 hour drives due to traffic). On the way we pick up Comfort who is a social worker from Accra who is from this village and has promised her people that we will return. I have no more BP meds and can only offer them some vitamins or Motrin or Tylenol. I really hate to do a clinic and not have any meds. The UML students are tired of working and we have been at this for 12 straight days now. When we arrive (late) at the village the people have left to go and work at their farms. Many of us need to relieve ourselves and are directed to a concrete box with a hole in one corner. We squat and relieve ourselves and dream about our clean USA toilets with toilet paper and privacy.

A loud bell is rung to announce our presence and the people start to trickle in. It quickly becomes an unmanageable situation. People are asking for any meds we can give them and are in a frenzy to get the remaining bars of soap, shampoo and conditioner that we have brought with us. This community is very poor and we again discuss the difference between greed and desperation. It is hard to distinguish at times. We realize that although we had promised to stay for an hour or so the situation was deteriorating and I needed to get the students out of there. We board the bus with such disappointment in the circumstances that lead to this disastrous day. A woman rushes to the bus. She heard the banging of the bell and wanted to come and see me. She received Tylenol and ranitidine (Zantac) 2 weeks ago and her stomach pain has gone away. She wants some more. I dig around in the box and give her some supplies. We board the bus and the kids are happily waving to us and the adults as asking when we can return. I am a bit ashamed of this shoddy nursing care and I know the students are feeling the same way but we had to stop the situation from becoming a bad situation.

As we drive toward Accra I begin to apologize to Comfort for the situation. She is not upset but rather wants to educate us about some of the psychology of the people of Ghana. She tells us that the people believe that we have magical powers due to the whiteness of our skins and the Ghanaian people will do anything to have contact with us. If all we do is assure them that they are healthy and need no meds then they will sleep soundly with the assurance that the white woman as told them good news. I find this interesting and also embarrassing. She tells us that there is a saying here that if a Ghanaian person is walking to church and they meet a white person on their way then they do not have to go to church because they have just passed God. This story is also embarrassing to me and I don’t know how to respond. There is much education needed here on this problem but it may take a long time to dispel. On the way home we stop at the Kasseh Health Center in Ada. This is the clinic where we visited on our first day and found the conditions in the maternity unit to be severely lacking. I have decided to take a portion of my church money to help them purchase some mattresses for the maternity unit. It is difficult to get a good quote but I hope that AFRICED can help me with this process. The nurses are appreciative of the large box of supplies that we leave with them. They are especially interested in the stethoscopes as they are rare item here. We have run out of BP cuffs and have none to offer to them. I had purchased 30 stethoscopes and 20 BP cuffs to bring with us and they were rapidly distributed during our visit. I wish I had brought more because giving these tools to the nurses will allow them to better take care of their patients. I am trying to think of items that have more long lasting value when contributed to the people of Ghana. They need so much but we (UML NSWB) need to more thoughtful about any future donations so we can maximize our efforts.

We journey back to Accra with the promise that all our hard work is over. I am sensing some negative feelings amongst the students. They are all feeling tired, missing home and frustrated by some of the circumstances of the day and also frustration with some of the changes in their envisioned experience. I make it a point to have a de-briefing discussion tonight that the students can verbalize their frustration or other emotions. I think we all recognize that the burn out factor is high and we need a break from the stress and continuous barrage of need. I am glad that we have a chance to talk but I still sense some dissatisfaction with some of our activities. There is such a wide variability in personalities of this group. I think it has been an incredible learning experience for these students. Some of the students are more flexible and are willing to go with the flow and others question certain aspects of the trip. I guess that this is just human nature and I need to give them time to vent. The physical and emotional challenges on a trip like this are monumental and I think we have all arrived at this point pretty much a changed woman. Personally I am not finding this trip as hard as last year and that has a lot to do with some of the changes I have implemented this year but also I had a more accurate sense of what ‘normal’ is here in Ghana. You cannot experience everything that we have done without expecting some internal change within yourself. I have tried very hard to document this trip so that I can look back on my words and try to make some sense of it all. I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog. The next few days will be a time of relaxation, reflection and evaluation. I am anxious to return home to my loved ones but also feel part of my heart is here in Ghana.