‘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.