A Pineapple and Rat Poison—The Way to a Frustrated PCV’s Heart

Sorry it has been so long since I have been able to write/post a blog. On a day-to-day basis, I really don’t mind living in a village without electricity. It does make things like updating blogs and staying in contact via email a bit harder though.

One month at site down, twenty-three to go. As I was leaving the States, it seemed like everyone wanted to know how long I would be gone. I told everyone two years, or if I really felt like getting detailed, 27 months. Many people gawked at that and told me there was no way they could leave home for that long. At the time, two years seemed like a very abstract amount of time. It is hard to conceptualize where you will be in two years and what your life will be like then. Even if you think you have some idea of what two years from now will look like, odds are when you finally get there things will look a lot different than you imagined. Now that I am living in my village and adjusting to village life, I have a lot of time to sit and think about many things, including time itself. The longer I am here the longer two years feels, which seems almost counterintuitive because I am technically getting closer to that abstract, illusive time of “two years from now” every day. Some days the thought of being here for the next two years without seeing Colorado and all the wonderful things it has to offer and all the amazing people who live there is almost unbearable. Other days time feels like it is moving too quickly and I wonder how I will be able to accomplish all the things I want to do here. As my friend Chau said the other day, “Being at site brings a whole new meaning to ‘alone with your thoughts.’”

My first month here has been especially hard. I mentioned in my last post that upon arrival I was informed that I would not be staying in the chief’s palace like I originally thought, but that I would be moving to a new house. Unfortunately, I am still in the palace, still waiting to move. The house is ready, except for the toilet situation. Everyone said things move slowly here in Ghana, especially construction. I’m definitely experiencing that first hand. Everyday I am told “Its coming” or “Just two or three days more.” It’s been six weeks. I am still living out of a suitcase and up until a week ago, I was completely dependent on others for food because my counterpart kept telling me I should wait until I move in to buy a stove. Last weekend I bought a stove and it is now sitting on a bench in a hallway outside my bedroom because I don’t have anywhere else to put it. Needless to say, it doesn’t get much use there, but it’s nice to be able to boil water for coffee or tea in the morning.

It’s frustrating to be living in temporary housing, but about two weeks ago things got a whole lot worse. I woke up in the middle of the night to horrible sounds—the sounds of mice feet scurrying across my desk, walking all over my papers and books, climbing up my chairs, crawling over my suitcase and into the bag that is currently holding all my clothes. That first night I was terrified, and every time I heard a rustle I would switch on my headlamp and try to find the source of the noise. I think the worst part is when I can feel them start to crawl on my bedframe. Thanks to my mosquito net they can’t get on the bed with me, but they still try to crawl up the bed and they love scurrying under my bed.

After about three sleepless nights, the elders all entered my compound at 5:15 in the morning to hold a meeting. Thanks to the mice I was already awake, but I still really don’t enjoy having a visit from 25 men that early in the morning. After about an hour of discussion they came to my door and informed me they would be holding a durbar in a few minutes time to formally introduce me to the community. This is what I had been waiting for. Up until this point my counterpart refused to let me do anything in the community because he wanted to follow proper protocol and I needed to be introduced formally through a durbar before he felt I could start work. The durbar was pretty short and only about 50 people were present so it was pretty anticlimactic, but it satisfied CK (my counterpart) and we hit the ground running. From the durbar we went straight to the schools, where he brought me into nearly every classroom and made me introduce myself. No matter what age the class was or what school we were in, the children all laughed heartily as I tried to introduce myself to them. In the older classes I was told to speak English, and in the younger classrooms I tried to speak twi. Regardless of what language I spoke in, CK always had to translate what I said for the children. In some cases I think they just couldn’t hear me over the laughter. Normally this wouldn’t bother me so much, but a lack of sleep made my temper quite short. I don’t think CK realized how much constantly being stared at and then laughed at bothered me. After four hours of this, we had only visited five of the seven schools but I told CK I was too exhausted to continue. On the walk home, I explained to him that I hadn’t slept in several nights due to mice. He thought about it and told me I need to get a cat. I asked ‘Where do I get a cat?’ And he thought for a while and had no answer for me. Great. I went home feeling pretty mutinous towards my counterpart. He must have been more perceptive than I originally thought, because that night he visited me bearing two gifts: a pineapple (my favorite fruit) and rat poison. Tears came to my eyes as I accepted his offerings and we hurried off to buy bread to cover in poison and set out across my room. That night I enjoyed my pineapple and wasn’t as bothered by the sounds of the mice as they walked around my room because I knew they would all be dead by morning.

Well, either the poison wasn’t as strong as I thought or the mice were smarter than they looked, but the next night they were back and this time they didn’t touch the bread. It’s been pretty unfortunate, and I’ve continued to have my nightly visitors. I have asked and asked, but no one in the village seems to have a cat they want to give me so I’ve just been putting up with the mice as best I can. Life at home has been very trying, but fortunately everything else is going very well. The day after my durbar CK realized I needed a break from the village and he took me to his uncle’s cocoa farm for the day. We hiked though the jungle for about an hour to get to the farm, which was awesome because the rainforest here is just beautiful. We went with two of CK’s younger sisters, and waiting for us at the farm was CK’s uncle, two other men, and three boys. Apparently they all thought a white lady couldn’t possibly do anything, so they carried over a log for me to sit on, plucked a bunch of leaves, laid them on the log and then covered the leaves with a coat to make a nice padded seat for me. I sat on my throne while everyone, children included, picked up their cutlasses (aka machetes) and went back to work, hacking open the cocoa pods and removing the seeds. I watched quietly as the worked, occasionally asking CK questions. The district I live in is Bia, which is the #1 producer of cocoa for all of Ghana, and cocoa is Ghana’s biggest export. Cocoa is everywhere you look. After the seeds are removed from the pods, they are brought back to town where they are laid out on tables to dry. After they dry, they are allowed to ferment, and then they are sold to one of the several cocoa companies in town, which will haul out truckloads of cocoa at a time, taking it to larger port cities and either exporting it or selling it again to be exported. In the few hours I was in the forest, they collected enough seeds for a bag and a half of cocoa. My counterpart said the going rate for a bag of cocoa to one of the companies is currently 235 cedi. Not a bad chunk of change for a few hours of work. CK said his uncle will keep all the money he gets from the day’s work, though, and he won’t share it with his nieces and nephew or anyone else who helped that day.

CK and I have also been busy doing health education talks using the Johns Hopkins BCS materials. We held a family planning talk for the hairdressers and seamstresses, where about 60 women showed up to learn about all the different methods of birth control available. We visited the junior high again and held an informational talk about hygienic practices. We had a similar talk in a nearby village, and talked to them about the importance of clean drinking water. We also help out at the baby weigh-ins that take place on market days. About 100 women show up once a month to have their babies weighed and immunized. I am very happy to be participating in these activities, but sometimes I can’t help but think my counterpart is very capable and has already been doing all these things without my help, so why was I brought in to work with BCS if everything is already running smoothly here? I am going to need to be creative and find a need in the community that is not yet being addressed and find a way I can contribute, because even though I enjoy doing the BCS work, they honestly don’t need my help. But as I said before, I still have 23 months to figure out how I will make a contribution to Adabokrom. Maybe that will be plenty of time, or maybe it won’t be enough. Time is a very fluid concept.