Alice

I apologize again for my infrequent blogging! Last time I posted I was excited to start blogging more often, now that I have figured out how to get around going to the internet café. Unfortunately, I spent most of the month of June pretty ill, and I even had to leave site for nine days to go to Kumasi and Accra for tests and treatment, which didn’t leave me in much of a mood to blog. I am finally feeling better, so I won’t dwell on how much being sick in Africa sucks, but instead I want to continue writing about people I interact with often. Today I want to talk about Alice.

When I came to Adabokrom for my site visit in March, I visited the Ghana Health Services clinic in town. The health worker who runs the clinic was very friendly and welcoming, as was his wife, and I felt immediately comfortable there. I was told there was another clinic in town, but the midwife who runs it was away so I did not visit. In the back of my mind, I had already decided I liked this clinic and didn’t need to see the other because I was perfectly comfortable at this one.

A few days after I officially moved to Adabokrom, my counterpart took me to the Peace Maternity Clinic. This clinic was much larger than the GHS clinic, and was in fact a whole compound instead of one room. In the yard outside was a large mango tree with benches underneath and a few men standing and sitting about. Just inside the building was the waiting room, filled with women and their children, with some women spilling out onto benches on the porch. We walked in, past all the waiting women directly to the consultation room, where a stern woman behind a desk was talking to a patient. Instantly recognizing who I was, she dismissed the patient and motioned for me to take the patient’s chair. As I walked towards her desk, she stood to shake my hand. She towered over me, now smiling, but she still had a stern, appraising look on her face. “Welcome,” she told me. “My name is Alice, but everyone knows me as Madam.” I thanked her and sat in my chair. Wasting no time, she began to question me. Grill me is probably a better word. Who am I? Why am I here? What work will I be doing? I have her the usual speech that I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer from America and I have come to be a Health, Water, and Sanitation Volunteer in Ghana. “Yes, but what will you do?” she asks, as she slides her reading glasses to the end of her nose and gives me a long, deliberating stare. She could give my grandmother lessons on ‘the look.’ “I. . .well, I. . . I’ll teach health education to the community and do other projects like that” I told her lamely. I was too intimidated to think straight. The interview ended shortly after that, and she thanked me again for coming and welcomed me to Adabokrom. Now I knew I liked the other clinic better.

A few nights later, Alice paid me a visit. She unexpectedly walked onto my porch as I was watching the sun set. I hastily got another chair from inside and invited her to sit. She began to tell me how she came to Adabokrom 25 years ago from the Upper West Region to start the maternity clinic, and how like me she did not know a single person or how to speak the language. Suddenly, I felt much more at ease in her presence. Then she began to ask me questions about America. Finally, something I could give concrete answers to. She stayed almost an hour, well after the sun had set.

Alice has continued to pay me random visits, and I her at the clinic. Now that we started to understand each other a little bit better, each time I would visit her she would offer a new suggestion of a potential project I could take up, or she would discuss a particular sanitation issue she felt was in need of attention in the town. She always has a new idea and insight to share with me. Each time I go to the clinic she welcomes me into the consultation room, where we chat while she continues to see her patients. One time I showed up just after a woman had given birth, and Alice hurried me to the back room where I got to watch her teach the new mother how to breastfeed. Hopefully next time I will get to watch the whole birth!

Whenever I feel like I need to have an intelligent conversation in English, I go to Alice. There are many people in my town who speak English to me, but only she challenges me to think about different situations and issues and asks my personal thoughts on the topics. And whenever I need advice, or tough motherly love, I go to Alice. I know she will be completely honest with me, if brutally honest, but she will do so in a way that lets me know she has my best interests at heart. When I was sick and in Accra, the only person from my village to call was Alice. Granted, I have purposefully not given my phone number to many people, but I still appreciated the gesture.

Last night Alice visited me at my new home, even though it was raining and I now live on the other end of the village from her. We talked about everything from what I cook for myself to abortion methods used in the village to how my sefwi (other language spoken here besides twi) was coming. She told me in October she wants to take me to Upper West to see a festival in her hometown. I told her there were several volunteers from my group posted in Upper West, and I got out the list of villages and my map of Ghana. She was elated to see one volunteer was in a town only 5 kilometers from her own, and another was not far away. She then spent 30 minutes telling me precisely how to get to her village and the other volunteers’ villages and all the different things I will see along the way. I can’t wait to go north with her, and I’m so glad we are friends. She will be a vital resource for me, in many ways, in the years to come.

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Louisa

Things around here are pretty status quo and I don’t have anything new or interesting to report, so I think I’m going to start writing short snapshots about people I interact with daily. This one is about a little girl name Louisa.

It starts by 6:30 in the morning. She begins in a falsely polite voice, calling out “Mam B? Mam B?” from just beyond my door. I know her voice all too well at this point to jump up in response. Soon she is pressing her face into the crack between my door and the frame, just below the handle where the gap begins to widen. She also raises her voice, and begins to call with increasing urgency. “Mam B? Mam B? Mam B? MAM B?? MAM BEEEEEE??” Next she is knocking on the door in addition to calling my name. Part of me is annoyed at this little girl, but another part of me smiles and can’t help but chuckle. Still, 6:30 is far too early to have a conversation with Louisa.

If I don’t go into the village in the morning, I usually take a chair onto my front porch where I read, do crosswords, journal, or just watch as people head off to farm. It doesn’t take more than a few hours for Louisa to come back. She is about nine years old and she does not go to school. Her family cannot afford to buy her a uniform. Because she doesn’t go to school, her English skills are far below her peers. Regardless of time of day, she will greet me, “Mam B, good morning.” I say “Good morning, Louisa.” She stands quietly behind my chair, just past my right shoulder for about thirty seconds, maybe a minute if she is feeling especially patient that day. Then she quietly asks, “Mam B?” I smile to myself, because I know exactly what is coming, but I turn, feigning ignorance, and say, “Yes, Louisa?” And depending on her mood, she will say “Buy the fruit?” or “Buy the rice?” meaning she wants me to give her some fruit or food from inside my room. While Louisa’s family does not have enough money to send her to school, they do have enough money to feed her well. She is healthier than a lot of the children who visit my porch, so I know she is not hungry. She wants attention; recognition. I have a variety of responses for why I cannot give her food on her first attempt. It doesn’t matter what I say, she can’t understand me. But no matter what I tell her, she nods and says “Yes madam.” Then she waits quietly, continuing to watch me, until she asks, “Mam B? Buy the water?” Meaning, “Can I fetch you water?” It didn’t take her long to figure out that if she fetches water for me I will give her a mango or an avocado, depending on what I have in my room at the time. Sometimes she even asks, “Buy the, the . . . sweeping?” Meaning she wants to sweep my porch, even if I have just done it a few hours before. I always let her sweep my porch, but that doesn’t usually warrant any reward.

Even if Louisa gets lucky and I open the door to greet her in the morning and she fetches water for me in the afternoon, she never fails to return in the evening, calling my name incessantly and pounding on my door for several minutes. When she finally gives up on me, whether I have talked to her or she knows I am hiding from her in my room, she calls, “Mam B, go home!” At first I thought she was telling me to go home, and I told her “You silly girl, I am home!” But really, what she means is she is asking permission from me to go home. I always smile and say “OK, goodbye Louisa.”

She is the only child who is bold enough to call my name over and over if I am inside my room, and definitely the only one brave enough to knock on my door. She is the only one who asks for food outright, though I know she is not the hungriest of the children who visit me. In many ways she is the most annoying child I have met so far in Ghana, yet something about her endears her to me and I cannot stay mad at her for long. Maybe it’s the wording she uses to ask me for things, or maybe I just admire her boldness. I think she is just looking for a way to connect, and when she succeeds, she turns into a sweet and engaging child.