Sunday, July 13, 2014

Field Trip to Accra- Stephanie Zahl

Even though this entire trip is basically one ginormous field trip, a few of us went on a day-long field trip last week. As you all know, we’ve been in Winneba for a little over two weeks at this point, and we all absolutely love it here! Last week, however, some of us had the chance to travel back to Accra for what ended up being a super fun day!

   One of the girls on our trip is doing her honors senior project on different aspects of preventative health and community outreach here in Ghana (shout out to my roommate: Erin Craft-Otterbacher!). In gaining the information she needs for her project, she decided to contact the health department of the USAID-Ghana (the organization that allocates the United States’ foreign aid all over the world, the branch we met with working in Ghana). She set up a meeting with USAID’s Vandana Stapleton, Family Health Team Leader, and those of us interested in the meeting were able to go to Accra for the meeting and a quick visit back in the city! The meeting was at the US Embassy, and I figured, how many times am I going to have the chance to visit the US Embassy, while in Ghana, to discuss various projects they’re doing to support the Ghanaian health system? The chance probably isn’t going to come up often! So I tagged along for the ride and ended up having an awesome day!

                  Our day started out pretty early because we needed to take multiple tro tro’s and taxis to get to our final destination. We left for the station, which is just a big open area next to the market filled with tro tros. People shout out various destinations, and you just find your city and hop aboard. We found one, and the seven of us piled on to head out for the day!

                  The tro tro ride was what they usually are: a little bumpy, a little jerky, but always a good time! This time, however, we experienced something new that all of us found extremely intriguing. About a half hour or so into our journey, our tro tro was pulled over by a police officer. We had no clue why (it seems like there’s never an actual speed limit followed around Ghana) so we asked our friend Samuel (He studied at Grand Valley this past year, but is originally from University of Cape Coast here in Ghana). He interpreted and told us that the officer pulled us over only for a bribe. For those of you that don’t know, the government here is rather corrupt. There’s often a lot of bribery and behind-the-scenes deals. So there was literally no reason for us to be pulled over except for the fact that the officer wanted a little extra money. Our tro tro driver refused to pay and had to get out of the car for a bit to discuss things further with the officer. Once he got things settled (he didn’t have to pay!). After that we were well on our way, but we were all still a bit surprised about what had just happened. A police officer could never do that back in the States, and it’s weird to think that it is totally normal here and occurs on a regular basis.

                  We traveled on that tro tro for about an hour and fifteen minutes. We arrived at a junction/station near Accra and switched to another tro tro that would bring us to the University of Ghana-Legon: our old stomping ground from our first week here (boy, does that seem like forever ago!). Our professor, Dr. Azizur Molla, had an appointment with our professor at UG, Dr. Justice Bawole, and other professors to work out some things for next year’s trip! While the two of them met, we walked around campus and remembered our time there. It was nice to go back somewhere that felt familiar. Even though we were only there a week, it was somewhere that we knew our way around. I think that college campuses, no matter where you are, always have a similar feel and make you feel a little bit at home despite being far from it. I think we all enjoyed feeling the familiarity and remembering all the fun memories of the start of our incredible journey and the start of our amazing friendships! We went for lunch at our go-to University of Ghana restaurant: The Basement. Unfortunately, their kitchen wasn’t serving yet, so we just ate some pastries sold out front.

                  Once Professor Molla was finished with his meetings, we all met up to head to the embassy! It was a quick jog in the taxis, so we arrived well before our appointment time! I was surprised at what the embassy looked like.  I’m not entirely sure what I had expected it to look like, but I wasn’t expecting what it did look like. It was a GIANT gray, stone building completely fenced in by this huge stone and metal fence with anti-photography signs all over.

                  We went through security, and, after ditching all electronics and receiving our guest passes, we set out for the USAID office. Walking inside the embassy was very strange because it felt very American. When you walked in the door, it was easy to forget you were in Ghana because it seemed so much like the States and so different than anywhere we had been in Ghana thus far. We waited a bit for our appointment and finally headed up to meet with the USAID officer.

                  Once in the conference room, the meetings began. We started with the first officer, and she told us some general information about what the USAID does all over the world and here in Ghana, as well as how she got her position working for them. As I said before, Erin was interested in the preventative health measures that are implemented in Ghana (specifically on maternal and infant mortality as it is a major problem in Ghana). The officer had set up three different speakers. The first spoke with us about the various projects in place to help decrease the maternal and infant mortality rate. The second speaker told us about the ways that they are addressing the major problems on the water and sanitation front. In recent years, the clean water has improved, but sanitation has not increased with the same rate. It is quite common for people to urinate or defecate in the streets. It’s done all over the country and people are trying very hard to prevent it from happening. The last speaker told us about the strategies in place to combat malaria on a national level. There have been nets give out all over the country, but people don’t like to use them because they’re “too hot”. The USAID is also working with the government to implement rapid diagnostic tests in medical facilities for malaria. Oftentimes, if a person comes in with malaria-like symptoms, they are treated for malaria without even having been tested to see if that’s the case. Sometimes it is, but there are a lot of times where people are treated for malaria and not treated for what they actually have.

                  After we finished at the embassy, we walked out and saw one of our great university friends, Charles. We’ve missed him a lot so it was great to see him! We needed to pick up a few groceries before heading back to Winneba so we stopped by a supermarket type store called Max Mart!

                  There are some supermarket stores in Accra that we had found American food in before, but this one had SO MUCH! It was like being at Meijer’s! Well almost… We stocked up on Pringles, Nutella, candies, granola bars, hummus ingredients, and everything we could find! The holy grail of foods that we miss came once we got to the frozen food section. Right before our eyes was a giant case of ice cream. Not only was it ice cream, but it was Ben and Jerry’s ice cream! Being girls deprived of chocolate and ice cream for almost a month now, Erin and I bought a pint to share! We started eating as we were leaving the store (we had to wait for some of our group to finish checking out), and the ice cream was gone before we even made it to the taxi. Double chocolate fudge brownie ice cream: the perfect lunch! I’ve included some pictures of our ice cream adventure for your enjoyment (we were obviously pretty excited!).

                 We piled ourselves (and our many grocery bags!) into a couple of taxis to head to the tro tro station. Since it was the day before Ghana’s Independence Day, the traffic was nuts. It took us about an hour and a half to go a half hour or twenty minutes’ distance. It was okay though because it was really interesting to see everyone out and about. During our time in Accra earlier this trip, we were basically just on campus all day so we didn’t see much of “real Accra”. This way we got to experience a bit more of it!

                  On the tro tro home we ended up having all sorts of fun conversations about music and life and just about everything. It was really interesting to get to know our leaders more as people instead of just our leaders!

                  We finally made it home around 9 o’clock in the evening. All in all, it was a great day filled with new Ghanaian adventures and good times with friends! As always, happy to be here, enjoying and learning from all of our incredible experiences!

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