Category Archives: Personal Updates

Accra Accra!

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Hello,

I’ve been home for almost a week and thus have been really lazy about updates. Here’s a bit about my last few days in Ghana:

After bidding adieu to CRAN and my ProWorld family, I had one final goodbye left. I decided to head to Accra early and spend my last few days there. Thus, I hugged Auntie Alice goodbye on Saturday morning and left Cape Coast. Fittingly, it started to rain. I joked the Cape Coast was crying because I was leaving.

I decided to take the Metro Mass bus to Accra because of my two large suitcases. Caleb, KC, and I had to wait about an hour to get on the bus, but I only had to pay an extra three cedi for my suitcases! It was one of the most uncomfortable rides I have ever experienced. First, I was kicked out from the front row seats and forced to squeeze in between two rather large women because “No ladies in the front!” Really. Secondly, I spent the entire ride simply praying that we would make it alive. We passed several trotro accidents, a bus accident, and an exploded gas tanker.

Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park

Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park

Eventually we made it to Accra and were able to head over to the Salvation Army Hostel, or as I affectionally call it, Sal Val. We had terrific pizza at Mama Mia’s and went to a spot for a drink. We then felt obligated to visit a bar called Hemingway’s, which happened to be a casino (My first!). Both KC and Caleb won playing roulette and I mostly stood around for good luck.

These flowers smelled divine!

These flowers smelled divine!

While Ghana isn’t exactly a tourist mecca, it was on my bucket list to visit the more touristy attractions in Accra. Luckily, Caleb and KC were game and we first headed to Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park which hosts the tomb of Ghana’s first president and his wife. The park was gorgeous with flowering trees and statues. Strutting around the mausoleum was a peacock. After snapping some pics near the tomb, we visited the Nkrumah museum. It held random objects that the president used, including his desk and a mirror. I was most interested in the collection of photographs featuring Nkrumah with other world leaders such as JFK and Fidel Castro.

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The back of the mausoleum.

The back of the mausoleum.

After our visit to the park, we walked to the National Museum of Ghana. Of course we got lost along with way, but Ghanaians are always willing to point you in the right direction. The museum was okay. It had some arts and crafts like carved stools, woven fabrics, drums, and weapons. The museum had an interesting section on the slave trade. I was a bit perplexed by the second floor of the museum. It hosted quite a few Roman artifacts and a few Egyptian ones. I’m not sure how those two connect. Outside the museum was a lovely sculpture garden which we took a quick tour around.

The National Musuem

The National Museum

Sculpture Garden outside the National Musuem

Sculpture Garden outside the National Musuem

When Monday rolled around, it was time to say goodbye to Caleb and KC as they were catching a flight to Tamale, or so I thought. KC had been having sharp pain in her abdomen and wanted to stop at a clinic before the flight. It turns out she had appendicitis and needed surgery. Obviously they didn’t make their flight and they spent the day in the hospital. KC is fine and is currently at her homestay recovering. I spent Monday hanging out with my Ghanaian hostel roommates and watching movies. Caleb came back and took me out for my last dinner in Ghana. Before my flight on Tuesday, Caleb and I stopped at the hospital to visit KC and watched a movie. One of my roommates bargained to get me a cheap taxi and I headed to the airport. As I drove through Accra for the last time, it finally hit me that I was leaving this amazing country.

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Goodbye CRAN Microfinance!

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Yesterday was my last day at CRAN Microfinance.  It’s been an amazing and challenging four months and I’m sad to leave this group of amazing people. Everyone was so welcoming and kind at CRAN. They put up with my incessant questions and were always willing to help me with any issues.

Devotion!

Devotion!

During our daily devotion, the entire office surprised me with a party. Everyone went around the room and thanked me or offered me words of encouragement. It was so sweet! Then they presented with a gift and we had a toast. It was easily the nicest thing any employer has done for me.  The gift consisted of two dresses and a pair of sandals that I promptly changed into. One of my coworkers wrote a song about me, which he made everyone sing. I almost died laughing.

Here with Jomo, our driver, and Veronica

Here with Jomo, our driver, and Veronica

KC and I

KC and I

Earlier this week, I had to do a capstone presentation about my experience at CRAN. I’ll try and upload it when I have better Internet connection.

The toast!

The toast!

Overall, my experience working at CRAN has been fantastic, and I learned so much from everyone here. I’ve been able to witness so much change within the organization and have learned how to adapt. Mostly, I’ve learned about the inner workings of a MFI and the challenges that arise with clients and donors. I feel that my experience working here had better prepared me for working back home and I look forward to putting the skills I’ve gained here to good use.

Getting my present

Getting my present! Isn’t the wrapping adorable?

With my supervisor, Cecilia. I'm really going to miss her! This is also one of the dresses I was given.

With my supervisor, Cecilia. I’m really going to miss her! This is also one of the dresses I was given.

Getting serenading by my coworkers!

Getting serenading by my coworkers!

Living Arrangements

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While I’ve written previously about my homestay family, I’ve yet to describe my accommodations. My homestay family is part of Ghana’s upper middle class, and thus has a very nice home. Auntie Alice has a profitable job working for the Department of Transportation and her husband works in Accra. Papa Kofi is lucky enough to attend one of the best primary schools in Cape Coast, Flowers Gay. My other host brother, Ben has is masters degree and is going back to school again in March. Until then, he has been doing a lot of traveling. I think he is currently in Egypt with his father (no one is exactly sure).

 

Papa Kofi hanging out in the family room.

Papa Kofi hanging out in the family room.

So, I live on the second floor of a building that is extremely close to the ProWorld bunkhouse. It’s a nice location because it’s very close to Abura market and only a short taxi ride from town. Our house consists of three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a family room, and a small kitchen. My room is conveniently connected to one of the bathrooms and I have the ability to lock my bedroom door. The house itself is locked up like Fort Knox. The door leading outside locks and we have iron bars that lock outside of it. Our building is surrounded by an eight-foot gate that is also locked. Needless to say, I feel very safe.

 

I use my desk to put all my stuff on.

I use my desk to put all my stuff on.

Due to the dust that is tracked in on a daily basis, the floors are tile. There are strong ceiling fans in the bedrooms and family room to keep up cool. My bedroom is only a little smaller than mine at home and has a comfy bed. Random fact about Ghana: fitted sheets are not the norm. Instead, you tucked a top sheet under the mattress to hold it in place. Since I tend to roll around a lot in my sleep, I have to re-tuck the sheet every night.

 

I still don't make my bed.

I still don’t make my bed.

The bathroom consists of two small rooms that are divided into the toilet and the shower. The toilet is nicer than most I’ve used in Ghana and is basically the same as home. As I’ve mentioned, I do have to take bucket baths. I found this challenging in the beginning (Especially hair washing), but now have no issues. It’s amazing to me how much water I conserve when bucket bathing.  Generally, I can use less than a gallon of water per shower!

 

Toilet-- So exciting, I know

Toilet– So exciting, I know

Bucket Bath!

Bucket Bath!

Generally, my workdays begin with me getting up at 6:30AM. My grooming habits have been streamlined due to the fact wearing makeup is pointless in this heat. It simply melts off your face. I’m ready for breakfast at 7AM and leave for my brisk (and sweaty) walk to work by 7:30. CRAN has devotion, or daily prayer, at 8AM, and then I begin work. Lunch is not a formal affair at CRAN and is anytime between 11:30AM—2:30PM. While I technically get an hour for lunch, I rarely use it and spend the extra time chatting with my coworkers. I usually leave work around 5:15PM and am back home before 6PM. Auntie Alice gets home at the same time as me and begins making dinner. I usually have dinner around 6:30PM and then watch the nightly news with my family. After some more TV or reading, I go to bed around 10:30PM. Thus the cycle begins again!

Back in Ghana!

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Hello,

I flew back to Ghana this past Friday and spent the night in the lovely Travella Lodge. The owner, Auntie Sheila, is incredibly hospitable and even remembered me from when I first arrived three months ago! For the next two and a half weeks, the ProWorld House is hosting a study abroad group from Missou, and I happened to meet a few of the students at the airport. Sarah asked me to show the newcomers around in Accra and help pick-up another latecomer from the airport. It was interesting to see the first impressions of the new students.

 

I am really happy and slightly relieved to be back in Ghana. Who knew that I’d come to think of Ghana as home in such a short time? I was particularly excited to see my ProWorld family, my host family, and my coworkers. My vacation in Spain and Portugal didn’t go that well. For example, I was pickpocketed on Christmas and lost credit cards, my debit cards, and my IDs. It could have been worse though, I didn’t lose my passport!

 

Anyways, since this blog is about my experiences in Ghana, I’m not planning on writing long posts about my trip. I went to a bunch of museums, took some walking tours, and ate a lot of pork! Unfortunately, it rained almost the entire time and I was frequently cold from the dampness. I did love looking at the beautiful architecture and learning about the history of Madrid and Porto. I took a million photos during my trip, but here are just couple:

Off to Spain!

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Christmas is not celebrated commercially in Ghana, and really isn’t a big deal here. So I decided to buy the cheapest place out of here to spend my holiday.  For some reason, the cheapest destination was Madrid, Spain. So I will be gone from Christmas Eve (today) to January 3rd. I’ll also be taking a four day trip to Porto, Portugal. Don’t worry, I’m not going by myself. I roped Abby into coming with me. Despite having practically no warm clothing, I’m terribly excited!

Just because I’m enjoying Spain doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten my lovely readers (Thanks Mom!). I’ve scheduled a few new posts while I’m gone.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sweet Dreams, Mefloquine!

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Ghana is one of the many in countries in Africa infested with malaria-carrying mosquitoes.  If caught quickly, malaria can easily be treated with a three-day course of antibiotics. Other cases can be more serious and even deadly. Obviously, I want to avoid getting malaria, so I use bug spray laced with DEET and take an anti-malarial prophylaxis. Due to different drug resistances, the main two anti-malarials taken by travelers to Ghana are doxycycline and mefloquine. Doxy is a daily prescription and mefloquine is taken weekly. I take mefloquine.

Mefloquine Structural Formula. Coutesy of Wikipedia (I know)

Mefloquine Structural Formula. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Mefloquine, also known as Larium, was created as a response to the thousands of malaria infections experienced in the Vietnam War. The U.S. Army developed the drug in 1971 after strains of malaria became resistant to chloroquine. It was cheap to make, effective, and only needed to be taken weekly. It entered the commercial market in 1989, and is currently the third most prescribed anti-malarial. Only generic versions can be purchased, as the brand-name manufacturer, Roche, no longer sells Larium in the U.S.

Several years after being commercially sold, doctors began to notice some problematic symptoms among those taking the drug. According to the FDA, the neurological side effects can include dizziness, loss of balance, or ringing in the ears. The psychiatric side effects can include feeling anxious, mistrustful, depressed, or having hallucinations. In addition to those, mefloquine can cause hair loss, chronic insomnia, diarrhea, and migraine headaches; the drug has also been attributed to numerous psychotic episodes. These symptoms generally disappear after stopping the drug, but in some cases may be permanent.

Roche claims that serious psychological side effects only occur in one in 10,000 people. However, Dr. Paul Clarke, an infectious disease specialist from Great Britain, organized his own study after witnessing side effects in a greater frequency. According to Clark’s study, the actual frequency of disabling effects is closer to one in 140 people. This dramatic difference is mostly due to Roche’s qualification of “serious” versus Clark’s “disabling.” The drug company only considers a case serious if it causes death, hospitalization, or a long-term disability. Between 1997 and 2001, the FDA recorded eleven suicides and twelve suicide attempts that were linked with mefloquine.

So innocent looking, yet so dangerous.

So innocent looking, yet so dangerous.

On June 29th, 2013, the FDA released an announcement that strengthened the warnings about the neurological side effects. Then in September, the Surgeon General’s Office of the Army Special Operations Command ordered a halt in prescribing mefloquine for the approximately 25,000 Green Berets, Rangers, Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations soldiers. Furthermore, the Pentagon has been reviewing the potential neurological side effects on service members, as the side effects can often mimic other issues, such as PTSD. The review is expected to be completed this January.

So if mefloquine has all of these worrying side effects, why did my doctor prescribe it? As a proud member of the pasty people population, I didn’t have much of a choice. I’ve taken doxy before and experience sun sensitivity–not exactly ideal for traveling to a country so near the equator. Plus my doctor was hesitant to give me doxy for such a long period of time. I would have to take it every single day for almost six months. Lastly, buying that many pills can get pretty pricy.

So I’ve been taking mefloquine for about three and a half months now. So far, I haven’t had any of the scary side effects, like hallucinations, but I do have some of the more mild ones. I suffer from insomnia, especially on the days I take my dose. Even when I’m super tired, I have trouble falling asleep and wake up several times a night. Secondly, I’m frequently dizzy. It’s usually not too bothersome, but the vertigo has gotten so bad once or twice that I had to lie down or risk falling over. Lastly, I’ve experienced very vivid and occasionally lucid dreams. Since I never used to remember my dreams, this is an entirely new and often pleasurable experience. I even woken myself up several times laughing hysterically for no reason. I realize that taking mefloquine is not ideal and can be very harmful for people with history of mental illnesses. If I start experiencing any of the serious side affects, I plan to stop taking it immediately.

For more information, read this super scary article by CBS News, and one by The Guardian:

Personal Updates

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Hello!

Thank god the first week is over! It was rough, but now I’m pretty adjusted to living in Ghana.

I mentioned in one of my earlier posts how sick I was feeling. It actually got worse. I got the dreaded diarrhea and was throwing up. Lovely. I gave Sarah, one of the ProWorld coordinators, the head’s up about my condition and she took me to a clinic nearby. There I got my vitals taken and had some blood drawn. The doctor said that my blood count and temperature were low and that I probably had an infection in my intestines. I tested negative for malaria and typhoid, so it wasn’t anything serious. I was given a bunch of drugs and sent on my way. Like many Ghanaian men, my doctor was very forward. He asked me to move in with him and have his children. I thanked him for his offer, but politely declined. Sarah was impressed that I snagged a proposal even being sick. Only in Ghana!

It’s been a few days since the clinic visit, and I’m feeling tons better. I’ve moved back to eating regular food and no longer feel like I’m dying. As for my emotional state, I’m pretty much back to normal. The homesickness is waning and I no longer feel so lonely. It definitely helped that I’ve met up with some of the other participants. I’ve gotten better at communicating with the locals. I’ve adopted the slow, stilted English that the Ghanaians use and have picked up a bit of Fante. I’m also learning my way around Cape Coast. Not everything looks that same anymore!

Lastly, I’ve bonded with my host brothers. Papa Kofi and I hang out almost every night. We watch movies on my laptop and play Uno, which I brought him. We even went to the beach together. Sometimes I find it a bit much since I’m not used to living with a child. I’ve also bonded with Ben. We’ve had several heart-to-heart chats about his complicated love life and he’s shown me picture of his latest vacation to Kenya. If he’s not travelling, Ben promised to take me to the monkey sanctuary. I’m still trying to get close to my host mother, Auntie Alice. According to Sarah, Ghanaian women are fairly reserved and it will take some time for her to open up. She was wonderful while I was sick, feeding me simple foods and reminding me to take my medication. I’m sure that in time we will get closer.

Next I’ll be posting about my experience at Kakum National Park and Cape Coast Castle (If the Internet gods are in my favor).

I’ve attached most pictures of me at a beach resort/restaurant called One Africa.