Malaria. Transmitted by the Plasmodium parasites that are spread to people through the bites of infected mosquitos, it claims the life of an estimated 885,000 people each year. Half of the world’s population live in areas where malaria is present, which each year leads to an estimated 216 million malaria cases. (WHO)
In my senior year of high school, I was the “leader” of a group called “Take Action” which carried out campaigns to promote social and environmental sustainability. One of our most notable undertakings was raising of $2000 CAD for Rick Mercer’s Spread the Net campaign, which for every $10 CAD raised a mosquito net would be supplied to an at-risk child in Sub-Saharan Africa. The grand prize for the highest fundraising school would be a visit from Rick Mercer (a Canadian TV personality) himself. We did not win, but in our efforts, I could be seen putting up posters quoting facts such as above, trying to stress the importance of anti-malaria bed nets in saving lives. Back then I was aware that I really hadn’t taken the time to understand exactly what malaria was or how it acts and is spread.
Yesterday I tested positive for malaria at a clinic in Wa. For the entire week leading up I had been suffering from nasal congestion, a runny nose, and almost lost my voice. Yesterday morning I felt nauseous, and I could not even think about eating lunch. Around 1:45 pm, I checked my temperature and it read 38.2º C, significantly higher than my regular 36.7º C. I was quite sure at that point that I had malaria. I have since learned from a colleague at work that this is all part of a common cycle called “Kuttun”.
The reason I say that it is malaria appreciation day is that I have made the choice to appreciate not only the seriousness of malaria, but everything that my having malaria at this time can contribute to my development as a person and my placement. It would be easy to think about how I am not able to be working hard in the office, traveling to the farm, or learning Azunto dance this evening, but that is not constructive. The following are ten positive things about me having malaria right now:
1. I am in Wa, where the clinic to get tested for malaria is literally just down the street.
2. I already had the treatment handy because I bought it as a precautionary measure when I in Tamale.
3. I am currently living with the family of the agric-inputs dealer in the house which is on-site, so if I feel like I have energy I can walk 20 steps to the office and do work for my placement.
4. My family feeds me fatty food (fried eggs and bread, fatty meat soup with TZ) which is exactly what you are supposed to eat right before taking a course of the malaria treatment.
5. I can drink the Wa municipal water after adding aquatabs so I don’t have to rely on bottled water or satchets.
6. There is a ceiling fan in my room which I can adjust the speed to keep me cool when the fever gets high (up to 38.9º C).
7. Imodium,Pepto Bismol, my regular malaria prophylaxis medication (Doxycycline), and the malaria treatment (Lumartem) have no drug interactions (I checked) so I can take them all at the same time.
8. It turns out Sunday is the only day that almost no one comes to work at the agric inputs dealership, so I am not missing out much on the action anyway.
9. It gives me time to take a step back in my mind about my placement, and think about how I want to spend my last week working with the inputs dealer before heading back to the village. I was feeling a bit scattered because there are so many questions and things to investigate that I was finding it difficult to focus.
10. It provides a wake-up call for me that I am in fact not invincible and that there are consequences for actions (ie. not wearing much mosquito repellent in the evenings, not sleeping under my mosquito net 100% of the time), even though I have taken my malaria prophylaxis (Doxycycline) religiously and have not missed a single dose. * Also, hopefully if other JFs have gotten careless about applying mosquito repellant in the evenings or sleeping under their bed net, it can be a wake up call for them too.
M’bworro. What? I don’t understand what you are saying.
A week and a half ago, I set off from Wa (the large city in Upper West Region of Ghana) to a “village” only a fifteen minute tro ride away. As I was getting into the tro, someone said “Busa, now that is barely a village. They have lights.” I had been told by my coach to call a guy named Mahmouda as soon as I was on the tro as I would be spending about five days with his family. As I was crammed into the tro I made the call, heard “You’re coming to Busa! and I said something about him meeting me but then realized he had already hung up.” I actually kind of appreciate it when people respect the fact that it is annoying to have to buy cell phone credit and that small talk is expensive. Soon I saw signs that had “Busa” in the title, and got out of the tro behind a nurse I had met during the short ride. Her name was Sarah, and I would become friends with her during my time in Busa. Then I saw a guy who must be Mahmouda walking towards me wearing a bright yellow Manchester United jersey, then he was helping me carry my bags (which were about three times as many as they should be) towards the village center. At first it was a little awkward. We had never met before, yet I would be staying with his family for five days. I emphasized that I wanted to live just like his family does, and don’t need anything special. While he was finding the key to a “house” in his compound (which I found was basically a room adjoined to the other “houses” in the compound), I tried to connect with some women sitting under a tree on a structure of logs made explicitly for just sitting around together in a group, but soon found that they do not speak a word of English. So far, my Wali vocabulary consisted of “ansuma” (Good morning) and I probably would have had to look it up from my day-minder which has taken on the role of language learning book. I decided to just sit there and smile, and enjoy the fact that they were talking about me and laughing at me and I had no way of knowing what they were saying. They tried sign language, and I tried English, but we weren’t making much progress. This is something I would soon get used to.
I went to meet the Assemblyman of the village under a canopy hut shortly after, and just after I was introduced, a bus full of students from the University of Development Studies in Wa drove up and they filed out. They would be starting their four month village stay and development research projects that day, and they were there to meet the Assemblyman as well. I was told to follow them back on to the bus, so I did. I got chatting with a couple of them and was struck by how similar their situation was to mine, except that they had grown up in Ghana. They were talking about how unreasonable it was for their university to expect them to eat the same food as the villagers, and how sanitation was unacceptable here. It almost made me laugh. I seemed to be better prepared to integrate then they were! I was looking forward to talking about development with these students who have strong opinions about the state of Ghana.
I soon found that I had one quick in, one source of credibility with the big shots in town, including Mahmouda. I was a friend of David, the EWB JF who had spent last summer in Busa. In almost every conversation they would talk about David, how he would do this and that and go to farm and could speak the language very well. It made the fact that I wanted to live exactly as the family does a non-issue, and allowed me to make the most of my time in Busa.
That evening involved a lot of firsts. The first time watching my host sister make TZ (maize flour boiled to a dough that you eat with your fingers with soup) and trying and failing at stirring it myself. Having Mahmouda say, “Will you bath?” knowing this means “You should really go and bath now”, having him re-say “Go and undress and bath, the girl will fetch you water.” then taking a deep breath as I opened the door of my room wearing only a two-yard piece of cloth tied around me like you would tie a towel which is exactly what is expected, walking across the compound area with everyone looking at my white shoulders, and having my sister set the bucket down in the shower area which is at the back of the goat room. The goat droppings had been swept away in the shower area, which was nice.That evening, I ate from the same bowl as my host sister and host mother. Nice! I was able to completely skip the stage of being served with a separate bowl from that of the family. It was an important and exciting development, which also meant that I could stop eating whenever I liked. It was insisted, however, that I eat the meat in the soup. I suspiciously picked at the meat until Mahmouda said “The meat is from the poultry farm”. Even though I suspected I was eating the head, it was chicken, so I was slightly relieved. I was watching out for my first mouse, but was determined to give it a try when it came.
The next morning I tried carrying water for the first time, with a small basin. I could tell the women didn’t think I could do it, but when I returned after my first trip I was met with clapping and laughing. I went a few more times, and then for the next day or so heard from almost everyone that they had seen me fetching water. Honestly, if you have to carry any amount of water at all, on your head is absolutely the best way (just wrap up a piece of cloth in a circular fashion and put it on your head first). When I was going for a walk with my host sister Adaie, a woman was speaking to me in Wali and I didn’t understand. I asked Adaie what she had been saying and I learned that she had asked if I would help weed her garden. Absolutely! I turned around and Adaie and I followed her to her dry-season garden in the valley. We were weeding Okru (which I now know is called “mani” in Wali) with short hoes. I kept checking with the woman about which plants were the right ones to weed out, and I think she may have gotten nervous because she soon indicated that it was getting hot and we should go.
I was able to attend the “passing out” of the oldest daughter in my host family in Wa. At first, I was a little confused, but as soon as I arrived, it became clear. Graduation, for the Ghana National Tailors and Dressmakers Association, Wa Branch. At first I was having a great time dancing in my seat to the Ghana pop on the loudspeaker system, but as the ceremony stretched on for more than six hours I became less engaged. Also, to be absolutely the only white person in a crowd of about 1000, having people come up to you and just laugh and walk away or asking “Who invited you?” all day was a little wearing. But I can’t expect a whole country to change for me, and I am learning to embrace the attention, privilege and respect I get as a white lady in Ghana.
On the second last day I was in Busa, my host mother sent me to go meet my host sister Adaie at school. I thought that I would just be meeting her at the end of the school day to walk her home, but when I got there she came out and said “Come in, we are just about to start English class!” I was a little (well maybe a lot) hesitant to enter that room, but I sat down in an empty desk and tried to not draw attention to myself (which did not work as I was the only white blonde haired person not wearing a uniform). The students laughed there was minimal whispering before the teacher entered the room wearing a Ghana batik dye shirt and said “I see we have a new student.” I just played along, and we began learning about the difference between compound and complex sentences using student provided sentence examples. Order was very well maintained, and students stood up when they were to contribute to the lesson. The class was JHS 2, which would be grade 7 in Canada, and I could remember taking this lesson in English A10 in Saskatchewan. It was a good review for me, and I was happy to be able to help my host sister with the assignment to construct four compound sentences and four complex sentences.
My time in Busa was very rich with building relationships, trying new things and liking them, and beginning my learning about what it means to integrate. I plan to find a way to bike/ride on someone’s moto/take the trotro back there soon to deliver pictures that I get developed and see my friends/family. Minutes before I left on the trotro for Loggu via Wa I was measured for my first Ghanaian dress (I left on the trotro my tailor came on), which is made from fabric I bought in the Busa market. I just received it tonight, and it is very nice!
M’bworro = I love you (Wali)