Friday, November 30, 2012

He should be 5 years old

Joy was 6 months old when we first met. He was absolutely beautiful, and interestingly enough, was one of the few babies who didn't burst into tears when seeing me. He had the most beautifully big eyes and when he looked at you, he wasn't just looking at you, he was studying you, staring into your soul. When you looked into his eyes, you could tell he was an old soul and knew more than you ever would.

Joy and I grew up together. In a family of 15, getting lost in the shuffle can be very easy. Joy and I were thrown together. Everyone had their jobs and mine quickly became taking care of him during the evenings. Having a job gave me a purpose, and more importantly helped with the massive culture shock I was trying to deal with.

One day, Joy crawled to my house while I was listening to the radio and washing my dishes. Joy crawled around making sure everything was ok and then crawled back home. A few minutes later, I heard him crying from the main house. But he kept crying. And crying. I decided to investigate since someone should have picked him up. I walked over and found Joy all by himself sitting in the middle of the yard with no one around. I picked him up and brought him back to my house. I gave him some biscuits and he fell asleep. I brought Joy with me that night when I came for dinner. Sonia saw me and a look of panic washed over her face. She looked at me and said, "Joy?" Everyone thought someone else had Joy, not thinking he would be with me.

Joy was a constant at my house, along with all the other kids who weren't old enough for school. Most of my Peace Corps friends wouldn't let the kids from their families into their houses, but I didn't mind. I had boxes of toys and boxes of colouring books and crayons. The only rule was that they had to pick up before going back home. They also had to ask in English for what they wanted. Hanging out with the kids was one of two reasons I knew (and still remember) any Chitonga. I taught them Uno, they taught me Chitonga.

Josh was at my house one weekend and had just gotten a package from home with cheese and crackers. He opened them up and started eating. Joy came over and sat down next to Josh and asked for one. Josh shared and I took pictures. I sent these pictures to Josh's mom who forwarded them to the church group who was putting together books for my school's new library. Josh got a lot of emails from random people asking about him feeding the poor and starving children of Africa.

When my parents and grandparents came to visit, they couldn't believe how comfortable Joy was with me. Whenever I had visitors, the other kids would keep their distance, still wary of these interesting foreigners that were friends of mine. But Joy never seemed to care. He would come over as he pleased and always made himself at home, because it was his home. I was cooking lunch for my parents and grandparents, Joy came over, crawled into my lap and went to sleep. I continued cooking.

I was gone from the village for two weeks once. I can't remember why I had left-sick, vacation, training-I don't remember. I do remember coming back home and Joy suddenly knew more Chitonga than me. This was a sad day for me. But I felt a bit better when he started teaching me Chitonga words; but then he started correcting my tenses.

I have a million stories from my time in the village, and almost all of them include Joy.

When I was leaving the village, I really did want to take him with me. I knew if I asked, the family would let me. But my friend Kim talked me out of it. She told me that I couldn't be stealing children from Africa. She also wisely told me this: Joy wouldn't like it in America. Who would he play with? Where could he run around in the bush? Who would let him start a fire to cook a snack? And what would he do in winter?

He died last year, right after his 4th birthday, from a curable disease.

He should be 5 years old. Instead he has become a statistic on reports. Just another one of the millions of children who don't make it to their 5th birthday.

I don't regret not taking him with me. I wouldn't be where I am today if I had. And Kim was right, he wouldn't have enjoyed America

Now I work for an organization that has partnerships with other international NGOs. We are all working together to try and achieve the Millennium Development Goals. And more importantly, show the UN that we should have a plan after 2015 when the MDGs are supposed to be achieved.

I don't think that people will stand up and make changes unless stories are shared that turn statistics into people. Joy will never be a statistic, he will always be stories. The millions of other children who also didn't make it to their 5th birthdays all have their own stories. And in sharing these stories, we can start making positive change and work towards achieving the MDGs.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A few things happen

I've discovered that a few things happen to me when I am in Africa.

1. My tan comes back.

I don't know when, but apparently I've been in the sun long enough for a bit of my tan to come back. The only reason I can tell is that I have a white band around my wrist from where my headbands are kept. But maybe I'm not scrubbing all the dirt off when I shower.

2. The calluses reappear on the top of my feet.

I sit on the floor in India. I sit on the floor everywhere actually. But for some reason, the calluses that I have on the tops of my feet have reappeared with a vengeance.  I'll have to go back to India and scrub them away quickly before I go to America.

3. My hair falls out so much that I get a bit worried about losing all of my hair.

I'm losing my hair at an alarming rate. This happened to me while I lived in Zambia and it has started again here in Ghana. I looked down at the floor around me and there is long pink hair EVERYWHERE!!! I'm the only one with long and pink hair here, so obviously it is mine.

But all in all, I'm having a pretty good time. Today we went out on a visit to STAR-Ghana that gives money to CBOs (Community Based Organizations) and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations). We also visited an organization called Gender Centre that was started by a group of women lawyers and works on empowering women to stop the violence. They had 2 interns from Canada and a VSO volunteer there. The group is doing amazing work and really shared a lot about how they go about fund raising and applying for grant money with the participants in the event. I chatted really briefly with the 2 Canadian interns while everyone was getting on the bus. If only we had more time, I could have fully explained the Stop the Violence campaign!! I only had time to tell them to check out the website and give them my business card!!!!

 Here is a picture of me and Alice while waiting to go into STAR-Ghana. 

And everyone playing with my crazy hair!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Shop Rite

3 days in Ghana and I've stepped back into the surreal world of Africa!

The training centre where we are staying is absolutely fantastic. They are just finishing up the upgrade and the place is new and clean and very comfortable. I have my own room and my own bathroom!

The first day, no electricity. Fine, no worries, I'm used to it (although it was a bit annoying that we couldn't just put the generator on). Second day, no water. Still waiting for that to come back. But I do have a working air conditioner and internet that appears to be faster than the fast line at Sangam.

Needless to say, I've been keeping myself busy on the world wide web.

This morning we went out to Shop Rite at the mall. I was with Gloria, one of the young ladies who is looking after us, and Marie-Paule, the Fifth World Centre Project Manager. What a trip it was.

First, it was the nicest Shop Rite I have ever been in. There also wasn't many people, despite being in Accra's biggest mall. I suppose everything looks empty when you are coming from India.

As I walked through the aisles, it was strange not to be buying a ton of things to stock up on and haul back to the village. When I walked past the Yum Yum peanut butter, I didn't automatically put 3 bottles in the cart and contemplate a 4th. When I walked past the cream crackers though? I couldn't resist and bought a pack. Shop Rite still has the same crazy plastic toys and even the same hair brush I bought when I lived in Zambia. Apparently, Shop Rite doesn't change.

We walked around a bit more and I bought a Strawberry Fanta from Game. I can't even remember the last time I had a deliciously fantastic Strawberry Fanta. Probably sometime in Zambia!!

The tiny bit I have seen of Accra shows a much more developed country than I was expecting. The roads are huge and I haven't seen sign of a pot hole yet, granted I've only been on one road so far. There are a lot more foreigners around and most of them are businessmen in suits. 

Today is a bit of a day off for us. Yesterday we had a big meeting with a few of the ladies from Ghana Girl Guides Association and we gave them a lot to think about. Tomorrow we'll get back into working on preparation for the meeting and hopefully they'll ask for assistance.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Here I go Again!!!

Never did I think I would be going back to Africa so soon and never did I think I would be doing it from India.

Actually, it has been over 2 years that I have step foot on African soil. A lot has happened in those two years. I've talked about my time in Zambia more and more and feel a lot more comfortable with the things I saw and the things that I experienced.

Some things make me smile, others make me think. Some things make me miss Joy.

So here I am, sitting in the Mumbai Airport, waiting to go to Ghana. I never expected there to be so many Indians going between the two continents, but there are. I thought I would get upgraded because who would be flying between Mumbai and Nairobi? Wrong. A lot of people fly between Mumbai and Nairobi. A lot.

Hopefully I'll have a semi-decent internet connection and will be able to blog while I'm there. So until Africa!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

It's Almost Here!

Another trip into the world of malaria. And today, finally, just 8 days before I reach a malarial area, I'm back on the anti-malarial medication.

I've been awful at remembering that I should go and buy it. I would remember in the morning and forget by the time I was done with work at the end of the day.

Today was an auspicious day - I bought my tablets!

Gwen asked if I wanted anything from the Sweet Shop next door. So instead of asking for something, I said that I would go with.

So we walked the 10 steps outside the Sangam gate and found the Sweet Shop closed. This meant a trip across the street to the shop that is right next to the chemist.

Auspicious time indeed!

I have enough anti-malarial tablets (without a prescription!) to last me through my trip. Then I'll have to buy some more when I get back.

Now for the mental preparation for going back to Africa...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Beat This!

Whenever I tell someone how long I've lived here, I get one thing: 'Don't you miss home?'

Not really. 

People always unfairly compare India to America and assume that India is awful because it isn't America. Of course things aren't going to be the same as America, it's India!

Where in America can you do this-send your credit card with Gwen to the Hard Rock Cafe for massive amounts of junk food take away and a take away martini for Michie.

Beat that America!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

This is very surreal.

I'm going to Ghana in 2 weeks to be the Deputy World Centre Manager of the first pilot event of the WAGGGS Africa World Centre. I'm beyond excited and I'm not quite sure how to get you all as excited as I am, but I'll try!

I fell in love with Africa during my 2 years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia. Africa was never a place I had any desire to travel to, much less live. After I asked if living in a mid hut would kill me (I am allergic to the outside) and Peace Corps said I was medically cleared for service in Zambia, I decided that the fates wanted me in Africa. Asia was pulling me more and I really had my heart set on serving as a PCV on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

But fate stepped in.

When someone tells you that once you go to Africa, you'll love it, believe them. Africa stays with you. This is mostly physically. I have malaria living in my liver. Josh has snails in his intestines. We all have numerous scars from beetles, bugs, or fire. But Africa never leaves your heart.

I had an amazing and challenging and fun and tough time. I'm still processing what I did and saw and experienced. But I can talk more easily about my experiences now than when I finished over two years ago. That is a comforting thing.

Fast forward to July 2011 when I attended the WAGGGS World Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. A motion was passed that WAGGGS would have a 2 year pilot project for an African World Centre. I was beyond excited about Africa having an opportunity that would change the lives of countless girls and young women in Africa.

Never did I believe that the following year I would be attending the first pilot event! But here I am, about to travel to Ghana.

It's a bit of a crazy story of how I got here. Jen (Sangam's World Centre Manager) sent me an update of the World Centre Manager's phone call because Marie-Paule (the Manager of the pilot) had discussed some things about the pilot. I opened it and found that she wanted someone from another World Centre to come and help. I emailed Jen to ask who was going. Since July is an extremely busy time for all the World Centres, no one could send anyone. I am lucky enough to have an amazing boss who said I could go if my travel costs would come from the pilot's budget. (I know, you are very jealous!!!) Marie-Paule agreed and here we are!!!!

Yesterday morning I went to Mumbai to get my visa. I was a bit perplexed as to why I needed a visa before hand since I has never needed one before while traveling in Africa. Usually you can just show up at the border. But I did. So I called and found out that I could go to Mumbai. I showed up this morning at the address of the Honorary Consulate of the Republic of Ghana. It took Parshram a while find it but he did find it after asking a few guys. It appeared to be someone's house, perhaps this is why it is called 'Honorary.' The security guard took me on the elevator that has a sign stating only 3 people at a time were allowed. I was a bit worried that this meant 3 Indian sized people and that me and the security guard might be pushing the limit. Luckily, I was soothed by Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On.

Yes, this elevator played music when it was being operated. But I should tell you this wasn't the actual song or even a muzak version. This was the car reversing version. I'm not sure if I have ever blogged about my love of cars in India. Some of them have My Heart Will Go On as the reverse sound on their car. This elevator also had it. Luckily the elevator ride was only 2 flights, and I survived.

The elevator stops and the security guard points to a door. There is a tiny Ghana Consulate sign. I ring the door bell and an Indian guy answers the door. He says, "Submission?" I said yes and he led me into a living room. He asked to see my papers and asked if I had the demand draft. He said I had all the correct papers and he took them into another room and closed the door. I was left sitting by myself in a very nice living room with a very large Krishna painting and several Krishna statues.

The Indian guy comes back out to ask if it was urgent. I said that I live in Pune and if I could have it today it would be great. He disappears into the Secret Room, comes back out and tells me to wait for my visa. Easy as that.

I'm still waiting alone in this room and I hear a pressure cooker in the background. Clearly-I'm sitting in someone's house. Finally another guy rings the doorbell bringing a piece of paper he must have forgotten last time. Jen calls me and while I'm talking on the phone, the Indian guy comes out and hands me my passport with my Ghana visa. I was shocked. It had only been 30 minutes and I had my visa. I even had to wait a few more minutes for him to reappear from the Secret Room because he had kept my original resident permit. The one document you don't let go of in this country!

I didn't see anyone who looked like they might be from Ghana. Maybe I don't even have a real Ghana visa, although if it is a fake, it looks very good. I have my flight and I have my visa. Now I just need to pack.

Now I need to find malaria tablets, plan my international night thing, and try and guess what I might need from Sangam while I'm there. (Cause you can't always depend on the internet!)

I'm most excited about going to Ghana and visiting and meeting the people who work for Ghana Girl Guides Association (GGGA). Even if an African World Centre doesn't happen, I am able to go and provide some assistance and share my experiences at Sangam and India to GGGA and the participants in this event. And that is pretty cool!

I'll keep blogging during my preparation and during my time in Ghana. If you have any questions or have any suggestions for the African World Centre, let me know! You can comment on this blog or email me!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

World Malaria Day

Today is World Malaria Day. Some statistics say that over 90% of malaria cases happen in Africa but it looks like malaria deaths are decreasing. Good news, but can the world really achieve the Millennium Development Goal of having 'near-zero' deaths due to malaria by 2015?

Most people living in developing countries don't know when their local clinic will, if ever, get the drugs that will save their life. But malaria is preventable. So how do you prevent malaria? Easy. Sleep in a mosquito net-every night. Female mosquitos spread malaria. Female mosquitos only come out at night. Night is when you sleep. Logical solution? Sleep in a mosquito net every night and you have drastically reduced your chances of contracting malaria.

I went to sleep one night and didn't close the net-something that would have taken less than 10 seconds. I woke up the next morning covered in mosquito bites. I jokingly told Kim that I would see her back in town in 7-10 days because I'd have malaria. And then it happened.


Almost a million people die of malaria each year. Some really scary statistics say that a child dies from malaria every 45 seconds. Depending on how slow of a reader you are, that means that at least 2 kids have died from malaria since you started reading this blog post. Even more if you clicked the link and read my entire blog post about getting malaria.

The UN has said it is going to take $3.2 billion more dollars (they have already raised $6 billion) to reach their 'near-zero' goal. I'm trying my best to be less cynical about the world and especially about development. Things have to start somewhere. So find an organization that helps prevent malaria. Whether the organization works with governments to provide better health care in their country or works like local organizations to hand out mosquito nets for people to sleep in, donate your time or your money.

We'll only be able to achieve the MDGs if we work together.

Can we really achieve having 'near-zero' deaths due to malaria by 2015? I sure hope so.

Friday, March 2, 2012

When in Rome...

I've been in Sweden for 5 days now and today was the first picture I took. Can you guess where I am? Because we didn't pose this picture...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


It's a tough feeling to be homesick for a place that most people wouldn't see as a home. You say you are homesick but no one really understands how that is possible.

No electricity. No running water. No McDonalds. No television. No computers.

Everyone focuses on the differences. How could I possibly miss a place that doesn't have these basic 'necessities'?


I miss being able to lay in my hammock all day and read. I miss the quiet. I miss the kids waiting for me to cook fritters in the morning for breakfast. I miss sitting and enjoying my cup of coffee. I miss drinking warm Coke out of a glass bottle. I miss baking cookies in a brick oven. I miss listening to the radio. I miss laughing with my sisters because I can't cook nshima. I miss eating chick peas with watered down tomato sauce and some masala. I miss riding my bike. I miss waking up at 6am to sit and wait for transport to show up at 11am. I miss eating sweet potatoes for dinner. I miss the rain. I miss guinea fowl eggs. I miss teaching the kids to play uno. I miss colouring pages and crayons laying all around my house. I miss playing frisbee. I miss talking with the old ladies. I miss Joy.

I've been gone for almost 2 years. The time has flown by. I'm living in an entirely different place, with an entirely different life style, with an entirely different job.

Now I see people come and go. They all deal with their experiences differently. I try not to interfere, especially when I can see they are processing. I understand the need to process and try not to judge people's opinions. I want to share my experiences but this is hard. Only a small hand full of people really understand. And I still can't explain what I experienced without people immediately focusing on the differences.

They don't have access to medical care. They don't have electricity. They don't have safe drinking water. They don't, they don't, they don't.

Yes. This is true. But...

They have dreams-Jacqueline wants to become a nurse. They are smart-Scotty can do maths a grade above his classmates. They work hard-Sandra bakes and sells cakes to other families. They laugh.

Some people call them a cause. I call them my family.

And I am homesick.