As I gear up to write my first entry since Michael left, I realized the only one I wrote while he was here was never posted. Hope this will tide you over for a few days…
My apologies for “keeping so long” since my last blog entry. To be honest, it has been a combination of being busy integrating into my town, being distracted spending time with Michael, and trying to come to terms with my current situation.
The first three months at site are challenging for most PCVs; many of my colleagues also mention the struggles they are encountering during this period when we connect. It is a time when you are suddenly thrust into unfamiliar territory without as much of a roadmap as you may have expected. Training did well to introduce us to Ghana and some of the basics of working in the Peace Corps health sector here, but once you find yourself on your own, in remote lands, you become aware of all the ways in which you were not prepared.
On the food front alone, it has taken weeks for me to figure out how to begin to deal with that here. How often to buy items and from where, how much they will cost, how long they will keep, how to store cooked and uncooked items, etc. My landlord and the local midwife (who is ridiculously busy with so many pregnant women and so much malaria!) have both given me tips and a few lessons on local food preparation along the way, which has been tremendously helpful!
At this point (early in the first rainy season) there are still many vegetables available at the market: tomatoes, onions, garden eggs (from the eggplant family), kontommire (a dark leafy green, like spinach), and okra; there is usually cabbage and green peppers, and sometimes cucumbers and carrots. It sounds like many of these will disappear as the season changes and I will again need to adjust my diet. So far, I have learned to make a few varieties of thick Ghanaian “stew” to eat with rice or boiled yams, peanut soup (though Michael doesn’t enjoy soup, so I’ll keep that knowledge for later this year); as well as a few makeshift quasi-American dishes, of which my favorites include stir-fried vegetables with peanut butter, pineapple juice, and ginger over rice, or fried cabbage and eggs with macaroni. There is no cheese here, so that “go-to” CT-staple is notably absent. I eat a lot of eggs these days, both for the protein they offer, as well as the texture variation.
Food (and everything it involves: finding it, buying it, preparing it, cooking it, eating it, and storing it), is just one of the many arenas here that has been surprisingly unfamiliar and difficult.
I often compare Peace Corps to grad school in my mind; they are both experiences involving a great deal of freedom, self-imposed scheduling, and both begin as unfamiliar beasts. I pursued grad studies in a new area, both in terms of geographical location and subject matter, switching from theatre technology to woodworking. What I didn’t realize, or appreciate at the time, during my struggles with the newness of grad school, was how much of “the familiar” I still had access to at the time.
Here in Ghana, a foreign land, with different languages, different customs, different climate, different…, different…, different…, And working in a new field (health), where I am not only NOT an expert, but I have spent most of my life actively avoiding all things medical. I am keenly aware of the unfamiliar.
My nearest Peace Corps neighbor is at least 3 hours away. The nearest Peace Corps sub-office is 5 hours away. My dear friend, Fredanna visited Accra this summer from Sierra Leone and the travel time from my site would take over 10 hours, making that connection impossible… I am feeling a bit remote and removed. I am very thankful that Michael has joined me during this adjustment period.
As I learn the language more, and as I learn what is going on around me more, I will start to feel more connected to this place. For now, Adabokrom remains a bit of a mystery and I am frustrated by my lack of access to better understanding. I know time will take care of many of my concerns and our “site restriction” will be lifted soon, allowing me to travel a few days a month to explore my surroundings. Additionally, more training is scheduled this summer, so I will be better equipped to tackle the health concerns in my area. All of this will lighten my load and I’m sure my time here will be well spent and I will emerge from this experience with new knowledge, friendships, and perspectives which I can’t begin to imagine today.
(More about my site in my next post, as I promised last time… I guess it’s all sort-of about my site anyway? I wish I had pictures of my market and some Ghanaian food to share with this post. I’ll try to work on more visuals as well. Thanks for reading and for your comments!)