Archive for November, 2011

Body Recall a la Afrique!

Strait backs, flexible hands

Body Recall a la Afrique!

It is another hot day in north Ghana, though all natives would call it cold, it being about 88 degrees by mid-morning. Lisa Revell, my wife and a Body Recall instructor, hops on her bike to travel the 2 miles to see her early patients needing chiropractic care before starting the 9 A.M Body Recall class (Lisa is a retired chiropractor). I, with volunteers Lou and Marilyn, arrive at 9:00 to partake.

As with most things African, we actually get started late at around 9:20, as chairs and benches need to be set up for a class larger than anticipated. The students are mostly women, most past mid sixties, some into their early 80s. The majority of them are no longer capable of hauling large water containers on their heads from the well to their home, though some say they can still make two trips with a bucket in the morning. Lisa stands by with her translator ready to teach!

“Let’s take off our shoes, and put them underneath the bench …sit tall, straight back,…… feet flat on the floor….. “ and then raising the arms, and without verbal directions, the class collectively takes the traditional Body Recall deep breath. Class begins.

I am one of the students, but sometimes divert my attention to admire the focus of other students. I am so struck by the scene that I ‘snap’ a few pictures, and even do a bit of video. Like in the USA, it is clear the lesson will do good, as the leaning to the right and left, the raising of legs, and the straight backs all improve as the class progresses.

We start the music …. it is a c.d. of a Ghanaian musician who just debuted his music. People know it well here, and it is an instant hit for the class! It is sung in Nab’t, a language with fewer than one million speakers, and accompanied by catchy African drumming,. They watch Lisa carefully, but now with bright-toothed smiles. Many are starting to add varied gyrations to the movements Lisa makes. The song is long, giving Lisa the idea to start a more impromtu-styled activity. It seems the older and least flexible now become the most creative and happy dancers! It is quite the scene! Lots of laughing and satisfied smiles as the gyrating moves become more enhanced. Everyone, for this moment, is happy in what is going on in their life. Somehow it seems to be the most powerful thing that could happen on this African day, and as the day is now over, I can tell you, that, for me, it was. Body Recall …good for the world.

David Stone

Nov. 25, 2011

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Friend brings sunshine

Friend brings Sunshine

Emmanuel Ontoyen is my friend. I grew to appreciate him during our 2005-2006 stint. He is always forthright and honest and sincerely kind. He never asks for favors but you feel like giving them. He is a watchman for the high school but does lots of driving. He is paid little. The pay does not diminish his desire to do well.

This visit Emmanuel has been sick. He has painful hemmoriods that are persistant. There is no smile just a look of concern as he is used to being strong and healthy. Then his younger sister died. Along with the sadness was the responsibility of the senior brother to manage the cost of buriel and funeral. Emmanuel , a man of few dollars bore the responsibiity while being in physical and now emotional pain. Then a nephew came to him the senior brother in need of tuition for high school. While coping with this, Emmauel gets Malaria. No money. Sick with fever, grieving, off to gather loans or gifted money from friends. Finally, his brother is involved in a serious motorbike accident. His jar is broken on each side. One wonders if this is a test put upon the family.

He is now on the other side of the most of his problems. The sister is buried, the nephew is in school. Malaria is over and Emm’s handshake is firm and strong. He will travel to be with his brother on Thursday. He will take part in a war dance on Friday. Emmanuel is well-known in the community to be the most dramatic interpreter of the dance. Emmanuel is smiling again and we are all smiling with him. He loves his family – three daughters and his wife Faustina. He loves his friends and village. He loves his Catholic church. Because of him, we love life just a litle more too.

Emmanuel Ontoyen of Kongo, Ghana

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Banking in Bolga

Being quite earnest to arrive early to do banking, I leapt on the moto (a 125 cc motorbike – roads are full of them!) for the 30 minute ride to Bolgatanga. I find the ride ying-yangish – I like the challenge of slaloming the many potholes yet I do not relish the thought, that, should I fall, this not-youngish body would find much pain and slow recovery.

Making it to “Bolga’ in fine fashion, I scurry off to enter the bank, only to see little floor space for standing. I’m talkin’ 250 plus customers waiting. I have bank drafts to do for two students in our scholarship/loan project. Were I to accept the challenge of waiting in line, It would be an all-day experience with no assurance you would reach the teller’s window before closing. Not an option as I must teach at 12:30.

I will never complain about banking service in the states. Any inconveniece there pales to the extraordinary marathon taking place here. Lots of paperwork, little use of the computer, and slow deliberate tellers. The banks name is The Ghana Commercial Bank, which is the ‘poor mans’ bank here. They offer the lowest interest rate so it is popular, but only because of that. Nary a smile from any employees. More noticable is how patient the waitiing customers are. I am not sure even in my best moments that I would be capable of such waiting without a few exasperated sighs or verbal laments. I highly admire the way Ghanaians handle waiting. I am convinced that I will ever learn this style of resolve as I have not improved yet having been here accumulatively 14 months. I guess, instead, I will keep trying to improve my ability to speak Nab’t. “Eah tooma ah yealah?” – “How is your waiting?”.

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A dorm room with 50 beds

Saturday chores on the verandah of the girls dorm

For various reasons, most Ghanaians do not make it to high school. To begin with there is a lack of high schools and admittance is determined by test scores. Following JSS (Junior High), students take exams and are allocated to high schools based on their results. Only 38% attain scores high enough to qualify for high school. Something that tugs at my heartstrings daily is the shadow of yearning on the faces of young men and women left behind, who now have lost the opportunity for significant further education and the chance for income beyond that of a farmer or laborer. Another reason students stay behind is money. High schools are not free. Students must pay tuition for high school in Ghana, with the first year’s tuition of $300 being the equivalent of a farmer’s annual income. At times, the extended family members can gather enough to pay tuition for qualifying youth. At times students must delay for a year or more before money can be gathered, at times they never get to attend high school in spite of good exam scores.

Perhaps that helps to explain the enthusiasm and vitality that exudes from the girls dormitory at the brand new Kongo Senior High School on a Saturday. To begin with, it is early in the school year and, consequently, an awareness persists among the girls that they are extremely fortunate just to be there. As we arrive, it becomes obvious that Saturday is a day for laundry, cooking, bathing, and cleaning. There is a bustle of outdoor communal activity with some hand washing and ironing school uniforms (using irons with hot coals), other girls carry water from a borehole, some girls cook on little hibachis, and all of it is unsupervised. There is a sense self-sufficiency and purpose, accompanied by much laughing and talking.

The dorm rooms themselves are something a westerner must see to believe. The two hundred girls live with 50 girls to a room, sleeping on small bunk beds (smaller than a twin bed) packed closely together. At the foot of each bed is a small box or suitcase for personal items. In an unaccustomed luxury for most Ghanaians, each dorm room has ceiling fans (all of which were turned on) and large windows. While the rooms were reasonably pleasant, these girls will never have opportunity for peace, quiet, and solitude. And there were no desks. I neglected to ask where school books are kept. And a word about something we all take for granted, the flushing toilet. There are currently no latrines or toilets at the school. The technical term is ‘open defecation’; not a new experience for these girls, but of some health concern to me considering the high density of students, the possibility of flies spreading disease from the exposed feces, and the absence of running water for washing hands.

Social expectations in Ghanaian schools are comparatively restrictive in regards to personal freedoms. Students must contact the headmaster for a weekend pass, and are only allowed a few of these per year; though everyone does go home for major holidays. And, are you wondering about boyfriends? Kongo Senior High is a coed school and the boys dorms are strategically placed at least a quarter mile away. Boys are not allowed to go any where near the girls dorms, and vice versa. A typical punishment for meeting a boy outside of class is to be suspended from classes for one week, leaving the student to fall behind in classes and sit alone in the dorms.

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The newclassrooms will open after the regional building inspector gives approval

Our first 10 days in northern Ghana culminated with a visit to Guanwarre school this morning. Because there are no roads and the trails are spiderwebbed in all directions through tall grasses, we arranged to follow the headmaster to the school at 7 am. It was wonderful to see the growth at the school. For now, they are using the original adobe/mud schoolhouse for two classes, but the bulk of the 117 students meet outside, each class with its teacher and blackboard under it’s own tree. There is a new, cement block building consisting of three rooms awaiting a visit from the building inspector, after which it can be occupied. The current headmaster has wisely grouped the children by grade, rather than clumping them together in large groups of varying age and ability. Though there is a committed headmaster and one professional teacher, the other teachers have just barely completed high school and are paid a pittance of $50 per month. Even so, the Guanwarre students seem to be getting a reasonable start on their education with the students engaged in their learning. We were very favorably impressed.

And remarkably the feeding program, now operating for 2 years in the months from January to June, seems to be going without problems. It warms our hearts to see that the Guanwarre children are definitely looking healthier with better skin and less extreme leanness. We met today with some of the mothers that participate in cooking the food, and they expressed satisfaction with the food supply, storage, and preparation. The teachers too reported that the food is being stored and prepared competently. It is so rare not to have conflicts and issues. Ghanaians are generally communicative and, therefore, not hesitant to let you know of problems. We are so pleased at the success of this program and its benefits to the school and in the community.

In a country where the many schools have no toilet, a particularly notable development is that of a toilet building for the school. On starting the feeding program two years ago, all of the mothers who volunteered to cook tested positive for typhoid fever. They all received treatment with antibiotics, along with most of their children. Typhoid is transmitted by the fecal-oral route. Contamination can happen either by flies landing on feces and then on food, or by contaminated hands. We are hoping the enclosed toilets has reduced the contamination of food by flies. One aspect of the feeding program is to retest the cooks while we are here.

Gathered around their teacher for a lesson, primary 5

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