In the blood

Trip Start Sep 22, 2005
Trip End Dec 19, 2007

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Sunday, September 3, 2006

Welcome back to another segment of our life in Ghana!

*This edition is brought to you courtesy of the PCV husband. Sayward has written the last two entries and it's my turn at bat. Plus, I'm the one that tested positive for malaria - and that's what brings us to Accra. But before we go into to that, let's rewind and cover the material since the last entry. So since August 9...

Trying to find a good formula for how long to stay in Damanko vs. Sibi Hilltop has been an ongoing problem. In Ghana, if you move around or travel frequently from your hometown it's a matter of stability. So its not uncommon to hear people calling us "unstable." We try not to get offended. Recently we switched to 2-week intervals and have found it to be relatively successful. Except that when we go to Sibi Hilltop, some people from Damanko complain that we like Sibi "too much" and they think that we're going to "run away" to Damanko. And vice versa. However, we actually started this regimen because our dog had her puppies while we were in Sibi and we didn't want to leave her there or make her run to Damanko, so we just stayed an extra week. So then of course we had to be fair and stay at Damanko for two weeks. You get the idea.

While in Damanko we managed to keep ourselves busy with Guinea Worm eradication and soy milk production activities. On market day Sayward hosted a soy milk demonstration at the chief's palace with free taste tests and the day before she held a meeting at the house with ~30 women to plan a Soy Flour Demonstration Day. The demo will be led by a Nutrition Officer from Nkwanta who teaches the women how to add soy flour to their local dishes making them more nutritious. Although the meeting was an exercise in patience, we'll chalk it up as a success. The women selected the dishes they will make and plan to find four friends to join their cooking group. The demo was scheduled for Sept 6 at one of primary schools, and knowing Ghana it probably didn't go as planned but as long as the women learned something and had fun doing it - that's all we care about. Sayward has also been keeping her hands full with planning the 2006 Peace Corps HIV/AIDS Bike Ride, scheduled to take place in our district this coming January. After some corrections to the proposal, I think its finally ready to be sent to Washington D.C. for final approval before they post it on their website and the donations start rolling in. Hopefully, the funding will come in time... if not, on to a back up plan. Sayward, what was Plan B again?

I'm also working on a couple of new projects: (1) I started organizing groups for a Village Bicycle Project in Damanko, as well as Sibi. A small NGO by the same name, VBP, organizes shipments of used - but still in good quality - bicycles to come to Ghana. Then they work with PCVs to organize workshops to teach marginalized groups of people about bicycle repair and offer them a bike at a greatly reduced price. Old mountain bikes go for 260,000 cedis, or roughly $30. (2) I've been working with a man from the WatSan Committee in Damanko to do a household latrine project in the community. So far we have 40 people signed up, and we've written an application for a Small Project Assistance (SPA) grant to cover 43% of the project's costs. The other 57% will be contributed in-kind by each household in the form of sand, stones, water, and labor (digging the pit & building the superstructure). Because the SPA grant is provided through a USAID-Peace Corps partnership the funding needs to be allocated by the end of the US fiscal year. So things are moving pretty fast for a development project. I'll keep you posted. (3) I received funding from World Vision to build a prototype rainwater harvesting tank in Sibi Hilltop. I'm trying to utilize local materials and go as low-cost as possible but had to change the design a few times after corresponding with some folks from Michigan Tech who know something about structural engineering. I plan to build the tank underground, slope the walls and reinforce them with chicken wire, then plaster everything, make a hinging cover out of grain sacks and 2x4s, and use large diameter bamboo for the gutters. I'll definitely take some pictures though so you know what I'm talking about. If it works well, I'll try to organize a group of people and seek funding for a large scale project.

The problem cooking with propane is that you never know when it's going to run out, and usually its at an inopportune time. This time we were just about to cook some eggs for breakfast when it died. So I rode my bike back to Sibi Hilltop, disconnected our propane tank there, strapped it on the back of my bike and headed back to Damanko. However, that left us with an empty tank in Sibi. So on our next trip to Nkwanta we decided to take a trip down to HoHoe to fill the tank and then travel on to a beautiful rainforest area in the mountains between Ho and HoHoe to sight see. We started out by heading to Logba Alekpeti, and since it was market day, we didn't have a problem getting a ride to Logba Tota, a clean little town perched on the side of a mountain with a great view of prevailing Mt. Gemi. We took a 45-min guided hike to a waterfall in the valley. I took a cool plunge in the pool at the base of the falls while Sayward photographed the area. After a lunch of bread, avocados and guava we checked out a cave behind the falls with stalctites/stalgmites and hiked back up to the town. Since it was still early we decided to grab a ride back to the market and try to walk to the government resthouse in Biakpa. While we were waiting for a ride up the road to nearby Fume, a pick-up truck stops and hands us a flyer for a Mountain Paradise Lodge in Biakpa. I naturally ask the driver if we can get a ride to the town since that's where we're headed. Well, it turns out the old gov't resthouse and the new lodge are one in the same... another reason to always have a current edition of the Bradt guide. So we ended up getting a free ride and enjoyed a relaxing evening on the mountain. In the morning we hiked to Amedzofe, an old German missionary town from the 19th century. After checking in at the tourist office and paying our fees we hiked to another gorgeous waterfall and later to the top of Mt. Gemi, which has a 12-ft high cross planted on the top. Rumor has it that the Germans used it as communication device during WWII. After a wonderful dinner of yam balls and vegetable stew at a local woman's house we stayed the night another great guesthouse with great views of the mountains. The next morning we headed to Nkwanta and then back to site. However, it was really nice taking a side trip. We'll have to do that more often!

And now for my story about malaria... While staying in Sibi Hilltop I had a meeting for which I had to bike to Damanko in the morning on Monday 8/27. After I took a bath to cool off from the morning ride, I started shivering and couldn't get warm again. (Mind you this is Africa and you just don't get cold here.) I curled up in bed with a sheet over me and nodded off for an hour. Then the fever started, and I perused my Peace Corps Health Handbook to feed my fears. According to the book as soon as malaria symptoms occur (chills, fever, headache, body pains) - and I had them all - you're supposed to prepare a blood smear and send it to Accra for them to test. I had every intention of doing just that but I've never been one for stabbing myself with anything in order to draw blood (sorry Mom) and I didn't do it quite hard enough. For the blood smear you need an ample amount, and even the few drops I could squeeze out made me nauseous enough to almost pass out. Fortunately I didn't, but I had ruined the two slides from the malaria kit. I called my Peace Corps Medical Officer and she told me to assume it was malaria. I started taking our malarial treatment med "Coartem" but kept having the symptoms every day. After finishing the regimen of medication my PCMO asked me to get a blood test and stool sample analysis from our district hospital. By this time the headaches were becoming very painful, and I was weak and didn't feel like eating. The stool sample came back negative, but my blood tested positive for malaria parasites. This time I was called down to Accra for further testing. Thankfully, Sayward was allowed to travel with me. We left that night and spent the night in HoHoe. The next morning we woke up by 4AM and made it to Accra by 8AM. More blood tests and stool samples over the following days but they all turned up negative. I've been here in the medical unit for six days now and will head back to site tomorrow morning. So did I really have malaria? Or was it just some mystery viral infection? I guess I'll never know but I can say I never want to get sick like that again. I can't remember the last time I weighed 133 lbs. Besides the big beard I must look a lot like I did in 9th grade.

Anywho, that's enough info for tonight... Sayward's parents are coming to visit from Sept 19-28 and we're looking forward to having them in the country for a little while! So we'll be in Accra again before you know it. Take care and God Bless. And hey, don't forget bug spray... Mosquitos can be vicious.

Peace & Love,
Chris and Sayward

PS - Thanks to Jenny Mc, Holly and Leslie for the wonderful packages. You folks are really creative sometimes! And we received some lovely cards/letters from Grandma C and Ash. Watch your mailboxes for a reply from us soon. Until then, keep doing what you're doing.
PPS - What in the world is up with the Tigers this year?
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