Thursday, March 26, 2009

In the name of Love? U2 takes it a step too far

I stumbled upon a well written blog today, from NYU called Aid Watch. They actually have an objective perspective, which is quite refreshing.

Scrolling down I came upon this:

Album cover from a recent compilation with the following inscription below it:

"Not sure what to make of this, so I just state the facts: an African-American record producer arranged to have well-known African singers do U2 songs for this album. U2 obviously had to sign off on an album in which Africa thanks U2 with U2 songs, due to copyright laws, and in fact the producer thanks U2 band members." There is a great debate in the comments section below it, which can be accessed here.

I think it's pathetically self indulgent for the U2s of this world to gloss over the issues facing Africa, to glorify themselves and pretend to be making any sort of a
difference. Aid has not been working for decades and there are many reasons for it. Bono was not an economist last time I checked, but he knows that being the poster child for Aid to Africa has revamped his popularity as a pseudo mother Teresa of the popular media, and now he's taken it even further with this new album of African singers doing U2 songs in commemoration of their valiant efforts.

Well Bono, since you asked, Yes you've disappointed me and left a bad taste in my mouth.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Santogold - makes me smile

One day in a bank semi-recently, waiting impatiently, I saw this bizarre music video on the flat screen up on the wall, meant to distract you from the extra long and tedious wait. It worked - I fell in love with the song and the video. I became obsessed with finding who the group was, the song name, and ultimately getting the video in my hot paws so I could watch it again.

Well through the help of my son and other Internet sleuths (namely his online friends forums)I found it!!! This wasn't easy, given all I could explain was that it was a video of a girl on a horse in a forest...

Music makes me happy - but finding a song I've been yearning for makes me even happier.

What do I love about this song? The bizarre scene of the girl on a horse in front of an ominous forest, with the awkward sideline dancers... I guess I just can't explain it. Music is one of those things.

I might be the only one who likes this song... who knows! I wouldn't be surprised.

Over the years I've loved some pretty bizarre things (and people - but that's another story!). One of my fav movies is Gummo (everyone I know questions my sanity on that one). There are obscure little known movies I LOVE like Chocolat, set in the Colonial 1950's in Cameroon and The Lunatic about a sex crazed German and a local madman in Jamaica. One of my all time muses is Grace Jones. You gotta love her, or at least I do! But hey -

Today I share my weird found video - enjoy!!! (or not) :)

SANTOGOLD - Les Artistes

Turns out I don't like much else the group or singer has done, so I won't be looking for the album, but just wanted to pay my hommage to them for this one!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Free yourselves from Mental Slavery - Ghana's Mental Health in Crisis

I’ve been reminiscing about the good ol’ days, during my first few years in Ghana, when I lived an entirely different life… The days of the compound of 54 people, all Ghanaian except me, all living in single rooms surrounding the common space – a concrete square that at one time had a big tree growing out of the centre for shade. (That was hacked down in the rage of one of the adult sisters in the family along the way, no doubt getting back at others for some or other trivial dispute). But that is another story.

We had quite motley crew of family members and random tenants among the 54 of us, and there are definitely stories enough to fill a novel… maybe one day!
Today I remember Sistah Konadu. A sweet and well-meaning girl in her mid-twenties, with a large frame and a tiny voice, she wasn’t actually living full time with us, but apparently had problems with some other members of the family who lived elsewhere, and sought refuge with us many times.

Konadu was slightly ‘mad’ as the family affectionately described her. I found out later, mostly from observation, that she was clinically a schizophrenic. I imagine the medicines in Ghana are expensive or not available, had there even been a proper doctor to make such a diagnosis in the first place.

One afternoon as we sat in our little room, bathed in sweat, fanning ourselves, there came a big noise from the compound. A woman’s voice shouting frantically, “You! Think you can hide in a chicken disguise?! You are the devil! I see you! Evil chicken!” We peered through the dusty slat windows to see Konadu, dressed in her best cloth and jewelry to match, running in circles, chasing some benign neighborhood chickens with the fury of an exorcist. The children were running behind, jostling and poking each other, falling in tiny clumps of laughter. Some of the adults poked their heads out into the yard and called for Konadu’s mother to fetch her to the asylum. It seemed the illness had reached some sort of peak and she was dragged, warning us all of the dangers of the little devils among us, with the help of some strong guys around the area, into a taxi and off to what they called the Asylum. Sounded pretty scary to me. Little did I know.

Konadu disappeared for a few weeks. When she came back she was dull, thin, her skin grayish and the corners of her mouth sagged. She looked highly drugged. The fire in her eyes was gone.

What we didn’t know at the time was that she had been chained by her ankle to a large heavy metal ball on the floor in what constitutes a cell. Some patients are chained to car batteries or any other heavy unmoveable objects.

This is rehabilitation?! The conditions in Accra’s only Psychiatric Hospital – the Asylum – make the horrors at Korle Bu and others look like a hotel. There is even less funding for these hospitals around the country, not to mention a huge stigma. The patients are fittingly referred to as inmates and as I read in an article published on, the regional director of CHRI (Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative) explained:

“the treatment includes chaining, denial of food, verbal and physical abuse, isolation and forced medication. According to her, their research revealed that the incidence of chaining up the mentally disabled constituted a feature of the healing process.”

What is equally disturbing is what I read on the front page of the Daily Graphic (whose website is currently under construction), Ghana’s largest newspaper TODAY. Ghana’s ‘Mental Health in Crisis’. The article goes on to explain that for the 22 million people in Ghana, of whom they figure 30 -40 % will suffer some form of mental health problem during their lives, have 2 – that’s TWO qualified and practicing Psychiatric doctors to attend to them. Statistically that is one doctor per 11 million people. Do I need to write how dismal that is? Apparently there are actually 4 doctors in the country, but two are lecturing at Universities rather than practicing.

So what happens over at the Asylum to the thousands of ‘inmates’? No doubt they are guarded. Doubtfully they are fed, (unless family members come to visit and bring meals to them), but no chance are they being treated by a doctor. And that is sad.
I haven’t seen or heard from Konadu in ages. She had a baby and got married and was on her ‘medicines’ that last I knew. God forbid she relapse and need medical attention.

With all the hue and cry about the atrocities of slavery during the early colonial days, here we are in modern Africa, where citizens are being enslaved, in their minds and by the literal chains that bind them. The treatment of the mentally ill in Ghana is one of those dirty little societal secrets, on the bottom of anyone's list in terms of making changes, and in the dark ages in terms of cultural attitudes. God help them, those who cannot help themselves, for no one else will.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother - the health care saga continues

The health care saga continues in Accra… So after his horrible ordeal in the North, our engineer flew down to Accra yesterday morning with multiple breaks in his arm, and was admitted to the 37 Military Hospital, which is close to the airport and was recently renovated with German government donations and expertise.

Our engineer is a professional with money and a company supporting/backing him. (Which is very important in seeking service at a hospital in Ghana). Yet it is not enough. He does not ‘know anyone’ who works at, or has clout with the hospital.

What does this mean? Even though he has money to pay for any treatment he would need – like immediate x-rays and a long overdue plaster cast, they have refused to serve him as of this morning, and he sits on the bed, with his mangled arm hoisted above his head in a ridiculous sling. No medicine, no cast. Meanwhile the bones are healing over, without having been reset and the long term implications will be evident. Imagine he had needed surgery, or that his injuries were more life threatening?

We are making arrangements to take him now to the main and largest government hospital. But I don’t hold out much hope for that. I’ve seen many people die there with my own eyes, all completely preventable. One vivid example comes to mind.

Years ago in the late 90's, during my wild and free days as a volunteer in Accra, when I was the ‘obruni with the blue motto (Vespa)’, a friend and I were mugged one evening and dragged along the road by thugs in a car who wanted my friend’s bag. Only the bag was slung across her body and it was difficult for them to pull it off, while driving alongside us in a car, the passenger’s torso hanging out of the car…

It must have been quite a scene actually – me concentrating quite hard on the handlebar/steering wheel as the car bumped and nudged my little motto from the side, with a huge open gutter on my other side, my friend holding onto my waist for dear life as her bag was being torn from her, until finally they yanked hard enough to pull her to one side, my balance thrown, we skidded into the gutter, the Vespa cracking as it slid out from under us, and the two of us grinding along the gravel as the car tore off ahead.

Once we’d semi-recovered from the shock and picked ourselves up, we hobbled towards a nearby restaurant to assess our wounds and make some calls to get us to the hospital. My hubby came immediately and we headed to the infamous Government hospital. Emergency ward. We were pretty bloody but luckily it was all surface wounds that just needed cleaning out.

On arrival at the place, (I was still a bit new and naïve in Ghana) and I have to admit I was just stunned. It was dark, a few fluorescent tube lights flickering here and there, the rest dead. Dirt and dried blood everywhere – on chairs, benches… thick grime on the windows and corners and dirty, grimy walls. You couldn’t tell what colour they once had been painted. It was night and there were only a few people around, but from the moment we walked in we heard screaming. Loud, high pitched screaming. After a nurse gave us some forms to fill we came around a corner into the hallway.

On a metal guerney there lay a woman in complete and utter agony. Blood was soaked through her wrap cloth and pouring literally down the metal legs of the guerney and had started pooling on the floor. She was the screamer. Being the 'nosey obrunis' that we were, we could not bear to watch her without knowing why no one was helping her, and what had happened etc., so we rounded the corner to ask the nurse. Conversation went about like this:

Us: Please, the woman in the hall, what happened? Why is she screaming? Can you please come and see if anything can be done for her?

Nurse: (Looking up very slowly with a look of extreme annoyance) Don’t mind her! She is shouting too much but doesn’t want to give out the coins in her cloth. We told her! Here, you buy the medicines. You don’t pay, we won’t mind you.

Us: But what is wrong with her? She is bleeding!

Nurse: She is an orange seller. They shot her driving by. In the leg. But she is stubborn! Since they brought her here, only screaming. We tried to collect money from her for the drip, but she only holds tightly her cloth, greedy with the coins. We ask her if she has family. Nothing. We are not paid to fight the people, oh! So we are not minding her. The family will come soon. Now come, here is your list for the pharmacy.

With that she sent us down another hallway to buy gauze and sterilizing solution etc.
After a very rough treatment of scraping all wounds and scrubbing the both of us through a few silent tears of our own, we were sent off.

By the time we came out to the main hallway the screaming had stopped. The lady on the guerney lay silent and lifeless, crumpled bright designed Ghanaian cloth around her, soaked dark with blood, her one leg limply hanging from the side… I just knew she was dead.

I came around the corner to look where the nurses could be, and there they were. Two of them, sitting at an old brown desk, eating something. They gave me the ‘what-do-you-want-now look’.

Me: The lady in the hallway? Who was screaming?

Nurse: The boys are not in yet. They will bring her to the morgue.

With that they turned away, back to their chat and their snack. And we hobbled out, bandaged, clean and devastated.

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows when
But I'm strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain't heavy, he's my brother.

So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We'll get there
For I know
He would not encumber me

If I'm laden at all
I'm laden with sadness
That everyone's heart
Isn't filled with the gladness
Of love for one another.

It's a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we're on the way to there
Why not share
And the load
Doesn't weigh me down at all
He ain't heavy, he's my brother.

He's my brother
He ain't heavy, he's my brother.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

But say a prayer, pray for the other ones... Dismal health care in Northern Ghana

The only gift they'll get this year is life... (Bono and the Live Aid Band chiming in)... That's if they're lucky. The Northern Region of Ghana, which is about the size of that state of Louisiana or the entire country of Czech Republic HAS ONLY ONE AMBULANCE.

The population of Ghana’s Northern Region is roughly two million people. Honestly, this is insanity. We came face to face with the dismal reality of the non-existent health care system of Northern Ghana this weekend.

Despite years upon years of development projects catering to the North, and many specifically at building the capacity of the hospitals and clinics (one only has to Google Aid Northern Ghana to see), there is absolutely NOTHING there. On the ground, in the district towns and capitals, let alone the villages. Nothing. No skills, no supplies, no knowledge or any care at all for the value of human life.

On Sunday one of the drivers from our office managed to ‘kill’ a seemingly unbreakable and reliable Nissan Patrol, on route with some of the company engineers to do a customer installation at a site in the North. From Accra, with the bad roads, this drive can be 17 hours. They called from the side of the road with the bad news that they were now stranded in the middle of nowhere with a massive hunk of non-functioning metal and rubber. And all their equipment. The plan was to find a tow truck, which they miraculously did within an hour, and they set off again.

Within an hour we had a call that they had hitched up the company 4x4 to the tow, and then had ever so brightly gotten right back into our car, with no brakes etc. and embarked on the next few bumpy hours journey being towed along.

Except not. Disaster struck. The story, like many Ghana stories, seems unfathomable, yet the outcome pretty disastrous. Apparently a group of motorcycles (somehow I just can’t picture a gang of menacing Harley riders up on the roads of the North, lined by mud huts, shepards and families of emaciated cows and goats…)

The motorcyclists abruptly drove into the lane of our tow truck driver, who swerved violently in reaction. Somehow both the tow truck and our Patrol rolled three times and landed in the bush upside down. Interestingly car accidents are one of the main causes of death in Ghana and fatalities (from a 2006 survey) are double of that of South Africa which has double the population of Ghana, and over 4 times that of Canada which has a third higher population. (I’m guessing a big reason is the way the injured are dealt with after the crash).

When the dust settled our guys all climbed out of the vehicle and it was discovered that one had suffered some facial injuries, while another of our engineers had broken his arm in numerous places. Both needed medical attention immediately. But there was none.

They were taken presumably by a taxi to the closest ‘hospital’ (I use this term VERY loosely), in a town called Bole. On arrival they were told there were no doctors, no medicines, nothing to build a cast for a broken arm, and no equipment at all to test for anything at all. Just a dirty, dusty concrete building with some women sitting at a table. I can just imagine the treatment rooms, where the women and children lie on mats on the floor, no beds, no services… just a place to die.

Eventually – a few hours later – despite the extreme pain and suffering of our engineers, they were brought by taxi to Wa – the district capital, for treatment. It was 8pm on a Sunday night. No doctors. Without doctors, the nurses claim they cannot deliver first aid… So the guys waited it out until morning.

Only when morning came there were still no doctors, and once again they were told – nothing with which to cast a broken limb, no medicines, no supplies. They waited all day Monday, while down in Accra we called frantically around for a solution. They needed to get the 100kms to Tamale – the bigger town, where they could fly on a commercial airline back to Accra to be treated. By this time we had heard that the engineer with the broken arm could not sit (possibly due to internal injuries), and we needed to find an ambulance to bring him to Tamale. Apparently there was no ambulance available. This is when we discovered the hideous truth about the one ambulance for the whole region, which was ‘busy’ in Tamale. Knowing Ghana, it was being hired for a funeral… go figure. What we discovered was that there was not even a vehicle in the town of Wa that could take them…

So in our desperation, knowing the dangers of internal injuries, and the very real possibility of the bones in his arm healing in the wrong shape, we tried to find a way to fly them back to Accra. We called a local aviation company who said they could charter a flight for USD $12,000. Only they couldn’t get the plane organized until Saturday – 5 days away!!! We called on a foreign owned and run medical rescue company operating in Ghana that services International companies who are members. We are not members. They responded that they could send a fully medically equipped plane first thing in the morning. It would cost Euro14,000!!!!

Eventually they did manage to find a car and made the bumpy journey, all their injuries notwithstanding, back to Tamale and this morning they caught the commercial flight to Accra. They are now both admitted to a local hospital. Even these Accra clinics and hospitals pose serious questions about the quality of health care.
But the question is – what do the locals in Northern Ghana do in these cases? And the sad but true answer is that they suffer and they die.

Billions of dollars in Aid has poured in… Where has it gone? Why is there nothing?

Why doesn’t the government stop building palaces and start building real hospitals? Why did they spend over $60 million in largely unaccounted for sums on the 'Ghana @ 50' Independence Celebrations when the real needs are ignored completely? What exactly are we celebrating? What indeed.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sweet 16

Today my baby turns 16. I got up early with him this morning and hugged him as he was gathering his things at the door. I watched him walk away, out the gate and pictured him on his way to school. He's nearing 6 feet tall and his voice is getting low and he corrects me on so many things these days, but he is still my baby.

There was a time when he and I made up a family on our own, and despite the many changes that have happened, siblings that have come and gone and relationships, spouses and various others who have touched our lives, some days I still feel that special bond between us - the feeling that it's us two against the world.

He has always made a great companion. From the time he was born he observed so much around him and had a sense of calm that comforted me. He has always been comfortable in his skin and I admire that. Now, in the middle of adolescence, when kids struggle with identity, he knows exactly what he likes and what he doesn't and he has his own moral code which no one can compromise. All very admirable to me.

There comes a time in kids' lives when they finally see their parents as human beings, with faults and weaknesses, and can admire them for their true talents instead of the blind love that a child gives. They also say that parents will always see their child with the eyes of blind and unconditional love.

Between my son and I, I believe we've always seen each other clearly - faults, weaknesses, strengths - everything. And maybe because of this, I feel we share a love that is honest and open and real.

I am so proud of him.

He's been 'into' graphic design in a way that I could only imagine passion, dedication and patience in myself. He can put in 10 straight hours on an art piece - forget to eat or drink or speak. He thinks this is what he wants to pursue and judging by his talent and enthusiasm, I think he's on the right track. I'm still amazed though. Who knows at 16 what they want to be when they grow up?! Hell, I still don't know what I wanna be...

I've decided to share here one of his recent 'pieces' - he used two stock photos (below):

And came up with this:

Excellent if I do say so myself. Happy birthday Q!!! Love you.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

GHANA: This Week in Aid...

Well it seems there is no end - the floodgates are open and the Aid money continues to pour into Ghana. I think I will try to keep a running tab of publicly announced International donations to Ghana...

For the week of March 8th, 2009, donations covered by the mainstream media are as follows:

1. Spain donates $44.4m for the 'socio-economic development of the country' with no specific projects or areas in mind. Looks like a windfall for the new Government. What will be the accountability and follow up of the allocation of nearly fifty million US dollars??

2. Japan continues to fund Ghana, this week through a grant of $3.5m, under the loose title 'Multi Donor Budget Support' - again no specific projects targeted...

3. The Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA)has today signed a 'loan' agreement for $6m with the government of Ghana 'at a gala' in Cairo. No doubt there was no expense spared in sending the government delegates from Ghana to the event... This money is targeted at "financing Radiotherapy and Nuclear Medicine Treatment Services project". That is pretty ambitious considering we are talking about a country where the main government hospital has troubles with rats chewing newborns sleeping on the floors in the maternity wards, due to the fact there are not enough beds...

That comes to a grand total of approximately $53million this week. I would expect that in a year or even 6 months we should be reading articles about how these monies have been put to good use, and full transparency about the allocation of the funds, and ultimately the success of the projects, measured through benefits to the citizens of Ghana.

Are you holding your breath?

Stay tuned...
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