maria has a meltdown

If there is any purpose of this little ‘ol blog, its to let you know that I am no hero. Being a Peace Corps volunteer is a daily struggle. I have been thinking about how I should write about the Know Your Status Week that has taken over my life (and begins tomorrow), and I think I will do so my explaining the breakdown I had on Tuesday.

Sister Bima asked me to help her start an HIV/AIDS program. Fantastic, that’s what I’m here for. We decided to squish a series of activities into one week (as opposed to a month, which were the initial plans). I started the dreadful task of writing the proposal weeks ago, and was told that because only needed a couple hundred bucks, I could get it within days. Fabulous. I drafted it, brought the clinic staff together and read it off. Here is a snippit, feel free to skip this part if you just want to read about when I became a basket case:

The whole community will be invited to an HIV/AIDS workshop, which will be the first event of the week. The workshop will be run by clinic midwife Fuseine Bima, with the help of clinic staff and PCV. During the workshop, topics of interest will be simple HIV/AIDS theory, HIV/AIDS prevention, addressing misconceptions and stigmas surrounding the disease, and of course, the importance of getting tested. The Journey of Hope Kits will be used to engage participants in hands-on HIV/AIDS educational activities. Finally, a PLWHA will speak on his life’s experiences as one living with AIDS. Minerals and water will be provided for those who attend the workshop. The purpose of this workshop is to provide a baseline understanding of HIV/AIDS to the community. Continued education, breaking stigmas and fielding HIV/AIDS questions will take place throughout the week during other Know Your Status activities.

Football Match
We will hold a Know Your Status football match between Sankpala and nearby village Wanbong (the match will take place in Sankpala). The football match will attract mostly men, ages 15 and up. We have invited the Wanbong community to also come to the match, so we are expecting a large turn out. During half time, we will have a short HIV/AIDS program and condom demonstrations. Condoms will also be distributed at this time, and a PLWHA will speak on his life’s experiences as one living with AIDS. Water and minerals will be available for players and the winning football team will receive a football.

Prenatal Day
Pregnant women from all 10 communities that the Sankpala CHPS zone serves comes to the clinic on prenatal day, which will attract women ages 20 and up. Following baby weighing, the JSS will perform an HIV/AIDS drama and midwife Bima and the clinic staff will have an HIV/AIDS program, including female condom demonstrations and distributions. A PLWHA 
(Persons living with HIV/AIDS)  will speak on her life’s experiences as one living with AIDS.

Market Day
As previously stated, Sankpala is a market town that attracts people from throughout the Sankpala zone. On market day, the JSS will perform an HIV/AIDS drama several times during the afternoon. The clinic staff and PCV will be available throughout the day to field HIV/AIDS questions. Women, men and children of all ages will be present for this event.

HIV/AIDS Day- Primary School & JSS
The clinic staff, JSS health club and PCV will be having a fun-filled HIV/AIDS day at the primary school and JSS, to cover children up to seventeen years of age. We will use the Journey of Hope Kit to facilitate HIV/AIDS activities among other games and an HIV/AIDS quiz. The JSS will also perform an HIV/AIDS drama. Toffees and notebooks will be distributed as prizes. Finally, a PLWHA will speak on his life’s experiences as one living with AIDS. This event will be a capstone of a few weeks of in-school HIV/AIDS education.

Know Your Status Testing Day

The last day of the event the clinic will hold an open and free HIV/AIDS testing and counseling day. Condoms will be distributed to those who get tested. The last objective of this campaign is to encourage as many people as possible to come to the clinic and get tested this day.

I looked at them, and asked if they were in. I couldn’t possibly do it myself, I needed to know that they were committed. They all nodded and the next day I sent it off. That was the easy part. Now, to write a program for each event, teach my JSS an HIV/AIDS drama, train them to lead HIV/AIDS day at school, train the staff about HIV/AIDS activities to be done during the workshop, inform both football teams about the match, meet the beautiful people living with AIDS that will be so gracious to tell their stories, buy all needed materials, order t-shirts, invite hundreds of people, pick up t-shirts, oops, a Peace Corps trainee will be staying with me that week (forgot about that), go into town and buy food for both of us. Oh, and fill my gas tank for my stove, running dreadfully low.

I met with the PLWHA days after submitting the proposal, and realized that the money I had agreed to give them (travel, per diem) was a joke. The thing about Ghana is that it is impossible to ask one how much their services are. It’s all about guess work, and this was one hell of a sensitive service. Meeting someone who is living with AIDS is going to blow these people away. It is going to change lives. I will be damned if I don’t get the money to get them here. I call my friend Swalisu, (soon to be district chief of Central Gonja) and ask with him to come over for a chat. I word vomit my problem, in my pj’s mind you, and plead with him to help me finance this part of the campaign. Not exactly the most appropriate way to ask the district chief for money. He tells me to write a proposal, and invites me to come to his swearing in ceremony that Tuesday. “You can give it to me there. It will be my first assignment,” he says and winks. Although it is days before the event, time I can’t afford, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

So, Friday, a week to go, and I find out that Kamal hasn’t started practicing the drama with my students yet. Fabulous. Only half my students are showing up for training for the HIV/AIDS Day at school. I make my way to the clinic, and try to get input on specifics for all the programs. It seems like they are clueless on how we should run it, and I become filled with the fear that I will be running the show. Oh, by the way Adams, which football team will be playing Wongbong? “The team by the school.” Yea, that would be Adams team, why would I think otherwise? I think I already told the team that plays outside my house, the one I have used for several Guinea Worm games that I would have them play this game. Guess my afternoon will be telling coach that we aren’t using his team.

I finally get a hold of coach by Sunday. Several football players from both teams have been frequenting my home, asking who will be playing. Coach, I know I told you I would be using your team, but I think I’m going to use the other team for this game. I want to invite you and your players to come for the program. Maybe I should set the scene a little better. Coach is easily 8 times my size. I have had 3 football games with his team by this time, and have lost my mind at all three games. Sister Bima calls him the Lion of Sankpala. He is the most difficult person I have ever worked with. In. My. Life. As we were making our way to one game, I turned around to him and shouted, OK, enough! If I hear one more complaint from any of you, ANY of you, you are getting out of this truck AND WALKING BACK TO SANKPALA! I am not kidding you! And coach, that goes double for you! (I did tell you a lose my mind sometimes, didn’t I?) Anywho, I tell this to coach and he looks at my like I am joking. “What other team? There is one team in Sankpala, and it is my team.” And it all comes out. There was one team in Sankpala, just around the time I came. Then when the election happened, all the NPP players left and started their own team up at the school. I had no idea the politics, jealousy, tension and down right drama wrapped up in football (the extent of it anyway). “And if you use that team, Sister Mariam, we will never be a part of any of your programs ever again. You have come from America to bring a divide in Sankpala.” After I picked up my jaw from the dirt and put it back in place, I let coach in on a little bit of the stress involved in planning a week long HIV/AIDS campaign. So if you think I have the time to sort through politics, I don’t. This is not about football, it’s about HIV. It’s about this community. And don’t you dare tell me that I am causing a divide in Sankpala. Coach nervously laughs, as his little lion friends picked up their own jaws from the ground. “You talk to much,” coach responds. Well, I don’t know who is going to play Wongbong, but it better be peaceful. I’m not having trouble at this game. I walked back to my home knowing this was going to be the start of a lot of trouble.

I call Peace Corps headquarters about my proposal. I should have had the money days previous. “John has it, he needs to ok it, and then the country director needs to ok it, and then we can have the money in your account.” Oh. Ok, so the week that the new group of 70 trainees come, my Watsan director and Country Director are going to read and ok my proposal. It dawns on me, this program is days away, and I might not see the money for weeks. Until then, I’m going to have to withdraw my month’s pay, which might cover half. So much for eating.

Before I head to Tamale on Monday, I call Nazeed. Listen, I need to ask you a huge favor. I am up to my elbows with the HIV/AIDS program. Can you pick up my gas tank and fill it for me? “Of course.” That was easy, one less stress. I spend the rest of the day withdrawing all the money I own, ordering t-shirts and printing out another proposal for Swalisu. I come back and run to the school to meet with my students. Once again, only half show up. I make dinner for myself and watch the football players practice. Three come up to me, again asking who will be playing. I’m canceling the game, I say between bites. I don’t look like I’m joking. Am I joking? They have no idea.

I pass out by 8:30. The next morning, I wake up and make my way to Tamale again for the swearing in ceremony. As I’m sitting there, listening to speech after speech asking the new DC’s to be honest and just, to be a positive force in Ghana, I realize how glad I am that I came. As they line up to take their oath, it is plain that Swalisu is the youngest of them all. And the pride in his parents faces, god I couldn’t get enough of it. I’m able to get a ride back, and decide that it was a day well spent, and I’m taking the night off.

As I talk to Alhaji about the swearing in, I reach for my phone in my pocket. I look at him in horror “What?!” My phone! I left it in the car! I run across the street to Swalisu’s father, and ask that he calls someone to get my phone back. Crisis averted, the phone was found and will somehow make its way back to me by the end of the day. “Did they find it?” Alhaji asks me. I nod with relief. “Oh, someone brought your tank, it’s on my porch.” Things are just looking up today. I have Musah help me put the regulator back on, and every time we try to turn it on, gasoline starts spewing out of the nozzle. Green oil was oozing everywhere. I call over Foazia (the other nurse at the clinic) and we try several different regulators until we realize that the problem is not the regulator, but the tank. Sister Bima and Adams make their way over. My room and kitchen are now filled with the scent of gas and as they all talk about my dilemma, I think about how I will probably die of fumes by the morning. “Well,” Sister Bima says. “You will have to go into Tamale tomorrow and get it fixed.”

But that’s exactly why I gave it to my friend to fill! I don’t have the time to get it fixed! And I can’t even carry it, it’s too heavy! I don’t have the time or money or energy, our program is in DAYS! And I’m having a guest! I can’t handle this! I don’t even have a phone!!! “Mariam, your guest is coming in a week. You have plenty of time,” Foazia reminds me. This is no time for reason. I slip into my room, and lose it. Sister Bima comes in after me, and is appalled to find me crying. I think I have expressed before how not okay it is to cry in Ghana. They don’t even cry during childbirth. “Oi! Why?” I ca a a a can’t. I caaaa. I caaaan’t handle this ri ri right now. I I I. I can’t. I can’t handle this ri ri right now. Sniff sniff. I don’t think Ghanaians know how to stress, they would never begin to understand that I am not actually crying because of my stove, but rather it was the last winning red chip in Connect Four and so the rest come crashing to the floor. Sister B literally slams my door and starts yelling that I am crying. Foazia and Adams peek in to confirm. Alhaji starts laughing. I start crying louder. Sister B comes in again. “I will send Adams with it tomorrow. You don’t mind it. You stop crying.” Adams comes in “Mariam, I will take it tomorrow, you don’t worry.” I nod and fumble in my pockets for a couple of bills. “No, I will pay for it, you keep your money,” Sister Bima says.

I finally come outside, to the crowd of children who think my summer hut is their new home. Musa is devastated that I’m upset. “Madam. You can cook on a coal stove for now.” No I can’t Musah, I say and start tearing up again. I don’t know hahahahooooow. “Madam, I will help you,” he says, looking at the ground, refusing to look me. We sit in silence as Sister Bima, Adams and Foazia make their way home one at a time. “Madame?” Musa says, still looking at the ground. Mmhm? “When you get your phone again, you should call your mom.”

And that’s what I did. I called mom and dad. Gawd, what would I do without parents? I talked through all my anxieties and came to realize this: if these people are willing to come through for my stove crisis, they are going to come through for the HIV/AIDS week. Simple as that. It just took a few tears. Ok, a lot of tears, but who’s counting?


dustykaster said…
I am so proud of you Maria. You are wonderful.

Popular Posts