Friday, 29 March 2013

The Ghanaian unprofessional class

I have never felt more vulnerable living in Ghana. While I have taken my 8 years in this country in stride, as a trooper and dancing to the beat of no drum with glee; fear and vulnerability has finally caught up with me. It turns out it’s not the lack of water, electricity, gas, good roads and internet that has me wanting to pack up and bid farewell. It’s the idea that my health and ultimately access to good service is at the hands of a Ghanaian unprofessional. And I fear that now.

I gave birth to three children in Ghana due to naiveté. I assumed that the good health care professionals existed and that I had to find them. I realized they were not in the majority, but I did not realize how pervasive the apathy and mediocrity had become in this country. 

My son cut his toe on a broken tile in the bathroom a few weeks ago. He purposely stuck his toe into the broken tile as any experimental and outgoing 7 year old would. The cut was so bad that we ran to the hospital immediately. When we got there, I was met with more questions than answers. At least three different nurses wanted to know what happened. Not one of them volunteered to tell the other that I had already told this story and that I would prefer to know what can be done to save my son’s toe. To be honest, my biggest fear was that my son would lose his toe and that would automatically disqualify him as an Asantehene in the future. Although we are not Asantes, the mere fact that my son would be disqualified and denied due to a disfigurement sent me into panic mode.

As I sat with my son in the emergency room, fearing what the Asantehema would say to him if we were Asantes and part of the royal family, the doctor finally came in asking me for the 4th time what happened. I did not mind this time. She was pleasant and then I reasoned that maybe they wanted to make sure that I did not cut his toe. They would have probably called child protective services, if Ghana had one. But in the meantime, asking me questions, hoping to catch me in a lie, is all they had.

Then it hit me. No matter how careful we were, eating the right foods and vegetables prepared at home, some accidents we cannot protect ourselves from. Even those people who dig bore holes in their homes, have generators or solar power, a time might come when you will need a professional and most like that person would be classified as unprofessional.

Here we were at an expensive private (which means small, not quality) hospital and there was no surgeon on duty. We had to wait close to 2 hours for one or we could drive 3 hours to Ghana’s most infamous hospital, Korle Bu hospital around 8pm. I decided to wait at Nyaho for the surgeon to arrive. What if this was more than toe?

Luckily my future Asantehene reject was not scared. He asked questions that would have made me proud if we were not in an emergency room because of his stupid prank. How many times did I tell this boy the bathroom is not a play room? He cannot experiment or touch anything beyond the soap and sponge? I left that shower minutes before this boy decided to stick his toe on a broken tile. If not for child protective services I would have shown him how Haitian parents deal with this stuff. But instead, he made me laugh. He is so funny, even with a broken toe that could potentially be his downfall if he ever wanted to become an Asantehene.

The surgeon finally arrived and he was also polite. He wanted to know what happened and I told him. My son would need stitches, at least 2. We just wanted his toe to heal and we wanted to get out of there. My son would be sent to the ward for his operation immediately. And it would take 15 minutes.

Those were the longest 15 minutes of my life. I had planned out how I would set the hospital, nurses, doctors and administrative staff ablaze if anything had gone wrong with my son’s simple operation. We have all heard the stories. Nurse forgot to do this, doctor used the wrong this and the hospital did not have this and so the patient this. Not I. I was ready for that and knew how it would all go down. My name would go down in history as the chick who made Ghanaian unprofessionals sit up. Not everyone would set them ablaze but the fear that just one more me was out there would work enough to keep some spines straight.

As I waited I had three administrative staff follow me to make sure that I paid the 600GHC for the operation. They were worried that I was no longer using insurance and wanted to make sure that I paid for fear that I might run out on them. I delivered two children at Nyaho. The administrative staff treated me as though I came in purposely to run out and not pay. My future Asantehene was born there. Luckily how I was treated was the last thing from my mind. I just wanted my son to be fine and no mistakes to happen.

Luckily no mistakes happened. The doctor said we could go home. He said nothing more. My son asked if he could swim. The doctor said not for another 5 days. I couldn’t’ think of any questions because my mind was jumbled with excitement and fear. I was so glad to see him safe and just wanted to get us out of there. Two nurses accompanied us to make sure the bill was settled and we were sent home with a pain killer and antibiotics.

A week later his toe started to bleed. Out of panic I ran back to the hospital. One male nurse wondered why I had not been coming for cleaning every 3 days. I was not told that. The doctor did not tell you? No! Not the doctor nor the nurse or the two administrative staff who shadowed me until I paid the bill. No one mentioned cleaning and no one mentioned removing stitches. I figured it was the kind that melted in. “Oh, then they should have told you because now his toe might be infected.” I cannot type what my response was to this, but you can imagine what a future mother to an Asantehene would say to this. So I leave it at that.

Once I was calmed down by three administrative staff, two nurses and one doctor, and given apology after apology, they explained that I had to return every 2 days for cleaning. I live about an hour away, but where else would I go? And although any thinking human being could do the cleaning, I was too nervous to do it with stitches in his toe. (I soon learned and began the cleaning the wound at home with aloe vera.)

The head nurse asked me to step out of the emergency room so she could mop at our second cleaning. Again, there is no need for me to state the specifics of my response. Needless to say that I did not leave my son and I told that nurse where she could put her mop.

At the third cleaning, the nurse on duty asked me why I came in so late. They don’t do cleanings that late. I did not know. No one told me. How would I know? So I stopped returning to Nyaho.

This is what happened to me at one of Ghana’s “best” hospitals. Best is defined as expensive and exclusive. Can you imagine the treatment of the average Ghanaian at the government hospitals? How many children die in their mother’s arms waiting in the lobby for a doctor too tired and apathetic to attend to his patients? How many bribes are given to nurses to please “do something.”

How many doctors fail to tell their patients what they should do after surgery? How many patients fear asking questions? How many like myself forget to ask the pertinent questions? Who makes sure they have all the information they need?

I learned that unless you come with questions, you do not get answers. And even though you may have the question, the answer is not automatic or even correct. One nurse was bent on removing the stitches. Two others said there was no need that they would melt.

The other lesson I learned is that no one is doing their job above mediocre in Ghana. No one is because there are no repercussions. No supervisors. No fear of what could happen. Everyone is getting by on prayer and some luck.

The Strike

A few months ago Ghana’s doctors went on strike. So as to not be outdone, teachers went on strike last week as well. These two professions have more in common than their love of strike. They are the two most underperforming and dangerous group of “professionals” in Ghana. One’s multitude of mistakes and apathy kill you instantly, while the other one unleashes a serum that kills you for life. Out of all the unprofessional groups in Ghana, why them? Aren’t the MPs doing even less? Yes, I agree that in a society where no one is working and where one’s apathy is measured in relation to the other that Ghana’s teachers and doctors are no worse than the system which produced them.

This is why I believe that the only group of people who SHOULD go on strike in Ghana are the returnees. This group consists of Ghanaians born or educated abroad and have returned with passion and zeal to give back. This group operates businesses in a country where quality human resource is as rare as snow. They seek to open community centers, better schools, clinics, healthy restaurants, clothing stores and more. They are experts in everything a developing country could need. They speak all the languages of the world. They seek to provide for Ghanaians the standard of living found elsewhere. They returned because of their love for their country and want to see it develop on par with other countries. To top it off, they are using their sweat and hard earned monies to help Ghana get there.

They flock into Ghana each year more than the last. They also flock out as fast. But before leaving in silence, they should strike. They should let the rest of the country know what their frustrations have been. From acquiring land, getting licenses, paying taxes, registering their businesses, finding trustworthy human resource that won’t run out with a bag of toilet roll with the same zest as a bag of money. They need to let the rest of Ghana know how long and how much money it costs them to clear anything from a package to a container. They should also let the government know how much bribe is paid just to get people to do their jobs. Not to go the extra mile, but just to wake up from slumber and actually do the job that tax payers monies already pay for.

I cannot begin to count how many people lost businesses in Ghana during 2006-2008 due to the extreme power rationing. I know many people who lost entire savings and ran back to where they came from. But the electricity is not the only problem. I know people in Adenta who never had water from the City. I know people who do not depend on the State for water, electricity, gas or internet access. And we all know how expensive it is to operate a restaurant without water. How many times have you gone into a restaurant and they have had problems getting gas this morning to cook the food? Or how many seamstresses have lost costumers because the lack of electricity meant that they weren’t able to finish an order. How many doctors have accidentally killed a patient due to electricity and or gas problems blended with apathy? These are not rare occasions. We all have those stories.

And yet the returnee is taking it. Not because they have nowhere else to go, but because they truly love this country and want to make it better. They see a future and want Ghana part of it. But before we all leave, let’s strike. I’m in!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

The Science Club

I initiated an after school science club at an American school in Ghana. This school is the most expensive school in Ghana. Children are chauffeured in accompanied by their nannies. The parking lot is crammed with cars too big for the space and for Ghana’s streets. It could easily pass for an elite school in LA and other such cities where parents and children stroll about with eyes fixated on Blackberries or Ipads. This school is not a Ghanaian school and nor was it founded to provide education to Ghanaians. Its mission was to provide quality American education to children of American diplomats in Ghana.

Why did I initiate such a program in this school?  I wanted to see how the other half lived. I had an idea, but I wanted to be sure. I assumed that they were an elite school by definition. I assumed that the school had top notch and dedicated teachers. That labs, classrooms and libraries were stocked up with quality and updated materials. In fact, I had assumed that this school would provide its students the quality of education of Obama’s children school.  I further assumed that these children would be so exposed to quality education that they might surpass their peers in the US and of course those in Ghana. But boy to assume does make an “ass” of “u” and “me.”  
My colleagues assumed the same things that I did. That this “rich” school was rich in passion, access, materials, teachers, intelligent students and an active parent-teacher association. They assumed that the students have high end instruments to experiment with. They said I was lucky to be part of such a group of serious educators, unlike the Ghanaian schools where students don’t even know what science is let alone to get a science club. Ghanaian schools, do nothing they say. But then again some private schools are charging 20GHC per term. It’s understandable why those schools would provide nothing to their students, they agreed.

Another reason why I decided to do the science club was that I wanted my son to see the competition. As a homeschooler, he is not in class with other students. I wanted to see how he reacted and behaved around “those” students. Would he be shy? Feel awkward? Or automatically notice the class differences?
There was no problem. He was not shy. He was his usual outgoing self, introducing himself to everyone. He played freely with anyone who would play with him and in class his hand was always up. I had to tell him to give the other children a chance to answer. I wish I had not said that because we soon learned that unless my 7 year old answered a question, no one else knew the answers. What were some of those questions?
1.     Where does our food come from?
2.    What is a magnet?
3.    Why do we use peanut butter to make the bird feed?
4.    What makes volcanoes erupt?
I was looking for basic and general answers to see if any of this was familiar. It was not.
I learned that these children are no better off than their “lower class” peers in the US and in some degrees to those trained under trees in Ghana. They were not exposed to science.   

The class had 10 students and only 3 Africans…which is the norm in such schools in Africa. In fact, only the Ivorian boy had an idea of anything scientific.  He had ideas on concepts of science and would ask questions related to the topics or remember something he had read on his own. The other “elites” did not. I asked what makes volcanoes explode during our first week and the Ivorian boy mentioned pressure. One other boy raised his hand to ask if it would be safe to be in the class if a volcano would be exploding. I had to explain that it would be an experiment and not a real one.

Must rich people be intellects? Of course not. I’m only analyzing what students in a school that cost $20k/annum knows in comparison to students in the same country who pay 20GHC/semester/term. Somehow these students have more in common than most would like to believe.

A few weeks later after an experiment I asked everyone to clean up.  A white boy refused and asked if I was not his servant. I explained to him that although he lives in a country where his driver, nanny, housekeeper, gardener, cook, and garbage men look like me that this did not mean that I could ever be his servant. And that did not mean that everyone who looked like me could ever become servants to people who looked like him. I further explained that if I was in Sweden that my housekeeper and possible gardener would look like him, but that did not mean all white people are servants by mere fact of their skin color.

He did not get it. I discussed the matter with some other teachers at the school and other such schools. Here are the responses I got.
·         “As for white children, that is how they are. You cannot change it.”
·         “Oh, as for them, this is to be expected. Do not worry about it.”
·         “Oh yes, that is how it is.”
·         “If I tell you what they say to me. Do not worry.”
·         “This is what we are dealing with here.”
When I asked if something was done, everyone agreed there was nothing to be done. Luckily my supervisor was not one of those people. She made sure something was done. But I am more alarmed at how not much is done to correct children or train them on race politics by some African teachers who think “this is how they are.”
Unfortunately, the idea of how they are is not limited to race. Ghanaian children in expensive schools are often not corrected by teachers who think this is
“how they are.”  Because their parents are so and so, they are trained on how to mistreat others and because of that, we accept it “as it is.”
This idea of otherness does not end at one level. Poor children trained under trees are being “left to their whims” because that is how “they are.” They don’t deserve anything better because it’s a waste of time and energy and “as for those people” they don’t expect anything better.
These students have more in common than the way they are perceived. I realized that an American school which cost $20k is not really considered elite or expensive in America. And the standards for that school would not be high. I expected an expensive school to have enough resources and passion to permit its students to reach for the sky. And that means having science as part of the curriculum from day one, according to me and some other researchers.
But why is an expensive American school not providing anything better for its students? The answer lies in race once again.  American schools all over the continent realize that they don’t need to be more than the others, they just need to exist. They know that Americans would prefer to send their children to those schools as opposed to others. It has nothing to do with what they are learning but with whom they are learning. The other lesson I learned was that because these schools are in Africa, the parents are not expecting anything great from them anyways, regardless of American or not. As children of diplomats, these children will get ahead partly because of whom they know. They can also develop a narrative on their college applications to transform their difference into interesting. The non diplomat student can also get ahead by whom they know and the social capital of having attended that school.
To be continued.