Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Tati Kymie

Every child deserves a wonderful aunt. An aunt whose love is unconditional, spoils with more love and trains in even more. I am blessed to have more than one such aunt. Ate, Clemene, Odette are some of the world’s greatest aunts and I’m privileged to call them MINE! These are women who would swim high and low for me; people whose love knows no bounds, and never ends. Their shoulders continue to carry me higher and higher.
Aunts are very important in cultures all over the world. They are second mothers. Children who are privileged to have a great one have at least two mothers who fuss over them with love, compassion and tenderness. Such aunts provide special gifts, treats, hugs, kisses and affection reserved only for you. That love cannot be duplicated. It is a special bond that you both share; and will continue to do so forever. Not even death will do you part.
Growing up in Haiti I would spend summer vacations with my aunt Ate and in the same compound lived Clemene and other aunts. I had more than one place to call home. More than one person seeing to my happiness; making sure my wish was met. As a result, I had more than one person creating memories that would guide me forever.
And this is why I am blissfully over the moon that my children have wonderful aunts. Tati Kymie is my children’s aunt. She is the kind of aunt who guides with love; whose rod is a hug and who disciplines without you realizing it as punishment. Tati Kymie is my children’s favorite aunt, of course. Yes, as many of such wonderful aunts, she spoils with the material. She took the children on a shopping spree that will single handedly solve the American economic crisis.
But the material is not even the most lavish of Tati Kymie’s gifts. Her presence reassures that the children are loved unconditionally and they know it! They know this is an aunt who will accept them for who and what they wish to become. They know she sees the stars in their eyes. They know she sees nothing greater than what they can become. There is no greater gift than a child recognizing love in the eyes of aunts. My son described her as a "great force." He senses that spirit of love that binds them. He knows it!
Amazing aunts tend to be outliers, bold, and audacious. They provide the children with gifts that they recognize as pure treasures to be cherished. I cannot begin to describe Kym. Adjectives fail my attempt to pay homage to her. But suffice it to say Kym is one of my favorite people in the universe. She does not judge. She does not jump to conclusion. She is analytical, critical and fair (even when I wish she was more hot headed like me). She walks to the beat of her own drum, which she carved out of the rare tree she planted using tools she designed. And she helps you do the same.
Kym has always been comfortable in her skin and knowing who she was and what she wanted to become; even when society kept telling her otherwise. A person like that knows how to cultivate greatness in others; especially her nieces and nephews. A person like that will be their voice when the world is trying to tear them down. I can prove that children listen to wonderful aunts more than they do their parents. Their voice is a guiding spirit.
What adjective describes someone who stopped their life to help you better live yours? What’s the word for someone whose love never ends and seems new all the time?
Tati Kymie is not the only one. The roster includes Gue and Lin who put their lives on hold to make sure that mine is fine. There are no names for those types of aunts. And Sabrina, Mel, Sa, Pat, Yves, K, and Linda are more aunts whose love and prayers are felt by my children. I make sure they know their names and see their pictures.

The children are not without amazing uncles, either. I have my share of them too. But that is another blog to pay homage to Tonton Koudou, Drapo and Ralph to name a few.

Monday, 18 August 2014

The 37 Military Hospital

Just when I thought all health institutions in Ghana had failed, I stumbled into 37 Military Hospital. A hospital staffed with men and women so dedicated and passionate about their service, that they have made me fall in love with Ghana.
For so long I thought service only existed in the private sector. Private schools and private hospitals, because of the high cost of access, were expected to provide “more and better” service. And even in cases where the service was imaginary, the assumption of private made us think that it was still better than what could be expected from public. But that is pure propaganda. The private sector institutions would like us to believe that they provide the best service, even if that best is mediocre or nonexistent.
I did not realize that health care professionals saw their jobs as service until 37. I’ve studied the social construct of two of Ghana’s top hospitals/clinics. I was under the impression that money got you access to those hospitals, but nothing can buy you the service. This is true for those hospitals. But there is a difference that can be modeled and imitated.
I stumbled into the 37 Military Hospital by accident. I was fortunate to witness service at its best. Although working with limited resources, I witnessed men and women doing their utmost best with what they had for the patients. Wards were clean. Staff were often washing hands or using sanitizer. Hallways were clean and custodians were always cleaning something.
The surgery room looked state of the art. The most important aspect of this hospital is that it’s home to many professionals. And during a surgery, you are in the hands of more than one doctor. There are at least 5 professionals in the room making sure your surgery is successful. And that will make any patient feel more comfortable.
One of the older patients, who had her stomach removed, recounted how comfortable she was. The doctors were reassuring. And because of their faith, she knew she her surgery would be a success.
The 37 establishment is huge. I did not get to visit all wards, but I did spend a week studying the Emergency Room, the Tamakloe Ward and the Dressing Area. And here is what I witnessed. From the custodian, Mr. Mensah, to the nurse volunteers, to the nurses, and up to the doctors, Dr. Yeboah and Dr. Asumanu, everyone understood their mission to serve and did so with compassion and passion.
These men and women are some of the most underappreciated human beings in Ghana, if not in the world. Some haven’t been paid for months. The custodians have to search for water as opposed to having it at their disposal. I saw doctors in the Emergency Room work for a straight 36 hours, nonstop; no complaints, adrenalin must have been too high. I saw doctors welcome in patients with the most gruesome cases with smiles and showing hope. I saw doctors and nurses become family and friends to patients. Relationships were established with each patient, as though they had known each other for years as opposed to hours.
And because of this, patients established lasting relationships with each other. People shared food, medical supplies and water. Visiting families bought food and supplies not just for their members, but for others in the ward. Patients cried at the passing of another patient. A bond was created that strangers now became family members. I saw patients cheer and clap as another returned from surgery. Older patients became aunty, mom and grandma. They counseled that the young ones should eat their food, keep mobile and be of good faith. And what would normally be annoying, such as random people coming in to pray, was enduring. Even if they were not listening, the fact that some random stranger took time to come and pray and break the monotony, was welcoming. These “prayers” would often cheer and do special prayers over news of discharge and other medical victories.
I was particularly stunned by how many Ghanaians are hospitalized due to BP and Diabetes. If what I witnessed in Tamakloe Ward is a norm, then the numbers are alarming. These are both conditions that can be controlled by diet and yet I saw patients in their 40s with leg injuries due to Diabetes. The other major “condition” was due to road accidents; another alarming problem is the state of our roads.
My biggest problem with 37, as with other hospitals, is food. Diabetic patients were given rice for lunch, even though the nurses and nutritionists said otherwise. But rice is on the menu twice a day. It was clear that the caterers, nurses and nutritionists did not work together to create the menu. I know they cannot cater to each individual patient’s needs, which is why families supplemented, but as a health institution, I was expecting better quality food such as vegetables and fruits.
Furthermore, some of the patients take “strong” meds that has to be taken with “heavy” food or at least something nutritious. And yet, breakfast at 37 can include “Lipton tea” with three pieces of bread. The Lipton Tea is not nutritious nor is it strong enough to take meds. It tastes like hot water sprinkled with milk and soaked in sugar. To be fair, the caterer does ask if patients want sugar or not, but no one asks about rice, because that is always on the menu. To top it all off, the light soup is so light; you can see yourself through it. But this is a problem hospitals all over the world face; how to provide nutritious food to the patients. It’s ironic that food would be a problem for health establishments, but that is another blog.

Besides food, the social space constructed by the men and women of the 37 Military Hospital is something that has to be modeled and copied by others in Ghana and around the world. And no, I do not believe it’s because the military is “different.” I know military in other countries, but what I witnessed in Ghana was different. The difference was Ghanaians dedicated to service.   

Showing compassion and understanding to our children

Many public schools continue to cane children in Africa. This mirrors what is taken place in our homes.
One of the things I know for sure is that spanking children as punishment is not just and not the ideal form of discipline.
When I think about why my mother would occasionally spank us, I realized 2 things. The first is that throwing her hand or finally asking for a belt exemplified her exasperation with the problem at hand. Her frustration level had risen so high that words had failed common sense. In addition, there was either not enough time or patience to correct the issue.
In one occasion I remember my mother throwing her hand because I had failed to not clean a dish well. But to my defense I was never taught how to wash dishes. I was just basically told that a child my age should just know how. There were no tutorials. Or I remember the many times I was chastised for not brushing my teeth well. But no one ever taught how to properly brush your teeth. And ironing, you guessed it, no lessons.
Children need our patience; we do not come with manuals. We were all children. Treat children the same way you wished adults treated you as a child. We must understand children learn what we teach them. Yes some children are more stubborn than others but that just means we have to be more creative and patient in teaching them.
I know there are times that you can teach a child ten times not to slam the door, but like my children they continue to slam it as they forget what you said minutes ago.  But the good news is the children’s forgetfulness and irritation in your eyes, mirrors how God sees us for the many different petty things we do. For as you see your children; God sees you.

Instead of finding ways to knock that child down, ask yourself would I want God react to me with similar fury? Would I want my mistakes to be seen through love and kindness? When you stop and ask those questions a smile will come to your face as you continue to remind your children to treat the door with more patience. I know I do because God’s mercy has allowed me to show mercy to all even small children slamming doors in our rented home. 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Haitian Kanaval

Great music in Haiti is political. Few successful musicians make music for the sake of music. They are bound to produce something meaningful to the society, seeking its upliftment through their beats and words. The best musicians do this with style and flare. The worst ones mimic what they think is expected of them.
Kanaval is that time of year when invited musicians take to Chan Mars (the streets) to display their talents. The crowd gathers to hear which band said what, how, when and with which instruments. We want to hear the different accents, new vocabulary and the ways politicians and their exploits are exposed. Watching the news can be boring, but listening to Kanaval songs will make you sit up and listen.
Because music is political in Haiti, not all bands are invited to participate in Kanaval. The ban alone leads to some of the best songs ever written on exclusion, freedom of speech, abuse of power and fear of musicians.
But I do believe some bands should not be allowed to participate in Kanaval. As I mentioned, Kanaval is time for the voiceless to hear their aspirations, ideas, dreams for a better Haiti articulated through song and dance. Kanaval is that time when the koudjay (not the band, but the verb) of the “ti neg” is celebrated. And when the people, and the musicians that represent them, fuse on the streets.
But not all musicians can pull this off. Not all musicians can speak for the people. Some songs celebrate the band’s ego and criticize their competitors and warn them that “nou la, nap toujou la,” and that is great on its own. Some musicians however, knowing that they must go beyond stroking their egos, sing the “good” words because they know what is expected, but not because they believe in the messages. I cannot believe that some mulatto bands (they know who they are) want an end to the violence in Haiti. The mixed race and small white and Lebanese elite operate on a “Ayiti kraze” and their class/race in Haiti are only possible if the violence, which they support/protect, continues and thrives. I cannot believe that those musicians are anti politicians exploiting the nation and its people, unless those politicians are anti their class/race. I don’t believe they are tired of the violence; but they know we are.
I don’t know any of those bands personally, but I know the class/race they represent. They have not been silent on their position either; hence why so many Haitians have a love/hate relationship with one particular band. I think some of their regular Konpa songs are good, but when I think of what they represent in Haiti and how their group will only thrive at the benefit of “pitite Soyet” I cannot but think of their Kanaval songs as mocking the Haitian people.

But there is a lesson to be learned in their Kanaval songs and some of the music was good, (instruments, mixing different genres of Haitian music, tempo, etc) especially in 2006. But I think Kanaval should remain sacred and some bands should not be allowed to make a mockery of our hopes, aspirations, and dreams for a better Haiti; especially when they know that Haiti cannot exist if they persist. 

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Return our girls!

The news of kidnappings brings me back to analyzing the Atlantic Slave Trade. No matter where or when, my mind races back to the 17th century and I immediately sympathize with the modern family but their story also permits me better understanding of that evil part of history. I feel there is a message in modern capture that can better help us understand the past.
The news of kidnappings strikes a particular fear inside me. The thought of it conjures up panic visible in the quote, “they seemed to be staring at darkness, but their eyes were watching God.” I think of the victims; their thoughts, their psychology, their actions and how fear tries to recreate new human beings out of them. I think of the babies, children, men, and women. I think of their families; lactating moms, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I think of their pain. I also think of them as members of their larger communities; as doctors, artists, jewelry makers, historians, teachers, bankers, writers and performers. Those people whose absence would make it harder for the community to continue. What could possibly be going through the minds? When do their nightmares end? Their horror could only be imagined in empathetic words.
I think the horror goes back to my cellular memory of being a person whose ancestors were victimized by the Atlantic Slave Trade. How can that crime be visualized, understood, or expressed? And in this story the lessons continue to unfold, even centuries later. It just cannot be forgotten.
And as I “hear” of the hundreds of Nigerian girls kidnapped from school, I postulate on similar situations that caused millions, centuries ago, to lose their ties, families, bonds, names, languages and cultures. What were the circumstances of their capture? What stories did the perpetrators create to better construct the slave? Will these girls be told that their families did not want them? That they were “sold”? Or that they are doing God’s Will by being subservient to more superior men, religion, class or color? Would the capturer write a book where boarding schools are reconstructed as spaces for rejected children? Will the idea of school and learning be re-imagined as inferior to better create these girls into something new?
When do their families move on? When do they forget? When do they stop telling the story? When do they stop singing and praying for their children to return? When do they begin to imagine these girls living better lives? When do the victors’ historians begin to rewrite what we know? And when do we allow the wrong and strong to have the last word?

These families will never forget. The same way families in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries did not forget. The pain was engraved in their cellular. The evidence is everywhere. The horror is tattooed in faces and the physical spaces as evidence of the crime and of the tears shed. Who can ever forget? Lack of songs and stories are evidence of terror too agonizing to relieve. And in that silence, faces, names, and memories continue to shout of this evil past. Ancestors continue to call back their children. That lactating mother whose baby was snatched from her bosoms continues to call her ancestors back. I hear the shouts. They do not end. They are reborn in early deaths, diseases, illnesses and psychological problems. They are growing. It just does not end. 

Friday, 18 April 2014

Being on Purpose

Thanks to the wonderful Kala Mujibha, our community center was able to host another workshop on healthy living and having a purposeful lifestyle. We were honored to have Dr. Nana Kwaku Opare as the leading speaker. He is a foremost figure in the community of healthy living experts and those wanting to live outside of the Allopathic or western medicinal systems.
Speaking from his book, The Rule Book and User guide to Healthy Living, (which can be purchased from www.opare.net), Dr. Opare states that you cannot be healthy if you are not on purpose. If your “being” is lost or if you are not “being on purpose” about your life, you cannot maintain a healthy body.
He defines dis-ease as messages from the Divine. Signs, signals or gifts even, to help us get back on track. These signals are to help us change our state of mind, our feelings, and behaviors and to help us reconnect to the Divine/our ancestors/purpose. He continued that the only purpose of health is to for us to fulfill our purpose in life. We are thus healthy if we are on purpose or on track.
Dr. Opare was also emphatic in the belief that our bodies have everything it needs to heal itself. He states that our bodies are self correcting. Many western trained doctors have been quoted stating similar observations.
He elaborates on key steps that one must take to maintain health by being on purpose. The key most important one is finding out your purpose in life. Are you doing what you love? Are you doing what you are put on this Earth to do at this time? And how do you know?
To find out he proposes that we seek a diviner, a lwa, an Oshun or someone whose job it is to help us find our purpose. No lwa near you? You can also find your purpose by listening to your intuition…that little voice that speaks to you from the realm of the ancestors. It is them guiding and aiding you in finding your purpose. Some of us listen while others continue to bathe in the sea of dis-ease.
Another key step to healthy living, which makes his work stand apart from others, is the focus on community building. You must be part of building a community, taking care of your family, and connected to others. Most studies confirm that people who live longer have communities that they are engaged in building.  He also mentions that we must have loving kindness, not just for our families but for humanity and all living things.
I would add that you must engage in giving life. This is not about reproduction, but production. Planting trees, a garden or a farm are just some examples. You must be engaged in food production or taking care of plant life, the source of your diet to healthy living and being on purpose.

Go ahead. Be on purpose.

Friday, 28 February 2014

State of the Nation 2014

I’ve been silent. I know. I was getting my health back in check as I came down with another bout of Typhoid. This time it was from cauliflower…that I cooked myself. Cauliflower has to be cooked for more than 5 minutes and that heat resistant bacteria lives within the cresses. Needless to say, I won’t be touching cauliflower for a very long time. I also had anemia which was making me very tired and drowsy. And thanks to the wonderful support of herbalist Dr. Asare of PAMA health, yours truly is back better than before. I say better than before because being sick makes you more compassionate. At least, I became more compassionate during that period. I realized that I had to look at the world and individuals through a compassionate lens and not be as critical at people’s mediocre attempts.
My compassion leads me to the topic of today’s blog. I watched the State of the Nation address by President John Mahama on Tuesday, February 25, 2014. I watched it alone; not with hubby, the diehard patriot, but by myself. And I saw Mahama in a new light. Not that new; I always liked him. He laughs like my father. I like his father vibe..but I digress.
Mahama started the address with a bang…deciding to focus not on what Ghana has but who Ghanaians are as a people. I thought that was a great way to go. Ghana’s wealth is its human resource and if threatened, Ghana has nothing left. I like that. The speech was thorough, touching base on all aspects of Ghanaian society that needed a touch up, but Mahama failed to mention the FAMILY. The building block of all societies and the foundation for all countries. How could he fail to analyze and shine light on what has been happening to the state of family in Ghana? That parents are too busy to parent. That children do not see their parents until the weekends. That the cases of child molestation is on the rise? That the everyone is amazed at what children “pick up” from school because parents are not doing their jobs? That most parents do not know if their children ate or passed a bowel movement the entire week? That nannies, house boys/girls and drivers have been given the job as guardian while parents work. How is that not an important aspect of what is wrong in Ghana? How can children learn entrepreneurial skills if they spent their days watching television with nanny dearest? Who is there to guide their passions? Not the schools, as he mentioned, we need more qualified parents, passionate about their jobs and willing to show up for their children as often as they show up for work.  Honestly, I feel we need to stop blaming teachers for the state of our children. When did blaming others for not doing your job become acceptable? Parents and teachers are in a partnership. Teachers can only teach children who have received the foundation of love and support for the teacher to build upon. They cannot manage children who are acting out for the sole attention of mommy and daddy; no amount of money can solve that problem.
I felt Mahama confused physical buildings as schools. President Mahama stated the solution to rectifying the education problem was to build more schools. Seriously? There are no teachers! Does it matter if they are under a tree or in a building if no one is there to teach? Is a school in a building more worthy without a teacher than one under a tree with a teacher? Again, the priorities are lopsided.
The same goes for his presentation on hospitals. Buildings do not make hospitals. Trained health care professionals outfitted with equipment to save lives does. And right now, Ghana is lacking both.
I felt the conclusion of the speech “made mention” of me in a way. He stated that Ghana belongs to the many men and women who wake up every day to make sure their children get quality education and put food on the table. The men and women who are making this country go around; not by sitting back and complaining, but by being part of the solution. How did he know? Good news does fly. I felt he acknowledged all home scholers in that line.

Apart from the discrepancies mentioned, I loved the speech. I’m not saying he said anything new. He acknowledged the depreciating GHC; so did we. He “mentioned” everything we expected of him. I like that he mentioned ordinary citizens doing their part for the nation. He was jovial throughout, making jokes and cracking up everyone who understood him. Even with jeers and boos, he maintained a good disposition and demeanor. Go Ghana! Go GHC!