Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Maslow’s hierarchy, or how am I really doing here in Ghana?

Since a few good friends have asked how I’m doing beyond what’s in the blog, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share the bad and the ugly, in addition to the good, of my stay in Ghana.  Overall, my stay in Ghana has been fantastic.  I’m living with a great group of people in a nice house right next to the sports stadium.  I’m working with teachers who really seem to appreciate my help.  I’m learning a great deal about being more self-sufficient in how I work.

But on the health side, things have been a bit more up and down.  Ghanaian women don’t seem to exercise beyond the massive amount of walking that they do.  The Sports Hotel, which is two blocks away, has a “gym” that consists of a couple exercise bikes and some weight machines, but the girl running the desk said that they no longer allow non-guests to pay to use it.  The only other gym nearby appears to be frequented only by muscle-bound weight-lifting men.  I’ve been to the pool once and hiking a few times, but I haven’t taken any real aerobic exercise since September and it’s starting to get to me.  This may be the longest stretch of time that I’ve gone without serious aerobic exercise in my entire adult life.  But I’m struggling with figuring out how to get exercise.  I’ve been able to walk all over town, but that just isn’t enough for me.  Very few people go running and those that do—almost exclusively men—tend to run at dawn.  Since women in Ghana don’t wear shorts all that often, I’m not sure that I’m willing to go running in public.   When I visited the local university a few Sundays ago, I was hoping to see some students playing soccer or maybe even a group of expat obrunis playing ultimate, but there was no one out on the lone flat field I saw.

Dehydration is an ever-present issue for me.  (This problem is not unique to my stay in Ghana.  Ask any of my fellow club ultimate teammates who’ve had to take care of me at a hot summer tournament.) The hot climate makes it difficult for me to drink enough water to stay hydrated, so I spent quite a bit of time in the first few weeks feeling somewhat dizzy and weak.  The problem with staying well-hydrated is the lack of available public facilities.  Not all the schools have toilets available.  Since public facilities are few and far between, one soon learns where the best ones are.  For example, the Bonjour food court at the Total gas station north of town has both a wide selection of Western food, including pretty decent pizza, and a clean, well-stocked (meaning toilet paper and hand soap) bathroom, making it a great midday stop.

Given the way that travel and new, strange foods affects the average person (including me), I find it strange that there’s no African equivalent of “Montezuma’s revenge” (Mexico) or “Delhi belly” (India).  Maybe there just aren’t enough Westerners visiting West Africa to come up with a name for the condition but it still happens.  During my first week here, I was eating local foods every day at lunch at the workshop, which made my digestive system unhappy.  Since I wasn’t sure if it was the food or an actual illness, I finally gave up and took an anti-biotic about a week into my stay in Kumasi.  Either the anti-biotic worked or I’ve adjusted more to the food because I haven’t had any weeks nearly as bad as that one.

Between food issues and the dehydration, I’ve been pretty tired all the time.  I’m sleeping 8 or 9 hours a night but I don’t always feel rested.  The birds and the sun both get up pretty early around here.  Earplugs and an eyemask can make things better, but sometimes I hesitate to use them during the week since I’ll sleep through the alarm clock!  At least the air conditioning in my bedroom makes the room a comfortable temperature.

Beyond the initial food issues, things have been fantastic on that front.  Lisa is a wonderful cook and is keeping us well-fed.  Between the lack of exercise and the good food, I wouldn’t be surprised if I came back from Africa heavier than I left.  I’m going to need to pay more attention to how much I’m eating at dinnertime.

I hope that no one sees this post as whining.  I’m still incredibly thankful that I have the opportunity to live in Ghana as a part of the amazing Pulse program.  But I would be doing my faithful readers a disservice if I didn’t share (with apologies to Paul Harvey) “the rest of the story”.

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