10 August, 6:00pm GMT – Abofour, Ashanti Region
Today, we went on outreach in a much poorer and more Muslim region. The clinic was attended by mostly men, and, despite there being dozens of children about, none of them were taken to the clinic. Many more patients than usual couldn’t afford eyeglasses or medication, so we waived the fee more often than not. On the way back, we ran out of gas in Adumako’s efforts to get the van “just one more mile” to the next gas station. Once we finally had fuel, we passed an 8-wheel truck full of oranges that had lost control coming down a hill and had flipped over in a ditch. We stopped to see if anyone needed medical help, but the driver was okay and was helping others to carry the oranges in baskets to a new truck.
Our things are done from the tailor! Everyone has new, one-of-a-kind shorts, skirts, and dresses now, and they all look awesome. Unfortunately, the tailor who made my shorts had only ever made shorts for men, so didn’t understand how to make them fit properly. He took my measurements, but from the cut of the shorts, it would appear that he promptly through them away and made shorts for a 5’10 guy. I had four terrible fittings over the course of an hour, during which I discovered that the tailor didn’t speak English, so all of my suggestions had been useless. Thankfully, one of the other tailors saved the day by translating for me. All the while, the tailor’s brother insisted that I marry him, and, when I laughed and started to ignore him, accused me of rejecting him because he was black. Fortunately, Ricarda then appeared to ask what was taking so long, and took the tailor’s brother to task for being racially insensitive.
Today is also the president’s funeral. On July 24th, Ghana’s president, John Atta Mills, the third president of Ghana’s fourth republic, passed away from complications from throat cancer. Everyone is wearing red and black, mourning colors for when someone passes away under age 70 (Mills was 68). The UOregon students were here when it happened, and saw first-hand how the country took their loss hard. The president brought new hope and stability to the country whose wounds of past coups are still fresh. The United Nations recently upgraded Ghana's status to lower middle income, making it one of the most economically secure nations in Africa. Every news channel has been broadcasting the mourning since we arrived, and some channels seem to be entirely devoted to hour-long specials of women in red and black singing, dancing, and crying about the departed. Death here is certainly treated differently here. Mourning is a period of three weeks during which the passing and memorial service is announced through fliers. It’s odd seeing obituaries tacked up on fences next to ads for Nigerian movies and Christian ministry retreats. Funerals are celebrations of a life, especially if the departed is over 70, which mourners celebrate as a life fully lived by wearing white. At one outreach visit, we caught site of a funeral next door, which was an all-day gathering of talking and dancing in an open square. For the president's funeral, there were news crews everywhere, asking the public about their reactions and photographing the displays of red and black.
I did not wear red and black today. Most of the volunteers didn’t, except for Ricarda, who went all out with a tailored red and black dress and attended the funeral. The Ghanaians I spoke with assumed that their president's passing was heard by everyone across the globe, which we assured them was true (even though everyone I spoke with in the U.S. then and now hadn't heard about it). Some thought that we should feel obligated to wear red and black, even to mourn someone we never knew who lead a country that was not ours. I agree that wearing red and black would have been appreciated as a sign of respect, but I didn't for two reasons. First, my only red and black clothing are a red bandanna and my dusty black Chucks, which is hardly funeral attire. Second, I am angry that my hosts demand that I mourn their president when I was not able to mourn a passing in my own family. My great-aunt Muriel, who was much like a surrogate grandmother to my family after both my father's parents had passed away, died soon after I left for Ghana. Her funeral was on my birthday. I had already bought her a painting at the market, which I'm sending instead to her surviving husband.
I will not wear red and black today. I will not wear red and black tomorrow. I will wear white tomorrow, because my aunt was over 70, and no one has to know why.