15 August, 9:00pm GMT – Kwaso, Ashanti Region

Today, Shreya and Roxanne went to the surgical suite to observe surgeries. Unite for Sight requires that at least one volunteer observe each sponsored surgery and sign off on a form to secure funding. The two were surprised at the briskness with which each patient was handled, and was skeptical when the surgeon asked them to sign off on surgeries they hadn’t seen. Double cataract surgeries were listed as two separate surgeries, and patients were made to sit in the surgical suite watching the patient before them undergo the procedure before their turn. Afterwards, they were moved to a large concrete room with cots to recover. I suppose this is what $50 per surgery actually gets you. Still, infection rate is low, and most patients recovery with most of their vision restored.

On a brighter note, we met two patients at outreach who had lived in the United States. The first was a grandmother who was a nurse at University of Massachusetts General; her children and grandchildren still lived near Boston, but she moved home because she prefers the weather here. The second was a taxi driver named Kwaku Appiah-Kubi from...*drumroll, please*...Silver Spring, Maryland (my hometown)! He said he moved there after attending a chemistry class taught by Peace Corps volunteers. He watched the air pressure demonstration in which you light a match, stick it in a bottle, put an egg over the top and watch it get sucked into the bottle, and thought, “wherever these guys are from, I need to go there!” Since then, he has taken political science classes at Howard University, and he gave me some serious schooling on the Monroe Doctrine, US-Ghanaian relations, JFK's Peace Corps initiative, and Obama's policies, since he helped with the Obama campaign. He moved back to his hometown when his mother passed away four years ago, and he is returning to the US for his daughter's wedding in a few weeks. He describes himself as a “Peace Corp baby”, and his daughter, a “Peace Corps grandbaby”, worked for Peace Corps herself in Malawi for two years. He thinks the US should learn from China and become an export-based economy, including exporting to Ghana, where there are a lot of Middle Eastern and European products, but not many American brands. He also thinks the US should make traveling between and living in different countries easier, especially since he was unable to keep his Ghanaian citizenship when he became a US citizen and thus had to get a visa to his home nation (which he has overstayed by 33 months and has a hefty fine for). He summed it up nicely: “God didn't make Americans. He didn't make British. He didn't make Ghanaians. He made human beings.”

After the clinic, we went back to Kumasi to buy a birthday card and ice cream for the girl who lives at the end of Kate Memorial's driveway, whose 13th birthday we missed while we were in Tamale. She and her family have been incredibly sweet, greeting us with hugs and insisting on carrying our bags to the hotel whenever we arrive home. Every day, she and her sisters ride the chrochro to school. When they get home, they run their small shop, where we buy all our water and phone cards. She makes friends with each new set of volunteers, and her mother likes to have each group over for dinner at least once. Hanging out with their family is a great instance of what Brian called "the dangers of estrogen in Africa". You'll notice that almost every album I've posted so far has contained pictures of the small, adorable children we found everywhere. Nowhere was that more true at dinner, where the two youngest boys danced to 'Chop My Money' for us, and the youngest girls played with our hair, which we taught them how to braid. Every child we met was an adorable, mischievous sweetheart.

You can find children playing in the grass or on the streets everywhere you go. They are independent and outgoing because they are allowed to be. Their parents are a source of food, shelter, and guided education, not ever-watchful babysitters. Households are extensions of the community, and play is never really unsupervised, as older children are always near their younger siblings and girls as young as five sometimes carry their infant siblings on their backs. Even a homemaker spends most of her time outside buying food, getting water, doing laundry, or other activities. With a fertility rate of nearly 6 children per woman, it's easy to see why you will normally find a mother with a baby strapped to her back as she works and the rest of her children having fun elsewhere.

Dinner was spectacular. We had giant mounds of jollof rice in her spacious yard in front of the house she shares with her siblings and a family of tenants. She jumped for joy over the presents and ice cream, which we shared after dinner. We played a rousing round of ludo, which her seven-year-old sister beat me handily at. Then, she taught us a few handgames, we taught her our own, and we played Coca-Cola in the yard. Afterwards, it was time to go pick up water from the pump across the road, which we wanted to help with, so her family brought us buckets and scarves and taught us how to balance them on our heads. How the ten-year-old could carry such a heavy bucket of water on her head, larger than the one they gave me, is beyond me. So is how the mother can carry ten gallons of water on her head and walk across the road with her hands on her hips, shimmying as she goes.

The album below has four parts: surgery at the clinic, daily outreach, estrogen in Africa, and the party.

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