bacteria, the West Wing, and coffee shops

So I’m writing when I should be sleeping.   But I can’t.  So hear I am.   Anyway, a lot has happened since my last post.   Well, a lot and not much at all—let me explain.  Or try.  Or ramble about Alicia Keys and my high school days without actually coming to anything resembling a point.  I figure if you’re reading this it’s not because of my particularly insightful musings on Ghana, but because you like me enough.  Or, in some cases, because you’re bored at work and this makes you chuckle.  And then you talk about the funny parts with my sister, because she also happens to be at your work (you know who you are)

The short version: I got a bacteria infection (yes, seriously) on my travels to the Eastern region on Tuesday.   It.  Was awful.  I could go on some rant about colonialism and the IMF/WB, but it didn’t prove in my favor last time around.  So I’ll just say this—being sick in Ghana blows.  Friday was my first day out of bed interacting with the world.  Anyway, on to the longer version.

So first thing Tuesday morning my colleague and I, Eric (the Research Cluster Director), hop into a cab with IPA’s trusty driver Ben, and head East.  I sat in the back, staring out the window, snapping the occasional photo (unfortunately, didn’t take that many—my bad), while listening to Ben and Eric chit-chat about African politics, corruption etc.  But really, I didn’t hear much of the conversation because I couldn’t stop looking at the roads.  I knew ahead of time that the roads would be bad.  I’ve seen the pictures.  I’ve read the reports on the need for highways/road construction as a way to mitigate transportation cost, improve service delivery etc.  But it was still surprising—it’s something that’s felt, not read.  And I felt it.  Every pot hole. Every 10 ft stretch of concrete followed by a mile of wet sand, with no lanes, cars weaving about, making up the rules and regulations as they go.   It wasn’t so bad in the city.  But heading East, over the hills, was a bit of a slap in the face.  Coming back was particularly intense, but more on that later.

So we eventually arrived in the Eastern region, and met first with the credit manager for Mumuadu Rural Bank, a local partner on a couple IPA projects (a labeled savings account project—shoot me an email if you want the details, it’s a pretty interesting behavioral study).  Then we went out to the site of one of IPA’s “Epi-Centers.” An Epi-Center is essentially a big building, in a rural (like 30 minutes by car from anything or anyone) village that houses a bank, a health clinic, a theater for community productions, a classroom and some other jazz.  Anyway, IPA partnered with an NGO called the Hunger Project to evaluate the effectiveness of some of these programs (again, email for more details).  The visit was a kick in the pants.

We arrived and almost the entire village was there—they had just finished a pretty big meeting with a director for the Hunger Project.  When we arrived, the person leading the construction (his name was Charles! Booyah!) of the Epi-Center sat us in front of the entire community, like performers on a stage or a teacher in front of a class, and told the entire community that we were evaluators here to see what was up (he said it more eloquently, but that was the gist), which gave us far more credibility and stature than we deserved.

Originally we were hoping just to see the building, walk around, ask a couple of questions, and leave.  We went on a whim—Eric asked Hana (a helpful IPA colleague showing us around Eastern region) if an Epi-Center was nearby.  We went with no notice, no plans. But ended up sitting in front of a captive audience of 30-40 village members.  Hana (thank god) ended up speaking for most of the time, as she speaks Twi, but it was really quite neat to hear from the community why they wanted to implement the programs their implementing, why it’s so important to their community, how it would make a material difference etc.

Next stop, lunch! This is the only part of the trip I regret.  Because what I ate (a chicken curry dish) gave me whatever bacteria infection I got.  Ever had a bacteria infection?  No? Well, as you might have intuited from the name or learned from the Google, they suck! Major stomach problems + fever + hot flashes + body aches = no fun at all.  Not even a little fun.  Not even “remember that one time…” kind of reflective fun.  And normally I reflect fun all over the place (couldn’t help it).

Anyway, I digress.  Hopefully I won’t have to write about being sick much more.

Next we went to a couple of meetings with folks at Ghana Statistical Services to learn about some of their survey methods, NGO contacts etc. Then we went home. Got home by 830-9pm.  The ride home was more intense than the ride East.  Same roads of course (though ‘roads’ doesn’t seem like an apt term when it’s holes and dirt), but no lights.  And it poured. And those that know me know I don’t like driving in the rain—it all goes back to a pretty bad car wreck I got into in high school.  I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say, I was holding on for dear life, thinking about starting a foundation that I’d call “Roads to Development,” or something catchy but not too catchy.  People might think it’s about different pathways to development, focusing on health and education and agriculture or small business development etc. ‘Suckers,’ I would say.  ‘It’s about roads! ‘ So who’s in?? Let me know.  Want to contribute?  I’ll let you know where to send the checks!  Thinking about this got me thinking of the West Wing.  Say what? Yea, I’m about to blow your mind.

So in season 7 of the West Wing, near the end of the series (a sad moment in my life—I was thinking the other day about adding up the number of hours I’ve spent watching the West Wing and the Wire and dividing that by the total number of hours I’ve been alive.  Then I thought that’d be sad.), CJ is entertaining post White House job offers (as the Santos team is transitioning in and the Bartlett team is transitioning out), and Franklin Hollis, some really rich guy, offers to let CJ pick one specific problem in the world, and try to solve it.  She picks the problem, he provides the billions of dollars. Sounds like an awesome gig, right? He thinks it might be malaria or HIV/AIDS or sanitation.  Her answer? Highways! God I love that show.

*Listening to Jay-Z’s “Young Forever.” That shit resonates.

So the next two days go like this.  Wake up.  In pain.  Walk back and forth from bedroom to bathroom.  Sleep.  Watch the Wire (already been through Seasons 1, 2 and 4 since arriving.)  Call my mom to let her know I’m not dead. Go to bed.  Repeat.

Friday afternoon I started to feel more like myself.  So I went into work and then went to dinner with some work colleagues.  I ate an entire pizza and loved every second of it. And it stayed down! Take that, infection!

If you made it this far, congratulations!  Here’s an interwebs  “You’re Awesome” sticker.  Just print this off at Kinkos on sticker paper, and cut out “You’re Awesome.”

I’m finishing this post Saturday morning at the most amazing place—a coffee shop with club sandwiches, good coffee, free WiFi and TeeVees.  There’s something about a good coffee shop that I absolutely love—I think they remind me of home.

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11 Responses to bacteria, the West Wing, and coffee shops

  1. Well, you are definitely experiencing an “adventure”. Not sure it is exactly what you had in mind, but you are still alive and eating pizza! Glad you are out and about, drinking coffee and writing–so glad. Photos please….

  2. Terry Johnson says:

    Time for dad to step up and respond…Really appreciate the time you are putting into sharing your experiences with us…Have enjoyed the descriptions and understand not wanting to ride in a car without lights in the pouring rain on roads without a real surface and the importance of the search for coffee to avoid withdrawal… Also loved the West Wing CJ reminder of “highways” — so on target…Getting a chance to hear from people in the village about what they want in a program and why etc. is really cool — Susan and I experienced the same in Zimbabwe and it was one of our highlights as well. As you might have guessed, I am interested in hearing more about the details of the programs and evaluations referenced above. Em and Wendell arrive in a bit and we hope to catch up with you tonight…Keep writing…

  3. KEP says:

    I KNEW with “West Wing” in the title this was going to be good… remember how Charlie also told her the Kennedy School was looking for a new dean? I wish we had her (though Debbie kind of looks like California-flashback CJ to me). Anyway, good luck finding your real-life Franklin Hollis, and I’ll be sure and queue up that episode the next quiet night I’m at home here – I forgot to load up my hard drive with movies and stuff, but I somehow magically have Seasons 6 and 7 anyway.

    Stay healthy.

  4. Gillian says:

    Ok, I give in… I love the West Wing! Bartlett for president!!

    I can’t believe you’re sick in Ghana and “comforting” yourselft by watching “The Wire”. Sounds like a one way ticket to depression. Maybe we should send the Seattle weather your way to make it a perfect trifecta… (Can you tell I’m bitter that it’s 60 and rainy and June 21st?)

  5. MikeW says:

    Please let me follow your blog! Can you put that widget in…

  6. Janna says:

    Wow, your sister’s co-worker sounds like a really attractive, charming and witty young woman! You can be sure that she’s been enjoying your posts thus far and hopes that all of your health woes are behind you. Just so long as the stories don’t suffer. They’ve been pretty good thus far…

  7. Terry Johnson says:

    As a follow-on to one of your earlier postings, I am looking forward to hearing your stories about the upcoming US-Ghana match. Should be very interesting from inside Ghana…

  8. Lava says:

    I already knew I was awesome, dude. But thanks for the sticker.

  9. dan k says:

    Charley, I think you are just in training to join “The Best Party” in Iceland:

    With his party having won 6 of the City Council’s 15 seats, Mr. Gnarr needed a coalition partner, but ruled out any party whose members had not seen all five seasons of “The Wire.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/26/world/europe/26iceland.html?hp

  10. ben says:

    More roads! Sorry about the bacteria. But at least it’s soccer heaven right now!

    Miss you!

  11. varina says:

    charley, come back! i want to know more!

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