Back again. Writing from the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) guesthouse this evening. I've developed a new method of blogging in internet-deprived areas: I write the post on my laptop and then upload everything at an internet cafe. Better than typing losing everything when your browser crashes on its dial-up connection.
I have some quick observations about my time here so far. In no particular order:
1. Meat pies. Some cultural phenomena are common across all societies. The meat-wrapped-in-bread snack appears to be one of them; Argentines have empanadas, Former Yugoslavians have burek, and French Canadians have tourtiere. The Ghanaian meat pie is very similar in appearance and taste to Cornish pasties, the British snack food. They involve a sort of unnaturally yellow pastry shell (corn flour, perhaps?) stuffed with a sort of spicy meat paste. OK, my description doesn't make them sound great, but they are. I had some for lunch today, even though it seemed like a gastro-intestinal gamble -- the pies had been sitting for hours in a greasy kiosk window in the afternoon heat, harboring who knows what bacteria. They turned out to be delicious and disease-free in the end.
2. Heat. The heat here has been withering. Admittedly, I haven't been in hot weather for some time (thank you, Massachusetts), but the sun here has been very tiring. The weather has been consistently in the 30s (80-90s F) during the days, with really high levels of humidity. Readers from Canada, who will be used to adding Humidex factors to the temperature, will appreciate how sticky this makes the weather. Still, it beats the cold.
3. Big dinners. We've had a couple of great group dinners the past couple of nights. Our team is not the only group from Harvard doing development work in Ghana this January by any means. Some friends of mine (Esther and Paul) are here at the same time with their NGO -- TAMTAM, which is dedicated to preventing malaria through the distribution of high-quality bed nets to vulnerable populations. They're working in collaboration with Ahoto, another Harvard-based NGO focused on helping poor communities in Cape Coast get access to healthcare by running a registration drive for health insurance. Because all of our groups are here at the same time, we've decided to get together, share contacts and discuss ideas. We all went to dinner last night at a West African-themed place called Buka. Not bad, although its large West African work seemed to lack all of the Senegalese dishes I used to love (ceebujen... it's been a while). They did have pricey bottles of bissab, the delicious, slightly bitter juice made from crushed hibiscus flowers. If you ever find yourself in possession of a large number of hibiscus petals, it's worth thinking about.
4. Work. For the past two days, our group has had a number of meetings with the Legal Resources Center, our partner NGO in Ghana. We met this morning with Dr. Raymond Atuguba, a senior lawyer who has been leading recent healthcare reform efforts in Ghana. It turns out that the work I'm going to be doing will be somewhat different than I said yesterday. Rather than actually writing the national healthcare regulations, we're now going to be writing a report to recommend how the national insurance scheme should operate. We'll be focusing, in particular, on the question of exemptions (who gets free healthcare?) and monitoring systems (how does the government correct its own problems?). Neither one of these topics is familiar ground for me, so I'll be spending a lot of time doing interviews and research in the poorer areas of the North to understand how the system needs to change.
Our team is leaving Accra tomorrow morning. Because the roads there become dangerous at night, we need to leave early enough to arrive before dark. And unfortunately, that means being ready to leave by 5:30 am! Time to get to bed...