Banku for the Ghanaian Soul

This past Friday we took part in a cooking demonstration at the HOPE Center. It’s meant to show women that are part of the nutrition program how to incorporate soybean powder into everyday dishes they cook at home. The staff also gave tips on how to make a meal healthier using local produce. As Nurse Love pointed out, why advise mothers to purchase expensive imported apples when pawpaw (papaya) and pineapple are readily available at the local market?

The GROW Team with local produce from the market

 GHS Nutrition Officer Rita explained to me that it’s hard for many to obtain enough protein because the price of meat is high. However, a piece of fish can cost as little as 50 peswas (approximately 30 cents in US currency). She added smoked anchovies and a tablespoon of the soya powder to the okra soup, to be served with banku. She encouraged mothers to cook palm nut soup and palaver sauce with green leaves since they are a good source of iron and other vitamins.

GHS Nutrition Officer Rita and HOPE staff member Richard enjoy a well deserved bowl.

Indeed, the demonstration did not just center on protein, but focused on the importance of a balanced and complete diet. Rita described and provided examples of the major food groups- fats (palm oil), carbohydrates (banku, akple, fufu, yam, cassava, brown rice), protein (fish, meat, eggs, beans), fruit (pawpaw, pineapple, mango, plantain), and vegetables (green leaves, spinach, onion, okra, arguably tomato). And the mothers weren’t the only ones learning- I can now explain that banku consists of cassava, while fufu is a mixture of fermented corn and plantain and akple is a lighter stable, consisting mainly of unfermented corn. Naturally, yam slices (my personal favorite!) are never served with a slimy dish such as okra soup, but is delicious with palaver sauce.

Stirring the banku

A mother prepares a soup from crushed palm nuts

 The best part of a demonstration is that it’s interactive- both in the preparation and consumption! The mothers did most of the cooking themselves, from stirring the cassava and water into banku to grinding the hot peppers, garlic and tomatoes together for a spicy stew. In the end, a modest supply of groceries were transformed into a feast for about 15 mothers and their children, not to mention the HOPE Center staff and volunteers. Perhaps most rewarding was watching a three year old child that three weeks ago could barely sit up due to malnutrition now eat a banana and play with his brother. Truly food brings a community together.



A Religious Experience

This Sunday we had the special honor of attending Nurse Love’s church, Holy Spirit Church. Since the chapel is located on top of a five story school building, it offers quite a fantastic view of the communities surrounding Ho. I’m not particularly religious, but as someone of Irish Catholic heritage that attends the occasional funeral or wedding I thought I had some idea of what morning mass would be like. Not quite.

Truth be told, the service was a lot longer than expected. We woke up at 6 AM to walk to the church before the mass started at 7:30. After we finally left at 11:30 AM, it dawned on me why virtually everything is closed on Sundays- church is an all day affair.

Still, the service was very enjoyable. I lost track of how many songs the entire congregation jubilantly sang. The lyrics and readings constantly switched between English and Ewe, the local dialect, just as the congregation was a mix of people wearing modern Western style dress or the colorfully patterned full length skirts and blouses with cloth draped over the shoulder.

After starting with incense and music, the reverend read a few passages in English and Ewe and delivered a sermon about how wisdom is greater than wealth or knowledge- indeed, it is one of the greatest gifts one can receive. Various members of the church also spoke, their speeches punctuated by the occasional “Amen!” from the laymen or even a song and dance. At one point some members brought baskets of bread, fruit and banku and we all danced down the aisles.

It was pretty obvious that we were visitors, but the welcoming aura of community was overwhelming. Indeed, towards the end of the ceremony new members and visitors were specifically welcomed twice, and afterwards we were greeted by the church president. Part of the service involves turning to all your neighbors and giving them a handshake.

After being here for a month, it is somewhat of a mystery why the plane here had so many missionaries. Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, is everywhere and plays a central role in the culture and community life of Ho. At the same time, diversity is welcomed and we’ve been accepted regardless of our differences in faith. In any case, I was sure to get my measurements taken by a tailor so that I could get my own African style Sunday best.


Sister Perfect

Although the fresh pineapples are delicious, the palm trees inviting, and the weather warm, the best part of the GROW trip continues to be getting to know the dynamic personalities behind the HOPE Center. At long last, I am able to put a face on the newest member to our partnership, Head Nurse Perfect Titiati.

From left to right: Sister Schola, Sister Doris, Sister Perfect, Sister Love, Sister Vivian.

Although she was very busy preparing a series of two day workshops on recent developments in malaria treatments, she still greeted Parul and I on our first day with a warm “You’re Welcome.” A few days later, Parul and I attended the malaria workshop (a strong reminder for me to take my mefloquine!) where Sister Perfect introduced about 30 healthworkers to the topic and lead group discussions. She asked us to introduce ourselves and declare our main value. When one woman stated laughter Nurse Perfect mused, “Laughter? A value should guide us in all our thoughts and actions. It gives us direction. Tell me sister, do you laugh at a funeral?” Similarly, when one woman offered reading as a value, Sister Perfect quipped, “Do you read at a funeral?” The more I listened to her the more I was struck by her effortless blend of humor and wisdom into moments I’m sure will stick with me for years to come.

And what was Sister Perfect’s core value? As she humbly stated, hard work. Upon greeting Deepa and Neha she expressed her enthusiasm in meeting with us in the next few weeks to lay the groundwork for the future of our partnership. Through Nurse Perfect’s guidance and dedication to excellence, I’m sure the bond between GlobeMed and Ghana Health Services will be stronger than ever.



Republic Day

To all our US friends, Happy Fourth of July! True, this year I may not have been able to chow down on hot dogs while almost blasting off my fingers using contraband fireworks, but instead I was fortunate enough to instead celebrate a sort of Ghanaian equivalent- Republic Day.

July 1st commemorates the 51st anniversary of when Ghana declared in 1960 that it was a republic under the Commonwealth of Britain. The Ashanti people resisted British policies throughout Ghana’s entire history of colonial rule, but the drive for independence intensified after World War II. Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, one among many leaders calling for “self government now,” was instrumental in the negotiations with Britain that enabled Ghana to be the first sub-Saharan African country to become a republic. He then became the country’s first prime minister.  

Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah

Because the nation is relatively young, many hold banquets to honor the hard work seniors have contributed towards Ghana’s independence from Britain. In addition, children have the day off from school and many do not have work. It is a day to celebrate Ghana’s past achievements while reflecting on its goals for the future.

But most of all, Republic Day is a day to have fun. How did I celebrate Republic Day? Naturally, by going to a (very crowded) beach on Lake Volta to dance the day away.