Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Portraits of Courage

I recently wrote an essay which appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

NALERIGU, Ghana -- At home in the United States, we take thousands of photographs of our children -- so many, in fact, that some of us wonder how we'll ever organize them on our computers. We cover the walls of our homes with framed portraits of our kids. We never want to forget the way their chubby cheeks looked when they were 2 and fit easily into our arms.
But women in Northern Ghana don't have cameras, much less photographs. Some don't even know what they look like, really. Girls such as Amina Ibrahim, whose mother died giving birth, will never know what their mothers looked like.
When I learned about these women without photos, I couldn't bear the thought. So on a recent mission trip, I made it my own mission to help them document their precious families.

Read more, here. 

Read more here:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

2 Weeks In, 2 Weeks Out

We've been here for two weeks now and we're finally feeling more settled.

Sorry to have made things seem so dire and's just always so shocking, initially- the difference between our lives back home and life here. And just trying to wrap my head around the fact that we are the exception, not them.

But some things are the same everywhere, kids laughing and playing outside, enjoying a meal with friends, the fun of meeting new people and enjoying a rare cool day after a good rain.  Those things are the same.

The kids are having the best time of anyone, especially Oliver.  He spends so much time outside playing, and loves chasing the Ghanaians around.  Cat seems unfazed by in all, and is now walking anywhere she wants to go, smiling at everyone with an increasingly toothy grin :)

Yesterday I delivered photographs to lots of moms and babies.  They loved them and wanted to pose for more and more, and I was happy to oblige.  Jared was able to resuscitate a baby and deliver healthy twin baby girls, one of which was breech.  It was a neat case because these babies shared a single placenta, which can sometimes cause one baby to be much larger and stronger than the other, but these baby girls played nice and were both just about the same size.

It's good to be able to help, even a little.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Portrait Project and Other Thoughts

The portrait project is going well-  I’d love to share some photos but I just can’t. I tried to upload one photo for over an hour yesterday before I had to give up and head back home.  The internet is just too slow.

Inara, a woman who sells fruit on the medical compound, came by this morning all dressed up and with both of her young children in tow, carrying flowers, ready for their portraits.

I wish I was a better photographer.  But, I’m so glad to have something to give. I can’t give them medical care, or much else, really-  but I can listen to their stories and give them 4X6s, and they seem to appreciate this.

Last night Jared and I were talking about how unfair it all seems.  Why these kids have to grow up here, with hardly any opportunities and with everything stacked against them, so that even surviving to age 5 is an accomplishment.

I think about the toys I packed for Oliver in our suitcase- bare bones and what I thought would serve best for the month.  More toys than any of these kids will ever have.

Turns out, you don’t need so many.   It’s so great to open the door and see kids of all ages playing, running around.  They seem to really love Oliver and Cat, both, and yell “Baby Boy! Baby Girl!”  What toys the Ghanaian kids do have- a slingshot, one of those cups with a string and ball attached, they share with Oliver. 

We’ve taken a particular shining to one boy name Tomas.   Oliver especially likes playing with him.  Jared told Tomas he’d buy him a soccer ball on market day.  We rode in a truck and Tomas somehow ran the entire way (over a mile) and met us there.  Jared was going to buy a big ball for him, but Tomas put it back and selected one medium and one small ball, instead.  He gave the little ball to Oliver.

People are always stopping by unannounced and knocking on the door. One young man came by, and asked, “Hello, how are you?  Please, can you tell me the history of your country?”   I love it.   I wish back home there was more of an open door policy-  it can be overwhelming at times- sometimes you just want a little privacy- but overall I love the interconnectedness.

Sarah went to Joyce’s store last night to get some fabric.  It was closed- she’d gone home to nurse her baby.  “It’s ok!” the other workers told her.  “Go and see her at her home!”

Sarah was unsure, and said she’d just come again later, but the other women convinced her to go.  When she got to Joyce’s home, she saw her, topless and nursing her newborn.  She turned to leave, wanting to give her privacy, but Joyce said, “Welcome!  Come in! “

This weekend I’m going to print out the photos I took, and on Monday morning I’ll give them to the women, and maybe take some more portraits.  It’s not much, but it’s something small I can do, and that’s what you do here, you give what you can.

Friday, May 11, 2012

In Nalerigu

Life here is hard.

Every day, people die.  Babies don't make it, mothers bleed to death just after giving birth.  There is tetanus and malaria and other horrible diseases.

Joyce, a seamstress who sews skirts and clothing came by House 6 last night to take an order from one of the volunteers.  Sager, another volunteer, a surgeon, told me she’d just had a baby.

“Congratulations!” I told her.   “What’s the baby’s name?”

“We have not named him yet,” she said.

Death is so prevalent that mothers don’t name their babies for months. 

“Oh, so it’s a very new baby!  How wonderful, but you should be resting!”

She looked at me like I was completely insane.

“I am not used to all of that,” she told me.

She’s 3-days post-partum- from a C-section.

I don’t think she’s any less tired, or any less emotionally spent than I was after giving birth.  But Joyce doesn’t have the luxury of lying around.  Instead, she walked a couple miles, in the dark, looking for orders of clothes to sew.

 Last year, satellite internet reached our house, and so I escaped anytime I wanted or needed.  This year, the internet is sketchy and hard to get to.  The realities of living in northern Ghana seem more constant and overwhelming as a result.  I say that, but my reality is a guest house with electricity, with a washing machine, with running, filtered water and ice cubes in the freezer.  And all I can think of is how hot it is, what I wouldn’t give for some A/C.   I remind myself that I only have to deal with this until the end of the month.

All around us there are people living their lives without any of the luxuries of a guest house. 

Jared’s having a hard time, too.

“How’s that mama doing you were telling me about?”  I’ll ask him when he gets home from the hospital?

“She died.”

Sometimes he comes home with blood all over him, soaked through his clothes.  

Sometimes it’s easy to think this is a God-forsaken place.

But you see the hospital here, you see so many people who would have died but didn’t, because of volunteer doctors and missionaries like Dr. Hewitt and Dr. Dickens, both of whom have left opportunity for wealth and successful medical practices in the states and chose to work and raise their children here in Nalerigu, instead.

 Dr. Hewitt drove us to the market yesterday. He spent the past two decades here, and speaks Mamprusi fluently.  I asked him if he's ever overwhelmed.

He just kept steering the lorry through the goats and the donkeys and the people balancing heavy trays full of fruits on their heads, grinned slightly, and said, "Not anymore. Been here too long."

It's not all bad, of course. Here, too, is kindness, kids playing soccer in the pitch. Strong communities, strong familial bonds- everyone’s in this together.

Back in Fort Worth trauma centers, you’ll see gunshots, stabbings, acts of unthinkable violence roll through emergency rooms with uncanny frequency.

Not here.  Violence is almost unheard of. Carpet vipers and scorpions are the only stab wounds at the BMC.

Yesterday a group of boys came by to play with Ollie.  They pop by every now and then, unannounced, just to say hello, how are you.  Jared said, “Back home, we have a Facebook village.  Here, there is an actual village.”

You know, he’s right. 

*Internet is insufferably slow- I've taken some photos, but picture loading is just about impossible, but I'll keep trying.....

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Portrait Project

I know how important family photos are to me- partly because I realized after my mother died that I just didn't have many photographs of us together.  She was always the one behind the camera taking pictures of me, despite me telling her not to. I treasure the photographs I do have of us together.

If I could go back in time, I'd say, yes, please, take another picture!  How else can I pose? And then I'd stop random people passing us on the street and insist they snap a few portraits of she and I together.
One of my favorite photos of my mother,
holding my first child just after he was born.

But some people don't have a camera, or any photographs at all.  They have very few, if any, tangible items to help them preserve the memory of a loved one who has passed away. When we went to Ghana last year, I met so many women and children whose mothers had died. The sad truth is that many of these beautiful women will pass away- some of diseases like malaria or typhoid- and their sweet babies won't even have so much as a picture to help them remember.

I want to change that, in the very small way that I am able.

Last year, when I'd go up to the Nutrition Center in Nalerigu, I'd often take my  digital camera with me.  Everyone loved seeing their image flash back at them for a few seconds on the LCD screen, and ask to see it again.   I hated that I didn't have equipment to print out the photograph and hand it back to them.

This year, I'm better prepared.  I'm printing out 8X10s of all of the portraits I took last year.  It's a small village, so I know I'll be able to track the women down to give them their photos.

 I'm also taking a small, battery powered photo printer, and a few hundred 4X6 photos and extra ink.  My plan is to set up a small area and take as many portraits as I can and give them to as many families as possible.

I'm hoping I can take a few newborn photos for the mamas- how cute are these twins J delivered last year, in their pretty receiving blankets?

If you'd like to help in anyway please let me know.  If you'd like to read more about the BMC click here, and if you'd like to see how you can support this hospital click here. And, if you are a photographer, please leave me some tips in the comments!  I am *not* a professional, and would love any advice or help anyone has to offer.  
I hope you'll follow along as I blog my way through this project!