Tuesday, 22 August 2017

How to date an Environmentalist

When life/work get you down, time to divert with a little light hearted fare. I have been thinking that everyone has certain rules or guidelines when searching for an ideal partner or just someone to get through this lonely weekend in the city? Regardless of its longevity I seem to be perpetually looking for someone, like a lot of people are these days, on line (Tinder!), in coffee shops, at parties... The reality is when you are trying to meet someone new, how can you explain how important environmental consciousness is?

As an environmentalist I find dating tedious.  Once my date picked me up in an Uber and threw his gum wrapper out the window, I had the car pull over and got out, that was not the man for me. My horror stories aside, some may say I am hard to please, whereas I just tend to think I have some gosh darn standards! So here is a little guide of how to date someone who is like me, environmentally conscious, social justice loving, passionate and ultimately someone who wants to spread the love and challenge your unthinking bologna. So here is how to date an environmentalist (or maybe just how to date me):
Local food & waste free packaging! Accra, Ghana

Do buy her flowers, just because she is a die hard advocate for the bee's does not mean she will appreciate a nice freshly picked wild flower bunch from time to time, the thought much sweeter than the bud.
Do not buy her some imported and generic bouquet wrapped in plastic and wreaking of inconsideration.

Do take her to that new farm-to-table social enterprise restaurant you read about in the the community newsletter. Follow up with a poetry slam night at a local coffee shop or an evening stroll along the water or even dancing at the outdoor music festival!
Do not even think about the traditional chain restaurant dinner followed by the latest blockbuster hit at the nearest mega-plex industrial movie complex, it's been done.

Do bring your own cup to get coffee at the farmers market together, maybe even keep an extra one for her just in case! Why not have reusable bags on hand for your purchases too! Waste free dates are not only possible, they are adorable.
Do not, I repeat do not grab a plastic water bottle on the go, get the clerk to double wrap your frozen pizza and try to romance her with poisonous microwave popcorn.

Bring your own containers!
Do plan meaningful activities on dates! Cheese making, soap making, cooking, hikes, volunteer together! The time with each other is worth more than anything.
Do not fly her away on your private jet to your yacht in the Mediterranean...I mean wait is this an option???

Do order your meal with consciousness of where it came from and how it was produced. Bonus points for critical eaters and flexitarians!
Do not leave food on your plate, food waste is so unsexy. Take it to go (bonus points for bringing your own container) and enjoy together later.

Do let her know what you are passionate about, being with an environmentalist doesn't mean you can't also introduce what interests you.
Do not complain about how much parking is in the city, how bike lanes take up space or that's its annoying to pay 0.05 cents per plastic bag. You people are apart of the problem.

Hike dates rule! Canary Islands, Spain
Do support local artists and venues, spending your time and money together on meaningful experiences rather than hot ticket events.
Do not be surprised if she is not on trend, she probably spent too much time worrying about the food system or future of the planet than celebrity gossip or billboard records.

Do impress her with your own environmental quirks, did you recently start composting? grow your own herbs? these little things show you care!
Do not try to impress her with your fancy car, stacks of cash or snobbery. Gross.

Ultimately when you do fall head over heels for this overly considerate green nut job, make sure you propose (if she's into that whole outdated marriage thing of course) with an antique ring made from conflict free minerals in a quiet, meaningful place, mega-trons are so 1992.

You don't need to be perfect, but you will score major points for effort. If you don't get this, then you don't get me, plain and simple. Showing you have the capacity to think of others is sooo attractive. So is this just me or do my other eco-princess' feel this way?

Happy hunting,

XX Melanie

"I want to show people that environmentalism can be fun!" -Adrian Grenier

"I'm not great at dating, but I need to do it to relax." -Lena Dunham

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

What this picture doesn't show you...

What this picture doesn't show you...

Is that we had a flat tire on our way here, the car I drove was falling apart, unable to be insured and I would bet could not be safety certified in any country on the planet.

Was that the fruit bats flew in swarms over our heads, the sounds of the jungle filling the valley we occupied.

Is that I paid more than 5 times the entrance fees that my friends did, getting plucked from the crowd as if a beacon of light was reflecting from my alabaster complexion.

Is the group of drummers having a dance party on the beach, singing, drumming and enjoying the sunshine.

Is how we chose to go to the waterfall on Easter Monday which is known here as picnic day, the busiest day of the year. 

Is how brown the water was, but we didn’t seem to mind at the time. We swam in the murky water with everyone else because it was just so refreshing in the heat of the day.

Is the giant pic-nic my friends brought to enjoy together taking 2 full coolers tracking through the forest to the falls. 

Was that I was assaulted under that waterfall. As we waded into the water, groups young men in just their underwear were grouped together, they offered to help us over the rocks, one grabbing my hand to lead me. As he guided me towards the curtain of water two firm hands gripped my upper thighs, I shrieked “heh.” Before I knew it someone had pressed themselves against my backside, as I fell to get away a hand grabbed my top, another my bottoms. I was choking back water, being held under water by the swarm of men trying to grab a piece of my bathing suit or of me. I screamed, I kicked; the water fell loudly at my back. Eventually a friend intervened and helped me regain my feet, swatting the men away like flies and flies that he was used to seeing. 

Is the other two white people I saw at the water. A couple, who stuck together and had a paid guide to the falls and had a drastically different experience than mine own. 

Are the hawkers who were out in full force on this holiday Monday, selling whatever you could desire. Goat, chicken and beef pieces grilling on bbq’s, yam fries sizzled in pans of hot oil and cool beers floated in tubs of melting ice. 

Is that I went back in the water later, to the shallow-end with my group who looked after each other. This picture doesn’t show you the other girl I saw being assaulted, the men swarmed around her and grabbed at her, more aggressively than they had with me. I struggled through the water shouting at the men but by the time I reached her she was completely naked. I threw punches until they cleared off her and her brother retrieved her top from the water to cover her. 

That if you bribed the right policemen, I could have stayed after they had cleared everyone out at nightfall and enjoy a private falls experience.

Is how our car broke down again at the edge of town, another 1.5 hours away from home. We had to spend the night in a hotel while the mechanic welded our water tank back to the car.

What this picture doesn't show you is how a simple trip to a waterfall 40 km from home could take 2 days, be both beautiful and terrifying and an experience never to forget.  But at the end of the day it is up to you to look beyond a photo to see the full picture. 

Monday, 10 April 2017

The Zero Waste Myth

Waste in Accra, Ghana
There has been a lot of attention lately about living zero waste lifestyles or the promotion of reducing waste through minimised packaging, consumption and ultimately consumerism. I have been chastising myself for every bit of plastic I use and anything I consume trying to achieve this very goal. As a rule I generally aim to use as little as possible, I bring containers, I buy used clothing and try not to accumulate much, the overall objectives of the green living we all need to adopt to reduce our environmental impact and reduce the effects of climate change. Yet, I can't help looking at my garbage bin at the end of each month and seeing my failure in its contents.

When I came to West Africa I had this idea that because people lived in poverty and with fewer means they would waste less and reuse everything. I imagined a world of a hundred years ago where living simply meant living with little impact, which is not the reality I have encountered.  The naivety of this idea now astounds me; countries in the developing world have totally embraced the disposable life. People here use plastic bags like they are going out of style; I am even laughed at when I bring reusable bags to the grocery store. This leads me to the truth behind the trend of zero waste; it is a privileged and western concept.
Recycled Art: Ghana

Extremes are not helpful in increasing participating in a green economy. When we put the extreme labels of zero-waste and total minimalism we are setting a rather unachievable standard that at best perpetuates the divisions in class and at worst, deters environmental behaviour. A friend told me, "we are just worried about the bread and butter, I can not even begin to consider sustainability until our basic needs are met." A disconnect exists in the environmental movement between making greener choices without considering accessibility to the broader human spectrum.

When we examine the trend that is environmentalism and the niche of zero-waste what I can’t help but see the pressure we put on each other to achieve a sort of eco-perfection. As if we needed anymore stress in our already chaotic post Trump lives we must further be bombarded with messaging about being the greenest, the minimalist and aiming to achieve the impossible.  This all or nothing attitude serves to dissuade those who may have been interested in greener choices but is then scared off from fear of failure. Effects of climate change on mental health cause a sort of eco-anxiety as we worry about our impacts, our outputs, our futures. But how can we take these fears and use them to fuel our action towards lower impact lifestyles? 

If total Zero waste seems just a little out of reach for you, try following these principles as an expanded version of the 3 Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle):

Reject-   Speak up against the capitalist model that perpetuates our over consumptive lives!
Refuse- Just say no to things, decline non-reusable materials.
Support companies that offer repairs like Patagonia 
Reduce- Buy less, simple enough.
Reuse-   Reuse plastic bags, water bottles, food containers etc.
Repair- Fix things instead of disposing or replacing them.
Repurpose- Up-cycle something old to something new, like a dress to a pillowcase.
Recycle- If you have facilities to do this, use them! In Ghana we don't even have recycling and it pains me.

Let us allow the imperfections in life that make us all human. Sometimes you will use a water bottle, sometimes we will eat fast food but as long as we ensure that the principles that guide our every day choices are the least impactful we can still affect change. Maybe together we can build each other up instead of deterring our further progress and make an accessible movement that all people can be apart of. So let's stop trying to be perfect and just make better choices, ok? 


Melanie XX

"The only thing you can't recycle is wasted time" - Unknown 

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

A Bitter, Sweet, Chocolate Forest

Cocoa Pods
Ghana's main export is cocoa, the bean that we know and love as the foundation of chocolate! My work with women farmers took me into the jungle of the Eastern Volta Region to meet farmers and learn about the cash crop that had taken over much of Western Africa's agricultural landscape. Most of the farmers I met had never even seen a chocolate bar, let alone tasted one, a product of the bitter sweet tale of cocoa in Africa.

As we drove along the red dirt road my colleague pointed out the window "that's all cocoa." I stared into the forest not understanding, it didn't smell like the sweet scent of the Hershey factory I remembered as a kid driving through Smith Falls, Ontario. An unassuming farm appeared through the trees, we parked along the piles of ripening cocoa pods, remnants of the days harvest. We walked past the plywood bins where beans were fermented and the bamboo boards used for drying them afterwards and walked on to the nursery. A worker handed me an opened pod she was taking beans from to plant into plastic bags of soil, "eat it" she told me. I popped the fresh bean, coated in thick, creamy-white membrane into my mouth. It also tasted nothing like chocolate and I spat it out after a few chews, the purple contents sour and definitely an acquired taste.

Ripe Cocoa Pod
You always hear about special Belgian chocolates or quality Swiss chocolates... but these European companies that have grown famous for their chocolate production don't actually grow the beans that get transformed into the worlds famous treat. In fact, 16 out of the top 20 chocolate consuming countries are European. The Swiss alone consume up to 22lbs of the sweet stuff per person per year. It turns out cocoa is pretty good for you too, flavonoids found in cocoa lower cholesterol it was even touted as a medicine for TB and cholera in the 19th century but we now know that was mainly because it helped people gain weight quickly. If you look further at the prolific-ness of European chocolate companies however, you can trace their success to colonial rule and further to the exploitation of indentured workers and children.

The Spanish first discovered a hot cocoa beverage mixed with local herbs and spices being drunk by the Inca and Aztecs in South America. Chiefs and Kings drank the liquid drink as a tonic, an aphrodisiac and supposed male enhancement tool.  When they brought cocoa to Europe it was an instant sensation and the popularity of chocolate has been ever increasing. Since Cocoa trees were introduced to Africa in the 17th century, production exploded and rich European land owners were the main benefactors. The plantations they ran were worked by minimally paid and enslaved workers, a bitter taste in the history or a sweet treat. Cote D'Ivoire and Ghana are now the worlds largest producers together growing more than half of all the cocoa the world consumes.

Cocoa Tree's
Unfortunately labour exploitation and chocolate go hand in hand. If you are eating a $2 nestle chocolate bar it is likely the farmer who grew that cocoa is making less than .10 cents of that. Not only are farmers often underpaid but the industry is ripe with forced labour and even child slaves. If you need another reason to stop patronising business' like Nestle check out The Dark Side of Chocolate for free on Youtube to delve further into corruption in the cocoa industry.  Though we did see children amongst the farmers, it was difficult to assess their employment status. Could they be helping a parent after school or was this a full time job I knew not, but their hands were involved in the cocoa's cultivation and harvesting.

Climate change is a also a threat to future cocoa production as the beans can only grow in a narrow corridor around the equator. The crop remains vulnerable to the expected effects of global warming and the increase of drought and pests. If temperatures continue to rise and vary, the crop may become inviable which means, no more chocolate for anyone. As it is mainly exported (for little return to the farmer) if the market were to crash a farmer could live off of the cash crop and instead would need to supplement with other crops and income streams to survive.

Cocoa Nursery
Working with women farmers we must also consider the gendered component of cocoa farming. Most of Ghana's farmers are women, while most farm and land owners are men and traders and government continue to be male dominated. Women's work continues to be underpaid and undervalued and unconsidered in policy making, which was true in the cocoa forests I visited. Women will continue to play an important role in Ghana's development and through empowering them economically and socially they will continue to improve their lives and their families.

As I continue my work in introducing female empowerment, bookkeeping and marketing strategies to women farmers I will also be researching with by-products that can be sold locally or even wider to supplement their incomes. The take away for you the reader is hopefully that you might consider the source of your chocolate the next time you go for a cocoa fix. With so many of us concerned about sourcing and labelling, Chocolate should not be exempted from this trend. Consider Fair Trade, Slave Free Chocolate and ethically sourced chocolate companies. Those extra few dollars you could be spending might be the difference between an enslaved child and a fairly paid household income.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Coming to Terms With Child Labour in Ghana

I am awoken around 04:30 each morning by the sounds of the maid setting the charcoal fire outside my window. She does this so our family has hot water for making breakfast, to do the laundry and for baths, it an essential part of each day. When I arrived in the village I was introduced to the ‘girl’ who assisted with domestic work while both parents were busy running a shop in town. I thought she appeared quite young, thinking she was maybe 16, the age most kids finish school at in Ghana. I later found out she was just 12 years old.
Road Side Hawkers 

As per a recent local news story I read, up to 1.2 million children under the age of 16 are reported to be working every day in Ghana. Many of them harvesting and processing in agriculture, mainly the Cocoa that we turn into our beloved chocolates.  Critics will tell you this number is exaggerated and that kids often help their parents when they return home from school and on weekends. It only takes a periphery glance to see that this is not always the case and that little bodies occupy much of the lower income work from street hawkers, to agricultural workers to domestic service.

Grandma and maid making Fufu
Our house 'girl' works every day helping with house chores and childcare. She sweeps the dust that surely settles on the floors each morning, wipes counter tops, chases after the children, does laundry and dishes and any other tasks as required by her household. Even the children who are 18 months, 3 and 6 call for her to fetch things for them and clean up after them. When the kids are readied for school each morning she too sets off to attend classes, she is in grade 5. She returns home around 13:30 and continues with her chores until the children return home from school. She works into the evening cleaning up dishes after the mother has cooked and other tasks as assigned to her. She is given a single bed in the corner of the kid’s playroom as her space. I have never seen her eat, as she is not invited to with the family. The way she is treated by her elders is very harsh to my delicate north American understanding of child care.  

Rural School

Having a ‘servant’ made me feel uncomfortable, to say the least. I approached my colleagues and asked questions to my host family about the circumstances that would make this situation just. They told me that since she is able to attend school it is a way for her to pay her school fee’s and for that she is fortunate, that my house family were doing the Christian thing by employing her. In a country where the minimum wage is just under $2.00 Canadian dollars a day ( a day!), sometimes there is no other alternative. My colleagues tell me our maid was lucky to find work and should be thankful for it. I see it as a sign of a society still struggling cultural norms that counter their development.  

My main issue was that I was here to work in development with women. How could I work in development from one side and yet benefit from the labour of a child on the other? I realised that she is one of the lucky ones to find a home that allows her to study and work and is in comparison a happy environment for her to do so, the alternative is remaining in poverty and still needing to work as her parents could not support her. Her work further removes her from vulnerable situations that lead to child trafficking, child marriage, abuse and violence.  If I were to deny her work I would be the oppressor in this situation, so I needed to just deal with it and accept a culture different than my own.

When no one is around I hear her signing to herself, nursery rhymes, the national anthem, TV ads. I turn on the TV and let her pick the show she likes, she watches from the hallway never daring to sit on the sofa. I sneak her treats, offer her rides to school and make sure to clean up after myself not wanting to create any additional work for her. I mourn for the loss of her childhood as she is often alone and working without the freedom to play and be a kid and at the same time I celebrate her ability to educate herself and lift herself out of extreme poverty.  The issues are never as plain as it seems. I endeavour each day do show her kindness, offer smiles and speak to her as the beautiful individual that she is.

 XX Melanie

"It is vital that when we are educating children's brains that we do not neglect to educate their hearts" Dalai Lama

Monday, 20 February 2017

12 Things I Wish I Knew Before Travelling to Africa

Having been in Ghana a mere three weeks I still have a lot to learn about the local culture and customs. Yet already I become a little hardened to the traditions that effect me daily. Here is a list of things I wish I had learnt before setting out on my trip to Western Africa:

1.     You will stick out
·      I mean, I knew I would be noticed but it is hard to describe the level of attention I get at any given moment of my day. Obruni- is what they call white people, and I hear that word literally hundreds of times walking down the street, children’s mouths go agape at the site of me, women pull my hair on the bus and men are constantly making kissy noises to get my attention.  Even though I may not be the first Obruni they have seen, it is still uncommon enough to call attention to.
2.     Sexual Harassment is a cultural norm
·      Not only do the men gawk at me but they follow me down the street, tell me they love me and want to marry me on the spot and even grab at me. All these are apparently typical of the Ghanaian and even African man but only more intense to the stand alone Obruni who draws more men than usual. Being a solo traveller and a plus size women I am further targeted for my apparent wealth and birthing hips. Basically I have to get used to it, grin and bare it and stand up for myself when I think they’ve gone too far.
3.     Say hello to everybody
·      In my first week I learnt that everyone says hello, good morning, good afternoon, it is customary.  It has felt like I have been inundated with welcoming words to the point that they were overwhelming. Now I am being proactive and making sure to say hello first, people are generally more pleasant when I make this small effort and return with “you are welcome”.
4.     People are blunt
·      Ghanian's especially are somewhat blunt with realities we in the western world tend not to talk about openly. If you have a pimple on your face they will point it out, if your hair is messy they will pull on it and tell you, if you are overweight they will straight up tell you ‘you are fat’. Sometimes a waiter will notice I have finished my meal and say you are fat do you want more food, other times it is a child saying “you are fat, I like your face”. In any case it is a plain observation I have been hiding from my entire life and even though it is ingrained as shameful to westerners it is seen as a sign of wealth and excess here. Again, I grin and bare it.
5.     The food is spicy!
·      As a self-proclaimed wimp I am fully trained in asking for no spice when ordering food. Though everyone’s definition of spice is so varying I mostly look at what’s on the kids menu as a cheat to see what will have less ‘flavour’. This doesn’t work here, even kids can handle dishes that to me taste like pure hell fire released on my tongue. With tears streaming down my face I always try to push through, much to my digestive systems dissatisfaction
6.     Dress Up
·      Here’s me with my hiking boots and t-shirt, around me everyone is stylish AF! In Ghana, they take a lot of pride in their appearance and despite the heat everyone dresses sharp, especially for work. I immediately regret nearly everything I brought, and all my favourite dresses I left behind. It can also be seen as a sign of disrespect to dress down as it is perceived I do not deem the people worthy of the effort, hopefully the new dresses I’m having made will help my image.
7.     Learn the local languages
·      Even though they told me everyone speaks English, they really don’t use it for day-to-day chatter and in some of the rural villages I will be working in. I wish I had spent time before I came getting in a few more basics but instead I will have to learn as quickly as I can here.
8.     It’s hot!
·      Ok now you’re going, Mel, what were you expecting it’s Africa! But the heat is just constant and inescapable. I would have taken more consideration in the things I brought because things melt! My fabrics are too heavy; my hair needs to be up all the time and I need industrial strength deodorant!
9.     The Internet sucks
·      Though the average adult African has 3 cell phones the networks coverage is as sparse as the food is spicy (so lots!) Even uploading this blog can take an entire day, patience is a virtue to learn whilst you are here.
10. You will always be the outsider
·      Sometimes I feel like the people I work with would have preferred a monetary contribution over having me, other times I am overwhelmed with their gratitude, either way I am always cognisant that I will never be fully accepted by the locals who sometimes hold a bit of resentment for my presence.
11. Friends back home will forget you
·      Not on purpose, but soon enough everyone will move on with their lives and forget that you are isolated on the other side of the world with hardly anyone to talk to. Those few calls or messages I get count a million times more when the long days of solitude are broken up with friendly voices.  
12. You will question your intentions
·      I am constantly checking my motivations for being here, questioning its validity, quietly chastising myself for coming.  Will any of this matter? Have I just fallen into the very same stereotypes I’ve been trying to avoid? Am I just another white girl on a voluntourism trip to Africa? When everything else weighs down on me I think about how hard I need to work to prove it all wrong and how much of an impact I can hopefully have with the people I work with.  

All the best until next time,

Melanie XX

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

A Day in the Life of a Sexual Health Worker in Ghana

A good word to describe my day today is; heavy. I came to Ghana to work with an NGO in business development with female farmers in a rural part of the country. I had a moment today as I was sitting in a brothel in the slums of Accra when I thought, “what the hell am I doing here”. It passed quickly as I collected the strength to put on my game face to get through our work. Being confident around the sex workers and their pimps meant the difference between polite hello’s and being taken advantage of.  This is how I found myself there.
            A coordinator at the office came to me yesterday and told me I was coming into the field with her, I spent last week sitting in on a Peer Educator course for male sex workers and had learned about how they recruit current and former sex workers, train them in sexual health and send them out to teach their peers. All of this had been theory until this morning when I was told to show up at a place on the other side of town and to wear good shoes as it may be dirty, which was all the information I was given. In the morning I was contacted by one of the women I was meeting with very specific instructions on how to get to the site, she called four times as it seems they were very attentive to my wellbeing and whereabouts. When I reached the bus depot to transfer towards my destination someone shouted out “Obruni (white person) where are you going?” He laughed when I told him and asked why I would want to go there. Why indeed.
I got off the bus at the designated spot and as I looked around I knew I was close to the market, a busy part of town mostly devoid of foreigners, especially on their own. People shout at me from across the street and from cars and motorbikes going by “Obruni, where are you going? What are you doing here?” My colleague arrived in time to save me from awkwardly rejecting a man asking for my phone number so we could marry and I could bring him back home with me.  She led me through a maze of huts and converted shipping containers that made up the community they were working in, towards their satellite office. As I swatted away the flies I choked back the urge to cough at the pungent odors at every turn.  Frying fish, a dead dog, garbage everywhere, the smell will haunt me in my dreams tonight. We waited for the team to arrive, children running by me and gawking at the unfamiliar visitor, one even so bold as to poke me and run away. As most of the women I was working with had limited English the conversation hung around them giggling at the nickname they had given me the week before “Nana Afia” or Queen Friday, as this was the day I was born which is significant to them. Once everyone had arrived it was time to head out. When I asked them where we were heading and what we were doing they said “Were going to meet the women”, I was really in it now.
Our group of seven women accompanied by three male assistants walked calmly through the muddy pathways towards a more trafficked area. There someone pointed to a narrow doorway leading into a dark room, “we're going in there”. Pricilla, the one who had picked me up from the bus stop pulled me aside and told me “we are going in there, don’t worry they are mostly Nigerian and can speak English”. When I asked what I needed to do I was answered with a wave through into the darkness. As I entered I was greeted with the smell of marijuana and sweat that simmered in the air along with pulsing beats coming from a sound system on max. Women that were casually dressed sauntered about the room and peeked out of hallways, a few men passed through the room, drinking and smoking and not paying much attention other than to stare me down for being the odd looking Obruni in the room. My colleagues, familiar with some of the women seemed totally at ease, introducing me to some of their old favourites. I politely smiled, shook hands and said many hello’s, watching in awe as the women quietly and efficiently set up shop inside. A Peer Educator (PE) I came in with, a dainty, seemingly calm looking girl produced a wooden dildo from her purse and stuffed it between her legs. She then unwrapped a condom and demonstrated how to properly wear one, surprising many of her viewers who were unfamiliar. While that was going on another PE set up her work station “were going to do the testing”, right here, in this unlit room inside the brothel. I volunteered to hold her phone as a light throughout the procedures, offering what little assistance I could in this situation.
One by one the other PE’s would pull aside a sex worker and take down their information and then send them towards us for testing. Just a prick of the finger and 5 minutes was all it took to identify antibodies that would indicate HIV status. I was amazed as this women had clearly been well trained and masterfully processed each women through, giving each one a number on the wrapper from the antiseptic wipe that had sterilized their finger to correspond with the number on the test waiting to be finalized. We tested 35 women in just over an hour, at the end they called for “results, results” and they each came forward for a private whispered answer muffled by the blaring afro beats that filled the room. One tested positive. The one that had earlier asked if she could do anything for me with a wink and a riotous laugh at my quick rejection. As she was told the news her face remained unreactive, she had been complaining of sores on her arms and face and wondered if they were connected. I too remained blank to try to keep the privacy of the moment between us. We then indicated to a supervisor her positive results so they could follow up with her, I fought back tears, this was not the time nor the place for such emotions.

We left only when we had run out of test kits, needing to return because we hadn’t seen everyone. “They are all new inside, so we have many tests to do” the routineness of her statement stuck with me. I was led to the police station; it was good practice to keep the police informed of our activity in the area. As the golden ticket I was paraded through to a constable and a police chief “this is a volunteer come to see our work” “You are welcome” they would say. What was I doing here? It didn’t matter anymore. What mattered was that these women were putting themselves on the line everyday, these are the world’s superhero’s, women will save us all. I’m going out again tomorrow, even if it was just to shine a light on the work being done here.    

Wether your day was light or heavy like mine, I hope it meant something. 

XX Melanie