A day in the sun

Miranda and I are both feeling a bit under the weather, so we altered our plans for the day.  We had planned to spend the day shooting b-roll, but instead hit a pharmacy (chemists here can dispense a lot of medications over-the-counter in a way that would require a doctor visit in the states) and then went to lunch.  I felt much better after forcing myself to eat (Miranda did too) and we spent the day lying on the beach.

Lying on the beach in western Africa isn’t as glamorous as it sounds — the beaches are littered with trash, there’s random livestock (something I think is pretty awesome), and the occasional kid-trying-to-sell-you-something.

We managed to have a 10 or so minute conversation with a kid who came and sat down next to us, but it was fairly superficial because his English was not very good.  His sister lives in Accra, and might be 24, but that was about the most we got out of him.  I was surprised, or at least caught a bit offgaurd, when he shoved a hand into a “stretchy side pocket” of my bag and pulled out its contents.  Fortunately anything I don’t want stolen I keep deep inside my bag, but he immediately began chomping on a 1/10th full ziplock of cashews, which he claimed he’d had before (and obviously enjoyed, even if these were his first).  He was wearing a shirt with “evil monkey” from Family Guy on it, and I asked if he knew where the monkey was from, but he just said something like “Ongo Bongo!” and then made monkey noises.

Again I am reminded that Africa is the West’s dumping ground.  The developing world is used to make the low-cost goods we crave, and then surplus or second-hand goods eventually find their way back to the developing world in some sort of perverse circle-of-life.

We met with Dom after he got off work and carted the rest of our stuff from his place to our new place.  We also got a really reasonable taxi fare for this without any negotiation, something that was a bit of a treat.

Miranda went to bed early and I went to have a beer with Dom.  I am working on my beer-drinking.  It’s a slow process.  We talked a lot about Togo and Ghana and the various indices of development.  Dom is Togolese, so he has insight not only into The West from his time in Canada, but also into the whole Togo vs Ghana matter (and by extrapolation into less-developed-countries-vs-Ghana).

Right now the United Nations is having its MDG summit.  For those who don’t know, the MDGs (Millenium Development Goals) are a series of broad and indicator-based goals to be achieved between 2000 and 2015, signed onto by 189 UN members.  They include such things as ending hunger, increasing access to clean water, increasing access to ART for AIDS patients, etc.  To be more specific, our project (measles vaccinations) serves MDG Goal 4, reducing by 2/3 the number of deaths of children-under-5 (compared to 1990 levels).  Their child health page even notes the funding gap for measles may make this progress short lived.

The New York Times just published a pretty decent article summarizing the state of the MDGs, but basically not enough is being done by member countries, partially because of a lack of accountability.  Virtually no one I know outside of academia knows what the MDGs are.  Virtually everyone I know can tell you who Justin Beiber is.  This is pretty saddening to me — I am sure Justin Beiber is a nice guy, but ending hunger takes precedence for me.

The other sneaky problem with the MDGs, as the article notes, is that indicators aren’t foolproof.  To look at a whole country is simplistic (Hans Rosling has some great insight into this).  (this is from memory, so please don’t fault me if these numbers are slightly off — my Internet here is too slow and unreliable to easily check them) The infant mortality rate in the United States is a bit under 7 out of every 1000 live births, but amongst minorities it can easily be double that (Harlem is around 12 per 1000 for black infants).

And lastly the article quotes Rudolf Knippenberg, a principal health adviser at Unicef, “The best way to pursue the goals is to start with the most difficult people,” — This is a sentiment I can get fully behind.  Too often improvements are made where it is easiest.  New computers find their way first into classrooms for the privileged, new drugs find their way first into hospitals for the privileged.  Those most in need of first rate education and medical care are those most in need of any education and medical care: those who have the least access now.  Those most at risk from measles are the malnourished, yet frustratingly the segment of our world population that enjoys mandatory vaccination access is the population least at risk.

If a vaccination is important enough to make mandatory for a child in a country with a .05% measles mortality, how can we make it anything but mandatory for children in countries with 1% and 5% mortality?

I’ll close this posting with a photo of some boys from the beach today.   They were walking home from school, saw my camera, and cajoled me into snapping their photo (so they could then see it on the LCD afterwards).  We were warned ahead of time not to let kids know that we could play back footage, lest our equipment be permanently commandeered by curious kids wanting to see video of themselves … I pass this tip on to you now, in case any of you ever travel to rural Africa for photo/video purposes.  If I’d been trying to do more than shoot a single photo of them it would have been a challenge (each wanted to see the one photo I did take three or four times before I finally had to end the party, hah).

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