October 17, 2012
The track pad on my laptop is undoubtedly on its way of ruination. It has grayish spots now, which I take as signs of corrosion from my almost 100% DEET lotion. I am so lazy to spray the nasty lotion on me so at night I just wear long pajamas, socks and sometimes, even a light jacket. In the African heat, that is no small feat. But I cheat by having an electric fan blast on me less than a foot away. During the day it’s not so much of a problem, so I take it for granted. I guess even mosquitoes take a break from the day’s heat.
Yesterday we went to Good Shepherd Orphanage and International School (by ‘International’ they mean that students learn at least one language other than their own) where another volunteer was working (he is from the French-speaking part of Switzerland, so I get to practice my pidgin French). It was so refreshing to see that that they had a computer lab with quite the modern equipment! Apparently in this school they are taught French and English. Quite an education. 

‘President Obama is my best friend.’

Mardi. Tuesday. 
Traveling to and from work has been less of a hassle now that I absolutely know where to go and what to say. I still get confused though with how much a tro-tro and a shared taxi (cheaper to be on a shared taxi than not) should be, so I feel like I still get cheated by roughly 10-20 cedis at a time. I don’t mind it that much; in these cases I just try look at the bigger picture and make room for some generosity. I try to copy what the locals here say. For the past days I’ve been practicing how to say ‘stop here’ (i.e., ‘para’in Philippine lingo) in Twi. It sounds like ‘mesi ha.’ Then if I add ‘please,’ it would sound like, ‘mesi ha mepa wo chow.’  I think a little courtesy goes a long way.
Since we’re on the topic of shared taxis — the funniest thing happened to us two days ago on our way home. It was the last leg of our trip from Kumasi and we were on a taxi. As there were only three of us, we could still make room for one more person. As the driver continued on, we saw a mother of three hailing a taxi.  One was a baby (hugged close to her back by a fabric, as almost all babies here are), one looked like she was 6 and the other maybe 4? Clearly, we didn’t have space for three space-occupying persons.  The driver did stop though, despite this vision (perplexing). After realizing whom he stopped for, he scratched his head and said, ‘ay!’ After some shuffling, the 6 year old sat with me on the front. The 4 year old sat on L’s lap, and the mom with the baby pasted on her back sat on the only remaining space. I thought it was the most amusing thing. We shareda taxi alright!
Today in clinic I saw a patient with HIV.  He was there for follow-up. I asked him how he has been and he said he’s been fine; he really doesn’t have any complaints and he was just there to get his medicines. I asked anyway: do you have headache-dizziness-cough-trouble swallowing-vomiting-stomach pain-diarrhea-rashes. He said no, no nothing like that. I am fine. And then mid-sentence he stopped. He said well actually I do have a problem. I said what is it? He said, I have black skin.
I locked eyes with him (in my head I wondered if he actually said what he just said). I said with much deliberation, soooo….do you mean that your skin is darker now? He looked so concerned, but I didn’t know what to say to him. I wanted to ask if he wears sunscreen and if he was always exposed to the sun. These never made it out of me; I thought they would sound silly once said out loud.
I have been seeing more patients in clinic on my own now. Of course, this is if they speak even just a little English. I get excited each time! I miss work. There are only a few things besides doctoring that fills my gut with real gratification. The more I do what I do and share with others what I know, the more I recognize how truly blessed I am. Not everyone can lay claim to have a job that isn’t just a job, but one that enables them to make a fairly bountiful living while serving others and making a difference one human life at a time. Each encounter I have with a patient never fails to make me feel that the ‘wasted’ moments of my prime years that I have spent studying, worthwhile.
I came here with the intent of discerning what truly resonates within me. I am still en route; I am still in the making.  I still have burning questions that are yet unanswered. But at some undefined point during my trip here in Ghana, I felt a growing desire to do more. More. Isn’t that such a Jesuit thing to want?  (Eleven years after graduating from a Jesuit school, the Magis continues to have a home within me.)
So yesterday I decided to take it on. I talked with the hospital (Ga-South Municipal Hospital) administrator and advocated for a dedicated HIV unit within the hospital grounds. The HIV/AIDS team in this hospital has been, for the past 2 years now, pushing for this. They have always been promised something more. None have materialized. I know a large part of it was a funding issue, but I also suspect that HIV/AIDS patients here are an afterthought. What they were planning was to construct a new building that would house all five General Medicine and Pediatrics consulting rooms and some other rooms including the records area and pharmacy (which currently are located in the same building as the HIV ‘unit.’ ) The plan was that if and when this new building was finished, that the decongested areas could then be used by the HIV unit. Wow.
This was not a plan. This was wishful thinking. I asked what the timetable was for this new building and how far along they were in getting funds. The administrator in so many ways said, in an attempt to make the words more palatable, that they have not gone far. Sensing that this was the weakest link to their argument for not wanting to build a dedicated HIV unit, I offered an alternative and several reasons for this alternative:
When the HIV unit was set up in 2009 there were only 72 registered patients. The latest census this year 2012 has recorded 703 patients. The numbers are not expected to decrease soon. If at all, it will only go up. And exponentially at that. In the days that I have worked here, we have seen an average of 20 patients a day. We have squatted in different places in the OPD/Consulting room: the office of the Medicare head; the Male Ward; the hallway. This set-up does not lend itself to privacy. Nor is it an acceptable way to take care of patients, regardless of what standard you hold. The filing cabinet is filled to the brim. There are folders that are in boxes and on the floor. Records get lost. (I almost said that the office of the Medicare head, which we occasionally use, also function as her kitchen.) 
I said, while constructing a new building with new consulting rooms to decongest other units is a noble idea, I said: my heart is not in it. I hope you understand.
I said I was willing to help them build the HIV unit, find sponsors and such. I reasoned that it would be easier to get funding for a more specific end, rather than saying: please help fund a renovation for the HIV unit that may be vacated by other units if and when a new building is made, at some point in the future.
The message got through. I got the go signal to start. Shortly after the administrator showed me the land where the unit can be built. (So they had it after all!) Today we got a quotation for the building. As we made some revisions today, I said we should allow for some fluidity in the planning stage. In the next few days I will review the blueprint and the quotation with F, our program coordinator who has some know-how in engineering/carpentry.
I am excited, can’t you tell.  I have surprised even myself that I have gotten this far and bold in dreaming. I have always believed though that is only in teasing our life with bold choices that we can make good (excellent) with whatever faces us and whatever fazes us!
I have been praying about this in the past days and you know what, it resonates. This dream, it reverberates. In my heart I hear the words: ‘if God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.’
It has held true in every single moment of my life. Should I have doubts now?


2 thoughts on “Visions

  1. Hi, Ross! It's Chris from Peds. It seems you're doing some amazing good in your travels. I'm very impressed that you got this build for an HIV unit underway! How did you get past all the bureaucracy and red tape? I'd be interested to hear more about this undertaking of yours. Best of luck to you! Be safe.

  2. Hi Chris! We're still in the very preliminary stages of building the HIV unit, but I thought getting the go signal from the administrator right away was an awesome start. 🙂 Luckily I didn't have to hurdle over too much red tape and bureaucracy to get to this point, and hopefully won't have to from here on. I would love to tell you more about it when I get back. In the meantime, I'll keep in touch through my blogs! 🙂

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