October 29 2012
It’s late afternoon. It’s my almost-favorite time of day here in Ghana, when the cool breeze meets and greets the warm afterglow of the sun. I like to sit and lounge at our front porch at this time. Right now there is on my right the young round moon that has risen. I have a feeling it is going to be a bright night. If we lose power tonight, I suspect the moon will radiate enough light to illuminate our street. I bet you tonight is also a night of brilliant stars.
We do not usually see the sun set from here at our home base, and I think it’s partially because we do not seek it. Living in a city sometimes makes you think less of these ‘usual’ revelations of nature. And although Kasoa is not as big as Accra, it is still riddled with the price of city living: traffic, noise, dust. Distractions. Today though I did see a glimpse of the sunset when I went to examine the patch of land that is now teeming with plants of cabbage and yam, where W only a couple of weeks ago planted their seeds. I didn’t see the half arc of the orange sun as it was sinking, but I saw a suggestion of its descent: the silhouette of an unfinished building with stairs that led aimlessly to an unsupported landing. With the sun behind it, the contours of the building stood out more—as an unfinished structure.
Unfinished. It strikes me now why I chose this word. In describing the building, am I also describing our selves here? Am I describing myself and how, even with the tiny revolutions that have taken place within me since I got here, that I am still unfinished? The thought relieves me, because in the state that I am in I would be aghast if I were already finished, and if all my questions were already answered. We each have our own stories here— where we came from, why we came to Ghana, the things we know about ourselves, and the many more things we don’t know and what comes after Ghana. None of us know for certain: L may or may not go to Tanzania and who knows what after that; Lu does not know what to do after Ghana and Australia; what he knows for certain is that his previous job was just a job and it was time to move on (I have to applaud him for his daring); U will go back to school but is unsure of what she will end up doing, And I? At my core I think I know what to do and it is more a question of gathering courage to do it than being certain.
Today, M, a new volunteer arrived. F said she is older than any of us (how refreshing for me, who until now had been the oldest in this household). Before she arrived, we were all curious about her— what does she do? How old is she? Where is she volunteering? Will she keep to herself? Is she fun? Questions that I am pretty sure U and L also asked before I came. I didn’t want to share my room (I am territorial this way), especially with all of my things strewn all over. But when F asked if I could share the room, I said yes. What is one to say anyway? Truthfully though I really do not mind it, except for the fact that now I cannot just undress and scatter my mess. I guess it’s to prepare myself to go back to the Filipino house where food, bills and mess are shared among four. In the meantime our questions about M are still unanswered. She has been sleeping since the time she arrived. I think it’s jet lag.
P, though she has not met M yet, has been worried about her since dinnertime. She has asked us countless times now why M has not awakened yet, and if she’s not hungry. ‘But she must eat!’ I asked P if she wakes up at night because she is hungry. She said no. I offered the analogy, but it left an impression for only 2 minutes and it was again back to her ‘but she must eat!’ In the end, to abate P’s worry I composed a note to M saying:
‘M—P is worried that you might feel hungry when you wake up. Your dinner is on the kitchen table. It is yam and cabbage stew. It is very good. There is also pineapple in the fridge. It is on a plate. It is all for you. P hopes you eat. By the way, P is one of our cooks. You will meet her tomorrow.
-Ross and Una
P.S. (I add this when P hands over a bag of water to me)
This water is for you. This is how we drink water here. There is more in our room. Feel free to take some.
P seemed happy with this note, but then she started to worry about M not seeing it if the power would go out. Exasperated, U suggested to her that if she wanted she could keep a vigil by the dining table and wait for M to wake up. I added that should power go out, that she should shine a light on her face using my torchlight. You know, just to be sure M sees her.
The only thing I have said today to M was hello I’m Ross, because I and U had to go back to the hospital. Last night as we were leaving Aburi, U started to feel symptoms I thought were very suspicious for malaria. When she had the fever last night and again this morning, there was no question about it: all my plans for today (which included meeting up two acquaintances in Accra and going to Church for the first time this month) would have to be put on hold especially since everyone was going to Church.
The first hospital we went to was Kasoa Health Centre. It was a government hospital with a system that was similar to Ga-South, where I have been working. So first U had to buy a folder for registration. What’s peculiar about the folder was that on the first page, most of the spaces were left blank save for U’s name and age and her religion which the clerk assumed was Christian — the clerk didn’t bother with U’s contact info, emergency contact person, status and insurance. The second step was to pay for the consult fee. The third step was where it gets cloudy: one sits down on one of the benches outside to wait for BP/Temp/HR screening; there is no specified order – there is no one who calls your name, there is no number to track. Patients have to keep track of their place in the sequence by themselves. Once you succeed in this step, then you queue to be seen by a doctor (though in U’s case there was no doctor). If lab work is ordered, then you go to the lab (in U’s case there was lab work ordered but no lab service available). If medicine is ordered, then you go to the pharmacy (in U’s case the medicine was not available).
Because neither the doctor nor the lab was available, we decided to walk to the private hospital nearby. It was not much better. Doctor was not in yet, and so was the lab technician. We were told to come back 3 hours later, when the lab tech was expected to be in. Ayayay.
Anyway, U’s blood smear did not show evidence for malaria but as a precautionary measure she is getting treatment for it. This of course makes me paranoid— though I dislike putting on that darned spray, I have been applying it liberally nevertheless. Just in case. I counted my malaria pills tonight and realized that I missed one pill. It should not kill me. Again, like I said— doctors make the worst patients!
Yesterday, three of us (U, Lu and I) went to Aburi. It is a hilly town in the Eastern Region just one hour from Accra. We got there by taking a tro-tro from Tema Station. On the way we rode with other obronis, all of them girls. U and I suspected that they have not been in Ghana for long, judging from how they hesitated to go into the tro-tro and took time to decide where exactly to seat themselves.
Aburi has two popular spots (and by ‘spot’ I don’t mean bar, like how they mean it here): the Aburi Botanical Garden and the Rita Marley Foundation/Studio 1. Unknown to us, the gift shop of the RMF was brought down by fire several months ago and is now closed. This brought down the spirits of Lu, who is a staunch fan of Rita Marley’s deceased husband, the ever famous and influential Bob.
The Aburi Botanical Garden has impressive flora. Upon entering the compound (5 cedis for Non-Ghanaian adults), you will see a line of tall trees standing straight along the main walkway. There were at least a hundred more trees and plants that looked foreign and interesting, but of course I didn’t bother to know their names (I never liked botany). It was enough for me to look at them from afar and appreciate their beauty.
After eating lunch we rented mountain bikes from Ghana Bikes, a company that rents out bikes and offers different tours in Aburi (and beyond). They also offer hiking. It is located very near the South entrance of the garden. We almost missed it had we not seen their sign. There was no discernible store where the sign was. Apparently the store is on the second floor of the house next to the sign. It was being manned by I think, a husband and wife (and child) team. They do not own the store however.
Since it was already past 2pm, we decided to take a short route with reasonable terrain. We all declined to wear helmets, a decision I would somehow later on regret as we were going down almost-vertical roads and seriously rocky tracks. I and U barely managed to bike the terrain. I think half of the time (I am exaggerating) we just carried our bikes until the ground was more flat and ergo, manageably safe. When we reached a swamp we left our bikes. There was a small bridge that we all were able to luckily traverse without falling. On the other side were cocoa trees. Our guide, who all this time was wearing black pants, black shirt with gray vest (totally appropriate for the weather and the occasion), reached for a semi-ripe cocoa and opened it for us to see. It opened up like a lobster. The meat was white. It almost tasted like guyabano, nothing like the chocolatey taste I have come to know and become addicted to. Whoever thought of making sweets out of cocoa was genius. I suspect it was borne out of accident though, as most discoveries are.
|Our well-dressed guide
|Stopping at a village
The track we used on the way back was more manageable than the one we took coming. We had to go through a small river crossing with our bikes and thankfully my Vibrams held steady. Some leaves would often get stuck in between the toes of my Vibrams though. By the time we reached the road, all of us were drenching in sweat and screaming in thirst. I wanted to pour the cold water all over myself, but instead I just drank it with so much greed. After this stop we had to power through the almost-vertical road again. On the first part I carried my bike up (no shame in that), but on the second part I was able to gather up enough will, muscle and lung power to bike up, catch up with Ludo and go past him. The reward was looking back at how far we have come. And of course the freshly cut pineapple prepared for us by the storekeeper at the end of our trip was another reward.
The queue for the Accra-bound tro-tro was long and it took us almost half an hour, maybe more, before we found ourselves in front of the line. Being in front of the line didn’t matter, because when our tro-tro came the people behind us muscled their way through and went ahead of us anyway. The conductor directed me to go to the front seat. As I was hoisting myself up and Ludo was getting ready to follow me, a man told us, ‘only one!’ My eyebrows shot up. Tired of all the s***^, I said no, there’s two of us and we were first, so we take this seat. Argh. We should not have to do that. But again, when in Rome you do as the Romans do! That is how you survive.
When our driver crashed our tro-tro against a cab that was parked in front of us, I was not surprised. The way that he impatiently careened in and out of traffic and honked at other cars, it was bound to happen. So first hand we were witness to how a Ghanaian car accident is settled: it’s almost comical. First our driver goes down angry, shouts at the cab driver for being parked improperly. Then the cab driver shouts back (if you ask me, our driver was at fault). Then our driver gets something (a bottle and a towel) from the tro-tro and then starts wiping the cab’s damages (really? You could wipe off a rear light crack?). Our conductor comes around the tro-tro and opens the driver’s door. At this point both L and I thought he was going to start driving the tro-tro as a compassionate gesture, but instead this is what he does: he changes the radio station. L and I started bawling with laughter— surely, changing the radio station was the most important thing to do in the scheme of things!
We did lose power tonight, and I was right: it turned out to be a bright night with a full moon in the company of brilliant stars against a dark velvet sky. In the company of the giggly Kasoa family, this was perfection.