Last night I was laying in bed, peacefully finishing up some work when my sistah BURST into the room.
– Madame Jeneefah! Come quick! The asfasdkj!!
The excitement in her voice startled me out of my thoughtful daze.
– The what?
– The asdfasdalkj!!
I pulled the mosquito net out of the way. I guess I thought if I could see her better I would be able to understand what she was so excited about.
– The sky is eating the moon!
OK, now I’m interested! I jump out of bed, fix my mosquito net(so I can maintain a somewhat bug free zone, however small), and run outside. The image is breath taking, there isn’t a cloud in the sky and with the lack of lighting the stars appear to be hanging just out of reach. The large orange moon is slightly covered and my eyes are glued to it. Two of my brothers joined us, the four of us stood in the compound, silently starring at the sky. It turns out running was hardly necessary, the sky was taking AGES to eat the moon! Abdellah broke the silence asking me if I could hear the drums, for the first time since I had run outside I let my other senses kick in.
I heard praying, as usual but I also heard drums and children singing–it was so loud, I don’t know how I missed it before. I looked over at the three of them, we are all about the same age and I thought of how this moment wouldn’t feel out of place in Canada. They were talking and laughing with the usual large gestures, big pats on the back, friendly pushing and slapping hands. Their laughter didn’t seem to be towards me, which was unusual, so I asked them what was up.
They said that when they were kids, on the day of the eclipse they were told that if they misbehaved God would allow the sky to eat the moon and the light would be gone. So when the sky starts to eat the moon they have to pray and cheer and beg God to let the moon go free so everyone can have light. That’s why all the children were at the school drumming and singing.
“Zom naa wuni zago bahi” (Please God, release the moon)
This morning I woke up at 6:30 not feeling very well. I had a headache and some pretty bad stomach cramps but I haven’t been getting my period so I put the pain down to that. Eventually the pain was getting worse and I decided to visit the latrine to relieve some of the pressure. As I went to bend down over the tiny hole in the ground and line myself up with it perfectly so not to make a mess, I realize that I was already shitting. Complete liquid was pouring out of me, and completely missing the hole in the ground (I’m sorry to whoever has to clean that latrine). I’d like to point out that every. single. day. I eat the exact same thing, so it’s unlikely that I’m still getting used to the food. I was really surprised and my cramps started to fade a bit so I walked back to the compound, gave my sistah the key (the latrines are locked so that the whole community doesn’t use them and make them dirty), took some tylenol for the headache and went to sleep.
I woke up again around 7:30 and the exact same thing happened. I realized that I was going to be late for work so I texted the planner and tried to go back to sleep. The people in my compound wake up at 4:30am to start their day. I feel like they are not unique in Ghana, it seems like everyone wakes up incredibly early and is immediately productive with chores or prayers. The fact that it was 7:30 and I was still in bed seemed to be a little upsetting to my family. Each woman, with their limited english came in to ask me what was wrong. I figured the easiest way to communicate was to rub my stomach and head and groan. In all honestly I would probably do the same thing in Canada because I turn into a HUGE baby when I’m sick. One of the women told me to get up and have tea, apparently my problem was that I hadn’t had anything to eat–I was skeptical but not in the mood to try to argue with her.
During my breakfast, or tea as it’s called here, the planner and one of my colleagues came to check on me. She brought me fried plantain (everyday when she packs lunches for her children she packs one for me as well). I should explain that fried plantain is a HUGE treat! It’s one of the VERY few sweet dishes here and easily my favourite thing. Little did I know at the time that I would never get to taste that sweet sweet plantain. I was really excited to see them, and I assured her that I would be fine soon and would see here at the office in a few hours. She told me to stay home and rest but I REALLY wanted to go to Tamale to see my friend Evan, the other Junior Fellow from Dalhousie and I needed to get a ride with them after work.
After tea I was really feeling shitty (no pun intended). Walked the 5 minutes to the latrine and started to feel really dizzy. This is where the story gets a bit hazy but I remember trying to quickly get out of the latrine because I thought I was going to faint. It was really important for me to get out of the latrine for two reasons: I would fall into my own shit AND no one would notice I had fainted if I was in the latrine.
I found myself laying on the gravel like ground just outside the latrine with the hot sun melting through my skin. I had no idea how long I had been laying there but I remember forcing myself up and starting to walk towards the compound but everything was white, I couldn’t see anything.
I found myself laying in one of the rooms of the compound with my host mother, who speaks no english, beside me rubbing my head like my own mother would do if I were sick at home. It was so comforting but I was so weak and confused and I had no way of asking her what had happened. I looked at her with apology and confusion and she looked at me with worry and sympathy. She made a motion that leads me to believe I threw up but I can’t be sure. Three family members showed up and told me that they were going to take me to the clinic. They helped me to my room and my sistah dressed me. I fell into the front seat of the Nissan truck, holding my stomach and closing my eyes. The bumping ride there had me near tears, but I didn’t have the energy(or the fluid) to start crying.
We pulled up to a small concrete building that had been painted canary yellow. There were cracks running along the walls and posters about breastfeeding on the side of the building. When we walked inside there was a room to my left and two offices to my right. No scrubs, no paperwork (although they did ask for my ID at one point). I quietly greeted the man in the office and let my host family take care of the rest while I sat on a long wooden bench forcing myself to not lay down. My Dagbani, the local language in Tolon, is still in its early stages and I had no energy to try and interpret what was being said. They borrowed my drivers license and issued me a health card. There’s a picture of it below, I had a to do a mirror image so you could read it and some kids got curious so that’s who’s in the background.
I was invited into the next office where there was a small table littered with bottles and packages of pills and a desk covered in papers that seemed to be patient records. There was an older man sitting behind the desk wearing a button up shirt, dress pants and a sympathetic smile.
-Yes, my stomach hurts, so does my head. I have been running (Ghanenglish for diarrhoea), and fainting and I might have vomited.
-*frustrated sigh* Yes
At this point I’m confident that everything I just said was lost in translation. One of my family members, I was too tired to notice who, must have picked up on my frustration and assumably explained the situation to him in Dagbani. He shows me something that appears to be a sewing needle, I conclude that he’s pricking my finger to test for malaria and give him my hand. As I do a huge wave of nausea comes for me. I start asking for a bucket, with no response. Bucket, pail, vomit… at this point I’m just throwing around random words hoping that I won’t end up puking on the floor.
I found myself laying on a thin foam mattress in a small canary yellow room cracks running through the concrete walls. There was another bed beside me and a sink in the corner. I could hear a loud discussion in Dagbani, someone was opening the windows saying, somethingI hear often here “lights off” the power is out. I start to wonder why the health centres don’t even have generators this annoys me too much so I close my eyes.
I open my eyes, the doctor is standing beside me. I see an IV stand and he has a tube attached to a needle attached to what looked like a plastic bottle in his hand. I starred at the needle for a minute and shot him a WTF look, wishing that I would have remembered the sterilized needle from my suture kit. Napari, one of my family members said something in Dagbani and the doctor disappeared returning with a needle still in its packaging.
– What’s that? *Pointing to the bag of fluid they are about to put in me*
REALLY? Fluids? Thanks. That wasn’t obvious ATALLL!
The bag is labeled and I decide to just go with it. I call Evan, partially because I want to let him know that I won’t be able to make it to Tamale and partially because I’m craving the comfort of talking to someone I know, who can speak to me in Canadian English.
After two bags of IV ‘fluids’, three packages of oral rehydration salts and one cipro (a pill with A LOT of uses!) I was feeling extremely hydrated! I asked to use a toilet, turns out they don’t have running water. No toilet and no latrine, it’s a good thing my bowel movements stopped or I would have been squatting in the grass with my IV.
I walk with my family (who kindly stayed by my side the WHOLE time!) to the District Assembly to update my colleagues who are all genuinely concerned about me. I also call my mom, who is even more concerned about me (SORRY MOM!) especially because I don’t have enough phone credit to stay on the line.
-Hi mom, I.have.to.make.this.really.quick.because.I’m.running.outa.credit.but.I.spent.the.morning.in.a.hospital.don’t.worry.though.I’m.fine.
-Wait, what?! Are you ok? What happened?
-Uhm ok, I love you too!
Wow, I only realized now as I was typing that what a brief unexpected phone call that must have been for my mom. I don’t know how she puts up with me.
I was still feeling a bit sick but I decided that I would be better off in Tamale. I wanted to have electricity, a shower, a toilet, western food, easy access to better health care and mostly a friend that could provide comfort and easily communicate with me. I also felt guilty about worrying my family and I didn’t want them to have to try and take care of me with our limited communication.
The fact that my guest house had more amenities than the clinic I was in really bothered me. I’m lucky to be able to disappear to Tamale for the weekend until I feel better. It’s comforting for me to know that if something serious happens to me my insurance will pay to get me the care I need even if it means transporting me to a different city or country. This is not the case for the hundreds of other people that live in Tolon and I’m led to believe that this is common in Ghana, or at least it is in the Northern Region.
How does a Health Centre function without electricity or water? How is it sanitary to go outside to use and squat in the grass while you’re hooked up to an IV because there is no running water in order to use the toilet?How do you store immunizations? How does the doctor wash his hands?
I was talking to a colleague about this and he said “I can check my email on my phone but I can’t use a toilet at a clinic.” He went on to tell me that his wife died giving birth because she needed a blood transfusion, the clinic wasn’t able to keep blood and HE was sent (the frantic husband) to the blood bank to get the blood. The process took him a few hours and by the time he returned she was dead.
Physically I’m feeling a lot better but mentally I’m really annoyed. I mean, I guess I knew this was the case. I’ve read it in textbooks and heard the statistics, I’ve even been working with some of the data. But to actually experience it really changed my perspective–those statistics have a completely new meaning for me. Building a clinic in a community is not the same as making sure the community has access to health care.
I posted a 140 character version of this on Facebook the night that it happened but I thought I would elaborate, because it’s quite different from what I’m used to. I’m sorry I don’t have any photos to go with this post, I haven’t experienced it visually because I don’t go out alone at night.
The other night after killing a fairly large cockroach that was crawling up my wall I decided that I had had enough adventure for the day and went to bed. An hour or so in I hear two loud gunshots, instead of getting up to investigate I decide to pretend I didn’t hear anything. A few minutes later I hear two more that sound even closer to me, it definitely sounds like a long gun so in my sleepy daze I decide that someone is hunting and I shouldn’t worry about it. Wait, WHAT? Someone is hunting, when it’s pitch black outside? What could they possibly be hunting all there is around here are cows, goats and poultry and I’ve been “lucky” enough to witness the death of all three. Now I’m freaking out a bit, I sit straight up in bed. I can’t hear anyone in my compound (I live with 20ish people so this is unusual). I pull back my mosquito net, grab my phone (flashlight and source of comfort) and venture into my compound. After walking past a couple empty huts I notice Rabbi on the other side of the compound. She speaks some english and there’s no one else around so I feel like it’s my best choice.
-Sistah, was that a gun shot?
Two more shots fired
-Do you hear? What is it?
-Ah, yes a gun
-Why are there gunshots?
-From the gun?
-Someone was shot with the gun?
-No, no someone dead, fumral
-Oh, a funeral! At this time?
-Yes, chief dead
After talking to MANY different people and asking them the same questions I have learnt that when someone dies they bury the body immediately but they wait until right before the rains(now) to have the funeral. I’m told this is the best time of year for funerals because it’s cooler out, there is more food for the celebration and farming season hasn’t quite started. I also found out that the amount of gun shots represents information about the person. 4 shots = Man, 5 shots = woman, constant shooting = chief I’m sure there are more that I don’t know about yet. The funeral lasts from dusk to dawn and the gunshots, drumming and other random noises go on ALL night! There were funerals three nights in a row, and hundreds of people attend them.
Before leaving the office yesterday I went to say good bye to the District Chief Executive (the top of the hierarchy at the district level) and he asked me what I was eating. Now keep in mind that I only arrived in this district on Monday and I don’t have access to a stove or microwave or any of the things I would be used to using in Canada. So when he asked what I was eating I thought it was reasonable that I was eating Mangoes (SOO MANY MANGOES!) and biscuits but when I told him that he wasn’t pleased and organized to get a truck to take me into Tamale today (even though it’s a holiday!) to get some cooking supplies. During the ride I was talking to my friend Napari the driver and he asked if I was married (super common question) I told him I wasn’t because I can’t cook so I would be a bad wife. He was SHOCKED to hear that I couldn’t cook! So shocked that when we got back to Tolon he took me to his compound to introduce me to his family. During the introductions I met Amina which is his oldest brothers wife and a great cook (his words) and he insisted that I come back so she could teach me to cook. I did. It was amazing! I plan to continue my cooking lessons with Amina, I’ll keep you posted and hopefully I can take pictures next time!
I know this may sound a bit crazy but I have a pretty intense fear of fish. It’s completely irrational and I have no idea where it comes from, it just exists. Somehow, I managed to avoid eating fish during all my travels but in Ghana it seems this is impossible! There is fish EVERYWHERE and I’m not talking about fish sticks or filets I’m talking about straight up fish, nothing removed, grilled on both sides!
So here I am in the dinning hall at the guest house in Tamale face to face with my dinner. I go into deep concentration thinking that I can intellectualize my way out of this dilemma with some classical conditioning techniques. In order to relax for minute, to avoid bursting into tears, I decide to look out the window on my right to distract me and right beside me I see two men cutting the heads off chickens and chickens ACTUALLY running around with their heads cut off. Now, in any other situation this may have made me feel pretty uneasy but all I could think of was THANK GOD we aren’t having fish again for supper
I have spent the last 72 hours finding my way to Northern Ghana. I can’t believe how much has already happened and I haven’t even started work yet!
Leaving Toronto, one of the group members wasn’t able to travel through the United States because she has a passport from Iran. I thought this was absolutely ridiculous but in the end she made it to Accra, Ghana before we did! We went through a series of unfortunate events including delays, missed flights, arguing with Airport staff to get them to hold a flight and then finding out in Washington that they didn’t actually talk to anyone and we missed our flight to Ghana which meant staying the night and being re-routed through Germany—you know, just little things. Next time remind me to skip the states all together!
We sat in this airport for HOURS singing, talking, skyping and playing with some circus supplies that Tanya brought until the airline found us another flight.
In Accra we stayed at a guest house that everyone who has come here through EWB has staying in. I have to say, sleeping under the mosquito net kinda made me feel like a princess sleeping in a canopy bed. We had to get up early to make it to the bus station to Tamale and we have been sitting here all day. The bus was suppose to leave at 8am, right now it’s noon and still have no idea when it’s coming. This is equally as frustrating as waiting in airports but the people are A LOT nicer, which honestly changes everything.