January 9, 2007 lia

Malaria Christmas and a Hippo New Year!

-What were you thinking of bringing for Sam’s family?
-Eeeek. I’ve been so busy. Yes, we absolutely have to bring something for Sam’s family.
-Maybe a basket or something?
-Oh! Can we please get them a goat? I’m dying to get someone a goat for Christmas.
-I’m not sure if Sam’s family raises goats.
-Not to raise, silly – to EAT over the holidays!
-Sure. Let’s tie a bow around its neck and give it a red nose and call it Rudolf. But we’ll have to get it when we get there, cause we obviously can’t take a goat in Sam’s small car.

Sam is the municipal engineer in the Asante Akim North District where Patrick, the other Canadian planner in Ghana, is stationed. Sam is a good friend of Patrick’s and thinks that I am the bee’s knees because I have a Ghanaian name here and love his sister’s cuisine. He invited the two of us to come to the Volta Region on the Togolese border to spend Christmas with his family, promising me his sister would cook. They picked me up in Koforidua from my friend’s house where I’m storing my few possessions while I’m homeless.

-Unfortunately, Sam stole your goat idea. Guess what’s in the trunk?
-No way.

But what was most surprising was that the goat wasn’t the only thing in the trunk. In fact, the goat took an astonishingly small space in the trunk, less than the spare tire, less than the ton of plantains, and less than the pile of bags considered necessary for only 3 days in the Volta Region. By the time we arrived at our destination though, the load of plantains had been [predictably] lightened by the goat.

The next day we went on an excursion to Lake Volta where creatures from land and sea are traded along the shores of the ferry dock. It’s always interesting seeing trading towns and markets in Africa. Unlike in Canada where one can easily be overwhelmed with the charge of understanding where all of our products come from, in Ghana, most products sold in markets are regional. When I was doing my undergrad degree in archaeology, I never really understood how something like spices from India or imported cloth could have such an impact on a culture and its economy. In Ghana, there are only maybe 10 things sold in markets – a larger market just means more vendors selling tomatoes, aubergines, oil, onions, plantains, and yams. Spices brought in from trade routes across the Saharan desert would rock my world right now after 4 months of eating white rice and chicken. I can finally appreciate the massive impact historical trade must have had on the daily lives of people.

As we were leaving, parked on the road was the silhouette of a station wagon taxi with its boot open, and several men pulling a cow backwards into the trunk. Like some scene in a Far Side comic, with 100s of possibilities for captions. As we approached, we realised that they were indeed attempting to stuff not one, but two cows into the trunk of the taxi. “The second cow is bringing them trouble though”.

As we pulled into the town to buy some things from the next market, Patrick and I played what-car-do-you-think-that-sound-is-coming-from and some name-that-screaming-animal, carefully listening to the cries of pigs, sheep, goats, guinea fowl, chickens, roosters, and cows coming from various still and moving vehicles in the glorified parking lot that was the town centre. Eventually we saw a very low riding station wagon taxi with the back seats taken out stagger by with only one set of large horns behind the driver’s seat. Guess the second cow brought them a sufficient amount of trouble, and that evening we enjoyed some delicious goat soup, with a mild taste of plantain in the meat.

Malaria Christmas

Christmas Eve we were off to Accra to spend Christmas there, because Christmas day with your parents is “un-cool” and should instead be spent at the beach with friends. I went to my friends Cheryl and Janice’s house for Janice’s airport send-off. As we sat over beer, effortlessly evading the subject of Janice’s departure, laughing and forgetting that we may never see each other again [exactly how send-offs should always be], I started to feel stiffness in my neck, as though I was catching a cold. An hour later, we were back at home [minus Janice], and I had a fever. Just one hour later, I had a raging fever and was deliriously slipping in and out of consciousness.

I want to take a moment to appreciate patient-centred health care and to thank all the nurses and doctors who have treated me all over the world. Going to the hospital in Ghana is basically an Ikea do-it-yourself project with even poorer instructions and barely any English translation. Luckily for me, I brought my own nurse, Cheryl, who has no medical training but did a much better job taking care of me than any of the hospital staff.

I lay on the wooden bench. The nurse sat in her chair across the room. Cheryl ran around the hospital filling out forms and paying fees to get me admitted. The nurse remained unaffected by my presence. Once the appropriate forms and payments were made, the healthy and able-bodied nursed had Cheryl bring the sick patient who was unable to lift her head 15m to sit in a chair in front of her.

-What’s wrong.
-She’s very sick. We think it’s malaria because one week ago, she forget to take her malaria tablets two days in a row and it takes one week for malaria symptoms to sink in.
-Here. Take her temperature.

While this was happening, some friends carried a man soaked in blood and covered in stab wounds into the hospital from a taxi. The nurse sat in her chair. She told them that he couldn’t be admitted and they sped back hoping to retrieve the taxi. It was then that I remembered the formidable undertaking of finding someone to receive me once we had gotten to the hospital. We drove around the hospital in a taxi for almost 30 minutes while Cheryl asked doctors, security guards, and nurses where admitting was. We used every communication tactic we could think of. “Where’s admitting? Entrance? Reception? Opening? Introduction? Malaria! Malaria! Where do we take malaria?”

Once Cheryl had taken my temperature for the nurse, she found a wheelchair to transport me to where the doctor was sitting in his chair.

-Here. Take her temperature.

Cheryl took my temperature again, and after accepting that I wasn’t on drugs, the doctor wrote a list of things I would need from the pharmacy while they kept me overnight at the hospital. Among the items were drip bags, shots, water, and pills – things I would have normally considered as being included among the services provided by the biggest hospital in Ghana, and not being expected to be fetched by ill patients.

The nurses

It’s difficult for me to describe the inappropriateness of the nurses. There was one nice nurse. The others decided that this was the moment that I should learn Ga [despite the fact that I live in a Twi-speaking region of Ghana], and barked commands at me in Ga and imprecise English. One nurse started blasting her radio at 3am. If you ever get sick in Ghana, bring your own Cheryl.

They never tested me for anything, but I didn’t feel any better until 6 hours after I was admitted and had had 2 drip bags and several ass shots. Among the things I was treated for was malaria, gastro-intestinal ailments, infection, and dehydration. What was really delightful though was reading all the Merry Christmas text messages I got while laying in the hospital bed fearing the nurses. Almost every hour throughout the night, I received text messages from all over the world. Though normally considered an inappropriate hour to send me a text message, I cannot advise you how lovely it was hearing from all of you from my hospital bed. You’ll never send a text message to a more appreciative recipient than me that night.

The doctors converted all the liquids they had been injecting me with into pill form and released me from the hospital later that day. We went home, my insurance company phoned me, and I managed to talk to my family. While on the phone, my sister mentioned that my Christmas present “is in your inbox”.

Ando’s plane from Casablanca was landing at 5.30am on boxing day, and even 7 hours before she landed, I was unable to walk around without Cheryl’s assistance, and even then I could only go 2 blocks from the house.

-The bad news is that I have malaria. The good news is that I can walk!

Miraculously [perhaps my body was sensing imminent hosting duties] I was strong enough to pick her up by 6am, and after 3 days of general weakness and sticking to cities with hospitals [and one more visit to a hospital in Cape Coast, and waking one morning to find myself half-paralysed down my left leg due to cramping from a particularly brute ass shot, and 2 weeks of being unable to extend my right arm, black, green, purple and blue from the doctor’s shoddy IV insertion job], we managed to pull off some pretty rustic travels to some remote parts of the country, making it to within 19 km of the Cote D’Ivoire border through the bush.

A Hippo New Year

We spent a low-key New Year’s Eve at a Monkey Sanctuary between two villages. We toasted to the fact that I had finally finished my meds that couldn’t be taken with alcohol, and danced with some of the villagers until a whopping 10pm bedtime [very late by Ghanaian standards]. We counted down Istanbul’s New Year [or whatever city happens to fall into whatever time zone is two hours ahead of Ghana’s] and went to bed so that we could set off the next day to trek out to see wild hippopotami — in a remote area 13 km from the Liberian border.

When I did eventually check my inbox I found a message from Oxfam unwrapped telling me that my sister and brother-in-law had bought something on my behalf to be sent to a needy family in a developing country — a goat! How fitting – I gave a goat to someone for Christmas after all.