Wow, it has been an incredibly busy week for me. I started my new program in Accra so I packed up all of my things and moved to the CFHI house here. I had to say goodbye to the two people who had been with me since the beginning, which was surprisingly difficult. Even to this day I miss having Ashley and Emma by my side as I continue to experience Ghana. Luckily they had a great time in Rome and are home now enjoying the last part of summer! I am extremely thankful for my time in Cape Coast. I learned so much about myself and about medicine in the coastal region. While the resources are limited, the doctors that work at the Cape Coast Teaching Hospital have an incredible set of skills and I can only imagine how they would do in the United States with extra equipment to aid their pristine hands-on expertise. No matter how much I struggled in Cape Coast I am so grateful for the friendships I made and relationships that came from it! Now I truly understand why work in NGOs such as CFHI is so rewarding. I have said it many times but it is true that it is so easy to create close-knit friendships in just a month and I definitely did that. I will certainly be returning to Cape Coast as soon as I can!
Accra is a very different experience. Most of the work we will do is in the children’s hospital and it is much smaller than the teaching hospital! We spent our first week doing an insane amount of public health work. We started the week off slowly so the newcomers could adjust to this new lifestyle. There were 6 new people, Patty, Riya, Sara, Mark, Brandi and Danielle. Patty and Riya have since moved on to the Cape Coast program and the other four have stayed in Accra with me. Sunday night we were able to return to Bosphorus, the very nice restaurant I had been to my first night in Ghana, and we celebrated Mark’s 21st birthday. The next day we visited the Botanical Gardens and saw beautiful trees and flowers. It was a national holiday so many people were having a picnic and celebrating Republic Day. On Tuesday, the Fourth of July, we got to be very patriotic. We spent the morning at the USAID’s office and learned about one of the initiatives they are working on that involves preventable child and maternal deaths. They focused on malaria prevention, ensuring that birthing centers were up to standard in the rural locations, and the importance of family planning. They have set up nurse’s offices and small clinics in 5 of the 10 regions of Ghana that provide services to help them achieve their goals. The nurses travel to multiple villages in a day to discuss family planning methods, condom usage, and general advice on preventing the spread of malaria such as removing standing water and using bed nets. Although their project is progressing well, they still have a lot to accomplish in the next 2 years! That evening we attended a Fourth of July party at the US Embassy and ate pizza and garlic knots with the United States diplomatic community. It was a fun party and odd to see such a large amount of Americans in one place.
On Thursday we had another busy day. We attended two lectures and went back to the US Embassy for a tour and discussion. The first lecture was at the National Aids Control Program where we discussed the initiatives in place to decrease the rate of HIV/AIDS in Ghana. Interestingly, only about 0.04% of Ghanaians are HIV+. We learned that every time a woman comes into a clinic and is pregnant she is automatically tested for HIV and if she is positive they ensure to perform a C-section for the birth so there is a smaller chance of her giving HIV to her child. Because of this mandatory testing, the amount of woman tested compared to men is about 8:1. By removing those tested due to pregnancy, it is almost 50/50 in men and women being tested. In Ghana, the test and antiretroviral medications are free and counseling is provided. They treat it very differently here, usually if someone tests positive they are immediately referred to a counselor that helps them accept what will happen to them and help them understand that their life is not over. The medications can improve their health and ensure they live a relatively normal and long life. The next presentation we saw was about malaria and its importance in all communities around Ghana. There are many programs set in place by the National Malaria Control Program that help distribute mosquito nets and attempt to educate people in rural and urban communities about the ways to prevent mosquito bites and malaria contraction. Finally we returned to the US Embassy and met with two Americans who work there along with a woman from the Peace Corps. The two Americans had very interesting experiences and discussed the hardships they had encountered in the time they’ve spent in Ghana as well as the work they do for the community. Both worked as administrators for health programs. Hearing about the woman in the Peace Corps made me feel bad about ever pitying myself since being here. She lives in a rural community and works to help promote business initiatives but focuses most of her time on improving water sanitation. She said that the closest volunteer is 3 hours away from her and in her village only about 10 people speak English. She commented on the troubles she faces and expressed her excitement to return to the US soon.
Friday we were able to visit the World Health Organization office, complete orientation at the hospital and pay a visit to the Accra branch of Planned Parenthood. At the WHO office we were given a presentation on what the WHO does around the world, in Ghana, and what their goals are for the future of Ghana. Along the same lines as Thursday, the main focus of their efforts is on HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, and other tropical diseases. They have their own set of programs and goals to accomplish. It was fun to hear about them! Orientation at the hospital was fun, we were able to see the wards and different departments in which we will work. After that we had a surprise visit to the Planned Parenthood office. I was shocked that they had an office and when we went we got to see a large part of their operation. Their mission statement expresses their hope to have every pregnancy be planned and wanted and to help women and families accomplish what they want with their life. I enjoyed this trip too, family planning is very interesting to me.
After our week of orientations and presentations we had a very important funeral and burial service to attend. Interestingly enough, our landlord is the King of a community called Kwehu. His mother had passed away last month and we were able to attend her traditional burial service. When we arrived they were in the middle of prayer, but the King’s son insisted that we greet the line of royalty so we were awkwardly paraded through the service to shake hands with the chiefs. We were not warned to bow while shaking hands with a chief and when Brandi attempted he got very angry and said “When you greet a chief you need to bow, show some respect!” She apologized and I was feeling very grateful I was second in line. Only 3 out of 7 of us were able to greet the chief before we were shuttled out of the service to await the end of the prayer. All of us felt extremely uncomfortable and nervously laughed as we waited. After, we went to the King’s house to eat lunch and enjoyed one of the best meals I have had while in Ghana. When we finished our lunch we returned to the service to actually greet the King and his line. He hadn’t left the service yet and was giving a speech when we arrived for the second time. Again we interrupted an important aspect of the funeral and the same chief as before spoke directly to Dr. Charles and explained that usually when you greet a line of royalty you start with all the chiefs and end with the King. Additionally, Patty greeted the wrong person first and when she tried to correct herself, she fell down the step! We left feeling very embarrassed but we are able to laugh at it now, feeling somewhat ignorant but mostly just thankful we don’t have to go back. That was definitely an adventure! We were assured that it was okay, but as we were leaving we saw a TV camera and busted up laughing, all of our cultural mistakes were live streamed to the general public of Ghana! The King pardoned our mistakes, as he understood we weren’t informed of what to do and ended up laughing with us, so overall it was an incredible experience to be able to talk to a King of a community and see some of the traditional practices involving the death of an important member of society.
On Sunday the crew traveled to Cape Coast to drop off the people staying there for the next three weeks and everyone got to experience Elmina Castle and Kakum national park. It was a relaxing trip!
Today was also another day of craziness. I was able to work in the physical therapy department and enjoyed that a lot! Brandi and I expressed our surprise that most of their patients are those with developmental delays. Now that we know, it makes sense! When someone has Downs Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy they don’t develop at a normal rate and therefore do not have the same muscles or ability to use them, so it was fascinating to watch them work with the small children on crawling, rolling, and walking. Afterwards we returned home and went grocery shopping. On the way back we got smoothies and then packed all 5 of us in a small taxi. Unfortunately we hit very bad traffic and those of us packed in the back seat were not too happy about that. To top it all off, we accidently hit a kitten that crossed the street at the wrong time and when we were only about 5 minutes from home, a car stopped suddenly in front of us and we rear ended them! Fortunately everyone was okay and the car worked just fine after, but that was definitely a scary experience. I am honestly surprised that kind of thing doesn’t happen more often with the way people drive here, but I am glad that it all worked out. Today was almost as much of a mess as our experience at the burial!
I am looking forward to just 3 more weeks in Ghana. Although home is calling me, I know I have a lot to look forward to in my time left. I cannot wait to keep experiencing this crazy, fun and different lifestyle.