The First Things I learned in Ghana:
In no particular order
- Ant bites hurt…a lot.
- Yes, I am afraid of heights.
- Traveling for 18 hours isn’t actually that bad.
- Ghana’s history contains a huge amount of hardship.
- Monkey hands are adorable.
- Being sick while at college is horrible, but being sick 7,000 miles away from family is much, much worse.
- Poverty is real.
- Just because the hospital is a tertiary, or referral center, hospital doesn’t mean it is substantial.
Within my first 24 hours in Ghana I had surprised a girl for her birthday (on the balcony of a fancy restaurant), met many people, lost 35 cedi, seen a slave castle built hundreds of years ago, walked through the jungle on a series of 7 bridges, and fed monkeys. Talk about a busy day!
As soon as I arrived to Accra, I walked outside looking for my coordinator. Instead, I found a man in suit telling me that he could call my ride for me, so being the young and inexperienced traveler I am, I took him up on the offer. I started getting suspicious when he typed the wrong number in his phone and then continued to be suspicious when he said his friend would find my ride for me. When I told him I wasn’t interested, that I could find him on my own, he demanded a tip (“for what?!” you may be asking, because I was asking that too. All he had done was call a fake number and involve his friend), but I obliged.
After finally finding my ride, my coordinator, Dr. Charles, explained that we were going to eat dinner and meeting up with the other participants, also that it was Zia’s birthday so we were going to surprise her with a cake. After we ate, one of Charles’ friends insisted that we go downstairs and clap for a proposal, but instead had set up a birthday cake and had the band sing Zia a happy birthday song.
The next day we woke up early to drive to Cape Coast, a beautiful, yet terrifying 2 hour drive west of the city. Since there are no real traffic laws and the roads aren’t always in peak condition, you can only imagine how it went. We were so fortunate to be able to do all the tourist things of Cape Coast in that one day! Our first stop of many was the Elmina slave castle. It sits right up against the ocean amongst the palm trees and fishing boats, and is way larger than I expected. The guide told us that during its peak it would hold 1,000 slaves, 600 men and 400 women. After viewing the quarters, all of us wondered how any of them even made it onto the boats to participate in the slave trade. With little to no food the slaves sat in rooms with 100-150 others barely being able to move. The castle was built by the Portuguese, overthrown by the Dutch, and then exchanged hands with the British, each of them using it to send the West African slaves towards the west until the 19th century. After the slave trade stopped the castle was used to train British police officers. With breathtaking views it was easy to forget that we were standing on the sight of many, many deaths; it has painful beauty.
The next stop was Kakum, a national park known for its canopy walks. While standing hundreds of feet off the ground you are encouraged to walk the 7 bridges and enjoy the view. For me, it was very difficult to enjoy the view when I was standing on a bridge that was about a foot wide and was swinging to the left and right. I was shocked I even made it through all of the bridges! As we were hiking up to where the bridges began Zia and I stepped into a pile of ants. I didn’t notice at first, but once we stopped walking I started to feel them. They had gotten under my socks and were biting my ankles and feet and as I tried to free them, they crawled up my arms! Yikes!
Lastly we went to a monkey reserve, owned by a Dutch man whose uncle had built every cage by hand and rescued each of the monkeys. The employees called the Dutch man “White Jungle Boy”. We got a tour of the place and saw monkeys, crocodiles, birds and other mammals. At the end we got to feed the monkeys peanuts!
As we made the drive to these tourist destinations, we passed many small villages. It was evident that they were incredibly impoverished, as they looked vastly different than the towns that we were staying in. They had very small, concrete houses without doors or floors that were nearly connected because they were so close. There were way too many houses to count. You could see people working and cleaning, however there was no obvious sewer system so you can only imagine how the health of villagers was. Although I don’t know for sure, I would assume that many children do not get the opportunity to go to school and receive an education, and consequently the opportunity to leave because as we left the city limits we saw fewer and fewer children in school uniforms.
After an exciting Sunday of tourist activities, all of the newcomers were exhausted and fell asleep at 8 pm. The next morning we woke up to go to the hospital to receive our schedules. The literature that CFHI had written for me told me that things move a bit slower than in the US and boy, were they right! We, Ashley, Emma and I, waited for about 3 hours to get our schedule and the tour. By the time we were done with administrative things, it was time for lunch. After that we each went to our separate wards. As soon as I got there I felt very off. I knew that I hadn’t eaten that much that day, nor had I had enough to drink, however I assumed I would be fine. Within 5 minutes of doing rounds I fainted. Not a graceful fall either, flat on my face. When I regained consciousness I was being put in a bed and was surrounded by doctors, all extremely worried. Embarrassed, I stayed in the staff room for a while before I knew I could make it back to the house. Once home I felt marginally better, however I quickly began to feel nauseous. Augustine, the Cape Coast coordinator and host, took me to the hospital and I was told I was dehydrated and that I needed to be drinking at least 4 liters of water a day until I was acclimated to Ghana weather. All of this makes sense, as I sweat constantly and need to replenish my body with an insane amount of water. So for the next two days I stayed home from work to recover and drink. When I didn’t get better, Augustine took me to the pharmacy to get O.R.S. (oral rehydrating salts) and medicine for an injection. We had to go to the clinic to receive the injection, a much better experience than the hospital since it was the best clinic in Cape Coast, and almost immediately afterwards I was feeling better. The rehydrating salts got me feeling back to normal, as even though I had been drinking the 4 liters a day, I still lost most of it, explaining why I wasn’t feeling better. Luckily in 3 days I was almost as good as new!
I was nervous to get sick while being here because it can take me a while to recover, so it was unfortunate that I had to experience that in my first week, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was lucky for many reasons. The first being that when I fainted, I could have broken a bone or gotten a concussion, a much worse fate than I experienced. Next, I could have fallen much, much more ill. In that situation I don’t know if I would have been able to complete the program. Additionally, although I complained about having to pay for the medical care, I spent a total of 145 cedi, the equivalent of $33.70. This included a portfolio for the hospital and all the clinics in Cape Coast, a patient ID card, 6 O.R.S. packets, and an antibiotic that the nurse injected. I was amazed at how cheap it was for me to get care, although I realize that it is still very expensive for Ghanaian citizens. Lastly, missing a week of work is hard but I am thankful that I still get to spend 7 weeks working.
Here is to 7 more weeks of adventures, fun times, self-realization and good health!