I have a few posts in the pipeline on general topics such as water, markets etc., but it occurred to me that probably you would like to know what we’ve actually been doing here in Ghana. It’s now almost a month since we arrived and previous posts have only got as far as our arrival in Kumasi in early June.
Well the answer is, not a lot, but although I can’t speak for ActionMan, I haven’t been bored at all. With such a lot of people to talk to or play with, or mother, and such a different environment, there’s always something interesting happening, and if there’s not, I have my writing and my books to resort to.
Our first few days here were spent getting settled into the family routines and checking out the immediate surrounds. The typical day starts more or less as follows: Get up at the crack of dawn. Brush your teeth and bucket shower. I’ve never really understood DadaK’s obsession with brushing teeth before eating breakfast, (you’d be surprised at the conflict it’s caused) but I begin to understand it now I’m here. It can be a few hours before you eat in the mornings, and it’s nice to have a fresh mouth while you wait.
I usually pop in on Nana for a while and attempt to have a chat. She’s confined to her room because she can no longer walk without assistance. If there’s no-one around to translate our conversations are very short because she’s bit deaf and has trouble with my accent, and my Twi is not up to complex discussions. Most conversations are related to food and what people are doing. “I am going to eat rice.” “Asiedu is sick.” “Kwadwo Mensah has gone out.” Etc. She is sometimes in a lot of pain from rheumatism and when that’s happening I sit and listen sympathetically while she cries and entreats God to relieve her suffering. I like being able to do this. The rest of the family, having to live with it all the time, don’t appear to have a lot of patience with her suffering, nor the time to pay attention.
At about 8.00am Serwaa asks me what I will eat this morning, and I almost always reply: “Ampesi”. It’s one of my favourite Ghanaian foods: Boiled yams and plantains and sometimes cocoyams (taro), with a spicy stew based on either taro leaves (nkontommre) or eggplant (naadua), laden with palm oil and enriched with ground pumpkin seeds, egg, and trace elements of tinned sardine. The first couple of weeks we were here I gorged myself on ampesi to the point where I was overeating so much I got constipation. Not a condition you expect to get in a third world country. I pace myself now.
ActionMan also loves ampesi, especially with yams. One day I came home to discover Serwaa elated because he had eaten 10 pieces of yam. This was after he’d been sick, so I guess she was also pleased that he’d recovered his appetite.
This meal arrives somewhere between 10.30 and 1.00. If I can’t wait I have street food early on: Koko, a sweet-sour, gingery millet porridge, and Kosi – deep fried bean cakes – and find something to do for a few hours to help me work up an appetite.
If I don’t stay home and play with Treasure, (aways her preferred option) I might walk to an internet cafe, and sometimes I go shopping or on excursions. One morning I spent a couple of hours with DadaK trying to find a fax machine. There are “communications centres” everywhere here, offering phones, photocopy, fax, mobile phone credit and sometimes internet access. The problem is, that although many of them have signboards outside promising a fax, they don’t actually have fax machines. We went on a long taxi ride, on what I became convinced was a wild goose chase. No, they didn’t have fax, but maybe the one down the road …. after about eight false leads, we did actually find a fax in a print shop. The helpful taxi driver even sprinted out of sight down the road to check, leaving his keys in the ignition and presumably his cash under the seat. Clearly Ghanaians trust obruni.
Another morning we went to visit the school ActionMan will probably – eventually – attend. It’s allegedly a Montessori school, but I have my doubts. Indeed, the Principal acknowledged the difficulty of adhering to Montessori principles in Ghana. It’s not an inspiring environment, with overcrowded, unpainted concrete classrooms mostly bare of equipment or any signs of creativity. But the uniforms are nice.
After discovering that he can’t get onto his favourite online game here, ActionMan has tended to stay at home when I go to the internet cafes, re-reading his books, watching DVDs and playing on his PSP to kill time until the children get home from school. After school they play chasing, fighting, soccer, Uno and Oware (a Ghanaian board game). He has made a few trips of his own into the city markets to purchase weapons and DVDs. As I write, he’s planning a trip to buy a bow and arrow.
Illness interrupted our holiday plans about a week after we got here and for the next two weeks we mainly focused on rest and recovery. The first thing was diarrhoea, although if you have to get the runs, this is definitely the kind to get: once or twice a day you have an overwhelming imperative to get to the toilet fast, and the rest of the time you feel completely fine. After a couple of days it just went away. It’s a relief, because my previous experiences with Ghana Gut have been prolonged and painful. This time it was mostly painless and kept us regular. Almost everyone blamed the mangoes we had eaten, and even people who had not warned us against eating them (almost everyone) took great pleasure in saying “I told you not to eat mango!”
The next illness to strike was the common cold, which spread through the whole family and left me with a chesty cough for a couple of weeks. ActionMan had either a short bout of the cold or a bad case of rhinitis and afterwards, running a high temperature, complained of a pain in his side that felt like when he’d had pneumonia a few years ago. I wasn’t going to wait around and see if it got better by itself, and off we all went to the clinic: ActionMan, me, DadaK and Maame Yaa.
We arrived at the local Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) hospital clinic in Kwadaso about lunchtime and it was packed. This is the kind of thing that easily triggers a tourist tantrum: sick child, crowds of sick foreigners languishing on hard wooden benches in unbearable heat, white guilt about wanting a better service. I didn’t succumb to the tantrum, but I did skip the queue because DadaK was sufficiently worried about AM’s shortness of breath and increasing pain that he insisted on it being treated as an emergency. I was worried he’d bribed people, but only one of the people we’d spoken to accepted a ‘gift’ when we were leaving, so I felt reassured that they were mostly moved by compassion.
We saw a Ghanaian doctor who diagnosed “chest infection” and prescribed antibiotics, after ruling out malaria and typhoid and declining to do an x-ray. Later I realised they don’t do them on the premises, so I understand why he didn’t want to. We would have had to make a special trip in to a hospital in the city and then come back another day for the results, so it was actually better to get the antibiotics straight away, rather than wait.
We went home with four different pills, including bromide, in case it was really a digestive problem, and vitamin C. Combined with malarial pills, the vitamins I was giving him, painkillers and anti-diarrhoa drugs, he was taking quite a cocktail. I remember now from prevous trips, that Ghanaian doctors tend to over-prescribe because so many of the children they treat are malnourished and suffering a variety of ailments.
ActionMan’s temperature soared that night and there are few things as scary, for a parent, as nursing a sick child at 2.00am, with no idea what they’ve really got, and no confidence that they’ll get good care if you try and find a doctor – assuming you can even find transport to get you there. I gave him paracetamol and sponged him with cold water, and was able to sleep myself after he’d cooled down a bit. The whole scenario reminded me of anxious women at the sickbeds in 19th Century novels like Sense and Sensibility and Little Women. After that fever ‘crisis’, he improved quickly and was fine until he finished the antibiotics a week later, when the problem flared up again.
In a panic I called my travel insurance company and burst into tears at the sound of the doctor’s Aussie accent. He recommended we go back to the SDA clinic for continuity of care, so we did. This time we saw a Cuban doctor who referred us for an x-ray and liver function tests. It turned out that AM did have pneumonia, so he prescribed different antibiotics (but only one drug) and ten days on, AM seems to have fully recovered.
On our follow up visit last Friday the doctor recommended two girlfriends (“In this country you have two, one for the day and one for the night”) and soccer to help him fully recover. The safe sex message that accompanied this prescription made ActionMan squirm in his seat, but I was quite pleased it was delivered. The young nurse / Twi interpreter tried to rescue AM from his discomfort – or interrupt the talk about condoms and girlfriends – by telling the doctor he wasn’t doing any of that, he was “holy”. The doctor exclaimed “He’s a virgin!?” and poo-pooed the idea that 14 might be too young for sex; he himself had started at 11. And clearly he’s still having a good time.
My final verdict on the SDA hospital is that it’s not as bad as it first appeared. As we discovered on subsequent visits when we didn’t jump the queue, there is order to the crowds of people and it’s really not much different to going to a medical centre back home, where I’ve sometimes had to wait much longer to see a doctor, than I did at Kwadaso. There’s also lots of beautiful clothes to look at, which helps relieve the boredom – at least for me. Most people seem to dress in their Sunday best to go to the doctor and I enjoyed checking out the fabrics and styles. I saw quite a few patterns I haven’t seen elsewhere and made a mental note to look for in the markets. Textiles are an important part of Ghanaian culture, but I won’t rave about them just here.
Since the success of the last bout of antibiotics we have started to get a bit more active and have gone to Mensakrom, shopped at the Kumasi Cultural Centre, attended a Graduation and a Durbar, and danced at a funeral. Well, AM didn’t go the funeral, and wouldn’t be caught dancing, so that was just me. But I’ve run out of time, so you’ll have to wait until next time for updates on these more exotic and touristy activities. I’m not sure how long you’ll have to wait because this week I’m hoping to go to the Northern Region of Ghana. I plan to go as far as Paga near the border with Burkina Faso, where there are friendly crocodiles, but I don’t know if there are internet connections. So exercise patience – to bo asi.