Ghana

(These are all journal entries that I wrote earlier on paper and am now just copying down in my blog. They are all just tiny snippets as I haven’t been able to find any decently large chunks of time just to sit down and write. It’s kind of a helter-skelter mish-mash.)

–Three kids, somewhere in the range of seven to ten years old are sitting next to me as I write this now. I’m sitting outside on the back porch of my dormitory at the Margaret Marquat Memorial Hospital where I’ll be working for three weeks as a volunteer. I had been sitting for only about ten seconds when they came up, smiled big (I, of course, smiled back equally big) and asked “Are you writing?” “Yes, I’m writing in my journal,” I responded. Then, they continued to stand next to me, still smiling and very curiously watched what I am doing. Two of them even decided to sit down next to me and are still just watching without saying a word.

Just now, it appears as though they have had their fill. They say “Goodbye” very enthusiastically and sincerely and then wander slowly away. (Okay, that sounds a bit hokey to say they said goodbye sincerely, but honestly they did. It was as though they were thanking me, as if they had received a great honor by just being allowed to sit by and watch me write.)

–I’m sitting now at a desk in the Kpando City Assembly Hall. A large Ghanaian man is yelling at the top of his voice at me and the group of pink-shirted nurses-in-training that I’m sitting here with. I can’t pick out anything he is saying though; the rain outside is coming down so hard that he’s basically muted. He is sweating heavily. So are the rest of us, for that matter. It is sweltering hot here, as it is basically every day. Sweat is dripping down my chin and forehead. I try to keep dry by wiping it off with a hand towel, but it’s a pretty pointless endeavor as, no matter what I do, the sweat continues to pour.

I’m hoping that the rain will stop soon, as it is foiling our plans for the day. Two nurses, Prince and Godwin, have invited me to go out with them from house to house to educate about sanitation and hygiene. It is part of their training as nurses–each nurse in the program must spend two months working in this area. I’m very excited to go with them. I want to see what they teach and how, and I’d like to help them by also teaching the people about what I know about these topics from my work in Swaziland.

–The rain never did stop. It went on all day. Apparently, rain like that is not at all uncommon here.

I did get the chance to go out with them the next day though. It was really great. We went from house to house looking in water barrels, inspecting room drainage systems, checking out out-houses and where wastewater was being dumped. It turns out that Ghanaians are doing quite well in the cleanliness arena. Most had fairly clean houses and clean water. The biggest problem we encountered was that most people were not covering their water barrels with lids, thus allowing mosquitoes to get in and lay their eggs in the water. Mosquito eggs and what they later grow into, larvae (which we saw a great deal of), are obviously not a good thing to take in with your drinking water. And providing the mosquitoes a nice place for them to raise a family is obviously not the best way to prevent the huge malaria problem Ghana is facing. So we told them to buy lids. And, apparently, here in Ghana what these nurses say, at least when it comes to hygiene, goes.  Improper hygiene is actually a criminal offense here, and if the situation isn’t fixed when the nurses check again, they are free to press charges.

We also told people to cover their rain gutters (their source of water) with nets to keep out unwanted bugs and debris, to put their trash in a trash can rather than just on the ground, and to weed their yards. This last piece of advice seemed a little bit strange. I mean, sure, a weed-free yard is nice, but isn’t it a little much to require it by law? So, I asked Prince about it. He explained that unweeded yards are the perfect place for snakes and scorpions to hide. And man, does Ghana have a LOT of snakes; their are pythons, puff adders, Gabon vipers, spitting cobras, boomslangs, mole snakes and black mambas. (Yesterday, I was helping out in the surgical ward and there was a patient who had been bitten by a snake in the forest on her way to get water. She decided to try traditional medicine for about a week, but then after realizing it was doing no good, came in to the hospital. The bite was pretty ghastly-looking. A 2-inch deep cavernous hole in her leg. Theresa, the head nurse, who was in charge of cleaning wound had to put an unbelievable amount of gauze into the wound before it was filled.) I find it very reassuring to know that the citizens of Kpando are doing what they can to keep these little critters out of town.

–”Okay. Come on Junior.” I say to the four-year-old boy who has a feeling-terribly-left-out expression on his face. He smiles and grabs hold of my hand and clambers up into my arms. It’s actually impressive that he was able to find his way up as my arms were already at what I had thought to be maximum occupancy with 2-year-old Nancy in my left arm and 1-year-old (or thereabouts) Gabriel in my right.

The orphanage isn’t a very big place–just a couple of little concrete buildings with enough space to squeeze-in the thirteen orphans that live here. It is fairly new, started just about a year ago by a Ghanaian man named Richard and a woman named Joy from Spokane, Washington. I haven’t met Joy, as she has returned home, but I have talked to Richard quite a bit and he is a very kind and intelligent man, and it is easy to see that he loves these kids very much.

Nabid, Ann, Lindsay and I arrive at the orphanage at 2:00 (when the kids return from school) and then stay until about 5:00 every day. We always have a wonderful time. Nabid plays basketball with the older ones, while Ann is mostly into working with a few at a time on reading and writing. I sometimes teach them about drawing, which they are quite fascinated with, but, honestly, I spend the vast majority of my time just carrying them around (usually three at a time) and giving out hugs. I can tell that they really need it as they can never, ever get enough.

I’m glad to do all that I can to cheer up their lives. However, I’m worried that this is not enough.

The reason all of these kids are orphans is that their parents died of AIDS. Therefore, it is extremely likely that many or most of these children are also HIV+. We don’t know for sure, but we think that only a very few are on any sort of ARV treatment.

It is very depressing to know that these orphans who we all love so much might not be here in a few years.

We are all thinking very hard about how we can help them.

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