A shock at the orphanage

(Please excuse any missing f’s and w’s. My keyboard is missing those 2 keys.)

Today a shiny blue van pulled up at the orphanage and 6 men got out and marched into the compound. When I saw that one of them as in handcuffs I realised it was the police. Last week 2 children left the orphanage to go to the US to be adopted. It turns out that their father (the arrested man) had arranged it without telling their mother. They have 2 parents so are not orphans at all. Madame Rose was questioned and taken away by the police. The orphanage chidren have all been taken to various places until next week, so the orphanage is tempoorarily closed.

I don’t know what ill happen next. I’ll keep you posted.

A visit to Togo

I have just spent some days in Togo, a french speaking country next to Ghana. we were visiting Richard’s family. It was an amazing experience but I haven’t time to write about it all now. I never could have seen such things as a tourist. But I had trouble getting back into Ghana and had to get another visa, which took an extra day. I’ll write more soon. Hopefully I can fix my keyboard so I don’t have to keep cutting and pasting the w’s and the f’s,

Love to all,
Steph

More funny signs

In Ghana, people are ostensibly very religious. Taxis have quotes like “Not me but God” painted on their back windows and business names are often religious messages too. This can lead to some comical signs, such as:

God Is In Control Sewing Batik
God’s Time Is The Best Kitchen
Trust Books and Stationery
Not Me Beauty Parlour
The Sober Spot Drinking Bar

Other signs that have made me laugh include:

Happy Children School
Large Brain House
Hilarious Services (a photocopy shop)
Captain Casketry (coffin-makers)
Kofi Anaan Metalworks
Last Stop Prayer Camp

Taking a child to the doctor

Kwame is the smallest child at the orphanage, though not the youngest. Although he looks like a baby and is as yet not walking or talking, he is actually 20 months old. Kwame’s mother was reportedly a heavy drinker, which may account for his delayed development.

On the Thursday before Easter, Mara, the other volunteer, came to me with Kwame in her arms. There was a large boil on his head which had burst open and was oozing pus. He had been screaming in pain all morning, but was now quiet and limp. Mara and I agreed he needed to see a doctor, but when we put this to Madame Rose, she said she had no money. We assured her we would pay for it, so she gave us directions to the nearest clinic.

All the way there Kwame lay limp in Mara’s arms and barely moved. When we got there, the clinic was packed with people waiting to be seen. We were asked to fill out a patient records booklet with Kwame’s details, many of which we didn’t know but some of which I managed to get by ringing Madame Rose. Then it was a case of joining the queue to be seen by the triage nurse. As we sat waiting, pink goo started bulging out from Kwame’s head. It looked as though his brains were coming out – which of course was impossible, but that was the impression. I found a couple of paper hankies in my bag and Mara dabbed at the gooey mess while I looked away.

When we got to the nurse, she took his temperature and asked us to weigh him. Kwame refused to stand on the scales, so I had to weigh myself and then pick him up. He weighed 10 kilos; tiny for his age. The nurse then ushered us into a side room, where she said he would be treated. Mara and I both had the impression we were being given special treatment, since other patients weren’t seen so promptly.

The nurse explained that she would need to shave the area, but there were no razor blades, so Mara was sent to buy one from the dispensary. When she brought it back, the nurse used it very carefully and efficiently to shave the hair from around the bump. Meanwhile Kwame lay limp and silent in my arms, barely moving. Then the nurse bathed the boil in Savlon, squeezed it, bathed it again and squeezed it again. It must have hurt like heck, but Kwame didn’t react. The nurse placed a dressing on his head and ushered us through to another area to see the doctor. At this point we definitely felt we were being privileged, because others wanting to see the same doctor were waiting in line.

The doctor asked a few questions and wrote a prescription for a long list of medicines, including antibiotics, vitamins, worm medicine, cough medicine, nasal drops and more. Seven different medicines altogether. She said the boil would need to be incised, but it would be a different doctor who did that, so we were taken back to the side room again. There was supposed to be a wait, but the second doctor squeezed us in straight away. This is where it got difficult. The procedure involved cutting the boil, squeezing out more pus and inserting an antiseptic-soaked bandage into the hole. But now Kwame didn’t lie passively – he screamed and struggled. I had to hold his arms down with one hand and his head against my chest with the other, while the doctor did his thing, muttering softly, ‘sorry, sorry, sorry’ as he did so. Mara couldn’t watch, so left the room and I turned my head away with tears streaming down my face. I felt like a torturer, holding his little head so hard as he struggled

At last it was done, and the area was covered with a dressing. We were told to come back the next day to have the dressing changed. After this Kwame went to Mara and wouldn’t look at me. We went to the dispensary to get the medicines, which came to 52 Cedis altogether. I paid it from the money people had sent.

Next time I saw Kwame was after Easter and his wound was healed over. He looked a whole lot better and came to me happily. Apparently all was forgiven.

A trip to the beach

After deciding that it would be best to give the orphanage children experiences rather than material things, I put forward the idea of taking the kids to the beach during the school holidays. The idea was well received, but of course, not knowing my way around here, I had to rely on Madame Rose and the other staff to take care of the details for me. We set the date for Friday. Rita from the tuck shop said she could organise transport and I was given a list of ingredients to buy at the market for the cooked lunch we were to take with us.

Rose from the hostel came with me to the market at 7am on the Friday, which was a big help, especially when it came to buying the fish. Most fish is sold whole and smoked, often very black and wafting malodorously through the marketplace. But Rose took me to a place where they sold fresh frozen fish, which was pulled out of a freezer with bare hands and weighed on a scale that had already been used to weigh various fishes and meats that morning, without the benefit of protective barriers. I also bought 15 cups of rice, some onions, tomato paste, stock cubes and curry powder.

When I got to the orphanage, people were just getting up in the most leisurely fashion, and someone was beginning to cook the morning meal. Rita was sent to buy charcoal to cook the lunch and others were sent to get drinking water to take with us. Meanwhile I bathed and dressed the small children. Then there was a relaxed breakfast, by which time it was 11am – the time I had thought we’d be arriving at the beach! But this was Africa time, so I had to be patient.

The fish were cut up into pieces – heads, tails, bones and all, and deep fried in oil, and a sauce of tomato and onion was prepared while the rice was cooked in another pot. When all was ready, at about 1.30pm, the driver was called. He arrived a half hour later and another half hour was spent loading up the van.

I had imagined a large coach or 2 or 3 minivans, but just the one van arrived. The loading up process reminded me of those Guinness World Record attempts to pack as many people as possible into a mini. Everybody sitting on a seat had someone sitting on their lap, children were wedged in behind the driver’s seat and the big pots of food and drink were loaded in the back and held in place by the half-open back door that was tied down with ropes. Forty men, women, children and babies and their luggage somehow squeezed into that van.

The 40 minute trip was interrupted by a flat tyre just before we got there, so we all piled out while the driver changed the wheel. We finally got to the beach at about 3pm.

For the next 3 hours everybody ran around on the sand and splashed in the sea, laughing and yelling. Some of the little ones were initially scared of the water but eventually most of them were laughing as the waves splashed their toes. I took lots of photos of everyone having so much fun (they will be on FB tomorrow).

After an hour or so, the food was brought out and served in bowls on the sand. Then it was back to the water again for more fun. At 7pm the driver returned to take everyone home. I was staying at the beach for the weekend, so I watched as they all squeezed in the van again and I waved goodbye as they set off, all waving and calling out ‘thank you’.

This trip was made possible by the money that people so generously gave for the orphanage water. The balance after paying the water bill has been used for nappies, school chairs, towels, textbooks and pencils, and now this beach trip. Thank you so much to all of you who made this possible. It’s a memory I will treasure for a lifetime, as I’m sure the children will too.

My soulmate

It would be wrong to say that Richard is the man of my dreams because never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would end up with a partner, let alone an African man nearly two decades my junior. I have been very happy on my own for 5 years, during which time I have done a lot of work on myself and come to a place of understanding about who I am. That understanding is what led me to Ghana – a sense of calling and knowing what I have to do. And while I’ve long felt that it would be so much easier if I had someone else who was on the same track, I was all too aware that having a partner who was not on the same track would completely derail my ability to follow my life’s purpose. So I was totally at peace about being single and certainly not on the lookout for anyone while I was here.

But fate had other plans. You may remember the crisis I went through when I felt as though nobody here could be relied upon or trusted, and how I had to come to terms with that and find a way to carry on. The next day I went to Kokrobite beach, where I got talking to a Rastafarian called Richard, who shared his views on life and restored my faith in human nature. We talked for about 6 hours and it was very uplifting for me. That night we danced to a reggae band and it was only then that I suddenly realised that he was not only wise and grounded but gorgeous as well!

So now we are an item. It’s been 3 weeks now and despite my initial horror at embarking on something so unexpected, the more time I spend with Richard the more certain I am that he is the one. I could go on but will stop now for fear of being thought starry eyed and out of touch with reality. Whereas in fact I feel very grounded and that I’m being fully who I am.

I am so blessed! I love my life!

Upcoming blogs:

I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t had time to write anything. But I soon wiil, I promise! Upcoming blogs will include:

– helping with school exams (unbelievable!)
– taking a child to the doctor (not for the fainthearted!)
– tourist spots I’ve visited (great!)
– how I’ve been spending your donated money (dribs and drabs, with a beach outing coming up soon)
– how I met the man of my dreams

Intrigued? Watch this space. 🙂

A visit to a health clinic

A free health check at a local church had resulted in one of the orphanage staff being given a referral to the public hospital for a blood sugar test. As it was to be done on an empty stomach, the staff member had abstained from breakfast and was already hungry when we set off in a taxi around 11am.

The health clinic turned out to be a set of rather rundown buildings swarming with people. We shuffled past a long queue of patients seated along a veranda, opened a flyscreen door and showed the referral form to the nurse. “Come back tomorrow,” she said. “We do those tests at 7am.”

The next day I got up in the dark, so that I could be at the orphanage in time, and once again we set off in a taxi. We arrived at the hospital just after 7am, joined the queue on the veranda and waited. The medical staff didn’t arrive until about 8am, by which time the row of patients had all shared a good deal of grumbling about the wait.

The nurse collected everybody’s referral form and began calling out names. When my companion’s name was called we went in eagerly, but it seemed we were only there to pay the 3 Cedis fee. We returned to the queue until her name was called again – this time to collect the change. After another wait of thirty minutes or so, my companion was called in for a finger prick blood test. I saw from the LED display that her blood sugar was 13.4 – higher than normal.

From here my companion was sent to another building to purchase a hospital records book, into which her details would be written. This required another wait in a queue, this time inside a hot building where the ceiling fans hung dormant above us. The queue of hot sweaty bodies, including women with babies strapped to their backs, stretched across four rows of seats. People joined the line at the back and each time a patient was seen, everybody got up and shifted one seat along. I sat next to a man with a wounded foot, who thankfully was not offended when I asked if I could photograph his crutch. Eventually my companion had her blood pressure taken and was sent away to wait again. By this stage she was starving, so we went to a local cafe, where she ate a hearty bowl of fufu.

Fufu looks like a large dumpling, served sitting in a bowl of soup. It’s made of pounded plantain and cassava and has a sticky consistency, a bit like glue. It is eaten with the fingers. To take a bite, you use your first and middle fingers like scissors to cut off a portion, then roll it into a small ball, make an indent in it, dip it into the soup and swallow, without chewing. If you try chewing, you find that nothing much happens – it stays stuck together in your mouth until you give up and swallow anyway. The higher the proportion of plantain, the better the quality, as plantain has iron and other nutrients, whereas cassava is plain starch with no nutritional value.

Then it was back to the queue for an hour and a half wait to see the doctor. The doctor welcomed me and spoke in English, so that I could be part of the conversation. He gave a thorough and easy to understand explanation of what diabetes is, and advice about how to manage it. “No sweets, and no cassava!” he said. “Sorry, no more fufu.” He explained how starch is converted straight into glucose in the body, and that meat, fish and vegetables were preferable to yams, cassava, maize, rice or even plantain. The problem is, the African diet consists mainly of yams, cassava, maize and rice. Meat, fish and vegetables are generally served in tiny quantities as a garnish to flavour the starch. My companion assured us she could change her diet but I had my doubts.

Then there was a queue for the dispensary, which involved handing in the prescription, then waiting in another queue to pay the fee for the drugs, then back to collect the drugs, and then on to the pharmacy for the same performance again. By the time we had all the medication, the whole trip had taken six hours. When we got back to the orphanage, my companion celebrated with a hearty dish of banku (maize dumpling served with a fish sauce).