June 2002.................

Day 1 - Day 2 - Day 3 - Day 4 - Day 5 - Day 6 - Day 7 - Day 8 - Day 9

Friday, May 31, 2002

I’m on my way to Africa!  I got up early this morning (5:30 a.m.) and packed the last of my things. I am staying near Heidelberg, Germany for a short visit before departing for Africa.  The train was an inter-city express which is a pleasure to ride. The trip from Heidelberg to the Frankfurt airport took less than an hour including the transfer.

I was really looking forward to seeing George and Adjoa Atsina. I’m also looking forward to seeing Dorita Martins who is flying from Johannesburg to Accra today and coincidentally, our flights are scheduled to arrive simultaneously in Accra (17:25  Zulu or 5:25 p.m.  Greenwich Mean Time, which is the local time in Accra.)

It was a very pleasant night, there were a lot of people there and nobody seemed to notice the strange American who was sitting at a taple, under a under a tree, drinking a beer and typing on his laptop computer.I guess this is one cool advantage of being stranded at the airport, I have all of my stuff with me: computer, charger, cell phone, clothing, toothbrush.

An interesting story about my experience with the Ghanaian police goes here, when I find a bit more time! The story involves interactions with the police, Ghanaian waiters, tropical rainstorms and Dorita's eventual arrival at 1:30 a.m.  In the end of the story, George and Adjoa find me, Dorita arrives safely and we find her, we all make it back to the clinic, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Saturday, June 1, 2002 - Village of Hope
Our visit to the Village of Hope on Saturday was great. It was a surprise to see that the orphanages have now built a new facility housing all three orphanages in one location. Previously I have visited two of the three locations, and I knew that they had a building project, but I did not know that all three Villages of Hope were being combined into a single facility with three buildings for the children: a school, a house for the director, and a clinic. Actually, these are the plans, but the implementation of the plan depends on when and if they get the money to finish everything.

The living quarters are essentially completed. There is no electricity yet, but it should be finished within the next few weeks. Seventeen children and two "parents" live in a four bedroom house with about 6 kids per bedroom. The kids come from all over Ghana. Some are from tribes that speak many languages. The Village of Hope accepts kids as young as two years old. All of the kids begin learning English when they arrive and when they are old enough to start school, all of their schooling is in English. The kids can stay at the clinic until they are able to leave home, just like in a normal family. There is no specified age at which they must leave.

The orphanage was originally designed for an occupancy of 16 kids per house. The director of the orphanage told us a story about a family of four brothers, whose father had died shortly after their mother had also passed away. The extended family in the village had decided that the family had been cursed and, therefore, would not have anything to do with the kids. The orphanage was full to capacity at the time. The government office contacted the Village of Hope about taking the family. They finally decided that each of the houses would take on one extra child, expanding them to 17 children per building. The eldest child was old enough to begin boarding school and so that was where he was sent.

We received a tour of the houses where the kids live. We went to their meeting shelter where all 51 children were assembled with the parents and director. They sang several songs for us. Dorita had brought stuffed bears from Australia, which a women's group had made.  We handed out the bears to the smallest children and we had some pens for the older children. They were really excited about receiving gifts. It was really moving. A bit later, the Chief of the Region drove up and came to meet us briefly. Then we toured the construction sites for the future. George wants to continue the clinic in Accra, even after the one in the countryside is built, because his patients in Accra would never be able to travel to the new location.

The orphanage is primarily supported by the Ghanaian Church of Christ, which is similar to the non-instrumental church of Christ in the USA. George attends the Church of Christ here in Accra. So while the Church of Christ in Ghana (~60%) supports the orphanage, and the Church of Christ in America (~40%) supports the orphanage, we provide all of the medical care for those 50+ orphans. George is really keeping those children alive and healthy.

It will require tens of thousands of dollars to finish the clinic and the school at the Village of Hope.  They are both currently under construction, but the clinic is much further along. The workers were putting on the roof as we visited. I think it will cost about $50k to finish the clinic and another $10k to finish the school.

After we finished our afternoon visit at the Village of Hope, we drove back to Accra and made a house call to an elderly patient who lacks the mobility to travel to the clinic. As far as I know, George may be one of the last doctors on the planet to still make house calls. We visited the home of an elderly man who is paralyzed from the waist down. His wife also lives with him and she has high blood pressure and diabetes. The man is mentally sharp for someone who is so old and in such poor health. He remember Ghana from the time it was still a British Colony. George visits him almost every other day.

Sunday, June 2, 2002
George, Adjoa, Osomea, Dorita and I went to church at the Church of Christ. It's pretty interesting to see how they start songs when there is not piano to play an introduction. The song leader sings the first line acapella and then says "one!" as in "first verse." The chorus really sang with enthusiasm. It sounded very good - at least to me. The sermon went on quite a bit longer than an American church would usually put up with (I also noticed an ever growing percentage of sleeping Ghanaians toward the end) but it was a good sermon on God's grace. Even though it was pretty long it was quite a bit more interesting than some of the sermons I have heard at  my home church in Terre Haute.

Monday, June 3, 2002
It was Monday afternoon and we met with some patients in the afternoon. Dorita later interviewed them for the newsletter. We don't have international direct dial (IDD) at the clinic, but you can walk to a phone shop about two blocks away. The price for a phone call to Australia is about $1 per minute.

Tuesday, June 4, 2002
In the morning we took a trip into Accra to change money, buy a map, and visit the Kwame Nkrumah monument.  Kwame Nkrumah is the father of independence from the British in Ghana. He was also the first president of Ghana after independence. George arranged for the driver to take us into Accra.

When we got to the bank, the computers were down and they asked us to come back later. When we finally did return I changed $200 (two $100 travellers checks) for approximately 1.5 million cedis. I started with two thin travellers checks and ended up with three 1/2 million cedi stacks, each of which were about 1 inch thick.  Needless to say, that money will NOT fit in my wallet.

I’m not sure why they don’t use a bill larger than 5,000 cedis, but I have never seen one. I have received some 1,000 cedi bills which are worth about 14 cents. So, if the largest bill that you can get your hands on is worth 70 cents, it’s hard to carry around $200 worth of currency. It takes a stack of 10 bills to pay for a half tank of fuel in your automobile for example.

We also had a task of purchasing a roadmap of Ghana in preparation for the trip to Kakum National Park. We visited several bookstores, all of which had no maps On our way out of the last bookstore, an entrepreneurial Ghanaian who had gotten wind of our quest, met us at the door with two roadmaps in his hand. The more detailed of the two is put out by Shell and KLM and has a map of Ghana on one side with a map of Accra on the other. The map that this young man had in hand had evidently seen many hard years of use and was fairly well-frayed around the folds. Dorita seemed rather dubious about the value and reliability of such a rough looking specimen, but the second map had far less detail.  With no other clear alternatives at hand, I bought the map. This map will turn out to be very important, perhaps critical, to the success of the trip.

In the afternoon, we set off westbound on the Takadori Road toward Cape Coast and the Biriwa Beach Hotel. I was somewhat nervous about making my first solo (without a Ghanaian drive) automobile trip in Ghana. The traffic is shocking at times, but it always seems to break free after a few kilometers. There are spots where you can walk as fast as you can drive but then after you get through the town and into the country side you can race along the occasionally pot-holed roads at reasonably high speeds.

George seemed to think that I would be okay on the roads of Ghana. I think he was glad to have us out for a couple of days; he was able to keep the clinic open even though I was in Ghana, "touristing" about.  He also didn’t seem to be too concerned about his $500 automobile. This Mercedes was missing a few of the standard features on some Mercedes like a reliably functioning radio and a windshield defogger. Luckily you don’t need a radio because the Mercedes has no air-conditioning and it would be too hard to hear the radio with the wind noises anyway. We could have used the defogger, but only when it rains, which is perhaps not as often as you would think since it is currently being the rainy season in Ghana.  George does not speak very highly of this fine specimen of an automobile, but if I could find a $500 duplicate in the USA, I would certainly be happy to own it. The odometer shows ~350,000 kilometers (275,000 miles) but it has not moved during our trip or, according to George, for years before that.

Imagine the spectacle that we made; two white people in a white Mercedes with a red cross on the hood and large block letters on the doors - ATSINA CHARITY MEDICAL CLINIC.

On Monday we stayed at the Biriwa Beach Hotel which is owned by a German couple who has been in Ghana for the past 28 years. It is a nice place on the beach with air-conditioning.  Although the hotel had air-conditioning and satellite TV, it did not have running water!  The hotel had running water the previous month, but on June 4th and 5th there was not water in this otherwise very modern hotel. They trucked in water and filled two plastic garbage cans of water in each room for use in bathing and flushing of toilets.

The beach was beautiful. The surf was too rough for comfortable swimming and the beach was pretty rocky. It was a nice view, but not much for swimming. It was not very surprising that just 5 degrees north of the equator the water was extremely warm. Our plan was to meet for breakfast on Tuesday and get an early start to Kakum National Park.

Wednesday, June 5, 2002
With the help of our worn but excellent roadmap, some good directions from our innkeepers, the Kleinebuddes, and in spite of the morning rain, we did indeed arrive at Kakum National park in a timely fashion on June 5th. Kakum National Park, the proud winner of the world’s acclaimed ‘Nast Travellers’ 1998 Ecotourism Award’ was made a national park in 1991 and was officially opened in 1994 although the canopy walk for which the park is famous was not in place until 1997. They have created a system of 7 suspended walkways through the canopy of the rain-forest, so that visitors can walk among the butterflies and birds living high above the forest floor. This canopy walkway is one of only four such rain-forest walkways currently in existence anywhere in the world.

As with much of the world’s rain forest Ghana’s have been steadily encroached upon by man and so the Ghanaians have created this 360 square kilometer national park to preserve what is remaining of this tropical, semi-deciduous virgin rain-forest. The park is inhabited by over 40 species of large mammals such as forest elephants, duikers and royal antelopes. It is also inhabits over eight species of primates including sugar babies, pottos, and flying squirrels, and over 300 different species of birds. A variety of endangered species such as the Diana monkey and the bongo also find shelter within the park. Over 400 species of butterflies can also be seen in the park.

The walk was spectacular. The park has more than 200 species of plants per square hectare. Some of the trees in the park are over 60 meters high. The canopy layer comes in between th emergent and the under storey layer. The canopy layer, measuring between 35 and 40 meters high, forms a continuous cover in between the emergents and also acts as an umbrella, shielding lower plants from heavy rains and sunlight.

The amazingly rich diversity of flora and fauna can best be appreciated by the use of the canopy walkway. The walkway is approximately 100 ft high and 1000 ft long. It is made of a system of ropes, cables and safety nets (no nail and bolts) and suspended between eight giant trees, each between 100 - 400 years old. The walkway is connected in such a way as to create a series of seven bridges across the top of the forest.

As you zigzag along the walkway, you could observe the variety of tress, vines, and other plants and marvel at the orderly vertical and horizontal spacing between trees. One should certainly not fail to see the incredible number of birds and butterflies that live on top of the tress and the beautiful songs they make as they fly and flutter about.

After the walk through the canopy, we descended for a guided hike through the rainforest. Although there are many animals in this forest, they are wild animals; shy and very hard to see.  It is not common to see animals during these guided hikes. We were told by the guides that if you want to see wild animals, you could camp out in the park overnight with a guide. Most of the animals are nocturnal and your chances of seeing one around daybreak are greatly improved.

In the afternoon we headed back to the coast and proceeded on to Elmina where we toured the infamous Elmina Castle.  The castle was built by the Portuguese in 1482 and later used in the slave trade.  This Portuguese castle, was used to house slaves between the time they were brought to the coast and the time when they were loaded onto a ship.  There are many similar castles dotting the coast of Ghana which were used for the same purpose.  The nearby Cape Coast castle was a Dutch castle used for the same purpose.

Thursday, June 6, 2002
On June the 6th we drove from Cape Coast to Kumasi. Dorita had made plans to visit the Sinapi Aba trust bank, which  means “Mustard Seed” trust bank. The bank is a non-profit Christian organization that lends small amounts of money to villagers who are trying to start small businesses. The bank is supported by a group from Australia and Dorita agreed to make contact with the Ghanaians at the bank and in the villages as a representative from the Australian group, Opportunities International.

Since it’s about a 4 hour drive between Cape Coast and Kumasi, we set off early with plans to meet with Michael, from the Trust Bank, at around noon. Our German innkeepers from the previous night recommended a nice and inexpensive hotel on Lake Busumatwi, near Kumasi.  We asked Michael to meet us at the lake and he had agreed to take us into Kumasi.

It was a cool overcast morning (by African standards) for a drive through Ghana. The trip seemed to be going very smoothly and we were making steady, if bumpy, progress. As we turned off the main road toward the lake, the sky grew increasingly dark and threatening winds steadily increased. At the same time, the roads became increasingly narrow and rough. As we finally drove into the village where the hotel was located, we were greeted by a driving rain. We are talking about a tropical, African, rainy-season, driving-rain.

We immediately spotted the sign to the hotel, but we did not see a hotel, nor did we see a road to a hotel.  We did see a dirt driveway that was very narrow, very rutted and more significantly blocked by a very large dump truck. We drove back and forth through the village (about 200 m), and we were greeted by an African lady who ran out in the rain to tell us that the road to the hotel was out and that she would gladly take us to a different hotel.

We turned her offer down and decided to make the journey, by auto, back to the nearest village with a phone to call Michael.

Did I mention, that the fuel gauge was closer to E than it was to 1/4?  Well that didn’t seem to be the most critical factor in this situation, but since we had no previous information about the accuracy of the gauge, and since we didn’t know how many times we would need to drive back and forth between these villages and Kumasi. Not to mention that we had no information about the location of filling stations, it did increase the tension (and hence the interest level of the subsequent story).

After arriving to the village, we stopped at a shop advertising phone service and found that the phone was in good working order, as demonstrated by the person who was currently using it. Dorita eventually did reach Michael, who had passed us in a green Toyota pickup truck, driving in the opposite direction as we were leaving the lake. He reported that he was at the lake, but would come find us if we stayed put.

Michael and his two colleagues in the Toyota found us and we followed them to Kumasi. We did not run out of fuel, and happily booked into a hotel very near the Sinpai Aba Trust Bank.  On the same afternoon, we met the director of the bank and visited the Ashanti Cultural Center in Kumasi, where one can view and purchase examples of several interesting local crafts.

Friday, June 7, 2002
In the morning, Michael had arranged to pick us up and take us to tour a village and meet some of the Trust Bank clients. About the time we were scheduled to be picked up, they called and asked us if we could all ride in our car, since their Toyota pickup was a diesel, and there was no diesel fuel to be found in Kumasi. We filled up our car on the way out of town and headed out to a nearby village.

The Trust Bank picks a leader with whom they deal in each of the villages. It is usually a woman who is well respected in the village. In fact, almost all of the clients of the trust bank are women. According to Michael, the women are more reliable in repaying their loans. At the village, a group of women were meeting in a large, barn-like shelter. The leader of the group sat at a table in the front and the 30 or so other clients sat facing the leader.

After the group met briefly, we toured the village and some of the businesses that had been started with loans from the trust bank. The picture below shows a woman who had borrowed money to buy a sewing machine and some material to start a business making clothing. We spent most of the morning touring the village before we finally headed back towards Accra.

As we left Kumasi with a full tank of gas and 4+ hours of daylight, we decided that there was a pretty good chance of making the 150 miles to Accra before dark. It was a bright sunny, African day, and the road between Kumasi and Accra is surely the best road in Ghana. Most Ghanaian roads have seen very little of maintenance, if any at all.

The traffic pattern between Kumasi and Accra goes something like this. After the first half-hour, the traffic thins out considerably and you can alternate speeding through the countryside up to 50 or 60 mph (90 or 100 kph) dodging potholes and the occasional goat, chicken or cow. Upon approaching a village, the speed limit changes immediately to 30 mph (50 kph), but depending on the village, the traffic will determine the maximum speed at which you can drive. In several villages, our average speed was considerably slower than a person can walk.

The picture below shows us cruising through a small town about half-way between Kumasi and Accra.  I count roughly 4 or 5 lanes of traffic on this nominally two-lane road. Lanes in Accra are more like suggestions than firm guidelines. From this picture it may not be obvious, but in Ghana driving on the right is standard.  It's an interesting bit of trivia that in Ghana, a former British colony, driving on the left used to be the standard. One Sunday back in 1974, they simply changed over. On Sunday people drove on the left, and on Monday they drove on the right. According to some unsubstantiated reports, it was years before a few drivers took notice of the change.

There were no accidents, although we did have one unlucky experience. As we were heading south toward Accra, a northbound driver had a blow-out just as he passed us. The exploding tire left me with a ringing in my ears for the next few miles, not to mention the adrenelin rush and a near heart-attack. We made it to Accra before dark. We were within about 8 miles of the clinic by 5:30 p.m. and we finally pulled into the driveway of the clinc at approximately 6:30 p.m.

Friday evening it rained. It really, really rained. This was the type of rain storm that gives rise to the name "rainy season". The rain poured down in buckets while thunder boomed and lightening flashed.  It rained in windows and doors and some residents of Accra experienced severe flooding. I guess that the flooding is a regular annual event during the rainy season.  The fact that it happens every year doesn't make it any easier for the people who lose their property or possibly their lives. There is a good side to the rain, the rain is necessary for filling up Lake Volta and producing drinking water and electricity. That heavy storm also cooled the weather substantially and made for a pleasantly cool evening for those lucky enough to be inside a dry shelter.

Saturday, June 8, 2002

Our last weekend in Ghana would be spent in Accra. We visited with Adjoa and George, talked to more patients, and explored Accra a bit more.

Saturday morning we heard singing coming from the shop in front of the clinic, out of which Adjoa runs her school for sewing. Adjoa was preparing a bride for a wedding or "dressing the bride" as she put it.

In the afternoon we took a trip into Accra. The traffic was so heavy that even a short trip to the center of the city is a big undertaking. I have now been to Accra enough times that the city is becoming somewhat familiar. This is the first trip that I really explored the city without George and Adjoa. It is a comfortable place to visit, especially once one moves a few steps away from the most common tourist spots. One difficulty in visiting Accra is that (white) tourists attract A LOT of attention. Only by showing your face, you can attract a large number of people who are eager to talk to you, shake your hand, help you, sell you something, ask for help, etc. After 15 minutes or so of this type of attention, I always realized that I truly need to be someplace else. As we walked through the streets of Accra, we certainly didn't blend in, but after a time we did not attract as much attention.

When we returned to the clinic on Saturday evening, the electricity was off. George and Adjoa thought it might be temporary and that it would come on shortly. In fact, it was the result of a blown transformer, which had to be ordered and the electricity would not come back on until after I left Ghana. On the same evening the water was off due to some plumbing problems. We did get water restored before retiring that evening and I had a shower before bedtime.  My memory of that last weekend in Ghana is one of very warm and humid days. A cool shower at the end of the day was an extremely welcome event.

On Monday evening we took another trip across the city to deliver Dorita to the airport for her 11:00 p.m. departure. On the way back to the clinc George remarked on the feeling of sadness that always comes when one of their visitors departs. It was also sad for me. It was really good to have a friend in Accra to share the adventure. I was looking forward to returning to Heidelberg, but the last day would be a bit more lonely than the previous days.

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