Ghana 2013 travel blog

Day 1: May 31st

Today I arrived in Accra. Totally nervous when I stepped off the plane and into the airport. In an airport of thousands of people, it is the weirdest feeling to be 1 of less than 10 white people. Everyone can't help but look and stare at you, which was a feeling I got used to after a couple days. A Projects Abroad staff member picked me up and took me by taxi to my host family. I had my first satchel water (a bag you bite a hole in and suck water out of) which is our source of drinking water at my host family and throughout Accra. We arrived at the gate to my host family, he unloaded my bags and left, and a boy who works at my home brought me in to my room. Two other girls, one from Denmark and one from the Netherlands, have been here for some time now. We are very lucky to have as nice of of home as we do- we have running water and some internet connection here and there which many of the other volunteers don't have. No one has air conditioning, and even at night the heat is pretty bad. I showered and started sweating again the second I dried off. I am in a room with 4 other beds, and about halfway through my trip I think my room will be full with other volunteers. I unpacked at went to sleep (or tried) because I was getting picked up at 8am for my introduction to Accra. Never stopped sweating.

Day 2: June 1st

Woke up for my introduction and had my first breakfast here... basically just white bread and some strange butter and black tea... the eggs are not my favorite either so I'm pretty glad I brought my breakfast bars also. Michael and Fynn from my organization got me from my host house around 7:30am. They took me via tro-tro (old Volkswagen vans that function as the bus system) to the Projects Abroad office and then to get me a Ghana phone in Circle. Circle is a part of Accra named for a roundabout; it is crazy crowded and is packed with street vendors, all who were grabbing at my arms trying to sell me everything and anything. Besides me, we walked through the city as crowded as Philadelphia for 15 minutes. I did not see a single other white person. People stare, especially children. As we walked through the city, I had to wear my backpack on my front as it is known for having many pickpocketers. They especially target foreigners- whites are seen as rich people with lots of money on them. After buying my phone, we went to get lunch at a little Ghanaian place. We had chicken, jollof (red spicy rice), white rice and red red (fried plantains and beans in a red sauce) and banku (white dough made from cassava). I enjoyed the jollof, chicken, and plantains but hated the banku. After lunch, we then exchanged my money, he showed me an internet cafe where you can pay to use a computer for 1cedi (about 50 US cents) an hour., and Michael took me back to my host family. I got back and then hung out with Trine and Marith, the two girls living with me at my host family. We didn't end up going out at night because it was raining. And here, when it rains it POURS.

Day 3: June 2nd

So today (Sunday), Trine, Marith and I met up with 3 other volunteers and went into the city! We took a tro to a bus stop in Accra and then walked to the National Museum. Interesting but a long walk from our stop (longer than we thought) and we couldn't take any pictures unless we paid 20 cedis (~$12). When we were leaving, a group of Nigerians came up to us and asked if they could have pictures with us. We had to sit there as 15 different people with 15 different cameras came in and took pics with us haha. Pretty funny. We definitely stand out!

Then we walked back to the Accra Art Market which is a bunch of locals who have shops there and sell handmade art, jewelry, bags, paintings etc. I bought an awesome necklace and 2 bracelets for $18cedi total (after lots of bartering) which is only about $10. We then took a tro back, stopped at a gas station for ice cream, and I bought bananas from a local woman selling fruit. Fruit is one of the only foods that are safe to buy from a local on the street because they are in peels. Then we walked back home from there and had dinner- it is served here between 4:30-5ish because people here go to bed early and get up really early. We probably walked a total of 5 miles today at least. I feel much better about using the transportation now and have really realized how nice the people are. Even if they are staring, everyone wants to talk to you, sell you things, and show you what they have. When we were walking, a bunch of the little kids will run out and yell "Obroni" which means white person in Twi (a common dialect of the locals here). We are celebrities here! I felt much more settled in today and am really starting to love it here!!

Day 4: June 3rd

Today I had my first day at the hospital. Have to leave at 7 to get there at 8 when the drive without traffic is only 25 minutes. Traffic is unpredictable – we didn't arrive until almost 8:30am. However, being late is OK because Ghanaians are not worried about time so “late” isn't really late. I went to the office of one of the head policeman (it is the Ghana Police Hospital) who is coordinating my work schedule and would tell me where to start. I was told by someone he was running late and would not arrive until 9:30. He got there at 11:30. Really on Ghanaian time here. No one else waiting to meet with him seemed to mind at all. Glad I had my book. First I will start in the male ward, then go to children's, then OPD (like the ER), then labor and delivery my last week. I am in the hospital Mon/Wed/Fri and the medical volunteers go on outreach to schools in poor communities on Tues/Thurs. I got to the male ward by 12 and we were finished at 2. Was shown around the ward and saw the nurses do a few things. The hospital conditions are beyond anything I had imagined. It is dirty, unorganized, hot (no A/C), and ancient. The equipment is old, there are flies everywhere, and the bathrooms have no toilet paper. The best way to depict how the equipment at the hospital is like is describing the wheelchairs- or plastic lawn chairs with the legs cut short and attached to bike tires. It is unbelievable to see the conditions these people are treated in- I would be horrified to go to a hospital here. In general, the doctors are the only ones who know what's going on (at least a little). The nurses sit around a lot, watch tv, and drink soda in the room with a fan. Not much to do today so hopefully Wednesday will be better. Tonight, me Marith and Tim went to a local bar near our house for some drinks and made friends with the owner of the bar who is also a musician- he makes African style house music with the best beats. He was really talented. And he asked us to be in his music video... probably not going to happen but making friends with him was worth it since he paid our bar tab! Good night for us!

Day 5: June 4th

Today was my first day of outreach! I went with the Trine and Tim from my house (all of us on medical projects) to meet up with 6 or 7 other volunteers to go to the school together. Waited about an hour after when we were supposed to meet for our leader to get there... typical. The school we went to was about 45 min out of Accra to the west. It had SO many kids of all ages- when we got there they were on break and there was about 1000 kids running around in complete chaos in the dirt rectangle between the classroom buildings that is their play area. They get so excited to see us coming and crowd around us when we get out of the car. You pick up one kid, take one picture, or let one hold your hand and you are completely bombarded. The kids are all soo sweet and love us so much. They scream and jump for your attention, and the second you give them attention they got shy and coy and sometimes run away. Pretty funny. Once they went back to class, we set up two tables with a bunch of medical supplies to deal with treating wounds/cuts, ringworm, etc. and teachers were supposed to send out kids with any wounds to us to be treated. However, because they all wanted to be around us, kids were cutting themselves with their fingernails to try to get to be around us. Craziness. I cleaned and treated a lot of pretty big cuts and wounds, but my last girl was by far the worst. She had gotten her ears pierced, but they were incredibly infected and crusted with blood and pus. I had to take it out, and the ear was just completely raw with no skin under. On the other ear, the earring back had been pushed so far in that it was trapped inside her earlobe. She was incredibly brave and didn't shed a single tear and it must have been terribly painful. So I did my best to clean the other one and me and our coordinator told her she had to promise us she would go to the hospital. She doesn't have insurance so we knew she wouldn't go because she couldn't afford it- our project leader offered to pay for her. Once we were done, we played with the kids some more and then headed out. I really loved outreach because you really feel like you are making a difference and playing with the kids is so rewarding. We are the highlight of their week and they certainly were the highlight of mine. Then tonight was quiz night where all of the volunteers meet up at the Projects Abroad office and do a trivia game, hang out, and eat pizza. It was awesome to meet all of the people here- about 20 volunteers in Accra total and everyone is so interesting. People from about 8 different countries with awesome stories. Then went home and to bed- long day.

Day 6: June 5th

Today was my 2nd day at the hospital- much better. We again were late due to traffic and no one noticed. Rounds are supposed to start at 7:30 and didn't start until 9. But I saw some absolutely insane wounds- a guy with a hole in his stomach where if you look in you can see his organs (post-op from a bladder surgery), and many people with what look to be disease from a flesh-eating bacteria or infection- just totally raw flesh with no skin at all on parts on their body. One of the doctors was asking me and the nurses about what he was doing and why- the nurses had no idea and I was able to answer. A little scary that these are some of the people in charge of the care of these patients. But he will be back on Friday and hopefully I will get to be more hands on. I taught a 2nd year Ghana med student how to check pulse and take blood pressure (again, frightening) and got to observe the doctor's care of some of these patients. A much better day at the hospital today. After we finished at the hospital, Trine, Marith and I went to the pool at La Palm Hotel on Labadi beach, which is on the way home from work. Amazing pool that seems like a resort- probably the only thing so far that has felt American. We got memberships for the month so we will definitely be there a lot! Then last night we met up with a bunch of the other volunteers at Labadi Beach where there is a bar that does a reggae night every Wednesday. Soo fun! Got home pretty late and I am just exhausted- we have to be up by 6:30 every day for work and going out almost every night is rough but I'm loving it so far!

Day 7: June 6th

Today was day 2 of outreach. We met at a bus stop near the school and went to the orphanage for a little while. The kids are adorable and so sweet and are dying to play with your camera and take pictures. The school for the orphanage is really close to the home, so while they were in class we got to look around the home. Its really sad the conditions that they live in. Tiny rooms for a bunch of kids, lots of flies, ants, old food and trash everywhere. But the kids are generally really happy!! One of the girls on outreach with us works at the orphanage MWF and said sometimes you can just see a sadness in their eyes when they don't think anyone is watching. She had to say goodbye to them today because she leaves soon and some of the kids were devastated- they have people come, they get attached, and then they leave. No one stays in their life for long. After the orphanage we walked further into the slums to another school much smaller than the one from Tuesday. We again treated their wounds, and today I also took the blood pressure and checked the blood sugar of all of the teachers. We didn't have a working finger prick, so I had to take the little needles and manually prick them myself. Unfortunately, even after testing them there was not much we could do. A few of the teachers had very high blood pressures where in the US you would definitely go to the doctor. Here, since most people don't have medical insurance, no one goes to the hospital unless they are really sick. So I told them to eat healthy, exercise, and eat less salt and then they left, that's all. Even though the school was much smaller, it took a long time since there were only 3 of us today- the girls that live in another host family were robbed last night while they were sleeping- passports, phones, computers, and money all stolen. Very scary but at least they are OK. Definitely need to be really careful here. After we were finished at the school, we left and came home since the weather was too cloudy for the pool. We are probably hanging local tonight, maybe going to a bar on our street later since after work tomorrow we are heading out of town! We are probably going to Kokrobite, an awesome beach town with lots of local bars, shopping and a music festival! Can't wait.

That's all for my first week in Ghana!! Thanks for reading :)

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