By: Neha James, OMS-II
The roads in Ghana are red. They are made of rich red clay that melts in the heavy rains and powders in the dry heat. The roads are cracked and uneven, full of potholes threatening to sprain an unsuspecting ankle. When the sun is at its hottest, all of the roads are uphill and unforgiving. Despite this, the roads in Ghana are beautiful. They lead you to spectacular views and exciting discoveries. When the moon is high, the roads turn blackish purple and come alive with crickets and grasshoppers and elephant grass swaying in the breeze. The roads in Ghana are just as breathtaking as the rest of the landscape, as the vibrant fabrics, as the faces and smiles and hearts of the people.
My first view of that stunning red clay was from the window of our airplane. We arrived in the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, the capital of Ghana after a 17 hour plane ride. From there, it took a day’s journey by bus to bring us to the Jesse Rohde Foundation in the village of Oworobong in the rural Kwahu East District. I remember sitting on the bus and wondering what I had gotten myself into as I watched dusty, bustling city streets slowly give way to intimidatingly thick vegetation. Night fell and brought with it a crushing darkness interrupted only by our headlights. Africa is advertised on television as a wild and downhearted place, both violent and destitute. As the branches scraped along our windows and the road grew increasingly bumpy and narrow, I began to feel overwhelmed by that wildness. I began to second-guess my decision. I enrolled in the Global Health course because I sincerely believe that we all have a responsibility to expose ourselves to the world and do what we can to help. I wanted to break out of my comfort zone and throw aside my sheltered life. I hoped in my naivete to make a difference in Ghana, but the truth is that Ghana made a difference in me.
Over the three weeks I spent in Ghana, I helped my team to complete nutrition surveys in local schools, performed puppet shows to promote malaria prevention habits, and shadowed medical staff in neighboring hospitals and clinics. I wrapped a long measuring tape around unbelievably skinny arms to collect left arm circumference data. I listened to children as young as five years old tell me they’ve only eaten one meal in the past 24 hours. I checked and rechecked the scale, unable to accept that the ten year old in front of me could only weigh 38 lbs. I watched doctors prescribe antimalarial medications without performing a physical or waiting for blood results or explaining potential side effects. We were taught about the differences in medical practice and quality of life during our Global Health course, but witnessing them for ourselves was staggering. I would be lying if I said that these things don’t weigh on the soul, especially now that we are home in the U.S. with so many resources available to us. I would also be lying if I said that this is the image I have now of Ghana, an image of poverty and inadequacy.
Ghana is rich. While it lacks greatly in medical care and educational opportunities, Ghana is wealthy in hospitality and love. Everywhere we went, people greeted us with shouts of “Akwaaba, you are welcome!” They were all eager to meet us, learn from us, and help us. The children fought excitedly to hold our hands or to pump water as we washed our hair. Women set aside their chores and even the babies on their backs to take our laundry. Men holding machetes sharp enough to slice through foliage in a single swipe smiled broadly and posed for the camera. Ghana is rich in ways that America is poor. In rural Ghana, there is no obsession with accumulating wealth or status or power. The people are curious and playful, but never envious or greedy. They stop us on the roadside not to ask for donations but to ask us how we are enjoying their home. We see everything they lack due to all the comforts that cushion us here in the Western world, but it is impossible to feel pity for the young girl who is balancing a bucket of your bath water on her head because you cannot carry it yourself. Even the small children, in their broken shoes and torn clothing, with their thin limbs covered in mosquito bites scratched open, smile and play and laugh as joyfully as children should.
Now, I am once again consumed by the chaos of American life. The chaos in Ghana is that of children clinging to your arms and dust flying up your nose and goats walking in on you as you shower. The chaos here is the feeling of never having enough time, energy, or money to attain something as simple and free as happiness. Leaving Oworobong was harder than I could predict. In those short three weeks, I truly came to call the village my home. I discovered that one can prepare a proper morning routine with just 500 mL of water, that there are many more hours in the day if you take television and computers out of the equation, that the number of stars in the sky is far greater than I ever imagined. I witnessed my first vaginal delivery and my first Cesarean. I acted as a scribe at Tafo Maternity Clinic’s outpatient center and went on rounds with the attending at Hawa Memorial Saviour Hospital in Osiem. Ghana provided me with a new understanding of health, poverty, and life. I feel so thankful to the country and so indebted to the world. It’s hard to sit still when you think of all that needs to be done, and even three weeks’ worth of experience, leaves me feeling like I haven’t done anything at all. In the end, I believe that’s the whole point–never feel like you’ve done enough and always strive to do more for your community and for the global community.
I left Ghana with more of everything.
I am forever grateful.