I have finally made peace with Ghana… I think. I went to Ghana three years ago and it’s a trip that impacted on me like no trip ever has. And I don’t think any other trip will do.
I didn’t leave Ghana with the best impression of it. I think this was to do with a variety of factors, namely being so young. I was 18 at the time. And had decided to volunteer in a hospital in Ghana’s capital city, Accra. Being in a third world country is a shock for anyone. But for an 18 year old who had lived a relatively sheltered life up to this point, the poverty, corruption and unfairness of the life that so many Ghanaians lived through left a lasting impression.
There are several negative events that will stay with me forever from Ghana. I will detail some of them, but not all of them. Be warned these aren’t necessarily the nicest reading.
The majority of these instances happened when I was at the hospital. At the hospital I worked on the admittance part of the paediatric ward and also in the neonatal ward. Most of the children born prematurely do not survive. But those who do are the unlucky ones, as one of the doctors told me, as they often have birth defects and disabilities which their families cannot afford to look after. Therefore many of these babies would end up begging on the street as they would have be abandoned by their families in the future.
Whilst on admittance rape cases were not uncommon. One girl had been brought in to be checked for sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy – she was 11 and had been raped by one of her neighbours. Another girl was 13 and had been brought in bleeding from her vagina, at first I thought she simply had her first period and she didn’t know what it was – how naïve I was. I was later informed this child had been raped and her father had therefore purchased abortion medicines off the black market to rid her of a suspected pregnancy. This medicine caused this particular girl to loose so much blood she was admitted to hospital for a week to replace her lost bloods and fluids. Abortion is illegal in Ghana as it is a largely a Catholic country, which also has a large Muslim population. And contraception is frowned upon, I’ll let you do the maths.
Violence fills the streets, homes and schools of many a Ghanaian. Children are punished by being slapped with rulers at school. Women are punished in similar ways at home. A child can be hit by any adult, not just their own parents. I don’t think a day went by when I didn’t see a child being hit. Which I guess in turn makes it unsurprising I got grabbed by a Ghanaian man in the street one day, which is fairly high up on the list of scariest moments in my life.
TB and HIV/AIDS are highly prevalent in Ghana, I received my A level results outside a HIV diagnostic centre. I hadn’t done as well as I’d hoped, despite working incredibly hard. I found myself crying outside a building where people were essentially being given their death sentence. My emotions were so conflicted, half of me was so upset that I hadn’t done as well as I wanted, but my other half was felt incredibly stupid for crying over something so menial in the scheme of things, especially due to my location. I was never told when my patients had TB or HIV and one time I was testing a boy for malaria – with no gloves as we had run out due to lack of funding. A malaria test involves pricking one finger to release some blood and test it. I went to write in his file that he was didn’t have malaria and discovered he did have both TB and HIV – fluid transmitted diseases. Luckily I wasn’t contaminated, but it was definitely a wake-up call about transmission of disease.
Malaria is a killer, one of the biggest killers in Ghana. Malaria is also highly curable with early medical attention. Which unfortunately I witnessed first hand. A boy of about 11 or 12 was brought in convulsing and within 10 minutes of being in the hospital doors sadly passed away, despite the best efforts of the doctors and nurses. His mother told me he’d started getting ill a few days ago but his father was away so they didn’t have the money to bring him to hospital earlier. Ghanaians grieve communally and vocally, every mother in the ward started wailing and moaning, it was almost as if they were trying to share the pain amongst them to help the mother who had just lost her son. Four days after this event one of the women I worked with passed away after falling down the stairs at home. Shortly after this I cut my trip short, and headed home a month early.
I felt like a failure. For a long time I couldn’t talk about Ghana without crying. My friends and family were fairly confused. I was fairly confused. It took me about 2 years to finally open up about the events of the 2 months I spent in Ghana. With a further year to look back and revisit these memories with some positive light. Which is what I find I can now do. I have recently found my photos from Ghana. Printed but not organised or sorted through.
These photos have brought back an overwhelmingly large selection of amazing memories and experiences that I had blocked from my mind as I didn’t want to have to remember any of those 2 months. We went on some wild adventures. Stayed in treehouses, walked through canopies at sunrise, saw the most intense sunsets, stayed in beach huts meters from still waters, walked through groves of butterflies, drank homebrewed rum, ate and danced round fires. The list goes on. And I met my favourite house mate – Katy.
So my lessons, yes it took me a long time to process my trip to Ghana and sometimes I still wonder what possessed me to go, but I don’t regret it. The hard times in life are the ones that truly test us. Those moments are the ones where you are left open to growth. The times when you are forces to question your beliefs. From there is up to you whether you grow or shrink. Rise to the challenge or fall under the pressure. You could say I fell to the pressure because I came home early, but I prefer to look at it as I tried. And if you never try you will never know how you would have performed. I could have stayed in the safety of my hometown, but I didn’t. I pushed myself beyond limits I hadn’t even discovered yet and I reformed, moulding to situations I didn’t even know existed. Somewhere I found the strength to go to the hospital each day and face a new day of challenges. And that strength will never leave me. So thank you Ghana for teaching me about the raw side of life and showing me I’m stronger than I thought. I leave you in peace.