Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ghana-2003- Houses

Ghana is a country of paradoxes. You have little pieces of wood stuck together to resemble a humble abode. You have the giant, palatial buildings which look like hotels but are houses. Often these two structures are right next to each other. For most of my years living in Ghana, I didn't stay in a hut or a palace. Our house was nice enough, but there was no water.....there were lovely light fixtures....but more often then not, there was no electricity.

I loved where we lived. The roads were not paved. In fact, when I had to drive in or out, I would comment to the children we didn't need Disney land. We had our own 'rides' - up and down- over pot holes- barely passing by swollen rivers. I walked to visit people at places called "Israel" "Jerusalem" "Hallelujah Junction" "Achimota" and "Pillar Two." The walks were always done with my eyes zeroed in on what was on the ground: one never knew what could be stepped in.

It was late 2002 that we moved closer into the down town area. We moved into a General's house. So the entire time we lived there (2 years) we called it "The General's House." It wasn't elaborate, but it had alot of rooms. When I first moved in, it took me a long time to get used to the lack of noise. My other house had been squeezed in the middle of a myriad of houses. You could hear your neighbor clear their throat. When you opened your window, you could wave at the person pounding their fu fu for the evening. Now we were in a new housing estate....there was an uncomplete house on one side....no house on the other side....the silence was unnerving.

Ah, but in the house, there was no silence. We usually had between 15 to 20 people living with us. There were ten rooms in the house, so there was never a problem with being squished. In fact, I don't ever remember feeling like we were crowded- even when we had 25 people living there.

We held on to our memories of our old house- and the adventures with the anthills which surrounded us....And we made new memories in our new house with the lake behind us...Sean made a cute video clip that year to capture some of the memories.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

repost- A different Kind of Journey- Ghana-August 2002

(I am reposting this just to keep it in the ongoing timeline)- warning, this is a bit graphic and morbid

On a fateful day in August 2002, a bicycle knocked my friend, Milli down. I rushed her to a hospital in Accra,Ghana. I reassured her she would be fine. After all, what real damage can a bicycle do? In the emergency room, I held Milli in my arms. She was bleeding profusely from her head as I pleaded with the nurses and doctors to help her.

"She will be fine" they responded.

She was not fine. She died.

I could dwell on the unfairness of her death...if only the hospital had been better equipped...if only the doctors and nurses had done more...if only the proper medication had been administered on time...if only ...if only...if only....but there is no point in lingering on such things.

Last year I wrote something of her death; it was a strange piece but somehow it helped me to put it all to rest- here is the piece- join me on this journey of the senses-

The Smell of Death

Milli was gone. It happened so fast I didn’t know what to think. One minute she was alive and well, the next moment she was lying lifeless in a morgue.

“You have to go in and clean and dress her up,” the robust nurse informed me.

The words just didn’t compute. What did she mean, I had to go in and clean her up? Surely there were attendants trained to handle this kind of situation. Apparently there were no designated people to do the clean up at the Korle-bu Hospital in downtown Accra, Ghana.

“Where do I go?” I asked, not really wanting to know.

After getting directions, I headed off towards the morgue. The building looked insignificant enough. The front doors swung open with a light push. One push propelled me into my own horror film. The next thing I knew my nostrils were paralyzed with the worst smell in the world. It was more of a stench, then a smell. I gagged and almost fell back outside, but an attendant motioned me forward. My hand instinctively flew to cover my nose in a futile attempt to keep the foul odor out.

“Come, your friend is here.” The attendant directed me to follow him deeper into the building. As I moved towards the inner doors, the smell became even more repugnant. It was a mixture between the smell of rotting flesh and some sort of chemical. I gagged again. As I moved through the second doors, I finally saw where the smell was coming from. There were bodies laying everywhere in various stages of decomposition. I stepped over a few bodies and tried to analyze the smell. The sickeningly sweet smell was tinged with the stench of dead rat flesh. I had to think of this analytically, or else I would faint.

The hospital worker pointed me through to a smaller room. I peeked in, before entering, and saw Milli laid out on a desk. Her body, although small, hung off both ends of the desk. I forgot about the man who had directed me to her. I forgot for a brief moment about the overpowering stench. I just wanted to try and bring dignity to my dear friend. She who in life was so prim and proper. I wanted to cover her naked body from the prying eyes of those who surrounded me.

“Oh, Milli, oh, Milli…” I leaned over and touched her arm. My nose was once again assaulted by the pungent odor of a mix between rotten eggs and formaldehyde. I gagged again, this time my throat stung from the burning liquid that came up in the back of my mouth. My free hand went back up to my nose, my other hand held onto the clothes I had brought to dress Milli in.

The attendant crept up behind me, “You must work fast, no embalming. She spoils quickly.”

I had no choice but to be strong. Pulling my hand away from my nose, I began to breathe through my mouth. Slowly, I washed her cold skin. She was defrosting, like a piece of chicken that had been taken out of the freezer. I finished up the cleaning and quickly worked at putting her underwear on. Have you ever tried to put underwear on a stiff, cold corpse? It is no easy task.

“Oh, Milli, why did you decide to walk to meet me that night? Why didn’t you just take a taxi?” Her facial expression remained frozen as I murmured my questions to her. Why had a bicycle come out of nowhere and knocked her down? How could a bicycle kill a person? It just didn’t make sense. I breathed in deeply from my nose and coughed when the vile scent of the room filled my throat. I had forgotten to keep breathing through my mouth.

It seemed like an eternity, but finally Milli was dressed beautifully. She would have been proud to see how pretty I’d made her look. I gathered my things and glanced back at Milli one more time, and then I left for the church. They would bring the body to the church and we were instructed to bury her within two hours. Her body was decomposing rapidly.

Once out in the fresh air, I took a deep breath trying to purge my body of the smell which invaded every pore. One gulp, two gulps, but the smell would not leave. The smell of death was there to stay. The funeral went well. Some say it was the most beautiful funeral they had ever been to. I can’t say, because I was too busy trying to get rid of the smell lodged up in my nostrils. That night I fell asleep smelling dead flesh and chemicals. I dreamt of dressing dead bodies and gagging. I awoke with the smell of death still on me. The dreams continued night after night for a week.

“Can you smell it, Daniel?” I asked my husband.

He said, “No, it is all in your mind. It’s been a week; you can’t possibly smell it.”

The smell of death is powerful. It doesn’t leave you easily. It had taken up residence in my nose and it didn’t want to be evicted. I had been around dead bodies before, but they were nicely cleaned and in sterile conditions. The smell of uncontained decomposition is a powerful stench that will not go away politely. One morning I woke up to the realization that I was finally free from the smell. I was finally able to think of Milli and all she meant to me without being overcome with a strong desire to gag. I could sit and think about the happy times we had shared, without remembering the last day I saw her in the morgue.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ghana 2002- their way

Tills Beach, Aburi Mountains, and Amedzofe have one thing in common. These are places to rest. Tills beach doesn't give much of an escape from the heat, but the waters help to cool you down. Once at Tills, there is a chance to relax but getting to Tills is another story!

Aburi Mountains offered an easier getaway with a lovely botanical garden to picnic in. My husband never wanted to go on excursions to Aburi because "...we have much nicer gardens in Malaysia..."

I would respond, "We are not in Malaysia- so let us just enjoy what we have!"

Ah, but the most wonderful place of all was Amedzofe. Unfortunately, we only made it there once. My husband was out of town and I visited my friend, Sister Victoria. She was from the Volta Region and as we sat and drank our 'mineral drink' (coke), she shared of how her father was getting on in years and she needed to visit him.

"What is stopping you?"

"It is a long journey." She sucked gently on her straw.

"Let's go together!"

Eyes as big as saucers, she couldn't believe what I was saying. Two days later I was driving up to Amedzofe in a van packed with 9 people. No one had warned me of the steep hill with no paved road. Actually the going up was not too bad; the coming down proved to be a problem. The rains came while we were up on the mountain and the red clay made for a very slippery surface. Even with the brake pedal all the way to the floor, the van kept sliding down the mountain. None of the passengers were aware of the involuntary motion of the van and I kept praying no other vehicle would show up. I just wanted to keep going straight down the mountain and not over the cliff.

Ah, but the actual mountain was breathtaking. We loaded up with bread on our way out of Accra. I purchased sugar, milo, tea, margarine, canned tomatoes and other staples as Sister Victoria said these would be appreciated by her family. (I had asked what I could bring) We were welcomed with open arms and the gifts were ooohed and aaahed over. It was the first time in Ghana I felt cold. I wasn't just cold, I was freezing.

Fog covered the mountain in the morning. It was so thick we couldn't walk around in case we fell off the side of the mountain. (or so we were warned) Days were spent climbing inclines, chasing butterflies, and meeting warm hearted people. Finally we clambered back in our van to journey down the hill. This is when they came. Katrina, my daughter, was the first to see them.

"Mom, look at the parade coming towards us"

Women and children marched towards us. Baskets laden with fruit tittered precariously on their heads. They came straight to the van and offloaded the basket of mangoes, and cassavas.

"Why?"

Sister Victoria said, "This is their way."

These were the people who shared their humble house with us. Gave the little they had to feed us and to make sure we were comfortable. Now as we were leaving they showered us with the fruits of their labor. I decided, I liked their way!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Ghana 2001- shaved legs, sweet smells and other surprising things

Someone pointed out my absence of updating...I have been reluctant to update because I did not want to leave Ghana-2001 just yet. How does one compile an entire year into one or two posts? There is so much which took place in 2001, not just in Ghana but in the world. Looking back at old journal entries for 2001, I see a stadium collapse, beauty,birth, death, rains, joy, family time, 9/11, cancer, and so much more. Out of all the monumental entries, one simple one jumped up at me. It ties in with the last update I did....It says nothing, while at the same time it says everything.

Wednesday, May 30th, 2001

Just stepped out of the shower...had a delicious time with all those flavored shower gels and special smelling lotions.

What is the best feeling in the world? SHAVED
LEGS....they feel so smooth! love it! Wet hair...smelling of some kind of fruit....overwhelmed right now with various fragrances. There is the sweet smell of the 'after rain' drifting in from outside. Peeking out the window, I can see leftover rain dripping from drooping branches. Everything sparkles....so fresh....renewed. mmmmmm...good!

The garden looks
like I feel!

p.s. and for the other surprising things... a bit of morbid humor happened in 2001- my dear friend, Mr. O (69 years old)- was traveling from the Eastern Region via tro-tro (buslike contraption- which squeezes in more people than it should). The tro-tro met with a tragic accident just before reaching Accra. Dead bodies draped every conceiveable place.

Mr. O's body was hoisted onto a truck with the other bodies. On arriving at the Military 37th Hospital- white powder was sprinkled on each body. Due to the late hour, the morgue assistant simply left the bodies lying aimlessly about in the morgue and then he walked out. Several hours later, Mr. O woke up. Apparently he was not dead. After surveying his surroundings, he stood up and walked out the door. Two young watchmen were sitting outside the door when the naked, white powdered-sprinkled Mr. O emerged from the morgue. Needless to say, they shot up from their chairs and took off running. Mr. O didn't have time to explain to them he was not a ghost. :)...aaahhhh, yes, my memories of Ghana!

....And then there were more...

We started with two. It didn't take long for us to add three more to the mix, making us ongfamily5 for quite a long time. Before we kn...