July 2001.

Day 1 - Day 2 - Day 3

Monday, July 23, 2001 - Accra, Ghana
It was a typical day for a trip around the world when everything goes right.  Get up at 8:30 a.m., breakfast buffet at 9:00, read and watch TV until 11:30 pack and check out by noon.  Take the ten minute  shuttle ride to Schipol airport.  No luggage to check, already in possession of boarding pass, I got to skip the long lines at check-in. Have lunch, stop in the airport Internet cafe and send a few more e-mails and stroll to the boarding gate at 2:00 p.m.  Board KLM582 for Accra which departed on time.  Six hours, and two meals later, after watching "The Mexican," we touch down in Accra. The weather was perfect. It was a clear night sky with temperatures of 25 C (76F). The passport control lines were short and I proceeded to baggage claim effortlessly.

Okay, almost perfect, right up until the last bag had been unloaded and it wasn't mine. Well, even that wasn't so bad in the end. It turned out that my bag had arrived earlier in the day and was immediately sent to the "baggage reclaim section" which by now was closed so we would need to return on Tuesday for my luggage.

It was wonderful to see George and Adjoa once again. Nothing is easy in Ghana, and picking up your friends at the airport is no exception. As I exited the terminal I was greeted by a host of porters all competing for my attention, hoping to carry my luggage (I only had a overnight bag) and guide me to a location to meet my friends, despite the fact that they didn't know my friends or the location where we would meet. I finally came to the huge crowd of Ghanaians who are held behind the fence, outside the airport, waiting for their party to arrive.  George and Adjoa were there, smiling, waving and worrying, as I knew they would be.

Being fairly tired from a long day of doing nothing, having no luggage to unpack, and no medical supplies for the clinic, I went to bed.  I was quartered in the guest room (outside shown below) next to the clinic.  It's a very pleasant room, very light and breezy.  Just before turning in, George tried to show me how to use the shower, which had a new hot water heater that had been installed since my last visit.  There was considerable confusion concerning the plumbing arrangement and finally we agreed that there was no hot or cold water because there was no water pressure at all. Adjoa brought heated water from the kitchen in a pail and I washed in the basin. I fell happily asleep to the sounds of goats, bull frogs, birds and the occasional howls of the neighborhood dogs (except perhaps the ones who are very heavy sleepers - like me).

Being a sound sleeper is usually, but not always, a good thing.  About 4:30 a.m. I very gradually awoke to the realization that I was hearing a fairly distinct sound of water running nearby.  I'm not sure how long it took me to be awakened by this sound, but sometime in the night, after George had tried to get the shower to work and gave up, the water pressure was restored and in his confusion, George had left the valve full open rather than closed.  Whether the pressure was restored suddenly or gradually, we will never know.  We attempted to estimate how long the pressure had been restored before I awoke, by the quantity of water on the bathroom floor.  Thankfully the floor slopes away from the bedroom door  and the water did not rise so far.  Not only had the valve been left on but the shower head had been placed in such a position to spray directly onto the floor instead of into the tub.

To those skeptics who would question whether this day may still be called one in which everything went right, I remind you that the water pressure almost certainly was restored sometime after midnight - early Tuesday morning.

Tuesday, July 24, 2001
We made the trip to the airport Tuesday around 9:00 a.m. It's about 5 to 10 miles away by my best estimate, and takes about an hour to drive. George still doesn't own a car, but hires a car and driver for instances like this when a visitor arrives. We had been told to look for the "Baggage Reclaim Section" and that it would be open between 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.  When we arrived at the airport we asked directions to that office and found it quickly. This small wooden, plaster and corrugated metal building was about the size of a four or five room shed and there were DOZENS of workers milling about in a frenzy to help us. The inside of the building was rather dark and there was luggage piled everywhere. There were porters, guards, and customs officials, and at least three people dressed a bit more formally, sitting behind tables, looking important.

I knew my luggage contained a  laptop computer and a good bit of medical equipment in addition to my clothes, shoes etc. and I was quite hopeful that I would not need to complete this around-the-world trip with only the clothes on my back and those in my overnight bag. More importantly, I really did not want to lose that computer or medical equipment that I had brought for the Atsina Charity Medical Clinic. The appearance of the building gave me reason to worry.

Two young workers addressed us immediately. They enthusiastically led us through a room completely stacked with luggage to the exact spot where my trunk was sitting. The fact that they were able to do this without inquiring my name left me pondering:  was it simply good luck? Were so few bags brought to that building in the past day, that mine was the only logical choice? If that was so, what of the other thousands of pieces of luggage in that building and who owns them?  How long have they been there?  The world is a remarkable and continually surprising place.

We proceeded to a second room with less luggage but many more people, including one man sitting behind a table who kept a large ledger. He began by asking me to show my claim checks, which I did, then my passport, which I also did, and finally to sign the ledger to signify that I had received this luggage. I wonder where this ledger goes after it is full.  No doubt to some great repository for ledgers where it occupies a shelf next to the book of names of persons who daily sign in at the RHIT sports and recreation facility.

If you have never been to Ghana, you might think that I was at the end of the luggage reclamation process.  In fact, we proceeded with my luggage to the customs officer's table and lifted the trunk on the table. He asked me what was in it. It's never completely clear with customs officers, the level of detail in which they might be interested, so for the sake of brevity I answered, "Medical supplies."  His reply was equally brief, "Open it."  I am starting to get good at unpacking and packing this trunk. He wasn't at all interested in the gauze pads, toothbrushes, or alcohol prep pads, but he did get quite interested when he saw the syringes. This is the point where it's good to have a Ghanaian doctor nearby, and he asked George one or two questions and then seemed to be satisfied.

He also questioned me about the large black case buried among the medical supplies.  I told him it was a computer.  He asked if it was mine and if it was a laptop.  The moment of truth had arrived and I was curious what would happen if he asked me to take it out and turn it on.  In Munich, they had asked me to do that but the computer did not start.  HMO.  In Munich they ran it through an x-ray machine.  In this building, I'm not sure there was a light bulb or an electrical outlet, let alone an x-ray apparatus.  I think the customs man was bored and he just wrote on my trunk with his blue pencil and turned his attention to my second piece of luggage.

"What's in it?," he asked.  "Clothes, mostly," I replied.  He wrote on my black suitcase with his pencil and waved us on to the next table.

I'm still not sure the purpose of the last table. I had my luggage. I had signed for it. Claim tickets had been checked. We had been through customs. We were sent to one more table where a nicely dressed man waved us out the door. In the end, the Ghanaian airport workers were helpful and some were even friendly. An hour later we were happily back at the clinic.

Back at the clinic, we set to unpacking. This is truly the best part of the trip: Ink cartridges for the printer, a new computer, a hemoglobinometer, a hematocytometer, and a whole trunk full of donated supplies. It was great and George and Adjoa were really happy.

Now it was time to set to the task of trying to bring e-mail to the Atsina Charity Medical Clinic in Accra, Ghana.  Since the computer had not worked when I tried to turn it on in Munich, I was worried. I was also quite worried whether the phones here would accept the kind of adapter that I had brought, and if the Ghanaian dial tone is such that the modem could recognize it. All of these things have been a problem for me somewhere in the world most recently.

I plugged the charger into an adapter which I had brought on a previous trip and I turned on the computer. It worked! Evidently the battery had  been dead in Munich. The phone was touch-tone instead of pulse-dial so that was also comforting.  But things were going too easily, so you might imagine what happens next. I had recently checked the AOL access number for Accra and written it down. I had also tried this number from the USA so I knew that it had worked in the past. When the computer tried to dial, it was not able to reach the number.  I tried dialing the phone directly and the nice woman in the recording said that this was not a valid phone number. There is no phone book in Accra and after a half-dozen phone calls to the Ghanaian Telecom; Adjoa convinced us that we should break for lunch.

After a wonderful lunch of chicken, rice, cabbage, & watermelon, I was almost ready to give up on AOL. Adjoa had called one of their acquaintances, who knew something about computers and he told us that AOL was not allowed in Ghana because Africa On Line had a kind of monopoly. That of course, does not explain how I can access AOL through a phone number in Accra from the USA or why AOL would continue to advertise this AOL access number. Of course, I decided to try again after lunch.  The reliability of the phone system is suspect at best in Accra and whatever doesn't work now may work an hour from now.

At approximate 13:45 on July 24, 2001, e-mail came to the Atsina Charity Medical Clinic. It worked. We sent messages to the members of the board of the Atsina Charity Medical Clinic, to Nana Atsina, George's daughter, to Ruth and we rejoiced at our success. If you want to send George and Adjoa an e-mail, the address is:
kkatsina@aol.com

At 6:30 p.m. I sat on the stone patio under the guest room, adjacent to the clinic, and enjoyed a cool breeze and a beautiful Ghanaian sunset. George was still busy with a few patients who have been interspersed throughout the afternoon. George and Adjoa have taken on a new family member since my last visit. Osomea is 2 1/2 years old and came to the Atsina household six months ago. In that time, this amazing little girl has learned to speak English. I heard her recite the alphabet, count to twenty and recite a poem, she was fascinated by the computer.

Osomea and I had a nice time drawing pictures in paintbrush but now I'm trying hard to catch up on this journal and a few e-mails before my trip continues onward to South Africa tomorrow. Since I know I can send e-mail from here and there is even a slight possibility of getting this journal on the web, I better try.
 
 

Wednesday, July 25, 2001
My visit to the clinic has been short but profitable. George and I spent a good bit of Wednesday playing with his new "toys," but the patients still came, so it was a fairly busy day. In the afternoon I took a walk around the neighborhood and took a few more pictures around the clinic.  Here is one of my favorites:

My flight to South Africa on South African Airways was scheduled to leave Accra at 11:00 p.m. We set out from the clinic around 7:00 p.m.  The drive between the airport and the clinic is always an adventurous one. The driver estimated 20 km (12 miles), by road between the two points. I estimate the distance from the map to be ~ 10km (6 miles) as the crow flies. The trip takes about an hour, if the traffic "isn't bad."  This is accomplished by careening through the city at speeds up to 80 kph (50 mph).  I think there has been a change in the number of traffic lights in Ghana. I didn't see many in 1997 when I visited Ghana the first time. I counted approximately 15 - 20 stoplights between the clinic and airport - therefore, one stoplight per kilometer. We arrived at the airport sometime between 8:00 and 8:30 p.m.

 

Day 1 - Day 2 - Day 3