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Published: September 16th 2014
Greetings from Ghana!!
It's been a while since my last update; I've been incredibly busy with the voluntary work as well as lots of travelling at the weekends!
In the week after returning from Mole, I was able to visit the Kumasi Children's Home where the care volunteers work.
The living conditions in the orphanage were very basic with several children in a simple dormitory room, and shared bathrooms between 20 or so.
This visit was a surreal and somewhat overwhelming experience as the younger children there were all desperate to be carried, and the older ones were desperate to play. As well as the endless pleas for attention, a few fights broke out among the older boys during our time there which was a bit unnerving.
Despite these few outbreaks the children there were, for the most part, delightful and content with life; it was humbling to see how the children in the home live.
I'm glad we visited as playing with the children was great but it was fairly draining so I'm glad I'm doing public health!
After this I headed to the bus station along with two other British volunteers, Louis and Jack, to begin our next adventure, but not before the customary 3 hour wait for the next bus, getting used to this now!
We eventually boarded the GH-1 bus to Takoradi at 5pm, it was possibly the nicest bus I've ever been on, or perhaps the horrors of metro mass are clouding my judgement...
We arrived in Takoradi after dark and were swarmed by taxi drivers, each shouting that they were the best man to take us where we needed to be. After finally getting them to be quiet and explaining that we needed to find a hotel, we picked the driver with the best grasp of English and left. The first hotel we were taken to was going to charge us 60 Cedi (£10) each for the night, do they think we're made of money?!
After finding a more reasonably priced hotel (£6 per night) we squeezed into the cramped room, complete with partially flooded floor, and got some much needed rest.
The next morning we took a tro-tro to Beyin where we would be able to travel by canoe to Nzulezo, a floating village supported entirely by stilts which is home to around 450 inhabitants.
The tro journey to Beyin proved a tad more controversial than anticipated as we unwittingly put our bags on top of someone's bread, much to the disgust of the driver. "You spoil the bread! You will pay!" Despite his ominous threats and foul temper, there was no visible damage to the bread and it was passed on to the buyer with no hassle. We escaped without having to pay, or a stab wound.
When we finally reached Beyin it was time for lunch so we ordered, waited for 90 minutes and finally ate. During the remarkably short wait we decided to try one of the spirits, Alomo Bitters, potentially one of the worst tasting beverages known to man, definitely got to bring a bottle home!
The canoe journey to Nzulezo took around 1 hour and provided some extremely welcome peace and quiet after both city life and the incredibly bumpy tro ride!
The village itself was somewhat eerie as the locals were tolerant of us visitors but I felt that they were quietly resentful of our presence; in contrast to people in other parts of Ghana they were not actively welcoming toward us at all.
We walked among the houses which were all located on a central 'street' which ran the length of the settlement, eventually reaching the house where the chief was waiting to greet visitors.
He told us about the history of the village, or rather he gave a sheet of paper to the guide to read to us as he didn't speak English...
After returning to Beyin we took a tro to Busua which was where we had planned to meet some of the volunteers from Mole.
Busua is a small coastal town that is a hotspot for surfers, however since I'm shockingly bad at surfing I stuck to swimming!
The bay at Busua itself is mostly used for surfing however the beaches at the nearby fishing village of Butre were deserted so this is where we spent most of the day, eating at a small beach lodge and relaxing on the beach. Perfect.
The evening was spent on the beach back at Busua where locals had built a bonfire and had a mix of Ghanaian and Western music playing. If only nights like this were possible at home without freezing!
During the following week there were only two volunteers on Public Health so Anambe said we could go into the hospital instead of doing outreach.
I was on the male medical ward of the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Hospital in Kwadaso with Elvis, a nursing student who was really friendly and let me help with checking vital signs such as BP and respiratory rate. I was also shown how to fill out the patient records and feed patients through an NG tube inserted into the stomach via the nostril!
Having spent a fair amount of time doing work experience in the UK, it struck me just how quiet the hospital here is. In contrast to Britain, healthcare here is paid for by insurance which not everybody can afford, meaning a significant proportion of the population will not be able to receive treatment at all.
During my time in Ghana I have had to 'rely on the kindness of strangers' (ib English people will get that one) a great deal. The locals are invariably helpful and always interested in the 'obroni' or white man. This was particularly the case when Louis and I found ourselves a tad lost in the centre of Kumasi as we searched for the tro-tro to Bonwire (the most difficult place name to pronounce accurately, ever). Upon asking the first man we saw, he took us all the way to the station, which was 25 minutes walk, got us into the right tro and refused to take any money for his trouble, some people really are selfless!
Bonwire is a small village about an hour from Kumasi where the Kente cloth is woven. We were able to see a little guy on his stool weaving away which was impressive; both hands and feet going at once to operate the intricate machine.
The cloth itself is woven in strips of around 1 metre and consists of elaborate patterns of vibrant colours. After buying a couple of strips from a guy who had shown us round the village, we went for a much needed drink (no Alomo this time) and then headed home. Another local at the tro station was able to get us to where we needed to be going as it was dark and we were in the dodgiest bit of the city, he was more than willing to accept a small tip however!
For the next few days I was in the SDA again, often there was a doctor doing ward rounds so I was able to pick his brains briefly, although when he was speaking to the patients it was all in Twi so I couldn't understand a word!
While my time in the hospital was certainly interesting, I didn't feel like I was particularly contributing to the care being given, rather that the staff were doing me favours by letting me help. Makes me glad I'm doing Public Health as with that I'm always busy and the work we do requires as many people helping as possible so I feel my contribution is more significant.
On the Thursday evening it was time to travel again, back to Cape Coast for a cultural festival celebrating some aspect of independence, although no one we asked was particularly clear on exactly what!
Before going to Cape Coast however we went back to the Kakum national Park which was the main reason I wanted to make trip back to this part of Ghana. On my first, very rushed visit to the park, I had seen the sign advertising the treehouse in the middle of the forest which was available for visitors to stay overnight in. Of course I had to try this so after booking it that morning before, we found ourselves walking through the rainforest in complete darkness with a guide, towards the treehouse.
After half an hour of walking we reached our destination and settled in, only to depart minutes later for a night walk which would take us deeper into the forest where we would be more likely to see some wildlife.
We didn't see any mammals but there were some rather impressive millipedes and centipedes, around 20cm long!
The most memorable wildlife of the visit were the ants. Before that night walk, I didn't mind ants, now I despise the pests. By this time it was 1am and I was not in We were bitten by countless big ugly ants who delighted in running up my trouser legs, thankfully none could get above my knee before I could squash them!
When we had arrived in the forest I had been smothering my insect repellant on as I had thought he forest would be a haven for Mosquitos, however the guide informed us that several species of the grasses and trees were naturally repellant towards the creatures, no more malaria for me, hopefully.
Despite being eaten alive by the ants, the forest at night was amazing, the noise of the thousands if insects along with the 95% humidity made for a tiring walk and I was thoroughly exhausted when we finally got to bed at 2am!
By beauty sleep was promptly interrupted at 6am as the guide decided it was a perfect time to wake us up, great.
After we had breakfasted at the entrance of the national park, we heeds to Cape Coast where we were staying at Oasis again, though this time I had a proper bed and my own mosquito net!
One of the happiest moments of that weekend was finding fresh coffee at a small cafe near the castle. Having been confined to extremely questionable Nescafé for the past 5 weeks it was bliss to have some real coffee.
The festival itself was a surreal and slightly scary experience. Never ending crowds jostled us from one end of the town to the other, while countless pickpockets fumbled around in outlet pockets, thankfully I had a firm hold on my valuables!
There were parades of all kinds through the town, from children dressed in colourful outfits to a half naked man jumping around trying to grab a person who someone said would be cursed forever, rather not ta.
I also had my hair cut in Cape Coast, a pretty scary moment as the barber didn't speak much English so an old Facebook photo had to do in order to explain what I wanted. I was absolutely sure I would come out with no hair and a lot of regrets but miraculously he had done exactly what was required, all with the phrase 'cut small?'. Being in Africa it did take 2 hours though as nothing is allowed to be quick, or so it seems.
Perhaps the highlight of the weekend however was making our debut on national TV. As we were sitting at our new favourite cafe, a news crew reporting on the festival spotted us and ran over to get an interview with us tourists. They asked us what we thought of Ghana and among talkingi about the good and other cultural aspects, I of course I had to declare my undying love of the metro mass transport company, seems sarcasm has yet to hit Ghana. After making the interviewer laugh a lot with our shoddy pronunciation of Twi words, we were allowed to sign off for the news channel. Stay classy Ghana.
I won't let the fame get to me, I promise.
Monday was spent at the tranquil lake Bosomtwe near Kumasi where myself, Jack and Louis spent an hour paddling around on local 'boats' which proved to be little more than planks of wood. Needless to say I spent more time in the water than on my plank, so I'll probably have cholera and conjunctivitis before long, ah well.
We soon abandoned our initial plan of journeying to the other side of the lake to visit a small village as it would have probably have taken days if not weeks!
When we were changed and dry, the guy in charge of the boats, Osei, asked if any of us would be here the following week. Jack and Louis would be home by then but I said I would be, and was asked if I wanted to be in a film. Seems our brief appearance on the news has sparked a career... My answer was of course yes so I'll be heading there soon to begin my path to stardom!
The time during the weeks has been spent on outreach as we now have two more volunteers for Public Health, good to get back out into the community and work again!
Lots of people are now asking about Ebola and if we are screening for it.
On Wednesday last week I was in the SDA again, this time on the maternal health clinic where I was able to help vaccinate some of the small children against measles and rubella.
I learned that healthcare is free for all children up to age 5 and mosquito nets are provided free for all children above 18 months. It's really good to see that so many mothers are bringing their children to be vaccinated, partly because it's free but also because the education about health issues is beginning to take effect on a larger scale.
Last weekend was spent with Camilla, who is from Denmark, and Federico from Italy. We travelled to the Volta Region in the east of Ghana. After an expectedly awful 13 hour metro mass journey on Friday we spent Saturday cramming in as much of the beautiful region as possible. In the morning we took a tro to the village near the caves where we were met by two local guides who took us on a 40 minute climb up the huge hill towards the caves themselves.
By the time we were nearing the top of the hill it was around midday so we were thoroughly overheating in the 34 degree heat, the promise of the cool caves was keeping us going!
We eventually reached the caves which were situated in the side of a hill which is covered in forest and began exploring them with the assistance of the guides. British health and safety standards would have had something to say about the lack of protective equipment or ropes, but climbing into some of the steep caves was amazing fun.
The guides told us that these caves had been used by their forefathers in times of war as defence posts and also a place to take refuge.
There we 6 caves in total and we spent 2 hours climbing around in them. The largest of the caves, once living quarters, was only accessible via a tiny opening in the rock which proved challenging for Federico who is a fair bit taller than me (yes, I know that's not an achievement) and so struggled to fit through the hole into the cave.
This cave in particular was populated by hundreds of bats, covering the walls and occasionally flying over our shoulders which was interesting, especially as Camilla was scared of bats.
After we were done at the caves, the guides took us to the top of another hill where a hotel was being built. The views from up here were incredible and so I began abusing the panorama feature of my camera. From up there we could see part of Togo and on the way back down to the village we encountered a very drunk man who lived in a village bordering Togo which meant he spoke French so I was able to converse briefly before he started throwing in Twi words as well, took me a while to realise it wasn't French!
From the caves we rode on the back of motorbikes, no helmets of course, along a bumpy road to the waterfalls. After eating we hired a guide and walked the 30 minute, temple run-esque route to the falls. As we reached the waterfall the views were incredible. At 40m high the waterfall was huge and extremely powerful, would have been really nice to swim in the pool formed at the base but unfortunately we didn't have time. On either side of the falls were thousands of bats clinging to the rocks, at first I had thought it was moss!
As amazing as the falls were we could only spend a short amount of time there as there would be limited transport back to Hohoe where we were staying.
The taxi back was going to cost 60 Cedi per person and a motorbike was 15 so we threw caution to the wind, stopped a passing truck, confirmed he was going to Hohoe and climbed onto the roof.
The motorbikes earlier in the day had been good fun but the ride on the truck roof was far better! Potholes proved rather interesting but watching the sunset as we sped along the roads was just incredible!
As I write this I've had a tiring day on Public Health and am about to head off to bed. Turned down what must be my twentieth marriage proposal today; all the Ghanaian women want to marry a British man and move to England, they soon get scared off when I say I'm only 18 however!
Thanks for reading if you've made it this far, I'll try and post more pictures soon as well!
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