About Heather in Ghana

I am currently a health and water sanitation volunteer in Ghana, West Africa.

The Secret to Life Is Letting Go

Tomorrow I leave the village for the second to last time. I’ll be going to Accra to drop off half my luggage, finish up some paperwork with Peace Corps, run some errands, and most importantly, pick up my dad at the airport.  Though my room is almost completely packed, I’m still in denial. It doesn’t seem possible that I’m finished with my service, with my time in Adabokrom.

It’s the worst when I’m holding my babies, BB (Benjamin Baily, CK’s son) and Papa (Scott Baily, Kofi and Hawa’s baby).  I think of how much I will miss them, and all the milestones I will miss (a week ago or so BB got his first hair cut and learned how to roll over; I couldn’t have been prouder if I was is own mother).  I hold them longer and longer each day, trying to soak in my last moments of pure love. But this morning I came across an article that had great advice: the secret to life is letting go.

I’ve been obsessing about finishing up my projects, setting everything up for the next volunteer, and writing detailed letters explaining everything to her. Now it is time to step back and say to myself, the secret in life is letting go.

I have been spending hours thinking about my dad’s trip and how much time we will have here, and everything I want to do while we are in the village. All the people I want him to meet, all the things I want him to see . . . how do I show my dad my life from the past two years in a matter of days? The secret to life is letting go.

Maybe letting go is the secret to life because if you don’t let go, the sadness will eat you up.

Maybe the secret to life is letting go because no matter how much you plan and obsess, things will still happen the way they are supposed to happen.

Maybe you have to let go, so that your heart is open and ready to soak up every bit of the next adventure life has to offer.

Now I just have to figure out how to let go

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love will make you crazy

Kofi and I sit on the bed, watching Hawa bathe the baby. She sits on a stool in the corner of her room, legs stretched out straight, feet resting on another stool. Baily is laying across her legs, screaming as his mother gives him a sponge bath, the water falling into a head pan below. We joke and laugh, with Kofi translating in between for Hawa and me. When the baby’s bath is over and he is dressed, Hawa slides down the left strap of her dress in order to breast-feed.

“You know something, Bea?” Kofi asks me.

“What’s that?” I reply.

“Once, three women went to see a mallam (spiritual healer) because they had been unable to conceive. They ask him to perform magic to please let them have children. He agrees, but tells them it comes with a condition: he will give them a child, but they will become crazed.  Two of the women run away, but the third one agrees. She returns home, and soon discovers she is pregnant. When her son is born, she was very happy, but also worried about when she will turn mad. Years pass, and nothing seems to happen. The first two women feel cheated, so they all return to the mallam to ask why the woman is not crazy. The son follows behind, but becomes distracted along the way and runs out of sight. His mother begins shouting for him, running to nearby people to ask if they have seen her son. He appears in the doorway of the mallam’s house, and the mallam calls the women inside. The first two women confront him, demanding to know why he lied to them. He explains, ‘I did not lie, the woman has become mad. Before you had your son, would you have run around the village screaming? No. Love makes you do crazy things.

“So you see, Bea, motherhood makes you crazy. Before, my wife would have never shown her breasts to people. Now that the baby is here, she will just remove it anywhere, in front of anyone, just to feed the baby. She would do anything for him.”

The Baily’s of Adabokrom

Back in September, CK’s wife had a baby. She was about 3 weeks past her due date, and I would ask him every day, “Did she have the baby yet? No? Tell her she needs to go to the hospital!”  He had so much pride in his voice when he called to tell me the baby finally came, and it was a boy. “But Mam B,” he said, “I wanted it to be a girl, so I could name it after you.” I told him I was honored, and I was just glad the baby was healthy. “Is Baily a boy’s name?” He asked me. I thought about it for a minute, and realized I did know of some boys named Baily. I told him it could be, but it was also sometimes a girl’s name. “Then I know what to do,” he told me.

About a week later, I was in Accra and had to call CK to tell him I was going to Morocco to have doctor’s look at my eye. He was very concerned about this, but also concerned about another pressing issue. “The baby only has one name right now: Baily. I want you to pick the other name or names so I can get his birth certificate made.” I told him I was again very honored to be given this opportunity, and that I would call him by the end of the night with my answer. After some deliberation and help from Sarah and my friend Taylor, I chose Benjamin. When my mom was pregnant, my parents chose to find out the sex of one of the babies and have the other one be a surprise. I was the unknown baby, and two names were chosen. If I had been a boy, they would have called me Benjamin. Here in the village, I am called Beatrice, another long “B” name, so I thought Benjamin was fitting. I called CK, and he said he liked the name very much. So now we have Baily Benjamin, sometimes called Baily, sometimes called Ben, sometimes called “BB”. I am also sometimes called “BB,” and I like that we share this nickname. He is now 4.5 months old, fat and happy as can be. Yesterday his mom brought him to my house and left him with me for the afternoon. We played, danced, had a photo shoot and took a nap. He eventually woke up and was hungry, so I tied him to my back and carried him to his parent’s house. “You gave birth?!” many people cried out, laughing, as I walked to CK’s house. They loved seeing me carry a baby the way Ghanaians do.

  

While I was in Tanzania, Hawa FINALLY had her baby. I could tell Hawa was pregnant before she hardly started to show. I just knew; she seemed different, but her slightly swollen belly could have been due to fufu or a baby, I wasn’t sure. I didn’t want to ask for a few weeks, in case she wasn’t actually pregnant, so I was overjoyed when I found out she really was going to have another baby. The loss of Kennet was still fairly fresh at that point. I’ve watched her belly grow for the majority of this year, and I was desperately hoping the baby would come before I left for my vacation. He came the day I flew out to Tanzania. The second I got off the plane, I called Kofi to find out if the baby had arrived. He told me it did come, two weeks ago, and it was a boy. I was so relieved, for Hawa’s sake. I knew she wanted a boy, almost needed one, to fill the space that Kennet had left. Kofi told me they had not yet named him because they wanted to name it after me, but it was a boy, so they decided to name it after my father. They had gone to CK and Agya, asking my father’s name, but neither knew. I told him the name over the phone, but he couldn’t hear it very well, so as soon as I arrived they showed me the baby and asked what his name was.  He was big for a newborn, and had tons of hair. His face instantly reminded me of Sandra’s. He is four weeks old today, and he cries a lot. Just now, he started to cry and Hawa called out, “Mam B, your father is crying!” I followed her into her room, and she said, “Here, take your son,” as she handed me the baby. Hawa likes practicing saying “Baily Scott” and Kofi has taken to just calling him Scott. He’s pretty great, and it’s so nice to see Hawa happy again.

Pictures will come of both babies as soon as I have decent internet!

Tanzania!

Tanzania was fantastic. Probably the best vacation I’ve ever taken. I met up with my friends, Chau and Chris, in Accra the night before we were to fly out. Chris had just finished closing his service (aka COSing) and this trip was his COS trip to celebrate before going home to America. None of us really prepared for this trip, and we were clearly all winging it, but all of us are really laid back people so it was fine. Chris was on a different flight than Chau and I, so we parted ways in Addis Ababa and Chau and I continued on to Kilimanjaro before Chris. We arrived at 3:00 am, and had to wait in the airport for six hours. We tried to sleep on benches at baggage claim, but we were kicked out by security around 6:00 am and had to sit on the sidewalk for the next three hours. Chris finally arrived, but his bags didn’t. Slightly frustrated and sleep deprived, we finally left and headed for Moshi. We went to the tour agency office, Gladys Adventures, to meet Gladys and our guide, to pay, and to rent equipment. Since we were coming from Ghana, we didn’t have very much for supplies. Chris actually had most of what he needed, but since he didn’t have his bag, he also had to rent a few things. Chau and I rented lots of warm clothes and rain gear. We had an early dinner and then tried to go to sleep because we were to start our trek the next day.

It was very surreal to finally start out on this adventure, after thinking about it for months and months. We chose to do the Lemosho route, which is a longer route (8 days) and it allows for more time to become acclimatized, therefore giving a higher likelihood of reaching the summit. It’s also said to be one of the most scenic routes up Kilimanjaro. As soon as we reached the gate to check in, it started pouring rain. Other climbers starting at the same time as us (mostly from Europe) were in t-shirts and shorts, but we were all in several layers and shivering. It was probably 60 degrees, but that’s much colder than we’ve experienced in years at this point! The rain let up a bit when we started walking, and the first day was beautiful. It was all through rainforest, but it was different than the rainforest I live in here in Ghana. Our guides, Caspar (head guide) and Cashenge (assistant) made us walk annoyingly slow. They kept saying “pole pole” which means slowly in Swahili. We would walk at a pace of 1 mile per hour the entire way up to conserve energy. It actually was helpful at higher altitudes, but I can’t count how many times I was told “pole pole” because I naturally wanted to walk faster.

After about three hours we reached our first camp. All in all, it was not a very strenuous day, though there were some steep parts. It was officially Chau’s first hike ever. Go big or go home, I guess. Our porters (we had 10) had already reached the camp and were setting up the tents by the time we got there. They set up the mess tent and invited us in for tea and popcorn. We couldn’t believe it. It felt very extravagant to us PCVs, especially when we met Joseph, our waiter for the trip. Shortly after tea we got dinner. There was a ton of food, and it was delicious. The meals were very well balanced, and we were encouraged to eat as much as possible because we would likely not eat very much at high altitudes (though we still ate plenty at high altitude). We devoured everything because we were all slightly malnourished from lack of options in Ghana. Afterwards, Caspar came to do the medical check. Every day, morning and night, he would take our blood oxygen level and pulse, temperature, ask a variety of questions, and listen to our lungs to make sure we were healthy enough to continue.

Day two was about six hours of hiking and the entire time it rained. The path was basically rocks covered with mud and running water, on a steep incline for hours at a time. It was slippery and slow going. By the time we reached the camp, my sweatshirt and t-shirt were completely drenched and it was about 40 degrees outside. None of our porters had arrived, which was strange. I was absolutely freezing, so when the first porter showed up with a duffel bag, I was so glad to see it was mine. It took forever to get my wet clothes off because my fingers didn’t want to work and everything was moving slow, but I was finally dry and warm again. It turns out one of the porters slipped and fell at the very beginning of the hike. All the other porters dropped what they were carrying and carried their friend back down to the first camp. He had a concussion and a broken leg, but all in all was very lucky. 

The third day was shorter and pretty uneventful. When we reached the camp, I decided to take a nap. When I woke up, it was suddenly hot in the tent and Chau was calling my name. “Bring out your clothes to dry! The sun came out!” she called to me. I jumped out of the tent and hurried to lie out all my things on rocks. Within 10 minutes, some of our things had already dried. It was fortunate, too, because that’s only about how long the sun lasted. Shortly after, it clouded over again and began to rain.

Day 4 was another six-hour hike, and we climbed to 15,000 feet at one point. This place was called Lava Tower, and it is where we stopped for lunch. Because of the altitude, the rain had turned to snow. This was Chau’s first time seeing snow (she grew up in Vietnam and then California). After lunch, we started our descent to the camp at 13,500. We had to descend where a stream cuts through the rock. It was very steep, very slippery, and very cold. I went super slow because I was trying to find the driest path possible. At this point, Chau and Chris had super wet boots, even though they were told they were waterproof when they rented them. Mine were still dry at this point, and I was trying my best to keep them that way. There were many scenic moments on this hike, but the rain stopped us from taking any pictures. It was finally dampening our spirits.

When we got to camp, Chau was pretty sick. She picked up a cough on the flight over, and it was beginning to wear on her. When she didn’t come to dinner, Caspar went to check on her. He took her pulse and blood oxygen, and immediately sent a porter to bring the oxygen tank. Afterwards, he came out of our tent and told me her blood oxygen was 46% and her temperature was over 100 degrees. After giving her oxygen it went up to 98%, but he told me to keep an eye on her and call him during the night if anything happened. When we woke up the next morning, Chau took a while to get out of bed, but eventually she made it to breakfast and said she wanted to continue. Her blood oxygen was only 56% though, and Caspar told her she had no option but to descend to Moshi. We were sad to see her go, but Kilimanjaro is no place to gamble with your health, so we were also glad when she, Cashenge and one porter left. 

Without Chau the hike was considerably quieter, and the weather again dampened our spirits. After three hours we reached what was supposed to be our next camp, but we opted to just have a hot lunch in the mess tent and continue to the next camp (another three hours away). When we reached Barafu Camp, we were at the base of the summit, and it was a blizzard. We gave the cook our gloves and boots to try to dry by the cook stove so we could have dry gear for our summit hike. The rest of the afternoon we just stayed in our sleeping bags, trying to rest. We would start our climb at 3:00 am the next morning.

Everyone else at Barafu camp started at midnight, but since we did two days of hiking in one day the previous day, Caspar let us sleep in. The summit climb was considerably steeper than anything we had previously done, and it was also harder due to the high altitude. We started at 15,500 ft and would climb to 19,350 ft. It took 7 hours and took a lot of determination. Chris and I were led by Caspar and joined by a porter, Gabriel, just in case we had to separate. The sun came out around 7:00, and I had to take off my parka and fleece and go down to my long underwear because it was so warm. Since I hadn’t seen the sun all week, I didn’t put on sunscreen, which ended up being a huge mistake. Near the top, we began to be passed by people who already summited and were on their way down. They thought we were really slow and kept saying encouraging things to us. We were kind of annoyed because we started three hours after all of them, and weren’t really that much behind. But we were nice and just said thank you. When we reached Stella Point (19,000), Gabriel broke out a thermos and offered us tea. We had a rest and drank our tea, then continued on for the last 45-minute walk up to Uhuru Peak. It was much less steep, but still trying because of the altitude and how tired we were. We summited at 9:45 am, took some photos, and were on our way down by 9:55. Our rush was partly due to the fact that it had started snowing again, and all around us the sky was turning ominous. 

The way down to Stella Point was fast and easy, but once we started the steep descent, I was suddenly very uncomfortable. There was roughly 8 inches of snow on the ground, and that plus the steepness of the slope made me slip often and fall down. Not to mention, the steep hill killed my knees. After about 25 minutes of this, Caspar took my arm and told me to walk with him. He said, “Just walk as if we are walking on flat ground. Don’t think about the snow or the hill. Don’t fear, you won’t fall as long as I am here.” So I took a deep breath and started walking. It worked a lot better this way, and we started more or less running down the hill. We quickly passed Chris and Gabriel. But this way also really hurt my knee. After about 15 or 20 minutes of this, I asked to stop. I needed water and food desperately, since I hadn’t eaten since the previous night. It was amazing how I immediately felt warm and energized after eating a power bar. At this point, we were amidst a full on blizzard again, and I couldn’t see anything out of my glasses. I decided to pocket them, since I had Caspar to guide me, and to just trust him. The rest of the way I didn’t really see much, other than the occasional black volcanic rock sticking out from the snow. It took another hour of running down the mountain, but we made it to base camp. We were given glasses of fresh orange juice (I have no idea how they got that all the way up there, but it tasted amazing). At this point, I realized the pocket I put my glasses in was in fact not a pocket, and they were still up on the summit somewhere. Too tired to care, I went to our tent for a much-deserved nap. After two hours, Joseph woke us up and told us to come for lunch. We ate, and then grudgingly put our gear back on to face the blizzard once more and descend to a lower camp. Caspar was also tired (probably from having to support me all the way down) so we mutually agreed to stop at a higher camp than the one we were supposed to reach that day. It took another two hours, and by the end we were pretty exhausted. At this point, my knees were not only screaming, but my big toes as well. My boots were just slightly too small, or my toenails were slightly too long, and the nail would jam into the boot with every step, which caused a considerable amount of pain. That evening in the tent, it was obvious my right toenail was dead. My left one didn’t look too bad, but it also hurt a lot.

We chose to finish on the seventh day instead of the eighth. We could have taken our time descending and stayed on the mountain a full 8 days, but the weather was too terrible and I was not eager to stretch out the descent any longer than I had to, so we finished on December 14. Each step hurt a ton, but it only took 4.5 hours to make it to the gate. Then we signed out, collected our certificates, and headed back to Moshi to check in with Chau. She still looked pretty sick, but was very happy to see us. That night my right toenail was causing me a lot of pain, so Chris poured me several whiskey shots and held my hand while Chau pulled the nail off with pliers. As if climbing Kilimanjaro wasn’t enough of a bonding experience, we now also have this moment to bond us for life.

As we were supposed to descend on Sunday, we now had the full day to hang out in Moshi. We decided to try to find as many rooftop bars as possible. I quickly realized between my swollen knees and injured toes this was not the best plan, but after a few beers it was ok. The hard part was trying to get around without glasses. During the day it was okay because I had my prescription sunglasses I got while on med evac in Morocco, but during the night I was completely helpless. Sunday night we were eating dinner and a group of white people walked in. I overheard them say a few Peace Corps acronyms so we went over to introduce ourselves. They were volunteers from Tanzania and Senegal, and one girl was born and raised in Fort Collins. Small, small world!

The next day we parted ways—Chris to America, Chau and I to continue our adventures in Zanzibar. We figured after our accomplishment we deserved a few days on the beach. Zanzibar is an amazingly beautiful island with a strong Muslim influence. We had a great time wandering around, enjoying the sights and food. We were very poor at this point, and had to pool our money together to buy basic necessities like food and beer by the end. When we got to the airport to fly out, we found out there was an exit tax. We had literally spent every shilling we had, and we had to convert some English pounds Chau had in her wallet to shillings to be allowed to leave. We flew back to Kilimanjaro, had another night sleeping on benches at the airport, and flew back to Ghana the next morning. 

I have so many beautiful memories from our many adventures in Tanzania, I didn’t want it to end. It was a fantastic trip spent with fantastic people, and even though I’m completely broke now, it was absolutely worth every penny.

birds

I have been doing a program called Grassroots Soccer with some junior high students. The program uses soccer as a vehicle to teach about HIV. We met three times a week during November, and finished our last practice on Tuesday. My top two students walked me home, as they usually do. Along the way, a flock of egrets flew overhead. “Look, Enoch!” Julius exclaimed. “Pure white birds. Aren’t they wonderful?” We all stop to admire them, and pure joy shined on Julius’ face. “They only come at Christmas time,” he explained, “and I think they’re just beautiful.” Standing there, watching the egrets fly into the sunset with Enoch and Julius, my heart felt so full.  

the birth

My phone rang at 6:02 am. I was awake, but annoyed that someone would call so early. I looked at the screen and saw “Sister Akos” and immediately my annoyance turned to excitement. I’ve been waiting for this phone call for six months. “Mam B, come. A baby is coming” she tells me in twi. Sister Akos is the assistant to the midwife. I have been telling both of them for months that I want to watch a birth, and learn how to deliver babies. But so far, Akos hadn’t called me because she was worried about calling me in the night and about not being able to speak English. Also, she’s a little distracted when a woman comes in in labor, so it’s understandable that she forgets to call.  I jumped out of bed and hurried to the clinic. It’s a very foggy harmattan morning. When I arrived, Alice (the midwife) told me to go straight to the delivery room. “It won’t be long now” she tells me.

The mother is young and pretty, and has come from Nketa, a village about an hour away on motorcycle. Her belly is small, so I check her maternal health records. She’s only 32 weeks pregnant. Akos and I sit with the woman in labor for two and a half hours. She is in lots of pain, but in Ghana women are considered weak if they cry out, so she suffers in silence as best she can. When she can’t stand it anymore, she cries out quietly, and begins to walk around the room, pacing back and forth and occasionally drops to her knees. After a while, Akos checks her again and listens for the fetal heart beat. She moves the pinard horn to find a better place to listen. Then she moves it again. She frowns, and calls for another nurse. “You hear it?” she asks the girl. “Kitee kitee paa (very very faint)” Benice replies. They call Alice to come, and meanwhile the ask the mother more questions in twi that I don’t follow. The woman answers, and Akos gets upset and hurries to start an IV. Alice comes in and tells me that the woman fell on her way to the clinic in the early morning. When Alice saw her scraped knees she asked her about it and the mother told her she fell, but not on her abdomen. Now, she admits she did in fact fall on her belly. “We can’t hear the fetal heartbeat anymore” Alice tells me.

While Alice tries to find a vein to start the IV, Akos breaks the woman’s water. They tell her it’s important to start pushing now. She is struggling to push at all, probably because of the fall. “We are just praying for a live birth,” Alice tells me, but her face tells me she isn’t hopeful. The head finally emerges, and after it comes through the rest of the body falls out with it. The baby is tiny, no more than two pounds. She coughs and wriggles her arm, and we all breathe a sigh of relief. I expected a small baby, but not this small. “I suspect twins” Alice tells me. ‘Of course my first birth would be twins,’ I think to myself. She examines the abdomen again, and sure enough, finds a second twin lying transverse way in the back. “We must send her to Dormaa right away” they tell me.

Akos gets on the phone immediately and begins to call drivers. There are no cars in town, and she eventually finds a driver from a town 30 minutes away who agrees to take the woman to the hospital. Dormaa is two hours away, on one of the roughest roads I have been on in Ghana. The poor woman must sit in the taxi, still in labor with one umbilical cord hanging from her with a clamp on it until she can be seen by a doctor. The car takes about 40 minutes to arrive at the clinic. We rush to put her in the car, and Akos and the husband join her.

I learned that along the way, the car broke down and they had to find another. Once they arrived at the hospital, the doctor wasn’t around so she had no choice but to wait. As best I can tell, there was roughly four hours between the time she delivered the first twin and the time she was seen to deliver the second. We have not heard any news from Dormaa. Alice was confident the first twin would survive, but the second twin was under severe distress.

This was not a usual birth. Akos called me expecting to show me a normal delivery. Instead, many unexpected events transpired.  Akos and Alice did the best they could, but maternal health in the village is not easy. I just hope the woman and her babies made it through okay.

I’ve heard that when people see a birth for the first time its usually not an enjoyable experience, but I loved every minute of it. I went back to the clinic in the evening to debrief what had happened with Alice and Akos. As I was leaving around 9:00, another woman came in labor. “Are you tired, or do you want to see another?” they ask me. I was exhausted, but I immediately reply, “I want to see another.” We begin to prepare and examine her. Eventually, we determine she is in the early stages and won’t deliver for hours. I decide to go home, as I was leaving early the next day. I can’t wait to see and learn more as soon as I return home.

where has my English gone?

Sandra comes into my room this morning all dressed up in one of her church dresses and wearing her backpack. Confused, I say,

“Sandra, you go to where?”

“I go to classes.” Then after a pause, “Mam B, I like the distin.”

“No. You can have the distin after classes.”

She smiles and walks out.

‘Distin’ is the way Ghanaians pronounce “this thing,” and they use it interchangeably with anything when they can’t think of the proper name.

After, I start to think I should hand out stickers to those who speak proper English, myself included.