Monthly Archives: March 2012

3/30 – On Fire

Dear friends, if we needed your prayers for RCH yesterday, we need them even more so today. Some administrative things Pastor Abraham is dealing with now are just not favorable in the least, and we just desire these problems to be solved immediately for the sake of the children, whom everything trickles down to eventually. I will leave it there, and just let God who knows all things take care of the rest.

Because of these sobering events, the morning was very quiet and the heat felt oppressive, even at just 9am. Poor Pastor Abe was so worried that he didn’t eat his nice egg for breakfast. He and I walked through town together and got to talk to the Chief in his office about some of these issues. We met him at the first governance/accountability/transparency workshop that we attended together on Monday–same dude. I felt a little better, since it seemed we were at least a little on our way to solving the dilemma, but I knew there were still a lot of things to work through.

Pastor Abraham and I continued through the rest of the paved road to the orphanage. We tried to play with the kids together, but it wasn’t too energetic, I think because we were both still thinking about the morning. He had to leave eventually, so I caught up with the pre-school class where Auntie Humu was teaching the alphabet to all the kids.

She had the letters written on the board, and was quizzing them on each letter at random. *Sigh* not working. They all just copy what Sadit, the oldest student there, is yelling out, even if he’s wrong. When she asks one student to get up and point to K, they just guess. I tried to show them how to sing the song, and point to each letter until they sang the sound “KAY” and then stop, but they had no idea what that even meant. Their exam where they write the alphabet and numbers 1-10 is on Monday.

One thing I can be thankful for is that I didn’t have to deal with as many pooping chickens invading the classroom today as usual, hahaha.

The afternoon was very quiet; after a lunch of yams and something called Sheeto (sp? a sauce made out of peppers, oil, and ground fish)), I got to catch up on a bunch of journaling. I was on a roll! Soon enough, it was time to eat again, and this time, having gotten over the food poisoning, I really got to enjoy the fufu we ate. YUM. I’d better enjoy all the carbs I can while I’m here, because in the states there will be no excuse to indulge. J

Right after dinner, Joe stopped by and we left from Pastor Abe-y’s for the orphanage again. The kids were having another prayer meeting, as they do faithfully every other day. Joe and I arrived there late, and just caught the end of a honest-to-goodness sermon given by one of the boys there, maybe 15 or 16 years old. On FIRE, people, on fire! It’s so amazing to see, and ti doon Uwumbor, we thank God. Joe and I were glad to help out with the question and answer session afterward, and then do a double-check and ask the kids if they could re-tell what they learned from today and yesterday. Joe was definitely using his teacher experience for this one!

I’ve got to say, although I was highly impressed by these kids two days ago at the last prayer meeting, I am even more impressed now. Every single question Joe asked them had several volunteers with hands raised. They would stand up and give a thorough explanation of what they had learned, confident in Christ. And they did this all from memory, with no notes or no Bibles to thumb through for the answers. You would not see kids like this in very many American youth groups! Abraham’s kids cherish the Word, and hold it in their hearts, and work out their faith. They don’t come, learn, and forget, like many Christians out there. I’m telling you, I was so impressed by and proud of them. Like I will be thinking of these kids when I raise my own.

We ended the night by organizing a Bible quiz on Matthew 26-28 to prepare for Easter (so excited for this!), with a prayer, and with many low-fives again. I didn’t want to leave them, but it was getting late and Joe and I had to “be getting back,” as he says. J

We talked about many things as we walked through the dark town together–Bible studies, competition in schools, news from Saboba. On the way we “picked” some oranges from a roadside stand and brought them back to Pastor Abe’s to share.

There is a new visitor in Pastor’s house! Her name is Yolanda, and she is a Dutch lady here on her internship! She works in Tamale but has volunteered at Redemption Childrens’ home often in the past. She is very cool and outgoing, and I am excited to get to know her a little more over this next weekend!

We sat there in the living room, biting into the oranges with Marian, Rashifa, and Joyce, a few girls from the orphanage that stay at Pastor Abraham’s place. They are definitely not like California oranges at all–dry and bitter, unfortunately. I miss home, where the juicy oranges just fall off the trees and roll down the hills on the sides of Ted Williams Parkway close to Pomerado Rd!

I am so glad to be here in Ghana and I’m loving it of course, but I am torn between two places that I love. I don’t know how to solve this problem, either, except to start thinking about the next time I will be back. Ghanaians always ask me when I will be returning to visit them, and I always answer them, “When God wills,” because I really have no clue. I am starting to honestly hope and pray that He will bring me back soon, though. I wasn’t expecting God to grow my heart this much when I first came here, but there you go. More miracles by His hand, every day. Isn’t He a wonderful God?

– ATP

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3/29 – Like a Guinea Fowl

We had a great breakfast at Pastor Abraham’s today, and you know how I have to document it here because I love breakfast so much! We ate omelets, oatmeal, toast with all the jam/PB we could want, Lipton Yellow Label with Ideal this time, and actual coffee (not Nescafe)! It was awesome, and my belly was very happy.

This fantastic spread was because Zee, Abraham’s girlfriend visited yesterday on her way over to Bole (sp?) for some community data-collecting for her work! I barely missed her last night after I got home from the prayer meeting, and this morning she even had to wake me up at 7am to say goodbye, because she was leaving already! I was so sad that we didn’t get to spend more time together, but maybe there will be a next time… L

At the orphanage, Naomi and Rens set to work repairing the mosquito screens on the windows of the dorms, and I returned to the pre-school class with a new plan in mind to teach them the ABC’s, since clearly the song with the letters on the board was not working! I took ten of the oldest students, ranging from maybe 6-8 years old, and let them use a set of old slates with the alphabet printed on the back. We went to the pavilion to create our own little classroom, and I finally got them to identify the letter A and write it correctly. We moved on to the letter B, but then they didn’t remember what the letter A looked like! It got even worse when I tried C. I was so discouraged and exhausted by the end of an hour, I just didn’t know what to do. I wanted these kids to pass to primary school so badly, but it wasn’t looking hopeful. I don’t know what I was doing wrong, and I just don’t know how to continue. Please pray that these kids will learn everything that God needs them to. I am going to just trust them unto the Lord.

Admittedly, I was thankful when Rens and Naomi called me to go home in the afternoon, but it was absolutely scorching as we walked along, and I was sweating more than I ever have in my life. This is truly saying something, since I don’t really sweat a lot, even in Saboba!

I finally picked up two more plain everyday t-shirts, thanks to a new acquaintance I met at one of the roadside shops! I asked her where she got her shirt that I was admiring, and she led me between shops and buildings, through an alley, and finally to someone’s compound. I was invited right into their home, and offered piles of shirts for sale in the bedroom of a few ladies! It was a funny experience that would never happen in the states, but that I have gotten quite used to here. It’s “Nor-Mal!” At GHc 4 a piece (about $2.50), I believe I got quite the bargain!

Lunch was not so lucky. I gradually started feeling weird and after an unpleasant nap, I decided that definitely had some weak food poisoning. Delightful! Fortunately, I was feeling well enough to meet up with Peace at the HATS campus for an evening visit underneath the tree again. We were just talking like that, getting excited for time back in Saboba again, when we spotted Enock, Solomon, and John (part of the Saboba gang) coming toward us from afar. This is a small town, and an even smaller campus!

We had a great time just laughing together, especially when Pastor Jonah called and I was speaking to him in Likpakpaln. I either am really terrible at Likpakpaln, or they find it extremely droll that I would even speak in the first place, haha! They got even more amusement out of me when I tried speaking to one of their teachers who is a Konkomba. Hey, npwa ni nba la! I am trying!

When they all had to depart for supper in the dining hall, Enock escorted me part of the way home (I didn’t turn the wrong direction this time!), even though I tried to tell him he should go eat with the others. He replied to me, “Oh, no it’s OK. I can walk like a guinea fowl!” Hahaha!! One more Enock gem to add to the books. J As we walked, we had a great conversation as always. Enock is just a great encourager in my faith. He really convicted me to always be ready to witness well and boldly to whomever I meet, because there is such a great need in these rebellious times. We talked about what I was reading a little bit–Ezekiel–and I realized once again how blessed I have been to meet these people in Ghana and to have such wonderful fellowship with them in Christ. We laugh, we encourage, we confront, we protect each other, we have fun, all in Ghanaian style. I’m going to miss these people seriously back in the states. There’s absolutely no one like them.

I wished we could have talked much longer, standing there at the top of the hill where we were supposed to part ways, but I was about to vomit. I definitely regretted eating that unidentifiable rice mixture lunch so voraciously, and felt pretty disappointed that I couldn’t enjoy the fufu for supper! I spent the rest of the evening on the couch with a receiver by my head until I finally felt well enough to get up and bathe. But thank the good Lord that I continued to feel better for the rest of the night! It was a pretty short bout of food poisoning, and only my second one here in Ghana since I came two months ago! I think that’s a pretty big accomplishment, if I do say so myself. J

Tonight, I am asking for your prayers for Redemption Childrens’ Home. We thank God for giving them Pastor Abraham to watch over them, and for drawing the children close to Jesus through him. Pray that all the administrative things can be taken care of soundly so that the organization can function well and be glorifying to God, and that the children will be well provided for in all areas of their needs, the most immediate of which are their daily food and their school fees. Please ask the Lord that He would continue to shower His love on them, and reassure each and everyone in the depths of their soul of how special and loved that all are in Christ.

Thank you for following along, friends, and for praying with me. We really need an army of prayer warriors for RCH and for Saboba Medical Center both! I am so grateful again for all your support and your fellowship, and can’t wait to see you all again when I return home! And to those of you who are following whom I haven’t met yet, I pray that we will in the near future! Just feel free to leave as many comments below as you like, don’t feel shy. J

Love,

ATP

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3/28 – A Kids’ Prayer Meeting @ Redemption Childrens’ Home

Pastor Abraham continued with the workshop this morning, so I went to the school alone to teach again. This time, I was determined to take action and teach as many as I could the ABC’s so they could write their exams next week, which I did via the song, and pointing to the letters on the board (which is really just a square on the wall painted black).

We got up to “P,” because everyone was having such a hard time actually sounding out the letters with their mouths. I really just can’t believe how long it takes to just do that one simple thing. And I definitely know some of them weren’t getting the connection between the sounds of the song and the letters on the board.

Lunchtime was another struggle for me, because the kids eat on the cement floor of the classroom with their hands and spill rice/noodles/yam bits everywhere, and the chickens come inside to peck it all up. And you KNOW how much I hate chickens!! These ones were even pooping everywhere, even though I was constantly chasing them all out with the grass broom. GAH.

I let their teacher Auntie Humu teach them the second lesson of the day, which was greetings, while I went to check on the small small children of the orphanage who weren’t in school. I love playing with Ophelia and Amelia, a pair of twins that are just so cute. They look exactly alike, but you can easily tell them apart because of the different patterns of ringworm bald spots in their hair. I am making it my small mission t get Ophelia to stand up! Her sister is already beating her in this task, and I can’t let her fall behind!

The Aunties sitting there under the tree watching Ophelia and Amelia and doing the washing were all transfixed by my hair, as usual. “Have you ever cut it?” they asked. Auntie Candy, who is also a hairdresser, helped herself to pulling a small chunk out of my ponytail (ouch!) and braiding it, just to see what it would be like to work with my hair, hahah!

I said goodbye to the aunties and returned home to eat with a nice braid adorning my ponytail. I was very tired and dirty, trudging through the town in the afternoon sun. There were literally child-sized handprints of unidentifiable grime all over my shirt, which was definitely not funny to me when it was happening, but is (just a little) now! I found out pretty quickly that if you want to work with these kids, you have to be prepared to touch pee, poo, pus, blood, sweat, and saliva, all on some level, but definitely a LOT of dirt.

When I got home for lunch, Pastor Abraham had a few visitors from HATS, one of which I had met a couple days earlier. They weren’t feeling too well, so he nursed them back together on tea, bread, and McVite’s digestive crackers while they watched a movie. He’s always taking in people like that and caring for them, whether they’re small children at his orphanage, or nurses needing their own nurses for the day.

Also, those of you that read this blog may remember that today was the day I also uploaded about a week’s worth of overdue posts, probably equaling 15-16 single-spaced pages in Microsoft Word… You’re welcome. J

The evening was filled with more time with the children at the orphanage. Rens and Naomi are back from Mole, so we headed over together. I was so glad that I got to spend time with the older kids finally. Mary, Adiatu, Adija, Adam, and Noah are some of their names, and they are all so awesome! One of my favorite things about meeting people is seeing how different they all are.

These kids are no exception; all of them have their own personalities and attitudes, it’s pretty amazing and wonderful that God created all of them this way! I was cracking up at Princess (her self-chosen name), because she was claiming all of the kids gathered around as her children. She jested that she had authority over all of them, and put on airs like she could do whatever she wanted around the orphanage. Everyone else was making up nicknames for her, and from now on, I am going with one of them–Joker. J

As Naomi and Rens left back to the house, Joe was coming up the walk to attend the kids’ prayer meeting with me, a gathering which they hold every other day. Yeah, you heard that right! This group of kids, none of them older than maybe 17, organize and put on prayer nights every other day, of their own accord. Is this not inspiration for the youth of today, or what!? They clearly love the Lord and desire to worship Him all the time.

After their supper of plain rice (which they also cooked and served to each other, by themselves), the drums started playing. Children from across the orphanage grounds arrived in the main hall where they had just eaten, and where the smallest pre-school class is taught, to open with a song. And they sang loudly, without reservations, some volunteering to lead in front of everyone. I stood next to Joe, admiring them and thanking God for what He’s done in their lives, happily swaying to the music.

We were led in prayer by one little boy, who was maybe 13 or 14 years old, but my goodness was he on fire for Jesus! He asked us to pray for forgiveness, then for the orphanage, then for patients in the hospital, and finally for Joe and me as visitors that night. It was so sweet, I could tell he has a huge heart. There was more singing, more dancing, and at the end, a message from Joseph! I got to hear him give a mini-sermon to the kids, and then do a little question and answer session! The kids were asking very intelligent questions, and I was very heartened. The whole meeting was just an amazing worship of God. I was so thankful. This was the miracle that I was expecting for today just last night.

Joe and I bid the kids goodbye, with several low-fives here, and a few rib-tickles there. We made our way through the bush by torchlight, and as I saw the little building’s lights grow smaller and smaller in the distance, I knew those kids were perfectly safe even as we left them there. That is just one of the gifts Jesus gives to those that love Him. Joe and I continued on through town, singing songs to Jesus as we went.

There was also a little tidbit of good news! He, Enock, Peace, Solomon, Matthew, and the rest of the Saboba gang from HATS Damongo are coming back home on Wednesday! That means I’ll see them for around 6ish days back on our old stomping grounds! It seems like we’re following each other around Northern Region now, but I like that a lot. I’m very thankful for our prolonged time together, and that the end of this week is not goodbye just yet! 🙂 And we may even celebrate Easter together, which would be the MOST special thing, ever. So excited!

– ATP

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3/27 – Teaching Pre-School

Even with all the problems we have in the education system in the state of California, seeing the way school in Ghana works just makes me grateful for what we already have.

I went to teach at the pre-school at Redemption Childrens’ Home today (called Redemption Academy), and they have over fifty little students in the first class. These students aren’t all one age group either–they range from about two to about eight. How does one teach such a large number of students at such a variety of developmental levels (one kid also has a learning disability)? As best as you can. You’ve just got to make do with what you have, as Jean says. That seems to be a recurring theme in Ghana, whether you’re in a hospital or a school setting!

Teaching at this school is done mainly verbally. The kids repeat after the teacher certain phrases in English. I have no idea whether or not they actually understand what the phrases mean, or if they’re just copying the sounds. It was a huge, huge challenge to feel like I was actually accomplishing anything, or if this benefited the kids at all. I mean, how can a two-year-old pay attention for an hour-long lesson, especially when that two year old can barely English, much less their native tongue Gonja? It was clear that the older kids were being held back by the younger ones, and vice versa.

I was pretty stressed out by teaching, but even when lunchtime came, there was little relief. In Ghana I’ve learned to pretty much relinquish my aversion to dirt… but this lunch hour was a whole ‘nother level!! These kids must have immunoglobulin levels through the roof! Let’s just leave it there! J

I just had to remember, through all of these challenges I predicted I’d experience if I came back to Damongo, that above all I was there to love these children and give them the attention that was so scarce… just to let them know they’re special and treasured, especially in God’s eyes. It’s hard when you’re just one person though!

I was expecting to cuddle and play with the kids, teach them songs and hand games, have tickle fights… but I was running around telling them– “Get down, you will fall!” “Give him back the food!” “Stop hitting!” and trying to monitor the little water dispenser, which eventually spilled all over the classroom floor. Every time I set one kid straight, I looked over my should and there was another mischievous tot causing some other problem. Minimal cuddling, sadly.

After school let out, I did get to spend time with the kids that stayed at the orphanage a little, though. They all fight to touch me, and like to hit the child that is holding my hand so they can get a turn… Yeah, like that will make me favor you, haha! Their favorite phrases are “Sistah, me!” or “Sistah, look at!” I’m telling you, it’s absolutely heartbreaking the way these kids need a mommy and daddy. Each one needs to know they’re precious and valuable to someone, and that pain is always there inside them, even though they can never really express it… but anyone could tell even if they visit the orphanage just for one hour.

After I went home, had some lunch, and washed all my clothes, Joe and I met up and biked back to the orphanage. Somehow when Joe is there, I don’t get so downcast at the situation. He definitely sees the extent to which the kids lack there, but he has so much trust and faith that God provides that it doesn’t shake him. He’s there, praising the kids for their chicken houses that they made, catching up on how everyone is with school, actually sitting instead of dashing around, just relaxed like that.

I am trying to trust God with this too–I mean, what else can you do but trust?–but it definitely hard for me. I am trying to keep a heavenward focus, just as I was learning and reading last week, and to remember my first visit to Redemption Childrens’ Home and their amazing church service, which definitely helps. These kids are rich in Christ, and their heavenly Father looks after them even better than any mommy or daddy could.

Joe and I wished the kids goodbyes with low-fives (they love it when you pretend that they hurt your hand, haha!), and biked on over to the HATS campus, where we met Enock, Solomon, Matthew, and Peace! We visited all together a while, and I felt so at ease. It just brings me back to SMC and chatting there together in front of the theater. Good, good, memories! After the dusk quickly faded to dark there under the tree, Joe and I walked our bikes back to Pastor Abraham’s instead of riding. This is much more conducive to good conversation! We sat in Pastor Abraham’s yard underneath the mango tree and continued to talk about everything, as we do.

Joe is definitely like a big brother to me. He is always protectively looking out for my well-being and making sure I’m not offending my hosts Bob and Jean or Pastor Abraham by getting me home always at a reasonable hour! He lets me know who is trustworthy to spend time with, and exactly what cultural things I need to be super sensitive about. It’s so funny to me because I’ve always been somewhat independent, with the mindset that I can take care of myself, but sometimes I like having a big brother!

But these are not the only things! Like an older brother, Joe’s also inspiring me to have BIG DREAMS. I told you about his plans to have his own orphanage AND his own clinic, right? Today he told me he wants to be a doctor too! Juggling all that hits me as a huge load. I don’t think the way Joe does at all! I am worrisome and skeptical, or “realistic,” as I like to call it, but Joe says that you have to be confident in what the Lord can do. Ask Him, and don’t doubt His ability–what do I think the word GOD means, anyway?

I’ve seen Jesus do astounding things here almost everyday, so I just have to take what I learned from these examples, especially Lifuul and Misiga and the healings in the hospital, and just expect miracles. If I don’t, I would be completely discrediting God’s hand in all of what He’s done thus far . And I definitely don’t want to do that, so there is nothing else I can do but get ready for His miracles tomorrow.

-ATP

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3/26 – Like a Ghanaian Student!

I love relaxed mornings like the ones we have here in Damongo! Even more so than my relatively relaxed mornings in Saboba, I get to take my time eating and reading my Ozzie Chambers and Bible. I just read through James (very convicting… that one is always difficult to take!) and got to utilized some of Pastor Abraham’s commentaries. It’s rare, but when I get into a mood like this, I totally understand what John Piper says when he wishes he could just spend the whole day in devotions. I thought I would be more complaining and discouraged during my time here in Damongo (and to an extent, it’s true), but I am getting fed by the Word well, and that makes all the difference.

Naomi, Rens, and I enjoyed breakfast together before they headed off to Mole National Park for a little get-away. They needed it; it is clear that they’ve been so tired! Meanwhile, Pastor Abraham and I went traipsing around Damongo on various errands after which we ere planning to meet the District Chief Executive of Damongo in order to tell him more about where the orphanage is going, and to ultimately request funding.

Instead, we were invited last minute to a workshop on “Governance,” for use by church leaders in their ministries, or by community members with faith-based organizations like Pastor Abraham and Redemption Childrens’ Home. The workshop included a lot of topics like accountability and transparency, which I felt the workshop did a good job of encouraging to enforce. The whole thing was definitely Ghana-style, though. We started late in a very warm building, with a crazy-animated powerpoint, lots of not getting to the point, and lots of letting everyone say everything he desired (which is good most of the times–that is, if the person stays on topic)!!

I was enjoying seeing the very heartening way these people were trying to improve their organizations, despite the heat making me sleepy as I sat there (what else is new for a mild narcoleptic like me?), but Abraham and I had to leave because we had a proposal due for funding from Holland, mostly for the kids’ school fees.

I had never written a proposal for funds before, but Abraham recruited me and my fast fingers to type one out. Luckily we had a little template from before, but in my opinion, it needed serious beefing up. I wrote and formatted tables there with Abraham sitting beside me (I learned a lot about the orphanage in the process!) from 1-6:30, and we sent it in by email. Thank goodness!! I felt proud of my work because I put my heart for the kids in it, even though I have no clue whether or not it actually resembled a formal proposal or not. Eek! We’ll hope and pray for the best.

Aahh, I needed a break! So I called up Enock and met him with Solomon and John as they were walking to an empty classroom at one of the local schools to study. I didn’t want to disturb them, but Enock convinced me to come along by saying that I would help him study. Haha! Just like last time I tried to “help him study,” right? Yeah, I ended up learning from his medical nursing textbook way more than I was helping.

I liked studying with him though. The classroom strewn with small desk-chairs, with a few people distributed among them studying, really reminded me of my college days. We would steal an empty classroom in Dwinelle or Wheeler and study there until a GSI with his/her class or the custodian kicked us out, haha! The only different thing was that I was the only fair-skinned person and the only female among them, and clearly I don’t school in Ghana, so everyone there was staring, wondering what the heck I was doing there! Well, whatever! Enock and I were reviewing his nutrition notes and laughing because I was quizzing him too hard.

I really enjoy getting a small taste of student life here in Ghana through my HATS friends. The conditions are definitely not ideal in so many ways, but these young people want to learn and succeed so badly that they work their tails off and are 100% grateful to be there. Now I think we need a little of this attitude back in the states!

When I think about this, I am always reminded of the story that Jean told me about one night in Saboba that the electricity shut off (again!). The Youngs were running their generator, and walked out into the kitchen to find a group of students huddled under their porch light to study. And this is not just a one-time thing either. Almost every night that I pass by the Public Health Center, there are students who come to use the light underneath the verandah to study. That is dedication, my friends. So many people in more developed countries have every opportunity given to them, and they just waste it completely, while so many people in Ghana desire to learn so badly but the opportunities are so few and so challenging. What an unjust paradox. I don’t know what else to do but bring back the PLOT (I think I am so clever for devising this.. Unless somebody has done it already!). Pray Listen Obey Trust.

Enock started to walk me back to Pastor “Abe-y’s” as he calls it, when I told him I could definitely find my way back.

“Oh no, I have to make sure you get home,” he insisted, so I let him come along. He was looking at me funny as we reached the main road and I turned toward Pastor Abraham’s place. Or what I thought was the right direction to Pastor Abraham’s place! I glanced over to see why Enock wasn’t following, and then I heard him crack up with that huge, mirthful laughter in that endearing way that he has-he was bending over and slapping his knee in delight.

“You see, I had to escort you home because look there, you were heading toward town!!” He just had a ball with that one! And I was glad to be made foolish if I got to hear him laugh like that! I missed my friend so much!

The night ended with dinner, journaling, and a 40-minute conversation with Austin, Laura Bell, and dear Zacky Westling. I just forgot about my phone credits and enjoyed every second of our talk. That conversation made me miss all of you back at home so much more, though! I want to see you all so badly, but I don’t want to leave beautiful Ghana either. So won’t you please fly here and join me?! Think about it and let me know! 😉

Love,

-ATP

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3/25 – A Few Reunions in Damongo!

Only one month left in Ghana. It’s hard to believe and kind of crazy. I don’t want to think about leaving this place because I may start to cry, but at the same time I can’t stop thinking of seeing “my people” (as they say here) back at home! I miss you all so much, and I thank you if you’ve followed along this far on my blog and Ghanaian journey. ❤

Back to Damongo, now! I felt excited to spend another Sunday at the orphanage in the same room that the children use to eat, go to school, play, and hold church service. When our group of four approached the building at the end of our long walk from Abraham’s house, we could hear the voices of the children singing loudly from across the entire yard. The sound of praises bursting through church doors and windows from far off is something I have always loved, but when it’s a cappella like this, and when it’s sung by children, my heart soars even more.

This Sunday we also saw some of the kids volunteer to get up in front and sing their own songs that they wanted to share. Fati stepped up and sang the song I remember from last time– “Build your church, Lord! Make us one, Lord!” and it was so cute. The image brought me back to a photo on Pastor Abraham’s bookshelf, where Fati was just a tiny, scared-looking baby being held by Abraham’s sister. Now she’s seven years old and worshipping Jesus with her whole heart. The Lord has really blessed these kids through Pastor Abraham! It’s absolutely amazing to see.

Preparing for Easter at Redemption Childrens’ Home means reminding the kids of the Gospel message. I pray that it never gets old or tired for them Pastor Abraham told a great story about a chief who laid down his life for his tribe. It was a great story full of African imagery, and perfect for the kids. I definitely was feeling it too. J

Service ended with a beautiful prayer, and the rest of the morning was spent playing with the kids. They love being tickled and chased around, and being held by the arms and twirled in circles! During this time, I got very very dizzy, and very hot and sweaty from running around, so the spray falling from the water tank being pumped from 10 feet above felt like the best thing ever! I just stood there and let it fall on my face. It’s the little pleasures! Rens and Naomi were preparing mashed potatoes for their lunch out of some mix. It was pretty cool seeing them make food for 56 kids over what was basically a campfire!

We walked back to the house together to eat and rest; working at an orphanage makes you pretty dirty and exhausted! I took the opportunity to call Big Man and Pastor Jonah to check in on them and their respective church services–Big Man is doing “Wondaful, wondaful!” I missed his voice and his presence so much! And Pastor Jonah just told his community church congregations about the Bible movie that is narrated completely in Likpakpaln, and they are all very excited! You guys, this is so big! I am so excited to see how God works through this amazing movie that goes through the entire Bible in the Konkomba’s heart language. Oh, I have a lot of hope for this! Whenever I think about these two men, my heart just swells with love and admiration. So glad I got to catch up with them, but now I miss them even more!

Around 4, Pastor Abraham and I went to visit the HATS campus, where Joe, Enock, Rose, and Peace study! I am so grateful for this opportunity to visit my friends where they live the other half of their lives when they are away from Saboba! We were almost there when Abraham spotted Enock and Solomon (a guy I had met with Peace when we were traipsing through the Saboba market!) strolling along one of the side roads! I was so happy to see my dear friend Enock that I ran to him to greet him! It was so great to see him and hear his laughing again, just like old times, and I felt so content and happy.

Abraham, Enock, Solomon, and I continued a short way to the school where we met Joe, whom we fetched from the middle of a discussion classroom and couldn’t stay to visit long. Solomon went to also fetch Peace from the womens’ dorms, and I saw her tall slender frame from a distance, walking toward us. She was calling, “Ann! Ann! Ann!” and I had to run to her, too, and give her a big hug! It had been way too long since we were separated, and I was so happy to see her again and have the chance to spend more time together.

She showed me the womens’ dorms, which are very cool! I was a little shy to walk in, because it would be immediately clear that I am not a student at the HATS, but I just followed Peace closely and waved at most of the girls walking around there. The building was a rectangle, with rooms all around the sides and a long courtyard in the middle, where they stored many many round plastic water containers! There’s no running water here either, which makes sense because Damongo is very far from a water source.

I followed Peace into her dorm room, which is filled with seven small bunk beds and the belongings of fourteen young ladies. It was cramped to say the least! Peace introduced me to some of her roommates, and told me that there are no fights–they are all like family there. She calls the lady who sleeps below her bunk her mother! A lot of people claim mothers and daughters if you are a senior or a junior to somebody. Culture in Ghana is very family-based to say the least. I like that!

After several introductions to girls who were calling out, “Peace, where did you get this lady!?” we exited the dorm and she showed me their bath house (looks like the urinals you see around here, but no one pees in them, hopefully) and their clotheslines full of drying garments (they do their own washing), I met the members of her little study group who were seated beneath a large shady tree on random small classroom desks, studying. When I met the three girls there, they all wanted to take photos with me, it was so cute. I am a novelty here, especially with my hair. Many ladies, including these new friends, ask if I have to relax it, or put pomade in it or something. I tell them it’s just “nor-mal” and it grows like that, haha!

By the time Peace and I said goodbye to her friends underneath the tree, and we got Rose Tinab from her room, the group by the classroom with Pastor Abraham had grown to about 10 or so HATS students! Half of them were my friends and half of them knew Pastor Abraham from when he comes to preach at their school every other Sunday. We all visited there like that for a while, sitting in classroom desks in a circle. I love the way Ghanaians joke with each other. They usually assign nicknames and insult each other lightheartedly. They always make me laugh! I just hope one day soon my friends will feel comfortable enough with me to throw some insults my way as well!

Pastor Abraham and I “good-byed” (it’s a verb here) Peace, Enock, and Co. and headed back home with a trio of HATS students, Ernestina, Linda, and Martha, whom I had just met. They all love Pastor Abraham, so they all stayed to eat a tasty dinner (cooked by Ernestina!) of jollof rice with us. There were seven people at the dining table breaking bread together–so awesome!

After supper, Ernestina was showing me how to do the Azonto dance to music on Pastor Abraham’s phone! If you’re curious, look Azonto up on Youtube! You will see some seriously cool and subtle moves that have originated in Ghana! Don’t ask me to do it for you when I get back home, though, because I failed miserably and looked like a fool however hard I tried… hheheh

That was my day–it was filled with faces I had missed and been reunited with, small children and my peers alike. I’m happy and grateful, and falling asleep now so I must wish you all goodnight J

– ATP

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3/24 – One Crazy Cramped Lorry to Damongo

Jean and Bob left for Accra early this morning, so I was the lone guest in the Dzokotoe house, hanging out with Dzifa and Dominica in the morning. Dominica is a composed and quiet young lady with beautiful long braids who helps the Dzokotoes take care of their house. Dzifa is a lovely 13-year-old with TONS of spunk. She’s actually hilarious and I enjoy her so much! Yesterday she was teasing Di about torturing her with work, and playfully guilting us for not playing basketball with her, and then pretend-toasting the little dog Afriyah with its own food. I wish we had more time to spend together!

This morning as I was eating my cornflakes, she turned on her very favorite movie, ever–High School Musical. Yes, it has reached Ghana, along with Rihanna, Star Wars (that one is a duh), my dad’s company Lockheed Martin, and my mom’s old La Jolla company, Sequenom. I wanted to watch it with her, since she didn’t get her pick of movies last night, so we sat down and enjoyed Zac Efron and the other dark-haired girl whatsherface. Dzifa knows all the words, I’m telling you!

Around lunch, Abraham called me, and I met him outside the Dzokotoe’s gate with all my luggage. I wished goodbye to Dominica and Dzifa, sadly. I really hope that when we pass through Tamale again, I will be able to stay at the Dzokotoe’s and see them again, along with Di, Dan, Michelle, and Becca. There are just so many wonderful people I’ve met on this trip, I feel incredibly blessed.

Together, Abraham and I accomplished a bunch of tasks this afternoon! We dropped off our luggage at Sparkles (a restaurant where Abraham knows some people), I picked a 50 kilo bag of rice for the kids at the orphanage, and Abraham roamed around for ice cream and malarone [requests from Rens and Naomi back in Damongo].

We headed back to Sparkles, picked up our luggage, and called the lorry we were to take to Damongo. Abraham and I sat in the cab with a lady and her little baby girl! It was cramped and not air conditioned, but I thought it was fine. I had driven from San Diego to Mammoth (what, like 9 hours?) in almost similar conditions! But it was about to get worse… As the lorry made its way west to Damongo, we proceeded to pick up more and more people. In the end, there were about 10-15 people in the bucket, and one more man squeezed into the cab with us, making the total 5 people in a three-seat row! It was sweaty (Zee said it was the hottest she had ever experienced, and she‘s FROM Ghana!), bumpy, dusty, and you couldn’t move almost at all. I was surprised that the lady sitting next to me was able to maneuver her little daughter so that she could breastfeed! The little baby’s head was resting on my arm, which dripped sweat all down my left side. Niiiice.

We stopped for petrol in Busunu (Alex from the theater’s town!) after about two hours of driving like that, where most of the time I was asleep. Yes, I told you I could sleep anywhere! Sometimes I impress myself (like this time), but sometimes it’s bad (e.g. physics class). I think I have mild narcolepsy. Anyway, I was able to exit the lorry and do some leg-stretching most gratefully because I was getting some serious butt-ache. I got to take a picture of our lorry get-up while I was outside too. I will post it when there’s a good internet connection, so you can see all the people and chickens and luggage in the back. J

After that, it was just a short ride to Damongo, maybe half an hour or so. Again I fell asleep until we were pulling up to Pastor Abraham’s familiar gate. The living room looked just the same as before, the mama dog that came to greet us had the same semi-prolapsed uterus, and I was set up in the same room as last time. Home again, home again, jiggity jog!

I was pretty happy to see Naomi and Rens! They were lying on the bed when we arrived–poor Naomi was recovering from a bad bout of malaria! The first thing they did when they saw Abraham was to give a report of the orphanage from the time he was away. Everyone really missed him for that week he was gone!

After a short time to rest and recuperate from the journey, I headed out with Rens and Naomi to see the kids again! We walked about twenty minutes through the bustling, car-exhaust filled, burned-up plastic smelling, dusty town. In comparison to everywhere I visit, I feel like Saboba is a pristine rural village, the Ghana equivalent of the little country town with the steepled white chapel. Haha!!

We arrived at the familiar right-turn into the orphanage, and as we approached closer, I didn’t hear the customary “Sistah, sistah, sistah!” calls from the children. It was Saturday and there was only one “auntie” working at the orphanage, and things were much quieter. I saw a lot of what Naomi and Rens were talking about to Abraham. There are so many needs at the orphanage! Each kid needs a huge amount of attention from adults and older children for both their physical and emotional needs. That’s the first thing that comes to mind, but I could literally go on and on. If your heartstrings are being pulled for Ghana, consider volunteering at Redemption Childrens’ Home!

I saw a lot of familiar faces from the last time I was here–Jason, Damian, Joseph, Becky, Amanda, Ophelia, Amelia, Rana, Fati, and of course Justice and Justina. I loved seeing all of them again, and feeling them wrap their arms around me and snuggle their faces into my legs, but something was different this time. During my last visit, I was rejoicing almost the whole time. This time, I am definitely more disturbed by their immediate needs and how overwhelming it all seems. I am feeling discouraged and in too deep. I think a large part of it was because Pastor Abraham hadn’t been there in over a week. We thank God that their Dada is back in Damongo now.

Naomi, Rens, and I walked back through town again to Pastor Abraham’s for supper (I saw the first Asian person I’ve seen in 2 months riding in a lorry!), which was delicious fufu with tomato-ish soup. I missed fufu so much! All gathered like that, we talked about relationships again, but were eventually steered back to keeping a heaven-ward focus. It was the craziest thing, but when we were riding in the taxi in Tamale the other day, Abraham and I found out that we preached on exactly the same thing last Sunday! We both used Matthew 6, and we both were speaking about God providing all we need in Jesus, not in food/clothing/shelter and other treasures on earth. Wild, right? At least  Abraham and I thought so! We are kindred spirits, it seems! J

And this is where the homesickness gets painful! Later on, Naomi was quizzing Rens on his French vocabulary, and we started talking about food that we missed. The pictures in this French textbook were not helping! I saw a dish of glace (ice cream) and almost died. And the cheese!! What I wouldn’t give for Camembert and grapes right now! Rens started listing all the cheeses that people eat in the Netherlands (where they’re from), and I had to stop him. It was almost too cruel to continue this conversation! Goodness gracious. Yep, after about two months in Ghana, I have just started to feel the pangs of homesickness. I’ve always been missing the people, but this is about the first time I’ve missed the place.

We adjourned for the night, and I took my bath-from-a-bucket again. I actually really enjoy these. They’re really refreshing. And since I journaled on this before, they always remind me of washing away my old self and putting on Christ.

It had been a long, busy day. Being in Damongo last time was hard for me, and I know it will also be hard this time, especially since I am staying doubly long, but I am excited to be stretched and grown. No more wimpy Ann. Persistent and tireless Ann instead! Goodness knows these children need more people like that. I pray God will help me rise to the occasion, and that my heart will be willing

Catch y’all on the flip side.

-ATP

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3/23 – Cruising Tamale in Style

I’m in heaven here at the Dzokotoe’s. How do I know? This FEAST they laid out for breakfast. My every morning hunger was satisfied–corn flakes, coffee, toast with ground nut paste and marmalade, toast with honey, egg, Milo (hot chocolate). Yeah, if you didn’t believe it before, now you know that I can pack it!

What made it even more wonderful was the group of people sitting round the table, and the conversation we shared. It was just too bad that Dan, Di, Michelle, and Becca were all leaving for Mole National Park that morning. I felt so grateful for the hospitality and Christian fellowship that they shared with us, knowing them just for less than 24 hours, that I was really sad to see them drive out of the yard in the land rover. Before they left, we all exchanged contact info and stay in touch. That is what is so awesome about brothers and sisters in Christ. Meet once, immediately connected. ❤

Without our lovely host family around and left to our own devices, Bob and I decided to tackle the itinerary for Tamale. First on the list was going to the immigration office to renew my visa for another 30 days. Filled out a form, got hit on again, forked over GHc 40, and was handed a provisional passport. This little slip of paper would have made me very uneasy, but I know Bob knows those guys at the immigration office very well, and if they do anything fishy with my passport, he’ll be on them like soup on TZ!

Next on the list was to find Ishmael somewhere in Tamale and pick him to his accommodations for the night. As we were driving out of the immigration office, Bob called, “Hey, is that Ishmael!?” I looked around and sure enough, there was my friend running to catch up with us! Whadd’ya know? He plopped down in the backseat, pushed my luggage over, and slapped on his Burton baseball hat backwards. Haha!! Kuul kuul, I can imagine him saying.

Our little trio from Saboba drove to the TICCS (Tamale Institute for Cross Cultural Studies) guesthouses to set Ishmael up for the night. I enjoyed the swing underneath the shady tree there a lot! Small pleasures can sometimes mean everything! There in the lush courtyard, I finally got to reconnect with Pastor Abraham on the phone! MTN, the phone service I use, hadn’t been working at all and I hadn‘t been able to reach him, darn it. It was so great to talk to him again–he even announced that he was liberating me to go ramble around Tamale. I was so down!

We left Ishmael peacefully reflecting underneath the trees at TICCS and met Abraham at the customary Goil station. I immediately recognized his skinny frame from behind and ran out to greet him. It was the same old Pastor Abraham–happy, sassy, always busy doing something! From there,  Bob drove us to Ghana Health Services regional offices (or whatever) where Abraham and I met up with Zee, his girlfriend who works in nutrition and public health for GHS. I had heard a lot about Zee–she and Nikki had a great time together–and indeed she is sweet and very funny! I loved hearing her and Dan (her coworker) just go back and forth, laughing hard the whole time. J

While we waited for Zee to finish her work, Abraham and I went to Sparkles, a favorite restaurant for ex-patriots to visit (I saw more fair-skinned people in this one place than I have in all of Ghana for the past two months!). Pastor Abraham of course ordered coffee, and I chose a nice cold pear Alvaro. We caught up on everything–the kids at the orphanage, his plans for school, relationships. Then we met up with Zee to go to her favorite restaurant at the Mariam Hotel. It was a deliciously air-conditioned room that I wanted to stay in forever! They recommended redred, a Ghanaian dish of beans in a sort of tomato sauce served with friend plantains. It was so delicious!

Zee talked to me a lot about her work in nutrition and public health. It was all extremely interesting to me; I think I should have doubled in PH at Berkeley for reals. For example, in a lot of communities in Ghana, many people will refuse to eat nutritious foods because they believe it makes others think they are rich, which apparently is very undesirable. Contrast this with the foodie movement in America!! My goodness. So these people only feed rice to their families. SIGH.

Additionally, soothsayers and other “spiritual” people like fetish priests and traditional medicine men mislead parents in all sorts of crazy ways. One mother brought her malnourished child to one of these people, and he told her that when her baby gets well, she will die. Zee had to deal with this mom who would feed her baby just until it almost got better, and then starve it again on purpose. This is the situation, folks, and it’s so much bigger than I can even wrap my mind around.

Zee works on a project with Unicef that distributes therapeutic food (that famous mixture of peanut butter, vitamins, powdered milk, and sugar) to families with malnourished children. Oftentimes, the malnourished child shows no improvement after this treatment because the mom is feeding all of her kids the same food, and even eating it herself. These kinds of challenges are probably just scratching the surface of the problems that Ghana faces in public health, specifically nutrition. Ghana claims to be the fastest growing economy in the world for 2011. I really hope that some of the revenue brought in will be dedicated to really truly improving education and public health efforts. There’s lots of work to be done!

After we could stuff ourselves no more at Mariam, we stopped at Sparkles again, and then picked a cab to Saviligu (sp?), a little village where there is a school for the deaf. One of Zee’s little nieces attends there, and I got to show her all the American Sign Language that I know–just the alphabet! In the cab, I drew pictures for her, named the animals, and spelled them out in sign language. I was almost through with drawing all the hand symbols for each letter when we pulled up to her house and she had to go. I let her have the sheets in my notebook with the drawings on it. I hope little Winifred shows her friends back at the school and that they can learn together! Sometimes when I make little connections like this in Ghana, it just transforms my entire day. Tiny opportunities to show Christ’s love can make a big difference sometimes.

It was getting late by that time, so the driver Ibrahim dropped me off at the Dzokotoes, and I said goodbye to Zee and Abraham until tomorrow, when we head out for Damongo. Phew, I was tired! The Tamale sun is hot, and the roads are dusty, and we did a lot of walking and riding around. The rest of the evening was spent with Bob, Jean, and Dzifa, watching two episodes of the BBC’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency program, which I liked a lot! I have to read the books now. I was so exhausted that I couldn’t stay awake for all of it though. I had to take my shower [finally got to shave my legs, whoohoo!!] and retire for the night, in my nice air conditioned 27 C room. Tomorrow, off to Damongo and the kiddies!

Hugs,

-ATP

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3/22 – The Ritz Carlton of Tamale

Four hours of sleep. Nice on-the-road breakfast. Hard-boiled egg, toast, tea, and coffee (yes, I have to detail this because breakfast is that important to me). We hit the road to Tamale, two or three hours almost straight across Ghana to the East. I basically slept all the way from Yendi to Tamale, right up to the gate of the Dzokotoe’s house. That’s pronounced Joe-koh-toe, if you were wondering. ;-]

But before I fell asleep, here are some things I saw–Snapshots of Northern Region, Ghana:

– Big purple flowers dotting the brown savannah. Pops of bright just lifted my spirits!

– Sign that read “No light, no vote!” These people are calling out for just a little electricity!

– One teenaged student, sitting all alone on a boulder underneath a tree, studying in his uniform before school. Just beautiful to me.

– Harmattan dust so thick that it looks like San Francisco fog. Not kidding you.

– 15-foot tall termite mounds, of course

– Sign that said “Be Aware of Animal,” which reminded me of what Solo said yesterday, and I chuckled to myself inside!

We stopped to pick up two bags of charcoal for Big Man and his family (jealous that Bob and Jean get to see Big Man and I don’t!), and I got to hold an uubo, a baby! The ladies lifting the charcoal bags into the lorry just handed the little sleeping girl to Bob to hold, and Bob handed her to me, and I needed to just keep her. She was so incredibly precious! But we were just strangers, and we had to drive away on our way.

Before I knew it, I opened my eyes and we were at our destination–Dan and Diane Dzokotoe’s big house in Tamale. We were let into the walled yard, and I saw a spiral staircase up to a shady rooftop veranda, a variety of animals all around, and a screened and vine-covered porch. WOW. It was like a little Eden, and even more so when we got inside.

There, we met Di and Dan, our hosts who are good friends of Bob and Jean through Wycliffe Bible Translators. Di and Dan just started a pre-school in September called Greater Heights International School, Ghana, and already have 135 students a full staff of teachers, and two volunteers working with them–Becca and Michelle from Virginia and Alberta respectively! They are both such awesome girls–very different but both very cool!

After we sent Jean off to her meeting at the Tamale football (soccer) stadium, Di and Becca showed me around the grounds of their school! There was a large yard with a mini dirt football pitch, a trampoline, and a playground–very rare for young school children to have I think! Kids in blue uniforms were running all around, all very friendly just like the kids at Pastor Abraham’s orphanage, but less accustomed to attention-giving volunteers, I believe. Becca and I played basketball with them, lining all of her class in a row and having them give their names and ages as they threw the ball into a laundry basket. It was SO CUTE! Those kids love interacting with Becca, and they all want to play the game so badly, they couldn’t stop pushing each other around to get to the front of the cue.

By then, it was time to go back to the classroom. On our way, I saw some of the animals on the premises!! A green and a red monkey screeched and leapt at the passing children, only to be stopped by the mesh of the cage! There were sheep, goats, mama daddy and baby Jerusalem donkeys, huge German shepherds, turkeys, chickens, and other creatures. These kids had a little zoo all to share with the Dzokotoes! They were quite fortunate!

Even when Becca and I got to the screened porch where her kids met, I saw about six birds! There was one very rare looking one with all-black feathers tinged with blue iridesence, green pigeons, finches, parrots, and other non-identifiable avian species. It was really cool, and the children were sitting there on the porch in the midst of the menagerie, learning at their grouped tables. It looked like a perfect enriching environment.

Becca introduced me to the other teachers I‘d be working with today–quiet and cheery-faced Yussef, and tall bespectacled David who was about to teach the kids their French lesson. The kids learning French were so adorable. They repeated many times after David the simple French phrases, ordered the numerals, and tried to sing the French song arranged with the name of their school in the lyrics. They were bouncing and dancing, too–adorable!

Becca then taught her language arts class with spelling, periods and quotation marks, and capital letters. The group of 4-6 year olds were learning everything very well from what I saw when I went around checking all their work! Such good students–slightly rowdy and attention-seeking as all little ones are, but really such good students! Some of them even take music lessons at the Dzokotoe’s! They are well taught and are a credit to their teachers.

The kids had their snack of crackers/biscuits brought from home, and boxes of Kalyppo juice, which was so cute to watch. Then, Yussef taught his section on numbers–ordering them, and then spelling the numbers out. He was great at playing games with them to keep their interest! After the kids were given their homework, that ended the day and they were sent to the yard to play until their parents came to pick them up. It was a great day for the kids, and I was so impressed at the way the school was run, and the way the teachers imparted the lessons to the children!

After school, I washed up and started to help Michelle to prep a salad for dinner. SALAD, my friends, SALAD!!! A real substantial one with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrot, and apple. I almost couldn’t help myself and wanted to just take a huge handful and put it in my mouth… but I was getting to know serene, dignified Michelle and couldn’t do that, unfortunately. I love talking to other volunteers and hearing about what they’re doing. Michelle is on her practicum stint for her cross cultural studies degree with Wycliffe, and is spending several months with Dan and Di to study and volunteer. I told her about Tamale Institute for Cross Cultural Studies! She’s in the perfect place to take advantage of that resource!

It was great because Di came by and was also talking to us about one of her dreams–a pen-pal connection between the kids at Greater Heights International School and American/Canadian school children their same age. Michelle and I were thinking about this, and we both could name a couple people we know to contact about setting this up, but if you have a class or a group of kids that may be interested in this pen-pal deal with Di’s kids, EMAIL ME or leave a comment on this post! Everything will be talked about and discussed, and hopefully we can make Di’s dream come true!

Michelle took me out to the yard after we were finished prepping the salad so that we could feed the peels to the rabbits! I love rabbits–I used to have two, Cuddles and Rex! Michelle also showed me the porcupine, the bush cat (SO strange looking, I have to find a similar picture in Bob’s field guide so I can tell you exactly what this is), the groundhogs, and the big geese. Dan and Di are great stewards of animals, which is awesome to see since many people these days don’t seem to remember that’s what God called us to do in the beginning.

Before our delicious dinner, us three girls, Becca, Michelle, and I roamed around the neighborhood to get some credit for my phone. I’ve run through way more than Austin did at this point, and am feeling somewhat guilty! Becca brought us to one random lady selling little 2-cedi pieces from her home, but who was the mother of one of Becca’s students! We waved to a shy little student from across the compound. Family compounds in Tamale look much like family compounds in Saboba, if you’re interested to know. I definitely was, but random things like that amuse me. J

Dinner was an absolute feast. Dan, Di, Bob, Jean, Michelle, Becca, and I all sat down at the Dzokotoe’s beautiful long table and ate SALAD, chicken, mashed potatoes, and home fries (two types of potatoes, ok!). I felt spoiled, especially since there was air conditioner right behind the table. I am not joking, friends. The very first air conditioner I saw in a home here–EVER. I felt like I was living in a palace. What’s more, my own room at the Dzokotoe’s had an air conditioner. This room was for volunteers and guests, who get to enjoy air cooler than 35 degrees. Can you imagine?! The bathroom had a large, tiled shower that I could move around in. Indeed, it felt like the Ritz Carlton to me. Thank you Dan and Di for the absolutely wonderful welcome! I am so grateful!

The night ended with a movie (haven’t seen a movie in about 6 weeks!) about a husband breaking his wife out of jail, and great news from Bob and Jean who went to visit a lady named Aminah who may come to SMC to be the matron! I have been praying for God to provide an outstanding matron for this hospital, and I thank Him that things are looking up. So grateful! I am excited to see where things go from here!

I am going to sleep thinking about the Konkombas back in Saboba, especially Kundee the spleen boy, our little Anufo-speaking asthmatic, and Nakol the pubic symphysiotomy patient from yesterday. Jean hasn’t received any calls from the hospital, so I am assuming their conditions are improving and they may be feeling better. It’s hard to be away and to not worry about the hospital, but I know God places you exactly where He wants you, and so I am going to enjoy my palatial residence for tonight. J Thank you Jesus.

Sending you love, and missing you all a lot,

ATP

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3/21 – A Midnight Delivery

Firstly, happy 23rd birthday to my friend Nicole!! Even though this will be very late when I post it, I just wanted to wish you a very public and possibly embarrassing birthday greeting! All the world must know that today we celebrate you!

Anyway, back to things in West Africa.

Tomorrow, our trio heads out for Tamale, our connecting stop! From there, Jean and Bob will move down to Kumasi, then Accra with Ishmael, and I will head over to Damongo with Pastor Abraham! I am excited to see him, and all the kids at Redemption Childrens’ Home, and to see my nurse friends at the Health Assistants Training School (HATS) in Damongo. J But I am also sad to be leaving Pastor Jonah and the community churches (especially the screening of the Bible movie in these places!!), the theater fellas, and all the other friends I’ve made in Saboba. So I tried to make our last day here count!

I spent the morning working in the lab with Isaiah, Tina, and Nelson in the lab, and let them all know I was leaving for Damongo and that I’d be back April 2 to see them all again. By then, I think Nelson will have left for Accra to finish his lab technician training! I will definitely miss big Uncle Nelson and his cool manner. Isaiah and I were doing sputum slides…

Which turned out to be integral information for me in the care of one critical patient in the male ward. He was under respiratory distress, and when I looked at his folder, I remembered his name from the lab form that I saw earlier that morning! Jean asked whether he had a sputum test done, and I was able to answer her yes, and then call up Isaiah to check the book. He confirmed that the sputum test results showed  this poor guy had tuberculosis. We were immediately able to transfer him safely to a “quarantine” room and give him the necessary treatment. I felt excited about actually feeling useful around here!

In the childrens’ ward, our little Anufo-speaking toddler was doing much, much better! He was sitting up and not struggling to breathe anymore. His breathe was still slightly raspy, but overall, SO much improved. Thank you Tabitha for all your help, even when you haven’t arrived yet! Additionally, our enlarged spleen patient was doing better as well–although his abdomen was still distended, the family informed us that it was like that even before the snakebite incident that caused this whole thing. Jean believes it is a retroperitoneal bleed (not in the gut cavity), it is not harmful, and that it will be absorbed over time, reducing his belly. Thank the good Lord almighty. I keep having to remind myself that this little boy was supposed to die, and that God saved his life for His own glory. And we praise Him indeed for this miracle. ❤

Rounds finished and it was time for work in the operating room. I do believe Jean is feeling close to normal now, and almost recovered from the typhoid. Things have been looking more routine, and she has been more active, so I thank those of you who have been praying for her healing! It’s good to have her back! Today we did two surgeries!

The one I assisted in (I still get really giddy about this) was an umbilical hernia on a little 7-year old girl. It was getting large enough that it hung down and began to look like an “elephant trunk,” Jean said. The sac was about 4-5 sonometers long (I think sonometers are as long as centimeters… correct me if I’m wrong!). Is this not so fascinating to you? I find it very interesting! Jean knows her way around the body so well. It’s hard for me to pick out where everything is (although my anatomy class and lab at school definitely helped a lot), but Jean flies through everything and knows exactly where to go inside the incision.

The second surgery I requested to assist in (a TWIN c-section!!! And a tubal ligation), but was shot down. Understandable! I really don’t want to mess up a sensitive case anyway! As we were prepping the patient, Solo, Alex, and I guessed what the sexes of the babies would be. Solo guessed two girls, I guessed a boy and a girl, and Alex tried to cheat and make TWO guesses! A boy and a girl, or two boys. The little mischief maker! Well, it didn’t matter because Solo won! He says that now Alex and I owe him a cow. J Yeah… Don’t know what we’re going to do about that one!

Ah, one more thing–Solo was just hilarious in the operating room today. He chose the biggest trousers in the scrubs pile, tucked his shirt into it, and hiked them up to about his pectorals. I was laughing so hard at how dorky he looked, but he seemed to not even notice! When he saw me busting my guts, he looked at me and announced, “I can even UP it more! Like a fat American!” ooooh my gosh. LOVED that one! I even got pictures of him in this get-up so I can show you all later!

Anyway, the delivery was super quick for both babies, and both of them had 10/10 on the scale whose name I still can’t remember. I was SO happy to see such healthy little kids! As much as I love deliveries, I still get very anxious because there’s always a possibility it might not turn out well for the baby or the mama or both. Mama Stella carried those precious babies out of the operating room, one in each arm, and the tray of equipment balanced gracefully on her head. After that, even with the tubal ligation, the surgery was quick and clean. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

That last c-section ended our work day. The theater was cleaned up, Mama and babies were reunited in the lying-in ward, and all our scrubs were tossed in the laundry bin. Solo picked me home on his bike again, and on the way we passed by Buddy George, whom I finally saw in street clothes, and not a uniform! I got his contact so I could check in on the childrens’ ward while I’m gone, and I wished him goodbye for 10 days. So much will be going on at SMC without me, and I’m definitely going to miss it.

One more Solo gem that I forgot about! He’s just on a roll today! He was telling me that while I’m gone, he will be traveling for a funeral, and he has to bring “A peek! You know, the ahneemahl?” on a lorry. I had to ask him like 5 times to repeat himself before I realized he was saying ANIMAL, and it was actually a PIG! I laughed there on the street for all Saboba to hear. I’m so going to miss Solo so much when I’m away!

At the bungie, I ate a HOT DOG for dinner! I like hot dogs…definitely! Diana, my old roommate, can verify this fact. J Bob grilled some up, but it was my ingenious idea to take a piece of the soft long baguette-ish local tea bread, cut it in two, and use it as the bun. This resourceful creation brought me right back to my college days when Top Dog on Durant or Hearst was the midnight snack of champions. Even Usher knows this is true; he was spotted there last year, fo reals. Hot dogs. Mmm, mm, mm!

Around 7, the electricity shut off again… YEP. Thank you, Volta River Authority. Jean and I had yet to do our packing for our trips! The generator was a God-send for sure, and we turned it on in order that we could gather all our things into our packs. Jonah came over to the bungie, where he could sit in not-darkness, and we talked as usual. I told him that he always makes me think of Habakkuk 3:17-19, because he is a farmer, and because He is always grateful for what the Lord gives him, no matter what.

Though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in th epen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength, He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights.”

 

Living example, or what? Pastor Jonah just makes my day every time I see him. Unfortunately, I had to quit our chat in order to pack for Tamale, because the generator’s petrol was running down, and when I came back, Pastor Jonah was almost asleep on the couch–poor guy! He had been clearing the land on his farm from weeds in order to prepare for the planting season that will come soon, God willing! Pray for rains for Saboba!! I sent him off to his own bed at home with an Uwumbor ti ti me kitaa, which I am getting so much better at saying, even though it is a tongue twister!

Almost as soon as I was getting ready to snuggle into bed in preparation for the travel ahead around 11pm, Jean called me. “Ann, we have an obstructed labor case.” But this was no c-section–nothing I was used to! “The baby’s stuck in the vagina so we can’t section her, but we might do vacuum suction or a symphysiotomy.”

Quite unfortunately for me, I could imagine exactly what a symphysiotomy was, having learned my anatomy at college. I shuddered. This was not going to neat and pretty like the c-section we had earlier today. Jean and I barreled along the little dirt road to the hospital in the lorry, and practically burst our way into the delivery room. Remember, everything was pitch-black since the electricity had gone off. The only thing lighting the little room were our two headlamps and a weak little battery-run lantern. Mama was in a ton of pain, clearly, but was handling it so well. Africa Strong, people. I am constantly amazed by these patients.

**WARNING! If you don’t like icky medical stuff, don’t read these next few paragraphs!

Jean tried the vacuum suction the baby out a couple times, and I could see the head crowning!! It was so exciting and stressful simultaneously, but after a couple times, it wasn’t working anymore. It was time for the pubic symphysiotomy. Gory, people… gory and shudder-worthy. The cut went all the way down the bone and through the tough fibrous connective tissue in the middle of the pubic bone. There was only local anaesthetic for this, and for the episiotomies–I’m telling you, this 20 year old from Togo deserves a medal for bravery and strength.

Buddy George was recruited from the childrens’ ward to help basically pull the entire pubic bone apart at the symphysis. Stella and I grabbed one leg, he grabbed the other, and we pulled her apart with all our strength. Yeah, I told you this wasn’t going to be pretty… The space we opened up would allow the big baby to pass through the small pelvis, and if this would save the mama and/or the baby, we were definitely going to do it, blood sweat and tears. After I don’t know how many more minutes of us pulling and Jean vacuuming and cutting, and one incident where Ishmael popped his head in about a moto accident patient (to which we all silently screamed, “NOT NOWWW!!!” while Jean shooed him away)… the little girl came out.

There was a wave of brown muconium (baby fecal matter excreted because of the high stress of labor) and then she emerged, still and lifeless–Jean later said the baby passed away probably before this woman crossed the Oti into Ghana. I couldn’t look–I didn‘t even know it was a girl until sister Maggie told me later. At that moment, I couldn’t remember a time that I felt more ineffective, useless, dirty, exhausted, smelly, and distraught. Even so, I was in slight shock and couldn’t process everything or even utter a word. I was so glad Jean was there to be strong and show trust in God and gratitude for who He is despite everything. If not for her, I probably would be traumatized by this delivery.

**This is the end of the bloody medical stuff.

“God saved that woman’s life,” she praised Him. “It would have been nice if we could have saved the baby, but we’ve got an alive mother, so…” I listened to her and realized how blind I was to that because of every other anguish that I saw. I stood there, supporting the mama’s open leg with my arms while Jean sutured her perineum up. I looked at the mama and thought about all that she went through–since she went into labor this morning in Togo. She appeared surprisingly calm, not a tear shed, but even though I know women in Africa are so much stronger than what I’m used to, I still could see she was just trying with all her might to hold it together. She had just lost her baby after one dreadful delivery, and I can’t imagine a pain greater than that. All what I have expressed of my own thoughts is nothing compared to what she must feel, Africa Strong or not.

After the sutures were in, and our mama was cleaned up, Jean went to attend to the moto accident patient and I stayed with the mama, fanning her and holding her hand while Stella was mopping up the blood and muconium. I prayed over her and just gave her “therapeutic touches” as Ishmael would say. This poor girl was three years younger than me and had already been through so much. I hated to leave her in Saboba the next morning when we will travel to Tamale. I want to talk to her and see her recover day by day, but I can’t. I have to trust, and remember I can’t keep watch over everything. I have to give up control to God. Even so, she will assuredly be on my mind and in my prayers frequently when I am away.

It was past midnight. I had to tell her goodbye finally, and leave the hospital to go back home with Jean. Jean was coming back from the moto accident patient, and everything was fine and stable there, thank the Lord! Alex and Ishmael did a good job of suturing him up, and I saw them and the patient emerging from the theater together–the patient on two legs, only hobbling a bit from the dressings around his ankle! Amazing! Jean and I wished them a bleary-eyed thank you and goodnight, and headed home.

On the way, Jean told me that our mama had probably been given locally-made syntocin (synthetic oxytocin), which caused her uterus to contract before the cervix was dilated enough. The baby was thus pushed up against the closed cervix so hard that edema (liquid swelling) formed around it, causing it to become stuck there in the vagina. The baby’s life could have been saved in Togo, but Jean definitely thought they were messing around with local treatments instead.

Talk about adding frustration to an already sad case. Hearing about all these traditional medicine practices harming patients instead of helping them is just maddening sometimes. It happens, and it happens a lot. Even though I see many good public health outreaches occurring just in the short time that I have been here (Maternal and child health, AIDS, family planning, some hygiene), there still is so much work to do.

Well, it’s late and like usual, I’ve written too much. I will end like this on a note similar to how I feel…overwhelmed, tired, discouraged.  Tomorrow we’ll head out to Tamale, and just like after the last still birth I saw in my first week at SMC, I’ll be gazing out at the yellow savannah flying past trying to sort all these things out in my brain.

-ATP

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