4/7 – Darkest Right Before Dawn

Today was one of those roller-coaster days that jerk you around between extreme highs and lows. And like some particularly bad roller-coasters, this day did not leave me feeling exhilarated, but rather just sick to my stomach.

It started during rounds when Tabi and I encountered two pregnant ladies with bleeding. Never a good sign, especially in the third trimester as both of them were. We took them both in for ultrasounds and Tabi discovered that one woman had a placenta previa (the placenta grew over the opening of the cervix), and had been bleeding for a long time in the village before she came to the hospital. The other lady was PPROM (Pre-term Premature Rupture Of Membranes, i.e. her water broke early AND the baby is premature).

The first placenta previa woman had already lost of a lot of blood, and she was getting ready to deliver, which was impossible to do vaginally because she could lose the rest of the little blood she had. Instead we ordered two transfusions to be supplied by relatives or friends, and took her into the theater for a c-section.

Jean and the theater fellas worked fast, and Tabi labored hard to try and resuscitate the little boy that was born. Getting him to cry out didn’t take as long as other babies that I have seen, even those who weren’t at high risk as this one was. The problem was, however, that he was quite premature, and he had also lost a lot of blood from the placenta bleeding for so long in the village. Sparknotes: we were VERY worried about this little guy. As soon as we heard him cry, I thanked the good Lord above and Tabi rushed him out of the air-conditioned operating theater and into the incubator we have in the maternity ward. Keeping premature infants warm is absolutely crucial, even in an environment as hot as Northern Ghana.

There, I was put on the task of monitoring the baby’s vitals very carefully. Its breathing was very fast, but normal for a premature infant. With very hard work and constant diligence, we believed it was possible to save this baby. All the adrenaline pumping through my system for the past couple hours finally slowed as we made careful arrangements for monitoring and instructing the nurses and mother in care of this very special little boy. I almost sighed in relief. Now it was just time to keep close watch and pray.

The next emergency task was taking care of the PPROM patient. We set her up in the labor ward, all ready to deliver, and started silently asking God that this complicated case would have a happy ending. The ultrasound earlier in the day showed that since the membranes ruptured, there was very little amniotic fluid left. Even a vaginal exam showed some meconium (baby poo that comes out in response to stress), which was not a very good sign.

It seemed like Tabi, Stella (the midwife), and I waited in that labor room forever. This was our patient’s first pregnancy and first delivery–still another reason to be extra careful, as these are generally more difficult. Finally our patient was 1/5–the baby’s head was crowning almost completely. Very soon it would stop rocking back and forth in the vagina with each push, and the head would be delivered! Tabi gave me the very important job of sucking the meconium out of its nostrils and mouth with a bulb as soon as they were visible. This is important because as soon as the airways are de-pressurized, the baby can breathe, and we do NOT want him or her to breathe in meconium (feces) or it could die of an infection or drown.

I was all ready and excited for my important task right up until the head was delivered and I actually saw the baby’s nose and mouth. It hit me suddenly how much dangled on the performance of this task, and as I was rushing to stick the bulb into the nose and mouth, I wished that I wasn’t asked to do it. What if something bad happened to the baby and it was my fault? I hated where I was, but at that same moment, Tabi said, “You did perfectly, Ann,” and at once everything switched around. I had been there! I freed the airways from liquidy green poo! And even though it was a very small task that probably anyone could do, the satisfaction of helping someone have a better chance at life rushed over me, and I knew there was little I would rather do than healthcare.

You remember that this was the first live vaginal birth that I had seen! The other two vaginal births I witnessed were still born, and they just broke my heart. I had seen plenty live c-sections, but they are a totally different ballgame than what we call labor and delivery, and the fact that I finally got to play a role in this one with a good result was like I finally got to see a bright shining light at the end of what I thought was a pitch-dark tunnel.

The baby girl started crying within a minute or so, and was pretty well grown for her 36 weeks. Even though I have received no formal medical training and have never had a patient of my own, I felt like she and her mom somewhat belonged to me. I swelled with pride and had the best time weighing the little girl quickly, wrapping the her up tightly, and presenting her to her mama.

Two live deliveries today, and we were thanking God above! There would be a lot of work to do and a lot of careful attention needed for these little babies, but Dr. Tabi and I were trying to take heart and remain hopeful for these delicate babies.

I had to rush off to Pastor Jonah’s for my TZ-making lesson, while Tabi sewed up some tears in the mom. I felt guilty leaving her, but she made me feel better by joking, “If dinner’s not ready when I get home, I will punch you!” Gotta love her spunk J

For a while with wonderful Aggie, I forgot about the cares of the hospital. The nurses were well-informed, the babies were stabilized, and I had to focus on TZ! Aggie is a great teacher, and explains everything really well. But she is just like my grandma when she explains recipes! “One bowl of tomato paste.” Yes, but how big a bowl? They both crack me up! If I want to make groundnut soup in the states, I’m going to have to do a lot of tasting until I get it right!

After all the stress of the morning and afternoon, it was great to relax in the Manyan compound with Aggie and the six small children while the groundnut soup simmered over the coals. I think I finally won quiet little James over by doing the “Jump, jump, jump together!” typical Ghanaian schoolchildren song and dance, and the common clapping and kicking game with everyone. The kids were also fascinated by one hand-trick that I showed them. In the beginning of my trip, I thought it would be so hard to connect with kids in a different culture, but it’s actually almost the easiest thing in the world. You just have to prepare to be completely undignified!

And apparently my dignity quota for the day ran out long before, because trying to stir TZ was quite embarrassing! To make this solid porridge, maize and cassava flour are added slowly to boiling water in a big pot and stirred vigorously with a large wooden paddle until it reaches a very thick consistency. I guess I forgot that I have no upper body strength, and almost burned it all when I tried! Aggie’s deltoids must be so incredibly strong to stir that TZ almost every day for her family’s supper!

At the end of my TZ-making lesson, which consisted mostly of theory due to my insufficient arm muscles, I was able to bring home a really nice batch to Bob, Jean, and Tabi. I ate the most out of all of them, thanks to my TZ-eating lessons with Joe! Ghana has made me addicted to carbs…Not that I wasn’t before! 😉

After supper, I sat down to read a Obstetrics clinical rotation manual that Tabi let me take from her computer. I figured if I got to suck meconium out today, maybe I could catch a baby next, and I didn‘t want to miss the next opportunity! Tabi left me peacefully studying to head back to the maternity ward to check on our placenta previa baby.

When she came back, there was only bad news. Our little boy had passed away during that short time we were gone. He had been febrile, dehydrated, and in respiratory distress. The loss of blood from the mom and the baby had done a lot of damage that was apparently irreversible despite all that Dr. Jean, Dr. Tabi and the nurses had done. We had rejoiced so greatly when we thought we had saved him, and hoped with all our strength that we could help him continue to live, but it all came to nothing. Nothing we did could save this innocent child.

I just cried out for God to make this right in my heart, to increase my faith to reassure me that all happens according to His good and perfect will. I knew that this little baby was in heaven now, and happier and more complete than all of us here. He was no longer suffering and was given a perfect body instead of his skinny, anemic, underdeveloped one. The issue is getting my heart to agree with this head-knowledge and have peace. Tabi says it almost always takes a bit, but it does come. I know she has seen a lot of little babies die in Brong-Ahafo, so I will take her word for it and pray until the peace arrives.

I was washing for the night in the shower, still in slight shock when the hospital called. They wanted us to come in for the premature little girl. It was like a slap in the face, but there was no time to even think about how it felt, only enough to rinse the suds, pull on clothes and rush out the door into the still night to catch up with Tabi who had told me to meet her there. That gravel path between the tall yellow grasses had become like the pathway to a mountain of dread, which I ironically hastened toward.

Bursting into the labor ward I found Dr. Tabi and Emisah, one of our nicest nurses. Tabi was comforting him, “You did everything you possibly could. This baby received better care here than she would have in any other hospital in Ghana.” Then I knew our second baby was gone. I was dumbfounded even though I half knew what was coming when I was running there in the dark. It was just too much for one day. I wanted to give up, just turn around and go back to the house and cry for the rest of the night. But that wasn‘t an option. We had a grieving mother who was suffering more than any of us, and a nurse who clearly felt responsible and significantly depressed. To indulge in emotions and shed tears in that situation might have done much more harm than good to those around. What we could do was just to empathize and reassure that nothing more could have been done for this little girl, and she was given every chance possible to survive. The walk home with Dr. Tabi was almost completely silent except for the crunch of sandy gravel beneath our feet.

Once I was alone though, I let the tears flow. I turned to the wall next to my bed, with the shadow of the curtains moving on it and imagined the two mamas holding their lost babies.

God, whatever you’re planning to do with this, I don’t understand, and I may never understand. But you’ve proven yourself to turn terrible unspeakable things into good so many times, even in my own life, that I can’t refuse to trust you in this. You’re all good, and in control, and I’m leaving this in your hands. May these mamas see your glory in their situations very very soon. Heal their hearts and give them peace now, Lord. Please don’t let them suffer long.

I looked at my watch. It was past midnight, Easter.

I had just finished one roller-coaster day. The joys of new babies. The stress, sweat, blood, and struggle to keep them both alive. The hope when they were stabilized. Relaxed fun in Pastor Jonah’s compound with Aggie and the kids. Now both babies that all of us worked so hard on had left the world within a couple hours of each other. I am going to sleep nauseous. I think I’ve prayed all that I can pray today.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

4/6 – The Beginning of Goodbye

4/6

Good Friday is a holiday here where many people take leave from work. Us three okampi hospital ladies (Dr. Jean, Dr. Tabi, and I) decided to split rounds for the day. Tabi and I took childrens’ and female wards while Jean took the male ward.

The severely malnourished baby from the day before was refusing to take the therapeutic plumpy nut food. His mom received counseling on some methods to get him to like the food better, and on how important it was to feed her baby properly. Some moms here don’t understand things like nutrition at all, so you must explain that everything is fine with the baby, except that he is starving.

Additionally, it’s important to note that sometimes moms seem like they don’t even care about feeding their children, when in fact they have so many other worries about the daily survival of their other family members that they “sacrifice” one child for the sake of the others. Seeing a patient briefly during rounds can result in absolutely maddening frustration, but if you just take the time to consider her situation, it’s easy to understand where she is coming from and the challenges she faces. Understanding by no means makes it less heartbreaking–in fact, it is even more tragic–but it does help in your manner of approach and treatment of a patient. I was glad that I got to see this in action with Tabi. She really is giving top quality care to those that come to SMC, which is very hard to come by in these parts, even from some Ghanaian doctors.

Moreover, because rounds were being split, Tabi was able to do a lot more teaching for the nurses. When seeing our little asthmatic baby from yesterday, the nurses and I were taught how to recognize the signs of respiratory distress in an infant, how to judge how progressed it was, how to use capillary refill in the fingernails, and how to feel skin for “tenting” to judge level of dehydration . Some simple things like this are either not taught in their nursing schools, or they are not remembered by the students, so it was very good and necessary instruction for all of us. Furthermore Tabi was able to teach me how to hear a heart murmur, which we thought this baby might have. We had to double check with Dr. Jean later, but I could definitely hear some vague swooshing sounds where I should have heard crisp, distinguishable rushing of blood. I am learning so much these past few days, and I am very grateful!

Other things we saw and learned today:

– Dog bite patient: you can feel the skin close to the wound for heat, and gradually find the border where the heat and the normal body temperature meet. That is the level of infection. Mark it with a pen and monitor it after antibiotic treatment to see if the level of heat stops spreading from the wound or even goes down. A simple and effective technique!

– A red-headed Konkomba baby: this is the second time that I’ve seen him in the hospital treated as an in-patient for typhoid. I’ve even seen him once around town near Pastor Jidoh’s house. His name is King, and he’s the first naturally red-headed African person I’ve ever seen. It’s so strange but very cool! He was discharged today, praise God!

– Our 21-year-old laparotomy patient is feeling better, and behaves very gratefully to us (even though I really didn’t do anything in surgery), which is so sweet to see. I am glad that even though we didn’t treat her problem directly, she is feeling improvement, and I thank God for this and pray that He can continue to heal her completely.

– The post-op hernia patient whose surgery I assisted on was walking around, doing great!

There was one more very cool thing that Tabi and I did today at the hospital. We held a counseling session for the young lady with the panic attacks and her mother in the private nurse’s resting room. Gideon, a very short and sweet balding nurse, accompanied us and acted as our translator. We sat in a circle and gave everyone a sachet of water to make them feel comfortable, like we were all just visiting in the middle of a compound like Konkombas do with friends in the evening.

Tabi is an excellent counsellor. Even with only a couple days adjusting to life in Northern Ghana, she is very kind, adept at communicating exactly what she means to say, and extremely sensitive of how the other person might understand her words. We were also so thankful for Gideon and how he went above and beyond his normal duties to help treat this young patient. Since the counseling session is confidential, I won’t say much, except that Tabi, Gideon, and I were all so encouraged to hear that this family is Christian. They came to Jesus in an amazing way that whenever I think about it, my love for Christ increases. He is just so good and praiseworthy. We all are very enthusiastic about continuing these counseling sessions–except that I will have to leave Saboba before I see this girl work toward her ultimate goal. However, I have confidence that God will work through Dr. Tabi to lead our patient and her family to success and happiness in due time. Things are looking very up, and I am so heartened.

By the end of our counseling session, it was late afternoon and time to put some food into our stomachs. On most days my stomach really growls until I get to return to the bungie for some 2 or 3 o’clock lunch, and today was no different. We relaxed a little after we ate, and talked. It is so great to have someone around my age to relate to! Tabi is so easy to connect with; I love how outgoing she is, and how naturally she behaves–she is just herself. I am so grateful!

I had a few things to do, namely, use the cloth I bought in Damongo to get a dress sewn for Easter. I had a idea I was excited about , and so I went to Lucy’s (May’s wife‘s) seamstress shop in the blazing heat. I didn’t expect the town to be so bustling for the Good Friday celebrations, but there were KOYA (KOnkomba Youth Association) traditional dances and a competition going on at the Central Primary School football field. It seemed like the entire town was gathered around in the heat to see the spectacle. I couldn’t even make it to Kakpeni without being stopped by a friend! It was Peace! She introduced me to a few of her uncles and her sister and we just stood there in the shade of the nimh (sp?) tree, catching up. It was just great to reunite with my dear friend again in Saboba.

The sun was blazing and I had to continue on to Lucy’s shop, but she wasn’t there–what was I expecting on a Good Friday holiday?! I decided to call Brendan, my American peace corps volunteer friend, because I had been promising to meet up with him. We watched the dancing… or more like talked while the dancing went on in the background! As fortune would have it, all of a sudden May popped up behind me and greeted me! He is such a kind and thoughtful guy and offered to call up his wife so I could give her the fabric and let her know which design to use. On her day off?! I really tried to tell him I didn’t want to disturb her, but he insisted, and even took me over to her shop and made suggestions for what kind of dress I should have sewn. The kindness of these people inspires me.

After I said goodbye to May and Lucy and thanked them profusely, I met back up with Brendan, and brought him to meet Joe! I knew the two would get along very well. Brendan’s Konkomba name is Unibonmo (Person Who Is Interesting/Sweet), and Joe’s Konkomba name is Unibon (Person–which btw I think is hilarious). Indeed, they did enjoy each other very much! They had a lot of things to talk about, since Joe went to EP Secondary a few years ago and Brendan is now teaching there. I love these moments of sitting in the shade in a compound, chickens running around our feet, soup cooking on the coal fire (ashes flying in our eyes), and just being friends together. I’m going to miss them so much when Joe goes back to Damongo and Brendan goes to his Peace Corps conference.

When Brendan had to go teach Trinity for her exams, Joe and I went to visit Enock at his place, where he was busy at work building a grinding mill building with his relatives! I tried to help them shovel dirt and rocks, but they just laughed at me and my utter lack of upper body strength.

Soon it was time for me to head to Pastor Jonah’s place to pick some meat for Aggie and set up a TZ-making lesson. I love Aggie! She is such a beautiful woman. Gloria, her newest little one about 6 months old, looks a lot like her mommy! She is such a good baby, and doesn’t mind when a scary okampi like me holds her at all. I love her so much, even though she spit up milk all over the front of my shirt!

After I visited with them both for a while, I headed back to the bungie for dinner cooked by Bob, and it was amazing! We had a special Good Friday dinner of garlic and herbed roast pork with baked potatoes and cheese, cucumber salad, and mango cobbler for dessert. Wow, I probably could have eaten that entire pan of mango cobbler.

I was planning on going to Pastor Jonah’s English church for Good Friday service, so he met me and we went together to hear Pastor Thomas, a short and thin man, preach. It was an amazing service as always, one where I could really feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in the room as people sang praises to Jesus. There’s nothing like the worship that goes on in these churches I have visited these past weeks. I will forever remember them for teaching me how to better express real joy in Jesus. I am so privileged to be able to spend Holy Week here in Saboba among these wonderful people, this holiday that celebrates the crux (haha for real) of Christianity–that God’s only Son suffered and died to bear our sins and that He conquered death in His resurrection allowing us new life when we accept His sacrifice. It was a beautiful service, and I felt so thankful that I got to be there with Pastor Jonah’s congregation.

The last thing of the day, late at night around 10pm, was that Joe was leaving the next day for Damongo. It had been a super busy and action-packed day, but I needed to give a proper farewell to one of my closest friends in Saboba. Joe met me outside the bungie after Pastor Jidoh’s church’s Good Friday service and we sat in the light of the porch in the plastic lawn chairs talking. I had to thank him for being such a good friend to me, for being my senior brother and teaching me so many things about where I can grow in my faith, for protecting me and watching over me, for showing me all around Saboba which as a result is now like my home, for introducing me to so many awesome people who have also become my friends. I told him all the things I learned from him–how to love those whom it’s hard to love with complete trust in Jesus to work it in you… how to dream BIG! I am so thankful that God gave me Joe for these past few weeks. I’m sad to see my friend go, but I will never forget the time we spent together or the things that I learned from him.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

4/5 – This Is Your Land

If yesterday made me exhausted, today completely wiped me out. But it was an exciting one full of new things and interesting medical cases. I can’t wait until I am one day able to understand them all!

Rounds with Dr. Tabi for the first time was really awesome and medically enlightening. I love rounding with Dr. Jean, but since Tabi is new to the hospital and still getting used to things, she goes a bit slower. I am greatly benefiting from her teaching and her explanations of everything, and really enjoying the way she talks with the patients!

The childrens’ ward, which we started with, was a mixture of emotions. One of the patients we were called in for last night, the 10-year-old meningitis little girl, was doing much better. Instead of writhing all over the bed and crying out in pain whenever someone touched her, she was now calm and sitting up and could move her neck.

On the other hand, the baby with the pneumonia had passed away in the night, and when we got to her section of the ward, we just saw an empty bed. She was gone, and that lonely little crib-bed in the ward was there reminding us grimly of her fate. After we examined and treated her upon admission last night, we weren’t called, so we didn’t know what happened to her… she had just disappeared that morning, and I had a hard time coming to terms with this for the rest of rounds. Tabi says that I will get used to these things, and already after volunteering here for two months, I think it’s slowly getting a little easier for me. I try my best to follow Dr Jean’s example of just trusting God and doing the very best that you can with what you have.

Fortunately for the sake of my worries, the wards were extremely busy today, which took my mind of the tiny pneumonia baby. We were running around to different wards, examining and monitoring different patients. One woman we observed at the beginning of rounds was in labor, and at the end of our rounds, she had delivered! We also did a spinal tap on a 1-year-old–Tabi’s good at getting their cerebrospinal fluid!

One of my favorite things that I’ve done at the hospital since I’ve been here is that we gave a counseling session to one young lady who has been having panic attacks. She came into the hospital through the OPD, when her symptoms were described as seizures. But Tabi identified the spasms and labored breathing as a panic attack instead of a seizure, which I thought was very observant and smart of her! At the end of rounds, we took her, her mother, and Gideon our translator into the nurse’s resting room to have a private session of talking. To make it more comfortable for them, we sat in a circle in chairs and offered sachets of water to everyone. Tabi has the best ideas, and I hope I can learn to practice medicine like her one day.

We sat there asking basic questions to our patient, and found out what had been troubling her all along. It was all very gentle, caring, and understanding, and we were glad that she and her mom were opening up to us. The most heartening thing for me was that she told us that she was a Christian when we asked her if she believed in God. After that, we were able to encourage her to put her trust in God and know that everything would be alright, according to His perfect will, and that He would protect her and help her through these attacks so that one day the things triggering them wouldn’t worry her anymore. Her mom was so supportive of her, and we were all so glad for her and were able to see a good ending to her counseling, although we knew it may be far off.

Tabi scheduled another counseling appointment with Augustina for Tuesday next week. By that time, I believe it will be the last occasion that I see her, because I will be traveling to the south to do some small bit of sight-seeing before I head back to the states. I felt pretty sad that I wouldn’t be there to see her improve and to know how she’s doing with the panic attacks, but I also felt very confident in Dr. Tabi and her ability to guide, teach, and encourage this girl. Oh, Tabi is an excellent counselor, in my opinion! Most of all, I was happy that we could sit down and share personally with this girl how much we cared about her, and encourage her in her faith.

After we said goodbye to our patient, Jean came in to do the fecal disimpaction for the severely constipated young lady with the abdomen that was almost completely hard. It was going to be a pretty gross procedure, but I was ready! Any new procedure I get excited about, even if it involved lots of feces and a hand up the rectum.

Our poor little patient looked very scared, very uncomfortable, but the thing is–almost all Ghanaian ladies suck it up and just suffer through quietly. You would hardly see any Americans giving birth without any anaesthesia like Ghanaian women do, or see a lady endure as much as this one had and still not say anything! Seriously. First a c-section, then a still-birth, then two months of diarrhea and abdominal distension, enemas throughout the night, an NG tube, a catheter, a fecal disimpaction. I mean, wow.

But it wasn’t over yet. The fecal disimpaction procedure led Dr. Jean to believe an exploratory laparotomy was necessary. We cleared our schedules for the next hour and a half or so, and prepped the patient and the theater for surgery. Tabi was scrubbing in on this one, so I got to watch from my little stool at the foot of the operating table. The surgery was crazy, people…. So bizarre and strange! Once Dr Jean was inside the peritoneal cavity, she began pulling intestine out to find out where the obstruction was, but what she found was not an obstruction, but huge chunks of loose necrotic tissue. What was it?! It was a uterus. This woman’s womb had just disintegrated from a tight and firm, thick mass of muscle into a gelatinous, floppy mess. Jean lifted out the first chunk, about the size of a lemon, and the first thing out of my mouth was “WHAT THE HECK?”

Jean suggested uterine sarcoma? Agroma? It was just the most shocking and peculiar thing to me, and I don’t think I’ll ever see anything like it again. We had no idea how she developed this condition either. Was this caused by her c-section at the teaching hospital? What went wrong? Did they even tell her? I was in wonder. But that wasn’t the end of it. What’s more was that this lady’s entire abdominal wall was completely toughened by a desmoid tumor completely across her torso.

There are patients like this that, at a hospital with limited resources like ours, we can only make as comfortable as possible and do the best we can for their immediate symptoms. This woman was such a case. It is so hard for all of the staff at SMC to realize that she will probably never be 100% healthy again, and that there are little ways of helping her medically. This is where Dr. Jean’s example of trust and strength come forth the strongest. I will always think of her when it flashes through my mind– “You’ve just got to do the best with what you have.” She always does her best and therefore can have confidence in her treatments no matter what. By the time a patient is discharged, she has full assurance that no more could have been asked medically given the circumstances. And as far as the circumstances go, she has “wisdom to know the difference” between the things she can change and those she cannot. That’s the kind of practice I hope to have one day, God willing. After the staff at SMC has did everything they could for this young lady, the only thing left to do is trust and pray that God would give her relief from her pain, and that somehow He would miraculously remove her cancer and get her bowels to function properly again.

After she was brought back to the ward and made relatively comfortable, there were a few more surgeries to attend to in the theater. A busy day indeed! Tabi assisted in a supraumbilical hernia while I observed, trying not to fall over from hypoglycemia and exhaustion. Next, I scrubbed in and assisted on a right inguinal hernia case on male patient. I am getting relatively familiar with the procedure–separating the sac from the vasa recta and all the other important tubes down there, tying it off, cutting it and tucking it away, sewing back out. It’s still very interesting to me and every case is different–this time Jean did a cool circular stitch on the sac and turned it inside itself!

Everyone got out of the theater around 5, completely wiped. I hadn’t had lunch that day, and standing in those few surgeries was very uncomfortable for my soft and weak body. The solution to a hard day was leftover soup and buttered toast, which I scarfed when I got home, plus some leftover jollof rice. My belly was nice and distended by the time Pastor Jonah arrived for our prayer walk. It was the perfect ending to a very busy day. Although I was really fatigued from the hospital, an hour-long walk in the “cool” of the evening with Pastor Jonah was exactly what I needed.

We hung a right at the main road outside the bungalow, which they call the Cheriponi road, and just walked together straight down it, the crunch of small gravel and sand underneath our feet. Together we prayed for Christians everywhere, especially Saboba, to not continue sinning but to completely give their lives up to Christ. We also prayed for the water situation in Saboba to get better, and for the leaders who are in charge of it to not ignore the plight of the people but really make sure there is enough water to supply everyone for their needs. Many school girls are skipping their classes in order to fetch water from far away for their families, and this is not right. We also prayed for the children at Pastor Abraham’s orphanage to feel loved and well take care of, and for them to all have good educations with teachers that actually care about them. Additionally, the girls who come to school at EP Secondary don’t always have rooms to stay in at the student hostel. They are forced to live with families somewhere in the village, which is very unsafe for them, because they are often the targets of sexual offenders who try to trade food or a bar of soap with which to wash a school uniform for sexual favors. The perversion of these men taking advantage of vulnerable girls like this is absolutely disgusting and unacceptable. The girls really need a safe place to stay and moreover, to know that there are always better options than selling their bodies. Readers of this blog, please pray along with me and Pastor Jonah that God’s justice and grace will be brought to all these situations.

Silently, silently, for an hour these things were rushing through my brain. My eyes were often fixed on my feet, trying to use the full moonlight to make sure I wasn’t stepping in a ditch or on a snake. I tried to keep up with Pastor Jonah, strong and long-legged, striding along beside me. When I looked up I saw the trees alongside the dirt road, dark green in the night, and small thatched round-hut compounds lit infrequently with fluorescent bulbs from within. Turning my head to gaze straight down the road we were traveling on, I could see for a long distance ahead some open fields, the rows of mango trees at the EP Secondary School, and on the horizon the deep sky dotted with tiny white stars.

This may sound funny to you, but I clearly heard the Holy Spirit telling me, “This is your land,” again and again. Now I really think I know the full extent of what that means, except that it gave me a whole lot of comfort and peace at that moment. I had been feeling a little homesick, and very much burdened by all the things I have been seeing that go wrong here. Recently I felt like just running away–in whatever method humans usually use to forget their problems. But when I heard God basically place Saboba firmly in my heart for the rest of my life, even though the burdens didn’t disappear, they were lightened by the mere fact that in this statement, I knew He was giving this place to me and He would bear me through all of these burdens and that He would be in complete control. His ways are better than my ways.

I know there will be a day when I come back here, but I don’t know when. My brain is telling me, “When I have enough money, when I know enough medicine to help more, when it will be convenient for me and my future family to travel.” It’s so hard to accept that whatever God asks me to do for Saboba, I have to do it. I don’t like being hot, mosquito-bitten, vegetable-starved, dirty, incredibly frustrated with the system, exhausted, otherwise deprived of any type of comfort. In fact, I resent it. But I know what I must do, with no other option, because I love Jesus. And that is to obey what He commands.

Jean has told the story on more than one occasion of how some directors of this and that organization tried to push her and Bob out of Saboba  for some strange reason or another. She hadn’t been paid for several months, among a host of other problems. Nevertheless, she decided to stick around in this hardship area for good. “There was only one small problem!” She continued. “Jesus told us to stay in Saboba!” I wrote this down in my notebook because it is one very strong example of pure, faithful, completely trusting obedience to God’s call. This is just one more extremely concrete, extremely convicting lesson I learned from Jean. I know that without hesitation, without questioning, without any grudging attitude, I must say yes and choose to do what God calls me to. Concerning Saboba in my future, I pray that God will continue to reveal more and more to me about what His plans are. Friends, please pray for me that I can have a soft heart for what He desires from me!

On our prayer walk, Pastor Jonah and I walked all the way past the secondary school, a while further, until we reached the crest of a hill overlooking Cheriponi. Glowing lights were resting in the little basin below, lighting the families’ compounds that were nestled in that village together. We had reached the halfway point, and it was time to turn around and head back home. Jonah looked to the left and gestured to a grove of trees. “A house on this hill would be very beautiful,” he said, simply. I wanted with all my heart to buy that land, build him a big enough house for him and his family, and let him gaze out over that peaceful view every night for the rest of his life.

I love Pastor Jonah. I feel like I know him so little, but even as such, I know his heart for loving Jesus is tremendous. When I think of him, my heart is so full I can barely hold back tears just looking at the beautiful way God draws His children toward him. Jonah was 22, just one year younger than me, when he went to kindergarten. Even though his father wanted him to farm instead of going to school, when he became an adult, he strove as hard as he could to learn so that he could go to Bible school. After Trinity Foundation Bible school, he became a pastor at the English church in Saboba and has been making disciples ever since. The man is one of the most gentle, upright, humble, unselfish, hard-working, dedicated Christians I know. Pure gold. That God has allowed me to meet Jonah and become friends with him is one of the biggest blessings in my life and I am astounded at how good He is to me in light of how I have failed Him so many times. All I can say is how thankful I am for Jesus.

We closed in prayer half an hour later as we approached the bungalow in the dark. During that time, Jonah had been reassured that God would raise someone up to take are of the water issue. I confess that I didn’t hear anything from about that situation and I was glad that the Holy Spirit let it be known to Jonah, so he could pass along the message to me! Please pray along with us, readers, that Jonah’s church would be able to continue building the girls’ hostel that they already have purchased the land for, and that soon these very vulnerable students will have a safe place to stay and learn.

Love,

ATP

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

4/4 – Grosser than Pus

Perirectal Abscess. Even if you don’t know what one is, just the sound of it is still really gross. I helped to drain one today, and it was probably the nastiest thing I have ever seen in my entire life! But it was so awesome.

If you’re squeamish, feel free to skip this part… but I like to record it because I think it’s pretty cool. I feel like an 8-year-old boy who is fascinated with gross slime or something. Anyway, this abscess was about the size of a palm, right on the medial buttock. I was expecting a lot of smooth yellowy pus to come out, but instead, it was a sort of thick, brownish gray chunky solid with tiny white particles all throughout. There was so much that it filled our receptacle–about 400 mL’s. It was so incredibly foul that the first thought that came to my mind was feces, but it definitely wasn’t. Both Alex and I, who were draining the abscess together, couldn’t identify what in the world would cause such a pocket of revolting matter. But the most horrid part was yet to come. There was some sort of fibrous white sac that formed around the thick material that we actually pulled out of the cavity like it was a parasite or something. Ugh, I get shivers when I think about it, but on the other hand, I get really thrilled by any kind of body stuff. It definitely makes for an interesting story to bring home!

Later in the day, Tabi and I examined one woman admitted to the female ward with a distended abdomen. It was possible that her intestines were completely filled with feces, the way her belly was so hard. Tabi said she had never seen a patient more constipated in her entire career. This woman had been feeling this exact way for two whole months, since her c-section surgery in Tamale. That’s a crazy long time to be constipated! We both spent a long time on her, and even ordered enemas to be given to her every few hours by the nurses, all throughout the night. It was our goal to NOT have to do a fecal disimpaction procedures the next day… Neither the doctor nor the patient would enjoy a hand up the rectum!

While we were waiting for the NG tube materials for this woman, Tabi gave me a lesson on suturing, which the other nurses also were looking in on and enjoyed very much! The mango we brought to practice on looked like Frankenstein-mango by the end of the little workshop! I got pretty fast at one-hand ties, but still need some work on making the sutures I sew completely even.

It had been a very long day full of patients already, but after lunch there were even more calling from all sides for attention. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again–Dr. Jean is an absolutely amazing woman for being the only doctor at this hospital for around 20 years. I really have no idea how she does it. I would literally fall dead after one week, even if I had all her knowledge and experience. This is only one reason why Dr. Tabi is such a blessing to have here!

For example, she was able to complete a fingertip amputation procedure on a little girl who had stuck her hand in the spokes of a bicycle wheel. Reminds me of my babysitter when I was 9 years old who did the exact same thing! If I had seen this procedure when I first came go Ghana, I would have been completely shocked and a little traumatized, but now after about two months here, these things are just normal to me. Or maybe it’s also because I just saw the nastiest abscess in the world drained, and anything else in comparison would fail to faze me, haha!

After our second “shift” at the hospital, Tabi and I called up Ishmael and we all met at Back Home Spot in Kakpeni, just a few minutes walk from the bungalow. A spot in Ghana is like a bar, but it also sells minerals (sodas) and food. This particular one, if you remember, is Timothy from the lab’s little family business! He was there of course, and I invited him to join us because I hadn’t seen him in such a long time, but the butthead declined. He didn’t refuse my offer of a malt, though! Such a quiet guy! All my efforts have not been successful in getting him to open up.

Ishmael and Tabi, on the other hand, are the lives of the party, if there can be more than one life of the party. It’s pretty entertaining to listen to their quips back and forth, especially since Tabi talks in perfect Ghanaian English, from her almost year’s experience in other hospitals in Ghana. We were just sitting there, taking our Alvaro’s, chatting, and cracking up, when just a few minutes into our winding down, the hospital called. Thankfully, I got asked to watch everyone’s “stuff” at Back Home Spot, while Ishmael and Tabi rode on the moto back to the hospital to do an LP on a 15-year-old boy. The test results wouldn’t be in for a while, so I kind of just chilled there with Timothy, talking to him and catching up, after not having worked the same shift in the lab for quite a while. He introduced me to Rafaela, a little baby girl with hydrocephalus that Dr. Jean and Ishmael had sectioned from the mom several months ago. He told me her story–that after she was born, the family wanted to go and kill her because of her condition. Timothy’s family refused to let that happen, and even sent Rafaela to Tamale for her operation to treat the hydrocephalus. Now she lives here behind Back Home Spot, and is cared for very well. I even got to hold her and play with her a bit. J

Also while I was waiting, I discovered that Patience from the female ward also lives near Back Home Spot! She had been off work because of her severe case of typhoid, but I found her making Ayoyo (hibiscus) soup! I was chatting with her and helping with the cooking when Ishmael and Tabi returned. Soon after finishing up our minerals, Tabi and I headed home to our little room at the bungalow.

The night was not over yet! Jean and I had to head back to the hospital for a severely dehydrated baby. While we were giving it boluses (large amounts of IV fluids at once) to restore its blood pressure, the poor thing began to seize right there on the table. It was really scary but Jean just kept her cool. Many times she has to tell me to just take a chill pill even though my adrenaline is pumping hard. I totally see what she means, because when I get really stressed out like that, I jumble all my words, can’t explain the patient condition correctly, and may even do stupider, more dangerous things. That’s also one big lesson I am learning to practice here in the hospital. The baby turned out to be ok–the seizure didn’t last long at all. Jean stayed calm and collected, and found pneumonia, which we began to treat immediately.

Before we collapsed in bed for the night, I saw another emergency case of meningitis with Tabi. It was a little girl in the childrens’ ward whom I had to hold down hard in order to help Tabi get the cerebrospinal fluid for testing. PHEW! For a small hospital, there is so much work to be done and a seemingly endless stream of calls! Some supplies would make work here a lot easier–we would love to have a ventilator and a nebulizer to treat the respiratory tract patients, and ones that actually work with the Ghanaian electrical cycle! Little things like this which are so common and taken for granted in the U.S. could really help SMC.

Dr. Jean and the other staff at the hospital have to deal with a huge lack of resources every day. They need your prayers to give these patients the best possible care! I am so grateful that many of you have been reading along and praying for the hospital and for the Konkombas in Saboba! That was one of my goals for this blog–to get the word out about the hardship in this area, and to possibly inspire more volunteers to come serve and come to love the people here. Whoever is reading this, I hope YOU may be next!

-ATP

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

4/3 – Immediate Friend

I am more behind than ever on these journals, so for the sake of time, I will make this post short! Nothing absolutely spectacular happened today, although I felt so blessed to have Tabi here with me. She’s only three years older than I am but has already accomplished so much, so I feel like I have the benefit of a relatable peer around me, in addition to the benefit of someone much wiser, all packaged into one very cool roommate.

I am definitely way more busy with her around, but I like it because I am learning more and helping out more, which somewhat combats the feelings of ineffectiveness that I feel at the hospital. As a recently graduate medical student, she says she’s like a “fetus doctor,” in which case I would be a “gleam in your parents’ eyes” doctor, haha J But thanks to her, I am really getting to help out with more things, like her STABLE program and nurse’s textbook. I already completed designing the diploma for those that graduate from the course. I can’t wait until she is formally introduced to the hospital, and I get follow her around and glean some medical knowledge… J

Here’s what happened at the hospital today:

– I was able to go back to working in the lab and greeting all my buddies there after my absence.

– Rounds with Dr. Jean were pretty routine–lots of typhoid, but there was one long-term malnourished girl who looked like she was 10. I felt so terrible, because her family members looked like they ate well enough, so why didn’t she?

– Watched a right thumb abscess being drained on a 5-6 y/o girl the daughter of a hospital staff. I think pus is so gross, but it’s oddly satisfying to see it drained out

– Visited the theater guys and talked with them a bit–they were listening to a radio program with a Ghanaian-born American, and they were having the best time making fun of his American accent, like they do to mine!

I left the hospital after my day of work as Ishmael was calling after me, “Yours sincerely!” I just laughed at him because I had no idea what he meant. “I feel like using it that way!” he said, meaning he wanted to wish me goodbye like that! Hilarious. He makes fun of my American accent, and I will make fun of the silly phrases he uses somewhat improperly!

I got to read over Tabi’s nurse’s textbook today, and I am so excited for where it is going! I am learning a lot about patient care as I read it as well, and brushing up on all my anatomy and physiology simultaneously. It’s going to be an awesome resource for a lot of people, and I pray that it’s a successful tool in improving health care here! That would be so amazing. I am really impressed with Dr. Tabi, especially since she is such a down-to-earth woman even with so many great ideas and accomplishments. I love that she talks freely with me, because I tend to be quite shy when meeting new people, but she just makes me feel right at home and equally free. That is sure to produce a good friendship, I am sure, and so I am greatly encouraged for the rest of my time here. It means so much to have a friend so often by your side when you’re far away from home, and I almost didn’t notice how much I missed it until Tabi showed up! Praise God for bringing this lovely roommate!

-ATP

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

4/2 – Back Home to Saboba!

The morning was dark and cool when Pastor Abraham, Jolanda, and I hopped in the lorry to head to Tamale. We were each traveling there for our separate reasons–Abraham to buy affordable food for the orphanage, Jolanda to return to her internship in public health, and me to meet Bob, Jean, Ishmael, and the new Dr. Tabitha to head back to Saboba.

It was the same lorry and river as the trip into Damongo, but exceedingly more comfortable. Instead of five people squished into the 3-seater cab in the blazing heat like last time, this morning, the crisp breeze was blowing through the windows, and it was only me and Jolanda in the backseat.  Thank you Jesus! I had just enough time to wonder at the beautiful gray-blue sky above the denser foliage of West Gonja before I promptly fell asleep, borderline narcoleptic that I am.

I woke barely before the lorry pulled up to the Junction, and the first thing I saw was a woman with a crate of bowl fruit on her head. YES! The door was opened and my feet were on the ground in a flash, I flagged down my woman, and proceeded to buy eight doughnut hole-like morsels to share, five of which I breakfasted on happily. What amazed me was that the rest of the passengers didn’t seem to want any, which is why I got to enjoy the majority of them. We all joked about how the bowl fruit of our own land is sweeter. J I am going to miss bowl fruit a lot back in the states! Maybe re-creating bowl fruit will be a project I attempt for my baking blog when I return! [I just posted about the San Diego Food Blogger Bake Sake, if you’re interested!]

With the snack food to distract me, we arrived in Tamale in no time. I felt very sad to leave my new friend Jolanda, who had encouraged me and been an example to me the entire time I knew her, but I was glad to exchange contacts and leave her back at home with Femke her roommate, whom you may remember from my first trip to Damongo.

Next stop was meeting up with my crew! I was so glad to finally meet Dr. Tabitha, a new volunteer coming to Saboba, but who has spent a total of almost one year in various hospitals around Ghana. She has just graduated from Michigan State Medical School, is such a funny and smart lady, and has so much experience here in Ghana. I am very excited to learn from her and incredibly thankful have a friend share my room for the remainder of my time here! It’s going to be awesome, I can feel it. J

She and Ishmael are absolutely hilarious together. All the way back to Saboba with Paul the hospital driver taking us, I was cracking up at their antics and their teasing! It was a great little road trip, and I was so, so, happy to see that familiar bridge that indicates we’re coming closer to home, little Saboba town. Oh my goodness, was I thankful to be back among Konkombas and the hospital. It had only been less than two weeks, but I was missing my lilampal (home) like crazy. I can’t imagine how bad it’s going to be when I have to fly back to the states. Thinking about leaving here is pretty painful, so I try not to think about it.

Tabi, as we call her now, and I dropped Ishmael off at the nurse’s quarters and finally got settled back in the bungie. Rose Tinab and Brendan (Uniboimo) the peace worker even met us briefly to welcome us home! It was so great to see them! As we got settled, Tabi showed me a two huge suitcases of medical supplies that she brought from MedShare. I felt like a complete butt for not bringing any when I came, especially because I found out that it’s so easy if you know what you need! Gahhh. I guess that means there will have to be a next time…

Soon after we finished unpacking together, Dr. Jean, Bob, and our two visitors arrived at the bungie! Bob and Jean are hosting Dr. Awojobi (a Nigerian who knows Dr Jean from a rural hospital online forum community), and Aminah (a potential new matron for SMC) in the hospital quarters for a few days. We all ate Jollof rice together and watched Dr. Awojobi’s documentary on his private hospital in the Eruwa region of Nigeria. The video has some amazing innovations to improve the standard of care in rural hospitals, and I was completely impressed with his passion to serve the patients and serve them better. It was really inspiring, and I hoped that the ideas Dr. Jean and him shared together would benefit both of their hospitals. Heaven knows we need it!

The night finished when Dr. Jean got Dr. Awojobi and Sister Aminah settled in their respective lodgings, I got to visit with Pastor Jonah again, and also see Tabi’s book that she’s writing. I am really excited to work on this program with her–she plans to transfer a huge amount of information into 8th grade reading level, and then to develop a course to teach nurses about how to treat premature infants and other neonates. It’s really awesome, and I hope that she can administer the course here at SMC as well as in Drobo, where her “home hospital” is. It would be so awesome to see those things taught here!

I was grateful to start working almost right away with Dr. Tabi! I can already tell she’s a very hard worker and that she’s going to be such an asset to the hospital. Things are looking up here in Saboba! The only thing I am sad about is having to leave so soon. I hate goodbyes. I guess that’s one more reason to make my last few weeks here really count!

-ATP

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

4/2 – Back Home in Saboba!

The morning was dark and cool when Pastor Abraham, Jolanda, and I hopped in the lorry to head to Tamale. We were each traveling there for our separate reasons–Abraham to buy affordable food for the orphanage, Jolanda to return to her internship in public health, and me to meet Bob, Jean, Ishmael, and the new Dr. Tabitha to head back to Saboba.

It was the same lorry and river as the trip into Damongo, but exceedingly more comfortable. Instead of five people squished into the 3-seater cab in the blazing heat like last time, this morning, the crisp breeze was blowing through the windows, and it was only me and Jolanda in the backseat.  Thank you Jesus! I had just enough time to wonder at the beautiful gray-blue sky above the denser foliage of West Gonja before I promptly fell asleep, borderline narcoleptic that I am.

I woke barely before the lorry pulled up to the Junction, and the first thing I saw was a woman with a crate of bowl fruit on her head. YES! The door was opened and my feet were on the ground in a flash, I flagged down my woman, and proceeded to buy eight doughnut hole-like morsels to share, five of which I breakfasted on happily. What amazed me was that the rest of the passengers didn’t seem to want any, which is why I got to enjoy the majority of them. We all joked about how the bowl fruit of our own land is sweeter. J I am going to miss bowl fruit a lot back in the states! Maybe re-creating bowl fruit will be a project I attempt for my baking blog when I return! [I just posted about the San Diego Food Blogger Bake Sake, if you’re interested!]

With the snack food to distract me, we arrived in Tamale in no time. I felt very sad to leave my new friend Jolanda, who had encouraged me and been an example to me the entire time I knew her, but I was glad to exchange contacts and leave her back at home with Femke her roommate, whom you may remember from my first trip to Damongo.

Next stop was meeting up with my crew! I was so glad to finally meet Dr. Tabitha, a new volunteer coming to Saboba, but who has spent a total of almost one year in various hospitals around Ghana. She has just graduated from Michigan State Medical School, is such a funny and smart lady, and has so much experience here in Ghana. I am very excited to learn from her and incredibly thankful have a friend share my room for the remainder of my time here! It’s going to be awesome, I can feel it. J

She and Ishmael are absolutely hilarious together. All the way back to Saboba with Paul the hospital driver taking us, I was cracking up at their antics and their teasing! It was a great little road trip, and I was so, so, happy to see that familiar bridge that indicates we’re coming closer to home, little Saboba town. Oh my goodness, was I thankful to be back among Konkombas and the hospital. It had only been less than two weeks, but I was missing my lilampal (home) like crazy. I can’t imagine how bad it’s going to be when I have to fly back to the states. Thinking about leaving here is pretty painful, so I try not to think about it.

Tabi, as we call her now, and I dropped Ishmael off at the nurse’s quarters and finally got settled back in the bungie. Rose Tinab and Brendan (Uniboimo) the peace worker even met us briefly to welcome us home! It was so great to see them! As we got settled, Tabi showed me a two huge suitcases of medical supplies that she brought from MedShare. I felt like a complete butt for not bringing any when I came, especially because I found out that it’s so easy if you know what you need! Gahhh. I guess that means there will have to be a next time…

Soon after we finished unpacking together, Dr. Jean, Bob, and our two visitors arrived at the bungie! Bob and Jean are hosting Dr. Awojobi (a Nigerian who knows Dr Jean from a rural hospital online forum community), and Aminah (a potential new matron for SMC) in the hospital quarters for a few days. We all ate Jollof rice together and watched Dr. Awojobi’s documentary on his private hospital in the Eruwa region of Nigeria. The video has some amazing innovations to improve the standard of care in rural hospitals, and I was completely impressed with his passion to serve the patients and serve them better. It was really inspiring, and I hoped that the ideas Dr. Jean and him shared together would benefit both of their hospitals. Heaven knows we need it!

The night finished when Dr. Jean got Dr. Awojobi and Sister Aminah settled in their respective lodgings, I got to visit with Pastor Jonah again, and also see Tabi’s book that she’s writing. I am really excited to work on this program with her–she plans to transfer a huge amount of information into 8th grade reading level, and then to develop a course to teach nurses about how to treat premature infants and other neonates. It’s really awesome, and I hope that she can administer the course here at SMC as well as in Drobo, where her “home hospital” is. It would be so awesome to see those things taught here!

I was grateful to start working almost right away with Dr. Tabi! I can already tell she’s a very hard worker and that she’s going to be such an asset to the hospital. Things are looking up here in Saboba! The only thing I am sad about is having to leave so soon. I hate goodbyes. I guess that’s one more reason to make my last few weeks here really count!

– ATP

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

4/1 – Goodbye to West Gonja

I always have the best experiences at church in Ghana. Today, I finally got to experience a worship service at the Health Assistants Training School, where Joe, Enock, Peace, John, Matthew, and a couple other Saboba nurse friends attend school. There, the students put on their own multi-denominational service and have two pastors rotate to preach every week. Much to my benefit, this week was Pastor Abraham’s turn!

The group of older kids from the orphanage, numbering around 20, arrived promptly at Abraham’s house at 7:30 as they were told by their Dada through Joe. They were all playing happily in the yard as Jolanda and I were eating breakfast together, patiently waiting for us to get going. Our amalgam of four very different volunteers, Pastor Abraham, and the kids made the 15-minute walk over to the HATS campus together, and as we neared, I heard that beautiful and familiar noise–voices loudly singing God’s praises only to the beat of a few drums. This could be my favorite noise that I’ve heard during my entire trip, right above an elephant‘s trumpeting!

We all found seats amongst the students worshipping there, and I spotted John! He told me Joe and Enock were playing the drums together! Way to represent Saboba at your school, boys! 😀 As always, the music was just beautiful. The great majority of people don’t have great pitch or sense of a time signature, but I absolutely love hearing them sing to Jesus together. Sandra, a nurse whom I’ve gotten to know through Pastor Abraham, got up in front to share a couple songs, and she has just a lovely voice! And one lady named Amelia also sang a couple songs, which brought tears to my eyes. It wasn’t her voice, or even that the words of the song touched me–I could barely understand them, in fact, though they were in English… Instead, it was just the sound of all these Christ followers adoring Him and lifting Him up in song together. They were miraculously in perfect unison, singing back the responses to Amelia’s lead at the top of their lungs. I just closed my eyes and let the praise sink into my heart. It was moving. I can’t wait till we’re all in heaven worshipping like this around God’s throne forever and ever.

Yes, indeed it was a great church service. Pastor Abraham preached on Galatians 6 and boasting in the cross alone, taking that gift Jesus gives to everyone, and only finding confidence in it and nothing else in the world. It was a powerful sermon, and Pastor Abraham is such a dynamic preacher. He told the story of one Chinese man who was put into jail for pasturing an underground Christian church. In the prison, he was tortured and abused terribly there. Hundreds of people were praying for him and writing him letters, but he only wrote back that he was privileged to suffer as Jesus did, for God’s kingdom work.

One day, it was snowing in this region of China, and the guards decided to do something particularly malicious to their prisoners. The built a huge, roaring fire outside in the snow, and then brought all the Christians out into the snow and stripped them naked. The prisoners were all shaking uncontrollably as their fingers and toes began to freeze solid. The guards mocked, “If you deny Jesus, you can go to the fire over there and warm yourself.” This one Chinese pastor watched as many of his brothers and sisters in Christ verbally denied their savior, and came close to the flames to thaw. But this man refused to do such a thing because his only confidence was in Christ. The only thing he could boast about was that he was as righteous as Christ because of the work done on the cross by Jesus. If he denied that, he would have nothing left, so he remained firm and instead began to sing at the top of his lungs praises to God. All of a sudden, no more was he shivering, but sweat was pouring down his face. It was a miracle, and God was demonstrated Himself faithful because this servant was faithful, too.

That is one story I will remember for a long, long time. And certainly I will remember this sermon of Pastor Abraham’s all my life, because it was so timely and appropriate for the sins I am facing now. It was terribly convicting to say the least, but I was so thankful for it. The last place I want to be is like a ship caught in the doldrums with no way, as Jean’s analogy goes.

Church ended with offering, a great deal more prolonged singing and dancing, complete with loud clapping, handkerchief waving, laughing. It’s just amazing how church is a celebration for the Ghanaians I have shared Sundays with. They are not afraid to show how great God is with their absolute, honest-to-goodness joy.

Peace was at her mother church this Sunday, so only Enock, Joe, and John accompanied our large group part of the way back to Pastor Abraham’s place. I was on a church high and just felt awesome despite the heat. The children all stay at Pastor Abraham’s place for tea after church on Sundays… it’s pretty adorable. The kids all get a couple hand-sized chunks of this delicious and sweet bread, a cup of weak tea, and gather around Pastor Abraham’s laptop, watching Azonto dancing videos and some cartoons. The room was so stinky because of their feet, but they are so incredibly precious to me–the older ones were trying to April Fools me, and the younger ones are always climbing all over you or fighting each other for your hand, or laughing in their adorable ways at each other.

Later in the afternoon, they all departed on their way back to the orphanage, and I wished them all goodbye with constant exhortations for them to study hard for the Bible quiz later today. I really hoped it would go well! Our little gang of Naomi, Rens, Jolanda, Abraham, and I had a lunch of yam stew together, and then just relaxed for the afternoon.

I had some time to relax and write before Joe and Sandra came over from the nurse’s school for the afternoon’s Bible quiz! The afternoon was cooling down, although I am sure it was still well over 110 F, when we walked all the way down to the other end of Damongo to the orphanage. When we arrived there, it took a while to round the older children up into the main room–I almost thought they had forgotten about our quiz!

We set up the long benches in the main building in two sets of rows right in front of the chalkboard in the main building of the orphanage, and divided all the kids up into two teams. We asked each team a total of 10 questions from Matthew 26-28 in order to prepare for Easter, most of which they could answer… that is, around 3 or 4 of the same boys could answer them! It really broke my heart when I slowly realized that the teenage girls I had been encouraging to study for the quiz, and who kept nodding enthusiastically in response, could barely even read. I was all excited because I thought they were studying up on the passion and the resurrection, but even if they wanted to, they couldn’t. It was only the boys who could. An angry fire burns in my heart for the injustices these treasured young ladies have to endure. They are again the victims of being “girl-children” in this culture. And what could I even offer these girls? I was leaving at 4am the next morning…

Encouraged as I was by the accurate answers and the thought-provoking questions that the kids were all so keen to give, I felt very helpless and ineffectual once again as I wished goodbye to all the children there. A storm was rolling in, winds were blowing hard, and Joe, Sandra, and Jolanda all said that we should leave the orphanage before the rains hit. The dark atmosphere mirrored my despondency. I looked backwards at Redemption Childrens’ Home, a place with so much rejoicing yet so much need. I wouldn’t see it again for years, I estimate.

Mary, a 14-year-old girl with big eyes and a thin frame, hung on to me and walked us to the edge of the orphanage grounds. She is one of the kids who can only read at about a 1st-grade level. As my last action at the orphanage, I asked her what her dreams were, and what she wanted to be when she grew up. I started listing a bunch of professions, and she nodded half-sure when I suggested nurse or doctor. I had to encourage her that she had to work hard at school and do her best no matter what anyone said, if she wanted to get there one day. God would be faithful and honor her efforts with blessings. I really don’t know I got through to her at all, but I was grateful for a big hug and a heartfelt goodbye when we parted ways at the main road.

Jolanda told me that I couldn’t cry, not in front of the kids. I knew it was true–they endure so much suffering already, so why make this moment another painful memory? I held it in and just looked up at the sky instead. The storm was clearly visible as a blanket of dark gray moving slowly across the hot, blue heavens, and as we made our way closer to Pastor Abraham‘s house, we were walking further right into it. It was such a strange sight to see, and I just had to take a picture capturing what it looked like. It was almost surreal. And indeed, the entire situation was very surreal to me. In my 23 years, I never imagine I’d be in such a place as this, with these people, doing these things. I felt somewhat like Esther, not that my problems are anywhere near as big as hers, but that God had also been preparing me for “such a time as this.”

Thinking these thoughts, I realized I really hadn’t risen to the occasion at all. I was like the opposite of Esther… Jolonda and I were talking pretty late into the night, and she was telling me some of the kids’ stories… Little Fati, who I saw as a baby in the photo, who I noticed from our first meeting feigned shyness to get cuddles and loving attention, who I rejoiced in when I heard her sing “Build Your Church Lord,” was abandoned when she was born. Before she was found and taken in by Pastor Abraham, her relatives left her little body in the cavity of a termite mound, hoping that the insects would soon eat her alive. What’s more, there are three siblings, one of which I lived across from in Pastor Abraham’s house, whose parents both died of AIDS at the same time, and without Pastor Abraham and each other, they are alone in the world. Jolonda added that R and A are also siblings by the same mother, and the products of two rapes. Because of their mom’s mental illness, when they were found, they hadn’t been bathed in an entire year. Jolanda took care of R every day until he began to call her Mommy.

“You just have to hold them. Love them. It’s easy and it means so much,” Jolanda said at the end of it all, and I just had to look at myself in shame. Yes, I liked spending time with the kids there, and I definitely loved them… but it was an emotional love, not a faithful and unconditional one. I didn’t always love them in every moment–for example, I just didn’t want to pick up and hold one little boy, who was begging for my attention, because I didn‘t want to touch the drainage from his pustules. I tried hard, I did, to show compassion in those challenging moments, but I failed so many times. And now I would be leaving the kids the next morning, and wouldn’t even have a chance to change what I had been convicted of. A missed opportunity to glorify God, and definitely not an Esther week for me.

I don’t want my experience here to be like that; I am only in Ghana for a very short amount of time, and I want to do as much good and show as many people Jesus as I can. I have learned so much about my own faults and failures, and so much from other Ghanaians about really exhibiting Christ’s love the way He wanted us to. I am just so humbled by their examples, and I won’t want to miss any more opportunities to rise to the challenge and serve him with all my heart, without any reservations.

Now that I am leaving Damongo and the kids at the orphanage back to the hospital and my “home” in Saboba, I know that this has to be applied to the patients, whom I find it most difficult to love and serve. There are so many, and sometimes at the end of rounds, I can barely remember which person had which problem. I get very tired at the end of he day and just want to eat and sleep, but did Esther relax when her people were in need of her? She did the scariest thing possible and approached the king to make her demands. It’s going to take a lot of sanctifying to make this stubborn heart less selfish, but I know Jesus will be able to do it. He’s already done so much in my life, it would be pretty stupid to not trust in His transforming power for my future.

I am so grateful for this experience that God has used to pound these things into my head once again. And I am so grateful to those who have backed me in this mission with your prayers and support. None of this would have been possible without you! I miss you all, and now it will only be a short time until I am back home.

Love,

ATP

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

3/31 – Rain at Long Last!!

Don’t even try to beat the sun to the Damongo market! It’s so hot here, even if you get there as soon as the market opens, you will be profusely sweating as soon as you step out of the trotro (taxi). It definitely happened to Naomi, Rens, and I today on our visit to the market to pick up some food for the kids! Every day we wake up together, simultaneously hoping that the morning will be cooler than the heat we experienced yesterday, but it always seems to be just as hot when we wake up, and then even hotter by the afternoon. I really don’t remember Saboba being this sweltering!

Luckily, at the market we were able to purchase eight bowls (basically a standard measurement here) of rice, four bowls of beans, and a few cedis worth of every sort of vegetable we saw at the stand. The kids were going to eat well tonight, and get some vitamins in them, we hoped! Taking a trotro usually would not have been necessary, but our spoils from the market were almost 50 kg, and we weren’t about to put everything on our heads and carry it all the way across town, however culturally enlightening that might be, hahah!

We drove onto the orphanage grounds, and the kids expressed the usual happiest, warmest greetings you could imagine. They come running from all sides with bright smiles on their faces, even the very small ones, and shout out cries of “Sistah! Sistah!!” I always feel like I don’t deserve the boundless affection they pour out to us. We unloaded all the food for the Aunties, and played with the kids as much as we could. Again, our time with them was too short before we rode back to Pastor Abe’s. I always feel a little heartbroken and guilty when I have to wave goodbye. I don’t always like to go home and relax while the kids are left there with the Aunties, who are always too busy to play.

Fortunately, it wasn’t too long before the whole gang, this time including Jolanda, got to head back to the orphanage. Yolonda had a suitcase full of new clothes for each of the children there, and we needed to distribute them! They got lots of goodies today… and one BIG ONE, RAIN!! YES, Halelujah! The sky was darkened and cloudy when we stepped outside the house to head over. By the time we arrived at the orphanage, fat raindrops were descending sparsely, and the air was so much cooler. Thank the good Lord for this blessing! The air felt so much nicer, and immediately I was given more energy and a better attitude. J It was amaaaazing to stand, arms open wide, and feel the water slowly drench you.

I had a fun but very challenging afternoon and evening chasing, tickling, teaching, twirling, cleaning, cuddling, and playing with the kids. I loved interacting with the older kids, too. Adam, a slender and tall 15-year-old boy, especially liked showing me his little chicken house that he built out of clay! The older boys have been given chickens to take care of and steward, and they have a row of these little clay huts for their chickens. Each one is individualized with various aluminum scraps, chicken wire, plastic pipes, wooden pieces, etc. The row of them looks like a mini chicken housing development!

Now, I was born and raised in pure San Diego suburb. During the SoCal fire scare, we were hardly worried for our homes because we are just surrounded on every side by cement and asphalt, asphalt and cement. There were no livestock around until you got deep into Poway or Escondido, and we always teased our rival high school, Poway High, for being hicks, even though they really weren’t. That’s why I was really surprised when Adam crouched down and ENTERED his chicken hut through the tiny little door, which was about a foot wide, and maybe a foot and a half tall. His entire torso disappeared in the chicken hut until he emerged, holding his fowl to proudly show her off.

“Look, there are eggs inside! I have eight eggs!” he smiled proudly, pointing to the uncovered nest in the very back corner of the dark hut. I just looked at him and that live chicken that I have such an aversion to, and laughed at how “city-girl” I realized I am, even though I used to think I was adventurous and nature-y for growing up camping and fishing, and loving backpacking and hiking and other outdoorsy activities. Nothing compared to this. Here in Ghana, I sometimes feel like I am on a very prolonged camping trip. Haha!

I loved seeing Pastor Abraham hand out the clothes Jolanda brought to each little kid. From the office, he shouted each child’s name. In a minute or two, from somewhere on the orphanage grounds came the same child, running and smiling to the office door. Pastor Abraham handed him or her a new set of clothes labelled with a post-it, Yolanda snapped a photo, and the kid went off running again to store the clothes in the dorm. It was so cute to see them receiving these gifts!

We remained there until after dark, each of us doing whatever we desired there among the children–singing, breaking up fights, watching the stew being cooked, teaching the twins to walk… I absolutely love being there with them, but it is definitely a challenge to my sensibilities, especially sanitation-wise. Even though they have proper toilets, I have seen a lot of kids just pee off the side of the building, and do both #1 and #2 right there in the bush by the buildings! When the rain comes like it did today, this just washes down to where all the children run around and play, without shoes. Public health problem, much? I really am not expecting this place to be like the US, though. Sometimes, I just feel so guilty and wimpy for being a huge city-girl.

I was sad to leave them again, but was definitely looking forward to seeing them again at church tomorrow, and then for the Bible quiz in the afternoon with Big Joe! I encouraged all the girls to study hard because really they have to beat the boys!! That is my desire J It was an awesomely refreshing walk back to Pastor Abe’s house in the cool of the night together, especially after the rains. We were all going to have a very comfortable night’s rest!

The rest of the evening was spent writing an email to Nikki in Iowa (I’m waiting to send it when I get internet in Tamale!), and burning through almost 10 cedis of phone credit talking to Austin for an hour! The more he tells me, the more I miss him and home, but I just can’t stop sometimes. Besides missing everyone at home like crazy, the hunger for more nutritious food is just getting worse and worse. It was especially bad when Austin told me his parents and Tony & Kathleen were heading out to Terra for the evening!! That’s where Austin and I went for New Year’s Eve dinner, and I had the most delicious lamb dish ever. It just brought back wonderful and tasty memories… not so pleasant after eating just pasta with plain tomato sauce for supper!

I am seriously considering re-routing my flight to Oakland airport when I connect in Atlanta on my way back home. I’ll hop on AirBART, catch a train to the Downtown Berkeley BART station, take the 51B down Telegraph, get off on Dwight, and order the BEST garden salad from Intermezzo, ever!! I’ll even bypass my favorite BLTA there so I can get greens in my mouth ASAP. Will someone please tell me if they re-opened Intermezzo after the fire?! Because if this pit stop is even remotely possible, I need to hang on to the hope!! A Greek salad from Pat&Oscar’s in SD is great but just won’t cut it; I need some serious Berkeley hippie salad lovin’ in my belly!

With that, I wish you all good night! It’s super late, and church starts early at the HATS campus tomorrow! I am excited to walk over with the older kids from Redemption, meet my Saboba HATS friends, hear Pastor Abraham preach, and worship all together. Then, Bible quiz on the Passion with the kiddies to prepare for Easter! My last day in Damongo is going to be an awesome one! I am so, so, so thankful for Sundays.

Thanks for reading again!

Hugs,

ATP

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: