Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Not Enough Heat in Ghana

Jungles of Ghana are the land of milk and honey. They overflow with fruits and meat. There is no danger of starvation or epidemic hunger. No mud huts in this village --concrete homes and an old Mercedes. And a heat that sticks to everything. AIDS is not even a cultural factor like in other parts of Africa. Rwanda is 90% -- Ghana is less than 20. Mosquitos kill here. Malaria runs rampant. There aren’t enough doctors, medicine or facilities and they have to decide who will live long enough to receive treatment. Those that won’t, stay at home.

We are greeted by the village chief – a 37 year old man who drives a taxi for a living. With a big smile, he beckons us to sit in plastic, Wal-Mart chairs under an enormous shade tree. The area has been cleared and is flat dirt. Chief’s sister brings cold water in plastic bags, which we politely do not drink, and cold beers in sealed glass bottles, which we politely do. Chief explains that although they have enough food for everyone and that starvation is unheard of, the people in the capital, Accra, do starve. Never mind that they are on the coast where a large fishing industry booms, the city people do not have fruits and vegetables and there is no way to transport it from the jungle.

But the freshly slaughtered goat boiling in the cauldron pot puts thoughts of hunger out of our minds. A man, whose face was older than the jungle and whose mouth had seen more teeth in its day, was stirring the pot with an enormous stick. I walk over and look inside. He and his equally ancient wife take great pleasure in showing me the goat’s entrails – heart, liver, intestines and of course bellow at my face as they lift his male reproductive organs out of the broth. I need more beer.

Over the course of the next week, I took 700 photos. When the heat became overbearing and tempers soared, I took out my camera. Laughs were achieved from old women, young children, official men and every one in between when they saw their faces instantly in my digital camera. Smiles did not come before the shot like they do with American children, they came afterward – with revelation at what was happening.

Photos of doctors, nurses, technicians showed the constant stream of patients and the pharmacy that handed out something to every single person who came through. If a case was too big for the makeshift clinic, a referral was written for the local hospital. Malaria pills, pain relievers, and antibiotics were handed out by the truckload. House calls were made, elderly were seen, young children had teeth pulled. Staff ran from sun up to sun down to make sure every person was seen. Clinic halls overflowed with people and every one left with something.

But the constant asking for more or asking for something else was taxing. Exhausting. Annoying. With the exception of the Chief and his entourage, very few ‘thank yous’ were uttered. Volunteers stole from the pharmacy. Patients came back two and three times. Hands always open.

No matter how much we gave, they always wanted more. And rather than feeling like we were doing good, it started to feel like we’d never do good enough.

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