On the morning of Friday, January 17th, Zach and I set off for our next destination, Kumasi. From our hotel in Sunyani, we took a taxi, then a tro-tro, and then another taxi which brought us to our hotel in Kumasi. Tro-tros are mini-buses outfitted to hold an additional 50 percent of people in comparison to the manufacturer’s original intention. Our (what was supposed to be a 12 seater) van screeched and bumped down the road with about 18 people for almost 3 hours. We made a few stops, each time the driver popping open the hood. Finally, we stopped and all of the passengers climbed out of the tro-tro. We stood outside of the car and watched as the diver pulled out a shredded, circular piece of rubber I guessed to be the timing belt. I guess we were close enough to Kumasi, because the car was almost empty when we finally pulled away after the tro-tro was fixed. Most people must have given up on this dilapidated vehicle which was well past its nine lives, and jumped into another taxi to bring them to their final destinations.
Kumasi is considered to be Ghana’s cultural capital. Its the home of the Ashanti King. The Ashanti people are one of the largest ethnic groups in Ghana. Their native language is Twi, unlike other people’s in Ghana, who’ve just adopted Twi because the Ashanti’s are so widespread. There are also many crafts which are unique to the Ashanti’s, like woven Kente Cloth, which bring tourists to the bustling city of Kumasi. For all of these reasons, I had planned for Zach and I to spend the weekend here.
Although I just described a plethora of exciting things to do, Zach and I actually ended up taking it pretty easy on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday we headed out to the Kumasi Cultural Center, which is a large park with many small galleries and craft shops. Zach and I peered in a few, and ended up in a small art gallery with a surprisingly large amount of paintings. While we were deciding what to include in our final purchase, the clouds opened up and rain poured out. It was the first rain we’ve seen in Ghana since we arrived. Zach welcomed the relief from the heat. When the rain eased up, we jumped into a cab.
As we were heading out of the cultural center, we passed a giant funeral. We were told that it was the funeral of a famous Ghanaian actor, Eric Asante. There must have been thousands of people bustling about. Our taxi driver even pointed out a few other Ghanaian celebrities we’d never heard of. Zach was intrigued by such an event, but to me, it looked like a nightmare. I gently insisted that we just go back to our hotel and avoid the massive crowd, which mostly consisted of faux-mourners who just wanted to get their own peek at Ghanaian celebrities.
On Sunday Zach and I headed out for our second adventure in Kumasi. We went to one of the largest outdoor markets in West Africa. We walked through various sections, and shook hands with more people than we could count. as we were leaving the market, Zach and I passed some men with a variety of odd objects, set out on the street. I spotten a man holding a giant snake. He told us he was practicing traditional medicine (as were all of the other men) and then proceeded to put his snake on Zach, calmly explaining that it was a “python, but don’t worry, the fangs have been removed.” I laughed and took some pictures of Zach as he nervously asked if the man would take his snake back. Before I knew it, the roles had been reversed, and the snake was hanging off of my sholders, and Zach was snapping some photos of me. That was enough excitement for one afternoon, so when the traditional medicine man took his python back, we hopped into a cab to grab a bite to eat.
On Monday morning we went with Jerry to our first patient’s house. She was a four-year old little girl named Elizabeth, or “Lizzy.” Lizzy’s story is quite phenomenal. She lives with her paternal grandmother and uncle. She hasn’t seen her mother since she was just a little baby, and she gets to see her father about once a month. Her parents split-up pretty soon after she was born. Lizzy’s mother took her away, but within a few months, the mother had handed Lizzy off to a relative, and was then passed down through other relatives before ending up with her paternal Grandmother. Zach and I interviewed the grandmother who reported the facts of the story, however Lizzy’s uncle and aunt added their own commentary, saying that Lizzy’s mother had probably abandoned her because of the clubfoot.
But Lizzy got lucky. By coming to live with her grandmother, she was able to receive treatment at Komfo Anokye Hospital which has the largest clubfoot clinic in all of Ghana. Lizzy’s grandmother was very protective of her, and didn’t think twice about assuming the responsibilities of a primary caretaker for this young child. Lizzy’s feet look great. She seems just as unaware of her clubfoot as she does her abandonment. The family she lives with now truly loves and adores her as they would their own child. At the end of our interview, Lizzy’s grandmother revealed that she has heard the mother is coming back to claim her child – likely because she has heard that the clubfoot is now corrected. However, the protective grandma said that she will do everything in her power to keep Lizzy safe from her mother.
After the interview concluded, we spent some time getting to know the type of person Lizzy has become. She is such a sweet little girl who loves to play. She taught us how to play her favorite game. I didn’t really understand the rules, but it involves a series of claps and jumps. Seeing her demonstrate the game triggered memories of Jerry’s youth, and before we knew it, six-foot tall Jerry had jumped in to play with four year-old Elizabeth. Lizzy walked away as the champion.
Our second interview was not nearly as fruitful. We interviewed Dinah, the mother of 3-year-old Neniah. Joseph, the CURE employee in charge of quality assurance, had joined us and let us know that Dinah was one of his cousins! Neniah was skeptical of us strangers, and never could quite warm up to us. It was clear that Dinah wasn’t feeling well that day, and had trouble focusing on the interview. After asking our series of questions, we headed out to our final interview of the day.
We arrived in the outskirts of Kumasi at a modest home with chickens running through the yard. We met 2 year old Phillipier and her mother, Janet. Janet welcomed us into their home, but once again, Phillipier proved to be another skeptical toddler. She gave us some serious stares which Zach and I knew we shouldn’t challenge. Joseph let us know that Janet and Phillipier were also his cousins. I asked if his family had a history of clubfoot, to which another relative responded that one of their common grandparents had a clubfoot. It was unclear whether this has inspired Joseph’s work, or if it is mere coincidence.
I conducted the interview as Zach followed the little tyrant outside. He was successful in getting just a couple of smiles. I listened to Jerry translate the mother’s story. When we were in Vietnam, people were eager to tell us of the sacrifices they’d made to get their children treatment. In Ghana, until I sat down with Janet, we hadn’t spent much time probing for these answers. Parents haven’t hesitated to thank CURE on camera for providing free treatment, saying that they wouldn’t have been able to afford such care otherwise. But maybe because our interviews have been mostly patients who live close to the clinics, and transportation is often the only real expense, we haven’t heard details about the sacrifices.
However, after talking with Janet, I began to realize that parents in Ghana don’t see the primary and secondary costs of getting treatment as sacrifices. They see it as investments. Janet described in detail the ramifications of neglected clubfoot. She outlined the doomed path of disability in this country, which would ultimately inhibit Phillipier’s ability to go to school and maintain a labor-intensive job when she is older. Janet told me about how she herself used to have a food stand, but she couldn’t maintain it because of the cost of transportation in terms of money and time. With clinic visits happening weekly, she had trouble bringing in enough profit to maintain the business, and it eventually went under. But to Janet, the sacrifices are all worth it, becuase when she sees her child walk, she knows she will have a bright future.
As the sun was beginning to set, we took a few more photos of Phillipier, thanked Janet for such an enlightening interview, and headed out. It had been a long and eventful day. Our group didn’t even have time to grab some lunch, so as soon as we got near our hotel we asked a taxi driver to take us to his favorite Omotuo restaurant. He drove us to Las Palmas, where we were escorted to the “V.I.P” part of the establishment. I think “V.I.P” is synonymous for a room with air conditioning, because that was really the only special thing about it. After ordering our favorite dish, a young man came and sat down with us at our table. He introduced himself as the Las Palmas “DJ” because he does “disc jogging.” He proceeded to have a conversation with us, over his microphone, so our “obruni” presence could be broadcasted to the rest of the Las Palmas customers. This was the gist of our conversation:
DJ Steve to Zach: “I love you so much, you love me too? You understand? I am a DJ, that means I do disc joggin’. You understand me? I love you man, you love me too? I like making people happy, that’s why I do disc joggin. Is she your wife? Make your wife happy, being happy is what life is all about. You understand me? If you are not happy, you aren’t living. Thats why I am a disc joggy, I make people happy. You understand me? I love you so much, you love me too?”
By the end of the dinner, I guess DJ Steve had done his job well. He had me, Zach, and all of the waitresses cracking up. He sent us home happy, but gave us his phone number just in case we were ever sad. I am not kidding.