Our final week in Ghana (and the final week of our entire three-month-long journey) started off with a treacherous journey from Dodowa to Busua Beach. On Friday, January 31, Zach, Oti, and I left the guesthouse in Dodowa around noon.
It had just begun to rain as we packed our bags into the taxi. As we drove towards Accra, the rain came down harder, and harder. Since it is currently the dry season in Ghana (which you wouldn’t think it was, judging by this torrential downpour), the ground was too hard to actually soak up the water, causing it to wash out unpaved roads and pool in the crevices. Our taxi driver reluctantly drove through flooded streets, risking his own dry clothes to go out and measure how deep the water was before passing through. Ultimately, in the battle between the taxi and the rain, the rain won. I felt a sudden cold wet sensation on my feet, and looked down to see that water was rapidly pouring into the bottom of the car. The driver had had enough and decided to stop for a while until the rain subsided (and the water could recede from the interior of the taxi). All of us hopped back in the car once our driver thought we were in the clear and could finally make some progress. It was well after 2:00 PM and we’d travelled a whopping 20 km (about 12 miles). After getting stuck in a deep, newly formed pothole (leaving Zach and Oti to push the car free), we arrived in Madina, a suburb of Accra which has a bustling market, a large tro tro station, and many ATMs. We needed to withdraw money for the upcoming week, however, and little did we know that it was payday for many Ghanaians. Everyone was withdrawing their cash. Zach and I went from ATM to ATM trying to find one which hadn’t yet run out of money. After almost an hour of searching, we finally were able to complete one transaction, which could hold us over for the next couple of days.
But our journey didn’t end there; our attempt to get of Accra before rush hour had failed. For as much as I love Ghana, I equally despise Accra between the hours of 4 and 6 PM. My appreciation for traffic engineers back at home is always greatest when I am forced to experience traffic in Accra. When you combine the normal chaos of Accra with flash floods, well let’s just say it equals a 3.5 hour journey to travel only 20 km (12.5 miles) to Kaneshie Market. At Kaneshie we got a direct tro tro to Takoradi, a large coastal city in the Western Region in Ghana. We arrived in Takoradi at about 11:30 PM, and took a Taxi to Busua Beach, finally arriving there around midnight. In total, it took about 12 hours to travel about 200 miles.
Now you might be saying to yourself, “Okay, Hannah, we get the picture. It was miserable, it was long. Was it really necessary to go into all of this detail?” Yes, it was. Not because Zach, and I are martyrs, and not to show you our ‘struggle’ to get to a nice beach where we spent the weekend. I mention this exhausting journey because Jerry and Joseph travel along such routes several days a week to keep the Ghana Clubfoot Program running. Joseph will spend long hours in a tro-tro just to make sure he can get to a clinic to perform a tenotomy, and Jerry will travel miles and miles to pick up braces and hand-deliver them to various clinics in need. They do all of this because they are so passionate about changing lives and reversing disability.
We spent the weekend at Busua Beach enjoying our time with Oti. It was our last weekend in Ghana and we wanted to really make sure we didn’t miss a moment with our friend. Oti and Zach had gotten very close over the past few weeks, and their friendship had really progressed. They had their own inside jokes and went on a couple of their own adventures. Seeing the two of them get along so well only made me happy. Besides, I had a little primate friend of my own at the inn we were staying at. We hadn’t seen each other in over a year, but she greeted me by jumping on my shoulder, and looking through my hair for bugs. I fed her bananas, and whenever she realized I was without the company of two males, would come sit next to me, hoping for a head scratch or a belly rub. Ultimately, I always gave in.
After taking Oti for the ride of his life on a Jet ski, and teaching him how to swim (in that order), we had to say goodbye. He headed back so he could be at work on Monday, but it would just be a few days before we would see him again. After he departed, Zach and I brought out our cameras to get some footage and photos of the beach. We heard some drumming coming from next door, so the two of us followed our curiosity around the corner, where there was a group of three men, each with their own percussion instrument. They introduced themselves as “Wonder Boy,” “Ecko,” and Akepoo. Their “manager” wanted to sit down and have a meeting with us about getting to the US to perform. Zach and I were flattered that they thought we were possibly this well-connected, but there was little we could do from our side in terms of live performance.
The next morning we headed to the Effia Nkwanta Hospital in Takoradi, where we met Jerry. Effia Nkwanta has the largest and oldest clubfoot clinic in the whole southern part of Ghana. We filmed as mothers lined up with their children, awaiting their turn to see the clinicians. The clinicians explained that because of space (and staff) constraints, they are only able to see one child at a time. Judging by the amount of mothers who were still there when we left the clinic, such constraints really impact the efficiency of clinic. However, the few staff members available that were incredibly welcoming, and clearly very passionate about the work they are doing to help these children and their families.
After enjoying lunch of omotuo and groundnut soup, Zach, Jerry, and I headed to Cape Coast, which is about halfway between Takoradi and Accra. It’s a very popular town among tourists because of its proximity to the beach and the Cape Coast Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and also a European fortress which housed some of the largest numbers of slaves before they were piled onto boats and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean. Although we didn’t get a chance to visit the castle this time, I’d been on the tour before. It was an intense experience that I won’t forget.
But this time, our trip to Cape Coast was about life. On Tuesday, Jerry, Joseph (who had now joined us), Zach, and I visited two patients. The first patient was a baby boy, Perry or as his family has nicknamed him, “Uncle Perry,” still in his casts. “Uncle Perry’s” real Uncle George welcomed into the house. George shared with us that he lived in Washington, DC for 10 years, which Zach and I immediately were excited to hear. After talking him for a few minutes about DC, and finding the best Ghanaian restaurant, we had to get on with the interview. Perry’s mother is young, and felt shy in front of the camera. I don’t think she knew what to do with so much attention on her, but eventually we were able to get some good answers from her about her experience with her child. Before we knew it, the loquacious Uncle George was back talking to us, and the interview concluded. We hopped in a taxi, saying our final goodbyes to Uncle George and Uncle Perry. Clearly, Perry is a very lucky little boy, constantly surrounded by an overwhelming amount of love and attention from his family.
Our second patient was another baby, who had progressed to wearing his boots and bars. I reached over to hold this little guy while Zach set up for the interview. After a spending a few minutes of making him laugh by whipping my soft obruni hair across his face, it was interview time. Unfortunately (or fortunately) it was also nap time for Delivan. He immediately became whiny when Zach started asking his mother the first question. So I snatched Delivan up and took him around the corner. He settled down, sleepily gazing at every chicken and goat that walked by. By the time the interview finished, his eyes became heavy and he settled down on my chest for a snooze. What a way to finish our patient interviews in Ghana. I didn’t want give him up, but it is amazing how much these little children can weigh when they are sleeping. I passed Delivan back to his mother, and we said our goodbyes to her.
Jerry, Joseph, Zach, and I went and grabbed lunch at a nearby restaurant. After lunch, the owner graciously allowed us to use her secluded setting as an interview site for Joseph. It was our final afternoon with him and we had yet to record the details of how he became involved in clubfoot work for our film. Joseph is not a doctor, nurse, or physical therapist. He doesn’t have a degree to show for any of his medical training. However, he’s considered to be one of Ghana’s leading clubfoot experts, so much so, his role in the Ghana program is to ensure that the clinics are practicing Ponseti correctly. Joseph takes his job very seriously. He’s completely saddened when he sees people with clubfoot on the streets begging, but overjoyed knowing how many children are able to get treatment, renewing their ability to walk and avoiding a life of poverty. I always knew that Joseph was dedicated, but hearing him talk about what motivates him and what is important to him made me realize how truly irreplaceable he is for the program. After finishing the interview, we said our final goodbyes to Joseph. That was when it really sank in that our journey was coming to a close.
That afternoon we headed back to Adenta, a town near Dodowa where Oti and his good friend Mary (and a few other friends that work in Dodowa) live. Oti graciously offered to host us for our few final nights. We were excited to take him up on his offer. Oti and Mary spoiled us. They made sure we weren’t hungry, feeding us large breakfasts followed by large lunches just a few hours later, followed by large dinners. Zach and I made sure we made it back to the Charity for a few meals too. We cherished our final dinners with Emma, Elvis, and the rest of the children.
On Thursday, Jerry came to Adenta so that we could finally interview him. I think Zach and I didn’t want the interview to end, because it also meant we would have to say farewell to our gentle friend. Jerry is a very humble man. Whenever we’d praise him for the work he is doing, he would always attribute his success to a higher power. On that last day, during those last few minutes with him, I really began to realize the scope of his work. CURE International has clubfoot programs in many countries around the world. Their largest effort is in India, not surprisingly, treating almost 4,000 children annually. But in second place, in terms of the number of patients treated each year, is tiny Ghana, at about 1,300 children. This is amazing for a nation the size of Oregon. Jerry proudly told us about the quantity of children receiving treatment, further explaining that he hopes to achieve double by the end of 2014. But not only does Ghana treat a great number of children, they retain the vast majority of their patients. Jerry said that counseling the families has really been key to making sure parents keep bringing their children back. This does so much more than just make sure the clubfoot is corrected, it keeps families together, further affecting the future of these children and their ability to avoid poverty.
But I think the point of the conversation which best illustrates the type of person Jerry is was when he started thanking us for the work we are doing. Zach and I were struck by the sincerity Jerry expressed his gratitude, explaining all that he’s personally gained by being our clubfoot guide in Ghana. We immediately told him that he shouldn’t be thanking us, that ultimately he’s the reason why so many children are getting treatment and why our trip had been so successful in the first place. Predictably gentle Jerry quickly took no credit, attributing it all to God.
After the interview, Zach and I headed to Dodowa for our last night with the family. We enjoyed some delicious fish with banku, pepper, and shito (a spice sauce). After dinner we made the most of our final minutes with Emma, Elvis, Gina, Bernard, Quiaku, Kojo, and Najalie. Zach did some of his last rounds of shoulder rides, getting a good workout in before our 11 hour plane ride the next day. I couldn’t bring myself to let all of the children know that this was our last night. But Emma, being one of the eldest understood. He gave Zach and I big hugs, seeming to hold back a few tears. Elvis, as bouncy as ever, jumped up for me to hold him. I gave him a big hug, although he was unaware that this would be the last time we would all be together, at least until our next visit.
Which brings to one of the nicest things which came out of coming back to Ghana (unrelated to clubfoot): no one asked me “If” I was coming back. On Friday morning Zach and I headed back to Dodowa one last time to say final goodbyes to Millicent (our seamstress), Eddie, Auntie Esther, and Charity. Everyone asked us “when” we were coming back. I loved that people could see that I’ve grown attached to the country and to the people. I loved that they could recognize that Ghana has a very special place in my heart. People at home have asked if Ghana’s a beautiful country. In terms of natural beauty, it’s definitely not an ugly country. There are some very pretty areas, but nothing compared to some of landscapes we saw in New Zealand or Vietnam. But I never hesitate to say Ghana is a beautiful country. It is because of the people. The culture is so vibrant, appreciative, and honest. So when they ask “When are you coming back?” to me, they are welcoming me back to a place I love before I even left, leading me to respond, “Hopefully soon! Because I know we will definitely be back.”
We headed back to Oti’s house to finish packing and, of course, enjoy lunch with him, Mary, and their friend, Francis. Before long, Oti had fetched us a taxi, and we all loaded our bags and jumped in to head off to the airport. At the airport, we took some (cell phone) pictures of the four of us together, exchanged hugs, and cringed as we had to say goodbye to our dear friends. Oti and Mary headed back to Adenta, as Zach and I made our way through immigration, and then to our departure gate.
It felt strange saying goodbye to all of these people I am so close to, yet so far away from when I am at home. One might expect me to be sad, because maybe my chance of actually coming back a third time is slim. I, myself, thought it would be harder to say farewell to all of my Ghana friends and family a second time than it was last year.
However, I found myself not feeling sad, but feeling grateful that I even had the opportunity to come back to Ghana, and to come back in a way that was meaningful to me and to others. I feel lucky that I might be able to give back to the country that has given me so much. I feel appreciative to everyone and anyone who has contributed in any way to our time not only in Ghana, but to The Footnote Film Project. Meda ase means “thank you” in Twi. Meda ase to the huge group of people who believed and encouraged us to follow through with what was, at one point, only an idea. As I boarded Delta flight 479, I could really only feel gratitude, and not sadness. My mom used to tell me that “as long as you feel thankful, you will never feel disappointed.” As we left West Africa, this statement couldn’t have been more accurate.