Day 8: “Mr Toad's Wild Ride – Part 3”
Each year I seem to have a Mr. Toad's Wild Ride story and this year is no exception. Today Maura and I journey to Ho (1.5 hours away from Kpando) to visit our friend Shine who was our host two years ago.
Shine is a special person to us and has just had a baby this year which she attributes to her American Mamas. We gave her a fertility statue the first year and we were hoping for twins but we shall be happy with beautiful little Asher born in September 2010.
We are advised that we can catch a tro-tro from the lorry station (bus and tro tro station). As we approach the station a tro tro yells Ho and we quickly board. We ask if it is a direct route and we should have trusted our gut when they did not answer the question. The language barrier is a chronic problem.
Unbeknownst to us this tro to will stop and start about 20 times throughout the trip picking up and discarding passengers. We are crammed in like sardines into a rusty and clunky 12 passenger van that smells like rotten fish. People are practically sitting on each other. We know we are in for a wild ride. At one point our “ handler” (not the driver) decides to take a leak right outside our door as he is waiting for the passengers to get settled. NO modesty about that.
We are dumped into bedlam in the village of Kpeve and told to disembark and load into another tro tro that is more crowded than the one we left. We wait a few minutes and another tro comes along and there are two seats in the second row. We sit next to a woman with three small children and they are squished into the seats. Her middle child, who is about 2 years old, is slowly sliding under the seat so I hand my bag to Maura and pick up this child and cradle him in my lap. He immediately gets cozy and I find his little hand has snuck down to my breast. His mother is breast feeding his younger sister and you wonder how much cuddling time this kid gets. I don’t mind but I am secretly hoping he is potty trained as I hold him in my arms for the next hour.
We arrive in Ho which is a very large and confusing city and unfortunately it is market day so that means the population has probably doubled. We find a cab and give the driver very rough directions to a meeting spot which is the Catholic church near the police station. We are dropped in the middle of no-where and await someone to pick up us. We laugh about our predicament and within 30 minutes Shine’s sister picks us up.
We spend about two hours with Shine and her family and it is time to go home. We dread the tro tro ride but know it is the only way home. We have (with the help of Shine’s sister) been able to secure two seats in the front seat. The lorry station is a wild place with at least 200 vehicles awaiting destinations and passengers. Most of the vehicles are equivalent to our junkyard material.
Our tro tro has very little dashboard and there is a loud grating metal sound when the left side of the vehicle dips into a low spot in the road. There are another 15 passengers on board but I hesitate to look behind me as I will feel bad for their lack of comfort. We are three across and they are five across.
Fortunately this is a direct bus and we do not stop to pick up or drop off. We cross over a small mountain and that is a bit scary because Ghana has no guardrails. We can see some wild fires in the distance and are unsure if they are planned burning or accidental. Maura and I are startled by a loud cackling or barking noise from behind us. At first it sounded like a dog but we soon realize it is the man behind us who has two live chickens tied up and sitting mere inches from us. We are startled and then laugh at the whole experience.
We arrive home about 7 ½ hours after we left. We are filthy and tired but the students have had a good day. They were able to have some time in the clinic and hospital and then make a donation at the Missahoe Orphanage and were able to play with the children. Everyone is kind of chilling tonight which is a good thing. A few students go out and get a meal with Lorna who is celebrating a birthday today. Some have had a traumatic day watching a difficult birth at the hospital. I was not there but I heard the details and it was quite upsetting for some of the students. Our nightly debriefing session was held without us but I heard that there was some good discussion about what they saw.
I wanted to take a few moments to give you a description about some of our environmental challenges. In Ghana we are experiencing “Harmattan” which is the season of hot and dusty blowing winds. The winds are bringing the sand down from the Sahara desert and the air is thick with the particles as well as the heat which keeps some of the air quality very poor. The multiple brush fires along with home fires add to the smoke and dense atmosphere. As we drive today we are lucky to see 1/3 a mile in front of us. Try to imagine the worse scene of California smog and multiply it times ten. We have not seen blue sky yet. The air quality is affecting some of the students who have asthma and I have found myself coughing this morning due to inhaled dust and now have laryngitis.
As the health challenges of the trip become more evident I am seeing a bit of physical deterioration in some of the students. The lack of proper diet is draining as well as the emotional and physical challenges. No one is complaining and I ask them daily about their status but from my perspective of someone who has been here before I can see the changes. They are learning to adapt.
We now consider ourselves fortunate if we get a trickle of water for a shower and don’t mind that it is cold. We look forward to our crackers and realize that the food will be challenge until we get home. We have all lost a little weight but the students are good natured about it and realize that our discomfort is only temporary and we will soon be back in our warm and safe American homes but the people of Ghana live this way every day. I find the whole experience teaches us all about our strengths and how to survive. My first year I spoke about how the experience had to break me down a bit before it built me up. I suspect that this is a process that is experienced by many if not all of us.
We are looking forward to two more days in Kpando with some busy plans for clinics at a few poor villages and one more orphanage visit. Our boxes are dwindling which is a good thing. We will travel much more lightly in a few days when we begin the last part of our journey which is more sightseeing and less work. We leave a week from tonight but there is still much to do and see.