Location: Ogden, Utah, United States

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Our first days in Ghana

Ghana Trip Journal
May 27, 2006 to June 19, 2006

Saturday, May 27th

We are finally on our way! After planning for over a year for this trip, the day has finally come. This morning went pretty well. I had wanted to be packed by Thursday, but I was up until about 1:30am Saturday morning, packing and getting last minute things taken care of. Janelle Gardiner and Felice Ruiz are staying at the house to take care of James (great dane) while we are gone. We left the house at about 9:30am to head to the airport. When we got there, Kallie Sekulich had forgotten her Yellow Fever vaccination form and was waiting for someone to bring it to her. Lou Pritt had forgotten her malaria medications and had to go back home to get them. We forgot our video camera charger and kindly asked our neighbor, Ann Gessel, to go to our home, get the charger and run it to us at the airport.

Other than these few hiccups, things have run smoothly.

Sunday, May 28th

Our flights were not too bad and the layovers not too long. We flew from Salt lake City to Los Angeles, CA, then from Los Angeles to London, England. It was good travel during the night so we were more rested upon our arrival. We, then flew from London to Accra. It was unfortunate that we landed at night because we were not able to see what the area look liked. We had to wait until morning. When we landed in Accra, there were friends of Albert Ncancer to meet us and take us to the guesthouse where we would be staying for the next 5-6 days. They loaded the bus for us and off we went. The guesthouse is very nice by the standards that surround us. Three of the rooms have air conditioning. Casey and I and the boys have the two rooms without it. Although it is uncomfortable because of the heat and humidity, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We got settled in and tried to get some rest.

Monday, May 29th

Today started very early for me. I woke up to what sounded like women screaming. Being somewhat still asleep, my imagination ran a little wild. I could tell it was coming from the far corner of our building where some of the girls were sleeping. As I laid there and concentrated on the noise, it finally was clear that it was not women screaming, but roosters. I got up to check the time because it was still dark. It was only 4:00am. I had only been asleep for about 2 hours at this time and knew that I would need more rest for our big day ahead. I walked around the room a few times, looked out the windows and tried to settle down from my adrenalin rush. It is still hot and muggy, making it even more difficult to sleep. I turned on my iPod and found music that finally put me back to sleep. At about 6:00 I woke again, but this time for good. I got Casey and the boys up and we were finally able to look around the place we were staying. Green lush rolling hills in the distance with houses mingled among the palm trees, a red dirt road out front, a wall that surrounded the building equipped with barbed razor wire and spikes on the top of the wall. The scenery is very lush and green.

From the balcony, we watched several schoolchildren pass by in their school uniforms. You could see women out in their yards doing laundry and sweeping. There was a slight breeze and you could hear birds singing. What a great morning. I can’t imagine that I could have painted a better picture of what to expect. We were really in Africa!

After showering in a cold shower (my choice because of the heat outside), we got ready and had breakfast. The people here made us omelets and toast with jelly (that tasted like Koolaid). Following breakfast we headed for the American Embassy to register with them. Everything here is sooooo far away. It takes 30 min to an hour to get anywhere, mostly because of the poor road conditions and the heavy traffic. There are very few street signs and streetlights, especially away from the city center.

Once we arrived at the Embassy, we parked and walked toward it. Just before approaching the building, our guide spoke with someone that said that the Embassy was closed for a holiday. Can you believe we forgot it was Memorial Day!? And of course, the American Embassy, even as far away as Ghana, observes it. We will have to come back tomorrow. After this, we stopped at a market place to exchange money for Cedi. The rate at this time is 9200 to $1.00, nearly 10,000 to one. We changed $50.00 today and received nearly $500,000.00 Cedi. The largest bill was 10,000.00. After exchanging our money, we walked around the market briefly. It was an open-air market with amazing tapestries and woodcarvings. Albert instructed us not to buy anything yet. We should only spend today looking. This way we could decide what we wanted and purchase it later. It was hard not to want to buy things, but it was a good idea to wait.

During our walk around the market it was obvious that Eric, our ‘body guard’, was very cautious about where he let us go. We didn’t stay in one place too long and on more than one occasion, he whisked us away. One time he got into quite an arguing match with the people at the market. I am not sure what the problem was, but tempers were definitely elevated. Another time, we were invited to watch some men perform on their drums. Albert and Eric told us we were going with a group of men who would perform. As we got closer to a building, Albert turned us around and instructed us to go back to the bus. The men had wanted us to go into a building to watch them play the drums and Albert felt that they would have other men board our bus and take our things while we were being entertained.

Although I feel very safe with Albert and Eric (and our bus driver, George), I am sure that I would not feel comfortable without them. Albert explained that there are good and bad people all over the world, and Ghana is no exception. We needed to exercise caution, just as we would an unfamiliar place in the States. I am glad they are with us!

Following leaving the market, we traveled for quite some time to a restaurant called Papae. We had Grilled Chicken, Grilled Fish, Fried Chicken and Fish and Chips. The food was great and very filling. I know we have been cautious about what we eat. None of us wants to get sick.

By this time, we are all pretty tired and jet lag is catching up with many of us. It was very hot and extremely humid and has been all day. I would imagine it was in the high 90’s and very humid. We were sticky and sweaty the moment we left the air conditioned bus.

We decided to visit the LDS Temple on our way back to our to our place. It was beautiful! We met the Temple President and had our pictures taken with him. He was very kind and interested in our trip to Ghana. Our time on the temple grounds was a breath of fresh air, away from the craziness of the rest of the city. While we were there, we met up with a few nurses from BYU that were JoAnn (Abglenn’s) group. She is a teacher at BYU that I wrote to via e-mail before our trip. She is here with several of her students teaching NRP to the medical staff of Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. The students talked about how much they had learned from the nurses here. They have little equipment to assess babies so they must rely on their assessment skills to know how the babies are doing. In the states, we are spoiled with monitors and equipment to do the same job.

After we got back to our housing, we decided to take a walk up the street to see if we could meet some of the local children. We didn’t get further than next door and we saw some children near the road. We waved and they timidly waved back. After some giggling and smiling, I asked if we could take their picture. Their mother’s weren’t far away and came out to see what was going on. They were so nice and welcomed us to Ghana. It was obvious that they lived within very meager means. We took pictures with the children and their mothers. One woman came out and sent her twin boys over to us for a picture as well. She was very late term in her pregnancy. We asked about when she was due and she stated she had about 3 weeks left. She already has 1 boy 7 and the twins 3. She said she was praying for a girl. We are used to being able to find out the sex of the fetus, but I am sure this isn’t available as much in Ghana. I think tomorrow we will take her a blanket for her ‘soon to be’ newborn. We also had a bunch of candy to give out. We asked permission of the mothers and they consented. They also wanted some for themselves. You could tell it was quite a treat for everyone.

I worked with Albert this evening, trying to find out more about the container of goods that we shipped. We are anxious to know it’s whereabouts and when it can be delivered to Kumasi. It would be great to know that it would be waiting for us there when we arrive this weekend. I am not sure if that will happen.

Tonight we had spaghetti for dinner. It was so good. They don’t cook dinner for us here at the guesthouse. It is brought in from elsewhere. I am amazed at how good the food is.

Tonight little Casey and Devon slept in one room and Casey and I had the room next door. Last night each of us slept with one of the boys. I was a little nervous to leave them in a room alone for the night, but we were able to lock their door from the outside. It is so hot and sticky! Even with all of the windows open, the breeze in the evening and the ceiling fan on high, it is most likely in the mid 80’s and very humid. We sleep with very little clothing and only a sheet. Even that much feels like too much to be comfortable.

Tuesday, May 30th

We were up again early this morning. Our plan is to head to “Top Radio 103.1” for an interview. I slept pretty well, considering the heat. Mornings are pretty comfortable before the sun comes up. But once the sun is up, the heat quickly rises. I rinsed off in the cold shower, which felt great, but my we have blown our power converter so I am not able to use my blow dryer. Also, the curling iron doesn’t heat up hotter that what I can hold in my hand. I am glad I brought a couple of things to pull my hair up. I think I need to embrace having bad hair days… every day. It is times like these that I would love to have natural curl in my hair.

We didn’t have time for breakfast because it hadn’t been delivered before it was time to go to the radio station. Casey and Devon were up early and ready to go. I think they are having quite an experience. They have been journaling each night. It took nearly 1 ½ hrs to get to the radio station in town because of heavy traffic. The roads here are quite rustic and only one lane for each direction. Only once you get to downtown, is there some sort of highway that has multiple lanes. There is little as far as traffic rules as far as I can see. It reminds me of driving in China, except with fewer street signs. It is amazing to me that there aren’t more auto-pedestrian accidents. They use their horns to communicate on the road, unlike in the states where we use our horns most often out of frustration with other drivers. Our bus driver (George) is always tapping his horn to alert pedestrians and other cars of his whereabouts. It is pretty amazing.

We arrived at the radio station and prepared for our interview, live. Talk about nervous. I wasn’t sure what type of questions we would have from the interviewer. I wasn’t sure how to respond. I wanted to share our mission of coming, but to do it in a way that didn’t make us sound as if we felt we were riding in on white horses to save the people of Ghana. Even during our first day, we realized that even though we came to teach, we were being taught more than we ever imagined. We could take in 5 people for the interview (Laura Gatten, Rosey Ashton, Kallie Sekulich and Melanie Barber) and Casey came in to video tape our experience. The fellow that interviewed us was great. Once we got talking, he made us feel more at ease. I was so proud of my students’ responses to questions. They were very diplomatic and professional. We were able to share our love of the country we were guests in, the beauty of the people and their warm hearts, the kindness we have received thus far, and our message of wanting to provide medical education and services. We spoke of the container of donated items that were generously given for this cause. We also discussed that many trips of this nature are funded by organizations, but that our trip was self-support. Each of my students paid their own way or obtained assistance through friends and family. We also got to talk about Weber State University. Listeners called in with questions regarding the size of the university, the cost of admission, who is welcome to attend and the requirements to apply for admission.

Overall, I felt the interview went very well. I believe we will have a chance to visit the radio station again and be interviewed further. What a great opportunity. Following many pictures with the staff of the radio station, we went to a place called Paloma for a late breakfast. Eric (our guide and ‘body guard’, as he calls himself) ordered FuFu for us to try. It is made with plantains and yams, mashed into a sort of paste. It is very thick and doughy. This is served in some sort of a soup broth that is similar to Mexican red chili, but thinner. This broth also contained goat meat. They bring you a large bowl of water to wash your hand in. After washing, you stick your fingers in the soup and grab some of the FuFu. You scoop it up in your fingers, slop it around in the soup and slurp it off your fingers. Then you rinse your hand and begin again with the next bite. It was so good. Most of the people in our group gave it a try. The soup was pretty spicy and I loved it. I will most definitely have this again at a restaurant.

After our meal, we went again to the American Embassy. We got there after 12:00 and found out that they are only open from 8:00 to 12:00pm. Once again, we were not able to register with them. We will try again tomorrow morning.

We traveled to Korle Bu Teaching Hospital to meet Dr. Christabel (Laera), a pediatric doctor that I had previously e-mailed regarding our visit. When we arrived at the hospital, Eric and I entered to locate Dr. Christabel. Upon walking into the hospital, I was immediately taken back to my visits to Chinese hospitals. Although it was a 1500 bed hospital (huge by our standards), the conditions were less than optimal. They obviously had rudimentary means to treat and care for patients and the cleanliness of the hospital was nothing near what we are used to in the states.

Eric and I were directed to Dr. Christabel’s office where I entered and introduced myself. This was somewhat of an unannounced visit and I wondered how I would be received. Dr. Christabel was excited to see me since we had e-mailed over several months, but I could tell she was somewhat hesitant in allowing a tour of their NICU. As we spoke I mentioned to her that we had brought ventilator circuits in our suitcases for her and that once we received the container that we would have many more items to donate to her hospital. I believe this changed her mind about allowing us to tour the unit. She excused herself, saying that she was going to contact administration for permission to give us a brief tour. Upon her return, we went to the bus to get the rest of the group and the ventilator circuits.

Dr. Christabel took us to their NICU, which was currently closed because of a Cleb Siella outbreak. They had previously been give about 20 isolettes and infant ventilators. But because of the outbreak, they had to close the unit for decontamination. It was hard to see all of the beautiful equipment sitting empty, knowing that the babies that desperately needed it were being held in another are of the building. We were able to ask questions about their care of infants, etc. She mentioned that they have about 30 deliveries/day. Nearly 58% of the infants born are pre-term, requiring additional support of some sort. Dr. Christabel attributed this to the lack of prenatal care the mothers seek. Although they have so many preterm infants, they are more ‘hearty’ as she put it. They may have infants that are born before 30 weeks gestation that don’t require mechanical ventilation. Surfactant is not used here because of the high cost of purchasing it. They do, however, give steroids to the mothers before delivering the infants to help with their lung development.

After we toured the empty NICU, I asked if it was possible for us to see the temporary location of these neonates. She agreed to take us there. We walked into a large room with curtained off areas on both sides. We were able to look past the curtains to view the babies in their beds, but were not able to get too close to the babies. This was because we had not gone through the proper washing, etc. I was glad to see that there were boundaries for keeping infection and cross contamination limited.

As I watched my students and my children look around themselves, I could see that this experience was making an impact on them. Their questions were respectful and professional. Realizing that these nurses had a load of 8 babies to one nurse and knowing that they had little as far as assessment tools other than their own abilities, I could tell they were moved by what they saw. The nursing staff was very kind to us and shared with us their enthusiasm and dedication to their work. Compared to the workload of health professionals in the states, these women work far harder with far less to perform their duties as nurses. They have my respect and admiration.

When we gave the Dr. Christabel the ventilator circuits, she told us that they had run out of them, preventing them from ventilating infants that would have otherwise require it. She said that it was very difficult to have the necessary equipment to offer the support these babies needed, but knowing that she was not able to use it because of the contamination. When asked how they handle this dilemma, she said that it was a question she didn’t want to answer. I could tell by her tone that this meant that they do everything they can for these babies but some may not survive because of their inability to mechanically ventilate them. I can’t imagine having the skills and tools to perform lifesaving treatments, but not being able to use that equipment due to the situation.

Dr. Christabel invited us back toward the end of our trip to spend some time with the nurses. This would allow us to observe their assessment skills and learn from them as care givers. I believe when we return to Accra before going home, we will spend more time here with these wonderful people. Hopefully, we will have received the container and will be able to bring more supplies.

After returning to the bus, Melanie Barber video taped each student about their experience. As I sat and listened to them, I could hear in their voices that they had had a life changing experience, just in the short time we spent within the walls of that hospital. Their appreciation of what we take for granted in the states and their admiration of the health care professionals here was overwhelming. We have only been here for 2 days and already I feel as though I have accomplished one of my goals of the trip. As a teacher, I wanted to offer experiences that would make my students better health care providers and respiratory therapists. I have no doubt that they will forever be changed because of that experience. Knowing that we still have 3 weeks to go and many more hospitals and clinics to visit (most of which will be even more meager than what we have seen today), I am sure the impact will only grow.

When we left the hospital, we traveled quite a ways out into more a more rural area to find a beach to visit. It was an appropriate way to end our day. After visiting the hospital, it gave us time to reflect on what we had experienced. We drove many miles, then, took a dirt road for man more to reach the beach. It was beautiful. We walked on the beach (kind of a private cove where there were no other people), climbed on the rocks, played in the water, which was very warm and took lots of pictures. What a great day. I thing it was very successful.

We returned to the guesthouse and had another wonderful dinner. I kept hearing comments of “how am I going to journal all of this?”, “It seems like we have seen so much in two days”, “this trip is the best trip ever!”. I think we are all experiencing so much more than we ever expected. Many of the students are keeping very detailed journals of their experiences. I am sure we could publish a book with all that we will document during our visit to this beautiful country. I can only imagine what tomorrow has to offer.

Many of us sat up and prepared the books I bought as gifts for people who are instrumental in our trip. They are books about Utah, mostly beautiful pictures of the landscape that we love so much. I took a group picture of us a few days before we left the states and made copies to place in each book. Then I had each member of our group sign the book with a message of thanks. I hope the people we give these to will enjoy them.

We had quite a rainstorm this evening. After dinner, the thunder and lightening hit, the wind kicked up and the rain came. It was a downpour. The dirt road out in front of the guesthouse had rivers of water running down it. The rain lasted for about 2 hours or so, then cleared up. It was nice to cool things off a bit, but once it stops, the mosquitoes come out. I was sure to spray the boys, Casey and myself with mosquito spray before going to bed. If we can all avoid malaria on this trip, it will be a blessing. We heard that one of the BYU nursing students had contracted it and was sick for a while.

It is time for bed and our day has been full. Kallie said to me this evening when we were talking about our day… “Doesn’t our visit to the radio station seem like it was two weeks ago?”, even though it was just this morning. I think we are all in sensory overload. By the end of the day, we are exhausted mentally and emotionally from all that we see and physically from the heat, humidity and our activities. I think I will sleep better tonight.


Blogger Jen said...

Lisa and family,
I am so glad you have made it safely and found it to exceed your expectations. I am entranced reading your journal. Your description of all that you have seen and experienced is so vivid that I feel like I am there with you. Update often, I am anxious with anticipation.

love jen

1:32 PM  
Blogger Cindy Esterholdt said...

Oh, Lisa!!!!! How wonderful. You and your family really will be changed forever. I can not wait to read your next installment. Glad you are all safe and well.

Cindy Esterholdt

11:40 AM  
Blogger Allen said...

Lisa, et al.

HOLY COW!!!! I am so impressed with your experiencees thus far. Body guards, floods, poverty, threats to life, strange diseases???? WOW. You will never forget this experience.

So, the shipping container is LOST????? Where is it? Have you found it yet? What will you do if it never arrives????

What a great idea to talk about WSU. Will definitely be greatly appreciated. It would be marvelous to have students from Ghana, tell them about our nursing programs, and that there are lots of men in them, and would love to have both men and women.

Im anxious to see your next posting. Have fun, and enjoy the journey.


3:36 PM  
Blogger stacy said...

Lisa, Casey, Boys, and Group, I enjoyed reading about your ex-periences in Ghana. There are people who think about doing and there are people who get it done.. You are all doers! Lisa I'm sure your Dad is so proud! Hope you have a fun, safe trip!

1:30 PM  
Blogger stacy said...

Lisa, Casey, Boys, and Group-
I loved reading about your experiences in Ghana so far. There are people who think about doing, and people who get it done.. you are all doers! Lisa, I'm sure your Dad is so proud! I hope you all have a fun safe trip!

1:33 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Happy to hear that all is going well, keep up the good work there... we'll have a pile of it to do when you get home (kiddin')! Paul

1:34 PM  
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