Category: Nigeria, Ghana, 2015

Babies, medians and reflections

January 9-10

Pack and early breakfast at the Inn. Joe and Daniel Kwarteng come to say goodbye.

Drive with Kipharts and Olopades to the Kumasi Clinic, a maternal health care clinic that the Kipharts and, through their efforts, a foundation in Spain have supported, including construction of a new building an a modern lab. Here’s our favorite driver, Sammy.

The Kioharts contact at the Clinic was Dr. Annie Opuku, a Madagascar-born, Russian-trained doctor, with a wonderful and caring heart. They had supported Dr. Annie on an ad hoc basis, responding to her requests from time to time over many years. With the Kipharts having changed their efforts to go through the Olopades, far more rigor and accounting was required, and Dr. Annie was not able to do this. Recently, Dr. Annie has left the clinic and is working elsewhere. The whole thing is complicated by the close personal relationship between Dr. Annie and the rest of us. She attended both dinners in Kumasi, the second with her son.

Dr. Ansong, a Ghanaian doctor who is working with the Olopades on projects in Ghana set up a meeting for us with the new acting director of the Clinic. Dr. Annie inserted herself into this meeting, which made for real awkwardness. We discussed current work in the Clinic. The Olopades feel strongly that the Clinic is missing out on a great source of revenue, by failing to market it’s excellent and very price-effective lab services to the outside. We also discussed possibilities of partnering with the Clinic, through Dr. Ansong, to provide health services in some of the villages that the Kipharts are supporting. Exactly what form that partnership might take needs to be explored.

We toured around the maternity clinic, early child care area and the lab, as reflected in some of the photos below.

Clinician, Acting Director and Sola, Dr. Ansong in back, in lab

Dr. Ansong and Funmi in lab

Dr. Annie and brand new twins

We left the clinic by 10AM for the long drive back to Accra in two separate cars. We and the Kipharts are leaving five hours after the Olopades, but decided we’d head in at the same time so that we could stop at the Kofi Anan art gallery, which we have visited with the Kipharts on two other trips. The plan was for the two cars to meet as we entered Accra, transfer people and luggage between cars and then go our separate ways.

What had been a relatively dull day became a good deal more exciting when a big traffic tie-up began (slightly) to threaten the Olopades making their plane. To avoid the traffic jam, Sammy drove the car with the women over a median strip in the highway, and phoned our driver, telling him to do the same. Our driver was understandably reluctant to do so, as the median was not a small one, the curbs were high and the oncoming traffic into which he would have to turn swift. Eventually Dick and Sola coaxed him into doing it, and he was promptly pulled over to the side of the road by a police car with its lights flashing. Two incredulous and irate police officers shouted at our poor driver, but eventually allowed him to go, without ticket or bribe, probably because Dick and I were in the car.

The Olopades continued to the airport, making it in plenty of time, and we and the Kipharts enjoyed an interesting 45 minutes at the gallery, doing only very minimal damage. We were dropped at the airport and went to the restaurant, where I had an excellent cheeseburger and fries, making me feel almost home. Got through ticketing, immigration and security quickly, which is always the case when you have three and a half hours to spare. We’re currently relaxing in an airline lounge, awaiting our flight to Frankfurt.

Reflections on the trip.

At breakfast on our last day, Funmi said that her favorite part of the previous day was the chief in the last village we visited. When I asked her why, she said “because he greeted the Kipharts by saying, ‘I remember you. You came here nine years ago, and you gave us clean water.’ That’s why you do this work, ” Funmi said, passionately. “You may not remember the village (when the Kipharts saw the village name on Alex’s itinerary, they had not recalled going there), but he remembered you. You do not know who you are going to touch, but they will remember you and what you did. And when you’re bouncing up and down on that bumpy, dusty road, you may think, ‘why do I need to be doing this, when I could be so much more comfortable back in Chicago.’ But if you can touch one person every day, then you have really done something.”

These trips indeed take us out of our comfort zone. Physically, they are difficult, and they don’t get easier as the years pass. Because of poor water pressure in Kumasi, Carol and I learned a new skill–taking a bath with half a bucket of warm water.  But much more than physically, they take us out of our cultural comfort zone.

You learn how people different from you in so many ways share a common humanity. You see the strength of the human spirit, enduring–no, more than enduring, rejoicing–under conditions that would be almost unimaginable to you. When you travel the dusty, bumpy road, you are reminded that this is the road that people in the village must traverse to get to a hospital, and not in air conditioned SUVs.  You imagine what these dirt roads are like in the rainy season and wonder how children in one village can get to the nearest secondary school, five miles away.

In other words, you learn of how privileged a life you lead and of the tremendous number of things that you take almost completely for granted. Probably the most basic of these is where the Kipharts started their work–water. Providing clean water makes all the difference. And when you add hygiene and health care to clean water, you completely transform people’s lives.

You are reminded on these trips that the food you slipped a credit card out of your wallet to purchase at the grocery store was produced only with great effort under very difficult situations. And you see that people in remote areas have enormous intelligence and abilities that you come to respect and admire. You learn how much you do not know or understand and how you do not have all, and may not have any, of the answers to problems others face, that you must listen, observe and trust others to solve their own problems in their own ways.

For all of these lessons, learned or re-learned, this was a great trip. These lessons are worth trying to retain and worth learning again. And again. Because they are not at all easy lessons to retain when you slip comfortably back into the world you left behind on this trip.

We were able to see and appreciate the tremendous growth and evolution of the Kipharts’ work since we started traveling with them five years ago. Much of this growth and evolution is due to the Olopades guidance and execution. It was wonderful to witness Peter Eduful’s son, Alex, take over the work that his father started.

On a more personal level, the trip allowed us to reconnect with friends we’ve made in Ghana over five years and in Nigeria, over two. And nobody who has read this blog can fail to appreciate what a pleasure it is to travel and laugh with, and learn from, our friends Dick and Susie, and Sola and Funmi.

If asked to pick the highlights of this trip, I would choose two at opposite ends of the experiential spectrum that bracketed our time in Nigeria and Ghana, the glamour of the fabulous engagement party in Lagos on our first full day of the trip, and our visits to the wonderful, but decidedly unglamorous, rural villages near Kumasi on our last full day. And there was some pretty terrific stuff in between.

Thanks to all of you who came along and have shared your comments. Now rest up a bit. We take off for Namibia in three months.

3 comments to Babies, medians and reflections

  • susie Kiphart

    We thank you Arnie for all this documentation and reflection. It is a great help to us and really helps the purpose of all this. We are blessed to have friends like the two of you and admire you for hanging out and hanging In!!! Thanks for begin such great friends.

  • lauri pollack

    Thank you for all. Great trip right in my condo.

    safe travels home.

  • T. L. Eovaldi

    Arnie, I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed reading your beautiful accounts of the trip and the great photos. All of this so reminds me of our six months in East Africa, in 1972, living in Kampala, Uganda and visiting Kenya and Tanzania. The people of Africa are truly amazing and beautiful, and the colorful clothing manifests a spirit of joy. Thanks so much for sharing.

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