Note: This is the second in a series about Ted’s experiences in Ghana volunteering for the Stop the Transmission of Polio (STOP) project during February, March, and April 2010.
VOLTA, April 20, 2010 — During my time here in Ghana, I’ve met some wonderful public health people who are earnestly trying to make a difference. Outside of Accra, the things we take for granted are often missing. In many clinics, there is no electricity, running water, or physicians. The clinics are run by a nurse or midwife, and they generally live on site and are available 24/7 for all the community’s medical needs. They have a large book of protocols, and when people come in, they make a diagnosis, refer to their protocols, and then administer treatment. They are very friendly and dedicated staff and work under what most of us would describe as unacceptable circumstances.
I’ve been impressed by the generosity of the people here. One day, we were way out in the field, and we had a flat tire (few of the rural roads are paved, and, given the rutted condition of most of them, I’m somewhat surprised that we had only one flat). There were four of us in the car: myself, my driver, a local health official, and a clinic administrator whom we were giving a ride. The temperature was in the mid-90s, and the men refused to allow me to assist (no surprise). They got everything done rather quickly, and we continued on to the next clinic. Once I was done, we knew that we would have to get a new tire before going on as driving in the rural areas without a spare was an invitation to disaster. With this in mind, we headed off toward the local village.
The field cars are SUVs, which take a large tire. There are no tire stores here. What you will find are shacks by the road side with stacks of used tires. We went to several towns and couldn’t find any tires our size. But one merchant recalled that he had put four new tires on the same type SUV about 6 months ago. He said the owner had kept the four old tires in case he ever needed a spare. The tire guy helped us locate the SUV, which was parked in town (“Hey, where’s the guy who drives this?). We quickly located the owner and told him our tale. A few moments later, he was bouncing a used tire at us. We offered to pay, but he refused.
It was still blistering hot when we drove back to the tire merchant in town, and he worked up quite a sweat helping us put the spare onto our SUV. I thought this would cost at least 20 cedi (about $14), and that it was well worth it. As he was finishing I was reaching into my wallet when my driver asked, “How much?” The tire guy said, “2 cedi.” I was flabbergasted. He had worked hard and gone out of his way to help us. I offered him more, and he said no. He hadn’t sold us a tire, he had just mounted one, and the cost was only 2 cedi. This wasn’t out of the norm. The folks selling tourist kitsch always start way too high and expect you to bargain, but for services and commodities with fixed prices, things are quite affordable and fair. Sometimes I’ll hear the term, “It’s the African Way,” and it is generally spoken with some sense of derision. I would like to think that what we encountered was more of the African Way. We received a great deal of assistance at every step of our flat tire journey, and the last two clearly went out of their way to help us, and nobody ever expected payment or tried to profit. I also got to talk to a bunch of school kids who meandered by to see what the white man was doing in their town (I get called “white man” and “Obruni” many times a day by children). Aside from the fact that we were a bit stranded, it was almost fun.
Stay tuned for my final posting (Part 3), where I’ll tell you what the days and nights have been like for me during my 12 weeks as a STOP volunteer in Ghana.