Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sudden Return: The Sandwich of Doom

The last week has been the most difficult and terrifying week of my life. Right now, I'm sitting on my bed in my parents house, relishing my footsie pajamas and battling a seriously enraged stomach infection. Read on, if you dare...

About Thursday of last week, the 21st, I made an amazing discovery! There were not just two other volunteers living next door, not three, not four, but SEVEN other girls right under my nose! Needless to say I was delighted to have some folks who were sharing in my experience to relax with in the evening and learn about the country from an outsider's perspective. I befriended most of them very quickly, and they invited me to journey to Cape Coast with them that weekend. I readily accepted, and Saturday morning we set off with their program coordinator, Richard.

After 3 hours of sitting in a packed tro-tro (a 12 passenger van used as public transportation all over Ghana), we arrived at our hotel. My roommate was Charlin, a young Canadian girl who hated Ghana and was generally unhappy. We found a resort right on the beach, and made that out nesting spot for eating and relaxing. Charlin found some random guy to take her around town, so as I was getting ready for bed alone, I heard yelping from across the hall. Two girls, Mary and Mckenzie, were standing huddled on the bed. apparently, their room was infested. A spider had just crawled across Mckenzie's leg, and as I turned to note what they were staring at, I saw the HUGEST cockroach I have EVER seen. It was serioulsy the size of my Dad's thumb. We strategized on how to kill it, ending up with Mary chucking a shoe at the wall and me standing ready crouched to the floor with flip flops on my hands. Mary missed, the bug went flying and we screamed so loud the desk clerk caming dashing to our rescue, Raid in hand. Then, we saw another cockroach. we turned, and there was another. And another. and ANOTHER. They were everywhere, just crawling around in bright light on the walls. Needless to say, he moved them to a different room. I wasn't too keen on sleeping across the hall from the apocalypse insect form, so I shacked up with them for the night. We didn't sleep much, imaginations full of insects and malaria pills don't make for sound sleep.

The next day was marvelous. We lounged on the beach, played in the ocean with local children, and ate from our beloved "safe" restaurant. Then, I ate it. It sound so delicious, so tempting. Salami and Gouda Cheese on a fresh baguette--what could go wrong? Ooooh was I ever wrong. Just thinking about it now makes my stomach turn. I innocently ate pure doom for lunch, then we caught another tro back to the orphanage. Other than a minor sunburn or two, everything seemed great.

At 1.30 in the morning, all illusions of deliciousness the sandwich had so cunningly conjured were gone. I was sweaty, hot, headachey, and throwing up like there's no tomorrow. After calling my parents for advice, I woke up Cynthia and she gave me some medicine. I spent the morning throwing up all my medicine and water, slept a little, discovered a 100 degree fever, then requested to be taken to a doctor.

Cynthia took me to Kasoa Central Clinic, the local medical facility. I almost cried when we entered, the front room was full of people waiting to see the doctor or a nurse, approximately 50 bodies stuffed in a little room on benches. I sat down. Then, of course, the electiricity went down, ceasing the one fan in the room. Obviously, it sucked. A lot. People were staring, and the little boy next to me was terrified of me; apparently I looked like death itself to him. THe head nurse came up to me and asked me what was wrong, I told I was very sick. She touched my forehead and then moved me up near the front of the line. Finally I was in to see the doctor. He asked me a bunch of questions, then sent me to the maternity room to receive an IV drip for rehydration. The nurse stuck the IV in an seemingly random vein in the middle of my forearm. Another nurse came and for no reason felt the need to adjust my IV, thus dislodging it unknowingly from the vein. After 10 minutes of pain, I looked down and realized my arm was swelling up like a water balloon. Ms. fidget came, took it out, and proceeded to shove the giant needle into a small vein and the BACK OF MY HAND. If you don't know this, that is the LAST resort used because it is incredibly painful and difficult. After watching her miss the vein 4 times, i suggested she place the IV in the huge vein found in the crook of everyone's elbow. This only took her a couple tries, and I bemoaned my fate of wasting away in a clinic where I have to instruct my nurse in IV placement. The took lab samples, then let me rest on the bed receiving drips of fluid and antibiotics. The gave me 4 different medications, said my results would be ready by Friday (4 days later, mind you) and not to worry, I either had malaria or food poisoning.

That evening at the orphanage, they made for me "light soup", the Ghanaian version of chicken soup. Or so I thought. I took off the cover and was staring at a bright orange, spicy concoction replete with chunks of dried fish. I ate some, I threw up. Twice. I took medicine. I threw up. I sipped rehydration salts. I threw up. Then, sleep came.

The next morning, the same. still sweaty, still hot, still vomiting, still "running" (Ghanaian lingo for diarrhea). I called my parents, and my dad called Pius my CATO coordinator and instructed him to take me to a real hospital. As I was waiting for him, I contemplated whether or not I was going to die, and how one person could produce so much odd liquid off of nothing. To try to explain my misery, imagine the worst flu you have ever had. Then raise the room temperature to 95 degrees. Add no running water, pit toilets, and sprinkle a few lizards on the wall. There you have it. Oh, and don't forget the possibility of you having a mortal illness. Ooh, and throw in everyone around just telling you you're "tired" and that it's "just the climate".

I arrived at Nyaho Medical Center a disaster. My fever had finally abated, but the stomach problems were still there. It was the same procedure, doctor, lab, IV, prognosis malaria or bad food. However, they had my lab completed in a few hours, the nurse was properly trained, and they had air conditioning. It appeared that I had an ambiguous stomach infection, and after purchasing some antibiotics I was on my miserable way with Pius. Instead of taking me straightaway to the hotel, I instead had to go to another clinic and wait for his girlfriend to finish her appointment. This took 2 hours. I was none too pleased. Finally, at 11.30 PM on Tuesday, I reached the hotel. Wednesday morning came. More barf, more running, more dehydration. By this time I had eaten nothing in two days, and was barely able to keep down water and my medicine. After much deliberation, my parents and I decided that it would be best if I came home. I was too weak to withstand the climate, terrified/unable to eat anything, and was seriously ill and alone.

I had reached the end of my strength, and while it hurts my pride a little to admit it, I just could not bear to keep persevering my situation. I realized the only thing keeping me from coming home was fear of what people would think; that I wasn't strong enough, I give up easy, was a quitter, pathetic, a waste of their resources, etc etc. However, I've always made it a principle of mine to never let anything in my life be ruled by petty fears, and the fear of getting even more sick was real and looming. So, I'm sorry if anyone thinks I should have stuck it out, but well, quite frankly they can just know. Anyway.

Wednesday I went to the orphanage, collected my things and said my goodbyes. Just on a logistical note, I paid up front for my stay, so all the money I raised is still with them and is being used solely for the orphanage's expenses. This makes me happy, that at least I could leave them with the cash! I was very sad to go, however I feel I accomplished much and know now exactly how to help from abroad; what their pressing needs are.

Thursday I waited, my flight didn't leave until midnight. This day I was finally able to keep down some bread and fruit. I spent the whole day just waiting. I probably played about 500 rounds of Solitaire. I talked to myself. I sang to myself. I did word searches. I reflected. And I did NOT throw up. Praise God. That evening I began the long journey home, and Friday night arrived in San Francisco welcomed by the loving arms of my family and Micah after making a stop in the bathroom to puke. I have never been so glad to see them, I cannot tell you how hard it was to be so ill so far from home and with everyone caring for you just telling you it was the weather making you sick, not some evil bacteria.

Though the trip played out completely different than I envisioned, I am at peace about it. I accomplished most of my prerogatives; helping the children, learning firsthand what it was like, challenging my limits, and forming a long-lasting relationship with people who need help. I am equipped with knowldge and contacts so that my humanitiarian urges can have true purpose and direction. I am determined to one day adopt internationally, ideally from Royal Seed Orphanage. I've learned what it takes to make me break. I have a million stories, a few pictures, and a true appreciation for our country and its culture.

I will continue to dedicate myself to assist Royal Seed in their efforts to save children and grow them up into functioning, content adults. I have a thousand ideas, the first being a spring-time rummage sale benefitting the orphanage. Stay tuned for more on that. Also, I want to find proper textbooks and teacher resources for the school, they are sorely lacking in that area. I want to arrange for older students to come study here. I want to adopt a baby one day.

So, what now? Well, first off, I will recuperate. Then find a job. This will be tricky as I have a job settled to start in June. If anyone has/knows about temporary work I could do, please let me know at the contact information below.

Next, I want to organize efforts to aid the orphanage from afar as I begin my adult life afresh.

I will continue to use this blog as a resource for Royal Seed to describe their needs in detail as I learn of them, and also to promote things I will be doing to help them in the U.S.

Thanks to everyone for all the love. My life has changed, so many things have I learned, both about the world and about my own personal life. 2010 is starting out with a bang, and I know it will only go up from here. Stay tuned for how you can help me and the workers at Royal Seed give the children a second shot at life. Oh, and pictures will be up shortly on Facebook.

Susan Marie
707 290 7663

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Week One: Reality Check time!

Whew! I have been here one week and one day, and already I am exhausted! I had a rather tumultuous start to my trip, but every day things are getting better and better.

To start, when I landed in Ghana after traveling for 20ish hours, there was no one from my organization at the airport to pick me up. I was in Accra, alone, with a ton of luggage and looking very vulnberable indeed. I got approached by several different men all trying to scam me into one thing or another, to pay them for calling the hotel, moving my bags, trying to get me to take a taxi. I felt so ridiculous, like I had a giant sign on my forehead:


Needless to say, it was quite scary. However, and Australian girl and her Ghanaian boyfriend eventually came to my rescue after watching me flounder around the airport lobby, totally overwhelmed. The assisted me into a taxi, who took me to the hotel I was instructed to go to if no one showed up. The desk clerk helped me call my program coordinators, and I got a hold of them. It ended up just being a mix-up, they somehow got the impression that I had changed my arrival date to match with Micah's, which is in February. Woops.

The next morning, Mr. Pius from CATO arrived and picked me up. He helped my buy water and a phone, and took me out to the orphanage. Ah, the orphanage. Here is where it gets interesting. It is a good orphanage, however I learned later that the founder and head of the orphanage did not know I was coming that day, and was not there to meet me. I was taken to my room which is right smack in the middle of the grounds, next to the office. I was under the impression that I would be living off-site, however that is not the case. It is nice in a way, because I am around and can easily help, however it also is not so good given that I am always around 128 yelling children. That day I rested, and then the night came.....

It was dark. It was hot. And there were animals EVERYWHERE. Rats clattering and fighting on the tin roof all night long. A mouse nesting in the foam mattress under me. A GIANT cockroach who managed to get into my mosquito net and scuttle across my pillow. And the kids were up until 1.00 AM yelling and playing. Needless to say, I did not sleep. Instead I had a total breakdown and called Mican bawling my eyes out saying Forget it, I'm coming home. Keep in mind that I had slept maybe 3 or 4 hours in the last 48 hours.

The next morning, things were a little better. I realized that the reason I completely fell to pieces was partly due to lack of sleep, and partly due to some faulty preconceptions I had subconscioulsy concocted about this journey.

When Jim (my brother) and I were little, one of our favorite games was "Poor Kids", where whenever it rained, we would go into the backyard in our bare feet with and umbrella as our house and plot our survival tactics, which were basically sneaking into the house 'stealing' food. It was really fun. However, I think somehow I got this idea that I would go and "play poor" for three months, and that it also would be really fun. Ahem. Wrong. Very wrong. It's not a game. And it's not fun at all. It's dirty, and chaotic, and exhausting. Just washing dishes takes no less then 30-40 minutes of hauling water,pouring, scrubbing, and rinsing in the hot hot hot sun.

However, now I am doing much better. I figured out how to arrange my mosquito net so bugs won't get in, and when I met Naomi, the founder and "mother" of the orphanage, she made me feel so welcome and immediately cleaned and arranged my room; instantly I did not feel so alone and overwhelmed.

The third day, I began teaching. It went something like this:
Cynthia (orphanage staff): "Ok, let's go the classroom, and you can watch the teacher to learn how we teach here and look at the lesson plans"
Me: "Alright, great!"
*walk over the sections of concrete separated by bamboo lashed together and roofed by a tin slabs*
Cynthia: "Here is the class, we are giving them to you. Oh, the teacher is not here. She was not here yesterday."
Me: "Um, ok."
Cynthia: "This is your class now, teach them something."
EXIT Cynthia.
Me: " Hello, my name is Madame Susan, I am your new teacher." (inside thoughts are frantically racing) "Give me your book."

I took one of their English workbooks, and upon glancing through it saw that almost everything was wrong, and furthermore their former teacher had marked the wrongness correct. Ai! So I spent the day correcting it on the chalkboard and having them explain to me how their day goes.
After pestering various people, I finally got a lesson book and a scheme of learning and am able to write lesson plans.

In essence, teaching is incredibly difficult for a number of reasons. First, I requested 6 and 7 year olds. My class ranges from 8-12 years of age, very hard ages to teach. Also, there is a shortage of everyhting because the kids lose the few materials that they have. Furthermore, the textbooks themselves are full of errors and typos, explaining why many children are very far behind. The kids are on all different levels, some can't even really read, write, or speak English, and some are reading and understanding very well.

On Sunday I ventured out into the town, Kasua, where the orphanage is. I attempted to find an internet cafe and use it. To make a long story short, I finally found it on my second trip into the town with other volunteers from Germany after a failed first trip based off vague directions. It was closed. In between the trips, I made a friend though, a young man named Abubake Sadique. Say that four times fast:) He is 27 and owns the gas station across the street from the orphanage. In Ghana, people will just sit and chat with strangers for tens of minutes to an hour. This is what we did, and now we are friends. I went and visited him and his gas station last evening, it is so nice to have someone to talk to outside the orphanage. He's very relaxed and intelligent, so he makes a great person to converse with.

Overall, this first week has been full of enlightenment, tears, loneliness, new friends, adorable children, an inspiring woman (Naomi), and just learning how to get along; something that is much harder than I anticipated. I am very eager for Micah to come, he will be visiting for 4 weeks in February. We are planning to travel for 1 week while here is here, and it will be very nice to have a vacation. I am working very hard, I wake up at 6.00 every day and am exhausted by 9.00 PM.

It will be a long three months, but I believe the endurance I will gain, the things I will learn, the people I will meet, and the strength I will have to find will all be worth it.

Thanks everyone for your support, I am doing my best to make every penny and every prayer count!