Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Safari

Books are very uncommon in Ghana. High humidity, lack of storage space, high shipping costs, and high rates of illiteracy make books impractical to own. Low numbers of African authors make books an element of Western culture that can only hope to provide limited perspectives as to African culture. Last week I received notice that a package from my cousin in Chicago had arrived. I took a 45 minute ride in a Tro Tro, the Ghanaian form of public transportation, to the post office where I waited for an hour in one of the most inefficient systems that I have ever experienced to receive a package of three books including “Modern Philosophy”, Karl Popper’s “The Logic of Scientific Discovery,” and “The History of Western Philosophy.” The titles sent excited shivers down my spine and I caught myself jumping up and down in joy of the books that would soon occupy my leisure time. After a few moments of acting like an idiot I noticed the Ghanaians staring at me wondering how I could be so excited about really big paperback books. Other visitors to the post office were opening boxes with clothing or trinkets from China that they could sell along the streets, unaware of what difficult books about philosophy meant for my academic career. It was blatantly obvious how different are our lives.

On Friday my colleagues and I boarded a five a.m. bus to Mole National Park for a 16 hour ride to see our first glimpses of the African wilderness. I enjoyed reading Karl Popper and studying Twi language for most of the trip. As I marked up my book I became intoxicated with passages such as “Language analysts believe that there are no genuine philosophical problems, or that the problems of philosophy, if any, are problems of linguistic usage, or of the meaning of words. I, however, believe that there is at least one philosophical problem in which all thinking men are interested. It is the problem of cosmology.” As I read some particularly interesting passages about naturalistic views and the dualism of macro and micro laws my eye caught the rows of huts positioned throughout the African Savannah that we were passing through. These people probably do not speak English. They likely will not live to see electricity or the internet. Their lives are protected by the science of herbal medicine and hard work marks each of their days. These people will never read of the problems of philosophy. I felt such disconnect between the Americans on the bus who have pledged their lives to the service of humanity and the humanity that we hope to serve. As I sat on my air conditioned ivory tower I knew that I will never experience the world of the hut dwellers. I will never be able to overcome my education. Maybe Karl Popper can’t tell me everything I need to know about the world.

16 hours, much of it gravel road, later we arrived at Mole National Park and had a quick meal before sliding into bed. The next morning I woke up to baboons on my front porch enjoying our trash from the night before. We went on a two hour hike through the park wherein we saw crocodiles, elephants, antelopes, warthogs, baboons, monkeys, and birds. I asked tens of questions about the conservation practices of the park and was happy to hear of the presence of poaching restrictions, programmes to monitor elephant breeding, and various safety precautions. In the afternoon we took a safari ride through the park on a 4x4. My friends and I sat atop the car and felt the African wind blow through our hair as all of park moved past us like the “It is a Small World” ride at Disney World. The sun set over the African horizon and I enjoyed the good conversation and cool breeze. My friend, “Mother” Theresa taught me to calculate minutes of daylight remaining using the width of my fingers. My pictures from the weekend embody the “Africa pictures” that I had hoped to bring home and place into a tribal-looking frame. I can’t think of a day of my life that I enjoyed more than this day hiking through the savannah. I sang the lyrics of Toto’s “Africa” in my head and allowed myself to get lost in the reality that it will take a lot to drag me away from this beautiful place.

Sunday morning we left the park quite early to begin the tedious drive back to Legon. We stopped for a morning swim at a waterfall and enjoyed climbing the rocks and basking in the cool water and warm sunlight. One of our friends, Evan, got really sick on the ride home and we stopped for him to be treated in a hospital three hours away from our home. Evan was diagnosed with malaria and spent the night in Kumasi receiving treatment. Sunday night several of us went to the American Embassy to watch the Super Bowl and to celebrate our friend Bitty’s birthday at the Marine compound. We were picked up from our residence by the Embassy armored car and entertained the driver with questions such as “How many times would I have to shoot in the same place to break through the windows?!?!?” The Marines were all very kind and it was nice to be surrounded by Americans to celebrate such a defining element of American culture. The leather furniture, paper towel dispenser in the bathroom, big screen t.v, pool, and swing set made me forget that I was anywhere outside of the States. My friends and I gorged ourselves on pita chips and fresh salsa, a luxury I haven’t seen since I left the U.S. last summer. The Super Bowl commercials were replaced with statements from high-ranking military personnel wishing all service-people abroad an enjoyable Super Bowl. As we sat around the pool talking about sports I realized how much I really want to return to America someday. There are so many little things that I have convinced myself do not matter but that I secretly miss about life in America: I miss the ability to stop by Taco Bell after a late night, I miss CNN, and I miss having a diversity of newspapers accessible to me.

On Monday I woke up with stomach pains and a headache that I chalked up to the hectic nature of the weekend. I proceeded to class despite feeling woozy and nauseous. On the way to my “Africa and the Global Systems” class I lost my equilibrium and fell to the ground a few times. In class I started to feel dizzy and had difficulty focusing my eyes on the professor. My classmates raised suspicions that I might have malaria and encouraged me to visit the hospital. As I inquired with other colleagues as to the location of the hospital, Danielle, a girl I really admire but barely know said that she would come with me. There is an amazing sense of camaraderie here- despite being merely acquaintances Danielle was willing to drop all of her evening plans to spend the evening with me in the hospital. I am consistently blown away by the generosity of my colleagues. I trudged along the sandy ground to the night market to get a banana to last me the night, barely able to drag my body. Danielle, Yem, and I got a taxi to the University hospital and I waited as they attempted to procure my records. While I sat on the bench, barely able to hold myself up, I saw a lady be wheeled out on a stretcher which proceeded to break causing her to fall to the ground. When my friends arrived we waited outside to discuss our options while a small boy wheeled what appeared to be his handicapped grandfather down the non-ADA approved ramp, losing control of the wheelchair and running into my friends. Danielle screamed a bit and the man fell out of the wheelchair and face first onto the cement. The sound of the man likely getting a concussion hasn’t left my mind. I want nothing to do with that wretched hospital. My friends took me to a private hospital twenty minutes away where after an hour of waiting I was able to be tested for malaria and a host of other potential diseases. I started to feel a bit better but even a water bottle was too heavy for me to carry. As the nurse placed a blood pressure cuff over my arm I cringed as it felt that the cuff was crushing my bones. While I was waiting my friends Tristan, Rachel, Amanda, and Heather stopped by with their own health concerns. After four hours in the hospital I departed with a malaria test that came out negative, well wishes, and an antibiotic. So many of my symptoms: the dizziness, loss of equilibrium, and double vision would not be cured by the antibiotic. I had to recognize that the Ghanaian health care system did not have the tools to address my health concerns and that I had to return home and hope that they pass. It is so demoralizing to know that if I were in Western society I could receive quick treatment and leave with the confidence that my doctors used all tools available to regain my health. I attempted to go to class the following day but my double vision returned so I went back home to rest. I don’t have the patience to be sick and my negative feelings of Africa intensify each time the health care system cannot help me. It is one thing to read of the numbers of Africans that die each year of malaria but another thing to call my parents and tell them that I will likely be diagnosed with a disease that will remain in my system for a lifetime. As I sat in my bed too sick to do much of anything I felt so mad that the world has to be this way: that health care is offered only to the elite, that Africans suffer in silence as Western society develops greater technology, and that the faces of the victims of underdevelopment are obscured by national interests. I’m angry beyond belief. Part of me wants to go back to England where I know I can get the health care that I need but another part of me recognizes how much this experience will cause me to grow. It is hearing the cries of a woman who has just fallen off a faulty stretcher that makes the need for health care reform, in America and around the world, salient in my mind.

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