Don’t Rock the Boat

Grace and I took a little vacation down to the coast to visit another volunteer and to catch up on some much needed  R&R.  Although a little difficult to get to, it was well worth the trip.  After being so far away from water for so long, I remembered how much I actually love it. Taylor’s site is literally located right on the beach…as in, the town is made up entirely of sand and you fall asleep to the sound of the ocean.  As much as I love the Upper West, I could really get used to that.

Upon arriving, I learned that the site was previously built up by the British who settled there initially, so all of the original buildings are beautifully made stone structures. Between this and the elegantly carved fishing boats littering the shoreline, I had a hard time pulling myself away at the end of the day. I was only able to do so because I knew I had to get some rest for what was coming the next day…a trip to Nzulezu, the stilt village.

We woke early and walked two villages down to the information center. From there, the guide led us to the boat that would be taking us through the wetlands to the stilt village.  To be honest, I was a little nervous, because half of the boats were half under water and the one we were in had a plastic bucket to be used to fish out water.  There was a bit of splashing and tipping, and we did begin to take on some water, but we made it there alright.  Let me tell you, it was very strange to see a village existing entirely on the water.

There was a school and a church and spots, just like in a regular village, and the people weren’t even remotely phased by us. I imagine they see more white people than any other place in Ghana, due to tourism. Seeing the village on the water from afar was stunning, and the construction of the dock, walkway, and buildings was quite impressive.  From a health, water, and sanitation point of view, however, it was quite dismal.  The people there have no way to dispose of trash, so they simply throw it into the water.  Their only latrines drop the waste directly into the water, and there is no way to dig a borehole or a well obviously, so this water also serves for drinking and cooking purposes.  No clinic exists, so anyone who does get sick from drinking the water has to paddle 45 minutes just to get to land.  It is sad to think that, although the community gets a significant amount of money from tourism, it may not be going towards what the people there really need.

Otherwise, it couldn’t have been better. I find that I never feel more relaxed or sleep deeper than after a day at the beach, even in Ghana.

Smile for Me

I have spent the past week in Accra volunteering with an organization called Operation Smile during its mission to Ghana to fix cleft lips and palates.  Basically, exactly the sort of thing you would expect to be doing in Peace Corps.  Children and adults of all ages were bussed to Accra from the various regions of the country in the hopes of getting the reconstructive surgery. Operation Smile provides money for transportation, lodging, two meals a day, and free surgery for all of those who qualify.  Days 1 and 2 are for registration and screening, Day 3 is the creation of the OR schedule, and Days 4-8 are all surgery all day. Volunteers helped out at the shelter and at the hospital, entertaining patients, running charts, transporting people back and forth for surgery, and distributing food. It’s nice, because we truly get to know the patients and see the direct impact the surgery has on each individual.

Most of my time was dedicated to the shelter, but I did get to go to the hospital and observe a surgery! Yup, I gowned up, put on my shower cap, face mask, and booties and walked right into the OR.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were two rooms with multiple surgeries going on in each at all times. I peered over the surgeons shoulder as he mapped out where he was going to cut and got to it. With cleft lips, all of the tissue for the lip already exists; it is just in the wrong place. He cut the lip open and searched around in there until he found the tissue from both sides.  Then he pulled the pieces together and began the stitching.  This was my favorite part because right before my eyes a mangled face became a work of art.  The surgeons precisely placed the stitches, pulling each tight to create an almost seamless new lip.  Any squeamishness I thought I might experience was completely overpowered by the beauty of the process and the success of the end result.  Plus I got to see the inside of an OR before Jared… medical school, shmedical school.

111 surgeries were completed over the week, and I am sure that each of those was a life changes. All in all, a great week.  And in honor of Operation Smile: