we call that murphey's law
“How was the boat trip? I’m so going to try to do that next year,” Ana says to Andy, Cam and me as we are sitting around the TSO, more specifically, on solid ground. The boys look at me and smirk. Where do we even begin?
Well, here’s a start, the trip in numbers: 1 boat, 5 out-of-their-mind Peace Corps volunteers (Adam, Cait, Andrew, Cameron and yours truly), 1 hunk of a translator, 1 sarcastic nurse, 1 gawd-awful driver, 1 poor navigator that got roped into this trip, 10 days, 9 communities, 1,000 people, 300 tested, 15 tested positive for HIV, 80 packets of ramen, 2 tents, 1 hammock, 4 storms, 1 fishbone lodged between 2 rivets in my throat, 1 panic attack ensued, 30 and some odd late night scary stories, 1,001 maggots, 1,002 obnoxious inside jokes, 1 dam that created the biggest man-made lake in the world, over a forest, 1 tree that ripped a gash through the side of our boat in the middle of Lake Volta, 1 foot of water in the boat, 2 buckets that bailed us out as we sped to shore, give or take 100 “Wait, did that really just happen?”
The trip started off rocky. We were packed and ready to go four weeks before we were actually able to launch because the tarp needed repairs (which could only be repaired on the other side of Volta, which could only be picked up by a certain person, whose car broke down. As did the second car). After a few migraines and frustrations, we were on our way into the depths of the Volta Lake. Many communities had only heard rumors of white people. Most had only vaguely heard of the disease. For those we tested, between 5% and 7% were HIV positive, which is staggering considering that USAID statistics indicate that Ghana has a 1.7% HIV rate.
We couldn’t have asked for more hospitable and open-minded communities. They fed us and let us camp out on their football fields. They let us bathe on their shores. They thanked us profusely for coming across the Volta to educate them. While Murphey’s law was at its best, the actual HIV/AIDS programs could not have gone better. We all concur, after volunteering in Ghana for a year, these past two weeks we have really felt the impact of our work. (The mathematical equation for that is Haagen Dazs rockyroad ice cream + gooey out-of-the-oven brownies with walnuts x 3)
Ghana bureaucracy was at its finest, as it is for any program a PC volunteer may want to implement. We had one community with two chiefs, meaning of course the two hated each other. After half a day of fighting over which community would get the program, they agreed to both come (as we were ready to pack up and head out). So we literally had one community sitting on one side and one on the other, no one daring to sit on the benches in the middle.
After showering in the rain one night, we all sat down to eat a meal a local woman had prepared for us (we provided fish that boys had fished for us in the previous village, rice and ramen. Its amazing what a Ghanaian woman can come up with with those ingredients). I swallowed gulps of fish, rice and stew without so much as chewing, until a bone pierced the bottom of my throat. I excused myself without a word and tried to dig in out with my fingers. I came back, turned to papa Cam and said,There is a fishbone lodged in my throat. What-do-I-do? He asked if I could breathe and I knew that the only thing preventing me from breathing was the panic I was experiencing. I turned to Mac, our translator. Is this normal? He says it’s very normal, that the locals just use small sticks to dig it out. He hands me toothpick Are you serious! What am I supposed to do with this? “Pick it out of your teeth.” It’s in my throat Mac, not my teeth!
I go back outside, try to breath, and then again try to dig it out of my throat while vomiting. I come back and everyone is calmly eating their dinner. I ask Cait to see if she can at least see the bone. I look up and open wide, causing the bone to go deeper into my throat, also causing me to throw up again. I assess the situation. It is too deep to get out my self and we are on an island 4 hours from the closest town, which is 8 hours form Accra. It is almost 9pm. “Try swallowing food,” Mac suggests. I swallow golf ball size wads of rice that just pushed the bone deeper and deeper into my throat. Finally I call the medical officer in Accra.
Hi Albert, this is Maria. Maria Karlya. Yea, I’m on an island and there is a fishbone stuck in my throat. Yes, I tried swallowing food, it’s not working. For about 20 minutes. No, its not a scratch, the bone is making me gag. Ok. Ok. Alright, I’ll call in the morning.
So Albert just said I need to get to Accra to take x-rays and then they will surgically remove it.
I would have cried but I was afraid it would make me throw-up again. Mac comes over to me, massages the bottom of my neck and the bones releases its clutch on my throat and slides into my stomach. Oh. My. God. You just saved my life. For the next hour all I could do was say, That was really scary guys!
At village 8, the community prayed for safe travels before we loaded and was off to the next. Halfway there, our driver ran into a tree underwater trying to avoid another. Bags fell off benches and Adam was nearly knocked to the floor. Umm, there’s a lot of water coming in, I say to no one in particular. Within seconds, our boat is filling with water and we are frantically pulling all our items on benches and bailing out buckets of lime green water. Once we make it to shore, a 5 foot gash across the bottom of the boat reveals itself. So we boiled peanuts for a while and then took off our clothes and went swimming. We made it back to Dumbai at 9pm that night on a wooden canoe, watching a lightning storm follow us. Which finally hit when we reached, as we were carrying 10 days of camping supplies and program materials the 10-minute uphill walk to Caits home. “Wait, did that really just happen?” Needless to say, the trip also ended rocky.
We were able reach one last community on our list, we made a day trip from Dumbai. Our trip finished with a bang, it was the largest group we had and the highest number of people that got tested. We made it to 9 of 10 villages, all because 1 day got rained out.
Oh Ghana, you so crazy.