Sunday, 2 June 2013

The Sounds of Silence

After having arrived in Ghana for the second time and while driving towards my old house there was something missing from the so familiar hustle and bustle of the dusty streets of Accra. Only after arriving at the house, and not being welcomed by the sound of the overburdened speakers of our watchman, I realised that it was the music that was missing. Not shortly after that I learned that it was because of the corn season that had started. Apparently music disturbs the growing of the corn... Oh Ghana, how I’ve missed you!

The welcome I got in the neighbourhood I had lived in was unbelievable. From the tailor I had regularly visited who jumped up when she got a glimpse of me passing by in the taxi, and started enthusiastically waving with an enormous smile, to Christine, our neighbour who pulled open the door even before the taxi had come to a full stop to give me a big hug. A stroll down the street resulted in even more excited waves, smiles and “welcome!” or “It has been too long!” from several directions. If there is one thing you can say about Ghana it is definitely that it houses some of the kindest and warmest people I know.

After spending a bit more than a day within these familiar surroundings of Accra (like I never left!), it was time to go towards the far north of Ghana, to the town of Bawku, of which I could hardly imagine what it would be like. Now, while sitting on the porch of the house of the tropical doctor I work and stay with, it is funny to realise how also this new unknown side of Ghana has already come quite familiar too. I wouldn’t be able to picture life here without the random children or goats that wander around the house and the parading roosters and hens that look for a bite to eat among the dust.

The sounds of rural Ghana are quite different again from urban Ghana. When I have breakfast on the porch the fresh morning breeze carries the sounds that are almost similar to the sounds you hear on a sunny afternoon on the beach: children’s voices, twittering of birds, distant screams of animals (donkeys, birds, and goats instead of seagulls...), an engine roaring, and other unidentifiable sounds of human activity. Combined with distant music, the call to prayer of the mosque, or sometimes singing from the nearby Presbyterian church, this is the silence of Ghana.

After breakfast I ride my bike (with basket, yes, I am very excited about that!) to the hospital, which is no more than 3 minutes. After doing the rounds at the children’s ward, I work besides the Dutch doctor at the Out Patient Department (Dutch: Polikliniek). Up till now it hasn’t been too busy, we see around 25 (which can be upto 40-50 on a busy day) children at the OPD each day, so we usually have an hour or two free time (which means looking up and studying al sorts of medical stuff for me...) before we head to the hospital again for another 2 hours of work at the ward from 6pm onwards. The work at the ward happens every day, also in weekends, since otherwise there is just no doctor that looks at the children until Monday, which quite usually results in worrying mismanagement....

It is sometimes estranging to realise how fast I also get used to the lack of treatment or diagnostic tests when treating these children. It has already happened some times that we just stopped looking, because any found disease would be to complex to treat here anyway... Nevertheless, a lot can be done. Children coming in with malaria (very, very common, almost like a normal flu in Holland) can sometimes already go home after one day of treatment, and even a severe malnourished little boy is slowly improving after this week of care in the hospital. Nonetheless things like very sick or premature new-borns or a boy diagnosed with HIV and Tuberculose make me wish that I had so much more to offer here in the hospital.

Life as a doctor here really means living your work. If you don’t do it, nobody does, so you easily come to the point that you spend as much time in the hospital as needed, not depending on the hour or the day. But, how cheesy it may sound, happy smiles of the children that are discharged healthy from the hospital make it all worth it. Although some are just happy to finally be freed from that scary belly-poking white person!

Living in Bawku at this time of year also means the start of the rainy season. When the thick grey clouds slowly role in, life here just stops. Warned by hard dusty wind that picks up a few of the many plastic bags that are scattered around and blows them away like jellyfish in the sky, everybody rushes inside to hide from the tremendous pouring-down of rain that follows.

It also means filling up my basket with gigantic mangoes and pineapple or tasty sun ripened tomatoes and fresh ginger at the once-every-three-days big farmer’s market. Or cycling towards the river that defines the border of Ghana and Burkina Faso, getting waved at and greeted along the way. (Not to mention getting a flat tire on the way and getting it fixed by a man besides the road who seemed to be the local bike repairer surrounded by many curious spectators...)

All together the first week has given me so many impressions already that every night I am extremely tired and that the next five weeks will probably just fly by. I’ll try to keep you all posted along the way...

Ps. Unfortunately not too many pictures yet... I haven’t quite started taking that many!
Pss. After re-reading some of my blogs I noticed quite some random spelling mistakes, sorry for that! I’ll try to re-read things I post from now on, haha!

The landscape of north-eastern Ghana
Happy waving children along my way to the border with Burkina
Flat tire...
Border crossing with Burkina Faso
The porch :) Big house huh? Totally did not expect this...
On the left side the hospital!

Me in action at the Children's Ward

Posing with one of the nurses :)


  1. leuk! heb je geprobeert te bellen maar niet gelukt. liefs!

  2. Ah jammer! Met de telefoon? Ik ga t nog wel een keer proberen via google video! xx