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bienvenue en guinea!

23 Jul

It’s a whole different world here…  We are realizing how spoiled we were at the BMC guest house in Nalerigu with our cooks, easy coffee, microwave, 24-hour electricity, hot water, and wireless internet, even if it was sporadic.  While we are enjoying the relative down-time and quiet, we are definitely missing the “luxuries” of Ghana.  We were talking with a man named Mathias yesterday who is from Liberia and has been living in Guineafor 8 years.  He lived in Ivory Coast for a short time prior to coming to Guinea and has been to Ghana twice in his lifetime for conferences.  He said that he likes Guinea better than Ivory Coast because the people here are more hospitable to foreigners, but that Ghana, well Ghana is “excellent.”  While we are enjoying our time in Guinea, we would have to agree.

Upon our arrival, we were met by 4 people who greeted us and welcomed us to Guinea.  They took us to the OCPH (Catholic Organization for Human Promotion) guest house and helped us settle into our rooms.  We were thankful that Surata (Ishmael’s wife) was with us, as she thought of many things we would need overnight – toilet paper, water, towels, and cleansing cloths that she had her driver bring us after they went home.  Our first night was tough – the generator turns off at midnight and so that means the fan does too.  It was pretty close to stifling in our rooms, so we all slept poorly.  In the morning, we had planned to make our oatmeal, but then found out there was no stove here – only an open fire pit.  So we had peanut butter sandwiches instead.

We then went with several pastors (Elijah, Marcel, Desire) to visit Pastor Elijah’s school called Emmaus.  We were impressed by their organization and the success the school has had with their students.  Their exam pass rates are higher than any other school in Guinea and there is a waiting list of students who want to enroll – they are hoping to expand soon.  The tuition is $70-100 per year, depending on grade level.  The Guinean education system is set up differently than in the U.S.  The students start in nursery school and then progress to primary school which lasts through 6th grade.  They then have to pass a national exam to move on to “college” which is equivalent to 7th through 10th grade.  The students then take another national exam, and those who pass move on to secondary school, or 11th-12th grade.  During this time, they pick a track to purse – math, science, or arts.  If they pass the national exam after secondary school, they can then apply for the university.  On average, about 50-75% of Emmaus students pass the exams at each stage.  We met several of the professors and the accountant of the school, and then took a brief tour of the building.  Everyone was very pleasant and they answered all of questions with fervor.  We were excited to see what good work they are doing through the school – all the teachers are Christian and they say morning prayers before class daily and teach theology to the students who are predominantly Muslim.

The pastors then took us to visit Pastor Sanyo, who leads Bethel Church where we have had clinics on previous trips.  He was surprised to see us (not sure that anyone told him we were coming by) and unfortunately has been sick and in the hospital for 3 days recently.  However, despite his fatigue, he was more than hospitable and greeted all of us warmly.

We then visited a clinic associated with one of the local churches.  It was very well organized, though had very limited resources due to lack of funding.  They had a small laboratory with an incubator, centrifuge and microscopes.  There were several consultation rooms with exam rooms connected.  A dental room had a single exam chair in it, and they said they rarely have the supplies to do much dental work on the patients as it is very expensive.  They are able to deliver babies for mothers with less than 3 risk factors (short stature – less than 150 cm, age less than 16, age over 35, previous C-section, etc) and has supplies for neonatal resuscitation (aka a bag-mask), which we were happy to see.  A unique aspect and our favorite part was that they had an observation room where they can give boluses or short infusions and observe patients for up to 24 hours before sending them to the hospital if needed.  There were so many times at the BMC that we wished we had something like this connected to the clinic there as many patients only needed a bolus or a transfusion.  It’s fun to get see a need in one place and then see a solution somewhere else – we’re taking notes for our own adventures in the future.

We then took a nap while the boys went to exchange money into Guinea francs and get minutes to add to our phone (which by the way was the best purchase we have made on this trip, as it has allowed us to have flexibility since we can always reach our contacts here or each other).  Surata then came to get us and took us to an internet café so we could let everyone know we made it safely – it will be difficult to post any pictures for sure, but we should be able to post a couple of blogs while we’re here (we think, seeing that the electricity went out in the internet café in the midst of checking emails…).  She then took us to their home and prepared dinner for us.  We sat on the back porch and watched her make our meal from all fresh ingredients – onions, garlic, parsley, peppers, tomatoes, and freshly slaughtered and plucked chicken – over a charcoal flame.  It was a treat, and she taught us some of her tricks.  She can tell when the fried potatoes are done by the sound the grease makes, which she apparently has to do at times when they have no light (crazy!).

We were all very hungry by the time dinner was prepared (around 9 p.m.) because none of us had really eaten lunch, but it was worth the wait.  The chicken was boiled with spices, then grilled over charcoal with extra sauce and seasonings – to die for!  We also had fried potatoes and plantains, and rice with peanut sauce.  It was by far the best meal we have had in the last month, maybe since we all went to Capital Grill.  And she is planning on cooking for us most nights we are here, a treat we are all looking forward to.  We also enjoyed spending time with Surata – she is so fun and because she has spent time in theU.S., she is so easy to relate to.  Her 7 kids are adorable, and they loved the toys we brought them – the boys immediately started kicking the soccer ball around the Adam and Aaron while we were waiting on dinner to be ready.  We also gave Surata chocolates, since we decided that’s what we would want if we were here.  It rained while we were at Ishmael’s house, which helped cool our rooms down, so we all slept better last night.

This morning, we were true Africans – we cooked oatmeal over that open fire pit using a pot Surata loaned us.  It tasted so good to have a normal breakfast!

The boys left after eating to have a meeting with administration from the Prison Fellowship to discuss plans for future endeavors.  We are waiting on Surata to pick us up.  She is taking us to look at another guest house in the area (one with 24 hour generator power and a stove apparently) – if it’s nice, we will likely move there for the next 3 nights.  We are then going to the market for avocados (apparently they ARE in season now, at least inGuinea) and salt to make avocado sandwiches for lunches, sandals, and maybe more fabric if we find something fabulous.  The rest of the day is pretty open, which sounds great to us – time to relax and sit around while the boys stick to their “program” (aka their plan for the day).

We will continue to write blogs while we’re here and hope to post them as often as possible to keep everyone in the loop.

travelling in africa

20 Jul

We woke up around 2:30 a.m. this morning to get ready to leave Nalerigu.  It was hard to wake up, but of course we all planned to go immediately back to sleep in the van on the drive to the Tamale airport.  We packed up the rest of our things, got dressed, and waited for our ride.  He pulled up in a Nissan pick-up truck – about the size of the truck in the picture below:

Our hearts sank as we realized we would definitely not be sleeping since we would be crammed into the small backseat.  We loaded into the truck and started driving.  It became quickly apparent that our driver would not be using the A/C, and in fact, had what felt like the heater on low.  We were all getting warmer… and warmer… and then noticed that he reached down to adjust the temperature setting on the truck.  Sweet relief.  Or so we thought.  Within about 5-10 minutes, it was at least 15 degrees warmer and we were all sweating and sticking to the pleather seats.  Below is a sampling of the thoughts going through our heads on the drive…

Rachel:

“I’m going to suffocate.  I’m going to suffocate. I’m suffocating.”

“Why won’t Adam turn the A/C on?  We can’t breathe in here!”

“Where are we… HELL?!” (shout out to Chuck Jamison!)

“Lord, get us out of here, please.” (an actual prayer)

Adam:

“What is that smell? Is it somewhere between a fart and pleather?”

“I can’t breathe.”

“I think my left leg is falling asleep.”

“Where is Issahaku?  I don’t even like this guy.”

Courtney:

“Why in the world do cars have to have a hump in the middle seat?”

“Aaahh.  So comfortable (leaning her head back on the seat, waking up every 5 minutes when we hit a pothole).”

Aaron:

“Where’s the van?!”

“God, get us off the dirt road as quickly as possible.” (another actual prayer)

I realized I had a problem when I felt sweat dripping down my back at 3 a.m. in a truck with “air-conditioning” turned on.

My knees are literally bruised from banging into the seat in front of me with each bump.

“All I can smell is body odor and pleather… AIR! (after rolling down the window)”

If we hadn’t experienced Africa to the fullest before today, we definitely have after the truck ride.  We were dropped off at the Tamale airport and then waited for the plane to arrive.  We flew back to Accra which is about a 1.5 hour flight without problems and Solomon picked us up and took us to the guest house.  We were so happy to be done with travelling for a day.

We sat around for a short time, and then walked to the supermarket down the street from the guest house to pick up some refills on food items – namely oatmeal and peanut butter – to take to Guinea.  We are so excited to eat in Paris that we don’t want to chance getting “Guineabelly” (a well known phenomenon that occurs after eating food in Conakry for any period of time and consists of cramping and frequent runs to the restroom).  We also needed to get something to eat for lunch today and tomorrow.  Luckily, the supermarket nearby is one that imports many foods from Europe and theU.S.  We were able to find Jif peanut butter, Quaker oatmeal, and Reese’s pieces candy.  We also got deli meat and cheese, tomatoes and fresh bread to make sandwiches for lunch!  We picked up some pineapple and mango from some ladies across the street before heading home to eat.  The turkey sandwiches were amazing and the mango was sweet.  We went to sleep for a long nap with full and happy bellies.

We will eat dinner at the guest house tonight – pot roast and veggies.  We then hope to rest and watch movies and just relax.  We are looking forward to some down time over the next week before it’s time to get back to the grind at Children’s.  Our flight to Guinea doesn’t leave until 3 p.m. tomorrow, so we will get a chance to sleep in and pick up some more food items (the bread was so tasty that we think we might need some more).  We will continue to try to post in Guinea, but our access to internet will be limited – we will likely have to post several blogs at once.

– Rachel (with quotes from others)

akwaaba (welcome)

1 Jul

We left the guest house in Accra this morning at 4am for the airport with our driver, Solomon (so incredibly nice and helpful!).  We arrived when it was still dark and a friendly Ghanian helped us with our bags, then managed to squeeze a $20 tip out of Adam, which was absolutely hilarious as he sorted through the bills in Adam’s hands and picked out what he wanted.  The plane was full and hot, but the ride was smooth.  The view of northern Ghana from the plane was amazing – you could see the savannah landscape with scattered crops of huts with thatch roofs.

After landing, we gathered up our luggage and met Issahaku, our driver, who brought us the rest of the way up to the BMC.  The drive took about 2.5 hours, mostly over asphalt roads with about 1/3 on bumpy dirt road.  It was a lovely drive with tons of green trees, rolling hills and plenty of smiling and waving kids along the way.  Most of the people here live in thatched huts built in groups with a central clearing for cooking.  It’s amazing how difficult daily life is here – washing clothes in the river, cooking over an open fire, building homes from mud and trees, working in the field to feed your family.  And yet, life moves very slowly at the same time.  The poverty level is clear here, but the community is friendly and hospitable.

After arriving at the BMC, we met several guests and full time workers who gave us a tour and had lunch with us (traditional Ghanian food with chicken and potatoes in a spicy sauce).  During our tour of the peds ward, the nurse asked us to see the 3 new admissions for the day.  We realized our need to read up on malaria (and other tropical diseases) as we knew nothing about how to manage the new patients, and had to ask a lot of questions.

In the midst of feeling very inadequate, however, we went to watch a c-section, and had the opportunity to use our skills as pediatricians, stepping in to help resuscitate the newborn baby (in other words, we gave her a little help to breathe, with a bag/mask and some positive pressure).  God definitely blessed us with this experience to remind us that we’re here for reason and have a lot to contribute, even if we are incredibly inexperienced with the diseases we’ll see.  By the end of the day, we realized that we do know general pediatrics, which they need just as much as quinine and fansidar for malaria treatment… we just have some reading to do.

The boys had the opportunity to play soccer with the kids around the BMC (a few missionary kids + many Ghanian kids) in the afternoon.  Unfortunately, the World Cup repeated itself, and the Americans lost to the Ghanians.  But all was well, as the boys thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity, and the kids were thrilled.

Tomorrow will be the first day of true rounding on patients… pray for us!

– Rachel & Courtney

arrived in ghana!

30 Jun

after three flights, including one eleven-hour red-eye, we have arrived in the capital of ghana!

we are amazed at God’s provision… just a few days before leaving, we reached our support goal for the trip! and now, traveling with 250 pounds of medical supplies, we made it through customs without a hitch. we can’t wait to see what God has in store for us.

we board a plane heading north tomorrow at six a.m., then hop on a bus to arrive at the bmc (baptist medical center) by the afternoon!

we love you all, and are so thankful for you!

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