Wednesday, March 31, 2010

After being in the same place for a long time (or a few years, which is a long time for me) the newness and freshness wears off (obviously). The novelty of each experience fades away because they’re not all “novel” anymore. The experience (challenge?) becomes (for me) finding the appreciation in the familiar, rather than the thrill and excitement of the new (which is easy to feel - - and easy to find if I don’t stay in one place for more than a few years).

I’ve now been living in Ghana for more than 8 1/2 years. It's not that long, but it's long enough for the experience of life here to shift for me.

Part of my wanting to return to Ghana a couple years ago when I’d finished on the refugee camp was to appreciate the “life” in markets again, to take time to just reflect on being here, to do what I want to be doing with my life, to be blessed to live in a time and place where I have the freedom to choose to live my life in a way that’s not necessarily expected but that gives me a feeling of fulfilment and love of life, and to have family and friends who support my choices in life, even when they don’t always understand or agree with them. (Yikes, I’m possibly beginning to sound like a Hallmark card, time to move onto the point . . .).

I wanted to come back to complete that shift of experience from the excitement of the new and exotic to the appreciation and the excitement of the familiar. Somewhere on the camp I got stuck. I no longer appreciated the life in a market – I asked friends to pick up whatever fresh fruit and veggies were available for me. I didn’t take time for the experience of life.

And now I'm trying to allow the shift of experience to go on for me. It’s nice to be in situations with people who know my weaknesses and can still respect my strengths. It’s a different level to go with a kid with a twisted foot to the orthopedist I’ve known for 14 years than it was 14 years ago when I was going to the “stranger” orthopedist for the 1st time.

It’s a new challenge to collaborate with the audiologist I’ve known for 6 years as we follow up and follow through on individual children and their families as well as programs to work with groups of parents and children, their teachers and the community overall in the awareness and inclusion of people with hearing problems into the communities.

It’s a wonderful, new experience to find Jethro - someone I've known and been involved with for 6 years (some of you may remember his story from several years ago) still here. He wanted to go to University for IT. He was impressive (and still is), and a friend of mine was able to make it possible for him to face the challenge of working towards his goal. Now, a few years later, I’m back on the coast and Jethro has completed school - and we still have a connection.

Hope for Life (the project I’m again involved with) has been talking of doing a database since before I left it 12 years ago. I was ready to try doing a basic “database” with Excel – files, spreadsheets, blah blah blah. Jethro came along and offered to do a database for us – voluntarily, to demonstrate what he’s learned and to show appreciation. What he’s doing now - - - amazing.

From time to time he sleeps at Bethany House, and for the past month and a half + he’s been sleeping at the house almost nightly. His 1 year old was admitted to Korle Bu, the teaching hospital in Accra. He had some abscesses on his neck, then head, then shoulder . . , he had high fevers and the clinic close to the camp referred him to Korle Bu. Jethro comes late in the night and leaves for the hospital early in the morning. Sometimes he arrives after I’ve gone to bed. I wake up, go to the garden, and when I come back in I find him sweeping the floors before we share coffee and breakfast and he heads back to spell his wife at the hospital. He and his family have become a part of “the family” here at Bethany House.

Akolo J is another person I’ve known for a long time – 14 years. When he was in his late teens, a tree fell on him, causing paresis from his waist down. He uses crutches, but his legs are like rubber. 14 years ago he was training as a tailor, then in “designing” (embroidery machine use). After I left in 1998, he also did tie/dye and batik trainings. He lived in a communal kind of street setting, then eventually got his room. But his area to be found is, and ever since I’ve known him, has always been Circle (hard to get a good link to show the fullness of Circle - the craziness, the hecticness, the traffic, the sensory-overwhelmingness of it all). Over the years, when I’ve come back to Accra, that’s always where I find him. These days he has a room somewhere and a small “kiosk” in his place at Circle. And he does basic watch and watch band repairs. And now he also has a wife.

For awhile he sold a few food basics in his kiosk – until one day when his sister came, took the money, and that was the end of that business.

About 2 years ago, he started experiencing more waist and back pain. About a year and a half ago, the doctors recommended surgery – putting screws into the lumbar region of his spine. Otherwise, eventually he will be more and more immobile.

He has the National Health Insurance, but that will only cover some (hopefully most) of the basic costs accrued in the hospital. But the screws cost $1200. The insurance doesn’t cover that. He’s had to put off the surgery while he tries different means of gathering the needed money. (Susu is one of the main methods.)

So, for the past several months, Akolo J, the watch repair guy at Circle, has been living in his kiosk. It’s too difficult to go home. His wife comes to him from time to time. He goes around the corner every few days to take a shower (since he’s not moving much he doesn’t feel the need to bathe more often).

He first scheduled his surgery for a year ago, but had to cancel when he didn’t have the money. Now, he’s saved $700, and has rescheduled the surgery. He believes he will have the balance, by the time the surgery will take place in early April. He hopes for more than the balance so he can rebuild his business after the time off for the surgery, and so he can meet his other needs during his time off for the surgery.

I’ve only been able to get to Circle every 3 weeks or so. And as happens, I’ve had a couple “open” donations come so he has enough for the screws, and therefore the hospital will admit him and do the surgery. Discharge and paying additional costs that the insurance doesn’t cover and rebuilding his life afterwards is another story, though.

And he moves ahead, makes his decisions and takes things one step at a time, trusting that it will be fine. That same story I’ve talked about – Faith.


There will always be new experiences day to day if I’m open to them. I don’t even need to look. But now, I can have the new experience of familiarity, knowing people, established relationships, shared respect and trust that comes with the experience of each other over time (and this “new experience” of the familiar takes place with the familiar experience of unexpected situations day to day).

I have the resources (knowledge from personal experiences of similar situations) combined with friends and colleagues who’ve known me and who I’ve known for many years to better respond to the new experiences. I'm looking forward to the future.


At 7:16 PM, Blogger MJ said...

Great post Steve, and so interesting to read about some of the people that I not only read about before but also heard about. It's so nice to see that things are going so well for Jethro.


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