out of africa…

…and into London. I was flown back for treatment on Thursday night, having finally accepted that the Ghanaian medical establishment just could not figure out what was going on. Vetoing Lister Hospital, the home of all chaos and confusion, I sought out the nurse at the British High Commission. She found me a doctor who was prepared to both test me for things and talk to me (something I hadn’t found so far on my travels through the Ghanaian hospital system).  900 cedis later he confirmed all the stuff we already knew: I’ve kicked the malaria, I still have a kidney infection, and there is some mystery virus that is also making me feel like crap and making it harder to get over the other things. This mystery ailment, apparently, could only be identified by tests that had to be analysed in South Africa, which would take some time. This was the point at which my resolve started to flag and I asked whether they could be done more efficiently in England. The doctor said yes, for sure. So I called the insurers and told them I’d go. Everyone seemed relieved – the consulate (who are lovely), the insurers, and the doctor. So a flight was booked for Thursday night.

However, this entailed getting my passport back from the hungry maw of the Ghana Immigration Service, where it was waiting to be stamped so I could stay for the rest of my research. Hannah, the goddess of administration, went over there to start the process. When I arrived I found her outside the gates at a scribe’s stall, because the emergency passport-return service involves getting a highly formal request letter stating that I need my papers back urgently. Then they start thinking about where they put your passport.

The image I have is that somewhere in the bowels of the Ghana immigration service is a vast subterranean chamber where a specially trained immigration officer has created a massive house of cards, formed of foreigners’ passports. He spends his days figuring out how to remove those requested and add in the newly submitted without the whole edifice collapsing. This is the only possible explanation for the amount of time, doubt and obscurity that are expended on any request.

Since the passport was evidently at the centre of this structure, and the officials seemed to be settling in for the long haul, I called the vice-consul, who had unwisely offered her cellphone number in case of crisis. She kindly pulled some strings, so that in the end it only took four hours for an official to cross the courtyard, ask his colleague for my passport, and bring it to me. Not a fun four hours, though, since the Ghana immigration service becomes ruder and more aggressive the sicker you are, as if it can sense weakness.

Finally, passport in hand, I set off to find a bag and various other necessities before flying out. This was when I discovered the secret to bargaining in Osu – something that had previously caused massive annoyance and over-spending. You just have to be in pain, feverish, and in an incredibly bad mood. I ended up marching up to vendors and offering them half the price they asked, then telling them I was getting on a plane in a couple of hours and did they want my money or not? ‘No, it’s not what it says on the label. It’s a piece of Chinese crap that will fall apart after one use. Now give it to me for 20 cedis.’ They were so shocked they just gave me things for the price I asked. Only problem is, now I have to get sick whenever I need to buy things.

Flew out on BA at midnight, a car met me at Heathrow (Sussex medical insurance just rocks), and took me to the Hospital for Tropical Diseases. On the sign-in form was a list of symptoms – I ticked all of them, then started in the ‘other’ box. Then I sat down on the floor and put my head between my knees. This was nothing out of the ordinary for me at this point, but since everyone else was there for the vaccination clinic, it did rather stand out. Unfortunately they have a protocol to guard against viral haemorragic epidemics that involves special treatment for people who come in from Africa with certain symptoms, and I wound up getting isolated for a few hours while they checked I didn’t have ebola. This did not add to the day.

They finally let me out for tests on the understanding that I would promise not to start bleeding out of my eyes, and we ascertained that there was nothing terrible going on – I have a mixture of bacterial, parasitic and viral things that are making it hard to get my immune system back on track, and the mystery virus remains a mystery virus. However, they did more tests (I have officially run out of veins – next time it’s my toes, but they said darkly that they ‘don’t do that to outpatients’), and hopefully there will be an answer soon. To add insult to injury, I now have a garden-variety cold as well.

On the bright side, London has never looked so beautiful. It’s spring, and coming in on the Hammersmith Flyover on Friday morning I was amazed by its perfection. ‘But it’s the Hammersmith Flyover,’ said my driver, perplexed. I tried to explain what central Accra looks like in the dry season, but couldn’t quite get it across.

So I’m staying in bed until everything stops hurting, the fever goes away, and I can walk around again, and watching English television. This is my plan, and I’m sticking to it. By the way, I have a new English mobile number, which replaces my old one – 07981 270715.


  1. I’m glad you are ok! Welcome back. Enjoy your bed. I can appreciate your feelings for the Hammersmith flyover. My Gramps was a Civil Engineer and designed it!! Don’t forget to not bleed out of your eyes. I’ve heard its not pleasant.

  2. I just read the blog and can feel your frustration even more. But I can read the humour in between the lines and that gives me at least one thing to smile about.
    I do hope you’re much stronger now and won’t let this give you a new impression of Ghana/Tamale.
    Cheer up Linnet

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