It’s Sunday, and I’m in Bolga, and I seem to have malaria again. Yesterday was a hell of a day. My ‘assistant’ (found when the person Doris suggested went to Kumasi) turned out to be an illiterate mechanic’s assistant with no English, who didn’t know what an internet cafe was. I realised this when we drove straight past the first one, which had a huge sign saying ‘internet cafe’. So I paid him off and did my first interview of the day.
On our way to do the interview, in the prospective interviewee’s car, a small child ran out in front of us and he hit her. It happened in slow motion – I saw her, he didn’t, I shouted ‘stop’, he didn’t, she went down. He was only doing 10 miles an hour, but that’s enough to kill someone.
Amazingly, she wasn’t badly hurt, just bumped (what are small children made of? rubber?) so the people watching didn’t have to beat or burn my new friend alive. This is what usually happens up here when you hit someone and get out of your car to see if they are ok. People will lynch you on principle. So the general understanding in Ghana (shared by the police) is that you should hit and run, then report the accident to the police and come to the hospital later to see if the person is ok, and to pay for treatment if needed. The problem with visitors who are not Ghanaian is that when we see a toddler get hit by a car, we tend to exit the car to see if they are alive. This made the driver nervous, but in the end she seemed to be ok and we were able to take Lazaritu (her name) and her mother to the hospital.
Ghanaian hospitals are just something else. I had no illusions about them – my idea of a good hospital here is one without visible rats or sewage kicking around. But the triage people (i.e. the administrators who check if you can pay or not) sent this little girl to the back of the queue because her mother was poor and they were uninsured. If a 3-year-old hit by a car doesn’t constitute an emergency, what does? My new friend waved some money and sorted it out, and they admitted her for observation.
Somehow everyone survived the day, and when we returned later to check on her, Lazaritu was being discharged, apparently fine. My interviewee, who speaks a different language from the mother (there are 8 to choose from here in a 100km radius, and no common dialect) and could therefore not communicate with her at all, brought a friend who spoke Frafra and could talk to her. She told him that the child was ‘very stubborn’ and had run out in front of a car just the month before. I wanted to suggest tying little Lazaritu with string to her mother’s waist, but was overruled.
I continued interviewing. By 4pm I was weak, thirsty, hot and dizzy, and fell into a drainage ditch. I was just attributing this to heatstroke, when I remembered that I did this last time and turned out to have malaria. So instead of going home for Sunday and the public holiday on Monday, I went to find a clinic for a test. It was lucky I did, since they were all closed until Tuesday and kept telling me to come back then. In areas where there are not a lot of non-Africans, people tend not to know that 3 days of malaria is more than enough to kill someone who doesn’t have any immunity. You can die in 24 hours (though I seem not to get that kind – not to tempt fate).
Interestingly, none of the clinics suggested that I go to the main hospital. They seemed to consider this the same as waiting till Tuesday for their services, and they were probably right. Plus, one would undoubtedly come out of the hospital having caught something worse than whatever sent one there in the first place. Finally, at the last clinic in town, a doctor was standing behind the receptionist who sent me away. As my cab pulled away, the receptionist ran back out and said ‘doctor says you wait small, he will call lab tech.’ So they got a very nice bloke called Martin to come back from whatever he was doing on Saturday night, take some blood, and tell me that yes, I did indeed have malaria again.
They should send hypochondriacs here for aversion therapy. Being ill has absolutely no attractions. You wait forever, clinics and hospitals are full of things you wish you hadn’t seen, and the medicine is strong enough to kill a horse.
There’s also the social side – as I was sitting waiting for the doctor, trying not to throw up, a man came and shook my hand, seeming to be the doctor. We talked, and it turned out he wasn’t, he was a random hospital employee who thought he would see if I wanted to marry him and take him to England, give him my phone number and be his email buddy. This happens here, on average, five to ten times a day, so one gets used to deflecting people. But this guy was persistent and loud, and it took four explanations that I was sick, I felt bad, and I didn’t want to go out with him, until he understood. Finally he believed me. Then he was offended. I lay down at this point and pretended to be dead.
So all in all, a bit of a day. Back to zero on the accident-free-days chart. This morning the kids here in the compound have ceased to make benign muppet noises and are intead banging saucepans as loud as they can outside my window, pretending to have a funeral. This too will end…