Wednesday, 13 June 2012

"The Guy Who Came in with a Cold"

Last Friday the inevitable happened: I was ill for the first time here.

'What heinous disease could this be?', I hear you ask. Bilharzia? Lassa fever? Multiple bites from the tsetse fly? No. I had a cold - large and incapacitating - but a cold nonetheless. As a result, Friday and Saturday were a more sedate affair. That said, I went to another wedding on Saturday morning. Another wonderfully flamboyant service that got more and more packed as the ceremony progressed - it seems that the start time of "09.30 prompt" on the invitation was interpreted by some as: "Turn up whenever -  during the vows would be ideal."

So this 'cold' pretty much went by Sunday afternoon, which is what makes what followed a little unexpected. On Monday morning I woke up at 04.00 with just about all the symptoms of any disease you can think of. I'll spare you the details. Thinking I'd play it safe, I popped to the clinic to check out what it could be. Immediately, there was a wonderful moment in the reception where I caught sight of a public health information poster and noticed that I ticked all the right boxes for someone with cholera. A less-than-comfortable wait to see the doctor - and a wonderfully-timed dash to the clinic's toilet - was followed by a blood test. This involved the nurse looking at me gravely, and saying sombrely: 'I'm sorry…' before she jabbed my thumb, multiple times and with much vigour.

Malaria tends to be the default diagnosis here - as indeed it was for me before the test came back negative. Indeed, the majority of people in the waiting room - if they haven't got a tap stuck on their big toe, or an arm recently missing - will be there because they have the symptoms of malaria. They'll be given some pills, and they'll make a fairly quick recovery. In my case, it was decided that I probably had some viral infections (nice and specific), so I've been put on plenty of tablets and should generally take it easy. Fun. So what do you do when you're off school and should spend the day in bed? Write a blog of course. So here you go.

Illness also brings up that universal linguistic problem of how to respond to someone asking: 'How are you?' It's the most natural thing to ask when meeting either friends or strangers - far more so in Africa than in Europe - and more often than not you reply, as standard: 'I'm fine, thank you.' All well and good. It's expected of you. But anything else you say is viewed as deviating from the norm and is therefore suspicious. Sometimes if you get creative with your answer, they'll ask you again. But 'Fine' is not always applicable to the situation! When I was teaching in France and I would ask pupils how they were, I'd always get that standard response. They could have been on their deathbed or hopping around with a bear-trap on their ankle, and they'd still be saying 'I'm fine, thank you'. This is the predicament I found myself in (not the bear-trap incident you understand…). Rant over.

Looking ahead to the rest of this week, I'm aware that tomorrow I'll be hitting the half-way point of my time in Ghana. In fact, my everyday routine at the school will be changing for good in just a few weeks. The school has been kind enough to let me use July as a month to travel around a bit. Having always been one to grab my trusty green backpack (okay, it's my dad's, but it's become something of a companion to me) and do some travelling, I can't wait to see some more of Ghana. My plan is to do three trips, spread out over my last month, to different parts of the country. Popping back to Kumasi at various points in between means that: a) I can go back to school for the days that I'm around; b) I can travel light; c) It also means that I should be able to give a running commentary to my faithful blog followers (I'm going out on a limb with the plural form). Otherwise there's a chance that I'd have to write a War and Peace-esque finale - and those who know me well, know my deep loathing of a 'high' word count. I could try to outline my travel plans here and now, but  - and this can be regarded as a gross generalisation or not - Africa seems to have a way with spontaneity and the unexpected. 

All will be revealed in good time…

Ghanaian Vehicle Moment of the Week: Spending 20 minutes pushing the school minibus around the playground to try and start the thing.

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