Saturday, June 30, 2012

Lakeside Paradise, Epidemy, Hospital (Week 4)

You find your way to Tech junction or Anloga junction. There, you ask your way into a tro-tro headed for Atonsu, from where you may or may not stay in the same car to get to Kuntanase. From here, a six cedi taxi ride (divided among six passengers: four in the back and two in the front) will take you there.

Lake Bosomtwe is a crater lake created by a meteor quite some time ago. It is an almost perfectly round, 49 km², pool of muddy water situated about 30 km or one hour southeast of Kumasi. In short, it is a naturally beautiful and different place in the region. The lake is surrounded by steep, 600 m high, forested walls in every direction and when I first visited the place, there was a cloud cover that even accentuated the weird light in the place. All this gives it a very isolated atmosphere, which probably explains why the Ashanti consider the place, not surprisingly, sacred. According to Wikipedia, from where all accurate information presented here is acquired (Yes I’m feeling lazy and know I’m being very lame), there are 70 000 people living in 30 villages around the lake. This seems a very high estimate since the shores, when inspected from one point, seem like one dense tropical forest dotted by buildings every here and there.

On a spot on the western shore of the lake, a cluster of activities targeted for tourism has emerged. You can find accommodation of different levels, bars, restaurants, an information centre etc… When arriving to the lake you will be asked to register (write your name in the guestbook) and pay a voluntary (compulsory) nominal fee (One or two cedis) to support activities for conserving the unique surrounding. What raised most excitement in our fellowship was, however, the existence of one Hotel Paradise (What a name, huh?) that serves also European style meals. This being our first chance in three weeks to be touristic and avoid local flavors, we took it regardless of the high price.

The lake is supposed to be free of danger, which makes a swim in it an appealing way of refreshing yourself. A bit disappointingly, however, the lake is very warm regardless of its respectable maximum depth of over 80 meters. What I find most interesting would be to visit to the surrounding villages instead of the tourism center. They seem very isolated and surely exhibit a relatively traditional way of life, including fishing activities which are limited by a range of superstitions.

I’m sure to return there and write more on the place, but in short Lake Bosomtwe (Or is it Lake Bosumtwi?) is the first place here that you really don’t want to not visit when travelling in the Ashanti region.

I’ve also come by another peculiar place. If you get out of a tro-tro at the Amakom roundabout and walk north, you will find a curious cluster of funeral industries and businesses. Here, the sidewalks are on a stretch of hundreds of meters covered with coffins, one more prestigious than the other, almost as inviting you to test-drive them. Amidst them, there is the normal cocktail of fruit and vegetable vendors, small pubs (called spots) and other small enterprises. I don’t think there is a better (or crueler?) way of showcasing the fact that death is a part of everyday life.

Robert, our new project manager, is proving to be quite the engine for the project. The other day, he decided that the fee we were about to pay for using the auditorium at KTI (200 cedis, equivalent to about 87 €) was way too much. So, he brought me, Alima and Daniel along with him as he marched to the principal of KTI for a bargaining session. Luckily, Mr. Apree appeared pretty stressed and was running from one emergency meeting to another and in about 90 seconds caved in not only to give us a considerable discount but provide the venue for free! In Europe, I don’t think a man in his position would even have agreed to see us… Next on his agenda is getting the KNUST Press to print out certificates for everyone attending the seminar. For free, of course. Also, he wants to use his contacts to get us on air on the local radio. In addition to speed, he’s brought to the project a fair amount of dynamism, drive and enthusiasm. Through a great part of this, his been suffering from ”light” malaria. Naturally.

Robert’s case of malaria provided an amusing (If anything involving malaria can be amusing) look on differences in Saturday-night culture. Last Saturday night, we had a house party. After the party Robert was too tired to go home. This is understandable, since tro-tros aren’t really reliable in night time and everyone is advised to avoid moving alone late in the night. So he slept in our big hall of a living room. Now, in summer-time Europe (certainly Finland), this would involve getting bit by a lot of mosquitoes and probably having a hangover in the morning. Here, it involves getting bit by a lot of mosquitoes and most certainly having malaria by morning. There’s some motivation to find your way home every night.

This post is getting a bit melancholic… There seems to be a quite rough epidemic going on in The House. It involves diarrhea, noxiousness, fever and so on. For some reason I got off by throwing up instead of sleeping for one night, but quite a lot of the non-Africans here have had to visit the hospital. None of them has been right away diagnosed with malaria, and even though it is here quite expensive, the Local Committee has taken steps to disinfect The House of any transmittable germs.

Because Belinda was one of the people in need of a brief trip to the hospital, also I got to know to the Ghanaian hospital life. The Ejisu Government Hospital was, from a western point of view, an experience. The interior is not as well lit as you might expect and the combination of light bulbs and fans in the ceiling result in a scary blinking of everything and gives the place an atmosphere representing that of horror movies or video games from the 90’s. When entering the hospital, everything seems a bit closed. There’s a small opening in the wall through which you get to register yourself. The next checkpoint is a table in the opposite end of the hall, surrounded by three or four nurses that always measure your temperature, weight and blood pressure. The laboratory is another booth in the same hall. The doctor will talk to you by a table set in another hall, next to the dormitories. In short the place is, as Jasmine put it, “kind of sketchy.”

On the other hand, the staff of the hospital is quite friendly, as almost anyone in Kumasi (Save for speaking an incomprehensible language and either laughing or shaking their head when taking the tests or getting your results). In a way not representing other places here, they are also sufficiently efficient and possess a routine that enables them to take care of their task so that the visit doesn’t take any longer than in Finland. After an initial shock, you will notice that people are even here, where I suppose you would see more suffering due to malaria and HIV/AIDS than in any hospital in Europe, quite cheerful!

Some additional notions about basic services in Ghana follow. First of all, there are hospitals, as well as schools, everywhere. Having a very young population, the widespread existence of these institutions would according to most development theories promise a bright future for Ghana. An educated and healthy population is after all, the basis for almost any general progress in a society. This also hints that all government or aid spending is not lost due to corruption and that the government in general has an interest in developing the people after all. Also, medicines are in Ghana outrageously cheap. Belinda was provided with a set of three or four different drugs filling a small plastic bag, and the total price was 7 cedis, which translates to about three Euros. These facts of course have to be seen in the local context. For instance, in addition to drugs being cheap the general level of income isn’t that high either. When it comes to the high supply of schools, one has to keep in mind that a considerable share of them does not offer free education.

Friday morning, I had one more entertaining discussion. My laptop is giving me a hard time. Most of time, instead of starting properly, it turns into a fire alarm. Every now and then, as when trying to demonstrate the problem to anyone who knows anything about computers, it works properly. So I decided to have an efficient Friday to earn my weekend and started it by getting up really early and going to campus to find a computer shop to repair the laptop. I found two, neither of which were of course open. So I found my way to a small booth displaying eggs and decided to have the sweet lady inside make me a nice omelet sandwich for a real mans breakfast. While I was waiting for the sandwich, the lady got into a clear dispute with a well dressed man on the same errand as me. Having good manners, the man soon explained the issue to me in a shared language:

“Let’s say you pass here every day, and every morning you great a man who’s keeping a shop. But he never greets you back. What do you do? Do you stop greeting him or do you keep greeting him?”

Not the most important issue in one’s life, but apparently it was connected to a wider debate about Christian behavior (In this case never lowering yourself to the opponents level.), religion and without doubt state of the society. After answering that I would stop greeting the rude man, the lady got quite upset and maintained that I am “not a mature Christian” and need to grow up. I tried to explain that in my culture we avoid greeting anyone anywhere, in vain I understood quickly. The encounter taught me once again that no matter how upset or mad the Ghanaians seem, they most probably are not. When paying for my breakfast (not more than 40 cents), the lady showed off her Christianity. When trying to pay in coins (a price half of that in Tech, as I also told her), she insisted on giving exchange for a five-cedi note she saw in my hand, telling me that: “If you give this to someone else, they might tell you that they do not have change and cheat you!”

Ten days, ten regions, two neighboring countries. That’s pretty much our itinerary for the All-Ghana tour we will start on Monday at the break of dawn. According to Stephen, the trip will be long, tiring and adventurous (He later told me that he didn’t want to use the word “dangerous”). A hell of a ride, in other words. Most probably, this means that my posts during the next couple of weeks will be short and sporadic, if any. I’m sure there will be al lot to write about after our safe return to Kumasi…


  1. Matias,hienoa, että olet noin optimistinen, vaikka sairastuitte. Oletteko jo täysin toipuneet vai vieläkin olette kipeitä? Meitä AIESEC HY:ssä kiinnostaa huomattavasti, jos olette vähäänkin kipeitä.

  2. Veikka:

    Isossa kuvassa ollaan suht toipuneita, mutta ei taalla juusi kukaan vatsavaivoilta valty... Ei ihan muutamassa viikossa taida bakteerikanta tottua.