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Ghana: A most excellent adventure

ONE blogger C.C. Chapman just came back from a trip to Ghana with ONE. This is an excerpt of of a piece from his personal blog.

My first impression of Ghana will always be “wow, it isn’t as hot as I was expecting.”

I had arrived in Accra after a ten-plus hour flight from Washington, DC. We had left in the dark of night and arrived to a gray afternoon on the other side of the world.

As we approached the airport, the lush vastness of green quickly changed to a muted multicolored rainbow of buildings packed together tighter than a deck of cards.

Walking down the stairs from the plane, my eyes scanned the horizon. I was really here. The mother continent as I have heard it called. Africa.

I was brought to Ghana with a small team from ONE to see the work they and their partners have been doing. The GAVI Alliance was rolling out two new vaccines for pneumonia and rotavirus across the country and there was a large celebration planned at the end of the week that we’d be attending. Our agenda also included visiting hospitals, a meeting at the US embassy and conversations with local business owners to give us an overall feel for the country and the variety of work that was happening.

My wanderlust is strong and I love traveling to new locations to meet the people, taste the food and capture it all with my camera. My new A7 strap would keep my equally new Canon 5D Mark III close to my side and always ready to shoot. It hadn’t been field tested yet, so I had a backup shooter in my GORUCK GR2 at all times. While I didn’t mean for this to be a trip of me testing out new gear, it ended up being that way and thankfully everything performed above and beyond my expectations.

Accra is on the southern coast of the country and is the capital of this nation of 25 million people. We’d be spending the majority of our journey in this general area. I’d like to return some day and head into northern Ghana where the houses are round and the Muslim population is much greater. I’d also like to head to the west to see the slave castles and other ports of call that run along the sea. But, there is always an ever-growing list of places I’d love to see, and for now I’d rather focus on the tale of where I’ve been.

The Accra Arts Market sounded like the perfect first adventure. I had come to the country with plans to purchase fabric and beads for my daughter. My son would be getting a mask, drum or other masculine item that caught my attention. The plan was to find my wife a necklace or something that would look great on her. I figured the sooner in the week I found my desired treasures, the sooner I wouldn’t have to worry about them and I assumed all could be found here.

A van of fresh off the airplane from America faces sure does draw a lot of instant attention at a market. The door hadn’t been open for more than a second when “John McCain” nudged me in that way that any guy trying to sell something to you will and propositioned me with, “You want hand-carved masks? I got the best shop in the market. Come, let’s go see.”

Now, in any other corner of the world I might assume I was going to be lead into an alley and never come out, but I’ve always had a good read of people and these guys were just born salesmen. They knew a mark when they saw one and they knew why we were at the market.

My advice for you when going into a market like this is be ready to use a firm “no thank you” whenever needed. Granted, in this case it had to be said more times than should be necessary.

Even after we bought a couple of things and had enough it got to the point where the pushiness crossed over to border line worry as we waited in the van for the final two to return. We were surrounded by people trying to sell us stuff. Knocking on the windows, waving and trying to get our attention. It was unlike anything I had ever seen and the whole time was a blur of adrenaline laced with confusion that I’d rather not repeat. It was far from the first impression I was hoping Ghana would make on me.

The crashing sounds of ocean waves, mixed with an ice cold pilsner glass of club beer will do wonders to make you forget all the ails you. Add in sitting around the table with my fellow travelers dining on Red Red, chicken and the most perfect fries cooked in palm oil that you’ve ever tasted, and it was a great night. Plus, this is the night I discovered the magic spicy sweet treat known as bukom kelewele that you absolutely must try if ever in this part of the world.

We were on a humanitarian mission, and we set off the next day early to learn about the 86-year-old Princess Marie Louise Hospital, which specializes in treating acute malnutrition. They have a dedicated staff and a thriving volunteer population serving the 200-plus patients they see every single day.

Seeing the starving kids on television does not prepare you for seeing it up close and personal. Standing outside the door of the in-patient room we were about to enter I took a deep breath to still myself for what may lay on the the other side of the door.

Thankfully it was not the room full of skeletal children and babies I had feared.

Yes, there were mothers, babies and young children in there, but it was manageable and everyone was very welcoming for us to intrude on their privacy. We were welcomed with open arms and that is when I met the girl that would be on my mind for the rest of the journey and perhaps my life.

Mercy had hope in her eyes. She was scared, but she knew she was going to be ok. It had been a month and a half since a hospital volunteer had found her lying on the ground next to her dead mother. For the first month at the hospital she barely made a sound and most certainly did not speak a word.

When I met her she was overly friendly with a smile that melted your heart. I felt horrible as I asked if I could take her photo. There was no way I could take a photo of her body as it was too painful and what right did I have? I tried to focus on her face. That beautiful face. But, even as I tried to take it, it hurt to do so. I shook and the best autofocus in the world wasn’t going to save that.

I held her hand. I thanked her and told her to get better. She told me she was 13, the same age as my son, and I found myself instantly full of tears. I had thought she was nine or ten at most. I couldn’t imagine my son in this much pain.

I needed to leave and as I said goodbye she tightened her grip on my hand. Her eyes pleaded not to leave, but I knew there was nothing more I could do for her.

We would leave the hospital all changed. There wasn’t a lot of discussion about it, but you could see it the other’s eyes. Nothing really prepares you for a moment like we had just shared.

Read the rest of C.C.’s blog post on his personal website.

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