Another plane ride. Another long exhausting trip. So wonderful to step down from the plane to see the small familiar airport flanked by trees heavy with their yellow and red flowers, to see the miles and miles of green. So good to receive the welcoming hug of my friend Ruth who came to meet me. So good to be home again.
The Malawi I visited remained unchanged from the Malawi I remembered apart from one important detail. Thanks in great part to Dr Meguid and Rachel Macleod, Bottom Hospital is now the mere corpse of its former self. The new Bwaila sits 100 meters away on a grassy plot next to the new Bwaila HIV clinic. The maternity is a beautiful building with wide corridors, plenty of natural light, private rooms where women may labor with the company of their husband, mother, or sister, and three operating rooms. They are still conducting 1,000 deliveries monthly with few staff but hopefully the numbers and acuity will decline once the new KCH maternity opens a couple kilometers down the road. It made me gleeful to see the doors of Bottom locked.
I came to Malawi for a month to work on the nonprofit. Mrs Namaleu has been running everything on the ground – visiting babies and moms, buying supplies, trying to keep all the administrative pieces together. It is too much work for one person. It is really too much work for two people but two is an improvement. A couple of wonderful volunteers drive Mrs Namaleu to visit babies three mornings a week and this helps. The days when she does not have access to a volunteer’s car she spends too many precious hours in transit.
This year we received $25K from the Abbott Foundation to increase our home visits to postpartum moms. The money will provide 60 high risk postpartum women with 6 home visits by nurses after they are discharged from the hospital. The women visited are recovering from serious health complications or obstetric emergencies. All have been hospitalized for extended periods of time after delivery, some have spent time in the ICU. Their conditions include: severe anemia, uterine rupture, emergency hysterectomy, sepsis, AIDS & tuberculosis. The idea is that nurses will visit them in the home to monitor their recovery, assess and support them in the care of their newborn, provide health education, and mobilize their communities to support them. Usually, once women are discharged from the hospital no one conducts any follow up, and if they are still ill and weak, their return to an impoverished home with food instability sets the stage for a lapse in their own health and the deterioration of the health of their young children.
The goal of my trip was to help Mrs Namaleu get the new program up and running, help her with computerized tracking forms for our mother care and baby care programs, work with the new board of Chimwemwe mu’bereki (Joyful Motherhood) – the Malawian sister nonprofit to African Mothers Health Initiative, and do some local networking with the hope of developing partnerships or finding money.
The first day I spent with Mrs Namaleu passed without progress on our projects. This story is an example of the diversions of which there are way too many in Malawi. While visiting a friend the previous week, Mrs Namaleu’s daughter Chisomo met a young severely emaciated girl. When Chisomo returned home she asked her mother whether she could invite the girl to live with them. Mrs Namaleu said yes and Chisomo talked to E’s mother and then brought her home. E’s story soon unfolded. E’s mother was one of 11 children, she is Malawian but lived most of her life in Zambia. E and her younger sister were born and raised in Zambia. E’s father died, her maternal grandmother died and all 10 of her maternal aunts and uncles died. When E’s grandfather became critically ill in Malawi, E’s mother traveled to Malawi to care for him leaving her daughters in the care of distant relatives in Zambia. While her mother was away, E was raped by a man with AIDS. E sank into a deep depression, she lost weight and her health deteriorated. E’s grandfather died and her mother returned to find a nightmare awaiting her in Zambia. She collected her daughters and moved them to Malawi where she had met and recently married someone. When they returned to Malawi the man left E’s mother.
When Chisomo met E, E’s mother was pregnant and unemployed, the three of them were living hand to mouth often going hungry and E was quickly wasting away into nothing. When Chisomo brought E home, Mrs Namaleu escorted her directly to the hospital, for an HIV test and a chest x-ray, and then had her admitted. My first day with Mrs Namaleu we spent moving from hospital to clinic trying to get E started on TB treatment and registered at an HIV clinic. That day E was so weak she could barely sit upright, her stomach only tolerated a few spoonfuls of porridge at a time, and even through her clothes I could see the outline of her pelvis and every last rib. Over the course of the next few weeks, E began putting on a little weight her appetite and her smile returned. Her little sister who initially sat motionlessly for hours taking in everything with large terrified eyes also transformed into a joyful playful little girl. I was filled with hope when I left and re-inspired by Mrs Namaleu’s generous heart.
The entire month was a blur. The days were long and productive. This trip I only made a few visits with Mrs Namaleu because I was focused on administrative pieces, which she rarely has time to address. I missed the opportunity to visit many good friends and former patients. I left feeling that the time was too short but satisfied with our accomplishments, eager to create a home in Malawi, excited to return to Clement, and frustrated by my inability to participate at the same level from Ghana.
One visit I made with Mrs Namaleu for Chimwemwe mu’bereki was to see M and her triplets. For some unknown genetic reason there are many spontaneous multiples in Malawi. Mrs Namaleu said that during 2009 there were 26 sets of triplets born at Bwaila alone. It is not uncommon that in a set of triplets at least one of the babies dies during the course of infancy. Often triplets are delivered prematurely and rarely does a mother produce sufficient breast milk to support the growth of three healthy babies. For the reason of their increased vulnerability, Chimwemwe mu’berei visits and supports several sets of triplets. The morning we visited M, Mrs Namaleu and I boarded a minibus to Mitundu for 150MK ($1) each and walked a few meters from where we dropped to reach M's house. Most of the mothers and babies we visit do not live within such easy access of public transportation. Unfortunately, in her case, even this short journey rendered the hospital all but in accessible. M’s story illustrates all the layers of suffering and poverty which may ultimately result in the death of a woman or her newborn. All isolated interventions are insufficient but in spite of our inadequacy in finding a comprehensive solution to all, we must not sit back and feel overwhelmed, because M and women like her have no time to indulge debates or pity, they must simply wake up and struggle to survive another day.
This is M’s story. M had three children born in 1997, 1998, and 1999. At some point she divorced and was left alone to care for her children. A few years later her sister died and left her own three children in her care. M is not educated. She has no job other than working in the farm and house, growing food for survival. Her grandmother died, her parents died, all of her aunts and uncles died so at some point she also took on the care of her elderly grandfather. M remarried and soon after became pregnant. Her belly grew faster than expected and when her husband understood that she might deliver more than one baby, he abandoned her. M continued with her work in the fields and the home throughout her pregnancy. There was no money to pay for school fees or school uniforms, so the older children stayed home and worked alongside her.
One morning when she was about 8 months pregnant she rose early went to work in the field then returned to the house and swept the packed earth floor inside and out. She collected a bucket to draw water and walked to the bore hole but as she pumped the water she felt something trickling down her leg and realized that she needed to get the hospital. She did not have the 150MK for transport so she tried to borrow money from neighbors, offering to give them a cloth to keep as collateral. Everyone refused. She lived 14 kilometers from Bwaila and she began to walk. She only managed to walk a few kilometers before the labor pains accelerated and she looked for a place to lie down. There was a farm on the side of the road and she saw women working nearby. She headed towards them. They saw her and immediately assessed her situation. They spread a few sheets of plastic over the bare earth for her to lie on and there she delivered three premature babies. She was lucky that the babies came without complications, that they were positioned correctly, that the placenta also came at the right time, that she did not bleed excessively. The women helped clean her and bundle her babies in old rags. Exhausted, she sat there in the field under a tree until evening. Someone contacted a friend with a car who lived in the area and when he returned home from work that evening, he collected M and her three babies from under the tree and drove them to Bwaila.
Mrs Namaleu met M and her babies at Bwaila. The babies are now 6 weeks old, they are tiny and fragile but healthy. M continues to do most of the work in the field and the house. She eats little and her breasts are dry. She said that she eats nsmia (maize flour) and if she has 20 MK ($0.14) she buys a little tomato to eat with the nsima. When she returned from the hospital her grandfather generously offered to exchange his large 10 x 15ft house of unbaked mud bricks with a thatch roof for her 8 x 8 ft unbaked brick house with a leaky roof. We give M formula for her babies, we remind her about kangaroo care – how to tie two babies at a time skin to skin between her breasts, we talk to her about malaria prevention and signs of illness. The babies have a long road ahead of them and so does M.
During my month in Malawi I made two personal excursions. My second weekend there I headed to James Village in Salima to visit Clement’s mom. A friend gave me a ride and I filled the car with bags of groceries – sugar, salt, tea, soap, toothpaste, Vaseline, cooking oil, mosquito repellant, cookies, tomatoes, and onions. Ironically this time of the year - when a carpet of lush green covers the brown earth and the gardens fill with plants tall enough to conceal the famers - is often the time of hunger. A portion of the crops are always sold for cash and the remainder of the harvest slowly dwindles through the year to almost nothing, so people go hungry watching the maize mature on the stalks.
As we approached the village, I bought four large fish from a fisherman standing on the roadside and he slung them over the side view mirror by a thick blade of grass woven through their gills. We turned off from the main road and navigated the 6 kilometers of dirt roads to the village but I had never previously visited in the rainy season and I barely recognized the house with all the grass towering overhead transforming the landscape. I saw Clement’s grandmother first and as I stepped down his mother, William, and his youngest brother Felix came to meet me with open arms and bright smiles. A group of children gathered around the car as we unloaded and I handed them a couple packages of cookies, which were devoured instantly. The empty boxes remained with them, passing between them for the next two days as lingering proof of their ephemeral enjoyment.
Clement’s mother had killed a goat and a few men were working on skinning it. They gave a leg to my friend who received it happily then left. Clement’s mother was left with three adult goats and two kids with their dried umbilical cords still protruding from their bellies. As Clement's mom prepared nsima I sat in a chair in the shade talking with William who came from Mangochi to visit his mom and serve as my translator. That afternoon we ate one of the fish. It was delicious and I was thrilled that Clement’s mom, stepdad, and Felix ate and ate until all that remained was a small pile of bones.
William and I walked through the farms around ponds of mud while his grandmother and mother prepared the remaining fish for drying and placed it on the thatch roof in the sun. When we returned William cut the goat into long strips, carefully draped it across sticks placed over red coals, and grilled it slowly. As he removed the meat, Clement’s mom shared small bites between us and the handful of children standing nearby watching both me and the meat with equal interest. Towards evening a light rain fell in interrupted showers. William and his grandmother continued their vigil at the fire under an umbrella. The sun set. The entire time Clement’s mother worked. She only sits to eat and the rest of the time she is in motion, drawing water, cooking, washing, preparing bathwater, sweeping, moving the goats to fresh grass, shooing the dogs, preparing the house for sleep. In the light of the lantern we ate our dinner of nsima and goat stomach wrapped in intestine. There is no place for finicky eating in the village. Food is always a blessing, so I always eat what is set before me and in spite of my cultural inhibitions I always enjoy the food.
In my own life there have been few moments characterized by a pervasive sense of peace and yet this is what I feel every time I visit Clement’s mom or dad. Safe. Loved. Calm. No phone. No email. No obligations. No pressing list of tasks to accomplish. No humming or whirring of inanimate objects. No electricity. No cars driving by reminding me of the pace I must soon resume. There are only the quiet sounds of people and animals bedding down for the night; the sounds of the birds in the day and the insects at night. There is only time divided by the paths of the sun and the moon. There are only the people who are with me. There is nothing I have to be besides who I am in the present moment. I look forward to this retreat from my otherwise overcrowded restless mind.
Unfortunately, despite the deep contentment, I never sleep well in Salima. Despite all the cloths and blankets Clement’s mom piles for me on top of the grass mat, I am too aware of my angles against the hard floor. I sleep in fits and starts. Early in the morning, before the sun rose and before I woke, Clement’s mother, lying beside, me began telling stories to William and Felix in the next room. In my semi-conscious state the words, their rhythm, even their mother's accent were so familiar as though meaning was just slightly obscured by the haze of the fading dream, like something I once knew well. She told them about a hyena circling the building with their grandmother sleeping inside. She told them about how they used to get sick as children. There was more and they laughed but as I rose from sleep and tried to decipher her words the stories slipped away.
Once we were up Clement’s mom told me she would go draw water and I said I would come and help. She laughed. She took the large metal pail and gave me a smaller plastic bucket. I watched her jump up and down to pump the water and fill the pail. I imitated her and filled my own. My heart raced from the exertion. She helped me lift the full bucket to my head. It was heavy and I was grateful for the relatively short walk back to the house. Focusing on not sloshing the water, I told her I would walk slowly and she zoomed by laughing, making me laugh, the neighbors also laughed as I walk by.
The morning passed and the visit ended. Clement’s stepdad James carried me on the back of his bicycle the 6km to the road and then waited with me as I dozed, sitting on the curb with my head on my knees, waiting for a bus. Within a half an hour a large coach bus bound for Lilongwe stopped. James ran for the door to block others from scrambling in ahead of me. I boarded and took the first seat available just behind the conductor. The people near me wanted to know what I was doing in the middle of nowhere and they laughed when I told them I was visiting my “apongozi” (in-laws).
On the way back to Lilongwe I wondered if I had even seen a more beautiful place with such vivid colors - miles and miles of open land, dark purple clouds hung like drapes over small villages and deep green fields.
My love for Malawi mingles and grows with my love for Clement. I cannot tell where one ends and the other begins. I can only feel my heart fill to bursting.
* * *
During my last weekend in Malawi I headed to Mangochi to visit Clement’s dad. Mangochi is the small lakeside Southern Malawian town where we married, where bicycles outnumber cars 10 to 1. There are just a few paved roads and a maze of sand roads and paths around houses which change seasonally as people erect and demolish grass fences. Clement’s dad met me at the bus stop in town and we walked back to the house along a new path through the maze, his dad pausing occasionally to greet adults and children alike. I spent a lovely evening with Clement’s sister Effie, William, their grandmother, and dad. We laughed and talked and ate a meal of nsima, fish and pumpkin leaves (everyone knows pumpkin leaves are my favorite).
The following morning Clement’s dad accompanied me to Chiwaula Village to visit the extended family; everyone in the village is related either by marriage or blood. We made the rounds and at one point as we sat on a large fishing net spread on the ground under the mango trees, Mr Chiwaula told me that he was asking his aunt about a sick cousin living nearby who delivered a baby in November. The baby died shortly after birth and the mother’s health quickly deteriorated. He told his aunt he would visit her and asked me if I would like to join him, which of course I did. We found S lying in a shady spot outside on a grass mat. I walked directly to her, touched her shoulder and her face. She was breathing quickly and burning up. I stroked her arm and placed my hand over hers. She took my hand without looking at me. I told Mr. Chiwaula that we must take her to the hospital immediately that she could not wait another day. Her mother brought me her health passport and I saw that she had visited the hospital several times since November. She was HIV positive and was put on antibiotics but not started on ARVs. There were instructions to return after three months for a CD4 count. Looking at her it was obvious that she had full blown AIDS and hearing her cough I knew she most likely had tuberculosis as well. There was no longer any need for a CD4 count.
Mr Chiwaula waited outside the fence as we, the women, helped her sit and dress. Though clearly she was once a beautiful woman that day she was little more than a skeleton with a distended abdomen (this is common in TB patients) and every movement exhausted her. Slowly step by step, supported between two people, she walked the 100 meters to the road and we waited for a vehicle to pass. A truck eventually stopped. Several people lifted her into the passenger seat and instructed me to sit next to her. Mr Chiwaula and her mother climbed into the back. I held her hand and she rested her head on my shoulder. I felt completely possessed by an overwhelming love for her and desire to protect her. Death hovered nearby.
When we arrived at the hospital I easily lifted her down from the cab in my arms. Mr Chiwaula found a wheelchair and we headed to the office of the clinical officer seeing patients. There I explained her history and gave him her health passport. He examined her, admitted her, and ordered several labs: Hb, tuberculosis sputum test, CD4, malaria. She was pale and he wrote for two pints of blood if her Hb was less than 7. When we reached the ward the nurse stuck S her several times to place the IV. She drew blood and gave her quinine. I was skeptical about the urgency (or lack thereof) with which the care would be carried out and knew hope depended on quick initiation of TB treatment. When a person with AIDS suffers from a co-morbidity it is always necessary to begin treatment of the co-morbidity first before beginning ARVs. Otherwise, as the immune system begins functioning again, with assistance from the ARVs, it becomes completely overwhelmed by the disease and the individual quickly dies. The only treatment S received in our presence was for malaria, it was precautionary as malaria is endemic and deadly and any fever may be a sign of malaria, but no one really believed S had malaria. We helped her settle into the bed and left her with her anxious mother watching over her. On our way out we greeted another relative from the village, a young woman whose foot had been bitten off by a crocodile. She and her mother smiled warmly.
By the time we reached the house Fatsani, Clement’s best friend, had arrived with his fiancé, Lides. Fatsani and Clement were inseparable when I met them in 2005 and Fatsani quickly became a dear friend to me as well. It is Fatsani’s nature to make people laugh, and he excels in this to the extent that his pavlovian smile results in peals of laughter and aching bellies. But, apart from his geniality he is also a loyal friend with a compassionate heart.
Typically, in Malawi whenever a couple has disagreements or difficulties they seek the advice of an uncle. Since I had no accessible uncle, early in my relationship with Clement, Fatsani said he wanted to see us “go far” asked if he could be the uncle. I laughed and agreed not perceiving Fatsani’s earnestness behind his smile. Over the next two years, Fatsani did the job well, telling Clement when he was being stupid and me when I was being stubborn, always mending things gently with his smile, which melted our hearts and soothed our tempers faster than we could have on our own. Fatsani was the best man at our wedding. On this trip Fatsani came to Mangochi for the explicit purpose of introducing me to Lides and I instantly liked her – her lovely smile and sweet laugh excellent qualities for the woman of his life.
Feeling unsettled about S, I told Fatsani the story (Fatsani is a clinical officer and Lides is a nurse) and was pleased, though not surprised, to learn that Fatsani knew a clinical officer at the Mangohci District Hospital. In public hospitals in Malawi where resources are short and the staff overburden and overworked, a personal connection to a nurse or doctor can make all the difference.
Once the sun set Fatsani, Lides, Mr Chiwaula and I walked back to the hospital with a flashlight through the dark. At the hospital Fatsani happened to know the nurse on the women's ward from secondary school. They spent a few minutes laughing and reviving old memories before he explained his connection to S and asked for the update. The nurse said that she decided that the patient was pink enough to wait to run the Hb in the morning (on the weekend the lab technician must be called in from home for emergent tests) and explained that the other labs would take a few days. We found S as we left her, which worried me. She did not have a few days. We searched for the clinical officer and not finding him in the hospital we went to his house and learned that he had just left. Fatsani wrote a note and gave it to his housemate.
Sunday morning I woke early and walked to church with William. St Augustine’s is the church where Clement and I married. It is humble and beautiful. Simple wooden benches lead to the altar, lattice brick walls invite sunlight to fill the space and fresh air to circulate, colorful murals narrate Biblical passages, and the choir fills both the church and the surrounding area with beautiful Malawian music. I prayed for S and absorbed the peace.
When we returned to the house Fatsani said that he and Mr. Chiwaula had already been to the hospital, visited S, and met with his clinical officer friend to discuss her care. I felt enormously reassured. We spent the morning, chatting, laughing, taking pictures and then said our goodbyes. Effie, Fatsani, Lides and I boarded minibuses; each of us heading back to homes in different directions. The following day my personal whirlwind accelerated again and I left Malawi.
* * *
From Lilongwe, Malawi I flew to Nairobi, Kenya. I spent one night in Nairobi and then flew to Ghana the following morning. In Nairobi I went through immigration, paid for a 24 hour visa, took the bus to the nice hotel, ate a very good meal and then called Haron.
Haron drove the Kenya Airlines shuttle that took me from the hotel to the airport in November 2008. On that trip I only realized once I arrived in Nairobi that the travel agent in Kumasi, Ghana had forgotten to give me a hotel voucher (the airline is supposed to cover the cost of a night in a hotel or more accurately said, they are supposed to allow you to access the fee hidden in the cost of your ticket). The airline representatives in Nairobi said they could do nothing without the voucher, so I changed money and spent a few hours emailing and calling Clement until he was able to get in touch with the travel agent in Kumasi who then wrote out and scanned me a voucher. As a result I had about $15 or $20 worth of Kenyan Shillings in my pocket the morning of my flight to Ghana.
Haron collected me from the hotel at 5am. Alone in the van I asked him about his family, his children, his job, and his farm. Haron looks younger than his 30 years and he smiles easily, especially when talking about his family but, when I asked about his farm he became serious and said that he needed a couple more bags of fertilizer and was not sure how he would afford them since he had already purchased as much of the subsidized fertilizer as he was allowed. I asked him how much he needed and he told me. It was almost the exact amount of money I had in my pocket so I put it all in his hand. For a moment he was completely shocked and then incredibly grateful. He promised to keep in touch and told me that he was an artist and he would make something for me. Our interaction left me feeling high and instantly put a different spin on the frustrations of the previous night.
Haron kept his promise. He occasionally emailed me a line or two, he sent me pictures of his children, and he repeatedly asked for an address. For a year we had no mailing address in Ghana and when I finally sent him the address, he said he had no money to mail the art. When Clement flew last summer, he did not have a layover in Nairobi so this trip was the first opportunity to reconnect with Haron. I had emailed him a few days before my flight but the morning of my departure from Lilongwe I mixed up the flight time and left in a rush without contacting him again.
It was after 8pm when I finally looked up his number and called him from the Panari Hotel in Nairobi and just by chance he happened to be downstairs in the parking lot. It was great to see him. Though I had actually forgotten what he looked like, he gave me the hug of an old friend. He told me that his wife and children had been waiting for me at home and would be disappointed that I could not visit them. He showed me their pictures. He asked about Clement. He told me that we should find time to come for a few days so that he could show us around. He asked me why we didn’t yet have a baby and told me both with concern and joy – from his personal experience of fatherhood – that we must have a baby soon. He said he would come and collect me in the morning so that he could give me the art and so that I could show him pictures from our life.
At 6:20 the next morning Haron pulled up in the Kenya Airlines van and helped me load my stuff in the back. When we arrived at the airport we parked for a few minutes and I showed him the pictures of Clement and of Malawi and Ghana. It was great. He gave me what he had created and had been holding on to for so long. He handed me a piece of wood – about the size and weight of a large cutting board – that had been painted black. He had hammered nails into this, painted them, and then woven colored thread between them, resulting in an asymmetrical heart on one side and a red and yellow flower the other, and between them the words: Baibe 4 you I will. Haron said I should give it to Clement and it should be for us. It was clearly made with genuine thoughtfulness. It makes me laugh each time I see it. I love it. I carried it through the airport in a plastic bag but of course whenever I put it through the security scanners the security people removed it from the bag. I was surprised by how much they admired it.
Once again I am awed by the gratitude. I gave Haron $15. I would have been happy if he had quietly bought his fertilizer and never contacted me again but when I told him I had doubted that he would email, he was shocked. When I asked him whether he has many friends from all over the world since he has so much contact with foreigners, he said, “No, you and Clement are the only ones.” A short conversation and fifteen dollars.
This series of events is not one life has taught me to expect. I am accustomed to promises and generous intentions without further action. Unfortunately this is also my own pattern all too frequently. How many countless times have I said,” I will visit you,” “I will call” “I will write” and only remembered long after the appointed time. When others make similar promises to me, I have learned to be grateful for the intention and not to expect more. When promises are fulfilled it is often a new wonderful unexpected gift.
It is sad that this is the norm. We are too busy to pay attention; too busy to remember. Many of us are imprisoned by our own stories and they blind us to the abundant blessings around us. Or, we are too focused on “how the world has been unjust to me” and our sense of entitlement to be rocked by gratitude.
Life is teaching me a new pattern. Again and again in Africa I have been awed by the profound expression of gratitude. Again and again a simple act on my part, opens the flood gates of kindness and generosity which way exceed the original act. Most of the people who have responded thus are poor but I am certain that an individual’s economic status does not directly correlate with their ability to express gratitude. Gratitude like optimism and compassion is a character trait; one which most of us could work on developing a bit more.
The plane to Accra was delayed, first for one hour, then another, then indefinitely; indefinitely turned out to mean 6 hours. Originally we were supposed to arrive in Accra at noon and I had planned to board a bus and be in Kumasi by 7pm. But, as the plane began to descend it was already seven and the sky was dark. As the flight attendants prepared for landing I starting talking to the man sitting next to me. Daniel was returning from a work trip to Gabon. He is a young Ghanaian engineer working for a large cyber technology company. As it turned out he had attended KNUST (the University where Clement attends medical school) and when I told him that I would take the bus to Kumasi the same night he insisted on driving me across town to the bus station.
On his layover in Nairobi he had met a Ugandan priest who was coming to visit a friend in Accra. Daniel had spent a couple years in Uganda so when they came together again as we disembarked they seemed like old friends. Daniel and I passed through immigration first and then he moved between me and the priest, making sure the priest got his visa, making sure I had collected my bags. I kept saying to myself this would never happen in the US.
His friend who met us with the car initially seemed slightly disappointed by the extra passenger - there was a big premier league football match starting in a few minutes and he had planned to go directly from the airport to a television. But soon enough he transformed into a very gracious driver and engaged me in a lively conversation on marriage and monogamy (I’ll leave the out details). The traffic in Accra is unbelievable; it took us nearly an hour to get from the airport to the bus station. Every now and then as we crept forward and the car’s digital clock flicked through minutes I would apologize and lament the fact that they were missing their game but they would just brush my comments aside and dive back into the discussion. Once, Daniel said dismissively, “You would do the same for me.” I smiled guiltily. I could not imagine many Americans driving a complete stranger across town just because it was dark. I told myself, “You better start now!” When we arrived at the bus station, Daniel walked with me to buy my ticket and waited until my luggage was loaded on the bus. He gave me his card and then they were gone.
After the compulsory three hour wait for the bus to fill and the 5 plus hour journey it was around 4am when we arrived in Kumasi. I hired a taxi and borrowed the driver’s phone to call Clement. He had just dozed while waiting for me. Back to the light of his smile - my other home. Reunions are wonderful.
* * *
Clement and I called his dad on Wednesday just to check in and let him know that I had arrived in Ghana. He told us that S died on Tuesday and that everyone was grateful for what I did, he said that she never received any medication. What nonsense.