March 27-29 2015
Three weeks after the last 3 children were operated on, we decided to go to Wa to see them. I took my engineer friend, Mashood, who is from a village close to Wa. He could help with the exams and also with translation, as he speaks Wale, the local language.
We took public transport to save money, but this is a bit uncomfortable in Africa. We just missed the tro-tro so we had to wait over 2 hours for the next one. It took us 6 hours to pass the 300 km route. I started to watch a French movie in the dark on my computer to pass the time, “Immoral Tales”. It was basically soft porn disguised as an art movie. After a while I noticed that half of the bus was watching it with me, so I though I better stop. We finally arrived at midnight, without bus-breakdown or accident. One of the teachers, Abdul-Salaam was waiting for us at the station. Next morning we started to work – unpacked the instruments, put the eye-chart on the wall and called for the children. We got an air-conditioned office to use, which was a huge favor!
I just recently finished reading an extremely interesting book: “Crashing Through”, a non-fiction account of an American man who got blinded at age 3 and regained his vision at age 30. As he had visual deprivation for so long, the vision he regained was not normal. He could see motion, objects, colors but he could not recognize faces, could not read (even that he could see the letters separately) or drive, even years after the surgery. He also found it extremely overwhelming to navigate with vision, as it was hard work for him to see – similar to trying to speak a foreign language that one learned as an adult. At one point he regretted ever having the surgery. I also read similar reports about others in the same situation. I got very worried towards the end of the book and thought to myself: “What have I done???” I also remembered one of the favorite phrases of my Mother: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” So I was understandably very anxious about the visit.
The children filed in in groups of three. All of them could walk unaided now, except for Lovia. The 12 years old girl had the worst prognosis, as she has been blind from birth. Objectively her vision still remained hand-motion, but she reported to be able to see significantly better. The back of her eyes looked perfectly normal, which made my heart ache, as it means that if her cataracts were removed at an early age, now she could see very well. She can distinguish colors now (probably she learned them during the month since her surgery) and also shapes, she recognizes objects like book, computer, etc and she sees people standing around her. She can even see a picture now and recognize a human face on it.
Mubarak, 20 years old had tiny eyes (called microphthalmos) and already had surgery in one eye. We operated on the other eye, hoping it will get at least as “good” as the first one. He did not improve (the operated eye was even smaller and more abnormal looking than the other) but he said this eye is now helping him to see better in the other eye. I do not have any explanation for this, unless he just said it to make us happy.
Richard, the 22 year old man had the best result: Now he could see 20/40 which is basically normal vision. The interesting thing was that he kept on complaining about his other eye, which improved only minimally. When asked about his future plans, he said he wanted to go to university and become a teacher, but he wanted to continue to study in Braille. (In spite of Ghana being quite poor, it can accommodate blind students at universities.) I made him read, and he knew most of the letters but had problems connecting them. He could read about half of the words though, so I think he will be able to read fluently soon, as he lost his vision when he was 10.
Mayiiri, who had his eyes very shaky (called nystagmus) and turning inside severely, could see a large E from about 3 meters. (Before he could see only hand motion.) He could walk alone now, could see colours, objects and faces. He is mischievous and terrorizes the other children, so they expressed their hope that he would soon improve enough to be able to leave to school!
The rest of the children also improved, two more enough that they will probably be able to return to normal school. We will make another trip to
THE TRIP HOME
We were waiting for over three hours at the roadside in Mashood’s village for the bus. Finally we received a call from Abdul-Salaam that the bus left Wa. In Africa usually there are no scheduled buses, they just leave as soon as they get full, which could take several hours. The reason of it is poverty; drivers are not able to charge more for tickets to cover the expenses of empty seats, as people cannot afford to pay. Usually there are also plastic stools in the center in between seats for people to sit on, to make sure the company makes more “profit” as the profit margin is minimal. For example. a 6-hour bus journey costs less than 6$. People with means travel by car, not by public transport.
The bus arrived and stopped, though there was no bus stop. (We waved as we were told it would be blue.) It was a nice large bus, but Mashood noted right away it did not look “good” to him. He has tremendous experience in Ghanaian public transport as he travels to Kofurudia each weekend to school and back – a 14 hour journey one-way. I soon saw what he meant – the driver’s aid kept on filling the coolant tank with water about every 20 minutes. (The engine was up front, next to the driver). After about an hour the engine started to rattle loudly, and shortly after the bus stopped at the roadside. “The engine got spoiled as there was no oil in it” – declared Mashood as he could make the diagnosis just by the sound of it. I was hoping he was wrong, but he was not. The driver disappeared at a roadside house to make a call for about half hour – I guess he was afraid of being lynched. Then he told us another bus will come soon to pick us up. I thought this to be highly unlikely as African companies rarely have a backup bus to replace the broken down ones. In an hour a large truck arrived and we all climbed on to the open plateau. People were standing or sitting down, some sat on the top of the iron bars covering the sides. I just lied down on the plateau (a bit dirty and hard), put my head on my backpack and listened to a podcast from NPR. It was now late afternoon, the heat subsided, fresh and pleasantly warm wind was blowing on us, the landscape was beautiful, the smell of unspoiled nature penetrated the air…. Then it got dark and I was staring at the moon and the stars. I felt happy and free. Mashood complained about the terrible journey, but I told him it beats a trip in an air-conditioned car. I asked him to imagine how boring my life was in the US if I enjoy an experience even like this!
After an hour and a half we arrived to Damongo, where a small tro-tro was waiting for us. It obviously could not accommodate all the passengers of the original bus. We fought for our lives and succeeded to push on, though I was half sitting in the lap of another man. (Like all other people.) So we left in the dark and a mere 3 hours later we arrived to Tamale. I am not sure though if I’ll risk another public transport journey in Ghana in the near future, we will see!