Monday, December 3, 2007

Kate's Arrival

After traveling back to Accra from Koforidia, I get a hotel room, drop off my stuff, have a shower, a nap and go back out onto the streets to get some supplies for Kate’s impending arrival. I hit a cell phone service provider to get a SIM card and the Obruni grocery store for some luxury items that I know she’ll like. Sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, capers, spices, pesto, and others fill my basket. I go to the Indian supermarket and pick up chai spices, curry pastes, chutney and pickle, my mouth watering with the thought of chicken tikka masala and biryani rice. Visions of delicious, candle-lit dinners dance in my head as I mentally prepare for the end of my bachelorhood.

It was difficult to say good-bye in June, when Kate was leaving for her summer placements in hospitals across Ontario. When I arrived in Ghana in July I was full of the excitement of the new adventures about to be experienced. For the first few weeks I didn’t really give much thought to those back home. Slowly, but surely, I did feel a creeping need to hear from my girlfriend, friends and family back home.

When a disastrous fire broke out in my mother’s apartment in NYC, and I was thousands of kilometers away, unable to do anything about it, I could at least talk to them and offer my thoughts and sadness. I had Kate to talk to and de-brief after those conversations. After the introduction of internet at home, along with the acquisition of a new laptop, I was even able to video conference through Skype, a free internet calling service. Catching a glimpse of my girlfriend was great, but she was so two-dimensional. The girl in the box was pretty close to a version of the real thing, but still something was lacking.

As I prepared to see her again, I was a bit afraid that the five months that had passed had turned our relationship into a two-dimensional version of the real thing. Who would I be picking up at the airport? Would she be a grainy, distorted cardboard cut-out girlfriend?

The plane is due to arrive at 10PM, but as this is Ghana, its arrival is delayed by two hours - at least. My flight was delayed from Heathrow two hours, as well. I think it must be the airlines’ coping mechanism for what Ghanaian’s call GMT or Ghana Man’s Time. As everything seems to happen two hours later than scheduled, the airlines must delay the departure time by two hours to ensure the plane leaves it’s destination more than just half full.

I arrive at the airport at 11:30 and wait for an hour before the disembarkation takes place. While I’m waiting I make friends with a security guard who decides to check me out. The only Obruni waiting at arrivals is something to take notice of, I guess. We hit it off, and I ask him how it is to work at the airport. He says he does shift work – 24 hour shift work. Meaning he works 24 hours straight and before being allowed to go home. I can’t imagine how effective he would be in deterring criminals or terrorists from going about their business after he’s been awake for 25 or more hours. This reminds me that doctors routinely perform surgery on people after being awake for 36 hours or more.

I ask the security guard about getting a taxi after midnight, and he tells me it’s no problem. He offers to call a friend for me, so that we don’t have to fight for a ride. I accept and am, perhaps for the first time, grateful for inquisitive security guards.

Kate arrives and comes out of the arrivals gate and I hardly know what to make of her. She seems more alien than familiar, which is strange for someone you’ve known well for many years. She is resplendent in blue sweatpants and has gigantic hair. I am afraid. We meet and embrace, get into the cab and speed away. Slowly, but surely, I start to remember. It’s Kate!

We take it easy and sleep in the following day. We go to the coffee shop above the Obruni supermarket for a cappuccino and croissant. Kate’s layover was in Milan, and was able to enjoy a Milanese cafĂ© while she waited. I don’t think the two can really be compared. Still, we enjoyed ourselves. We took a Ford to Takoradi fairly early in the day, enjoyed sunset on the roof and had a nice little candlelit dinner of pan-fried Red Snapper and rice.

The next day is Monday, and the first day of her placement at Effia Nkwanta Regional Hospital. I had hustled my way through every important medical figure in the Western region of Ghana in order to make the placement happen, including a personal appeal to the head of the hospital. Assisted by Kweku Temeng, journalist and head of the health desk in the SKYY Newsroom, we made it happen.

Kate comes with me to SKYY, and waits while I have my morning editorial meeting from 7:30-9. At the close of the meeting she is invited to be introduced to the SKYY News team. She quickly, shyly comes in and says hello. I give her introductory speech and everyone greets her. Kate quickly escapes as soon as possible and gets a laugh from the newsroom for her hasty retreat. Kate and I then walk to the taxi stand, eat a lovely breakfast of Wakke (beans, rice, curry sauce, egg, spaghetti, and gari or dried yam) and take a shared taxi for about $0.25 each up the road to the hospital.

Once at the hospital we go to the office of the head of the hospital, Dr. Robert Sagoe, and wait for an audience. Once able to see us, Dr. Sagoe ushers us in and gives us both a large, hearty welcome. He remembers me, even though our meeting was months ago. He slaps me on the back and tells Kate that she should be proud of me, because I’ve done my job. He gently strokes the beard on my cheek and tells me I’ve done well, too.

We go to the nurses’ office and meet the woman in charge of scheduling Kate. She asks what Kate wants to do, and then draws up a chart with a pen, ruler and lined piece of paper and makes a little calendar. We’re passed off to another nurse, who is to show us the hospital. We get a guided tour and are introduced to all the important people we need to know. We cover the pharmacy, X-Ray, maternity & obs-gyn, and women’s & men’s wards.

After the tour Kate and I escape and go back home. Life as it has been returns back to normal, despite great differences in time, place and context. Life does not sit still. Time does not slow down. The world continues unabated in three-dimensions of change.

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