Mission Rabies Ghana – Chapter 9: The Weekend

After a busy (but fun) week of vaccinating dogs, we were rewarded with a bit of free time.  Originally we were going to do some horseback riding on Saturday and then drive into Kumasi to see the huge market, but we were told that Sunday was probably not the best day to see the market, as this is a very religious country and most of the vendors would be absent, attending church.  So we switched it around, and decided to do the market today.  

All week, my alarm was set to go off at 5:15 a.m.  Today, I had the luxury of sleeping in. So what happens?  I wake up on my own… at 4:50 a.m. I lingered in bed for another hour, but didn’t really sleep.  I finally got up at 6:00 a.m., leisurely showered and dressed, and packed a little backpack with the essentials: selfie stick, sun screen, a small hand towel, and a big bottle of water.  

Breakfast was at 9:00 a.m., but I left the room at 7:00 and headed right down to the lake.  I’m obsessed with this lake. I’m only here for two weeks, and the weekdays are pretty full, so I try to grab any opportunity I have to experience the serenity and stillness of Lake Bosomtwe.  I just finished reading the book “10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics” by Dan Harris, and there’s a meditation in the book that is very similar to mindfulness meditation, however, instead of focusing on your breathing, you focus on the sounds around you.  When you catch your mind wandering (as it invariably does), simply acknowledge that it has wandered, and then go back to focusing on the sounds in the environment. I gave that a try this morning, and it was enlightening. I sat cross-legged on the dock and really opened up my ears to the sounds all around me.  

At that time of the morning, the birds are all waking up, and I must have heard a dozen different species of birds, all with their different songs and calls.  

One bird had a crow-like caw that always came in threes. Another bird had a five-note call.  Another always sang three little couplets. Insects buzzed by my ears, and each different species of insect had its own distinct buzz.  I also heard ducks swimming by and fish plunking in the water. My mind wandered, of course, and when I noticed it wandering I brought my attention back to the sounds.  By the end of this meditation (a very arbitrary 20 minutes), I felt intimately familiar with the sounds of an awakening lake. This lake. In the middle of Ghana. Africa. Earth.

I walked along the shore, appreciating the stillness.  I noticed a lot of small rocks along the lake bed, and I realized that I hadn’t tried skimming rocks across any body of water in decades.  I searched for particularly flat rocks and found a bunch. I gave it a try. I guess this is a skill that once you learn it, you never forget it, because I was skipping them across the water like an expert.  I got seven skips with one particularly flat rock. Then I heard some major rustling, and I looked over and there were three dogs – one adult and two younger dogs. It looked exactly like the dog with the wire around its muzzle that I saw a few days ago (see previous post).  I walked toward that area, and the adult dog came running over, and for a moment I was a little scared. If she perceived me as a threat to her pups, she could try to attack. But she adopted a friendly posture. I got a bit closer, and was able to pat her. Alas, this was not the dog with the wire. 

I patted her for a bit more.  I tried to check out the puppies, but they ran from me.  By then, it was 9:00 a.m. anyway and time for breakfast.

We rented a minivan and driver.  

The driver was supposed to arrive at 10:00.  He was running on Ghanaian time, so he showed up at 10:30ish. By the time we hit the road, it was almost 11:00.  Thankfully, the van had air conditioning, and the eight of us fit in their comfortably. Laura was feeling a bit ill and chose to stay back and take it easy, and Jo had some work to do analyzing the week’s data, so she stayed behind as well.  

Driving in this part of Ghana is always interesting because every few miles,  you pass some kind of busy market. I find them all pretty fascinating. About halfway to our destination, we pulled off the road and stopped at pharmacy to get some medication for Laura. 

 I marveled at the antibiotics and heart medications that you can purchase without a prescription.  This would never be allowed in the U.S. We got some kind of combination drug for Laura’s cold, similar but not exactly the same as Dayquil.  It didn’t have the expectorant, so we bought that separately. I looked at the bottle and saw the familiar “Sanofi” logo printed on the box.

That’s Mark’s company, so I know that medicine is legit.  He was pretty shocked that I found a Sanofi drug in the middle of Ghana. We also bought some cough drops.  

We got back on the road, the minivan bouncing at every pothole and kicking up red dust, as Ghanaian rap blared from the radio.  We finally arrived around 1:00. 

Immediately across from where we parked the van was a couple of very touristy stalls selling very colorful, prefab items.

Before all of us could even get out of the van, we were besieged by guys from those stalls, as they tried to sell us paintings, shirts, and other souvenirs.  Ingrid was in high-powered shopping mode and she was making the rounds through the booths.  

Anke, Leigh, Lottie and I decided to walk off on our own.  Using my Google maps, we headed toward the Central Market, which was about 17 minutes away.  

It is difficult to describe the sheer enormousness of the market. 

From the top of some steps, you could row after row of corrugated tin rooftops.  It reminded me of the huge slum in Mumbai. 

 We decided to take the plunge and see what it was like in there.  

Claustrophobic mayhem would be one way to describe it.  The lane in which we were walking was barely wide enough for two to walk.  We had to walk single file, because people were coming in the opposite direction.  We passed dozens… actually, hundreds… of stalls on our left and right, with no way to really stop and even look to see what was being offered, because if you stop in front of the stall, traffic essentially stops. 

People move around you, but it becomes very cramped and tight.  Some people coming the opposite way are carrying sacks of produce or a stack of something on their head, and you have to sidestep them or duck to avoid being clobbered.

Every now and then I tried to take pictures, but surprisingly, many of the vendors got angry at this.  I don’t really know how the market is set up, but we went from an area that was predominantly clothing…

 to spices…

and then meat (gross)… and then, well, anything and everything.  Like this basket of dried iguanas.

At the end of this narrow pathway was a wide cross-street.  We stopped there and tried to contact the rest of the group via WhatsApp.

The others thought the market was total madness, and they were only on the outskirts!  They didn’t even go into the Central Market. With this kind of crowding and the sheer massiveness of the place, I thought it best that we try to meet up and see the rest of the place together, so we traded locations on WhatsApp and I went over to try to find them.  We finally linked up and visited a few more stalls before agreeing that this was really too overwhelming. I spotted a vendor selling some kind of deep fried ball of dough, and I stopped and quickly bought a bunch of them for us to munch on. They were really, really tasty.  We leisurely made our way back to the van. Ingrid and Peter went off on their own at the market, so that Ingrid could buy some fabric. We got back to the van, then checked out a few nearby stalls. At one stall, there was a baseball type jersey with Brooklyn plastered across the front of it. 

Yes, I traveled ten hours by plane and another five hours by bus, to the middle of Ghana, to spot a shirt that says Brooklyn.  Peter and Ingrid joined us soon after, and we hit the road again. Traffic was bad and the roads were brutally bumpy. My body was still vibrating for fifteen minutes after we got out of the van.  

Dinner was pretty tasty: a bowl of vegetable stew, with a big rice ball in the center of it.  After dinner, Ingrid and Peter, Leigh, Lottie, Anke and I stuck around and chatted about the pressures of being in the veterinary profession, and the conversation lasted well into the evening before we all finally decided to call it a night.   I’m lucky to be accompanied on this trip by a good group of dedicated professionals.  

Sunday morning, I woke up crazy early again (5:00 a.m.) but managed to linger in bed until 6:45.  I shaved and showered and headed down to the lake to meditate on the sounds coming from the lake. For the first time since I arrived in Ghana, the skies were overcast.

I heard it hasn’t rained in Ghana in seven weeks, and I didn’t expect it to rain this morning, but every day it has been very hot and sunny with no clouds in the sky, and this morning, there were lots of clouds.

I sat on the dock and listened to the birds and the insects for about a half hour, and then I roamed our little section of the lake.  

There were a few fishing boats on the lake, and I thought that this might provide me with good material for photographs.  Then, the sun burst through the clouds and I got the photo I was looking for.  

It was time for breakfast.  In keeping with the vegetarian theme of the trip, breakfast was an avocado sandwich.  The meals at all Mission Rabies projects are vegetarian. I’ve gone 8 days without meat, probably the longest I’ve ever gone.   Last Tuesday, Anke accompanied me to the village east of our resort, so I asked her if she wanted to come with me to check out the village to the west.  She said yes, so we started strolling down the road. Unfortunately, the community on this side of our resort wasn’t as interesting or colorful as the one on the other side of the resort.

Still, the people were friendly, and we got to see the lake from yet another vantage point. 

I did see something that briefly got my hopes up.  In a previous post, I mentioned about a dog I saw down at the lake that had a wire wrapped around its muzzle.  That dog was still on my mind. Well, we saw a dog that looked like it, with a mark on its muzzle that made me think that this was the same dog.  There was no wire around the muzzle, and I first thought that this was the dog, and was relieved that the wire was gone. But the mark on the snout was just an old scar.

I took a picture of the dog and compared it to the dog I had seen, and it’s not the same dog, unfortunately. Sigh. 

We went back to our resort and got ready for the afternoon adventure: horseback riding at Green Ranch resort.  Because there weren’t enough horses at the site for all of us to go together, we split up into two groups. Ingrid and Peter and Lottie and Leigh went in the morning.  Anke, Petra and I were in the afternoon group. Laura was still feeling under the weather and she declined. Jo had some work to do, and Helena is severely allergic to horses, so it was just us three.  Our taxi driver (same guy from yesterday) drove us (same van) to the site in about a half hour.  

The resort is beautiful.  It’s up on a bit of a hill.  We arrived to see the morning group sitting on the terrace of the resort. 

They had just eaten lunch there, and were ready to head back.  We ordered lunch (this resort also only served vegetarian food), and admired the view from the top of the resort.  Lunch was very good.  

 On the terrace was a small tortie cat.  

Even though she was five years old (according to the owner, a lovely French woman), she was tiny.  This is my kind of cat. As I got closer to the cat to pat her, I saw that she had some skin issues.  I could see that she had two forms of the eosinophilic granuloma complex, an inflammatory skin disorder that itches like crazy.  She had one erosion on her upper lip (indolent ulcer) and several sores (eosinophilic plaques) on her flank. I typed out for the owner exactly what illness the cat had, and what medicine would treat it (prednisolone), and she was grateful for the information.  This cat was soooo cute. It was hard to tear myself away from her, but it was time to meet our horses.  

We went to the stable, put on our riding helmets, and were introduced to our horses.  Petra was paired with Equinox, I was matched with Eclipse, and the owner (who accompanies the groups) rode with Omega. 

 I can’t remember the name of Anke’s horse. 

We were given a brief lesson on how to handle our horses, and then we walked them down the sloping hill to the road and we each mounted our horses and settled into our saddles.  The owner gave us a brief lesson on how to hold the reins, how to instruct the horse to move forward (squeeze his sides with your heels), how to get him to move right (take the left rein and push it against the left side of his neck so that it nudges him to the right), how to move left (the opposite of what I just described), and how to stop (pull back on the reins).  Easy enough. 

Petra is an experienced horsewoman (she has her own horse back home in the Czech Republic), so she led the way, followed by Anke (another experienced rider).  I was third, and the owner kept watch in the rear. This allowed me to chat with the owner, a very interesting woman. She’s from France. She said she had a pretty fulfilling life, having lived in five different countries.  She came to Ghana about 12 years ago and decided she liked it enough to stay. She started this resort as her primary business, and having horses available for guests and others to ride is a unique venture here in Ghana.  

I don’t really feel 100% comfortable on a horse, and in trying to remember the last time I was on a horse, I can’t think of anything more recent than 1983.  There may have been a time more recent, but I don’t recall it. We walked along the road and through a village. Normally, I’d expect the locals to be amazed at tourists on big unfamiliar animals, but this woman has been doing this for many years, and they all know her, and she knows them.  In fact, she has learned the local dialect pretty well and she talks to them in their native tongue, which is pretty impressive. After a while, we turned right and headed through the woods to walk along the lake bed. This was definitely the best part of the afternoon. 

As you’ve seen from previous photos, Lake Bosomtwe is a beautiful lake, and seeing it from the opposite shore was really nice.  Unfortunately, at the pace we were going, and with so many things to keep track of, there was no way I could take photos of the lake.   I have now seen the lake from the viewpoint of our resort, the community immediately east, immediately west, and across the lake, and I still think that the little section of lake that we get to see from our resort is still the prettiest.  

We rode the horses for two hours, and then dismounted and walked them back up to their stables. 

One of the horses got spooked, causing Anke to fall, and her horse almost stepped on her.  It was pretty scary for a second, but she was fine – just a small scrape on her elbow. 

We relaxed a bit with our horses before they were put back in their stables.  

Back on the terrace, I reunited with that adorable tortie and got to spend a little quality time with her before we had to head back.  

Dinner was served buffet style, with two different kinds of rice, the sweet and sour vegetable dish, and some bean dish.  It was excellent. Even better: dessert. We each got a serving of really tasty chocolate cake, with chocolate sauce on top of it.  Definitely the best thing they’ve served all week. I received some really good news during dinner. Leigh told me that she saw the dog from Tuesday, (the one mentioned above, with the wire around the muzzle), and that the wire was gone.  She took photos, and looking at the white triangle on the nose, and half white left front leg, and the white tail tip, this was definitely the dog. The dog looked good in the photo. You could see a mark on her muzzle where the wire had run. The dog looked happy and fine in the photo.  I was really relieved at this news.  


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