Accra airport was full of tourist busyness. Customs satisfied and money changed, my overly helpful luggage caddy, generous with his politeness until and for, the answer to the question in his outstretched hand, ‘Where’s mine?’
Touting taxi drivers grab for my attention and my fare and along the line spread out in front of me, I catch a reflected glimpse of light on spectacle glass and below it a smiling face surrounded by close grey hair. The tall wiry man in short sleeves holds up a sheet of paper that bears my name in black felt tip pen. We shake hands firmly and my smile spills his name. Julius.
Outside a familiar smell was in the heat of the air. The scent of fireworks fills my nostrils but I can hear no bang or fizzle. The aroma of earth and fire. Smoke that isn’t visible. The night around me had crickets clickering behind the car horns and I followed as Julius took charge of the trolley and we caught up with Ben, the taxi driver, at the car. Julius helped load the bags then we snaked through the parked cars to an open-air restaurant playing Eddy Grant then a bit of Bob Marley and my sense of familiarity strengthened.
We talked briefly of my trip: lengthy, tiring, exciting to have made it to the long-cherished iconic marvel of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom), then called Aya Sofa Mosque and now a museum, which was bonus to my final destinations.
We made each others acquaintance and talked of the arrangements for my first day; it should have been an overnight stay at the beach. I mentioned my plan to try taking an African perspective on the homeopathic philosophy I would cover when I made my presentation on miasms to the Premier International School of Homeopathy students at the end of my stay.
Julius’s eyebrows lifted and his nod of impression and recognition at my approach was followed by his own experience and understanding, as the PISHAM Principal talked of the clans and tribes.
Gunpowder. That’s what fireworks are made of. Sulphur; charcoal? I don’t know what’s in gunpowder but I remember that it’s the forerunning explosive to what became a homeopathic remedy. Glonoinum. There was no throbbing headache but the thrill of a beat was in my blood: apprehension, expectation and then a surprising settling felt when you know you’re in the right place at the right time.
I doze in the back of the car after the initial small talk until we turn into the gated compound where the Project flat is situated. I meet Rosemary, who welcomes me and who, I’m told, will be there to look after me by cooking and cleaning. I hadn’t expected this and feel a little uncomfortable. We chat briefly while her long-limbed child sleeps on the floor oblivious to our sounds.
We all make arrangements for the next day and I’m given a project phone for use while in Ghana and the child rising to a young adult as she wakens, stands to her full height and offers a sleepy hello before they leave.
After plugging in the mosquito deterrent, staggering tiredness makes me lie down to rest, the strangeness and the miles travelled dropping over me like the insect net that rests against my sweating skin.
I wake early to fix and sort the contents of my cases and try to reduce the load I will carry to the beach and then onto Mafi Seva, a remote rural village where I will participate in treating villagers who arrive for homeopathy. I peruse my notes and feeling hungry, decide to reheat the omelette we’d waited patiently for at the restaurant last night, but not yet eaten.
During a late morning visit from Julius, he decides, in the continual absence of any contact with Ben and therefore unable to get to the beach just yet, to arrange for the students to visit me here. Three youngish men of various heights and shades of dark arrive some hours later greeting me awkwardly at the gate and arranging for the bus next day. It takes a couple of tries to make myself understood for they’re not used to a Scottish accent. Their words, also heavily accented but purposeful, describe their mixed responses to why they have chosen to study homeopathy.
So I am to be chaperoned by Noble and Wisdom, both second year students at the school and next morning Wisdom arrives to take me to the bus station. Their names are inspiration to a creative practitioner like me who feels life’s significance in all its moments. A street taxi gets us to Kasoa market where Noble joins us and we make for the station, waiting under the noon sun surrounded by head-laden hawkers of pink-fleshed pawpaw and water, bread and tilopa, toothpaste and tartan handkerchiefs. Countless stalls crammed around us are weighted with clothes and cloth in bright reds and blues and greens. Sellers sit and chat in huge floppy raffia hats or rainbow head ties, wise to the weather and looking questioningly at the uncovered ‘Obroni’ with the pale white skin. Children gawk and say the word. A word I’ll hear many times from children wherever I go. I want to respond with ‘Obibini’ in mutual recognition of our differences but sense that it wouldn’t be appreciated.
The ‘tro-tro’ waits to fill and work goes on around the bus. An occasional hawker is bold enough to come on board and describe or demonstrate their wares.
Miracle cream for all your skin ailments is twice pitched at the increasing number of passengers fitting themselves together like pieces of a puzzle that will only be complete when the last person squeezes on and seats and bodies are adjusted to make room. A body massager is touted to ease the pains of the squeeze and the usual workloads, the seller’s obvious humour delighting the captive audience though only for the entertainment value since he doesn’t prompt a sale.
I wonder at the ingredients of the creams and how suppressive their action might be to those who buy and use them. The homeopath in me is never silent and chatters internally about the effects of that, and the head loads and the food displayed among flies and heat that lower the safety of edibility.
The curiosity and fascination of a small child held by his mother on her knee accompanies me for most of the trip, save the dropping to sleep from heat and closeness. Wiggling occasionally to relieve the onset of numbness and the trickling sweat, several hours later we disembark at a junction after crossing the wide expanse of the River Volta by bridge.
Potholes in the red earth and the road is a roller coaster of dips into pools of mud-thick water, tilting and splashing, tilting and splashing as Emperor driving the minibus, tackles the terrain that takes us deeper into rural surroundings. People are walking from village to village or sitting under sun shelters by the roadside, always working, selling, chopping, pounding, peeling and waving and smiling ‘Akwaaba!’ along the way.
The child’s head lolls; his arms and legs those of a floppy doll. The whites of his eyes show frighteningly in the slit of his lids. Febrile convulsions have racked him for some hours and alongside conventional medicine, the remedy chosen has been given. I’ve dropped my bag in the room I will share with Glenis, a midwife and homeopath who has charge of the case, and is still discussing it with Emperor. Wisdom and Noble have joined us and ask questions about the case. They query the mother who sags sullenly, her concern weighting her into the chair. The students also speak her language and find out more background information. Another dose is given and the child stirs. The locked jaw has loosened and soon he takes a little water.
The family leave an hour later, the infant disturbed only by the swinging movement from the mother’s lap to her back. Glenis talks of the long day and the many patients that have come through the clinic before we make for the shared room on the veranda and read under the nets, me sporting a headlamp like a miner in the dark of Africa, till my chin drops to my chest and sleep claims me.
The alarm sounds next morning and every morning around five a.m. courtesy of the cock of the flock. We rise to breakfast each day catered to by Janet (midwife doubling as cook) with porridge and bread, fruit and tea. Patients arrive as we eat. The sun well up and the heat rising, they are shown to chairs in the shade of tall fern trees. The village stirs in the distance and children uniformed in golden yellow and rust brown walk to school together. Minibus and motorbike carry their passengers and goods to market, the day’s work begun hours before. Our work begins again with an elderly woman who complains of pains in her neck, who wants to work because she doesn’t like to rely on others and her husband had asked her to leave with her children some years before and it angers her still. A man presents recovering from a stroke, another with genital discharge, a child with chicken pox; several complaints of tingling paralysis.
I enjoy the debate and discussion between us all which now includes fourth year student Philip. For some time my practice has been solitary and this is a welcome challenge of deciding and justifying remedy and philosophy of dosage and potency within short spans of time. There is much to learn and share here and I revel in the satisfying exchanges of experience and knowledge during the interaction with both peers and students.
Each day we work to ease suffering, improve quality of life and I hear of life-saving measures that happen on a daily basis particularly with pregnant mothers and new born babies. Glenis has returned to debrief the projects’ and local Traditional Birth Attendants regarding a child born not breathing a week or so ago. The midwives have taken to particular remedies like Sepia because of the village women’s burden of constant pregnancies and daily workload. Arnica has proven a favourite too for preventing haemorrhaging.
I’m further inspired by a visit to the water project. Now having been in existence for twenty years, the Arizona engineering and workmanship that built the dam on the Buffalo trail is impressive. The Italian input to the water filtering system impresses further as I’m told they can now supply clean water to thirty three villages in the surrounding region. Local man and founder Emperor, is full of justified satisfaction at the number of lives this initiative has probably saved over the years and this is where the homeopathic resonance for him resides.
The inclusion of homeopathy in the project is nine years down the line and was introduced by Linda Shannon, the GHP founderwith Emperor’s long term mentor Sheila Ryan, who on visiting opened Emperor’s eyes to the possibility of curing his fellow villagers of their acute and chronic ailments. Together they have created an important and life improving service provided free by volunteer homeopaths from the UK and occasionally Europe, who also support the project with their financial donations for food, accommodation and the project’s maintenance. My presence was of the same initiative with one additional motivator. During the preparation and Linda’s online supportive input to make my visit happen, I had been asked if I was interested in applying for the UK Co-ordinator post which Linda would step back from, to focus on GHP mentoring and teaching, on her tenth anniversary in the position.
Mafi Seva, though the original and first initiative of the project, is now only one aspect of a greater vision. That vision also encompasses the next stop on my tour.
Wisdom accompanied me back in the ‘tro tro’ and taxi to the Kasoa flat at Iron City junction, so that I could prepare for the next day’s trip to Kumasi.
Ben was back in attendance, his car problems fixed and ready to go to VIP bus station. It was the weekend and I joined the busy queue for a ticket to board an air-conditioned, wide-seated leather-upholstered coach. Despite the heat and my Scottish familiarity with the cold, I was not impressed with the chill stream of cold air and quickly closed the vents above me. I’d rather be too hot than too cold and had surprised myself at managing the average daily thirty degree temperatures coming from a country who’s daily average was less than half as much. Roads and then no road, quarried stone in blocks both close and distant as the coach navigated the way, well worn and popular, passing villages and towns desolate or fractious, friendly and forlorn. Always a smile to be seen but which sometimes didn’t reach the eyes of its wearer. At Linda D’Or we stopped for a toilet/snack break and I missed the opportunity to get the bus licence number for the Kumasi representative who would meet me.
My return to the bus was greeted with an over-the-shades stare from a short middle-aged African in an orange zoot suit, microphone in hand. Once back on the road the preacher man regaled us with guilt calls on our sinning ways for the rest of our journey but I let his ranting wash over me while I read my novel.
Another page with my name on was held in the hand of a young man who’d texted me while on the bus that he was called Solomon. My white face was easy to spot and he haggled with the next taxi for a fair price to take us to my lodgings before we walked to the Montessori school where we met Bonsu Boaten, a very tall man sporting a square wedge haircut and a longish square goatee wearing a bright red short-sleeved patterned shirt. Bonsu leads the Kumasi Homeopathic Study Group and was, with GHP support, in the process of initiating one year first-aid and four year online homeopathy courses.
Before the presentations I’d been asked to give in the next couple of days, Solomon kindly agreed to accompany me to the King’s Palace, now museum, in the oldest part of the city and our tour was thorough and informative, though disappointing not to be able to take photographs. Many gifts and artefacts were available to buy in the shop afterwards before we made our way to the National Centre for Culture. This sprawling space of craft workshops and art galleries was crowded and noisy due to an outdoor religious conference that had the preacher growling onstage like a demon, once again about sin and praising the lord. We made our way back through a sprawling busy market in which we had no time to browse or buy. Later we ventured out to hear a band whose music reminded me of a salsic George Benson. Danceable; but for the torrent that poured rivers of rain down onto the earth and over the band. They eventually gave up and stopped playing after a relentless hour of it.
One of the power points I’d prepared would focus on the History of Homeopathy in the UK. It went well and I emphasised the opportunity inherent in the Ghanaian Government’s present position on the use of homeopathy and reminded them that quantum biophysics, if not mechanistic science, is most definitely catching up with how homeopathy works.
Bonsu, Solomon and Akosua, who were intrigued about getting African patients to describe how they felt, observed and participated with enthusiasm as I took the cases and prescribed remedies for three people they’d invited.
‘Could-be’ students that afternoon at a short ‘Intro to Homeopathy’ including the fundamental principles, expressed great interest and curiosity to know more about homeopathic medicine’s everyday use, asking many questions about the information offered. Bonsu and I became better acquainted over a late lunch and found much in common, inspiring each other with past deeds and present endeavours over egg and potato salad for me and Indian dosas for him.
The electricity went out from six that evening for several hours so it was a hot, quiet night of preparation for the next stage of my journey. Next morning Bonsu collected me in a taxi to get aboard the VIP bus again where we passengers were greeted with a DVD of what sounded like the angry demon preacher from the Cultural Centre. The ‘wrath of God’ was beginning to feel more than intrusive and it all smacked of the worst kind of American Evangelism.
That night I made it to Barbara’s Village for welcome coffees. Yes, its use is frowned upon in homeopathic circles but I’ve discovered its effects are also as individual as any other influence and I was sorely in need of a pick-me-up, some excellent food and what turned out to be a great debate about whether the brain and the spirit are the same. Does the brain control everything we do or is it a tool used by consciousness? The ‘brain controls everything’ theory was hotly declared by Senor Domingo, a Portuguese builder who’d been living in Ghana this past twenty one years and Barbara the owner concurred for a time having been, like Snr Domingo, the victim of a coma in the past. Cosmos, Barbara’s Village manager and myself argued the case for the ‘heart’ or ‘spirit’ and circled the question until Snr Domingo said he believed in reincarnation and that the spirit lived on beyond the body’s death. He was stubborn still, unwilling to relinquish his contrary stance and we agreed to disagree though all appreciating the friendly rigours of the debate.
Next day I made it to the Premier International School of Homeopathy, late from busy Monday morning traffic entwined with head-laden hawkers dangerously weaving between queues of cars. To my surprise, Grace Rhoomes the PISHAM curriculum leader and clinic supervisor was there. I’d believed her to be still in the UK caring for her son after a recent motorbike accident. We chatted briefly before a late student arrived and I began the presentation on miasms and nosodes observed by Julius, who it was great to meet again. Now I would find out how relevant my attempt at presenting the information from the African perspective would be.
I began with emotional anatomy with reference to Stanley Keleman’s book of the same name which explains and pictorially highlights the structural changes and patterns we adopt from both family history and lifetimes of emotional trauma and the postures of defence that we construct. This was related to how we perceive and relate to the world around us from our miasmatic patterning.
Here I emphasised the fact that as homeopaths we are always attempting to gauge the dynamic pattern of the patient’s symptoms to match the pattern of the appropriate remedy; to recognise the pattern inherent in the essence of a remedy; of the patient’s patterns of disturbance and how in Africa there are many systems that use the symbolic language of pattern to convey meaning. In the Khente cloth or the Andinkra symbols of the Asante. So too, the use of particular rhythms for the healing drums with which the Okomfo calls down the gods as part of African Traditional Medicine.
I introduced my findings on ‘Seselelame’, an Anlo-Ewe word that translates literally to: ‘feel, feel, flesh inside’, but conveys all manner of senses including, but not only, the physical. This information had confirmed my experience of the nature of the Africans I knew and had previously worked with, which had shown me that for some, consciousness often operates from a more somatic and intuitive origin, rather than the predominantly intellectual engagement of many westerners who can often rationalise to the point where we cut off from our emotions, lose our rhythm and often our deepest engagement to life.
The information also included details of the Anlo-Ewe belief in reincarnation and the passing on of traits from one generation to the next, at times to the extent where a child is recognised as the re-incarnation of a e.g. a departed grandparent or uncle and recognised by, among other mannerisms, the way they walk. It was a great way to discuss predisposition and the fundamental cause from a non-western perspective and the students eyes lit up since, as it turned out, they were all from the Ewe tribe.
The rest of the afternoon and the next day was spent getting them to peruse satirical profiles, sourced from Ghanaweb.com, of men from different tribes in Ghana (though none were Ewe) which again they could immediately identify with. The challenge here was, like with any case, translating the symptoms and characteristics into the language of the repertory and then recognising the miasmatic patterns running through each profile. This the students worked on committedly until it was time for a presentation of books to be made to them from the GHP and for which I’d recommended: Tyler’s ‘Pointers to the Common Remedies’, an excellent resource for prescribing accurately in clinics with presentations such as that at Mafi Seva; also Vithoulkas’ ‘The Science of Homeopathy’ for levels of health and disease and H.R. Roberts’ ‘Sensations As If’’, for greater familiarity with the range of sensations that patients describe and highlighting SRP keynotes.
My last night and morning brought me back to Barbara’s Village with Grace who lives nearby at Langma beach, though our getting further acquainted had to wait till the next morning when the electricity was operational or unnecessary. We sauntered under the hot sun through foamy sand as breaking waves sought to wash us away with the tide, before settling to talk under the palm trees beside a local drink and snack shack. Grace hails from Jamaican parents of Ghanaian ancestry and moved from London to Accra several years ago to commit to her work as a homeopath, becoming increasingly involved with the GHP over time.
During that time land had been acquired through the local chiefs who wish to see a permanent homeopathic clinic for the surrounding community. Another aspect of the GHP vision was materialising and as the hours of talk speed by, it feels like Grace and I are sisters from another mother. Mother Africa.
3rd July 2014
The Ghana Homeopathy Project is looking for volunteers and UK-based Skype homeopathy mentors for their up and coming 4 year online course.http://ghanahomeopathy.org/