Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A series of (self-imposed) unfortunate events: Going to to dentist

My tooth has been bothering me for about a week. It makes it sort of hard for me to open my mouth and the pain goes up into my ear. We asked the Peace Corps office in Accra and they gave us a few options, one of which has an office in Takoradi. Lucky me! I was able to make an appointment for Thursday at two pm with the doctor from Accra, who comes out once every other week.

The rest of the Trinity Yard staff suggested that I find something earlier, since the last tro (public transportation van) leaves for our area around four. Although the Accra doctor didn't have any more openings, the doctor in residence did have something at eleven. Fine by me. My boss Brian said that of course I could go, asked that I make copies for him at a copy place called “Super Moonlight,” and gave me 30 cedis. Maa't, our cook, asked for 15 cedis worth of onions (about seven dollars worth, so perhaps two pounds?). Niifio, our jokster Yard boy, asked for a girlfriend and a loaf of bread.

To my delight, my travel insurance said that they would cover up to $500 in dental costs, excluding things like crowns and bridge work. Brian said that here I could buy a whole new mouth for that much money. Great.

The tro from Cape Three Points heading in the Takoradi direction leaves at 5:30 in the morning. A friend saved me a seat, and I climbed to the top of the hill near our house to catch it. When I woke up it was still dark, but by the time I got on the tro, I could see colors in the trees and the road. I was squeezed in a row with three other people, behind the gaggle of older women going in to Agona to sell fish (the smell told me).

I'm not sure whether I slept or not, but I do know that it took well over an hour to get to the tro station in Agona. I bought a hard-boiled egg and hopped on to the next tro that would take me to Takoradi.

By 7:50, we had arrived in Takoradi. I was grateful that it had been a quick trip – two hours is really as good as it gets here, even though on American roads, I'd say that the drive would take half an hour. I went immediately to buy the bread, because the staff has a very specific bakery and brand that they prefer, and the vendor regularly sells out. When the cashier handed me the loaf, I was impressed by the heft of it. This was no light and squishy Wonderbread, this was the “special edition.” No really, they call it the special edition.

It was only 8:15 and I needed to get out some money for the dentist. My friend Ago had told me that a trip to the private doctor where he goes in Accra costs 10c edis, plus whatever the medication costs. I figured that the dentist might be more, but certainly 100 cedis would be enough. I walked to the ATM and pulled out my wallet, only to realize that my wallet and credit card were locked in the safe back at the Yard.
This was going to make the trip tight, but not impossible, I reasoned. If I just skipped buying the onions, I could probably have enough to cover the basic fees and still get home, given the prices Ago had quoted. That being said, the dentist is pretty far away from Market Circle, where the tro station is, and since I was going to have to pay for a taxi, I wanted some exact figures.
I called the office, but it was still closed. I walked clockwise around the outside of the market circle, stopped to say hello to the woman who sells us mangoes, and then walked counterclockwise around the inside of the market circle. Only 8:30.

Instead of continuing to wander and risk looking like a tourist or worse, like I needed help, I sat down on the curbside and opened my book. Thank God I brought a book. I had been planning on reading it in the waiting room of the dentist, but I decided that this curb was an extension of the waiting room, since I was, in fact, waiting for the dentist.

A few people said hello, and a few kids asked for money, but by and large folks left me alone. (That would NEVER have happened in Senegal or Ecuador.)
Eventually, the hard concrete made my butt hurt and I wandered off for Brian's copies. While I was able to easily find “Super Moonlight” (how could I miss it with a name like that?), I was a little confused about the protocol. There were several Ghanaians behind computers, typing, and a woman behind a mostly empty display case. I decided she was my best bet.

“Oh, I'm sorry, I don't work here, but you can take your copies to the woman in the corner.” I crawled over the other people to get to her, realizing that these folks were the employees and they were retyping things that had already been written because the customers needed a digital file. The woman I visited was typing up someone's resume and cover letter. While the letter was pathetic, the number of errors the typist had made was rather impressive, and I was glad all over again that I had a job and that I didn't have to send any more of those wretched letters. She opened up the files from the USB drive I gave her, and finally figured out how many copies I needed, and motioned me to sit. I went back to my book.
After I had completed two chapters, I realized that even the most archaic copy machine didn't need that long to make twenty color copies. Oh, the attendant said, the copier is broken. Only the color printer works.
I looked at the printer. It was the kind with printing tape; I hadn't seen one since I was ten. Then I looked at the pricing page, taped to the top of the display case. Color copies, .05 cedis. Color print-outs, .50 cedis. And then the last page of Brian's document came out.
“Ten cedis.”

Outside, with some fifteen (loaned) cedis to my name, I checked the time. 8:50. I tried the office again and this time the receptionist answered.

She has a really nice accent, sort of a friendly British inflection, and remembered me right away. I asked how much the appointment would cost, she spent a minute looking through the books (since I had changed the appointment) and then she said something that I couldn't really understand before my phone cut out. I thought that she had said “fifty dollars.”

I couldn't call her back until I bought more credit for my phone, so I wandered around to find an Airtel guy and did the whole “one cedi credit please yes I'm American yes I'm married thanks bye.”

The receptionist, ever patient, repeated the cost. I told her I didn't understand. She explained that the cost was in American dollars but that she could gladly convert it to cedis for me. And was I in pain, because that would require an x-ray and that would be another hundred and fifty dollars. I fumbled awkwardly, saying that I had left my credit card at home, and asked if I could perhaps charge it to my account.
This kind, graceful woman gently said “well, we don't generally do that, but how much do you have with you?”
“Um...under a hundred cedis.” Because yes, 15 cedis is under a hundred.
“Well, dear, I think rescheduling might be a better option. Let's see, his next opening is two Thursdays from now.”
Fine, great, it's done, whatever. It really doesn't hurt that bad, and if it's going to come out it's going to come out whether I go today or next Thursday. Time to go home.

Catching the tro to Agona wasn't bad at all; people make this trip often and the tros leave regularly. Once in Agona, I found the tro that passes by Trinity Yard School, and buried my head in my book, much to the dismay of the various vendors and middle aged men that tried to talk to me. The tro only took about half an hour to fill up (they won't leave until they're above capacity) and as soon as we left, the guy next to me pulled out his phone, turned on his music, and turned the volume up to “deafening.”
Oh boy.

Fifty minutes in to the drive, I realized that I was both loosing my ability to hear and my ability to control my temper. I got off at Ketakor, about two miles from the Yard. I decided that it was better to walk and cool down than flip out in the crowded tro.

The cooling down was, of course, metaphorical, since it was the hottest afternoon since I had arrived in Ghana. The bread, whose density I had previously admired, and the book, whose companionship I had so appreciated, were now lead weights in a thin plastic bag. The outfit that I chose for waiting in an air conditioned dentist office was now woefully dusty and decidedly toasty. The real reason the weather bothered me was because I was out walking instead of doing laundry. Due to the sea air and the humidity, it is generally hard to get things to dry here, but this was prime drying time.
Our friend Faustina walking up the (nice portion of the) road that I mention here.

I got home around 1:30. As I was eating lunch's leftovers, Brian listened sympathetically to my forgotten credit card tale and, when he was sure that I was done feeling sorry for myself, asked if I could drive the van to pick up manure.

My first response was absolutely not. Then I realized that, if I didn't drive the van, we would never pick up the manure, and if we didn't pick up the manure, the garden would never be fertilized, and if it wasn't fertilized, none of the others would help me plant it or take care of it. For some reason they were all dead-set on the idea that the soil needed more nutrients, and that this specific cow poop, located just outside of Agona, was exactly what it needed. I was not eager to use cow manure because it can easily burn the roots of the plants and, because the garden has lain fallow for several years now, it probably doesn't need much enrichment. We had been stuck in this deadlock since the day after my arrival.

Begrudgingly, I agreed--as long as there was no physical labor involved.

As we hooked the trailer to the back of the van, the kids (they're technically teenagers, but still very much kids) decided that they wanted to ride on it. I was happy to let them come, but I didn't want them riding in the back, especially given the state of the roads. But they insisted and, despite my protests, eagerly hopped on as if it were a hayride.

A word about our driving conditions: the roads here are generally quite good. We do not live on a road, however. We live down a long, rocky path of compressed red dirt and rocks. It takes about fifty minutes to reach the paved road. It is a jaw-rattling, bumper-car-esque ride until then. As those of you who have driven with me before might imagine, it is not a driving experience that I relish.

Down the path we rambled, a trailer full of giggling teens in tow being coated in dust.

Unexpectedly, a very large truck hailed us. The two men in the cab looked angry.

“Please! Let them in the car! It is not good in the back!”

It took us a minute to understand what was happening. Brian and I were in the van, and the kids were in the trailer. That meant that the (white) Americans were in the car, and the (black) Ghanaians were gathering dust outside. The men thought that we were being racist.
We tried to explain that they had chosen to ride in the back, and I asked the kids to explain it to the men in the truck, but they just yelled at the men in English (which we were already doing) and stayed on the trailer. Eventually, the men drove off in disgust.

There was nothing unusual about gathering the cow manure, other than the fact that I did indeed end up doing a good bit of physical labor and , by the end, we were all covered in a fragrant layer of powdered shit.

To me, the most interesting part about this whole adventure is that none of this is that interesting here. Details that would be intensely noticeable in the States (a foot-long lizard running through church, strangers holding my hand, naked old men lathered in soap on the side of the road) we consider commonplace. That's why I try to write everything down, because it's not until I look at it through my more “American” lens that I realize that every single second here is a ridiculous adventure.