I arrived in exotic Ghana puking my guts out. Not an auspicious beginning for a new expat life in West Africa, don’t you agree? But don’t worry, this was quite a while ago, the first time my prince and I lived in Ghana. (The second time was more recent, in Internet times.) I remember this unsavory event as one of my most memorable arrivals in a foreign country, and, I trust you know, I’ve done a lot of arriving and departing. Another arrival still vivid in my mind is here.
So, my man and I found our luggage on the belt and stood in line at customs. Our turn to have our suitcases inspected came as I was busy making good use of the barf bag taken from the airplane, one of several I had graced with my offerings on the trip over.
The custom official took one look at me and waved us through.
I was five months pregnant with our first child.
You may wonder what I was thinking going to live in Africa while pregnant, a continent away from family and friends. But it was my Life Path, my Fate, my Destiny, whatever you want to call it, so I went.
Soon after arrival I acquired my first African doctor. No, I do not mean a medicine man who kills white chickens and mixes up secret potions with the blood (a little saliva, some ashes, a dash of powdered bark — you get the idea). This man was a western-style physician, a gynecologist-obstetrician with an impressive string of initials behind his name, as well as the notation that he was a Fellow of the Royal College of Gynaecology and Obstetrics.
Doctor Kwarko, then, had received his education in England and had an excellent reputation in the expatriate community. At the time he was the only local ob-gyn man “approved” by the American embassy health unit, so there you have it.
Since the Ghanaian government had financed his medical education, Doctor Kwarko had done twenty-five years of government service in the barren north of the country (or so I was told). He now owned, in the capital of Accra, a brand-new private clinic, shining white and bright in the tropical sun. I reasoned that if you can practice modern medicine in the semi-desert for twenty-five years, under the most primitive conditions, no doubt, you’ve seen it all and done it all and you’ve got to be really creative.
Our daughter was born in Doctor Kwarko’s clinic on a Tuesday morning. I remember it well. I remember Doctor Kwarko very well. For one thing, he was one of the blackest people I have ever known – a deep, rich ebony black that made an impressive contrast with his white doctor’s coat. Only on this Tuesday morning he was not wearing his white coat.
Here I was, in the throes of labor and in he comes, wearing a white singlet, a white butcher’s apron and rubber boots. Don’t ask me why. He was quite a sight, and not one I had witnessed before. Rubber boots in the labor room? However, since I was rather occupied, I had no time to contemplate his bizarre appearance.
I was not having a good time. This birthing thing was not going quite according to the books I’d been reading. Not to bore you with the details and to make it short, I was knocked out and the baby was born with the help of forceps. I try not to picture the procedure. The image of a man wearing a butcher apron and rubber boots, sitting between my spread-out legs holding a huge clamp in his hands is not pleasing. But the gods were with me and all went well.
They never gave our daughter a little identification bracelet. She was the only white baby among a group of about eight newborns in the nursery. Not only was she the only white one, she was the only bald one. African babies are born with an enviable crop of hair. To tell you the truth, next to these brown beauties, my baby daughter, hairless and colorless, looked a bit pale and sick, which she wasn’t. Context is everything.
So that was the tale about the African doctor and his butcher apron.
Here she is, 9 months old and still nothing but fuzz for hair. She wasn’t happy about having her picture taken, clearly.
Actually there is another little tale I’ll tell you here: Some time later, my nanny, the Ghanaian girl who helped take care of my baby, was in need of some medical attention for a minor problem of the female variety. Rose wanted time off to go to her home village, which would take her away from our household for at least two or three days. I had a better idea: She could consult the eminent Doctor Kwarko and I would pay for the visit, which was worth it, since she would be back in a matter of hours rather than days.
Rose, however, did not see things the way I did. She wanted to spend hours on a rickety tro-tro lurching across rutted roads to go to her home village.
Tro-tro: An old Bedford lorry, (un)fortunately now extinct in Ghana. Painting by Kofi Aryee
Rose’s village boasted an American mission hospital staffed with white American physicians (one of whom was called Doctor Brown, I kid you not). She wanted an American doctor, not my excellent African physician to whom I had entrusted myself and my baby, the doctor “approved” by the American embassy, no less.
So, African Rose took off to her village to see her white American Doctor Brown, and of course her many relatives.
And so it goes in the minds of women.
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Any interesting stories about doctors, births, babies? Hit that comment button.