My laptop died late evening on Easter Day. Since then I have felt that my memories and ability to process information have also gone. I had no idea just how important it was for my sanity to be able to write about my experiences. As my computer stopped processing things, so did I. My last week in Ghana was almost unbearable at times, and I’m still not sure how far this was because things took a turn for the worse, and how far it was because I was unable to process the crap, like emotional kidney failure. I should say that a silver thread of hope remained throughout, spun by the friendly spider I call a memory stick, onto which I had backed up my research. Without this I would have lost the entirety of my PhD data, which is a thought too troubling for me to dwell on for long.
Determined to make another attempt to interview an elusive midwife, I focussed my efforts on this in my last week. For a couple of days I was fobbed off, and when she finally emerged, I jumped on a Tro Tro and made what would be my last trip to the villages in Shai Osudoku. After traveling for two hours I arrived at the remote clinic, and was not well received. The midwife had decided she was too busy to see me. Infuriatingly, she was unable to communicate this to me directly on the phone or in person. When I arrived, she merely made vague statements to the effect that she had other things to do, and refused to look me in the eye. When I asked if there was a better time for me to come she didn’t answer at all. This is how I realised that she had never intended to speak to me, despite the edict from the hospital instructing their staff to cooperate.
It was crushing, and was my first experience during fieldwork of someone really not wanting to speak with me. In retrospect, I have actually been very lucky in this regard. I consoled myself with the thought that her reluctance, combined with the other information I have collected about this clinic, probably says more than an interview would have done. Still, I left feeling dejected, and on the way back I was shouted at by several people who used a less-than-polite term for white person. It was as though the villages had now rejected me as well as the city. I did, however, use the opportunity to gain the sort of closure I couldn’t get in Mali, and I stopped by the hospital to thank the staff for their assistance in arranging my clinic visits.
Now all I had to do was wait for the day of my flight home to arrive. The next day brought the rains, and with it a plague of insects. I opened the door of my room, and was confronted with black and buzzing air, as cockroaches, flying ants, damsel flies, and many other creatures I didn’t recognise flailed around in my hair, down my dress, and eventually carpeting the floor as they lay on their backs, legs waving. At this point I felt as though I had gate-crashed a party where I was a figure of hate, and the host was trying inventive means to encourage me to leave. In my mind this party is in the middle of nowhere, where it takes several days for a taxi to arrive. Determined to have one metaphorical glass of champagne before the party security escorted me off the premises, I went to the beach before I left. It was a wonderful opportunity to escape into another world with my book. Yet I was often brought back to reality by visits from local men, one of whom seemed to be proposing an alliance based on the fact that he needed a UK visa, another who made the most inappropriate and worrying sexual comments, and one who simply refused to leave my side.
Despite the fact that my flight wasn’t until 22:50, I stayed in the airport all day on the day of my departure. When the time finally came for me to go through immigration, my path was blocked by two security guards who demanded ‘sweet sweet’ (money) before I could pass. When I reached the passport desk, I was informed that my visa had expired (it hadn’t). After several rounds of me pointing at dates and forms and making my case, I realised that this, again, was about ‘sweet sweet’. By this point, I was out of Ghanaian currency, and the feeling of nauseous panic rising in my chest was indescribably awful. In the end, I offered to pay a ‘fine’ in English currency, and was allowed to pass through, and get on the plane home.
I have said before that it is often the everyday experiences that shape us and determine our lives and deaths. Time may reveal that the irritating, mildly degrading, frustrating, and demoralising experiences of Ghana may have more of an impact on me than any coup. But equally, they may fade into the background, leaving only the fear and excitement of living through political instability, and the memory of a heartbreakingly beautiful silver moon hanging over an empty, white Ghanaian beach. Jeffery Eugenides, whom I read while I was away, says that there are not enough words in the English language to describe the complexity of feelings, and that we should perhaps look to the German linguistic tradition of stringing words together for help. Here are some of the new sentiments that I have discovered: ‘The unexpected sadness which comes on leaving a place one detests’; ‘the sympathy one feels for one’s enemies’; ‘the homesickness which remains after returning home’.
Once again I am extremely grateful to those who have kept up with my adventures and offered me words of encouragement and support. You have kept me connected at times when I would otherwise have been lost. I have no doubt that missanthropologist will return, but for now I am relishing the comforts of home. And heading to a laptop repair shop. Hx