Twelve days in Ghana

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Cardiology Review® Online, February 2008, Volume 25, Issue 2

In the past 6 years, the Association of Black Cardiologists, Inc (ABC) has held international symposia in China, South Africa, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Egypt, and Brazil. These joint scientific sessions afford ABC members the opportunity to learn about other cultures, establish international collaborations, meet and meaningfully interact with cardiologists from other countries, spread our message, and otherwise promote mutual understanding, health promotion, and disease prevention.

In December 2007, we visted Ghana, a former British colony named Gold Coast in the pre-independence era, and the land of the Ashanti people, Kwame Nkrumah and Rita Marley, and the adopted home of the father of Pan-Africanism, W.E.B. Dubois. The result was 12 days of intellectual exchange, adventure, cultural immersion, and a wonderful time for all.

Upon our arrival in Accra, we were greeted with "akwaaba," meaning "welcome" in the Akan language, as well as signs saying "Welcome to Ghana. Merry Christmas!" We soon learned that in Ghana, Christmas lasts for 12 days starting with Christmas Day. We barely had time to rest and freshen up before we were summoned to the Castle (the equivalent of our White House) to be officially welcomed by the President of Ghana, His Excellency John A. Kufuor. President Kufuor was most gracious and complementary in his welcome, introducing us to his cabinet and offering well wishes on our visit. He was kind enough to assign 2 of his personal bodyguards as well as a motorcycle police escort to our group. The Deputy Chief of Mission at the United States Embassy in Ghana, Ms Sue K. Brown, was also on hand to greet us, and ABC president Dr Gerald DeVaughn eloquently expressed our appreciation and explained our mission. Dr Kenny Gayles became a television star by sharing with the people of Ghana that this visit was a dream come true for himself, his wife, and their 5 children. The following day, the national newspaper gave ample coverage regarding our state visit.

Day 3 of our trip brought the faculty from the College of Health Sciences of the University of Ghana and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology together with the ABC for a joint scientific session chaired by Drs Gerald DeVaughn, William Ntim, and Albert Amoah. The presentations offered on this day and at a second scientific session held during the trip are listed in the Table.

The next day we visited Cape Coast and Elmina, exploring the various castles that facilitated the slave trade. It was noteworthy that the church that served the white community was built above the dungeons where the slaves were housed while waiting to be transported to the Americas. It was heaven above and hell below.

On day 5, we visited one of Ghana's rain forests in the Kankum Wildlife and Forest Reserve and took a 5-mile guided tour above the canopy on a very unsteady bridge. We were entertained by the very adventuresome Maxcy Gayles, who sought out and found interesting life forms (snakes, ants, centipedes, bats, etc) in tree bark, under logs, and in fallen leaves. He may have taken this too far when he ventured too close to the crocodiles and met with the screams of all the mothers in our group.

The following day we visited the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and made our pilgrimage to the W.E.B. Dubois Pan-African Museum and Library. The relationship between African Americans and the people of Ghana is very deep.

Because most people in Ghana go to church to bring in the New Year, the New Year's Eve Gala took place a day early. We were, however, guests of Mr Fred and Mrs Agnes Osafo Ntim for a wonderful early evening of great music and native foods. Later that night, we brought in the New Year with hugs and good wishes from our fellow travelers at a grand gala on the lawn overlooking the ocean.

On New Year's Day, we learned that 2 American sailors had just mysteriously died at our hotel while on shore leave. We made our way to the Lighthouse Chapel International Church (LCIC) for our traditional New Year's thanksgiving service and to offer prayers for these fallen sailors and their families. This service has always been a part of our annual expedition, and is a time when we share with each other the past year's experiences and our hopes for the year to come. It is always a meaningful and emotional moment, particularly when our children express their appreciation for the love and generosity of their parents.

In brief remarks at this ceremony, Dr Kong pointed out that "we are a chosen people, not necessarily by God, but by slave traders. The secret to our survival and prosperity has been our will. But the will to live persists only if there is meaning to our lives. This trip to Ghana, to the home of our ancestors, can be a time for renewal, self-purification, and rejuvenation. Is there a balm in Gilead? Let us exist to serve a purpose." Rev Dr Edwin Ogoe, Medical Director of the LCIC Mission Hospital, later took us on a tour of the Mission Hospital, which also ministers to health needs of the indigent.

The ninth day found us on the winding and bumpy road to Kumasi for a very worthwhile trip to the Ashanti nation. We met with Ms Patricia Appiagyei, mayor of Kumasi, visited the museum, and met with the ruler of the Ashanti people (known as the Asantehene, or king), Otumfuo Osei Tutu II. We found the king extremely enlightening. We took turns giving various presentations about our work in the United States and our appreciation for the warm hospitality from all the people of Ghana. In his speech to us, King Tutu acknowledged that many of his people are now living around the world, particularly in the United States, and that this was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the money they send back and the education they receive has been helpful, but he hoped that Ghana natives among the ABC membership would provide opportunities for the people in Ghana to benefit from their enormous wealth and knowledge. If you are fortunate to hear a speech by the king, be prepared to be interrupted by someone shouting "zhun," which is roughly translated to: "Be quiet and listen up everybody, the king is talking."

The School of Medical Sciences in Kumasi also sponsored our best-attended scientific session, which was cochaired by Dr Tsiri Agbenyega, Professor and Dean of the School of Medical Sciences, and Sir Joseph Acheampong, Professor of Medicine. Dr George Mensah delivered the keynote lecture on "Culture, socioeconomic change, and health transitions: cardiovascular lessons from the Ashantis to the Zulus."

The high point of the trip occurred when Daasebre Akuamoah Boateng II, Omanhene (king) of the Kwahu Traditional Area, hosted a Grand Durbar for us that included a meeting with several of the local chiefs in an extravagant and colorful festival. The music, drumming, and dancing was delightful. The children danced and Dr DeVaughn addressed the 500 assembled guests, pleading for future collaboration and support between the ABC and the people of Ghana. We visited the Atibie District Hospital and Pepease-Kwahu Rural Clinic and got a firsthand look at how rural medicine is practiced. We also learned, firsthand, the pressing need for a basic laboratory for the Pepease-Kwahu Clinic, which serves several villages and yet has to transport acutely ill patients to a hospital an hour away.

After returning to Accra, we departed for various locations in the United States on the twelfth day. Merry Christmas. We should do this again.