Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Quick Note from Ghana

I have to apologize in advance because I am writing from an Internet cafe and don't have access to any of the amazing pictures and videos I've shot since arriving in Accra one week ago. Yes, I do have a thumb drive and no, I will not insert it into the machine I'm typing on now. Body parts and computer components should not be shared liberally.

First of all, flying over the Sahara is probably the closest thing to space travel I'll ever experience. It's so enormous and empty that you realize whatever is on the other side can't be anything like the place you just left.I was in the air for over an hour when I saw a small hamlet around an oil rig. It was another full two hours before I saw any other man-made structure. Sometimes I'd see a long dirt road that extended from one end of the horizon to another. At one point I flew over an intersection of two such dirt roads and wondered what would happen if you missed your turn off. Once in a while the desert grew into enormous mountains with stunning red cliffs - but again no trace of human life at all.

Eventually I arrived at Kotoka airport in Accra (how many of you have done that tired old Tirana to Accra flight?) and was surprised to be greeted by a brand new airport transfer chair. After passing through customs I was escorted to the waiting area where I hoped to find my friend, Gifty a physical therapy teacher whom I'd met twice while working with the International Rehabilitation Forum. Unfortunately Gifty mixed up the days so I ended up taking a cab to a hotel recommended to me by a Canadian NGO worker who was on her way home.

The hotel was surprisingly accessible and it even had air conditioning and wifi. Gifty found me in the morning and after apologizing profusely took me to the Monrose Guest House in the Adenta neighborhood North of Accra. The Monrose is a super-friendly place that has a big car ramp leading up to the front door. It was almost accessible except for the 10-inch step to my room. I told the manager I'd pay to have a carpenter build a ramp but he told me he'd already hired one. In less than an hour I was lying down on a huge raft of a bed in an air-conditioned room. The bathroom door was just a little tight so we just yanked it right out. As of last Tuesday the Monrose is now 100 accessible!

The first night we had an audience with the Rev. Michael Ntumy, the former head of the five-million member Church of the Pentecost. Rev. Ntumy had a severe case of cervical stenosis (shrinking of the spine in the neck area) and surgery to relieve the condition has left him a quadriplegic. He is currently the head of the German branch of the Church of the Pentecost and was luckily in Accra guest lecturing. But as happens in many areas of the world, the only time any action takes place on disability is when someone in a high position is affected. Since his surgery four years ago Rev. Ntumy has been very active in the disability community and is instrumental in the on-going process of turning one of the pastors residence in to a physical therapy and rehab ward.

A few days later we were invited to attend a meeting of the Ghanian Society of Disabled Persons' Accra chapter meeting. I sat in on a heated discussion of how they would be spending the 2% of the city's annual budget dedicated to disability programs. Having come from Albania where there is almost no governmental help for the disabled it was amazing to see how organized the Ghanian disability community has become. We got to interview the chapter president as well as their sporting director who also happens to be the African hand-cycle championship.

Sunday is Gifty's church day so she and her four kids escorted me to their church which is a fire-and-brimstone charismatic Christian church with a three hour long service. Gifty asked me if I thought I could play with the church band and I was thrilled. Three hours of church can be mighty long to an agnostic, but put a guitar in my hand and it was one big concert. I wasn't sure what to play all the time but I've learned along the road that one bad note can destroy all the good ones. So I kept my axe pretty quiet unless I knew where I was going. In the end, I passed the audition, we're going to rehearse this Saturday and do it up again Sunday morning. 

Monday was a national holiday so on Tuesday we were given a tour of the Medina Hospital of the Church of the Pentecost (If you haven't guessed it by now Ghana is VERY religious). The hospital sees about 300 patients a day and unbelievably enough all five of it's floors are accessible by ramps. But the big hit of the day was going over to see the nearly brand new pastor's mansion that is going to be turned into a PT and rehab ward. Built in 2007 shortly before Rev. Ntumy's surgery the 8-bedroom facility with a swimming pool, kitchen and huge meeting room will be a perfect rehab center serving many more people that its' original intention.

Yesterday I got to play teacher and give two presentations to Gifty's PT students. I was joined by a group of students and faculty from one of my sister Sue's alma maters, the University of North Dakota. These eight women were on the end of two-week tour and they were just beaming with spirit and pride. For some of the students it was their first trip out of the states and Ghana couldn't be a more different environment to the upper Midwest. These 8 women were also the first white people I'd seen since leaving the airport!

So with ten days left we'll be visiting some more hospitals then heading up north to Tamale to visit a Christian mission that caters to disabled people in rural areas. This is one of the most exciting places I've ever been to, but also the most difficult. It's rainy season now and the road to the Monrose is completely underwater. I actually had to take a cab 400 yards to get to the internet cafe. My chair is an a sad state of affairs as the front wheel wants to fall off - much like it did in India. My computer and camera are both having difficulty, but I've already shot enough to ensure a good video. Anything else I get is gravy.

It's just about dinner time so I'm going back to the Monrose which butts up against the local soccer pitch. I'm watching AMAZING players every night. You can see why they've risen to the top of the African competitions time and time again. I feel like I'm watching a country full of Zinedane Zidanes squaring off against each other on a nightly basis - and these are just the local guys!

So hang tight and Ill try to find a wifi so I can drop some pictures your way in the next coming days!

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