Where Everybody Knows Your Name

three women sitting on grass
Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

In the 80s there was this popular sitcom we used to watch called Cheers and the chorus of it’s theme song went like this:

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
The troubles are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name

As I grow older, I find myself relating to these lyrics, going to familiar places where I am known. Sometimes you just don’t feel like having all eyes on you  when you walk into a place – especially when you are not a slay queen or an instagram influencer seeking attention.

It’s nice to go a restaurant where the waiter knows my favourite seat, or a salon with a hairdresser who is familiar with my inability to keep my head still when doing my hair. It’s my pedicurists I feel sorry for paa, they usually have to contort their bodies in various angles while trying to paint my toenails since my feet are usually moving or resting at an unusual angle.

We often complain about bad service and not enough is said about good service because it is expected. However for someone as fussy as I am when it comes to service, I have a number of places where I get service worth writing about.  A few of them are below:

  • A&C Mall: God knows, I have had so many fights with their security men about disabled parking that when they see my car, they remove the security barrier for disabled parking, questions unasked. My haunts there are usually Max Mart and NAYA. At Max Mart, staff are pleasant, helpful and talk directly to me. On my lazy days, I send my driver into NAYA to call the sales girl to the car and do my shopping from the car.
  • Ernest Chemist (East Legon Branch): Security men are very pleasant and helpful, and usually rush to open the door even when I am far enough for it to take a minute or two for me to reach it. There was a day we entered the shop and my driver needed to use the restroom, the security guy at the door followed me with a basket to do my shopping until my driver came back.
  • Stanbic Bank (Stanbic Heights and East Legon) : Very helpful customer service /relationship managers  who make the banking process a relatively easy one. They accommodate my special needs and sometimes go the extra mile to help me out.
  • Black Cotton Natural Hair Salon: I go there every 6 weeks to retwist my sisterlocks.. and I have been going there consistently for over 7 years. Never been tempted to go anywhere else for retwisting…
  •  Tersy Beauty Salon and Spa:  For me to go all the way to Agbogba to style my hair should tell you something about my stylist. Dela is very innovative when it comes to styling locs and natural hair.
  • Head2Toe Spa:  Where I go for mani-pedis and threading of eyebrows. I do my mani-pedi there because of Mabel, who knows how to do an impressive pedicure for someone with CP who can’t keep her feet still.  Most often, they have to follow me to the car with the nail polish because my fingernail polish usually gets smudged when I hold my crutches to walk outside. When it comes to the eyebrow threading, Nijon manages to get it done perfectly despite the jerky head movements and facial contortions.
  • Jamrock: Staff are very pleasant and helpful and of course, the Madame herself  – Eliza is such a lovely person, who is willing to help out in anyway she can, and very receptive to criticism.
  • Cafe Jackie Dee:  The owner – Liza has a welcoming personality and will offer various suggestions if you are in two minds over what to eat.
  • XO Restaurant and Bar: Well trained, pleasant and helpful waitstaff.
  • Clean Eats Restaurant: Quick and efficient service, and the owner, Abynnah usually comes up with various suggestions when I am indecisive.
  • Sunshine Salad Bar:  Well trained, pleasant and helpful waitstaff.

This list is in no way exhaustive and I will write a part 2 as time goes on. Some of the places listed are not wheelchair accessible, but can be accessed on crutches.

 

 

Tips to survive a vacation in Ghana with a disability

Disabled parking sign, displaying a wheel chair
Disabled parking sign, displaying a wheel chair, copy space

As a Ghanaian who loves her local food and the feeling of belonging, there’s nowhere I’d rather live than in my country.  Those of us from Ghana and other West African countries can be fussy when it comes to our food, which is why we often travel with our pepper, smoked fish, etc so we don’t miss out on our food whilst we are away.

Personally, I don’t do that so after a few days away, I find myself longing for my Waakye, Kenkey, Banku, etc. Contrary to the start of this post, it’s not about food; it’s about navigating Accra when you are a visitor with a disability or a chronic illness.

A few years ago, the BBC did a documentary on living with a disability in Ghana and they concluded that it was the worst place to be disabled. I can’t refute their findings but I disagree with their conclusion. Yes, it is difficult to live with a disability in Ghana, but I don’t think it is the worst place on God’s green earth to live with a condition.

2019 marks four hundred years since the official beginning of the slave trade and the Ghana government is urging the descendants of those who were sold into slavery to return ‘home’ – either for a holiday or to settle.  Thus 2019 has been coined as “The Year of Return”.  Throughout the year, many African Americans and West Indians have visited Ghana, some have had amazing experiences and are planning return trips, others couldn’t wait to shake the dust from their feet. As the year draws to a close we have heard about how all hotels are fully booked, people are turning their homes into AirBnBs to cash in on the expected deluge of visitors who are coming for Christmas.

Navigating your way around can be a bit daunting even when you are able to go everywhere on your own two feet –  so when you have a set of wheels or extra legs (crutches), it’s a different story altogether.

Here are some tips to help you if you are on wheels, crutches or even have a chronic illness or invisible disability, during your vacation in Ghana:

  • Assume everywhere is disability unfriendly: Apart from the big malls and luxury hotels, almost everywhere else is disability unfriendly. There are few well structured pavements and most of those have been overtaken by hawkers selling their wares. So you might want to rethink bringing that fancy motorized  wheelchair or scooter; you’ll end up mostly using it in your hotel or at the mall. Most tourist attractions, especially the castles and fortes are not accessible. They may put a makeshift wooden ramp over the stairs for wheelchair users but usually these ramps are very steep and you will need assistance to get over them.
  • Expect people to stare at you in public: Depending on the part of the country/city you are in, you may get a lot more stares than you are used to.  Shake it off and go about your business.
  • Unwanted assistance is a given: Ghanaians are generally friendly and helpful so when they see you struggling up a flight of stairs in your crutches or trying to navigate a rough patch in your wheelchair, expect to feel a hand under your arm or a push from behind without being consulted. If you do not need/want the help, politely decline it. The person may still hang around until you get to a safe landing , when you get there, smile and say thank you again before going about your business.
  • Invitations to church services will flow: Ghanaians are very religious and a large percentage of us go to charismatic churches. They will invariably want to invite you to their churches or a miracle healing crusade so you will be healed from your condition. If that is not your cup of tea, say thank you but you are very happy with your condition so you are declining the invitation. If they persist to the point where you just want to get them off your back, pick a religion or a an orthodox denomination and say you belong to it. Once we know you believe in something, we’ll back off a bit.
  • The invisibility cloak shall be yours: You will either be talked down to or completely ignored and talked about with the person you are with. When this happens, firmly speak up and let them know that your mental faculties are in place and you can speak for yourself.
  • Political what??: Use rawhide to toughen your skin before you come else you will be surely hurt by utterances, largely due to ignorance. Ableism is a given so expect it! Expect to be referred to as a cripple, a sick person and other politically incorrect terms.  When this happens, don’t get too offended  ( I know it is annoying and demeaning)  rather correct the person, assuming that s/he doesn’t know any better.
  • Medical facilities: There are a number of public hospitals, polyclinics and private hospitals across the country. In Accra (and Ghana for that matter), Korle-bu Teaching Hospital is the most resourced in terms of medical personnel and departments, it has the state of the art Cardio Thoracic Center, Burns Unit, etc.. It is also the largest in terms of area and the busiest. 37 Military Hospital and the Greater Accra Regional Hospital, Ridge are well equipped hospitals with emergency wards as well. If you need to see a physio whilst you are here, the Accra Physio and Sports Injury Clinic is one of the best physio centers in the country and you can go there without a referral.

   Opposite the Korle bu Teaching Hospital is a row of shops which sell assistive  devices and other equipment for those with disabilities.  However, the range is somewhat limited. Personally, I have to  order my crutch tips from amazon since I cannot get the ones which fit my crutches at these shops. 

  • Packing tips: If you have a chronic condition and/or are on medication, make sure you pack enough to last the duration you are here. If you are using crutches, be sure to bring spare tips if you intend to do a lot of walking. The terrain isn’t very smooth so the tips wear out quicker than usual.  Pack a bath seat if you are not staying in a 4 or 5 star hotel with a standard disabled room. Ask the hotel to send you pictures of the bathroom so you will know whether to pack a bath board (if you need one) or not.
  • Disabled Toilets: There are few public buildings with standard disabled toilets – mainly the malls and the hotels. At the malls, sometimes you will find the disabled toilet is locked and the key is with the cleaner, who is usually nowhere to be found. You will end up having to wait for 5-15 mins whilst someone goes to look for him/her. Factor that into consideration when you are going to use the facilities.

If you cannot use a standard toilet and have to go out for the day, be sure to wear your adult diapers. You can either pack them when you are coming or purchase them at the big pharmacies in Accra.

  • Weak bladder issues: Traffic in December can be quite horrendous with 30 minute trips lasting as long as two hours plus, so try not to drink too much when you are going to be in traffic.
  • Transportation: Wheelchairs can get into BRTs and Mass Metro Transport buses but I cannot guarantee there will be a ramp to get on. So if you have a portable ramp, bring it along, It will also be helpful as most ground floor buildings usually have a step or two to climb to enter.  My advice would be to come to an arrangement with a taxi driver who will be your means of transport during the duration of your trip. If you would prefer a female taxi driver, check out Miss Taxi  You can also use UBER, BOLT or YANGO ride sharing apps.
  • Honking: We honk a lot on our roads so take note of that if you have a high sensitivity to noise or are easily startled.

Well I will end here, if something else comes to mind, I will write another post on the subject. However, if you have any questions, you may comment or send me mail – fbedwei@gmail.com.

Akwaaba and enjoy your stay!

 

What does s/he have to be depressed about?

 

In this part of the world, that’s usually our first reaction when we hear someone is suffering from depression. We tend to be unsympathetic and feel as though the person is taking the easy  way out of the hustles of daily living. Life in a developing country is a struggle, most of the time, the systems (if they are in place) don’t work so it can be a very trying exercise just living. Either you are chasing civil servant to do his/her job, following up with the electricity provider on when your lights are coming back on, going from one gas filling station to another with an empty cylinder looking for gas, or rushing to the hospital at the crack of dawn so you can join the long queue to see the specialist (even though you have an appointment). With all these hustles, who has time to be depressed?

So we conclude that the person was idle, not working or hustling hard enough that’s how come depression was able to set in. And we give ourselves mental high-fives, feeling as though we are superior beings,  not susceptible to depression or  any other mental health illness……till it happens to us or someone close to us.

When it happens to someone close to us, our initial reaction is bafflement – we say things like ‘ah but this guy/girl paa, where did this one too come from?’, then if its someone we’ve known for a long time, we start scratching our heads trying to remember whether we missed any telling signs. Next we try to rationalise why the person has gotten this way – we either link it to witchcraft and suggest the this ‘powerful man of God’ for the person to go to for deliverance, or if the person has a high IQ, we attribute it to the brain working too fast or something. We do this, I believe, so we can take ourselves out of the pool of people susceptible to depression.

Since depression is caused by a chemical imbalance  and/or unhappiness due to our circumstances, we are all susceptible to it; for most, the trigger that will activate it hasn’t been pulled. Most who go into depression due to unhappiness are able to come out of it on their own when their circumstances changes. Others may have to ‘talk to someone’ before the fog gets lifted. There’s no shame in admitting you need help and seeing a psychologist/psychiatrist – they went to school for this purpose so allow them to put it to use.

 

Those with bipolar or clinical depression would need a combination of drugs and therapy – the drugs are usually taken for life.

If you have a friend or a loved one in this situation:

  •  Don’t avoid him/her – underneath the fog, the person you knew is still there
  • Don’t pretend all is well and normal – it isn’t! Talk about it with the person if s/he is inclined to, let him/her know its nothing to be ashamed of
  • If you can, go and visit the person if s/he is admitted into a psychiatric  hospital; your presence would lift the person’s spirits
  • Don’t walk on eggshells around the person, treat him/her as you normally would especially after being discharged from the hospital.
  • Try not to be impatient or unsympathetic when s/he is having an ‘episode’,  remember it’s a disease and under normal circumstances the person would probably be mortified to realise s/he is behaving in such a manner.
  • When you are in the why-can’t-s/he-snap-out-of it mode, avoid contact with the person, work through your anger and frustration in your cubbyhole and come back out when you have it under control.

May is Mental Health Awareness month (apparently), so let’s give our mental faculties the same care we give our body when we are sick. These days there are online psychologists you could talk to who can guarantee anonymity if you don’t want it known you are seeing someone.

IF YOU NEED HELP, GET IT!!!

 

Disclaimer: I am not a trained psychologist or anything, I just have buddies in this situation, one of whom ended his life; which was a wakeup call for me to stop thinking – what did he have to be depressed about?

Accepting the ‘new normal’

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You often hear about how we are supposedly resilient and able to adapt to our changing circumstances. Psychologists talk about it, we talk about it but when we find ourselves in a not too pleasant situation, which we know (deep down in our hearts) that we can do absolutely nothing about, do we embrace the change or do we fight it tooth and nail?

 

I do not like change! It takes a long time for me to get rid of stuff  I no longer have use for, not because I am aspiring to be on the Hoarders Show or anything, I just take comfort in knowing things are where they are…Then once in a while, I am moved to get rid of stuff and I then go into a clean-out frenzy, and end up giving away 40% of my wardrobe in one go… I usually get the urge to clean and rearrange my stuff late at night, which means I go to work the following morning bleary-eyed and grouchy from not getting enough sleep, but feeling fulfilled in knowing that I have been able to accomplish this task.  So what happens when change is forced on me?

Last year I went through a life-changing experience I am still struggling with… I have to a large extent accepted my ‘new normal’ but sometimes I can’t help but think wistfully about what was.  Although Farida 3.0 (when the uploading process is finished) would be better than than Farida 2.0, the refinement process can be both difficult and frustrating, especially for those of us for whom patience is a chore. I have to keep telling myself to press on and don’t look back, don’t think about what has been, just concentrate on what can and will be.

One cannot be resilient unless one is determined to be; to push up through the rocky patches of life. You cannot do that if you are still wallowing in the well of self-pity and moaning about what could have been.

That is not to say you are not allowed to have bad days; you wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t. But don’t let it become the norm, I allow myself a maximum of 4 hours when I want to wallow in self-pity. When the time draws to an end I tell myself to snap out of it and get on with life. This may not work for a lot of people, so find what works for you and do it!  I find listening to fast-paced music can lift the gloom or talking to someone about something mundane, or reaching out for professional or spiritual help. There’s nothing weak about asking for help – it is actually a courageous act, knowing the answer could go either way.

So here are a few tips to help with the process:

  • Accept that life as you knew it has changed, and moaning and crying over it wouldn’t change it back
  • If there are things you cannot do the way you used to, get creative and find new ways of doing them.
  • Think of it as a thrill-seeking adventure, as you navigate the mountains and valleys of your new path
  • Find humor in your situation, joke about it so others will not walk on eggshells around you.
  • Give yourself time to adapt
  • Setup milestones as opposed to hard and fast deadlines. Use those milestones to evaluate your progress but don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t accomplished what you set out to do.
  • Journal the process so you can note how far you have come – it’s very encouraging.
  • Surround yourself with positive people, who will kick your butt when you are feeling down…
  • Avoid people who (though well meaning) end up making you feel sorry for yourself
  • If you believe in God, prayer helps…..a lot! Don’t underestimate the calm that comes over you when you hand it over to Him.
  • If necessary talk to someone – a professional therapist, a priest, imam or someone  you trust to give you positive advice.
  • Find out what resources or tools you will need to make things easier, talk to someone who has gone through a similar situation, read articles online, join a support group

Sometimes these life-changing experiences occur to either strengthen us or teach us lessons to prepare us for the next chapter in our lives.

In my case, it was to give me something I have wanted for a long time, but couldn’t get because I was too set in my ways…

What about you?