Night had already fallen when the motorcycle slowly puttered up to the clinic. It was during the periodic “lights out” that beset the village every 72 hours or thereabouts, so electricity had been shut down until dawn. In the darkness, one could manage to make out three riders dismounting from the bike.
I had only arrived in the village a day or two before, but later I would learn that patients often arrived at the clinic in this manner. They’d be sandwiched between the driver and someone riding shotgun who kept them upright.
This particular patient was clearly in a lot of distress. He howled as they gingerly helped him down to take the few painful steps inside. A small posse of women who had followed behind the bike on foot had now arrived as well and went into the clinic. Emperor beckoned me to accompany him as he also entered on their heels.
The patient, a lean middle-aged man, was already lying on a simple mattress on the concrete floor. In the semi-illumination of a few flashlights, I saw him thrashing about. He kept asking the women to lift up his upper torso so he could sit upright. Then he’d draw up his legs and flop down again.
The way he weaved and bobbled, it struck me that he was acting like a drunk but when I asked Emperor what the problem was, he told me it appeared to be an acute hernia. As the women struggled to make him comfortable, we observed for a few minutes more before exiting. On the way out, I remarked to Emperor, “How about giving him a few doses of Nux Vomica?”
He gave me a broad grin, which I was to learn he was wont to do at the damndest moments, and replied, “Exactly. He’s been here before for the same thing. People come here all the time with hernias. Farmers, laborers – they work very hard. I give them a little Nux and it usually works very well. They prefer it over surgery – which, at any rate, they can’t afford. Give him 20 minutes, you’ll see”.
As Emperor disappeared into the darkness to get the remedy from the pharmacy, I went back inside. Now I was sure of it – not only did the guy look sauced but the room also smelled of liquor. Emperor reappeared and dropped a few pellets of the Nux Vomica into the patient’s mouth. I remarked about the alcohol and was told that indeed the man had swilled some of the local hooch to dull the pain.
We waited. For the first 10 minutes nothing much seemed to be happening, but then the patient abruptly turned his head to the side and puked. Exit hooch stage left. That was a good sign. After another 10 minutes, the patient settled into a stertorous sleep that was to last for several hours. At some point in the night, long after I retired, he apparently was brought back home.
The next morning after breakfast as Emperor and I were seeing a patient, a man casually sauntered up and sat down. When we had finished, Emperor turned to me and said, “You see?” I replied, “See what?” “This is the man from last night, the man with the hernia…” There was that grin again. “He has come to thank us… Says he’s fine.” The man flashed me a broad smile as well, said a few words and went along his way.
Emperor’s real name is Samuel Komla Tsamenyi. He had a background in water engineering and his “real” job is the project manager of a water project in the Volta Region of Ghana. Fifteen years or so earlier, an India based philanthropic organization known as the Ananda Marga had sponsored the project to bring water to a region where people were needing to spend a good portion of their day walking long distances to and from a single watering hole.
And the water wasn’t even clean. Dracunculiasis was endemic. This is a particularly unpleasant waterborne parasite, better known as Guinea Worm, where the larvae develop internally for a year before burrowing up and emerging as full grown worms from large burning blisters, accompanied by disabling pain.
The Ananda Marga monk, a Norwegian by birth, who created the project and raised the funds brought in engineers from the University of Arizona to design it and Emperor – no one every referred to him in any other way – to run it. As part of the project, a rural medical clinic was established with a few nurses, midwifes and outreach workers.
Several years into the project a visiting Ananda Margi who happened to be a homeopath from England suggested that it would be a wonderful idea to make homeopathy available at the clinic. And so, the Ghana Homeopathy Project was born. (http://ghanahomeopathy.org/)
Homeopaths – mostly Brits – volunteered to travel to Ghana, treat the villagers as well as teach at a small school established in the capital city of Accra. Emperor originally was enlisted as a translator, but seeing the efficacy of these tiny white pills he quickly became enamored with the idea of becoming a homeopath himself. Over the years, he had – and a very good one with a broad range of experience that one might expect from treating medically underserved African villagers.
Africa is something of a new frontier for homeopathy. Other than South Africa, which has a well-established profession due to its historical ties with Britain and Indian population, there largely has been no homeopathic tradition on the continent. But now, aside from Ghana, there are clinical and educational projects underway in a number of countries including Kenya, Botswana, Swaziland, Tanzania.
Part of the impetus for these efforts has been the AIDS crisis. Homeopathy has been quite effective in treating the condition as well as the debilitating side-effects of the cocktails of Antiretroviral drugs that so many people are taking. But even in areas where AIDs is not so prevalent – such as Ghana, a low tech, inexpensive, effective and gentle medical modality such as homeopathy is a perfect fit.