Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Packing List for Ghana

I'm starting to feel better from the crazy vaccines this weekend. I'm still really tired, and when I sweat I smell like...typhoid, but I think I'm mostly out of the woods.

I'm getting excited about the stuff I'll need to bring. I guess it's the Boy Scout in me--I like to pack for a trip. I'm trying to be well-prepared but also pack light, and do it on a budget. That can be either the perfect storm for a traveler or a very fun activity.

I had a birthday yesterday (yeah, I'm getting old) and had a few bucks of birthday money to blow on fun stuff. Alisha and I decided to go shopping for Ghana stuff. We first went to Missionary Mall to get ideas about what we would need. The prices there were pretty high, so we made a list and drove down the street to Walmart. We were able to get most of the things on our list at Walmart for half the price.

Thanks go out to my Uncle Ben for many of these ideas.

Here's my list so far. It will probably grow over the next two weeks, but hopefully not by much:

Microfiber towel -- like a shammy; compact, absorbent, and much smaller than a cotton towel. $29.95 at Missionary Mall, $3.95 at Walmart.

Crank LED Flashlight -- Small, clips to your backpack, and requires no batteries or replacement bulbs. $10.95 at Walmart. Ghana is pitch-black at night, and even on the grid there are frequent rolling blackouts.

Twin Sheet -- You will probably end up staying in some interesting places. It's nice to have a little control over what you sleep on. $4.99 at Walmart.

Composition Notebook -- I call the oreo notebooks. They're the perfect journal: inexpensive, easy to lug around, and you can get lined, graph, or unlined versions. $.89 at Walmart

Immodium Plus -- when you leave the U.S., plain Immodium won't do. Take them before you need them.

Baby Wipes -- Sometimes you won't be able to shower, and wipes will be your best friend. You also want these around to wipe off the little bags of drinking water before you tear them open.

Universal Adapter -- a must whenever traveling, unless you don't intend on plugging anything into a wall. $18.99 at Walmart.

Culture Smart: Ghana -- I'm looking for a good guidebook to the culture. This one seems to be the most popular. Haven't made my decision yet. $5.43 on Amazon.com

Bradt Guide: Ghana -- Supposedly the best guidebook. $11.59 on half.com

Security Belt/wallet -- I'm on the fence about this. It's a belt you wear under your clothes that holds your money and credit cards. They're kind of awkward to use, but I guess they can keep your stuff fairly secure. $9.95 at Walmart.

Water Purification Tablets -- You can usually buy bottled water anywhere you go (or those little cachets of water), but I figure these might come in handy. I read a list somewhere of all the stuff in the water over there (typhoid, yellow fever, sleeping sickness, raw sewage etc.) and I'm not dying to ingest it anytime soon.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ghana pt.1: Vaccinations

My Ghana experience has officially started. I'm still in the states, but I'm sick as a dog. I guess fate is giving me a booster shot of reality. I got vaccinated the other day. After a few weeks of phone calls, waiting lists, and a little panic I was finally able to squeeze in to the student health clinic. The nurse rattled off a list of recommended vaccines, had me read a sheaf of laminated information sheets about various diseases, and I made my selection from the menu. It felt like an exotic sadistic restaurant:

"I'll take Yellow Fever, Typhoid, and the new-and-improved tetanus booster."

"Are you sure you don't want Polio? You're at high risk of Polio in Sub-Saharan Africa."

"No, I'll take my chances. I don't have the money."

"Ok. Take the Typhoid pills home and keep them in the refrigerator. Slight pinch. Don't allow them to freeze or get too hot. Don't expose them to light. Don't eat or exercise an hour before or after taking the pill. Don't take antibiotics or steroids for the next week. And go immediately to the ER if you have any reactions. This vaccination contains live Typhoid. Slight pinch again…"

I could tell that the nurse had done this hundreds, if not thousands of times. I'm sure it takes a certain skill to repeat a memorized script while injecting a person with multiple live diseases. I was glad for her nonchalance; it kept my mind off the fact that my body was now full of African diseases, and there was nothing I could do to stop whatever they would do to me in the next week. I shut those thoughts out of my mind long enough to stop by the pharmacy, pick up my Typhoid and four weeks worth of antimalarials and Immodium. I am now ready to survive Africa…I think.

Later on that day I started to feel flu symptoms. I had read on the yellow laminated sheet that 25% of people receiving the Yellow Fever vaccine actually catch a minor form of the illness (and I stress minor--full-blown Yellow Fever kills you 50% of the time). I thought little of it and went to bed.

I woke up Thursday morning with hives on my arms and legs. My skin felt hot and itchy, like I had slept on an anthill. I panicked, downed a few Benadryl, and drove to the Health Center. $25 and ten minutes later I was told to be careful and keep taking Benadryl (thanks doc), and went back home. The hives cleared up and I thought nothing of it. By this time I was having a bad flu. All my muscles ached and I could barely move. No matter what I did my feet and legs were cold. I put on some sweats, crawled under three blankets, and went to sleep.

I woke up later that afternoon completely covered in angry, red hives. My skin was raised like a bad sunburn and looked like some kind of map. The itching was agony, and my skin had swollen so much it felt like it could rupture. I popped more Benadryl, made a few frantic calls to the Health Center, and was told to go into the ER. I'm not a fan of the ER. I usually feel like an idiot for going there, and it's so expensive. I decided to wait it out, and sure enough, after 45 minutes the Benadryl kicked in and the hives started to go away.

I woke up this morning with just a few hives and the flu has mostly gone away. I think I survived my first brush with Africa, but it was brutal.