Sometimes the journeys we take hoping to find mental health affect us in manners we never intended. Such was the case with a trip to Ghana for Carly Jacobson–suicide attempt survivor, dear friend and subject of my current writing project.
Carly’s Ghana Story (Part One)
The runway view at Kotoka International Airport provided Carly Jacobson with reassurance that she could survive this experience, a comfort that lasted only minutes.
The airport seemed modern enough, capped by a celadon green parabolic wing structure that was just one of several curved features adding visual interest to the terminal design.
In operations, however, the gateway to Accra, Ghana was anything but modern. By the time Carly endured a gauntlet of scammers and over-chargers between collecting her baggage and finding her escort from Projects Abroad, anxiety overwhelmed every other emotion.
“Take your bags,” a shabbily dressed man stated as he began grabbing bags out of Carly’s hands while demanding cash for his service.
“No. No, thank you,” Carly replied as she tightened her grips.
“Take a cart, miss?” another man offered. “Only two dollars.”
“It says ‘free’,” Carly replied.
“Two dollars,” he insisted, gripping the nearest cart firmly to prevent Carly from using it without paying him.
Quickly, the putrid aroma nauseated Carly. Temperatures soared above 90 degrees even in late November. It became clear that showers, the human kind, were a first-world pleasure, or at least an unusual occurrence among these airport denizens.
Carly breathed again on spotting the Projects Abroad sign, thankful she had someone local who could help her navigate this unusual terrain. The twisting, erratic drive to the not-for-profit’s office, in a dilapidated car likely saved from a European junkyard, rejuvenated Carly’s tensions. The sign inside Projects Abroad only added to her anguish. “Keep all cameras and valuables secure in your compound,” the sign warned.
“Why do we need to secure our cameras?” Carly asked naively.
“If anyone sees it, they’ll take it,” the project administrator matter-of-factly stated. “They’ll hurt you if they have to, but they’ll be the ones leaving with it.”
“Anything else before I go to my work site,” Carly asked, hands still grasped tightly around her bags.
“Stuff any money in your shirt. Here,” he said, pointing toward Carly’s chest. “Oh, yes. Here’s your t-shirt. Taxi will take you now.”
It was moving too fast for Carly to process. She got in the taxi, with a destination of Akuapem Hills. Had Carly studied a map before departing, she would have been frightened that it took two hours to arrive, but bumpy travel that included dirt roads and what seemed highly circuitous driving already had her wishing she had a Liam Neeson type back home to lead her rescue.
As the taxi approached a road-blocking security checkpoint, the driver used one of the few English phrases she would comprehend.
“Don’t say anything,” he warned.
Carly’s thoughts quickly went a dismal direction. Please don’t take me. Please don’t rape me. Let me live.
After extensive discussion, the driver pulled out a stack of bills, handed them over to the armed men blockading the street and was allowed to pass.
Less than a day in Ghana, and Carly quickly crossed over from fearing living to fearing for her life.