cades, and he had worked with me, occasionally, for years. Half trickster,
intelligent, and exasperating, he’d been an invaluable accomplice in ethnographic escapades.
He knew me well enough to expect my anger.
Until that moment I had avoided the problem of Jamilla, not from
a monetary point of view—I was taking care of her medical bills—but
from a face-to-face perspective. I could have visited her at the hospital
anytime in the previous two weeks but had been held back by experience. It wasn’t a good idea to show interest, to jump to the rescue at the
first alarm; there was so much need. I tried to keep myself as the person
of last resort.
Ghana’s early, Marxist-leaning governments had given the nation
universal health care, but in the 1980s the World Bank and the IMF had
put a stop to that. Now when someone fell ill, family members had to
wrestle with medical bills and the allocation of scant resources. How
much money was a son’s life worth? A daughter’s? What about a niece’s?
To date, Jamilla’s hospital expenses had amounted to eighty-three
dollars. This was peanuts for me. A year’s income for some. More than
that for many.
“I want to see her.”
Boris frowned and shook his head.
“I want to see Jamilla.”
“She cannot survive,” he said and reminded me that Wa Hospital was
a place to avoid. It teemed with microbes as well as witchcraft. It was
where people went when all alternatives had failed—traditional healers,
diviners, herbalists. By that time it was often too late for the surgery or
medicine that would have saved them.
“I want to see her.”
Boris took in a deep breath and let it out. Plumes of alcohol unfurled
through the hall. When did I want to go? he asked.
What about right then?
He shifted uneasily and said that wasn’t a good time.
It wasn’t visiting hours.
But Boris would put me off forever. If he could. And when did “
visiting hours” ever matter? I was white and, by local reckoning, a person of
consequence. I was well known. No one would dream of keeping me out
of a hospital ward. I could show up at two am and nurses and orderlies