Dispatch from Ghana: A Rough Patch for a Man Named Job

Lane Hartill, CRS’ regional information officer for West Africa, recently visited Northern Ghana, which has been hit hard by the recent flooding in the region. Here is his account of a chance encounter that made a deep impression:

It’s been a rough few months for Job K. Awuni.

First he was rammed by a mini bus, knocking him off his bike and into a ditch. Then the rains came — a good old-fashioned gully thumper that soaked his mud house and opened a lightning bolt-shaped crack on the pink wall opposite his bed. He spends most mornings now lying on a squishy mattress, staring at the cracked wall, wondering when it will come down on him.

Ghana_Flooding_JK Awuni

JK Awuni lies on a mattress in his house that has been ruined by flooding in Northern Ghana. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS.

Not long ago, in JK’s compound, his son John’s room started to buckle under the rain. When the iron roof started to whine, John flew out the door. The roof collapsed behind him.

The story is a familiar one across Northern Ghana. Rains during July and August caused widespread flooding that drenched thousands of mud homes. Scores collapsed.

For JK, who thinks he’s around 100 years old but is probably closer to his late 80s, life has had, thankfully, more ups than downs.

In the afterglow of Ghana’s independence in 1957, JK commanded hundreds of men as a strapping brigadier officer in the Ghanaian Army. He gave Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, a personal tour of his charges.

But the years have shrunk the military man. He is twig-thin now. A canary yellow shirt with blue piping and a Jaguar on it falls from shoulders whose brawn had melted to bone. His hair has faded to white, like a snow cone drained of its syrup.

But looks don’t matter, especially with JK. Despite his banged up body, I knew he was special.

We talked about rain. He’d never seen anything like the recent unleashing. Except, perhaps, in 1965 when he “witnessed rain like that in Navrongo” with his men. They couldn’t dry their clothes for a week and had a hard time keeping fires going.

We talked about the crack in his room. Forget spackle. Or Sheetrock. JK says he must tear the place down and start over. But money is a problem.

His house has a thin layer of cement swabbed over the outside, providing the illusion of stability — ­a façade that was quickly washed away. JK says homes used to be plastered with cow dung mixed with local fruit. The slurry coated the outside walls. When it dried, it made them water resistant and strong. But with fewer cows around the practice seems to have fallen out of favor.

“I cannot come out [of my room]!” he says in English that rings with Churchillian tones and Oxford grammer. “And moreover, at present, I have no other room to pack in. I just gave myself over to the Lord.”

Ghana_Flooding_John Awuni

John Awuni, JK’s son, stands amid the ruins of his family’s house. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS.

CRS is preparing to help people like JK. After interviewing families in Northern Ghana, CRS is considering helping to rehabilitate houses using local techniques, labor and materials. The aim: make them more disaster resistant.

I went back to JK’s shaky house four days later. I wanted to see how he was doing, if he’d made any progress on the crack. A young man who had just rolled out of bed greeted me in his boxers. JK, he said, had been rushed to the hospital three days ago. He didn’t know what was wrong.

I didn’t realize JK was that sick. I was worried about him and could hardly wait for visiting hours.

So I didn’t: I showed up early.

I found him lying on a bed in a room that smelled like sewer and sour bandages. He was still in his Jaguar shirt. He was asleep, his wife hovering over him. It was cerebral malaria, the doctor said, and he’d put him on a quinine drip. It was too early to tell, the doctor said, if JK would pull through.

The heavy rain and standing water had brought mosquitoes. They must have lined up single file, I thought, and marched through the crack in his bedroom wall to have a go at him during the night. Neither his bed net, nor his cracked mud house, was any match for them.

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One Response to “Dispatch from Ghana: A Rough Patch for a Man Named Job”

  1. John S. Karbo Says:

    A pat on your shoulder for this informative story. It leaves me with bucket full of tears that there are people out there who conditions are worst than mine. That I need to go at the reel and touch somebody’s life each day I go to work. I am anxious to know what the health condition of JK is at the moment and their home.

    Thanks again

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