For any working person, Fridays are the best days of the week, as every worker looks forward to a restful weekend. On this particular Friday at the end of April 1981, I was resting happily with my wife at home in my small bungalow in Bawku Secondary School, where I was teaching Ordinary and Advanced level(O and A-level) chemistry. I was doing my national service after graduating from university. National service is a programme that was introduced in the early 1970s in Ghana. Students graduating from tertiary institutions were employed in the public and private sectors to get a year’s experience of the work environment before proceeding with their careers. At about 7:00 p.m. four leaders of the Scripture Union, a Christian evangelical group in the school, came to visit me because they had heard that I had had a motorbike accident nearly two weeks earlier. My wife and I welcomed them into our home and entertained them as best as we could. I sat there with a bandage on my right foot and narrated the details of the motorbike accident to them.
On the day of the accident one of my friends, David Azari, popularly called Doctor Z (pronounced Zed), who headed the laboratory department of Bawku hospital volunteered to take me from Natinga, a suburb of Bawku to the Secondary School. Dr Z suggested I should ride the Yamaha 100 motorbike he brought while he sits at the back as the passenger. I took the key, kick-started the motorbike and off we were on our way. There was a perception in Northern Ghana that young men from Bawku were the best riders in Ghana. With this perception running through my system I sped through town onto the Bolga road. By the time we were approaching the police station, we were cruising at over 100 km per hour. There was a donkey cart in front of me and I imagined that I was going to go past it in a flash. Unfortunately for me, a young man popped out of nowhere just at the time I was at the far end of the cart. I reacted very quickly to avoid hitting him, thus swerving the motorbike to my left. I managed to recover and avoided falling into the gutter on the left-hand side of the road by swerving to the right. At this point, I lost control of the motorbike and fell on the tarred road. The light motorbike dragged for nearly 20 metres before coming to a stop. Doctor Z and I, managed to get on our feet and bring the motorbike to a standing position. We had bruises all over our bodies and I had a deep cut on the top of my right foot. Miraculously when we kick-started the motorbike it was working. We abandoned our mission of getting to the Secondary School and Doctor Z that took over the bike and we rode back to Bawku hospital.
The nurses in the emergency ward cleaned our wounds and dressed up the deep cut on top of my right foot. As the iodine that was applied to the bruises on my abdomen, feet and legs began to work I felt a massive wave of pain strike through my body. Growing up as young boys in Manga, we were taught that a man must never show visible signs that he is in pain no matter how intense the pain is. I applied “Manga Manly Characteristics 101”. I maintained a smile on my face despite the pain.
We returned to my wife and Doctor Z “cheerfully” announced to my wife that we had had an accident. I returned to my bungalow in Secondary School after a few days. Reverend Father Bonnet, one of the staff members of the school took over taking care of my injuries and all the bruises were gone except for the deep wound on my right leg which had also almost gone.
There were several observations to make regarding this accident. None of us on the bike wore a helmet and yet after being dragged on the tarred road for nearly 20 metres we did not sustain any head injuries. We escaped without any broken bones. Despite the amount of time we spent on the road recovering from the fall and putting the motorbike back on the road, no truck was on the road at that time as this could have resulted in another accident. The scraping of the metal parts of the motorbike on the road must have produced sparks that could have ignited the petrol leaking from the fuel tank and yet this did not happen. We both had bathroom slippers on our feet leaving them unprotected. I look back at all these and I know that this was divine intervention by the mighty hand of God.
After narrating my story to the young students, I escorted them to the school campus and we went back home. But alas! this was to be the beginning of another episode that will call for divine intervention.
In less than 5 minutes after the students left the house, we decided to heat some water and fill our thermos flask so that it would be easy to make a hot drink during the night if my wife needed one. We went into our second bedroom where a two-ring gas cooker was placed on a low table. I then sat down with the gas cylinder by my legs. In the absence of electricity, I also had a lantern standing on the ground near my legs to provide lighting. I turned the gas on without knowing that the regulator that connected the cylinder to the cooker had been taken out earlier in the day and not properly screwed on. Then came the sharp rush of escaping gas. My wife shouted “Run” and ran for the door. The gas in a fraction of a second was lit up by the naked fire from the lantern and before I could decide what to do an invisible force picked me up from the bed and threw me to the doorway where I hit my wife just as she ran out of the door. I got to my feet and they were burns all over my body. I could see skin hanging from both hands and blisters all over my legs. I walked out of the house and then I was hit by this massive pain all over my body. I sat on the ground and tried to apply the Manga manhood rules but in vain.
My wife was screaming at the top of her voice. The young students who had just left our house were the first to arrive on the scene and in less than two minutes a crowd of students and teachers were all over the place. The fire was still burning on the gas cylinder in the room. One of my students had the presence of mind to run to the chemistry laboratory pick up a fire extinguisher and come back to extinguish the fire and switch off the gas. A car pulled up near the house and I was told to get up and try and walk to the car. I got into the car and it sped away to the hospital. It was then that I noticed that Rev Father Bonnet who became my nurse after the motor accident had transformed to be my ambulance driver to the hospital.
We got to the hospital burns ward and all the action started. In the absence of telephones, nurses ran helter-skelter to ensure that I was taken care of. Then my best friend in the hospital James Yambor, who was also a nursing tutor at Nursing Training School at the hospital, appeared. I have not yet been able to work out who went to inform him about the accident and how he got to my bedside so fast. James took one look at me and told me that I will just need to bear with the pain a few more minutes. He put on gloves and got to work. Dipping his hand in a solution that was provided, he pulled off burnt skin from my body over and over again until swollen blisters burst and skin was removed and the hanging skin was gone. This was more painful than my circumcision at 11 years old without anaesthesia. They put me on intravenous fluids to replace the body fluids I was losing all over my legs, hands and abdomen. James happily told me that the intense pain I was feeling was good news. Good news!? Why on earth will this pain be described as good news? He explained that the intense pain was an indication of superficial burns. If the burns had been deeper I would never have felt any pain. This would have been more dangerous. But that was really no consolation to me at that moment. I was given a very strong painkiller and a sleeping drug and the world came to a standstill. I slept throughout the night. The next morning I woke up and the pain also woke up because we had now become very close friends.
After 8 a.m. I had an array of medical personnel around my bed. Dr Schneider, Dr Rowland, Dr Agongo, James Yambor, the pharmacist and several nurses were discussing how to deal with my case. In the end, everybody went away and nurses came back with a pack called “Bio Gauze”. It took nearly 40 minutes to clean my wounds, put on strips of “Bio Gauze” on both legs and both hands and bandage me up. A mosquito net was erected around me to prevent flies and mosquitoes from getting access to my wounds. The April heat was unbearable and excessive sweating under the net added to the continuous loss of body fluid from my wounds. A table fan was brought to the ward to increase air circulation and reduce my sweating. The events of the last 12 hours were just unbelievable. After more painkillers and sleeping medication, I went back to sleep. I woke up at 11:30 a.m. and sitting right by my bed was my mother. Somehow somebody had sent a message to her, and she must have come running to my bedside. She just asked one question. “Sammy what is it”. I could not give her a detailed narrative of what happened and she seemed to understand that.
At about 3:00 p.m. that day there was some commotion outside as I had a large number of visitors who were not prepared to come in two or three at a time. They were senior A-level chemistry students and they numbered about 22. They all came in and surrounding my bed most of them weeping openly. My mother left the scene to confront her own pain. The final A level chemistry practical examination was only one week away and here I was in the hospital with no evidence that I would be well and get back to the school before the examinations. I managed a brave smile and assured them that I had covered every inch of the syllabus and was confident that anything that would come in the examination had been taught. For the next few days, I had an avalanche of visitors, most of whom were not prepared to come during visiting hours. The most interesting visitors where Dr Agongo (a classmate in Navrongo Secondary School) and Mr Duncan who normally came at 9:00 p.m. and sat down to keep me company until about 11:30 p.m. to keep my spirits high. My other visitors included family members, friends, as well as students and teachers from the secondary school.
Two days to the GCE A-Level final chemistry practical examinations, my colleagues back in the school were able to prepare the laboratory for the exam. They brought the preparatory note for setting up the laboratory to me at the hospital. This gave me an indication of the type of questions that will come up in the examination. I called my students to the hospital and gave them my last advice concerning the examination. I just assured them that nothing would come in the examination that they have not done before without divulging any information. Talking to your students from the inside of a mosquito net with a fan blasting hot air around you is not really the best thing in the world. I was in the hospital for 22 days before I was discharged. I am still unable to tell what physical force literally lifted me out of that fire to the doorway of the room. I can only say this was divine intervention by the mighty hand of the Almighty God.
In the last week of August 1982, I decided to drive from Tamale to Ouagadougou in the then Republic of Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) to take delivery off armchair cushions and a mattress I had ordered two weeks earlier. Being aware that I did not have enough money to pass the night in a hotel a return trip on the same day was the most logical travel plan. However, I had to wait until after 5:00 a.m. before leaving my house in order to obey the curfew regulations that existed at the time. A remnant of the December 1981 Coup d’etat. At 5:30 a.m. I zoomed out of Tamale with my wife and 11-month-old baby as well as a friend and headed for the Ghana border in the North. The trip was uneventful. We crossed the border into Upper Volta. At the town of Po, it took over half an hour to go through the laborious documentation of the immigration and customs. Then we had to go through nearly eight barriers where document checks and registration was done by the security agents. We finally got to Ouagadougou after 12 noon by which time all workers, both private and public, has gone on their lunch break.
The culture of siesta in the afternoon to rest after lunch was introduced to Africa by and the colonialists. That culture is practised religiously in francophone Africa. The capital cities of francophone countries in West Africa such as Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, Niamey in Niger and Abidjan in Ivory Coast can look very paralyzed during the lunch break. Indeed in Ouagadougou and Niamey, the lunch break can be as long as 3 hours and it is practically impossible to do official or private business during this break. I, therefore, packed the car under a mahogany tree and my wife and I proceeded to enjoy our packed jollof rice for lunch. We shared one big bottle of a soft drink called Yuki soda to wash down the rice. Life began to come back to normal at 3:30 p.m. This is the most dangerous time to drive in Ouagadougou. It is the time when everybody is trying to get back to work. The roads are heavily occupied by vehicles of every size and shape as well as motorbikes, mobilettes and bicycles. We gingerly manoeuvred our way to the bank to collect money and then to the shop to collect our cushions and mattress. Then we had to get into a shop to buy “essential” commodities such as sugar, milk, coffee and tea. These were literally impossible to get back in Ghana at that time. At precisely 4:50 p.m. we cruised out of Ouagadougou. Miraculously we had manoeuvred our way out of the city without hitting any motorbike or mobilette. The streets of Ouagadougou with all the bikes are a sight to behold. Now we had about an hour and 10 minutes to drive 160 km from Ouagadougou to the border with Ghana. I simply drove at about 160 km an hour, without any regard for speed limits, and managed to stop and go through the checking processes at the security eight barriers. This is the craziest trip I have ever made in my life. Any incident such as a cow crossing the road, a tyre burst etc could have led to disaster.
We finally arrived at the entrance into Ghana at 10 minutes after 6:00 p.m.
The border was closed and so we proceeded to beg the immigration and customs officers who were sitting around. I begged, pleaded, explained the difficult situation of a woman in my car with an 11-month-old baby and any other explanation I could give. The only thing I did not do was to attempt to persuade them with money. In fact, there was actually no money to do this. Finally, the immigration authorities let us into the country at 6:30 p.m.
I tried to relax and regain my composure as we headed to Tamale. At Wulugu we stopped and our friend called Peter joined as in the car. Then the second stage of panic started. We had to get into Tamale and home before 10:00 p.m. otherwise we would be breaking curfew and could end up in the police cells. Unfortunately, the road to tamale was not as good as the road from Ouagadougou to the border. The road was full of potholes and I had to try and drive as fast as possible while dodging the potholes by swinging the car from one side of the road to the other. This was compounded by the fact that we were driving in the night. We crossed the Nasia River and our passenger said he felt like vomiting. I have heard about motion sickness and I was now carrying somebody who had motion sickness. I could not afford to stop so I asked my wife to give him a bowl in which he could vomit. After all, no aircraft stops for a passenger with motion sickness to vomit. In place of the bags given to you in an aircraft, I gave our friend a bowl. The smell of vomit filled the car because all the windows were closed up to allow the air conditioning to be effective and prevent outside wind from introducing drag and slowing down our speed. After about five minutes our passenger said he wanted to go to the toilet. Wow!!! I did not have a toilet in the car so I had to stop. Our friend went into the bush to deal with his issues. We took advantage of this break to pour away the vomit and open all the doors of the car to get rid of the smell. He finally came back and we began our dangerous drive to Tamale.
At about 9:52 p.m. we were at the tamale airport junction. We had eight minutes to get home before the curfew. There was not a single car on the road and I sped into Tamale like a race car. I decided that for our safety our friend had to go home with us and spend the night. As we approached the Agricultural Development Bank in Tamale we saw a military truck with soldiers obviously responsible for enforcing the curfew hours. The siren for curfew went off and it blended with the screeching of my tires as I turned into the Kalpohin Estates Road. For some reason, the soldiers did not attempt to stop us. We arrived at home and our house help was sitting in the hall waiting in expectation of our arrival. After packing the contents of the car into the house I took a seat and tried to relax. My brain was still travelling at 160 km per hour. Finally, I managed to get some rest but in my sleep I found myself driving at 160 km per hour.
This is one of the riskiest journeys I have made, and with hindsight, it could have been better planned to avoid the panic and unnecessary risks taken. If we had slept in Navrongo we could easily have gone to Ouagadougou, done our business and left the city at about 2 p.m. and that would have given us ample time to get back to Tamale. Even in our foolishness and lack of wise planning, the Almighty God can still miraculously intervene and keep us from harm’s way.
The month of March in Northern Ghana is most likely one of the hottest months of the year. I set off one morning in march 1982 to travel from Tamale to Walewale. This is a 100 km journey. I was riding the Yamaha 100 motorbike that had been sent to me in Tamale in response to my transport challenges. I was cruising on the road at about 120 km per hour. The Bawku rider perception was still in my blood. Just before arriving at the Narsia River, a goat from nowhere ran across the road. A quick calculation told me that I was on a collision course with the goat. I quickly reoriented the speeding motorbike to avoid it. It was almost on the other side of the road when it changed his mind and ran back straight into me. I hit the goat and fell but did not slide down the road because of the big potholes. I got up from my fall, lifted the motorbike off the ground to a standing position and manoeuvred it off the road to give way to an oncoming bus. I noticed I had a few bruises on the hand. The motor had bent slightly but I was able to get back on it and ride to Walewale where the Catholic priests in the Walewale Catholic church dressed up the bruises on my hands. Looking all over me I noticed that once again I had come close to an untimely demise. In the course of the fall, my head hit the road so hard that there was a big scratch on the helmet I was wearing. My shoe was also badly damaged. But for how I dressed up for this journey I could have had very serious head injuries that could have led to death. This was another miracle in my life and the Almighty God had given me another lease on life to work on this earth.
In the year 1984 Ghana was emerging from the devastating food shortages of 1983 and many World Vision workers were actively involved in assessing and planning for the delivery of relief goods to communities where we worked. I was on one of such missions once again from Tamale to Walewale. Just before arriving at the Narsia river, I was driving at about 120 km per hour in the Peugeot 504 when I felt a slight sway of the car. After a few metres, I’ve felt the sway again. I slowed down the car to 40 km per hour and tried to test its stability. I did this by swinging the car from left to right and right to left. As I swung from right to left something broke from under the car and it went off the road and I crashed into the gutter.
At the speed of 40 km per hour, this was a very minor accident. I got out of the car and realised it was not badly damaged. If this had happened at over 100 km per hour it could have been a real disaster. I abandoned the car at where it was and tried to get help. By the end of the day, we managed to tow the car all the way back to Tamale for repairs. Incidentally, this was precisely the moment I received a photographer from the International Office to document the response of World Vision International to the food shortages in Ghana. I was compelled to borrow a Peugeot 504 pickup from the Christian Services Committee to be able to continue my fieldwork. The mechanics in Tamale found out that my lower arm suspension was nearly completely broken and hanging by a small piece and my manoeuvre completed the breaking process and I was sent into the gutter. In those days spare parts were almost impossible to find in Ghana so I had to travel to Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso to purchase the spare parts and bring the car back to the road.
It was in 1987 while driving from Accra to Tamale that I got one of the biggest scares of my life. I was driving a new Peugeot 304 that had just been purchased in Accra by Reverend Father James Archer. We were between Techiman and Kintampo. I was driving at 80 km per hour because Father James had warned me that he did not want me to exceed that speed. He sat in the front passenger seat and behind him was Mahama Tampori, the relief coordinator for the tamale sub-office. All of a sudden I heard Mr Tampori say “hey! hey! hey!”. The car was drifting slightly off the road to my right and rubbing against the grass at the side of the road because I had gone to sleep while driving. I woke up from my sleep and brought the car back to the road and in less than 20 seconds we found that two tankers had crashed and left only a small passage in the middle of the road for vehicles to pass. Had I not woken up 20 seconds earlier I would have crashed straight into one of their stationary trucks. The Almighty God has always been on my side and always stretched forth His mighty right hand to intervene on my behalf. When we passed the tankers, I got some water to wash my face and Father James said if I wanted to go 200 kilometres per hour I was free to do so. Sometimes it is not the speed at which one drives that result in accidents. It is the Almighty God’s protection that keeps us alive.
In November 1993 I had to make a presentation to some partners in a workshop organised by World Vision International in the city of Takoradi. My wife was on admission in the maternity block of the Korle-bu Teaching hospital in Accra. But this presentation was very important. I, therefore, planned to visit my wife early in the morning at 6:30 a.m. drive to Takoradi and participate in the workshop and drive back to Accra in the night. The workshop finished at about 5:30 p.m.. after sharing a meal with the participants I jumped into the car and started driving to Accra. I passed Elmina and approached the University of Cape Coast. I remember seeing the west gate of the university and then I must have fallen asleep. I cannot remember seeing the central gate no the east gate. Something suddenly woke me from my sleep and the first thing I saw was there State Insurance Corporation building to my left. In reality, I had travelled nearly 4 kilometres on a road that was continuously curving. How I managed to manoeuvre the car along this road is still a mystery to me. I pulled up by the side of the road shaking from head to toe. I composed myself and turned into Cape Coast town and to a friend’s house where I asked for a cup of coffee. I got some water to wash my face, drank a cup of coffee and got back on the road to Accra. But this was not necessary because I was kept awake by the frightening experience of driving for a distance while asleep.
I have never forgotten how I went through this experience. The moving car must have been guided by the angels of the Almighty God.
These narratives are just a sample of the many many times I have had such divine interventions. I owe my being alive today to the Almighty God to whom belongs all praise and glory and thanksgiving.
My next blog is entitled “Life-sustaining grains and foods”.