Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Return of the Prodigal Gardener

We had an unexpected visitor one Saturday morning a few months ago. After a mysterious 3-month absence our gardener nonchalantly strolled into the yard with a big metal cross around his neck. The whole household was excited to see him and we welcomed him with breakfast. Of course the big question on my mind was "Where the @#$@#$ has he been?" It later emerged that he has been staying in a prayer camp in the Akwapim mountains casting out his demons... literally. Although our gardener seems like a quiet, polite young man apparently he has been wrought with 'spiritual' problems for a while. 

Prayer camps offering 'treatment' for mental health issues are not a new thing in Ghana. Around May this year, the BBC's West Africa correspondent Will Ross did a documentary on the phenomenon in Ghana. What he found was  sad, appalling and down-right embarrassing. He visited a prayer camp where mentally-ill individuals were chained for hours. According to the BBC report:

"With only four practising psychiatrists in the country and a stigma attached to mental illness, doctors say the only way to cope with the workload is to work with the Church-run camps."

Ironically, there are most probably more Ghanaian psychiatrists in just one zip-code in Manhattan than there are in the whole of Ghana! A snippet of Will Ross's documentary can be seen here:

Scene from the BBC Documentary on Prayer Camps in Ghana 

BTW; Where is BBC reporter Will Ross these days? It appears he has relocated to Nairobi  but someone forget to tell us!

Oddly-enough, my family and I are no strangers to gardeners with mental health issues. Back in Southern Africa, we had a  gardener who never showed up for work one day. Days turned into weeks which eventually turned into years. One sunny day 2 years later, our gardener returned wearing the green uniform of a  mental institution close to our house proclaiming  loudly that he had come "to reap what he had sown". While my big sister and I stood perplexed, he headed straight for the garden and got to work!  Being the immature 10 year old, I immediately took off and left home leaving my 17 year old sister to deal with the erratically behaving gardener down in the garden.  Luckily she made a couple of calls and he was picked up by some nice people who took him back to the mental institution from where he had made a dramatic escape that morning. Understandably, it took my sister sometime to forgive me for that one!

Flash-forward to Ghana; Our gardener now lives at the prayer camp full-time. He is 'receiving treatment' and comes down to pay us a visit once every month. Personally, he does not strike me as having any mental problems at all but has been convinced by others that he does. I bet he tends the prayer camp gardens pretty darn well....hmmmm.


Sankofa said...

"Many of life's problems are not demon problems but wisdom problems."

This is one of my favourite quotes from my Dad and one he feels the need to repeat often. Why do our people so often blame "spiritual attacks" and the ilk for all of life's little problems? Shoot, sometimes the problem is just you! Lol.

For real though, the issue of mental health in the Ghanaian community needs to be addressed more often. It still seems to be highly misunderstood and too often people are dismissed as "mad" and left to fend for themselves. Holli from wrote quite an interesting piece on it a while back I think.

Raine said...

Wait wait wait waaaaaaiiittt a minute!


Kwegyirba said...

I know someone who was chained at a prayer camp like that somewhere in the Eastern Region. Could it be the same camp??? She was told to dry fast for 2weeks or something like that in addition. Geez, its horrible!

Abena Serwaa said...

@Sankofa, love the quote from your Dad, so true!! Blaming all one's problems on the realm of the spiritual is too easy a way out. Will definitely have to check out Holli's piece

@Raine: scary thought right? At first I thought 4 was an exaggeration but I've done some checks and it may be accurate. I used to think that in Ghana we are fortunate to have strong family support systems in place to help deal with things like depression but now I'm not so sure now. Also, 4 psychiatrists is a really limited number to diagnose and prescribe treatment for conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar to mention just a few...

Abena Serwaa said...

@Kwegyirba: *Kai* That is scary indeed! I think the state has to really start clamping down on some of these dubious prayer camps.

godamongus said...

There are both physical and spiritual worlds; and, education is needed about both worlds. Science without religion is blind and religion without science is crippled. Access to the medical community is essential; yet, the religious community needs to get its act together as well. I have a topic on the spiritual realm on my blogsite. Please check it out.

Abena Serwaa said...

Interesting philosophy godamongus. Will definitely have to check out your website.