In most of the sizable towns you will visit in Ghana, you are likely to see gutters all along the roadside. They are a part of daily life here; children leap over them on their way to school, people build walkways over ones that are too wide. Sometimes, these gutters are filled to the brim with garbage and excrement, explaining some unpleasant smells one might encounter while walking through town. With my Western notions of hygiene I am sometimes surprised to see women kneeling next to these gutters, preparing food on their coal pots.
The college campus that I live on boasts an extensive network of gutters and drains. As I mentioned before, my students are required to do frequent scrub-jobs across the campus. Therefore, our gutters are usually spic-and-span. There is a gutter that surrounds my entire house, kind of like a mote around a castle. As you walk a few feet from my house, you go you will quickly encounter another gutter. Additionally, there is a series of about 5 or 6 gutters that I must step over en-route to my classroom.
Now if you have witnessed me in action, you may know that I am not the most graceful of creatures. Sometimes I will trip, fall even run into things. So as you can imagine, I do no fare well in an environment where there are randomly placed holes in the ground.
The first time I fell, it was into the “mote” surrounding my house. I had just finished washing my clothes, and was attempting to hang them on the clothesline. Thanks to a wet flip-flop and a poorly placed foot I slipped into the gutter, scraping my leg quite badly against the side.
The second time was this morning. I was leaving my house very early, I admit that I was in a bit of a hurry. As I quickly walked the path that I have a thousand times before, I suddenly felt that I was falling forward. I was not watching my step; I had placed my foot directly where there was nothing to support me. My feet fell into the gutter, while the rest of my body flew forward. My knees scraped against the cement walls, while I smashed both my torso and my face into the dirt. Oh, did I mention that several classrooms full of students witnessed this event?
I’m really thankful that I was not seriously injured. I could have easily twisted an ankle, broken a wrist when I tried to catch myself from falling, bit of my tongue or knocked out a tooth when my jaw hit the ground. I am just scraped, sore and a little shaken.
I’m clearly not used to watching out for random holes in the ground.