by Julian Jonas
Night had already fallen when the motorcycle slowly puttered up to the clinic. It was during the periodic “lights out” that beset the village every 72 hours or thereabouts, so electricity had been shut down until dawn. I would learn that patients often arrived at the clinic in this manner, sandwiched between the driver and someone riding shotgun who kept them upright. The patient, a lean middle-aged man, was already lying on a simple mattress on the concrete floor. When I asked Emperor what the problem was, he told me it appeared to be an acute hernia. “He’s been here before for the same thing. People come here all the time with hernias. Farmers, labourers – they work very hard. I give them a remedy and it usually works very well. They prefer it to surgery – which, at any rate, they can’t afford. Give him 20 minutes, you’ll see”. At some point in the night, long after I retired, he apparently was brought back home. The next morning after breakfast as Emperor and I were seeing a patient, a man casually sauntered up and sat down. When we had finished, Emperor turned to me and said, “You see?” I replied, “See what?” “This is the man from last night, the man with the hernia…” There was that grin again. “He has come to thank us… Says he’s fine.” The man flashed me a broad smile as well, said a few words and went on his way. In Ghana people do not always have ready access to doctors and hospitals.
Emperor’s given name is Samuel Komla Tsamenyi. He is the clinic manager and lead homeopath at the clinic in Mafi Seva and has a background in water engineering as the project manager of a water project in the Volta Region of Ghana. Fifteen years or so earlier, an India-based philanthropic organization had sponsored the project to bring water to a region where people were needing to spend a good portion of their day walking long distances to and from a single watering hole which did not have clean water. Dracunculiasis was endemic, a particularly unpleasant waterborne parasite, better known as Guinea Worm. As part of the clean water project a rural medical clinic was established with a few nurses, midwifes and outreach workers. Several years into the project Linda Shannon, a visiting homeopath from England, suggested that it would be a wonderful idea to make homeopathy available at the clinic. And so, the Ghana Homeopathy Project was born.
Homeopaths – mostly British – volunteered to travel to Ghana, treat the villagers as well as teach at a small school established in the capital city of Accra. Emperor originally was enlisted as a translator, but seeing the efficacy of these tiny white pills he quickly became enamoured with the idea of becoming a homeopath himself. Over the years he has become a very good one, with the broad range of experience that one might expect from treating medically underserved African villagers. Africa is something of a new frontier for homeopathy. Aside from Ghana there are clinical and educational projects underway in a number of countries including Kenya, Botswana, Swaziland, and Tanzania. Here, a low-tech, inexpensive, effective and gentle medical modality such as homeopathy seems to be a perfect fit.
Before heading off to Ghana I was given the impression from past volunteers with whom I spoke that most of the cases in the village clinic of Mafi Seva would be relatively simple ones of acute illness or injuries. This turned out to be not entirely accurate. Emperor does treat chronic cases and has become especially adept at finding out the emotional aspects of each as, as well as unearthing the causes. Homeopathy treats people and not diseases – each person is a unique individual with a history.
The cases were simple in the sense that they were fairly straightforward. Unlike my own practice where many patients have chronic degenerative diseases, autoimmune illness or complex mental states often complicated by medical and dental interventions as well as multiple prescriptions, the people I saw in the village presented with conditions and histories that were less involved. There were fewer strands and influences to untangle, and, overall, responses to the remedies seemed to be more immediate.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of the people I treated presented with problems that were of a chronic nature. Even the injury cases stemmed from incidents years or decades earlier, or involved structural issues as a result of repeated strain, lifting and carrying. Like most rural areas in the undeveloped world, the labours of farming, construction and other chores of life are not mechanized. There is a great deal of physical stress placed on their bodies. The women also have the additional effects of bearing and giving birth to large numbers of children.
Ghanaian villagers, again especially the women, are remarkably skilled at carrying things on their heads like large trays bearing piles of cassava root or a substantial piece of luggage. It is not unusual to spot a schoolgirl walk home in the afternoon with her books on her head. But years of such burdens can take a toll.
More to the point, the perception that the cases were simple was probably more a reflection of how the practitioner worked than of the patient. Given the opportunity and inclination to understand the full symptom picture along with the accompanying physical and mental states, as well as explore the medical and personal life history, one finds a fair amount of complexity indeed. Put more succinctly, you get what you are looking for.
With the case of an older woman who complained of palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness and general fatigue, on examination her blood pressure and pulse were fairly normal but a careful history revealed that the onset of her complaints was synchronous with the death of one of her adult children a number of years before. In fact, within a period of several years, she had lost three of her children.
She was a reserved, serious person, loath to complain or share with others the burden of her losses. Thinking of her children always aggravated her symptoms, but she would only allow herself tears when alone.
Although there was a significant cardiac component, this was clearly a case of what is listed in the Repertory as ‘ailments from grief’. More specifically, it was a case of ‘prolonged and unresolved ailments from grief’. Based on this rubric as well as a few others related to her general demeanour and general physical symptoms, she was given a dose of the remedy that most closely fitted this picture. Due to the short length of my stay in the village I was not able to have any follow-up on these patients. But I felt confident that they were given deep acting remedies that addressed the underlying causes of their complaints.
One hot and slow afternoon at the clinic in Mafi Seva, a taxi drove up with an old woman accompanied by three of her adult children. While she lay sprawled out in the back seat, the children got out and approached us to ask if it might be possible to treat their mother.
They explained that while walking in the fields about three years earlier, she had experienced a sharp pricking pain on the tip of the large toe of her left foot. It had immediately become quite inflamed, and she went to the hospital for treatment. The inflammation subsequently had subsided until about four months ago when with no apparent cause it re-emerged. This time though the inflammation spread and treatment at the hospital had proved ineffective.
She appeared to be in a semi-comatose state but aware enough to be experiencing pain as her face was in a grimace. The bottom of the toe in question was quite black as was an ulcerated area about the size of a human hand on the upper foot in front of the ankle. The children were not able to provide any other relevant information. But the lesions were profound and serious, appearing quite septic. There was no way to be sure, but it seemed reasonable to surmise the ‘pricking’ in the field was from the bite of a snake or some other poisonous animal.
One remedy came to mind immediately that was well known for septic wounds and black discoloration. Historically used for blood poisoning arising from cuts, snakebites, or gunshot wounds, in homeopathic dilutions it has remarkable curative properties for all kinds of obstinate wounds or bad infections.
After the remedy was made up into a liquid solution and handed over to the children with instructions to give daily doses for several weeks before getting back to us, the three of them sat silently with their eyes going back forth between the small vial of clear liquid and myself. Doubt, incredulity and disappointment were written on their faces. I am not sure what they had expected – perhaps a direct treatment on the wound or injections or more impressive looking medicines, but my assurance that the medicine was indeed quite potent seemed to assuage them very little. Nevertheless, they said they would dispense the medicine as directed and let us know how it went.
One unfortunate aspect of working at the clinic for a mere three weeks was that follow-up on many of the patients was either incomplete or nonexistent. Fortunately, a little serendipity afforded a bit of feedback in this case, when we met one of the children in the local market.
Apparently, her mother had started responding to the remedy immediately. The wound was turning from black to red, the pain was diminishing and her mental capacity had returned to the extent that she was talking again. She said that though they were dubious at first, the family was very encouraged. Though it was still early in the curative process, the changes were fairly dramatic for such a short period of time. Hopefully, the remedy will bring her to a full recovery.
Julian Jonas is a Certified Homeopath practicing in Vermont, United States since 1991. He has travelled frequently to India for homeopathic studies. The trip to Mafi Seva was his first to Africa.