I've been holding onto a length of lime green glass beads since 1997. I bought them when Derek and I visited Accra, Ghana. Our trip was unexpectedly extended due to his unfortunate appendectomy. I'll never forget all the chickens running around the hospital. There were blood stained mattresses strewn about the courtyard for the hot African sun to “disinfect” them.
Derek and I were staying in a 1-star hotel on the edge of town. We’d gone out for a couple of Ngomas when he collapsed. He had a fever of 105. We made our way to the Peace Corps clinic where he was observed for the night. I tried to sleep on the tile floor and, when I finally started to drift, was jolted awake by his screaming at the line of huge black spiders crawling across the ceiling. He was hallucinating.
After seeing the blood-stained mattresses and chickens, Derek refused treatment. A woman across the room waled, writhing in pain. A rooster scurried beneath my feet while a hen clucked at him. Derek insisted on being medivaced to London where he was confident he wouldn't perish. The doctor said he didn't have time. He'd likely die en route.
He was wheeled off and I waited.
While Derek was in surgery I returned to the hotel to gather up our belongings. I had purchased all sorts of African art and beads in the open air market, so my pack was overflowing. I carried mine on my back, Derek's on my front, hiked 3 miles to the Peace Corps hostel. I was struggling with a fever myself - an ongoing fight I had with parasites.
Twelve hours later, my fever raging, Derek was still in surgery. I asked hospital staff for a report of some sort. They responded, "If God wills it." Nothing. No news. I shed lots of tears. After another two hours, the surgeon finally told me that Derek had been placed in a "recovery ward". I could go see him.
Derek was groggy. In the next bed an African man lay on his side, his head cupped in his hand. He was staring at Derek, unblinking. We later learned that he was dying of AIDS and couldn't afford medication.
I dug through a bucket of beads last night and found the lime green beads I purchased in Accra. They matched the olives I was snacking on, so I incorporated them into my work.
It's funny how something so little can generate a powerful memory.