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Archive for March, 2011

The Half Way Hump

I typed ‘Weather in Tamale’ into google today, and just laughed as it said 43 degrees C. We are now at the hottest time of the year, and it seems that every task produces bucket loads of sweat. I’m grateful that after two months, I’ve discovered that the fan in my room has 5 speed settings instead of just 3, and also grateful that the mangos growing on the trees around me are beginning to ripen. I heard money doesn’t grow on trees, but when you peel open the skin of a mango, and bite into its golden interior you immediately question that thought. It’s become routine for me to sit in my room, with towel, water and knife at the ready, about to begin the adventure of eating a mango. Juice covering my face and hands, and now my fan on speed 5, keeping me cool. Sounds like heaven.

Well, writing blog entries has become harder these past few weeks, and I do apologise for that. In every experience I have in a foreign land there is the ‘half way hump’. It is the part of my stay where time goes through a transition, and in the course of a few days, home seems so far away and then, a few days later, suddenly seems like it’s so close. With that half way hump comes the homesickness, which can sometimes be worse that the occasional stomach pains, and the effect is made worse by the larium, controlling my emotions and moods. Now I have passed over the hump, and each day comes and goes faster then I can think.

With less than four weeks until the next YSI – CPYWD Ghana project, I am beginning to feel excited. This past weekend has seen the project go from concepts and ideas on paper, to a structured schedule, with logistics running around in my mind, and project ideas having dates. We were joined by Mr. Philbert Seka, regional director for Service for Peace, who will be welcoming the team, guiding them in Accra, and also joining us here in the north. He organised the project I was involved with in Cote d’Ivoire back in 2009. I’m really looking forward to seeing some more familiar faces when the team arrive.

I’ll try to get posting more regularly again, but my goodness, time goes so quickly now, and my list of things to do doesn’t seem to be getting smaller.


Beyond Words and Numbers

Well, what have I got to say this time. First of all, I think all of you should check out the blog of Toby Suda. He is my cousin (kind of), and he’s also having his fair share of culture, but in an entirely different context. I think what he is doing is amazing, and it is a testament to the will of a human being to achieve his dreams. His football dreams. It’s inspiring to see people living their dreams and fighting so hard for them, and now I see Toby, working his way on to the big stage. I regret ever doubting him. Go on Toby! As for my own dreams, I once had a dream to travel to every country in the world and I still hold that as my goal for life. To not just touch down and take off, or dip my small toe in the shallow end of a culture, but to dive straight in, and experience it all.  I sometimes find myself day dreaming of home and all the comforts that go with it, but what’s the point? I know when I get home, I’ll be day dreaming of somewhere else again. I’m happy here.

Life here in Ghana is so simple and beautiful. Riding through the countryside gives a glimpse into the past; clean savannah land with the occasional lady carrying logs on her head, and children in the fields tending to the families crops. Sure it’s a hard life, but being able to observe it is just beautiful. I’m also getting my fair share of the simplicity of the life here, especially when it comes to laundry. My soft European hands can’t even cope an hour of hand washing which usually leaves  sores on the back of my fingers. My host family seem to find it funny…I don’t. It’s a nightmare trying to get the stains from the red dirt out of my whites. Anyway, with each wash I’m getting better, and my whites are getting whiter.

My work load has certainly increased these past weeks. I’m doing some research for CPYWD into how we can improve the performance of the community facilitators. Basically in each community that CPYWD has after school programs there are facilitators who volunteer their time to help organise the children. It appeared that the quality of facilitation went down, and my job is to find out what we can do to motivate the facilitators again. To do this I’ve been interviewing all of them to get a picture of how they feel. It was through these simple conversations, lasting just twenty minutes, that I can see the vision of CPYWD coming to life. It’s not just about learning literacy and numeracy, or improving English, but I could see these youths having developed their character through volunteering with CPYWD. All of them saw themselves as very important for the development of their communities, and they spoke of this with passion. Considering that the number of educated people in these communities barely reaches a dozen it really means something when those who are educated want to help the community develop into tomorrow. The future can be brighter, and easier for those entering the world today. The work of CPYWD goes beyond words and numbers, it reaches the heart, and I’m very glad to experience that.

As was requested, here is a picture of my room. Rather nice if you ask me!

The Calm Before the Storm

The sound of rain has driven me out of my bed and onto my computer this evening. What sounds like a torrential downpour is made worse by the corrugated iron roof above my head. I would have to shout to communicate to anyone in all this noise. Winds blow, trees sway, rain falls, and I’m grateful I’m in the safety of my room. Only an hour before, I was out with my camera admiring the distant lightning. I experienced the calm before the storm, and now the storm is thick around me. Somehow, with all this noise, I’m reminded of the Ghanaian church services I’ve been experiencing every Sunday, except in church I experience the storm before the calm.

As worship begins, the MC leads the way, screaming into a microphone that is already too loud. The bass player tries to follow, pressing his fingers along the neck of his guitar searching for the right note; by the time he finds it the MC is singing a different note. The same can be said of the pianist, while the drummer is playing a song of his own, or so it seems. Arms are raised as people start praising the lord, and I have to admit, the spirit is infectious. When taken seriously, it’s a time of sincere prayer, but when just observing, it’s complete chaos. Yet, somehow, out of all the chaos the choir joins, the bass starts getting the notes right, the piano follows suit, the drummer gets the rhythm, and before you realise it the ‘storm’ turns into a harmonious melody with the whole congregation dancing, clapping and singing along. By the time worship is over, I’m exhausted, and then I still have to sit through the sermon!

One month down, three to go.

One month goes by very quickly, and I have to be honest in saying that I have not done much. I have been told that a volunteers most productive time is in the second and third months of their stay, so I have optimism that I will still be able to bloom here in Ghana. Although my contributions have only been, and can only be small, the amount I can learn is huge, and already my perception of Ghana, Africa, and developing countries has completely changed.

Following some light meditation and reflection (see image above), I’ve realised some things. A short service project gives you enough time to identify the aspects of a developing country that you most expect; the poverty, the barefoot children, the mud huts, and the supposed inability of people to take care of themselves. Yet, to experience a country as I have this past month, in a slow and reflective way has enabled me to identify other aspects which we don’t hear so much of in our daily lives at home. The word I hear most frequently here is development. I hear it on the radio, on TV, I hear it in passing conversations and see it on many sign boards. Development is an issue which all Ghanaians are facing, albeit at different speeds and with different effects, and a short stroll along the road will give you an insight into how many development organisations there are.

I came to Ghana with my own definition of poverty, and somewhere in that definition was the idea that mud huts equalled poverty, but on closer inspection I noticed my own definition of poverty was something that didn’t factor in the human. The human has pride, and emotions, desires, and lifestyle choices, and all of these things affect poverty. I have learnt that poverty is not whether you live in a mud hut as opposed to a brick house, but it is the inability of the person to control their environment to cater for their basic needs. A person living in a mud hut can have the ‘resources of mind’ to feed the whole family, provide medical needs, and send the children to school. The fact that he lives in a mud hut, and wears flip flops, and works long days in the field is then a lifestyle choice, and who am I to judge such a choice which follows on from the lifestyles of his ancestors and of tradition. At least this is one aspect of poverty I have come to recognise. I know that there is still a lot to learn on this matter.

Well since my last post, I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy another ‘cultural feast’. I attended a traditional funeral, but this one was different from the last. There are many tribes in Ghana, each with their own traditions, but even further still, certain villages have different customs and traditions themselves. I attended the fourth day of the funeral where all the men from surrounding villages come and shoot a log with bow and arrow. If you are able to split the log then, as the tradition goes, you have to marry into the family. I was able to have a go myself and, thankfully, I did not split the log, but after a first attempt of the arrow falling miserably in front of me, I managed to get one in. Before all of this happens, the village comes with drums, and  of course, guns, carrying branches above their heads. As a group they dance around the hut of the family who is mourning, and hit the roof with the branches. It’s always interesting to be among these cultural celebrations, and this was in a community that I regularly facilitate an After School Program, so I was happily accepted amongst the members.

It was requested that I add some pictures of the food I’m eating here, and so here they are. Typical Ghanaian dishes are Fufu, Banku, rice and stew, Yam (similar to potato), and a dish mostly eaten in the north which they call T.Z. (pronounced Tee-Zed). Unless it’s rice, then the meal is always served with a soup. Last week, they even put smoked rat in the soup to add some flavour! Oily, greasy, heavy and full of carbohydrates is how I would describe the Ghanaian menu. On many occasions I have found myself day dreaming of a glass of cold fresh milk, or some Lasagne. A full English Breakfast, with extra breakfast, would be most appreciated.