Marka in Ghana

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Off to Gambaga!

I spent the last 2 days up in Damongo with Kyle, learning about his project. He will be working on these women run cassava processing co-ops which consist of a press which squeezes out all of the water from the cassava, as well as a grinder.
I was supposed to go up to Gambaga today to get a feel for my project, come back for the weekend and plan, and then go back up again on the Monday, but we have decided that since it is such a far drive, I will just stay up there when I go there today! I will probably be up there for about 3 weeks without internet access, but expect a lot of interesting blogs when I get back!

I'm so excited, I really like the feel of a small town over Tamale. The people are much more friendly (if that is possible), and I'm excited to finally live with a family!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Random Ghanianisms

So I've been waiting to talk to my new boss at OIC for the last couple of hours, hence the 3 posts as I wait. I figure I might as well get a lot of info in because I am heading up to Demungo tomorrow with Kyle and I may not have internet access for the week.

So I have definetly started talking like a Ghanian, which I like right now, but I think might be really annoying if I bring it back with me! When Ghanians agree with something, they reply with a really nasally "ehhhehhh", instead of nodding their heads or just looking back at the person to show they are paying attention so when you talk to someone, you constantly "ehhehh" whenever there is a break in what they are saying. They also never answer a question or a greeting with good, everything is always "fine".

Water started running yesterday in our hotel, so I decided to take advantage and do some more laundry. Sarah and I laughed as we read the tags on some of our shirts- "Hand wash, cold water, hang to dry". Check, check check! Laundry by hand is actually kind of relaxing.

The pace in Ghana is ridiculously slow, mostly because of the heat. You feel as though you are doing everything in slow motion, from walking, to eating to even thinking sometimes! I have never drank so much water during a day, and peed so little due to the constant layer of sweat!

I talked to a teacher yesterday who taught me how to say "whatchu sayin?" in Dagbani. I thought it was hilarious that he actually used our slang terminology and I asked him where he had heard it. He said he had just picked it up, my guess would be tv?

The guy staying next to me in the hotel had a pet white scorpio that he kept in a jar. Apparently he got it in Mali. He was lying outside with some friends one night and felt something crawl into his shirt collar. His friends told him to take off his shirt really quickly, but he was stung on the top of his head. After being treated at a hospital, he took it in as a pet, named in Jumba and says that they are now brothers because his astrological sign is a Scorpio. I asked him if scorpians were as common in Ghana, and he said he didn't think so.... thank god!

Last night, walking home from dinner, the power in the city went off again. (It's a pretty common reaccurance here!) It was such an errie feeling walking in the pitch black, with only the light from the car head lights as they drove by. It's also a sad walk home when you see a lot of the street vendors sleeping on the table that they sold their mangos on that day. It was pretty shocking the first time that I saw it.

Trains, Planes and Automobiles aka Taxis, Tro Tros and crazy motorcycles.

We are getting the hang of how to get around the city, and I thought you might be interested in how the transportation works here.

How to take a taxi:
1) Stand by the side of the street and when a taxi is coming with his hand out the window (which means do you want a taxi?), you point to the road where you are.

2) You tell the driver where you want to go, and try to bargain a price. The price depends on how many people you have with you and how many people are already in the car (taxis here are shared). Usually the going rate is about 10 000 cedis per car, or 2000 cedis per person. You cram into the car which can contain up to 8 people at one time.

3) The driver takes you down the street and then drops you off at the taxi centre, where you get out and take a taxi in the next direction you want to go. Basically, taxis here work a little like bus systems back home, where a taxi will drive up and down his one street, or route, and then you have to transfer to another taxi that is doing a different route. It's a pretty efficient system if you ask me!

How to ride a tro tro:
1) Find out what a tro tro is. (basically anything that is not a car, taxi or bus and is usually in the form of a large van which can contain from 10-20 people).
2) Find out where the tro tro is going and if he is going in the general direction that you want to go.
3) Attempt to get on a tro tro that is almost full, else get on the tro tro and wait until it is full (this can take up to 2hrs!)
4) When the tro tro is finally full, it will leave and start to travel in the direction you wish to go, as long as there has not been a communication blunder with the driver.
5) Pass your money up through the people in the tro tro to the first mate, who will pass back your change through the people. (Usually costs about 1500 cedis)
6) Get off the tro tro when close to your destination. If you are not as close as you would like, repeat steps 1-6 or see taking a taxi.

Other forms of transportation:
Most people bike or motorbike. The road is set up like this: 2 lanes for cars and tro tros, a lane for bikes, motorbikes and pedestrains, and then sometimes another lane for pedestrians which can also contain bikes or motorbikes.

Warning: be alert at all times, as nothing stops for you here!

Some Pics

The first picture is taken from the ride up to Tamale. The vegetation was just amazing! We saw some interestingly colored birds as well, but no wildlife unfortunately!

The second picture is taken from the Coast of Ghana in a place called Jamestown. It is a small fishing community and those are all of their boats on shore. It was Tuesday, and because God created the oceans on the second day, they do not fish to show respect for his creation. Most of the fishermen were fixing their nets, while some of the children swam in the ocean.

The last picture is of the crazy city of Accra. All of the bus like vehicles are tro tros and vendors line every street.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Meet Isaac

Happy Mother's Day Mom! (did you get my card?)

I'm sitting in the internet cafe, listening to Barbie Girl for the 3rd time since I got here. The music scene is a tad delayed here, and boy bands are just now becoming popular. It's funny being so far from home and then hearing these songs that take you back in time to grade 8, 10 or 12. Bob Marley is really big here, which really sets the mood! And Lee, just in case you were wondering, I am not without your precious James Blunt, I heard Beautiful the other day on the street!

So I met this man named Isaac today on the street. He was from Bola, 33 yrs old and had a degree in marketing from the polytechnique school here. I asked him questions about Ghana and their education system and what he thought about it. He said the government is really focusing on education in the last couple of years, and has made elementary school up to grade 6 free. He said now the problem is that more and more people are being educated, but that there is no job for them when they are done school. He talked to me about his plans for the future and how he wants to go to university when he saves up enough money. Secondary school costs about $100 a year, and university is about $150 a year. He had started a business in printing in Bola and was very proud of the success in his life. He believes in self reliance and likes to be independant, and I told him that we had a lot in common. He wanted to show me his place, so that I could understand how well he had done for himself. He took me off the main street into the more residential area. All the houses here are similar and I am finding it hard to describe what they look like. They all have cement walls that contain many cracks and look as though they are slightly falling apart. Roofing varies, althought it is usually corragated metal. They look like a house that may have been abandoned in Canada. But when he showed me the inside, I was quite surprised! In a space of about 10ft by 10ft, there was a bed in one corner, a tiled shower stall in the other, a tv, cd player and a decent set of speakers along one wall and a small couch and mini fridge along another. In Tamale, there are 2 tv stations, one of which seems to play very western media, especially r&b music videos. He popped in his 50 cent cd and asked if I liked this kind of music. I thought the whole thing was pretty ironic.

Isaac's story is similar to a man we met in Accra named James. He was an impecably dressed school teacher who offered to give us a tour of the neighbourhood and the coast line. Afterwards he wanted us to see his home and meet his family, and his accomadations were definetly not what I was expecting. He lived in the neighbourhood, which looks very poor and yet he was proud of what he had. The people here are very proud of what they have in general, dress very and well and keep themselves looking extremely professional.

It's my first full day of work tomorrow, and I'm really excited!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Saturday on the town

I met with my NGO yesterday, and they seem fabulous! Their mandate and approach are amazing and completely inline with EWB's vision, which is reassuring because I was worried that I might have conflicting views on development, which some volunteers have experienced before. Its funny because there is a little NGO district in Tamale, so I am surrounded by OXFAM and other NGO buildings, which are all richest looking buildings that I have seen in Tamale yet. Working for an NGO here is a very highly respected job, and it pays well. \It is slightly frustrating knowing how much money must have been spent on these buildings that could have gone to a program fund.

Today I set out to have some Ghanian clothing made (my 2 skirts are looking a little dreary!). How it works is you have to go to a fabric store and buy the material, 2,3 or 6 yards depending on what you want to have made. Then you take it to a seamstress to have it made. There are a lot of them around, either on the main street strip outside on store porches or on side streets. There are usually 3 women sitting in their front yard with a large table and 3 manual sewing machines. We were told that there is a nun called Sister Jackie who takes in prostitutes and trains them to be seamstresses, so we were trying to find out where she was to have our dresses made there, but we couldn't find her. I am going to take mine to 3 sisters I met on my first day across from my hotel who worked in their front yard.

I read before coming that our old clothing that was donated to goodwill usually was dumped in Africa for free if it was not sold in Canada and was really hurting the textile industry here. To me, it seems as though many people still buy and wear the traditional dress, but the younger people dress more American, so I guess it's hard to say. I passed a store on the way to the internet cafe that was selling dumped American toys (old stuffed animals, barbies) and old purses, that must have come from some sort of Good Will. A woman was sitting on the front porch sewing up the more damaged ones.

I'll let you guys know how my dress turns out!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Looking out the hotel window in Tamale

I woke up at around 8am to women outside the hotel arguing. Or at least I thought they were, but I think they were just talking loudly. In the distance I could hear school children singing and clapping. I looked out the window and saw a primary school across from the hotel. Just then a cow walked by. The hotel here is pretty, painted my beloved bright colours and has a courtyard in the middle where you can hang your clothes to dry.
I went and had my first Ghanian shower aka a bucket shower. There were giant tanks of water that you can fill your bucket up from outside of the showers/toilets. The toilets are flushed by bucket as well. Tamale is having a water crisis right now, and so water flows only certain times during the day (although usually there are never shower heads, just bucket showers). As I was filling mine up, a woman came with a large bucket of water on her head to fill up the big tank. I felt stupid thinking that these big tanks had been delivered to the hotel, and quickly stopped filling my bucket because I felt guilty for taking as much as I already had. Who knows how far she had to wak to fetch that water. The bucket shower is amazingly refreshing, but is not even half an hour afterwards that you already dripping with sweat.

We walked into the market to get fruit for breakfast. We picked up massive mangoes and some bananas, as well as some new friends. People just come up to you and start talking to you and always want to show you around. And they always want your address, although past OV's have said they were never actually mailed. I think its more of an autograph type thing, where it is cool to have a saleminga's (white persons) address, because now you have a connection, even though you may never use it!

We are going to spend the rest of the afternoon touring the city, getting used to where everything is!

Oh! one more thing! Goats are everywhere! They are like the squirrels of Canada! And the baby ones are so cute!

Looking out the hotel window in Accra

So here is a taste of what it like here... picture your eyes and imagine!

I wake up in the morning, around 7am, to a swishing sound. I look out the window and there is a woman outside sweeping the patio of the hotel. The cement has a mosaic of old broken tiles inbedded in it; it is beautiful.
Across the street, the city is already alive and many people are off to work, driving cars, motorcycles or bicycles. Throughout the streets, people are trying to sell things to the cars and the passerbys, each of them carrying an enormous basket of their product on the head. Some are selling sachet water, which is how you buy water here. It is in a little 500ml plastic bag of water that you rip the corner off and suck. There are lots of people selling mangos, bananas and various home made food products, as well as imported goods.
There is a herd of goats across the street on the other side of the street, as well as a pen of chickens.

We get ready and then head to the bus. Our luggage is weighed, and then we sit and waited for a bus for an hour, which is relatively early for Ghanian time. The bus we took was a state bus, and it was the bumpiest ride of my life! It was really interesting to see the change in the scenery as we travelled through the country. We went from bigger cities to small really rural villages, and while the scenery changes slightly, there is not a huge difference. I guess there are just more people in the cities, so there is a little more structure, but in both the city and in the rural villages many were cooking their dinner on open fire in front of their house.

Store names here are really interesting. Christianity is huge, and many people have it reflected in the store names. There are lots of signs like "God is good Salon" or "the lord is with us restaurant". A funny one that we saw yesterday was "As if, but not. Electronics" I have no clue what it means! Hopefully I can get some good pictures of these!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Landing in Accra!

We landing in Accra at about 6:30pm, and it is already dark out. A huge burst of hot humid air hit me as I walked off the plane and towards the airport. 4 long term OV's met us at the air port and directed us to the taxis. It was my first taste of bargaining, which I definetly wouldn't have had the confidence to do by myself, I probably would have gotten ripped off and paid what ever they asked for! As 2 of the long term OV's bargained with multiple cab drivers, a woman with a large container of bananas strolled by and stopped to see if we wanted to buy some. In the background, a huge celebration erupted in the airport parking lot. People were dancing, singing and waving posters. We found out later that someone important had arrived in Accra- what a welcome!

Driving to our hotel, a few things struck me. There were a large amount of billboards! They were advertising anything from Guinness beer to local hair products. I was also surprised to see how many people were still out and about, walking along the edges of the street. Especially because it was so dark out- there are no street lights lining most of the streets.

We dropped our stuff off at the hotel and went into town to get a bite to eat at the market. This was the biggest eye-opener, I guess mostly because I had been told that most things shut down after sun set, but that must be more in rural areas. This market, at like 8-9 at night was packed with people. It was weird walking through with no lights, only the glows of random fires and oil lamps. You can buy pretty much anything you would need in this market. There are shoes sold next to tooth paste next to electronics next to fried fish.

We stopped off at a vendor and got some kankay- it's made of fermented maize and its like a big ball of starch that you dip into pepay, which is like a hot pepper sauce. A lot of Ghanian food consists of some form of a ball of carbs that has some sort of sauce poured over top of it. And it's really really spicy! (As if I weren't sweating enough due to the heat!) I had some rice with stew, and tried a little banku (another type of ball of dough). It's interesting ordering food here- you order by amount, so I can either order 1000, 2000, or 3000 cedis worth of banku and will get a corresponding amount.

More to come from my day in Accra later with hopefully pictures! I will head up to Tamale tomorrow on a 14 hr bus ride!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Some Predeparture Learning

It's only been 3 days of training and it feels like I have learned so much, gone through a rollercoaster of emotions, and met an amazing group of people. I felt as though my views are constantly being challenged and as soon as I have my mind made up about something, another opinion comes along and blows it away.

We've talked a lot about Ghanaian culture, especially where to watch out for faux-pas, ie, not using your left hand for anything, especially handing thing to people (it is the hand used when going to the washroom). We talked about office culture, and how, in general, Westerners will be treated specially and how this may affect our attempts at integration. We may get shoved to the front of the waiting line at a hospital, or have people get kicked out of the 'best bus-seat' so that we can sit there. It is going to be very frustrating breaking down some of the Westerner stereotypes. There are many beliefs that circulate such as Westerners all own dogs, and when we die, we leave our houses to our dogs. With limited access to our media (apparently Passions is big), these kinds of rumours are not that surprising. It is similar to how mention of Africa in Canada usually conjures up images of either safari animals or small malnourished children with flies on their faces. A lot of stereotypes such as being untrustworthy are sometimes reinforced by Westerners who attempt to implement poorly, designed in Canada, development projects to African problems, and promise things that are not followed through on.

I think one of the hardest realizations I have made is how hard it is going to be as a woman volunteer. I think that I had this idea that I was going to be a gender stereotype breaker and hopefully empower other women to be more independent. Women (I am told) in Ghana generally do not go out at night, drink, drive, participate in physical activities, and are expected to submit to male leadership decisions. Being a Westerner allows me all of these rights, and originally I thought it would be good to break down these stereotypes by either helping the men build something or by going out with 'the guys' after work. However, I may actually be isolating myself from the women that I am trying to integrate with because they will view me as a male, thus I may lose trust and common understanding. I want to learn how to cook traditional food, wash laundry and fetch water, which are all activities the male volunteers are going to have trouble convincing their host family to let them try. Hopefully, I can find a balance between breaking norms while maintaining relationships.

On a more positive, interesting note, do you know the song Crabbuckit ("No time to get down cuz I'm movin up... check out the crabs in the bucket")? Well crabs in the bucket is actually a common Ghanaian phrase. If there is one crab in bucket, it will crawl out, but if there are many, as soon as one starts to crawl out, the others will grab on to it and pull it back down. Then it is the same that goes with people: when people who see you succeeding in life, many will try to grab onto you and pull you back down. Ha, and I just thought these were just random lyrics!