Marka in Ghana

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Picture Time!!

I've been describing a lot of what has been going on in writing and I figured its about time to upload some pictures. Enjoy!

The first picture is from from the first few days... when I was in the hotel, this is the water container.



The second picture is of the fowl tied to the front of the motorcycle. The fowl I received from the chief.



The Thrid picture shows my room which is the hut on the right.. the one of the left has some maize staorage and food in it.




Here is a picture of Zach, hes wearing the green pants.



Here is Simon Holding Kinsley.. you can't not love this kid.



Here is me making soap.



This is the small plot of land that we grow maize on. Two of those rows were done by me! :)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

My favourite thing

My absolute favourite thing to do here is to take my nightly shower. The shower stall in my compound is just a mud wall with no roof and a pipe that drains the water outside of the compound. Because so few houses have electricity and the ones that do have few lights outside, the night's stars are incredibly clear! The combination of cool water washing off all the day's dirt and sweat, looking up at the stars, hearing Zach's church choir practice in the distance and the smell of my camp suds soap (ok im a little weird) is the best. Here the constellations are upside down (the big dipper no longer dips!), which I find really cool for some reason!

The silly Saliminga

It's pretty funny people's perceptions of Westerners, and what we can and can't do. It took me a couple of days to convince my family that I can slice my own bread, as well as pour my own bucket of water to shower. The first couple of times when I went walking around with Zach at night, my whole family was like "You must be sooooo tired!" Zach had heard about drive thrus, and couldn't believe that the white man was so lazy that he couldn't get out of his car and go into the store to get his food. So I can see how they can get some of these idea's in their head!
Almost everyone farms on any plot of land near their house that is farmable and our family has a small plot outside of their home. I was determined to help till, which is usually done by hand, although a small number of farmers have ox ploughs and some have tractors. (All tilling by trackers is done at night though, so that you are less likely to get a flow of people coming to ask you if they can borrow your tracker.) The first night I came home, Zach was almost done tilling the plot he was going to do for the night, and wouldn't let me pick up a hoe. Both him and Edith told me that I wouldn't be able to do it, that my hands wouldn't be able to take it, but I somehow convinced Zach that I would help him finish the plot the next morning. So the next morning I was up at 6am, with hoe in hand. I did about 2 rows, when he told me that I was two slow and that we wouldn't finish before he had to go to school if I didn't give him the hoe. So I handed it back, secretly semi glad because my entire palm was blistered! I continued to weed as he tilled, so that I felt slightly useful. It was funny to see how many people came out of their houses to watch the Salaminga (white person) try and till and then weed. It is definelty hard work though, and it's no wonder that most Ghanians are absolutely ripped! Young children, even as young as 5 often help till, and they are usually much faster than I was! Even the women have huge arms, which I imagine is from either pounding foo foo or just doing everything by hand in general.
The other day I had a huge urge to go for a bike ride, so I asked Zach if I could borrow his bike to bike over to Gambaga just to visit Abel and come back. I had huge resistance to this idea- they just didn't think I could make it that far! They tried every excuse to get me to stay home, from the seat is falling off (which it kind of was) to the pavement is too hot and the tires will melt. I prevailed in the end, and off I went. I chose to wear this long skirt that I had picked up for a dollar at a garage sale the day before I had left for Ghana because it was long and flowy and would allow maximum leg movement as I didn't bring any shorts with me. It seemed like a good idea at the time, however, about half way to Gambaga, going down a hill, my skirt got caught in the spokes of my back tire, wrapped tightly around the wheel and ripped down the side. I quickly stopped and dragged my bike to the side of the road. I didn't know what to do because my skirt was half ripped off me and I was slightly exposed, yet I was literally stuck to my bike. So I laughed and struggled to pull or rip off my stuck skirt for the next 15 minutes, without drawing too much attention to myself. Eventually, a guy on his bike pulled over to help me, and ended up having to run into the nearby farm to get a machete from the farmer to cut me off of my bike. Luckily, I had 1 safetly pin on me, and two hair elastics, which were used to tie up the side of my skirt. I also threw my side back onto that side to cover up any exposed holes. The guy asked for some money to compensate the farmer for the time with his machete, which I was kind of surprised at, but gave it to him anyways. And then I continued on my way to Gambaga! The ladies in the kitchen at Abel's guest house got a huge kick out of my story and also were surprised that I had made the 45 min bike ride and wasn't passed out yet. One of them donated a piece of cloth for me to wear on the way back, thank god! The whole family thought I would be in bed by 8 and was really surprised that I was able to stay up past 10 playing cards. They were even more surprised that I was up before 6 the next morning. (Although when an entire village including all children, chickens, goats and pigs get up at 5:30, along with prayers being blared from the local mosque at sunrise, you've done well to sleep in to 6). Edith asked if I was going to go into work that day, or if I needed to stay home and rest! The whole day was one of my favourites yet, although for my next bike ride I think I'm going to wear some pants.
This week I went into work with Edith for a couple of days when my field worker went into Tamale to submit his reports. She works with a group of 7 women making soap for Nilergu and some of the surrounding villages. It was a project implemented by Oxfam and a local NGO for micro-enterprise development. They make two different kinds of soap: regular balls of soap that are used for washing dishes and hands, and stamped bars of soap that smell nice that are usually used for laundry. It's a great job for these women because they decide their own hours, and they can bring their babies and young children along with them to work. It took me a while to convince them to let me help as they were all afraid that my hands would burn with the chemicals they use (they cover their hands with plastic bags and then with socks). They were also very impressed with my soap ball rolling abilities. I told them I had a lot of practice rolling snowballs at home.

Marriage Proposals and churches

They weren't kidding when they told me that I would be proposed to almost everyday! My count is up to 30, and I've come up with some interesting responses! Zach thought it would be funny to start handing out numbers, not only to keep track of the number, but just to see their reaction. So now when we walk around and someone comes up and proposes, I take out a piece of paper, write down their number and tell them that if they still have this piece of paper by the end of the summer, they are still in the running. In the beginning we had a bit of an issue with guys coming to the house, and with these ones you have to be super blunt, if not angry for them to get the message to not come back. I also had a chief propose to me, which is a little bit trickier because it's a little harder to laugh off. I told him that my parents have to meet the man I am going to marry before I accept, which he seemed to take pretty well. He also asked me to spend the night in his compound, and gave me a fowl to take home as a present. It was tied to the front of our motocycle. It's kind of sad that everyone thinks that all of their problems will be solved by marrying a white, as if we have every solution and are destined to succeed in life.
I have been going to a new church every week, partly out of personal interest, and partly to gain the trust of the community. At every church I was made to stand up and introduce myself to the congregation, to which they usually welcome you with a special clap. Masses are really long here, ranging from 2-4 hrs depending on the church you go to and whether you go to the Bible study before hand. There is a long more singing and dancing in general, and the musical instruments usually include a drum set (a sparkly pink one at the Baptist Church), a key board, tambourine and sometimes an electric guitar. The standards of a good sounding voice seem to be very different here, which makes me feel a lot better and I'm more likely to sing along if I can figure out the lyrics, that is if they aren't in Mamprullie.

Lizards, Crocodiles and a crazy wedding!

My first weekend was pretty interesting! I stayed at Abel's guesthouse for a couple of nights as he cemented the floor of my room at his place. One night, when I went to the bathroom, there was a crazy splashing noise when I flushed the toilet. It turns out that there was a lizard under the toilet seat and when I flushed he got caught by the water and was frantically trying not go down the pipe! It was such a comforting feeling!! He managed to stay in the bowl, and I left him to find his own way out. In the morning, he was still there, so I figured he had a pretty shitty night so I picked him up and let him loose.
Outside of Abel's guest house, which has running water in the kitchen and bathroom, is a large water tank that sits on a platform that is about 20 ft high. I assumed that water was pumped to this tank, because it was so high up. Of course not! What happens is every 4 days or so, prisoners from the local jail come and fill it up, bucket by bucket, from a borehole that was about a 5 minute walk away. They climb up this huge ladder with the buckets on their head, dump them in, and then repeat! It took about 4 hrs for 3 prisoners to fill up the one tank! I guess it's one good way to put prisoners to work!

My first Saturday in town, there was a wedding that I attended with Abel's family. We only attended the church portion of it, which was almost 5 hrs long!! It consisted of a lot of the traditional Canadian wedding things, including the walk down the aisle, but a lot was different. There is a lot more singing and dancing that goes on and at multiple points during the ceremony people get out of the pews and go up to the front to dance. If you are dancing well or singing well, people will come up and stick a bill of money onto your sweaty forehead, which is then donated to the bride and groom. This also commonly happens outside of weddings from what I can tell too, and my guess is that you keep the money? There were things that are usually done in our receptions that were done in the church. The last couple of hours, a table was brought out and the wedding party sat up at the front of the church. The cutting of the cake was also done in the church. What I found kind of funny is how big Coke products are here: Coke and Fanta lined the front of the table like a pretty display. I wish I would have had the opportunity to see the reception!
There is a river that runs near Nilerigu, and apparently houses crocodiles that come out at night, but make their way back to the water before daybreak. If a crocodile doesn't make it back, he just freezes where he is. This happened, and it was the huge talk of the town, and everyone walked down to see the crocodile. I couldn't believe how big the crowd of people was, and how close it got to it, and that the crocodile did nothing! People were touching it, pulling it's tail, and it just stayed there! I was still too chicken to touch it; taking the picture was close enough for me!

I hear the rains down in Africa

That title is for you Carl! Rains in Ghana have been one of my favourite experiences. They come down so hard that the noise they make when they hit the zinc corrugated roofs makes you jump out of bed in the middle of the night! When it rains during the day, the entire town shuts down as everyone runs for cover. All the street vendors take off and you are hard pressed to find someone on a motorcycle or bicycle. The open sewers are absolutely gushing with water, and sometimes you see children playing in them which can't be healthy! If you live in a straw roofed house, you run to your friend's house who has a zinc roof to collect the rain water, as this will save you a trip down to the well or borehole. And the best thing about the rains is how they cool everything down! I don't know if I have just acclimatized, but the day after the rains, I can wear pants and a long sleeved shirt and be fine!

The first 2 days of my trip were spent traveling up to Bawku and seeing the communities which have had boreholes drilled recently and are about to be implemented with pumps. The landscape up here is amazing! It's very hilly and there is a lot of rock which resembles the Canadian Shield. One of the most surprising things I found about the villages up near the north was that many of them were equipped with solar panels. Almost every compound (house) had one solar panel, which would give them enough energy to run a couple of lights after sunset to get around, from what I could get out the community members. They had been a government project that had been installed 10 years ago! And all the panels were still functioning! Now, a lot of these villages are getting electricity and from what I heard, a lot of people in the community don't want it! They say that many will use the electricity, without realizing how much they are spending, and then when the bill comes at the end of the month, they will not be able to pay it or if they can, it will be by cutting corners elsewhere. They think it will unnecessarily increase the poverty level of many in the community, and say that while it might be nice to watch tv or listen to a radio that they are fine without it and that it is more the young people who care.