Marka in Ghana

Sunday, July 16, 2006

An inspiring week

This week, I had the privilege of sitting in on OIC’s quarterly planning and training of the field officers. The officers were trained in various workshops that they were to facilitate to their communities in the next 4 months. Topics included Resource Allocation Maps, Strategies for Marketing Processed Products, Prices and Pricing and the Avian Flu. There was also a session on Monitering and Evaluation where they brainstormed ways to effectively collect data which would illustrate the impact their work was having in the field.
As I sat in the conference room, surrounded by all of the field officers, listening and learning from the sessions, I slowly began to realize what makes OIC the amazing NGO that it is. First of all, the organizational structure of their projects is phenomenal- each area that OIC works in has goals for the quarter, and check lists of things to be done. The workshops are well laid out, presented in a facilitated discussion and contain visual aids to spark conversations. The way in which the workshops are presented to the trainers are also in a well facilitated discussion. People here aren’t afraid to ask questions, especially the hard questions. They love to share success stories, yet they do not back away from their challenges. They share their challenges, brainstorm ways to overcome them and learn from eachother. It’s interesting to sit in a room of so many people who have so much knowledge in different areas, from marketing to agriculture to live stock. What I found really interesting was how after learning about a topic like “strategies for marketing processed goods”, which is fairly theoretical, they began to brainstorm ways to apply what they learned to the field, how to make it relevant to those that they worked with and how to explain a lot of the theories with words and analogies in the local language, when words such as strategy do not translate.
Finally, what I love most about OIC is the passion in each of the workers. There have been many days that Abu, the field worker I have been shadowing, remarks that the visit to the community he works in is much more gratifying than any monetary raise when he sees the improvement in people’s lives. I have also had many of the field workers express to me how important the personal relationship with the communities that they work in is to them, and see this personally when they sit and talk to various members about their day to day lives before and after the workshops. They truly understand the realities of those they are working with, and because of this, they are better positioned to help them.
I have finished this week feeling similar to how I end up leaving an EWB conference- completely inspired.

My first interview with Mohammed

This is one of my favourite people in Tamale, and I had so much fun doing this interview! (I have it recorded, but I thought some people might want to know how it went before I get home!) Sorry if your question wasn’t asked, I will try to get a variety of everyone’s questions in the upcoming interviews!

So tonight I am talking with Mohammad.
What do you do Sir?
I’m working with OIC Tamale as a security man. I joined OIC August last year, and they posted me in the village where the training center is. I worked there for almost 4 months and then they sent me back to the main office. So at the main office I worked for almost 4 months and then from last December until up to date, I work at the OIC guesthouse.
Is this your only job?
No, this is not my only job
What else do you do?
I’m a block manufacturer, I cut blocks to sell. I started this business almost 3 months ago. Now that I’ve started it, I think that it’s better. So, from here, I get to the house in the morning, I will take my bath, take my breakfast and then get to the others, the dissen, the bricks where I work throughout the day until about 5:30. And then I come back to the house, take my supper and then come back to the guesthouse to work.
So when do you sleep?
Well, I do sleep, but most of the times, if I get to the house, I will sleep maybe 2, 3 hrs and that’s ok for me. You know, we security, we don’t sleep in the night, so we work through the night. ** every 3 days Mohammad works a 24 hr shift **
What would you do with a million dollars?
Ok, anyway, I have a future plan. Like, I’m planning to have a mango farm. That’s my plan.
On top of the brick business?
Yes, I will still work in the block business, but I want to add the mango farms to it.
Why do you want to do mango farming?
Because I have a family, so I want to plan for my family because the work that I’m doing, I don’t want my children to grow up and sufferer the same as I am doing. So I want to plan very well for them.
Where would you have your mango farm? In Tamale or outside of the city?
Yes, I want to look for a land in a community. I want to have a 10 acre land. So I will start off with maybe 2, 3 acres and when time comes I can finish with the 10 acres. So that is what I am planning to do.
What makes you happy ?
I live with my family, so I have a wife and four children.
How old are your children?
One is almost 11, then the other one is about 6 and then 3 yrs and the last is an infant. So I have 3 daughters and one son. So I am happy that I live with my family.
Do you get to see them often? Or only when you go home between jobs?
If I get to the house in the morning, I get to spend 3-4 hrs with them. Then when I come back to the house around 5:30 I get to see them again.
What makes you proud to be a Ghanian?
Well, all my parents were born in Ghana, my grandfathers, my great grandfathers, all my family was born in Ghana. So I’m proud.
So you are proud of your family heritage?
What do you think about Ghana’s performance at the World Cup?
I think they did well. This is their first time performing at the World Cup. They were able to beat the Czech’s and the USA.
How has life changed in the last ten years in Ghana and has it been for the better or the worse?
Well, we have had a change for the worse. Because it seems that the economy is going backwards, it’s not going forwards.
Why do you say that?
Well, I’m looking at how things go about. 10 yrs ago, a bag of cement cost 6000-7000 cedis, and today a bag of cement is 75 000 cedis.
But isn’t that just inflation? It happens everywhere doesn’t it? Because in Canada, gasoline was a lot cheaper than it is today.
Well 6 years ago, we used to by it at 6500/ gallon and now its 40 000 cedis.
So is it that people can’t afford the higher prices or are peoples salaries increasing as well?
People salaries are still the same, and prices are going up. 10 yrs ago, it would cost about 2 million cedis to build 3-4 rooms in a house. But now, I don’t think 10 million cedis can buy even 10 bags of cement, which would give you half a room.
So what do you think needs to change for Ghana to be better in the next ten years?
Well, if you are living in Ghana, you are struggling for yourself. Because we don’t expect the government to do stuff for us. Because if you rely on government, I don’t think you will go for it. They are always going backwards. So everyone is trying to do something for himself.
Tell me what you think the typical day of the average North American is like?
I don’t understand the question.
Ok, so here in Ghana, most people may start off the day by collecting water, and then come home and either cook or fetch breakfast for their children. Then their children will go to school and they will go to the farm. Do you think it will be the same or different in Canada?
Well, I have never been, but I think over there will be better
Better how?
Well, it seems that things are going well over there.
So what do you think would be better?
Like, if you are there, and you are working, I think that you will be well paid. Because here, salaries are too low. I don’t get up to $150 a month. But over there, I think that if you for almost 5-6 hours, you will get more than that.
Yes, for some this is true, but you also have to keep in mind that everything else is more expensive. Like the average meal is around 40 000 cedis and I pay over $350 in rent per month, plus utilities which can cost almost $100 a month.
Upon all that, it is better than here. Because here, you can take your salary and it wont even take you up to two weeks, because you have family that is depending on you. And all that you mention, we are to pay.
Well same in Canada, many people have families to take care of and pay for too.
But I’m sure that the salary you collect over there is better than in Ghana.
If you could teach a Canadian something, what would you teach them?
From me? Eee! This is a terrible question. Ok, what I will teach them is what they expect from me. If they expect something from me and I have the knowledge then I will teach them.
Ok, but do you think there is something that we are lacking? What can we learn from you?
Ok, we have our culture here. I can teach you some our cultures and we have so many communities here. Maybe, it may be different than Canada. So, I can teach you how we live here. We live in town and communities. I can teach you that one.
So how do you live in a community?
Well, to live in a community, its not easy. We have so many that do not have water, or electricity. There is nothing like what you get in town, you can’t get it in a community. So you can’t live in a community unless you learn how to live in a community.
So when I go back to Nalerigu, what do I need to learn?
Well, unless you be with those who live there, and practice their living before you live with them. But sometimes, if you don’t practice it, they may think that you neglect them. Maybe the way you live in town, you cannot live the same way in the community. So you must learn from them before you live with them.
What do you think about the NGO’s in Ghana?
They are doing very well. Because in the early 80’s, up to 90’s, I think the NGO’s have gone well, because they used to go deep into the communities and educate them. Most of them were building schools for them. Some dig wells for them for good water and some…. Well they are doing well. They have improved people’s lives.
What is your opinion of foreign NGO’s in Ghana?
Ya, a local NGO is different from a foreign NGO because most of them don’t have the resources. Most of them depend on either the foreigners. You see you cannot start with, its hard to get the capital to start an NGO, unless you contact or get someone to support you before you do it. So most of them depend on foreigners. I think the foreign NGO’s are doing well, more than the local NGO’s.
Why is that? Because they have more money?
But do you think they have the same contact with the community as the local NGO’s?
Yes, because, when they come, they can’t get to the community direct, unless they get somebody from Ghana to lead them and he will direct him on what to do. So I think that that is the way they do it.
Is there anything else you want to say to my Canadian friends?
Yes, ok, we appreciate you coming here. What you came to do for us-
But what did I do?
You know, you did a lot here. I’m not with you, but I know that you did a lot. Because to travel from country to country, it’s not easy. And I don’t know the type of work that you are doing here, but the way I see how you are moving, I know that you are doing something and something better. So I appreciate what you are doing.
Well, I don’t think I’ve done very much, if anything I learn everything from you! But thank you very much!

I think some important information about Mohammad that wasn’t disclosed in the interview is that he only has a grade 6 education because that was all that he could afford growing up, and the mango farm he wants to start is to employ some of his younger brothers who are currently dependant on him as well.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Canada day, Ghanian style!

I arrived in Tamale this past Friday to find Kyle in the office. When he told me that a bunch of EWBers were coming down to go camping for Canada day, I couldn’t have been more excited. We met early the next morning and scoured the town for hotdogs. Amazingly, we found some and I was surprised at how much I was looking forward to the processed meat that normally turned me off in Canada. We waited a little over an hour for a friend of Luke’s who was going to lend us some tents. When we realized that he wasn’t going to come, the 12 of us hopped on a tro tro, completely unphased and headed out to the community of Nantoon. I thought how funny it was that we had all become such minimalists in such a short time. “Tent? Who needs one! I have my…uhh,… back pack… and Dan just went and got this large table cloth thing… that we can lie on… or cover ourselves if it rains….Lets go!!”
When we arrived in the community, we went to visit the chief and present him with kola nuts, as is tradition, and to explain to him what we wanted to do. They told us that we could camp out by the school house, and that we could sleep in the school house if it ended up raining. Half of the community followed us to the campsite, with another 20 people coming later to watch our strange culture of Frisbee playing, guitar sing alongs and roasting strange meat on a stick. By the end of the night we were completely surrounded by children, who stayed up far past their bed times to watch this strange spectical of white man.
It was really nice to be able to swap stories with other volunteers about our projects, our home life and best of all, about diarrhea. With a nice, patriotic touch, we finished off the night by singing Oh Canada under the stars.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Ask a Ghanian!

This was an idea presented at predep training, which I had forgotten about until I was talking to Ben from Waterloo this past weekend. I've have been planning on interviewing Ghanians while I am here, and I feel that I am at the stage where I know a bunch of people well enough that it wouldn't be too awkward.
So my question to you is: what would you want to ask the average Ghanian?
Ben has gotten some interesting responses to his post, some of which I plan to steal.
So far my list includes
1) What would you do with a million dollars?
2) What makes you proud to be a Ghanian?
3) What do you think the average day of a Canadian is like?

So post some more questions for me!

If only I knew how to fish

Most of the following is word for word, as I ran in and scribbled it down as soon as it was over.

I sat outside on the log in front of our house the other night to look at the stars. Our power was out because one of the five people we share our power line with didn’t pay this month so they cut off the entire line. I wondered to myself if this was laziness of the power cutter or pure genius: nothing is going to make that guy pay faster than 4 angry neighbours at his door in the morning. Zach came out and sat beside me, and for awhile we just sat in silence.
“You know what’s funny?” I asked, mouth gaping upwards. ”Most Canadians have to take a weekend vacation up north to see this kind of night sky. But so many Ghanians get to experience this beauty every day.”
“Yep, there’s no place like home!” We both kept our eyes pealed for shooting stars. “You know, sometimes I think about traveling, but other times, I think its better that I just stay here.” I was shocked by this statement, as most days people ask me if I can take them back to Canada with me, if I can take back one of their children or for my address so that when they try to apply for a Visa, they have proof of a connection in Canada, but I have never heard of someone saying that they would never want to go.
“What? Really? Why?”
“Because I don’t understand you, the whites. Don’t get me wrong, some of you are very kind, but most of you, well you don’t have time for anyone. Why would I want to go to a land full of whites? Maybe I would go there, work and just end up getting cheated in the end.”
“Why would you get cheated?”
“Why wouldn’t I? I have never met a white person who has made a promise that they’ve kept. I’ve had many American friends before, and they walk the way that me and you walk (walking refers to around the village, visiting friends) and when they leave, I never hear from them again. I have even written them multiple times, and gotten nothing.” I thought back to most of the white people that I have met in Nalerigu. Most of them were volunteering American doctors, who lived in a bubble at their hospital guesthouse. Most of them would never venture into the actually town of the people that they came to help, nor would they know how to say good morning in Mamprollii after a month of being here. I also thought about Zach’s comments about the whites never having time for anyone, and about how even that morning, I pretended not to hear someone call me and quickly walked by, attempting to sneak out of another potential marriage proposal. “I guess what I really hate about you, the whites, is that you come here to help people, yet you don’t help people until you are asked to. What’s even worse is you create a dependency. You know, there’s a saying we have here that says if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you can feed him for a lifetime. But you whites, you just come down and give us fish, and then when you leave, we are left sitting around, looking stupid.”
I didn’t really know what to say in my defense and my mind raced through my past actions to figure out if these statements were directed at me or if it was just a vent session. I thought that I had been pretty consistent in everything that I did, but I began to wonder that if these feelings were so strong, if my actions could do anything to change them. I thought about what I was actually doing here, and while consistently tried never to give out fish, I know that I haven’t been teaching how to fish. This is because I don’t know how to fish yet, and I don’t even know if after the summer I will even know how to get bait.
“Zach, you know that I am only here to learn, and I don’t claim to have any solutions,” I managed to squeak out. In the distance there was singing, and I knew Zach was late for his choir practice. As he got up to leave I was torn between wanting him to go so that the awkwardness of the conversation would end, and wanting to probe further into the issue because it was a question I wanted to answer before coming to Ghana.
“To be continued,” he said as he walked away, into the dark. Can’t wait, I thought.

He hoffed and he puffed.. and blew our roof off!

This past Saturday was by far the biggest rain storm I have ever witnessed. It came up just as I was getting ready for bed, so I quickly finished brushing my teeth and scurried to my room, thankful for my quiet straw roof and feeling a little sorry for the rest of the family who had to listen to the constant pounding on their zinc roof. Little did I know that soon I would be running to their rooms!
Normally the rain isn’t a big deal in my room; all I usually have to do is close my screen door and I’m fine. But within ten minutes I realized that screen door wasn’t cutting it and since my wooden inner door only locks from the outside, there was no way the wind was going to have it stay closed! Water started to blow into my room and I began to curse myself for packing so light, as nothing that I had with me would effectively block the door. So I ended up holding it closed. After about 15 minutes of holding my door shut, standing in pitch darkness, I got the brilliant idea to run outside, locking my door on the way out, and perhaps sleep on the living room floor until the storm passed. Before I had even locked my door, I was drenched to the bone. I scampered across my compound to find the door of living room locked. I yelled in, realizing within seconds that there was no way that they were going to hear me over the sound of the beating rain on the roof. So I ran to Zach’s room and luckily he was still up.
“Who is it?” he asked before opening the door, which is something I can see my real brother asking back home. I stepped into his room, and it didn’t take me long to form a puddle as we both just sat in the pitch dark looking in the direction of outside, once in a while being illuminated by the lightning. When the wind really began to pick up, you could hear our roof being pulled up a couple of inches, scraping against the thread of the screws and then slamming back down. I wondered to myself what would happen if it just ripped right open, like the lid on a can of sardines. I guess can’t get any wetter, I laughed to myself.
The storm calmed down after about 45 minutes and I head back to my room. As I flopped down onto my bed, still soaking wet, I realized that while my straw roof worked pretty well against the rain, it didn’t hold up so well against the dust. There was a layer of dirt coating everything in my room, the layer on my bed now coating me. Mmmmmmm.
The next morning I woke to Zach and Abel reroofing the straw room to the chicken’s hut beside mine, which had completely blown off. We had sustained minor damage compared to a few of my neighbours, many of which had their zinc roofs damaged and one had their completely taken off as I had imagined was going to happen to ours. I asked how much it costs to roof a room.
“About 1 million cedis for a pack, and you would need at least 3 packs.” I did some quick math in my head: that was just over $300. Minimum wage in Ghana is $2 a day, and while many may make over this, saving is not an easy thing to do here, especially saving $300.
“So what will they do if they don’t have the money?”
“Nothing. What can they do?” I was shocked by this answer, maybe because in Canada there are always so many fall back plans when tragedy hits. In this moment, I understood how the word vulnerability is used to describe poverty. It might not be too hard to live off of $2 a day, as I regularly do it many times during the week. (You can get a decent meal for 2000 – 4000 cedis, about $0.25- 0.50). But I can’t imagine raising a family on that wage. You would have to make sure that your health, and the health of your family doesn’t fail and that the roof on your house stays on during the rainy season, because you can’t afford to not eat for 150 days.

Monday, July 03, 2006

If you build it, they will come…. Or will they?

One of my personal interests has been community and personal latrine building within the district, so I’m always asking people of their opinions on them. So far I’ve come across some pretty interesting information. First of all, there are public latrines just a really short distance from my house, which you don’t have to pay to use, yet the only other person in my household that uses them is my Ghanian mother. Everyone else still prefers to go in the bush, and the reasons very from person to person. I would say that the number one reason that people don’t want to use them is that they just aren’t comfortable with them. If you have been going in the bush since they were young, it is what you are used to. I think if someone offered us the choice between a real toilet and an outhouse, we would be much more comfortable with a toilet! Some people believe that using public latrines actually increases disease spread, because everyone is going in one spot, and you may catch something from the person that went in there before you. There is also the issue of maintenance. Our latrines are cleaned out on a weekly schedule, but I have also heard of latrines that are not cleaned out so regularly, which obviously causes people to not want to use them. (Think about how many times you would rather pass on some gas station’s bathrooms and just go at the side of the road!) Some public latrines have a small fee to use them that pays someone to keep them maintained, and while it is a really small fee, for those who can’t afford it or would rather spend it on something like a bucket of water, they are basically ineligible for the use of the latrine.
Why don’t more people have a latrine in their homes? Robert Chambers says that no NGO should be giving out personal latrines because if people can afford to build themselves a home, they can also afford to put in a latrine. I can definitely see the logic in this and have priced out the cost of a home, and the cost of a personal latrine and the latrine would be a small fraction of the cost of a home. However, I find that in a lot of communities, people are waiting for NGO’s to come and install them. When we suggest during our workshops that they can build their own out of the local materials, some are actually surprised that they never thought of the idea themselves. One of the downsides of having a latrine in your home is that many of your neighbors will come and ask you if they can use it, so a lot of people tell me that they are waiting for more people to get them before they get their own! What I find most surprising about my talks about latrines with most people in the community is one of the reasons stated by many, including my coworkers, to build a home latrine. There is a local belief of witches, as well as special, powerful creatures. These creatures have the ability to take the form of any animal or human, and transporting themselves to any place in an instant. After night fall, these creatures roam the community, looking to do harm to those they meet. For this reason, after sun set (6:30 pm) most people will not leave their compounds, especially not to use the latrine! So while to the western world, the health benefits of using a personal latrine might be on the top of our lists, it may be much more beneficial to market the fact that you won’t have to leave your house at night!

When in Rome….

The other night I went with Zach to his friend Andrew’s house to watch some football. Half-way through the game, a couple of his other friends came over, with a bag of meat. They started chowing down on it, and once in a while looked up at me and kind of smirked. The whole time I was looking down and trying to figure out what it was that they were eating, as I kept seeing what I thought were very slender limbs. Finally, I asked Zach what it was, and he said bushmeat.
“What kind of bushmeat?”
“Antelope, will you try some?” I figured it was just like dear, so reached down for a hunk. Just as I was about to put it in my mouth, Zach tells me that it is actually Andrew’s dog. Immediately my stomach churns and I have to put it down. It’s such a funny reaction when you think about it, and such an odd culture that we live in too. Why do we put dogs and cats above goats or cows? It’s just another animal that can provide you with a meal. And while my gut reaction is, “that’s disgusting”, I can’t help but wonder what cultures who hold the cow sacred think of Alberta! So I tell Zach and his friends that in Canada, dogs become part of the family, so this would be like eating your younger brother. I picked the hunk back up and ate it, and to tell you the truth, it tasted really good! Psychologically though, I couldn’t have anymore!
Not all Ghanians believe it is right to eat cat or dog, especially the Muslim population, so you wont find any in the market, it’s more of an under the table thing. Although I have talked to many people who really seem to enjoy it!
When I saw Sabrina in Tamale, she brought along a bag of her breakfast: fried bugs. When it rains, these firefly like bugs swarm the light in her compound, and the children in her family just sit there and collect them for a couple of hours. She tells me that there are just thousands of them! For breakfast, they pan fry them with a little butter. I tried a couple, and they were actually pretty good too! Just tasted like buttery crunchy breadcrumbs really.

World Cup Craziness!

Has anyone else been watching the World Cup and seeing Ghana “rise to the top?” (Which is the title of the really corny, yet somehow really effective when you are excited, Ghanian football theme song). There is nothing more exciting than game day here, which seems to have the same effect as the rain: everything shuts down! People run to the nearest television, and if the power is out in Nalerigu, everyone heads over to the hospital, which has a generator and one tiny tv outside the main doors. Dave and I once counted over 120 people watching this tiny TV! Sometimes the color will waiver, yet the energy during a game is incredible, and the reaction to any good play or goal is a lot of cheering and dancing. The day of the game against the Czechs happened to be on a market day in town, and as I walked through market, I stumbled upon dead goat with little Ghana flags stuck in them! I really wish I had my camera for that one!
There is really nothing better than seeing an underdog team win. The pride on people’s faces knowing that Ghana not only was one of the four African countries to make it into the World Cup, but that they were also the only African team to make it to the top 16, is exuded by everyone. I find that there is even pride in a loss, as they know that they have played well and as my Ghanian father always says, “the whole world has seen how well we have done!”