Thursday, May 31, 2007

Leaving Mother Ghana!

For those of you who don’t know that I’m already home, its official! I touched down in Toronto just one week ago and I’m beginning the long and interesting process of ‘re-integration’ and ‘reverse culture shock’. I’ll write more on my re-entry later, however for now here is a bit that I wrote while on my way back home. Can’t wait to see you all soon!

- Christian

What a long and strange trip it’s been! As I sit here in the Kotoko airport in Accra waiting for the first of three flights that will take me back home, I can’t help but think of all the great things I am leaving behind in the Ghanaian motherland. It saddens me to think that I will be so far from my new friends, yet I’m excited to see my family again. I have definitely found my work here to be challenging, and I am ready for a small break. So as you can imagine my feelings are mixed.

My last STC ride from Tamale to Accra

During this last week in Ghana I experienced a rapid transition back into a more ‘western’ atmosphere. I was very lucky to get one of the few working STC buses from Tamale, and made it to Accra in just over 16 hours – no breakdowns! It was a miracle. Accra is the first and last bit of Ghana that you see, and it is in many ways a strange experience to be in a very developed city just before heading home. I have spent the past week working with the MOFA national office staff, and had a few days to check out the big city.

My brother Rafik and I checking out the Atlantic

The most striking feature of my last week was realizing just how vastly different life is in the south, especially in Accra, compared to the Northern Regions of Ghana. While visiting the towns of Cape Coast and Takoradi in April, I saw that though they were more ‘developed’ than Tamale, there were still many reminders of rampant poverty. However in Accra there are so many differences from the North that it feels like an oasis of sorts. You can buy pretty much anything available on the international market, and can even spend a relaxing day on the beach. The taxis and tro-tros here are actually in great shape and well maintained! Big change from Tamale!

Travel and See!

Here in Accra I have seen many areas of town that look exactly like your average North American or European city. Whether that’s a good thing or not, I’m not so sure. What it does say is that there is money here. On one street you have ‘Busy Internet’, a top of the line internet café with all the newest computers and gadets. Across the street is NIIT, the National Institute of Information Technology, and just up a ways are all of the big banks and airline offices. It all looks much like you would see back home in Canada. When you hear of Ghana growing in terms of GDP, Accra is probably the place they are talking about!

Last night out with friends in Tamale

What the stats don’t show you though is that while many are doing well, so many are still struggling. Just a few blocks over from the nice shops and offices are thousands of people selling small things in the streets and markets at ‘Kwame Nkrumah Circle’ for little more than ‘chop money’ (money for food). So many are living on so little. Add the small income to the inflated prices in the big city and you have a lot of people who are struggling.

MoFA Directors gave me a Dagomba smock!

Like a lot of the signs of poverty in the rest of Ghana, poverty in the city is often ‘a few streets over’ and not always visible to those who are doing well. It is easy to be biased by the allusions of affluence in Accra. My biggest concern is that those who are doing well don’t have a good understanding of what poverty truly is, what people want and need to move forward. Even if you do recognize the challenges of poverty in the city, there is a good chance that you feel a bit helpless in improving the situation. It is that big a challenge.

My last supper - Mmmm Tilapia

I was surprised at how quickly I assumed that the development of the big city meant a higher standard of living and more opportunities. I realized in small time that I should not be fooled by such a trick. Behind all of the statistics showing improvement, the economic growth rate and whatnot, are the people who are living more challenging lives than can possibly be described in numbers. My fear is that we in the ‘west’ may perpetuate our complacency with the situation in developing nations by being fooled by the numbers. My time here showed me the faces of the people who are living hand to mouth with little opportunity to choose healthier and more secure lifestyles. Let me tell you, development is about people, real people who live with much less than we wish to imagine.

Could this week’s experience be a small taste of what is to come in Canada? How do we see extreme poverty back home anyways? How can I relay what I have experienced and encourage people to become conscious of such extreme poverty? How can Canadians make development aid a priority of our government? I’m not sure I remember what it is like to live in a developed nation and to be so far removed from the challenges of the developing world. I hope that my ‘re-entry’ experience in Canada will help me to find some answers to these daunting challenges.

Last sights in Ghana

Looking forward to seeing you all soon!!!

- Christian

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A truly 'International' Half Marathon!

It has been a while since I’ve last posted, and so much has been happening here in Tamale. Our season has changed from hot and dry to relatively cool and wet. Yes, the rainy season has finally arrived. From October til early April, not a single drop of rain fell over Tamale and the Northern Regions of Ghana. We saw a quick transition from green lush fields full of maize and rice, to harvest season and leaves and stocks withering and drying, to the harmattan with hot dry winds that turned the country side to a semi-desert. Now the rains are falling about once a week, and all is green and humid. It’s a welcome relief from the punishing 43C+ heat waves during the months of February and March (see the photo below taken in my kitchen during the peak heat).

In the most recent news, a good friend from Tamale and I have organized a truly ‘international’ half marathon race this past Sunday, April 29th. The run was initially conceived as a run involving both my Ghanaian friends as well as members of two EWB chapters in Canada as part of our ‘Working Partnerships’ connection. (The WP program enables volunteers in Africa to communicate with EWB members back home to share stories and challenges of development, while the chapters raise funds to cover a portion of the overseas volunteer’s expenses).

(Dan and I describing the course before the start)

However, after discussing plans with friend and star marathoner Daniel Zakaria, we decided it would be a great opportunity to bring people out for a kick start to Dan’s new club – the “Real Tamale Athletic and Yoga Club”.

And so it went…. on Sunday we brought together a crew of volunteers, twenty local racers, and a handful of Siliminga ‘casual’ runners, and we hit the road for 21km of sheer running bliss.

(Dan taking first place in the 1/2 marathon)

The race began shortly after 6am, and within the first kilometer, the local racers were waaaaay ahead of the ex-pat crew, consisting of three Canuks (me, Luke Brown, Gwen Henderson), one Norwegian (Jon), and one French man (Baptiste).

(The racers!)

Needless to say, none of us were in fantastic shape, so our pace was a little more casual than the serious racers. Add the African heat and intense sun, and you tend to get a slower run that usual. But no complaints from us, we all had a great time!

(Dan and I post race)

Adding another dimension to the run was the involvement of members from my WP chapters in Canada joining us for a run on the weekend. Friends from the Montreal EWB chapters and University of Manitoba chapter hit the streets to show their support, and they spread the word about the run to draw attention to international development.

(Montreal EWB runners pumped for the big run!)

The Montreal crew consisted of an even mix of EWB’ers from Polytechnique, Concordia, and McGill (check out the exciting pre-run photo!), and they ran a loop through the city making stops at each school. Another group of cross country runners from Memorial University in Newfoundland dedicated their weekend long run to support the cause! Huge thanks to Mark Brophy, Peter Bazeley, Amy Colbourne, Thomas Martin for braving the cold and wet weather over a 21km+ run!!! It was amazing to make the run truly ‘international’ and involve runners on both sides of the Atlantic! If the stars are aligned next year, we just might hold the '2nd Annual International Run for Development'! Anyone interested???

In other news, I will soon be pounding the tarmac in Canada! That’s right, just three weeks left here in Ghana, and I’ll be back in the motherland drinking delicious Tim Hortons coffee and taking in the NHL playoffs on TV. My time here is winding to a close, and I am both excited to get home to see my friends and family, and sad about leaving my new friends here in Tamale. But now is not the time to think of such things, I’ve still got three solid weeks of work to wrap things up and make sure that my impact here is positive and sustainable! Its unfortunate that I couldn’t share more of my experiences online, but I will try to get more information up on this blog in the coming weeks, and of course as soon as I get back home.

Special thanks to Luke Brown for taking fantastic photos of the race!

Much love from Ghana!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Ghana at 50 !!!

Today is a very important day for Ghana. Tuesday March 6, 2007 marks the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s independence!!!! Ghana is the first ‘Black Africa’ country in colonial Africa to gain its independence in 1957. Ghanaians have proudly thrown down the shackles of colonialism and have persevered through shaky times, early political instability, local tribal conflict, and extreme poverty. Ghana is now the home to a wealth of vibrant cultures and tribes living in harmony together, and steady development has resulted in a significant and promising decline in poverty across the country. Tremendous success in the recent 2006 World Cup embodied Ghana’s strength and determination to succeed. She is the motherland of the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, home to high life music and incredible drummers, and is the ‘black star’ of West Africa.

Excitement has been building steadily since the first of the year, when we officially entered the ‘Golden Jubilee Year’. Beautification projects were commenced for cities and villages all across Ghana, and special gathering areas for 50th anniversary celebration were constructed or revitalized in the region’s capitals. The celebrations in Tamale were held at the Police Park in the center of town, which recently saw the construction of new grandstands and a stage for the regional minister and other officials. I left my house this morning a bit too late to get a seat in the shade, but myself, my host family, and a few EWB friends made it in town just in time to see the start of the celebrations. The police park was filled with thousands upon thousands of people, and groups of local drummers played throughout the crowd. Much of the marching square in the center held members of the military and police who were on parade, and scores of school children, marching bands, and even the ‘Zoomlion’ street cleaning crew were all lined up to march through the square. To be honest, the event was a little bit un-eventful, since the speakers set up for the minister’s address could not be heard in the crowd, and the parade was difficult to see because of the crowd. But other than that it was quite amazing to be a part of such a huge celebration, and to see how excited people were.

There are many Ghana at 50 parties planned for this evening, though most people have been partying throughout the day. The sun kicked me in the arse, so I spent the later part of the afternoon sleeping! But the vibe around town is just amazing. I can hear the faint sound of drumming coming from many directions in the distance. Its pretty cool. I’m heading out for an evening of local music and dancing, but will post much more this week. Hope you all are doing well out there!

Much love,


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Friday, January 26, 2007

A Royal Visit, M&E at MOFA, and A Happy Holiday vacation

What a whirlwind of activity here in Tamale! The past two months have been jam packed with adventure, from a trip to the Atlantic coast, training madness at MoFA, and a visit from a pretty amazing Canadian and her entourage….

First things first. You might have heard about the Governor General trip to Africa in December, but did you know that Her Excellency, the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, made a stop right here in Tamale to visit with the Canadian volunteers in Ghana’s Northern Region?! It was a pretty incredible visit, with an impressive entourage consisting of the heads of many development organizations, full press coverage, a ‘beautification’ project to make Tamale pretty, and hordes of people lining the streets to catch a glimpse of the GG as she passed.

The day began with lots of excitement and commotion in the streets. I prepared for the visit (ie. I ironed my shirt for a change), donned my fancy new ‘work’ shoes (have been wearing flip flops since I arrived), and listened to sirens and honking horns in the distance – the GG was on her way. I jumped on my bike and met up with fellow volunteer Luke Brown. After a short cruise down Bolga road we arrived at the Gariba Lodge, the site of our meeting. We had just missed the motorcade of sport utilities and police vehicles bringing the crew into town to visit some Canadian projects. We mingled with fellow volunteers a while and anxiously awaited Her Excellency’s arrival. After some time we heard the sirens fast approaching. Everyone straightened up and began take their places. A series of big black sport utility vehicles pulled up, and the Governor General cheerfully popped out of one of them. She was greeted by a young group of singers and drummers, and she danced a bit and enjoyed the music. Then low and behold, George Roter, co-CEO of EWB came running from out of nowhere and greeted Luke, Kristy Minor (another great EWB’er in Tamale), and I, and we chatted all about our adventures in the first 5 months in Tamale. Before long the Governor General made her way over to us, and then it happened – we officially met the GG of Canada! WOW! It was pretty cool. We chatted for a while about EWB, and joked about how my name was about as French as it gets, but I can’t even order poutine properly in Quebec. She told us how amazing our work was here in Ghana and in the rest of Africa. It turns out that she specifically asked the EWB CEOs to join her tour of Africa, and wanted to learn more about what EWB does. Goes to show you just how much incredible energy, enthusiasm, and heart EWB has tapped into with so many young adults across Canada!

We then gathered in the dining room, where Her Excellency addressed the crowd before we dug in to a delicious buffet of local dishes. Before we knew it the lunch was over and the Governor General was off to visit a village before flying back to Accra. Altogether it was a pretty cool experience. Quite an honour to meet the Governor General, especially when she has gone out of her way to meet you!

So why haven’t I written for so long you ask? Because things have been crazy here at MoFA! I have been working hard with my counterpart Sheref to train ourselves on ‘Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E)’ of projects, and in turn to train staff here in Tamale and in the districts. MoFA is currently undertaking a country wide initiative to assess the impacts of projects and activities in the field, and Sheref and I are scrambling to fine tune some aspects of the M&E program before it is finalized. I’ll write more about the M&E program in a future post, but briefly the idea is to integrate ‘indicators’ for assessing impacts into the regular reporting scheme.

Sheref and I have been taking advantage of this opportunity to train staff on the importance of aiming for impact in the field. Essentially, agric officers in the districts really are ‘development workers’ and can dramatically improve livelihoods of poor rural farmers. So we are visiting districts and meeting with officers to show them how to have the most impact in the lives of farmers, and how to ‘monitor and evaluate’ their impacts on a regular basis. Furthermore, Sheref and I are developing ‘excel’ based templates for reporting to i) enable district officers to easily enter information and reduce time required for reporting, and ii) to take advantage of tools in excel for visualizing information and analyzing data, to help in understanding impacts and areas needing attention. This is a big step forward in MoFA, since data collection, analysis, and reporting has previously been done entirely on paper. Each report would normally take weeks to complete, and did not enable officers to analyze their performance and fine tune their focus in the field. So far the project is moving forward really well, and the results are promising! If all goes well, we will introduce our new ‘system’ to the national office in the next two weeks, where we hope to share our successes with the other regions.

Apart from my work at MoFA, I took an amazing trip down south for Christmas and the New Year. The south is like a whole other country this time of year. Up here in Tamale it is hot and dry – down south everything is still lush and green. They have a second rainy season down there, which not only keeps the trees beautiful, it also allows for year round farming. Hence the disparity in incomes and poverty between the north and south. Up here, we haven’t seen a single drop of rain since October. Not one. The dirt has turned to sand, the plants have all dried up (and have been burned down), and the temperatures are steadily rising. Its currently around 38C (100F) during the day, and will rise to 45C within the next few weeks. Yikes! They don’t call it Tamale for nothing ;).

In the south I stayed at a few incredible backpacker beach resorts (bare bones places but luxurious). I found myself relaxing on the most beautiful beaches with hardly another Siliminga in sight. The most amazing part of the trip was visiting many fishing villages on the coast. At one resort near Butre I hiked up the beach and came across a large fishing boat being pulled ashore. As the boat arrived, all of the villagers came out and began pulling in the boat and offloading the massive nets filled with writhing, silvery life. Everyone had a job – the men hauled the fish nets away from the surf and the women and children all sifted through the jumping and shaking fish to separate the big from small. The kingfish, barracuda, and other big ones were sent to the women, and the children took the squid and began to clean them. The children carefully stuffed the squid with sand to take away the slime, then began peeling away the skin, and finally removed the ink sack to spill it back into the sea. The men tended to the nets and the boat once the fish were sorted. Some cleaned seaweed from the nets while the others hauled the ship on shore using logs to help it slide. In all thirty or more people made it all happen, and in thirty minutes they were all back at the village with their catch.

I’ve posted some photos of my trip in the gallery, check it out. There are a few other things posted there from the GG visit, training, and other stuff too, enjoy! Also, if you like photos and stories from Africa, like to keep track of your appointments and birthdays, and are interested in helping support Engineers Without Borders (Canada), I’ve got just the thing for you. The EWB calendar!!! For $20 you can get a sweet calendar filled with great photos and stories from our volunteers (including some from yours truly), and can help EWB overseas. Check out to order one!

much love,


Friday, November 03, 2006


A huge thank you for all of the kind words and well wishes that you all have been sending. Every time I read your comments I am inspired to continue working hard over here and to share my experiences! Thanks!

In case you’re interested, I just had an article published for ‘Rural Woman’s Day’ on the EWB website. Check it out…. . This story was inspired by a visit to a small village called Zakoli in July, and led me to take a deeper look into shea butter processing groups in the area. Its quite amazing the amount of work that many women across West Africa will do to support their families!

A few new things on this blog. First, feel free to check out my new Photo Album – I’ve just started it, and will upload a TON of photos in the next week. Second, I’ve added links to other EWB volunteer’s blog sites so you can see what other crazy Canuk engineers (and non-engineers) are up to around the world.

If you haven’t heard, there was an amazing global event that took place on October 15th. The event was called Stand Up Against Poverty, where 23, 542, 614 people worldwide stood up in solidarity to remind our world leaders about their commitments to meeting the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The EWB volunteers here in Tamale put together a Stand Up event at Giddipass, a local gathering spot, where we brought out over 300 people! It was incredible! The day included performances by local drummers, a crew of dancers and musicians from the Tamale Youth Home Cultural Group, along with an unscheduled pre-show performance by a horde of 'small' boys and girls breaking it down to some Akon and Bob Marley. The crowed was addressed in Dagbani by Madaam Elizabeth, the Regional Gender Desk Officer, and by MC Ricky from Diamond FM, along with readings of the Millennium Development Goals from local youth. It was AWESOME! We hope that our message is heard loud and clear – we want action, and want to see leaders in both the developing and developed world get serious about meeting the MDGs. For a look at exactly what the Stand Up Against Poverty campaign was all about, check out: .

In other exciting news, the EWB – West Africa volunteers just spent a long weekend up in Dori, Burkina Faso for a quarterly retreat. We all had a chance to meet one another, and to share our experiences, challenges, and successes in our placements, while getting a solid ‘recharge’ in energy for the months to come. I’ve got to say Burkina food is sooooo good. There is much more variety in Burkina than in the Northern Region of Ghana, and I think it has a lot to do with the French influence! There are baguettes, cheeses, yogurt, couscous (mmm), ice cream, and so many kinds of meat… so good! It was a nice break from the staple yam or rice meal here for me. It was the end of Ramadan at the time, and since we weren’t at our own homes to enjoy the traditional celebrations, we had one of our own. Families will often slaughter a goat or lamb for everyone to share, and so we found one at the market and had a local restaurant ‘prepare’ it for us. I’ve got to say, it was pretty tough seeing the goat take its last walk on the way to the butcher!

Dori is way up in the North East corner of BF, right near Niger and Mali. A whole different world there compared to Tamale. It is up in the semi-arid Sahel region, just south of the Sahara. So yes, it was incredibly hot! Around 40-45C each day, though the dry air was easier to deal with than the humid hot days in Tamale. There is very little ground cover, and the trees are sparse. On an early morning run with my friends Katherine and Monica, we discovered deep sand along the trails leading from town, and scenery similar to what you might see while on an East African safari. We found an early morning caravan of traditionally clothed women carrying water on their heads from a small ‘oasis’ to a nearby village. We greeted them, then continued to run towards the village of mud huts in the distance. We ran past fields of millet, neatly arranged with small purple flowers growing at the base of every plant. We saw groups of small children riding donkeys, pulling carts with sacks of grain, herding cattle, and fetching water. Finally with the sun rising we were forced to turn back to Dori to grab something do drink! It was an absolutely surreal experience, and one of the most interesting ‘exploratory runs’ that I have been on.

On our ‘day off’ we traveled to the nearby village of Bani, where we visited a group of mud-brick buildings. The architecture is truly impressive; massive mud brick towers pierce the sky, while mosques filled with giant archways and cavernous chambers stretch out below. Cowering from the sun we hurried towards every bit of shade we could find while roaming about. The locals were kind enough to bring us inside the mosques, and gave us an incredible tour of Bani. Check out my photo album for more pictures!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ghana Unplugged

Well, as you can see I have been a bit lax in my blog updates. I've been pretty busy with paperwork, which isn't really newsworthy, so I've held off on posting. So here it is, complete with photos from my recent trip to Mole National Park (went on a few wicked safari walks and met some great people).....

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m holed up in a dark office on the third floor of the MoFA regional office. I’m using the last bit of battery life on my borrowed laptop to put together a few final things before the weekend. An intense storm has finally arrived from the east – a fierce one that began brewing up over Togo recently and overtook Tamale with hardly a warning. One minute I’m working on my laptop enjoying the late afternoon sunshine on the veranda, the next I’m scrambling to get my things inside before they blow away into the big black sky. So why am I sitting in a dark office, running my computer’s battery dry, and smiling as I gaze at the rain coursing down the window in rivulets? It’s a long story…….

It has been a very dry season. A friend who is studying climate in Ghana with the World Food Program has confirmed that this was the driest summer in many years. Only a fraction of last year’s rain has fallen so far, and it has been concentrated into just a handful of wet days. Back in Canada such a drought might mean local wildfires, crop damage, and extra days at the beach for some. But here in Ghana, the impact is widespread and dire. Not only are the farmers suffering with sun scorched maize and poor yields this year, everyone is struggling because of falling water levels in the lakes. Why? Because without water, you have no hydro electricity! The government of the Republic of Ghana has recently announced that we are undergoing an ‘energy crisis’. The water levels at the Akosombo dam are dangerously low. So low in fact that if we don’t get more than our normal share of fall rains, Ghana will have no electricity in the dry season. To mitigate the effects of this crisis, the government has initiated a ‘lights out’ schedule for the whole of the country. The power is out in Tamale every other day, alternating between days (6am-6pm) and evenings (6pm-6am). Right now I’m working on battery power because today is ‘lights out’ day again in Tamale.

Working without electricity is difficult in an office setting. You can’t type, print, copy, or fax. That’s pretty frustrating for bureaucrats and report writing development workers like me! Most of my work at MoFA so far has been writing reports, helping to put together a handbook for agric extension agents, and working on computer skills with my colleagues. So things are at a near standstill for us when the lights are out. Luckily with a few hours of battery life, I’m still in the game for a while. And while I should be working given the short battery life I have left, I’m typing for my blog. Priorities, eh?! ;)

One of the charming sides of work at MoFA is that few of the activities here have been ‘computerized’. Most reports are still submitted in paper format, and compiled and filed on paper. That work can still be done without electricity. Agric workers can still go into the fields, and the fortunate few with laptops can travel to the other side of the city where the electricity still flows. Others in Tamale are not so lucky. You cannot mill grain when the lights are out. You cannot sell goods at your indoors shop if the lights are out. Hairdressers, internet cafes and business centers, restaurants – all suffer on lights out days.

On days like today you can clearly see some of the challenges that keep places like Ghana poor for too long. In this case, an ‘energy crisis’ occurs because of poor climate conditions that do not allow for electricity generation at the dam. A lack of energy infrastructure keeps Ghana from buying needed power from neighbouring countries in such a crisis. The electricity is shut off on a regular basis to conserve water, so businesses suffer, and surely the whole economy begins to decline. The poor economy (and insufficient aid from Developed countries like CANADA!) ensures that the infrastructure will continue to be inadequate for energy distribution, and Ghanaians will therefore continue to be at the mercy of the climate. It is one of many vicious cycles that keep Ghana and other developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa from breaking free from poverty.

I am smiling today because this rain is a blessing. In fact, things are looking up as there is much rain in the forecast. In another month there may be enough water left in the reservoir to pull us through to the next rainy season (8 months from now!). I’m also smiling because I know that this pile of paperwork is coming to an end! I am on my way to Savelugu this week to begin a diagnostic of the MoFA district office there, and to find ways to help the staff, most notably the agric extension agents, to be more effective in providing aid services to poor rural farmers. I love it here in Tamale, but I’m looking forward to the change in pace, and the opportunity to work in the field.

I have to admit, I am a bit frustrated today because I was just about to hit the road before it rained. I’ve somehow managed to make the Ghanaian diet work for me and my energy is waaaaaay up, which means I’m back to running full time! It has been great! It definitely is an interesting experience running here in Tamale. Unlike dealing with apathetic Sunday Strollers in Montreal who would hardly look my way as I squeezed past on Mont Royal, its hard to go a minute without children screaming from all directions ‘Saminga! Saminga!’ (meaning ‘white guy’ of course) or ‘Zidane! Zidane!’ (yes, its getting pretty old by now). Holy! And its not just the children – all kinds of people are hollering and cheering me on. Some invite me for a bite of their dinner. Taxi drivers ask if I need a ride. Older people just stare in disbelief. When I stopped to stretch the other day a man rushed to my aid – “Are you wounded??” he asked! Too funny. Most people will just yell something at me, but some have jumped off of their chairs and began to run with me for a few minutes, often in flip flops, long pants, and long sleeve shirts! Wow. Don’t forget, its 30-35 C everyday, and the searing sun will burn the clothes off of you when standing still. I had one young man run up to me, grab my hand tight and run with me for at least 10 minutes. He did not speak English, and I could not think of the universal sign for ‘you’re crushing my hand, please let go’. So I ran with him. Hand in hand. At some point I guess he got tired, let go, and just started walking the other way. Definitely one of the more interesting experiences I’ve had in a while!

Monday, August 21, 2006

A small taste of Ghana

Hello! First off, if you would like to receive an email whenever I put up a new post, please let me know by sending me an email. This will save you from having to check back all the time. Also, I have fixed the blog so you don’t need an account to post a comment! Feel free to say hey anytime.

It has been a while since my last post, and for very good reason. I have been super busy here in Ghana! Well first, I got quite sick with malaria, which was an incredibly eye-opening experience. It was unfortunate that it happened so early in my placement, but I must say, I can now relate to some of the challenges of life in sub-saharan Africa. I’ll spare you the details, but basically it is pretty scary to get malaria for the first time, especially when you are not sure of your surroundings and don’t have your ‘mum’ to take care of you!!! Not that I’m a momma’s boy, but man it would have been nice to get that ol’ fashioned sick treatment that I got back in high school (many, many years ago). The reality of life here in Ghana is that malaria is common, especially in the rainy season where the conditions are ripe for mosquito lovin’ and breedin’. Almost every day I meet a friend or colleague who caught malaria. Thanks to prophylactic drugs like doxycycline, we westerners are spared its crippling blow. It’s still possible to get sick, but it is less severe and typically not life threatening. Furthermore, we can afford the 47,000 cedis (~ $6 Can) it costs to get the highly effective artenisinin treatment if we do get sick. A few of those precious pills and you’re feeling better in a day or two. Unfortunately however malaria can hit Ghanaians pretty hard. The cost of artenisinin treatment is prohibitive for all but the well off here, and many people will stick with chloroquine treatment which costs about $0.20 Can. The problem is that due to drug resistance, chloroquine is typically not effective in West Africa any longer. So I have seen close co-workers of mine suffer through relapses malaria while taking questionable treatment.

I have recently been busy moving into my new place. Thanks to the help of my colleague Robin and her ‘brother’ Rafik, I found a great room living with Rafik’s family. Needless to say, I have had to make some adjustments in the way I live. Long gone are the days where I could throw my dirty clothes into a machine, press a button, and they are clean. Laundry is a workout! But I kind of enjoy it, at least for now. We are fortunate to have a faucet here in our yard with water that runs one or two days a week, so we can collect enough water in drums and buckets for food, bathing, and washing. We are doing well in that respect. No toilet here, but there is a latrine in the compound house behind us. However, by Ghanaian standards we’re living pretty large. We’ve got a nice plot of maize (corn) right next to the house, and mango, guava and orange trees that will provide us some serious nutrition in the fall. Mmmmmmm.

Work is great too. I share an office with the hardest working man in Ghana: Mr. Sheref. His energy, focus, and passion for development have been incredibly motivating. It gets pretty crazy around the office most days, with papers flying, people entering to greet us every three minutes, and occasional power outages. Add some humid African air, subtract one air conditioner (it died three weeks ago), and you get one heck of an atmosphere. I have discovered some amazing treats here that help with the focus in the office. One – Nescafe! (its terrible, but packed with caffeine), two – cookies from all over the world, three – fresh bananas delivered every day. So good.

But there is more to work than the treats, the madness, and the dehydration. I am beginning to pick up where Robin left off, and I have begun to plan my year here. I will spend this week solidifying an ‘action plan’ which will likely begin with learning everything I can about ‘participatory rural assessments’, adult education, agricultural extension, and projects/activities carried out at MoFA. The idea is to move to a smaller town in a district of the Northern Region, and to carry out an assessment of MoFA activities, strengths/weaknesses, and room for improvement. Most important however is my plan to live and work with farmers in the districts to see how MoFA attempts to help them in their activities. This hopefully will lead to an understanding of the shortcomings of MoFA’s approach, and ideas for strengthening MoFA’s ability to serve rural farmers by understanding their needs and wants. If all goes well I will fine tune our approach and create a program that short term Junior Fellow volunteers can carry out in the 18 districts of the Northern Region next summer.

Just a quick description of the photos scattered throughout this post. The first pictures of school kids were taken while exiting the Maacos hotel here in Tamale. I decided to take a quick photo out the front door, and I was attacked by a horde of screaming kids! They demanded many photos in front of the Happy Kids primary school, then literally dragged me to the Mariam International Junior Secondary school behind the hotel for more pictures. A riot ensued, kids got trampled, and one of the teachers and I ended up pulling several crying children from the dust and chaos. I am happy to report that no one was seriously hurt. See if you can spot a pair of shoes from one of the rioting kids who got overturned in the madness. The photos of dancing and drumming were taken at the Dagomba chief’s palace in Yendi during a regular gathering to honour him. It was quite the experience, and I hope to post more photos here soon. Finally, the last few pictures were taken in Salaga where I made many friends while watching some killer football. Cheers!

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