Monday, August 21, 2006

A small taste of Ghana

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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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