Monday, August 15, 2011

My Home Away From Home!

I have been in Ghana for 2 and a half months now. During this time I have been able to learn and appreciate Ghanaian culture. I owe a lot of my experience here to my host family. They work hard to ensure they are integrating us into the Ghanaian culture. For example, they serve us Ghanaian foods such as fufu, banku, and red-red. They also invite us to attend church with them and have taught us some phrases in Fante. It is all the little things they do for both Caro & I each and everyday that we are extremely grateful for.

Before I left for Ghana I received the contact information for my host, Hilda. I had emailed her before leaving and from our emails I learned that she was a third year university student like myself and so I assumed she was living alone and had an available room for Caro & I. Back on June 10th, I arrived in Takoradi and saw that my assumption was way off! There are 13 people living in my house (including Caro & I)! That being said there is never a dull moment and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Each of my family members has played such an important role in my experience here in Ghana and I would love to share with you all a bit about each of them.

My host mother is Alice. She is dedicated and hardworking. She works full-time as a registered nurse at the Regional Hospital. On top of that she raises the children, some of which are her brothers children but he had to travel to France for a job and since she was the eldest she took on the task of raising the children. One of mine and Caro’s favourite things about Alice is the way she is always complimentary. She comments on our hair braids and our dresses. “You look so nice! AYYY!” It’s hilarious and we look forward to seeing her off to work every morning just so we can say “woho ye few” (you look beautiful)!

Alice comes from a family of 10 children. 2 of her siblings live with her. One of them is Emmanuel. Caro & I refer to him as “Mr. Mom”. You never see him sitting down relaxing. He is always in the kitchen cooking and cleaning. He also runs his own business installing curtains and blinds. Emmanuel has a beautiful singing voice and it is rare to not see him dancing around and singing! It always starts the day on the right track when Caro & I wake up for breakfast and he is singing away!

Abe is the second sibling of Alice’s that stays in the house. He has one son, Anthony, who also lives in the house. Anthony is 11 or 12. He changes it each time we ask him! Abe works for Pepsi and spends his days delivering Pepsi to various towns.

Alice has 4 children. Her first born is George who is 26. He is our “big brother”. He is always looking out for both Caro & I and has been a great friend to us. Her second child is Charles who is very quiet although he will speak to us if we ask him a question. Then there is Kingsley who lives in Accra. We met him once when he came home to visit and he was very friendly. Lastly there is Hilda, Alice’s only daughter. Hilda is the woman who applied to QPID to host us for the summer. She is on summer holidays from University where she does financial & accounting studies. Hilda wakes bright & early each and every morning and works around the house all day. She is always trying to help Caro & I with whatever she possibly can and we are very thankful to have her as our Ghanaian sister.

Then there are 4 other children who I have not mentioned yet. They are Ruby (who goes by “Moe”), Timothy (who goes by “Nub”), Godfred, and Hilda Jr. These children stay with Alice as their father has gone to France to work. He comes home to visit them every now and then. I am not sure when they saw him last. Their mother is in Ghana however I am unsure why the children were not able to stay with her. The children are always helping in the kitchen and with the laundry. It is very rare to see them sitting around! When we first arrived in Takoradi the children could not even stay in the same room as Caro & I because they were terribly shy. Now they are still quiet around us but they don’t run and hide! We often play football with them or watch TV. Lately we have convinced Moe to give us some Ghanaian dance lessons!

Lastly there is Chi-Chi & Tiny: the cats. Chi-Chi is a cute cat who loves to roam around the kitchen in search of food. He has a broken hip though and as a result drags himself around the floor. Tiny is a kitten who seems to be permanently small. She really likes to cuddle with Caro!

This is my Ghanaian family. They all have a special place in my heart and I am dreading leaving them next weekend! They have helped me create many fantastic memories and I am going to miss each and everyone of them when I return to Canada. I hope to be able to visit Ghana again one day!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Discover the Unexpected

The Bradt guide on Ghana lists Nzulezo, the stilt village, as one of the things to see in the country, saying its readers called it the highlight of their trip. Not far from Takoradi, the pre-colonial village was built over 600 years ago, but no one really knows why. It is built on top of Amunsuri lake, with stilts supporting the structure. One legend says that the original inhabitants were refugees from what is now Nigeria, who went there to escape from an enemy tribe. When I was in Morocco, I visited the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, which, like Nzulezo, is built on the water. The mosque was built according to the Quran, which says “the throne of Allah was built on water.” According to the Wikipedia page on Ghana, Islam spread to Northern Ghana and Nigeria during the 13th century. It seems likely that the south was still void of Islam 600 years ago, and Nzulezo has no mosque (I asked!), just three Christian churches. This said, it’s a cool kind of coincidence, and I like to think there is a spiritual aspect to building above water.
The only way to get to Nzulezo is by canoe from the town of Beyin, through the Amunsuri wetlands, which is the largest conserved wetland in Ghana. The canoe ride is striking. The wetlands are lush and green, lily pads, palm trees, and apparently crocodiles, all in abundance. The water is black and reflective, making for some stunning photos. Once we arrived at Nzulezo the uniqueness and intriguing architecture of the village was striking. A tour guide showed us through the homes, pointing out the schools and churches.

It quickly became clear that the romanticized and beautiful image we had of Nzulezo from my guidebook was very one-dimensional. Because of their location on the water, so much has to be imported, which is expensive and unsustainable for the growing population of 500. Their main income is from distilling akpeteshie, a gin made from palm, and from tourists, who pay upwards of 15 cedi to see the town and are encouraged to donate to the school. A diet of mainly seafood creates malnutrition, and they lack a medical clinic. The same water is used for drinking and disposing of waste, so disease is common. Although I have a couple of picturesque photos, there are also a few cluttered with litter and waste. They have a primary school, but no junior high, so students must take the 1-hour boat ride to attend school. The community is poor and restricted by their location. Would life be easier on land? As an outsider that spent only an hour at the village, I can’t really say, but it seems like a balance between tradition and practicality is the trick.  
The more I travel and the more I ponder, the more I realize nothing is one-dimensional. No one is just poor. Nothing is just beautiful. Nowhere is just dangerous. So much of our impressions before we see a place, or even after we do see a place, is based off common belief. For me, it is the discovering of the unexpected that makes these travels so incredible and worthwhile.
Until next time,

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ghanaian Hospitality

“Ghanaian Hospitality” is a phrase that I have thrown around a fair bit since I started writing these blogs. Our homestay mother Bernice shows us what it means to be hospitable every day, as does just about everyone else we meet. But this weekend in particular, as I wandered around Accra by myself as a big-eyed, directionally-challenged foreigner, the outcomes of my travels were invariably positive only because of the many, many strangers that took time out of their day to help me. The end result of the weekend: I made it back in one piece to greet Sarah and Caroline with Ghanaian hair braids, a smile on my face, and a giant pizza when they arrived in Accra =) (see below).

So, I will use this blog to say “meda ase” (thank-you), for all the simple acts of kindness, and the people who did them, that I can remember receiving this week – I hope that it will paint a clear picture of the daily generosity that keeps us smiling and mostly comfortable in a country so different from our own.

1. Juli, the hair lady I met on the stairs by Kaneshi market while on a quest to get my hair braided on a Sunday – this is quite difficult because most people close to go to Church. She happened to be working, but all the bigger hair salons that stock coloured hair extensions were closed ; the single hair ladies usually just have black extensions. Juli walked with me all around Kaneshi market, going to each of the hair places looking for hair extensions. When she couldn’t find any in Kaneshi, she took me on a tro-tro back to her home village and went to a friend’s salon to buy them. Then she braided my hair right then and there at her house! When we were finished, she insisted on taking a tro-tro with me back to Kaneshie market, where she found me a tro-tro back to where I live.

2. Mercy, Juli’s grownup daughter. As Juli was braiding, Mercy left what she was doing to come down and neaten my hair braids for me so that we would finish faster, cutting the stray hair extensions so that my braids looked nice and smooth. I know that she did a great job, because some of the Ghanaians at work commented on how smooth they were.

3. An acquaintance of Juli’s in the market. He let her use his phone for free so she could call around to find out who would have the hair extensions we were seeking.

4. The “mate” (individual who works on the tro-tro collecting fairs and yelling out the destinations) at 37. He left his tro-tro to walk with me to where I could catch a tro-tro to Kaneshi market, just outside of 37 station.

5. The mate that “dashed” me – to “dash” is to pay someone else’s fare for the tro-tro (or in this case, waive the fare) as a chivalrous, romatic gesture.

6. The lady that was going back to my home village in the same tro-tro I was. When the tro-tro mate randomly decided he didn’t actually want to go that far anymore, she bartered for both of our fares back, then took me by the arm and moved us to another tro-tro that was going in the right direction.

7. The girl with the beautiful name that I can no longer remember. As I was trying to navigate to a friend’s house in Haatso by describing nearby landmarks (since Ghana generally does not have street signs), she got in the taxi with us to show the taxi driver where the landmark was. When she found out that I was seeking a friend’s house, she kindly took me straight to the only house in the area where white people lived – and it was the right one!

8. Bernice, who kindly let Caroline and Sarah stay over yesterday night. “Of course!” she said, “you’re family now”.

9. Sophie, Bernice’s sister. When she heard that the seamstress up the road was trying to overcharge me, she took me to her own seamstress and bargained the price down for me.

10. Theo, the secretary at KITE. Somehow, the day after I told a friend in the office that my favourite food was Red Red (a vegetarian dish with fried plantain, black-eyed peas and groundnut oil), it magically appeared on the lunch menu the next day. Coincidence? I think not.

RED RED! So Yummy!

11. Jackie, who also works at KITE. She both invited me to a wedding she was going to so that I would have the chance to experience her culture better, AND offered to make me a dress if I could acquire my measurements. All in one day.

12. Paula, who also works at KITE. She has patiently answered every question I have asked her with a smile (How do taxes work in Ghana? Does Ghana have a commodity index? What’s the best way to contact NGOs? How much should I pay to get my hair braided? How do you say in Twi?....) .

13. Amanda, Davina’s housemate, who offered to come back with me to the market to keep me company while I got my hair braided – even though it takes 3-5 hours!

14. Loretta and Amanda, both Davina’s housemates, who frequently take extremely inconvenient routes so that I am not taxiing alone at night.

15. All the ladies on the road back from work who are teaching me Twi one phrase at a time.

16. The many,many people who are currently trying to save my soul with the love of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A day at the clinic!

We had a great system going at the clinic last Tuesday. One of the nurses was seeing patients and then after they would go see her they would come see me for malaria pills. At this clinic they give all of the pregnant women 3 tablets of sulfaxdoxine mixed with pyremethamine three times throughout their pregnancy. They are anti- malarial tablets, so they are given to protect the mother and the fetus. They receive their first dose anytime after 16 weeks of pregnancy, then 1 month after the first dose , then again after another month. I had to learn a little dialogue in Fante to be able to give the tablets to the patients. This way I could ask them questions and to be able to communicate with them. They all got a kick out of seeing a white girl attempting to speak their language and would smile or sometimes even break out into laughter! I would say good morning which is “maakye” and then say their name. Then I would ask the woman if she had eaten which is pronounced “ way - dee- dee?” If she said “aane” I could give her the pills and “nsu” which is water and ensure that she took all three in front of me. If they answered “daabi” which means no, I had to send them to eat something and to come back which is “wo co di aba”. The pills would make them very nauscious if they were taken on an empty stomach. I was reading about this pill and apparently it is contradicted during pregnancy but I suppose the risks outweigh the benefits. There are other anti-malarials available in the area but one of them has been known to have developed some resistance now so they don’t use it as much.

There were 38 women at the clinic when I arrived there that morning. The midwife was telling me that they run this same antenatal clinic every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday and that each day it is a different group of women that come in. It is definitely a busy clinic since they have to do vitals, HIV screening, tetanus shots, palpation, and give malaria pills to each of the women.

Later on that afternoon we delivered a baby! It was a girl! From what I have seen a baby here receives two names. One will be their everyday name, for example Mary. Then their second name will be their Ghanaian name which is given according to the day they were born. This little baby’s name will be “Abina” meaning Tuesday born. Nurses at the clinic often refer to me as “Sister Aba” which is Thursday born.

The midwife that was working that day spoke English very well which allowed me to ask her questions about the deliveries that I have seen at the clinic. She told me that it is a cultural custom here for the woman to keep her placenta after it is delivered and to take it home with her to bury it. According to her they have a small ceremony and celebrate the new life. She also told me that they don’t practice putting the baby to the mom’s chest right away at this clinic as they believe it will induce shock in the woman. She said that they take the baby and clean it and keep it separate from the mother until the mother is all cleaned and is in a ward bed comfortably resting. I found that very interesting since at school I was taught how putting the baby to the mother’s chest right after birth was important for attachment and for regulating the baby’s temperature to the new environment. She asked me if we gave the mom the baby right away in Canada and I told her that from what I have seen they do and that I was taught in school that it was beneficial. She could not believe that so it was fun to compare our cultural practices, although both of us can only speak on behalf of what we have seen during our time working with patients.

Tomorrow is the end of another work week! I can’t believe how quickly time is going by! This weekend Caro & I are travelling to Kumasi. We are leaving bright and early Saturday morning that way we will have plenty of time to explore the Kejetia market. Apparently this is the largest open market in Western Africa! Watch out we are both ready to shop!!

We are also planning on going to Kofofrom which is a small village nearby where we are going to take part in a sculpture workshop! The sculptures are made from beeswax, clay, and coconut hair. Caro & I aren’t artists but who knows, maybe we will discover a new talent of ours at this workshop!

Well that’s all for now! I’ll update again soon!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Living to Love and Loving to Live" - Lessons from Ghana

Six weeks. Short enough that time goes by in the blink of an eye yet long enough to form lasting memories, friendships across races, religions, backgrounds and regional borders, and learn lessons and life skills that have the potential to change me forever. As I sit in the airport, part of me feels that I never even arrived in Ghana, it is all one whirlwind, dreamlike memory of time that flew by as though it didn't exist. But as I start reflecting further into my experience and notice how I have changed, what I have learned, and what I have been part of, I realize how valuable this short time was and what an impact it has made.

In addition to the hard skills that have developed through this experience and through my role as Site Director, I have gained as much or more through daily interactions, immersion into a different and new culture and my insightful and intelligent group of cooperants. Most of what I have learned cannot be measured on a scale, and how I have grown and matured is hard to pinpoint. It is the feeling of being at home in a place so different from what I'm used to, halfway around the world and the feeling of waking up each day with wonder and excitement and going to bed in state of content thinking back to the sights, sounds, tastes and memories of the day that has come to a close. It is these feelings that held my mind open to learning day in and day out.

I have learned about the universality of a smile and to never undermine its importance.

I have learned the power of the mind to control your mood and outlook and the impact of positivity and optimism on yourself and others around you.

I have learned a unique form of hospitality.

I have learned about faith and about finding sources of inspiration even when it seems that all is gone.

I have learned that “not talking to strangers” may be a harmful childhood lesson that could limit your realm of experience and knowledge. (within reason)

I have learned about trust.

I have learned about giving people chances and believing that each individual has something unique to offer.

I have learned about my own true personality and what I have to offer, to my immediate surroundings and to the world at large.

I have learned about different values and notions of family, education and religion.

I have learned about inequality and privilege.

I have learned more about “development” and the associated difficulties and complications.

I have learned the importance of grassroots initiatives and participatory development.

I have learned about openness; about letting yourself out and others in.

I have learned that our shared humanity is a source of unity around the globe.

I have learned about living to love and loving to live.

Thank you to everyone who made my experience possible. To Kira, to QPID and to Robin, Heather, Caroline and Sara! I wish them all the best as they continue to learn, share and grow in the remaining 6 weeks.

MEDASSE! (Twi- Thanks)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ghana log of AWESOME

Inspired by "The Book of Awesome" Team Ghana met during our mid-summer retreat and made note of some "awesome" moments we've experienced so far in our daily lives and the special and memorable moments that happen outside of the office.

Here is our list so far and it will only continue to be added to by the cooperants!

• reggae on the beach
• tstssing at strangers without being rude
• making fufu and getting ghanaian approval
• riding on trotros
• carrying a baby on my back
• playing with food (fufu/banku)
• refreshing koobe from the street (coconut)
• baby goats
• football with the family!
• fan ice and fan yogo
• exchanging French and German phrases for Twi lessons
• milo
• surviving Boti falls
• birthday breakfast and biking
• avocado
• dancing to a drum circle in Pig Farm with pineapple
• chicken walking into the office
• drum lessons
• lizards
• things people sell on the street
• whipping hair!
• eating sugar cane
• the ocean
• James' music
• Mangoes!

Stay tuned for a more detailed post about the Mid-Summer retreat weekend in Cape Coast and a reflection post about my experience in Ghana as my time with this fantastic crew has come to a close!

Tamale-Part 2

Robin standing in front of one of the EBC Centres.

It has been a week since we got back from Tamale, but I feel like there's a lot that I never got around to writing about. The most important aspect of the trip that I haven't mentioned yet was that Robin and I have also inherited the EBC project from previous QPID interns (see my first post for a full description), so while we were up in Tamale we had the chance to speak with some of the entrepreneurs about how their businesses are going and how we can spend the portion of our time that is devoted to the EBCs most effectively. The Easy Business Centres were filled with bright colours and familiar technology, and we were greeted with warm smiles and enthusiastic Ghanaian hospitality. Each business owner had a wealth of comments on changes they’ve made to their business, recommendations for when KITE expands the project, and suggestions for how we might spend our time with the EBC project. I was so impressed with the creative ways that they have used their equipment - one person promotes events on the walls of his EBC and does computer repairs, another runs a stationary business, another a secretarial business... Talking to the entrepreneurs, there are definitely mistakes that have been made along the way (and I’m sure that I will add a few of my own during my own time working with them) but I was struck by the genuine enthusiasm of the entrepreneurs for their businesses and their willigness to keep working away at the difficulties that face them. The best part about the project is that it builds the capacity of everyone it touches – the entrepreneurs, who build their own resourcefulness and business savy to make their centres a success, the community members who are learning how to use these trecherous but powerful machines for the first time, and the Ghanaian companies that make most of the technolgy used. Even KITE has embraced technology not previously used (for example, Microsoft Access), as part of implementing the EBC project.

You know it's "rural ICT" when....there's a goat scratching its butt against the EBC centre =)

Many times during my own work at KITE, I have found myself armed with little more than a google taskbar and just enough basic knowledge to understand what I was reading. It reminds me every day of the value of the ICT that we are bringing to the rural communities. So far using little more than the internet I have fixed a webcam and 3 problems with Microsoft Word, taught myself how to use Microsoft Access, convinced a Nigerian NGO network to promote a KITE project to their thousands of members, and am building a guide on analyzing and ranking development projects that uses the same practices as the Asian Development Bank (which they were so kind as to post online). There is such a wealth of information on the internet, and I am left wondering how to bring more of it to the community members that for the most part are only using the internet for email ....