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August 16, 2010

I came home one evening, after working in the office till approximately 6:30 or 7:00. It was a long day, and I thought that I should probably head home at that time. As I travelled through the city to get home, I thought to myself about where exactly I was.

3 months before this, I was in a distant strange land, I was encountering strange personalities, and experiencing new things that I had never experienced before. I was working as the “noob” in the office, trying to get a hold of things and how things work. I was living like a giant, trying not to infringe on the lives of others, tip-toeing around people’s belongings, people’s lives. I definitely wasn’t home.

I really don’t know what home was until I came to Ghana though. I had understood home as being somewhere for a really long time. With that definition, I came to understand that I had many homes. What I realized was that home means being a part of something bigger than yourself, something tangible, a group that you feel you belong with. With that definition, I trimmed that long scribe of all the places I had been for any significant amount of time to a short list.

As I headed home, and entered the door, I suddenly crossed out one of those places off my list. Where I was staying, I didn’t feel like home. I’m not sure if many volunteers face this problem, or even if it is a problem altogether, but I didn’t feel like I was home. Something was wrong with my living situation, something I had come to understand only after living there for almost 2 months.

Don’t get me wrong, I did have a home in Ghana. I feel welcome and accepted at Ernest and Huzema’s. I feel accepted at the stoop of my Moto Shop brothers, Muda and Ayendi, who I sit with for no less than a half hour every time I pass their shop. With Madame, the feeling of home wasn’t there.

I think this was due to the fact that Madame made me pay enormous amounts, by Ghanian standards, every night for food for the entire family. I know that it may seem superficial, but when you begin to think that you are only accepted because you bring in the mullah into the family, eventually you will feel out of place wherever you are, whatever amount of money it is that you contribute.

She made me go back to the grocers to get more meat for the family because she was hungry, and hadn’t eaten her dinner that evening. In my head, I was fuming, but I know that in Africa, emotions are not let out like that, and over many years, I have learned the fine art of not showing my frustration in crucial times, so I turned around, and headed out the door. From then on, I decided to take as long as I needed to get home, because it was not really home, just the place where I slept and bathed in the morning.

That evening, lying in bed, I began to think again. I had been a long time since I thought in bed. I guess it was because of all the work that I was doing, I hadn’t really had the time to reflect or just let my mind wander for a while. What eventually came out was something very beneficial to my current situation, and helped me understand why it was that I didn’t feel at home here at Madame Ester’s compound.

I began to think of my parents, especially my father.

I thought about what my sister told me once a few months before I left for Ghana. We were at the Art Gallery of Ontario, visiting the King Tut exhibit, and I told her that if only we were brought up in a culture like downtown Toronto, all the cultural experiences like this we could accumulate when we were young. She then reminded me of what my father used to do when we were very little. She told me about all the times he took us to the Ontario Science Centre, how we travelled to Toronto often, went downtown just to take a walk, go down to the fountain at Nathan Phillips Square. I recalled all the trips my parents took us to the states, experiencing all sorts of different cultures that were present on our own continent. We had gone down to Florida, to Disneyland and Universal Studios. I had a pretty awesome childhood, and that was all because of my parents.

And then my sister told me about how he did the same for her, and our other cousins growing up. He would take all the children to the movies together. We would go, all the cousins, which mean 10 children, to the Ontario Science Centre, together experiencing magical phenomenon through the curious eyes of childhood. He let us grow to be whatever we wanted to be, and because of that kind of parenthood, I now have no mental restrictions about changing courses midway through my university career let alone changing programs entirely.

It is because of him, and my mother, and all the influences in my life that I am who I am. I am who I am because he is who he is, and even though I’ve never thanked him, I appreciate it like nothing else in the world.

What I’ve learned from all this thinking is that the emotions and personal ties to the people around you are what tether you to certain people in your life. We all have certain people and places that we are very close to. These relationships create the bond of home, and I am fortunate to have a few of those types of relationships, and look forward to seeing these people once I get back home. But right now, I need to work on those relationships that I have created here in Ghana which means focusing on those people that I enjoy spending time with, like Muda, Ayendi, Sisu, and Ernest, because its these relationships that I will miss once I get back to Canada.

Strategy aside, I’ve been focusing on working with decentralized departments during my time in Ghana. I have constantly been popping my face into their offices, walking to office after office, nosing around with the weight of the DPCU behind me so people don’t object. Plus, Chereponi has been blessed with strong leadership that holds great power within the district assembly.

My task has been to bring everybody together and to get each department to see the benefits to them. I’ve been marketing the databank to every single department and NGO, and this seems to have worked in getting them to buy in. I haven’t yet worked with the planner too much, but he too seems excited by the databank. He is just getting ready to dive into the Medium Term Development Plan for the district, the plan that old planner should have been working on before he left.

It seems things are heading in the direction of the strategy. I would like to see this plan finished by the time my placement ends, but right now, I’m not sure that will happen. There seems to be a lot of catching up planner needs to do before we get the ball rolling.

I began by visiting all the departments. I wrote a long piece on this, dealing with decentralized departments, and it will hopefully make its way into the end product, so I will, very briefly, explain my procedure.

Step 1: Introduce yourself: Meet the head hancho of the department

Step 2: Make friends with everyone: act like you belong

Step 3: Work with friends, do things outside work as well: have a drink, watch the match, or go out into the field

Step 4: Teach friends: play around with their computers showing them how they could make their lives easier and develop a plan with them

Step 5: Repeat steps 1 through 4 for each department (multiply it by 15-25)

Step 6: Gather friends: Pack everyone into a small room, and let them battle it out on the spreadsheets

Step 7: Get friends to teach friends: create connections

Step 8: PARTY LIKE ITS 1968

I’m currently in between Step 7-8, having just completed a very enlightening and productive two day workshop for all the data officers for all the departments and NGOs in the district. The bridges have been laid, now I have to make sure it doesn’t collapse.

I think that this process seems to have worked here in Chereponi at least. I really enjoy setting up those connections between people. I know there are still massive moves that need to be made in this chess board of a strategy, but the pieces are moving nonetheless.

My work with the Project Monitoring Database involves sitting down with my engineer, almost every evening, and working with him to add projects to the list. He adds one project a night, and by the end of it, I suspect his head hurts because it’s such a new task. Mike really only uses the computer for play music while he sleeps in the office some afternoons. I catch him dozing off some days, and often wonder how he does it.

Working with him is difficult sometimes, but the other engineer is a lot easier to work with. Zach uses the computer a lot more than Mike does, and they hold the same title. The same sheet that Mike uses on Microsoft Word, Zach uses on Microsoft Excel, and he understand the importance of the systems a lot more than Mike does I believe.

I am also making the user manual for the PMDb, as we call it here in Ghana, and that will be incorporated into the product deliverable.

That’s a little bit of what I’m doing.

Virtual Sanity…

July 30, 2010

Work is picking up here in Chereponi. Most of the officers are here in the office now, the DCD is staying in the district for more than a couple of days, I am staying in the district during working days for as long as my placement allows me, and things are coming together.

I haven’t yet described yet what it is that I have been up to yet though, so here is my program, and my work so far. I can’t be the judge as to how effective I am, so you can offer some advice on how I could go about facing, luckily, the very few challenges I see at the moment.

Trying to explain the G&RI strategy in two to three sentences is a very difficult task, but I will attempt the impossible here. I’ll let you be the judge to see if what I said makes sense for the Lehman.

G&RI’s strategy is to promote data driven planning processes through the use of data and information currently being collected by departments and offices operating in the district. Through the use of centralized databases (2), the team will attempt to bridge the communication gaps present in the district between the decentralized offices and NGOs to sustain the data systems for the long run.

The rumors of G&RI ending were wrong, G&RI was in transition mode, and its transition is a brave move for the way EWB designs its overseas program. It’s brave because the strategy involved a similar approach the organization advocates for, small ideas, fail quick and fail small, and then take what works, and move from there. The program has thus evolved from strictly capacity building towards directed approaches and defined goals and deliverables.

The way forward involves intense capacity building. Capacity building is a term thrown around Engineers Without Borders a lot, buzzwords. Basically, capacity building involves raising the ability of an institution or person to do their job better. We offer our ideas and throw out suggestions to make their lives easier, to make their jobs more effective, and we try to get them to see the benefit of what it is we are teaching them.

How does this work?

Our program revolves around two products as Gato likes to call them. These products are our data systems and methods that districts can implement within their planning departments (DPCU). They are the project monitoring database and the centralized databank and their related implementation strategies.

First, the project monitoring database is a tool for the engineers, the people in the department that keep track of all the projects currently underway in the district. These projects can include schools, health clinics, boreholes, roads, and everything else you can imagine the district builds, repairs, rehabilitates, hires for consultancy. You get the picture.

Right now, all the projects’ information is captured in bulky binders, some not captures at all. Projects are lost in the mess, and finding information on them when you need to, when a donor comes in to look at how the project is doing is a task unto its own. We are creating a location where all the information they need will be entered into the database, and they can update as they go along. Further, by showing them how they can use this data, through pivot tables, graphs, trending and other simple Excel tools, we are building their ability to plan effectively. For example, they can track how much money is going into which sector, where in the district funds are going to, who gets the most contracts and which contracts are over budget and by how much. The analysis is endless, and that is the objective, to show how much you can do with databases like these.

The second product is the centralized databank which is specifically for the DPCU, although it can be used by almost all the stakeholders that can benefit from it.

The district assembly is an umbrella institution which spans all the different sectors. The sectors include Health, Food and Agriculture, Education, as well as others like Social Welfare and Finances. Some districts can have 22, while others may only have 10, with only one person for small sectors and others doubling up with two sectors. You will also have officers working within the District Assembly representing various NGOs that work in the district.

The Ghanaian government, many years back passed a law calling for decentralization of power from the national level to the MMDA (Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assembly) level. The decisions on what should happen within the districts in those sectors I described earlier should be taken by the MMDAs. However, despite that law being passed, decentralization hasn’t occurred as planned. Instead, mother agencies and ministries have taken charge of their respective “franchises” at the MMDA level. You will find the decisions taken for Education for example taken by the Ministry of Education in Accra, hundreds of kilometers away, completely unaware of what is actually happening within the district. This situation is repeated in every office, and coordination between offices is broken as a result.

The centralized databank is a way for coordination to occur again. All these offices collect data that they either feed to their parent organizations or for their own planning purposes. Currently the D.A. lacks such data for coordinating the departments to work together. The District Coordinating Director is supposed to manage all the departments in the district, and through the centralized databank, the DPCU, headed by the DCD can finally function as it should.

The process of bringing everyone together means having them all buy into the system, having them understand the benefits it has for them. It’s like selling a product to these departments.

In a nutshell, that’s what we’ve been working on these past three months. Some districts are easier to work in than others, but each has their challenges. Through experimentation and product design, both hard and soft processes, we are trying to create these products to implement on a demand driven scheme. It’s a fascinating idea, and one that I fully support.

There comes a point where you think you can’t do anything more, where your tank is empty, and you need to get to a rest stop, but it’s too far away to push towards. You experience it in many situations, whether you’re at the gym at University, or pressing to finish your political science essay due the following morning. These moments generate some of your best work I think. That burn you feel trying to get the last set in, those last few paragraphs, the homestretch makes everything worth it, its where the adrenaline kicks in, and it’s one of the most satisfying feeling you can experience.

Coping under this adrenaline rush is another task though. If you cannot handle the stresses that come from the feeling of impending doom then you really the feeling you experience is something different, its anxiety and fear of what will happen once it is over. Embracing this feeling, and running instead of walk because of it, kicking your system into 5th gear, not knowing if the engine can handle is a feeling that comes to one on very few occasions in their life.

I have had that experience before in my life, and it resulted in the first of the two experiences. My head grew heavy, and my heart began pumping, and I found it difficult to breathe. From that experience, I learned a lesson. I learned to never allow myself to go through that experience ever again. And so, in my last year of high-school, and then until my time in Ghana, I hadn’t pushed myself to that point again.

Just before coming to Ghana that changed, but until now, I hadn’t realized it. I suddenly was around people, both volunteers and Ghanaians that pushed themselves to their limits. There is an unwritten culture within EWB that is working intense long hours, for extremely little pay, giving it your all day in and day out. I have come to think of development through metaphors, well everything through metaphors because describing things the way I see them doesn’t get my point across all too often, something close friends and colleagues can attest to. I have come up with many metaphors throughout my time in Ghana, equating ideas and processes to physical things, to provide a tangible context for my mind and my thoughts. I was sitting in the library one morning, before a meeting for the Heads of Departments held by the District Assembly leaders the District Coordinating Director and the District Chief Executive, when I happened to come across the book Atlas Shrugged. I thought about the Earth, the round sphere that to the eye, inches across the universe, but through the eyes of another blazes across space like a steam engine. I thought about spheres of control, the things that move, and the things that drive them. And then I thought about how a little child pushes a ball across the dirt. This is where my mind’s train engine, bustling with noise and steam, decided to crawl to a halt, and then I thought some more.

Development is trying to push a ball through the sand, uphill. The image just made sense to me. There are two methods that are polarizing, and then everything else in between. EWB amongst others falls on one end of this complex non-linear spectrum, and many other organizations fall on the other.

EWB is trying to push a massive ball of change across Ghana and across the other three countries we work in. This ball takes many forms, but the goal is that same, to empower Africans to be able to push the ball after you leave. This massive push represents the energy, time, commitment, and patience of its volunteers, staff, chapter members, and advocates towards development. The further the ball goes, the less likely it will revert back to its original location. When you get any sort of momentum, you try and take advantage of it, and keep pushing, but building that momentum is difficult.

Some organizations toss small balls over the banks, blinded by the deafening snap, crackle, and pop of the delicate glass bulbs shattering in the distance, unknowing of where these land, but simply moving onto the next series of balls. Other organizations push the large ball, the difficult one, and then when they make progress, they move away, and the ball simply rolls back.

Understanding that I was, am, part of this large struggle, in it with the rest of them, us, makes me more confident to push myself to that limit because I have an insane amount of support behind me. This is one of the most proliferating and impactful discoveries I have made all summer long, and it has allowed me to explore my work, my life, and my work ethic to a degree I have never done before.

Redefinition

July 21, 2010

Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, one of the only books I could find in the district assembly, defines “History” as “1. All the events that happened in the past, 2. The past events concerned in the development of a particular place, 3. The study of past events as a subject at school or university…” My definition is different.

“History” is “His story”. It is a fluid recounting of everything that has happened; heard through the mouth of He who has seen through the eyes; or translated through the scripts written many years ago; perceived, and only then, it is understood. (That’s how my brain works :P) (“His” and “He” are gender neutral pronouns in this case)

Listening to people speak, I have come to the realization that language and words have different meanings to different people. Ideas can mean completely different things from one person to the next, and these differences influence the way people recall stories and recount them to the next. This is how rumors spread, and this is how history is told.

One afternoon, when lights were out, and everyone was out of the office, all that were still there. Those brave soldiers that decided to tough it out under the blazing sun, decided to perform a verbal recounting of Ghana’s history. Michael on one end, Sisu on the other, and everybody else in between.

It was quite obvious that the stories were different, not in the facts, but the interpretations, and therefore the manner of retelling it. Michael, a man who had spent his National Service time in the military, who had been raised by the military discipline, he had his way of telling the story, identifying core ideas that he felt important to the story. Sisu, the free-thinking analyst broke down larger issues, and tried to understand the causes of certain decisions. It was very interesting to see the different stories combine.

One afternoon, Ernest and I were eating lunch, and he asked me what I had learnt about Ghana since I landed. I didn’t know how to reply. I had learnt many things I’m sure, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to make it as far as I had, but still, it was a very difficult question to answer. Thinking for a second, I came up with this response. “I have learned about Ghana’s culture in a way that reading about it, or hearing about from another is impossible. I have learned many different stories on Ghana’s history that merge into a more complete picture of what Ghana is, and where it has come from”. When I told him this, he replied saying that there are still probably many things that you don’t know, and I agreed. One thing he said was the Chereponi originally didn’t belong to Ghana, but was rather part of Togo until the 1960s around. He was right.

When talking about history, the people I was hearing from had completely left this, in my opinion, vastly important detail out. I guess it might have to do with the fact that neither Sisu, Michael, nor anybody else at that particular point were from the area, but maybe it had to do with something more human, the way the mind expels information.

People say things. If they are smart, they say things for a purpose. They tell stories that have meanings. They talk about things that interest them. People also write things. The greatest writers of our time were smart people. The people that write our books, our encyclopedia, (looking around for written texts for further inspiration…) our dictionaries as well as many other things were not idiots. They were smart people with minds that could comprehend intensely large issues, and convey them in a manner that most others could understand given some time and consideration. For some people this purpose is a conscious decision; for others, it’s just below the surface, and they cannot identify it, ever.

It’s not just smart people who do this. I do this. Everything I write has a message behind it, trying to say something that I might not say outright. You, reading this, perceiving it, and then interpreting it, will be changed by it. You will either agree with me, change what you have thought your whole life and live the rest of your life until the next time you change your mind, or; your current way of thinking will become even more resolute, you will disagree with whatever I am saying, and you will continue your life just as you had, until the next time you have to make this decision. That’s all it is, a decision to accept the truth of one person, and that is what history is, in my opinion of course.

Let’s turn the page to “Decision”. “A choice or judgment you make after thinking or talking about what is the best thing to do”. Decisions shape everything you do in life, physically. You decide to move from A to B. You decide to eat X number of C pounded-maize dough balls rather than Y number of D pounded-maize dough-balls. Decisions also shape how you decide to do things. They decide what influence you, which people you will trust, which principles in life you will follow, and invariably what the truth is, to you. “Truth”, one of the most flakiest definitions I have ever read, and something I completely do not agree with, so I won’t tarnish this piece with it here. Feel free to read it on your own, and decide yourself if that is a “True” definition.

My point through all of this is this. I think that people need to spend more time talking with one another, to discover those stories that determine which stories set the context for the way they live their lives. For a child, it may boil down to two incidents in their short lives that make them think a certain way. For an adult it may involve a few hundred stories, what they have been told, who told them this, and the environment of their upbringing. This process would better help you understand your own influences, and the manner with which you decide how you make friends, how you treat people of a different nationality, what your first impressions are based off of. They might not say anything at all, and I may only be breathing air right now.

Nevertheless, in the end, everyone has lived their life to the beats of their own drum, and until this beating comes to the point where it’s no longer beating, but rather just a long deafening tone of awesomeness, history will never be “True” by the definition of it; but, it will ALWAYS be true to you and true to me, in different ways.

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Sorry that one was very preachy, but that was the point. I wanted my message to be outright and simple.

Engineers Without Borders talks a lot about frameworks. Frameworks are a set of tools that can help frame a particular issue, it compartmentalizes complex problems into easily recognizable pieces, and you can delve deeper into those compartmentalized issues further through each particular framework.

Personally, I am not a fan of frameworks, but over the course of this placement, I have come to look at development from the perspective of framework.

I picture Ghana to be the human body, except with some sort of ailment that doctors can’t diagnose. All countries have ailments, some are easier to see than others. Ghana’s malady is that it is stagnant, it is basically in paralysis. You can feed it, it can breathe, it functions, but it cannot move on its own at this particular moment. I picture NGOs, international organizations, its citizens, and government to be its doctors, each prescribing different antidotes to cure the country.

For Ghana to recover from the state it is in, as in all paralysis cases, you need to work on the nervous system. I picture Ghana’s brain to be its educated elite, its government, its university students, and in it I also see Engineers Without Borders, one organization that is trying to make its brain stronger, and more capable of breaking out of the trance it is in.

I see organizations like World Vision to be bandage to the different scars that appear from this stagnation. I feel they try to treat the wounds that appear on the body of the country, and often forget that there is an underlying reason for all the country’s woes.

I picture the nation’s citizens to be its hands and feet, who have slowly demobilized after so many years of trying to get the nation off its knees, when it was bowing down to the British under colonial rule. There is no question that its citizens are trying. The sweat that goes into the country trying to move is very apparent. People work as hard as they possibly can, but their muscles, and thus the muscles of the nation’s body, are not able to cause the movement necessary for progress. They just won’t work unless the connection between the body and the brain is established.

That is what I see to be the true problem in the country. There is a massive disconnect between the people and the public service. The bond between the two is frail at best, and I’m not sure if it is getting stronger or weaker. I’m no brain surgeon, but logically I think it makes sense to work with these connections, the synapses that drive the muscles in the body, the nerves that define the senses, and the ability to establish your environment. This is what paralysis is, that if there ever was a cure, this would be it in my opinion.

This brings me to frameworks again. G&RI is working towards the reestablishment of the senses, to trigger the use of data driven planning processes; to be able to define your surroundings, and move accordingly. To move sporadically isn’t really moving at all, it’s flopping, like a fish. I really like G&RI’s strategy because it empowers the neurons that are already in place, the neurons that are working, and makes them stronger, while connecting them to the neurons that are on the body surface, the field workers that gather this information. I’m no science major, so I’m not sure if any of this makes sense, but this is what spouts out of my brains after a long day working in the office, and after one question the really gets me thinking: what is it exactly that you are doing?

Frameworks however leave you confused sometimes; at least they do for me. Sometimes I come away from one of those identify and compartmentalize sessions and think that something is left, something is missing that you are not thinking of. Some pieces don’t fit as they should, like for example in this case, the World Bank’s quasi-Structural Adjustment Program that prevents the hiring of new staff in an already understaffed government. This is something that says it is trying to help, but really isn’t at all. I don’t understand how sustainable the idea of relying on NGOs to rebuild the country is, when the government, for the most part is pining for the opportunity, for that investment in capacity and skill that will give them the tools for success.

Where do I fall in this framework? It’s quite simple. Through G&RI, I fall just under the skin, trying to reunite the senses with the brain. I work with decentralized offices, meaning the District Agricultural Development Unit, the District office of Ghana Health Service and Ghana Education Service, the District Works Department, and the District Water and Sanitation Unit amongst many others. I try to tie the sources of data and information from these sources with the planning tools of the district assembly, the brain at the district level. I am also trying to relay information from NGOs to the district assembly because they also provide information that may be useful for the district assembly. You don’t want to run on a sprained ankle, as I’ve learned quite painfully here, just as you don’t want to jump into Agriculture as a Business with a district or farmer’s group that shows no interest in farming what-so-ever.

One thing that is important to know is that frameworks are never correct. They can be true, but they will never be completely correct, I’m not sure if that makes sense, but it does to me. What I mean by that is that you can have a framework fit what you are doing, but to understand it better, a completely different framework can be used, and its conclusion, if there ever is one, can be completely different, and be just as true as the first one. Development is a wonderland of different stakeholders, different issues, and complex mechanisms within an even more complex one. Understanding it isn’t as important as acting on what you currently know, because otherwise, while waiting for the neurons in your head to align, you too will become paralyzed.

This is post features two different ideas that need to be discussed; one through the experiences of Sisu, the person I most often work with, a volunteer here at the District Assembly, and later a personal revelation (ideas falling through my fingers like sand on the beach, no consistency yet there none the less) that came from hearing him speak. Feel free to read one or the other, but they play off each other (kind of), although flow right now is lacking I agree. Enjoy:

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Bona came down to the office today. At that point, I had a sprained ankle and wasn’t able to travel much, so seeing some of my friends from the various departments and offices is a welcome sight.

Anyways, as he sat, we discussed some of the work that National Youth Employment does. He explained to me some of the things he manages and then he described a new program he wished to implement in the district. This concept was an intern’s model for youth in the district, that he was working with the Yendi Municipal coordinator to establish. It means having interns from the National Youth Employment Programme work at the district assembly for a contract of two years. He then began to explain the importance of such a program. Inspired by this model, Sisu reaffirmed Bona’s argument, reciting his own story.

The importance Bona described was that this program would allow students wishing to study through towards the tertiary level to get enough money to pay for the applications or re-sits for exams to qualify for these program, as well as provide them some practical experience in their projected fields.

When Sisu began his story, I had no clue how intense it is for a student to go through to post-secondary institutions. I will try to describe what Sisu said (of course, some of it is paraphrasing, but I will try to recall everything verbatim):

I remember when I just came out of school. I used to volunteer teaching at a local school to younger children. It isn’t much money. (When I asked him how much) Just 8 Cedis. (Only 8 Cedis per day?) Ha ha, per month. It’s very low, but you know, I’d rather do something that helps people than just sit at home and waste away. So because of that I had decided to become a teacher. I wanted to go to Teachers Teaching College, and then go do more university after that. I decided to ask my elders, you know, people that I respect, who have done similar things, a few years older than I. I asked three of my friends, or shall I say, superiors what I should I do.

The first one I asked said simply, and right away, UDS (University of Development Studies). I was like “ahh (High pitched Ghanaian mannerism), really?” The second one I asked said UDS or B. Tech. At this point I was very surprised. They were all leaning towards UDS, and said this is the route I should go for my future. When I approached the third person, and told him what the others had said, he took a look at my marks and said, “What’s the harm?”. He told me to go the office, and pick up an application form. I had saved enough money to buy an application form because of my work as a teacher, but only just enough. I managed to buy a form, filled it out, and sent it in.

A month later, Sule, the man from Christian Council, came by my house and said I had received a letter saying that the form had been received, and that they were reviewing the application. When he showed me, I was relieved that things were moving.

Another month passed, and Sule came by once again, this time holding a larger envelope. I remember this quite clearly. I was sitting in front of my house, eating some rice, when he came by. I knew right away what that meant. If I hadn’t bought the rice before Sule came around, I probably wouldn’t have eaten that night. Next was the even more difficult task of finding people that would act as my guarantee-ers.

You know, it is very difficult to find those guarantee-ers [those people that will act as collateral for students in their education loans] because you need to find three. I had a very difficult time. I had many friends you know, because I worked at the [Christian Council] Guest House. So I went up and down Bolga road, to meet these people. I had an uncle here and there who said they could support me, I had found two this way, but it was very difficult. I approached friends of friends, bosses of family, company owners, but still, the third one was still difficult to get. It’s very difficult because it means that if someone else comes to them, they cannot act as their sponsor because they have already acted as your sponsor. I sat there on the porch one evening, after tirelessly searching again. A neighbor came up to me, and asked me what my problem was. I explained to him that I needed another sponsor; otherwise I wouldn’t be able to attend UDS. I told him this, because maybe he could explain to his boss my situation, and something might happen. This man, just a stone’s throw from my house, then did something I didn’t expect. He went to his home, took out his SSNIT card, and asked if he was qualified. I didn’t know what to say, but the next day I went down to the office in town to verify his card, and they told me he was, so when I went back and told him, he became my new sponsor.

You know, I don’t want my brothers and sisters to have the same problem when they try to go to school, so I’ve tried to do everything in my power to make sure they don’t. Only once has one sponsor approached me to pay back my loan. The loans are on compound interest, and if you don’t pay back your loan by the time your sponsor reaches their retirement age, they don’t get their pension until you pay back the loan. When they approached me, I didn’t lie to them. I explained to them what I was earning, which is very little, and showed them everything I was spending my money on. I told them about my brothers and sisters, and what I was doing for them, and they understood. He said he was touched, and told me not to worry.

The challenges that students face here have somewhat been lessened by the fact that now you don’t need to find sponsors for your loan. This is under the assumption that after you graduate, you will get a job, and a social security number, therefore, your debt will be taken out of your own retirement. It’s a good sign, but there are still advances that need to be made to make sure students don’t suffer as they do.

After listening to Sisu talk about his experience as a student, I ask myself two questions: If I was born in Ghana, under the same situation as Sisu, would I have the motivation to search seemingly endlessly to find those 3 crucial sponsors, and equally as important, would I have the humility to ask for support from those three sponsors? I have enough trouble asking my parents for help when I need it, how could I ask a stranger?

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I find myself raising too many questions through thinking and listening to people talk; questions whose answers yet remain unknown. I’m not sure if many of these questions will be answered by the time my volunteering here ends in a month’s time. These stories raise a completely different world to one that I understood to be the truth, even still, after over two months in the country.

I entered this program with one important assignment given to us Junior Fellows, a Personal Development Plan (PDP). A PDP is a structured mechanism for understanding where you are, who you want to be and how to get there. I think that I have learned so much more outside of that structured environment, more than I would ever dream of through just small conversations serendipitous conversations like these.

I find these conversations occur every day though. They probably happen in Canada too, but maybe we don’t look out for them over there. This pursuit to develop Chereponi, Northern Region, and thus Ghana has brought with it a passion to develop myself because the person who I see myself to be, and the person who I want to be are still a way’s apart. It’s through these conversations, and the ones I hope to have here during the remaining time I have here, and the conversations that I want to be a part of once I get back to Canada that shape this image I have of myself.

I came into the experience with an image of somebody I had become friends with imprinted into the back of my mind. I think I will leave here with a clearer image of the person I want to be once I leave and a rough idea of what it will take for me to get there; although as any development project goes, there are too many variables, too many influences, too many barriers, and too many issues to resolve before any progress is made.

8-D

I am sitting on a wooden bench, smooth by use over many years. The bench is low to the ground, and my feet are touching the dirt of the side of the road. My slippers are next to me, dusty and red from the Chereponi dirt roads.

Behind be is Muda’s store. It’s a small shack that is lined with an intense amount of trinkets and gadgets for motos. These include sprockets, spark plugs, hoses, headlights, clamps, and everything else you can imagine would be in a vehicle of that sort.

In the front of his shop is a bar-stand type of table, that includes many more things within its cage. Hanging from the ceiling of the shop are plastic tubes that come from shredded tire tubes. These are used to tie things together. Also hanging are spokes for tires, from long strings all tied to a single nail.

Account books line the top of this table, with Ayendi working away on some thing at the back of the store.

The store is maybe 7 feet by 7 feet in area, and has a height of 10 feet to the ceiling.

Sitting on the bench on the concrete storefront, I can see many things.

Right in front of me, I see the house where I used to go see the World Cup matches. There’s also a bar/restaurant I have never been to, yet. To my right, is Madame’s compound, with a giant pile of sea sand that masons come to build blocks and use. In front of Madam’s house is a seamstress, who I talk to sometimes. She fixed the zipper to one of my trousers one afternoon while I waited at Muda’s store.

In front of me, there are a bunch of kids dancing to the music coming out of one barber’s shop to my left. I don’t think this shop still does any hair cutting or shaving however, all they seem to do is play music and barbeque kebabs of beef and goat layered in groundnut powder. Its quite delicious, and for 20 pesewas, you can’t go wrong. They serve them on wooden skewers.

There are probably 7 children outside his place, dancing to a very good selection of Ghanaian music and western beats. They have to watch out because motos come flying through as it is the main road that connects to Saboba.

Up ahead, you can see donkey carts, driven by their 5 year old masters riding the carts like chariots, flying down the road to go home. I think these kids race sometimes, which is pretty dangerous.

Some children are spinning tires down the side of the road with sticks, running alongside them. The older boy goes first, then the younger boy and the girl follow him down the road. They race, and the winner then lounges along the side of the road sitting in his tire as the rest go back to compete again. The youngest one is trying to do the same. He is probably 3 and doesn’t yet have the method down. He just goes in circles, and the tire falls flat on the ground after about 3 feet.

I see a young boy walking and dancing his way down the road. He’s quite good, popping and locking all the way down. There’s a poster of the President on one of the electricity poles, and he stares at that for a moment before he continues to wherever he is going.

The air is fresh and cool. It is the evening, and it has rained somewhere else but not here. The night is bright, but the stars are out and people are lining the street for their evening stroll.

This is nightlife in Chereponi, there’s always a story to tell here.

Blackstars

June 27, 2010

Football is the most religiously followed game in the world. It is a sport that is accessible to almost every single person on the planet, and there is no question, it is a part of the Ghanaian spirit. Ghana is the Brazil of Africa when it comes to football. Football falls into its own category within a person’s time schedule, and anyone and everybody follows the Ghana Blackstars, the national team.

This summer, after almost 80 years, the ultimate tournament in the sport has come to Africa, more specifically South Africa. Ghana, along with 5 other African teams qualified for the tournament, out of a total of 32 teams in 8 groups. Ghana was a part of Group D, playing with teams Germany, Australia and Serbia in their opening matches.

First, if you don’t already know how the system works, let me explain to you how the tournament works. For all you expert football, yes football, not soccer, fans out there, let this be a refresher. Each team is put into groups of 4. Because there are 32 teams, it turns out to be 8 groups. The math is very simple. You get to play three matches in this Round Robin stage. For each win, you get 3 points, and for a draw, you get 1 point, while the other team gets another point. If you lose, you receive no points. You play all the teams in your group and the top two teams in the group advance to the Round of 16. In the event that two teams are tied at the end of the group stage in their group, it comes down to goal differential, and if you scored more than you allowed goals, more than the team you tied with, you advance.

At the end of the first two matched, Ghana was sitting on top. Having won their first match with Serbia, 1-nil, and with a disappointing tie with Australia, they ended up with 4 points going into their match with the heavily favored Germans. The Blackstars needed a tie to secure their advancement, or for Australia to beat Serbia. Ghana ended up losing to the Germans 1-nil after a great game they played.

Throughout the tournament, Ghana had been criticized by football commentators by their inability to finish. Their only 2 goals in the qualifying stage came from penalty kicks off the foot of Asamoah Gyan, the lead striker. Nevertheless, their play was remarkable. However, for such a young team, they were not finishing their plays, and the goals just didn’t seem to add up. At the end of the game with the Germans, having lost, but showing yet another wonderful performance, they announced the results of Serbia and Australia. Australia had beaten the Serbs 2-1, and that allowed the Blackstars to qualify into the round of 16. This is where the story begins.

I have many places where I watch football. I can watch it at the office, in the reception area, or sitting in the DCD office with Al-Hassan, Michael, Foreman, and a few others. I can also watch it with Ernest in the confines of his home, after drinking some pito a little earlier, and having yams alongside me. I can watch it in the Hill Top Bar, the local drinking spot where rowdy people gather to celebrate the match that just passed, or celebrate the upcoming win they predict.

It’s a lot of fun watching it in all these places, but my favourite place to watch football is on the streets with all the other people who watch it because they have nowhere else to watch it. 50 pesawas, or 30 cents, gets you access to the game and a bench you can sit on, and we all crowd around a surprisingly large television with crystal clear picture and audio blasting from a makeshift amplifier connected to large speakers broadcasting the game for the community to hear. Children sit in the front, on rocks, squeeze into the cracks between people’s knees and watch the match, much to the detest of the landlord providing the service. We are all sitting there, on benches made of spare pieces of wood put together to form a platform to sit on, under a thatched roof with long wooden pillars holding it up, sometimes blocking your view of the set.

Football in Ghana is the equivalent to Pay-Per-View, and its an experience onto its own.

This match I was watching was the Round of 16 match between the national heroes the Ghana Blackstars and Obama’s boys as many call them, the US squad. The Ghana Blackstars are the pride and joy of the nation. 30 minutes to an hour before the match, every Blackstar match, all the music channels host Blackstar appreciation time slots, where they play all the songs that have been written and recorded for the team. I went to Church one day with Ernest, and the first prayer that was motioned was for glory to the Ghana Blackstars in South Africa 2010. It’s amazing how much support is behind this team, and this team is deserving of such high appraise.

The team comprises of many international superstars, a few missing because of injury, and many unknown players hoping to make a name for themselves. The players and the nation have a lot riding on the success of the Blackstars, as well as all the African nations participating in the cup, but Ghana, only Ghana, was able to make it through the qualifying round to enter the Round of 16.

This brings us to the beginning of the match. Watching the match means listening to 5 different commentaries at once. There is embedded commentaries from the television, of multiple different stations as when the signal goes bad, we quickly have to switch the station to another channel. Then comes the debates going on during the game from the crowd around you. In Ghana, there’s a saying that there are 2 million coaches and football commentators in the nation. It is true. Everybody has an opinion on the sport, and they all know they have the right formula for success.

Mohammed, my friend who I met sitting with Muda and Ayendi outside my house, my Nigerian friends, is one of those commentators. Throughout the game, you hear people “OUU!” and “AHH!” with every passing ball, complaining when a pass wasn’t executed perfectly, and shrieking when the opposing team shoots. It’s the ultimate experience, and it reminds me of home watching hockey or American football with my friends in Canada.

Then only 5 minutes into the game, out of nowhere, on a gut shot from the left foot of Kevin Prince Boeting, the first goal scored that was not off a penalty shot. It snuck past into the net between the goalkeeper and his post. And everybody went nuts.

Just before arriving in Ghana, I heard the expression “Flipping Tables”. Its meaning was to represent unrelenting glee and excitement. The people who I was sitting with, were “Flipping Tables”, more specifically benches, water jugs, moto helmets, and anything else they could get their hands on. They were dancing on front of the television, just as the players were dancing on the field. Everybody was standing, but no one was still.

After the goal, Ghana tried to keep up their play, and by half time, they had maintained their 1 goal lead. After half-time however, they gave it back, through a penalty kick of all things with a tackle in the penalty box by Jonathon Mensah, Blackstars captain and best defenseman. The match was due for extra time.

Extra time means 15 minutes per side, so an additional time added of 30 minutes. This is on top of 90 minutes already played, so the players were feeling it. Ghana had a series of injuries within the match, Kevin Prince Boeting was injured in the game, as were a few other Ghanaian players throughout the match, and additional time meant more strain on their bodies. But of course, the game must go on.

3 minutes into the first overtime period, Ghana scored what was quite possibly the most beautiful goal I have ever seen in the tournament, scored by none other than Asamoah Gyan. When he scored, the entire city shook. I have never felt such excitement and joy then that evening watching the match. People were jumping, screaming, applauding, running around in circles, and flipping tables, I amongst them. You didn’t have to see the match to understand what was happening, that was the outcome of such expression. The rest of the match required them to hold off the Americans which they did, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was that Ghana was performing beautifully on the World stage, and they were living up to the hopes that the entire continent held for them as the only remaining African nation in the African hosted tournament.

This is the experience of watching football in Ghana, and it’s something that you can’t recreate anywhere else.

Serenity Now…

June 25, 2010

Last week, I had my village stay in the Mayamam community. I had approached my DCD to secure a village stay that week, and over the next few days, he delegated the task to the National Youth Employment Programme officer, Bonaventure, to find a community. Yousef was brought in the day of the market, and I had a chance to meet him before going to the village.

I got a ride with the Assistant Director Al-Hassan that afternoon, after watching the Ghana Australia match in the office. We got there with Bonaventure, foreman, who decided to tag along for the air-conditioned car ride, Al-Hassan, and driver, who upon entering the vehicle I found out to be Madame Ester’s brother. Small world.

When we arrived in the village, we waited by the entrance to allow the village elders and leaders to prepare for our arrival. After about 5 to 10 minutes, we entered the community, just off the main road from Chereponi to Wenchiki, another of the district’s area councils.

As we entered the community, I could tell that English was not their language. They only spoke Anufor. The village leaders, including Yousef, brought out three plastic chairs for us to sit on, as well as a long bench for them to sit on. I have been told that plastic chairs are only meant for important guests and dignitaries. As they sat, as I would later find out, discussion where I would be placed in the community, I sat there, not understanding a word, just sitting there trying to act natural, smiling away at passing people staring at the white man now in their isolated community. I tried to greet people in the little Anufor that I knew, and they were surprised, and tried to greet me back, and converse with me. That is when the communications broke down.

They had decided to place me with the chair-person’s family at his household in the community. Before going over though I would meet the Chief of the village and introduce myself to him.

Chief is a very old man, perhaps in his 80s. He is frail in comparison to other old men I saw in the village, and his health seems to be deteriorating. He has lost almost all of his teeth, and his leg is infected with some sort of disease, I suspect elephantitis, and is swollen. Although he doesn’t have the strength for a strong handshake anymore, he is still equipped with a smile and carries with him the power in the community. I sit with him, along with Karim and Abbas, two guys from the village who happen to speak English, along with Bonaventure, my host father, Yousef, and some other members of either the Chief’s household or village leaders. We sit there, exchanging greetings while Bonaventure, Karim, and Abbas translate for me, and I speak through them.

I give him the kola pieces (a brown and green nut/seed commonmy eaten in a social environment) that I had brought, and he accepts them through his aides. We are then formally entered into the community, and I split ways with Al-Hassan, Bonaventure and the assembly for the next few days.

Karim and Abbas take me to the compound I would be staying in, and I drop my things. They then decide to take me around the community to see a few of the things that might be important to my stay there, including the road, a few of the houses, and a dam should I wish to travel out on my own for kicks.

This Is the point where I have decided that Mayamam is the most beautiful place in the world. You remember subtle things about the places you’ve been or things you’ve seen, some triggers that make you recall certain memories. If you’ve ever seen any film with the pastures stretching endlessly, with a small path from which you are entirely surrounded by golden and green plants as well as the only home you see ahead of you is your own, and nothing else beyond it. That is what I saw entering this household. It was the point of true and entire isolation, and it was magnificent and powerful.

Looking around, I notices what looked like to be a lake, but was later clarified to be the Mayamam Dam. I soon got a chance to see it, when it was almost night fall, and “dark clouds were approaching from the East” (I’ve always enjoyed saying one line as it makes me think I am in the Lord of the Rings trilogy). This reiterated the fact that Mayamam was incredibly beautiful. If you ever visit anywhere, you may never get a chance to see something as wonderful as the lazy hazy sun hiding behind a tree, reflecting off the surface of a land locked dam surrounded by grasses, fields, and a few trees here and there. Unbelievable.

At home I got a chance to unwind, and was met by a large portion of TZ, my first true TZ experience. It was huge, enough for maybe 6 servings, but to be shared by the three of us, Karim, Abbas and I. To go with the Tuo Zafi (hot food), was ground-nut soup and fish, and it was delicious.

After the very hearty meal, I went outside to sit with the men and the boys. There was only one man, and many boys, the father and all his sons. This family had many more sons than daughters, only 3 daughters in total that I had met during my stay there. The children ranged from 18 to 2 in age, and they were some of the funniest, happiest and hard working people I’ve met.

I went to bed on the floor of the compound outside under my mosquito net because inside was terribly hot, and the window was all the way across the room and was tiny. My place was exposed to the open air, fresh and cool from the rain that had just fallen, and the breeze that was left over from the storm was refreshing as well. The ground on the other hand wasn’t as friendly, and I tossed and turned for a long time figuring out a position that wouldn’t bother me or my bones on the compound floor. I finally found a position: on my back with one knee bent and the other leg straight as a baseball bat. Other than that, it was a perfect evening.

I woke up very early the following morning, around 5. In my books, if I’m not up for the whole night, I can’t wake up before 6, so this was an accomplishment. I was obviously aided by the fact that I knocked out the night prior at around 8:30. My morning ritual began as usual, wake up, take a shower, and then have some breakfast before heading off to work. The community however has no tea stand understandably. Breakfast is had at the house in the community, and I had some co-co. Co-co is basically a liquidized form of banku, with added goodness of sugar. I must say, it is very difficult to put down. I am not used to porridge back home, and co-co’s cider taste with its outmeal like consistency is a weird combination, not a real fan here.

On the other hand, the eggs that came with the porridge were great, so that added some great protein to my otherwise unbalanced nutritional breakfast.

That morning, I met with Abbas, who later told me that the people of the community were expecting me by the Chief’s house. I was thinking in my head, I’ve only been here for one night, what possibly could I have done wrong? By the Chief’s house, everybody gathered around. By that time, Abbas has trained me a bit on how to greet people properly, and what they were saying. Up until then, I had ponly replied with one word, “Lifeye”, and replied with the same word to everything, but now I understood what some of the greetings meant, and could properly reply to them truthfully. I could even then repeat some of them given some time to think about what I was saying.

As every assembled around the common area, under a large leafy tree shaded by the sun, in the cool air after the night and morning’s rains, the Chief made his way to the centre and front of the council that was formed. Abbas soon told me why the meeting was being held. The people wanted to know why I was there.

I told them why, that I was trying to learns about how real Africans live their lives, and to understand livelihoods from a rural perspective, in much simpler words so translation would be easier. I don’t think they understood however, as they repeatidly asked what I would bring them after I was done. I had to explain to the village that I was a student, and a volunteer working through an NGO. I had to explain that I had no money in my own hands, just like a student in Ghana, and that my only ability to help them would come through my work here in Ghana, and me sharing my experiences with others in Canada. I think they expected more of a development discussion because they brought up examples of people that have come into their community and said similar things, only they left behind artifacts like a dam, a church, and a grain-bank. They also explained that they were disappointed because they never saw those people again. They said those people deceived them.

Emotions are hard to understand. You can give someone something, and leave, and never see what happened to them. They explained that survey workers came in one time, a long time ago, and asked them several questions, and when they left, they never saw them again. They said they were deceived by those workers who take, but never give. I felt like I was just like them at that point, and felt that if I didn’t explain my position and my role there well, I would too feel the brunt of their judgment. I explained that as my work in the District Assembly involves communities like these, understanding how people live, and what problems they truly possess is an important element of my job. I told them that I would like to learn what you think are important issues you face as a community and as individuals living in such a community.

I think this got through to some of them, while others still had their initial money-bank idea locked in their heads about me. They began telling me about how the lack of proper teacher-s quarters in the village has resulted in a lack of stable trained teachers in the schools. Also that during the dry season, they are unable to secure incomes as they can’t do dry season farming as the dam built is too shallow.

These were important discussions that were being raised, and I felt sorry for Abbas who was translating the fury and disappointment felt by various community members, and relaying my pathos for them.

At the end of the town meeting, the chief asked me for some closing words. I really didn’t know what to say, except that I understood there were stark differences between the West and the developing world, and that even in the developing world, there was a gap between urban and rural, and that even in a rural district like Chereponi, there was a difference between a community like Mayamar and a town council like Chereponi which has access to a small town water supply and electricity.

After the meeting my host father asked me if I wanted to go to the family farm. We headed off for the farm, in the direction of the dam. I had originally thought that farms would be very close to family homes. This was the case, but if you had a lot more land, and couldn’t fit it into the space surrounding your home, your farm would be a distance away.

The family farm was a distance from the home, and we walked perhaps one hour until we reached the farm. I then thought about how the family would collect the harvext every year, carrying all the generated produce for that distance, carrying fertilizers, water, tools, and other such materials necessary for usual farm work. It is the women who would carry all these things, all again balanced on their heads for the long distance, with very little water and the realization in their heads that they would have to do this many times that day. It was amazing how hard people worked for making the little income they did.

What I realized then was that the family I lived with had only a few children who went to school. The people I had met and interacted with didn’t go to school. They worked on the family farm, or they worked with their mothers taking care of the household, of taking care of the babies in the house. They weren’t able to go to school because their family responsibilities required them to stay and help, and also because they didn’t possess the income to hire help, to pay for school fees, an to break out of the cycle of poverty. They didn’t have access to fuel money, they didn’t even have a moto. The capital they did possess was human capital, and they had to stretch it to its limits in order to sustain themselves.

This wasn’t an isolated case. Only Abbas and Karim’s families were able to support them to go to school. I don’t know how they did so, but recreating this was a difficult task. Many other young adults their age were working on their respective farms, or entering motherhood.

As we walked on, I saw how hard people worked on their farms; how much sweat goes into producing their crops. I noticed how large some farms were, and even the small ones were big enough to take many hours of work just to till the land and make it ready for planting. On top of that, Chereponi was experienced a drought, and the rains only just begun that week. They should have started a month earlier, and by now, they should have all been weeding. Tractors weren’t performing as they should have been, the drivers were off doing their own thing, and the people monitoring them were conspiring with the drivers, undermining the monitoring process. These drivers didn’t come from the Chereponi District, so they didn’t feel any obligation to the farmers of the area.

There were a lot of factors contributing to their situation, more them they could describe to me in the short session we had that morning, and one can only see these issues if they see things on the ground, and ask those tough questions. I had only begun to ask questions, and I know that there was no way I could ever fully understand the extent of poverty they experienced without experiencing it personally day in and day out.

We rested on some rocks when we reached the farm, and just talked about which crops the family farms. They produce rice, maize, groundnut (peanuts), and guinea corn, which is used to make Tuo Zafi (unfermented Banku for all intents of purposes). Maize should have been knee high by now, but that hadn’t happened.

Walking back was a tough hike, as I hadn’t taken enough water during the morning, not even close, and the night before, the only water I had was some pito. We managed though, and got back safe and sound. The water I did drink was from a borehole near the dam, brought by the women of the house to the home.

When we got back, the women realized, by the lack of dirt on my hands and my feet, that we hadn’t farmed. Therefore, I decided to farm the following morning, as travelling back to the farm would be a complete waste of time as we would have only been there for an hour or so. Also no work needed to be done because of the lack of rains ergo lack of weeding to be done.

That evening though, we got a tractor to come to the area outside the house. The lush green field I described earlier was the victim to it, and it gave way to dark rich soil underneath. This soil would be used for further farming, and I wouldn’t have to go far the following morning to work. The tractor ploughed until the late hours of the evening, until the whole field was tilled, and the soil was ready for preparations for planting. We went to sleep, ready for work tomorrow morning.

The following morning, I woke up at 5 again, ready for work. That night, it had rained throughout, and the soil outside was wet and sloppy, perfect for tilling and forming of mounds and ridged for rice planting. When we went outside, me and my host brothers took some time unearthing some of the remaining plants sticking out of the ground absorbing vital nutrients from the soil, and formed the ridges and valleys for rice planting. This took a few hours, spot working across the 2 acres surrounding the home. Then we went inside for some additional breakfast. Following, the women went outside, and took rounds covering the entire field, one creating holes by poking the soil with a long pointed branch, another throwing the seeds into the created holes, and the third covering them with their feet. Some of the younger children who didn’t have the necessary strength to turnover soil or pull plants from the ground helped out as well. This was done during the afternoon sun, and it was a hot day. The sun was trying to take back the water spilled from the sky the night before.

While the women were doing this, Abbas and I went to all the houses in the community, every single household, and met all the men and women who were not the general area. This took nearly 3 hours, but was very helpful in me understanding the situations of the various members of the community, and to help learn the language by forcing me to engage in Anufor with people.

What I learned was that people are strong in spirit, knowing that they face hard times, but manage them. They have a lack of resources in such a community, their school doesn’t have enough teachers and some of their facilities are worn down or not functional at all. Through all this, they still manage to make things work for them, and take things as they come, but realize that what they are living isn’t right, and should be corrected by appropriate authorities. For example, their school has maybe 3 working chalk boards, for the 6 grades that it houses, and maybe 3 teachers as well. Therefore, the teachers roll out form class to class, the headmaster must manage them through all this, and when they need access to chalkboards, they have to switch with another classroom. It’s the rotary system on steroids.

Coming back, we had some more food at the house, Wache, which is rice with some groundnut paste and salt on top. I had eggs with this as well. Abbas and I soon left on our bicycles to Wenchiki, the closest major town, because I knew that I wouldn’t have this chance again. As we rode our bikes on the mostly abandoned dirt road to Wenchiki, we greeted farmers working in the fields and women carrying firewood and assortments of items on their heads along the road. It’s always a pleasure hearing them shriek in surprise as the white man greets them in their local language, and their faces light up in smiles and laughter.

We bump into the interim chief of Wenchiki once we reach the city, after a 30 minute bike ride. He explains how he is off to Chereponi on his moto for some errend, and urges us to visit his palace. When he meant palace, I expected a huge mansion with stone pillars and marble floring, but to him, a palace was just a home, and when I saw it, it seemed very normal to me. I have heard that Chereponi District’s chief on the other hand has a massive palace, which is actually a palace. He did have a throne though, which was quite exciting. I was tempted to sit on it, but decided I’d rather not.

Heading back, we bumped into some of Abbas’s friends, and chatted with them a bit before embarking on our mission back home. I asked Abbas how our time was getting to the city, and he said it was slower than most, so I decided to race him back to the village. I think he was surprised by my ability to bike. I think he thought I was new to biking, and that I’d only begun riding once I got to Ghana, but when I explained to him that I rode in Canada, he realized why we were making much better pace to the village.

We, as usual, were interrupted, by many people wishing to talk with us, and we managed to make it back to the community in 20 minutes or so. It was a decent time for a one speed bike on a gravel road under the afternoon sun.

I explained to Abbas that I had to go to the toilet soon after, and he told me that it was open defecation, and that the bush was just around the corner. He then led me to where the family does its business. I then did my business, and went back to the house after washing my hands with a pail of water and some soap I brought with me there.

Supper was ready, and we all sat down to eat after Abbas and my host brothers went to pray. The children of the community are mostly Muslim, while the elder generation of the village are Christian, it was an interesting dynamic. I often wondered how it came about, but didn’t think it would be appropriate to ask outright.

After eating TZ with Ayooyo soup, basically the spinach equivalent of Okru soup, all slippery and great, we then gathered by the lounge area outside the house, and listened to the football match playing on the radio. The rains came in, and began trickling down onto the land. The rainy season had just begun, and it seemed to rain every night that week. The radio didn’t pick up any English channel, but French Togo radio stations were alive and kicking.

I began thinking about the idea of national identity. Why a community that is so disconnected with Ghana, yet with so much influence from Togo, including music, talk radio, political news, and other such media, still is a part of Ghana? Granted, Togo is a French speaking nation, but Abbas explained that people in Togo speak Anufor as well, and that surprised me. Ghanaians speak many languages. From region to region, district to district, the primary language changes. Togo possesses a similar linguistic structure.

These divisions in national boundaries came from their colonial masters, England and France, and they carved Africa, along with other countries like Belgium, Germany, and Holland amongst others. The borders were created based on the needs and politics of colonial powers, and not on negotiations between the people in the area themselves. It prevents a coordinated development effort today.

The following morning, I prepared to leave the community to return to Chereponi and my work in the office. Before leaving however, I had to see the chief. That morning was a very important morning because it represented the way I would remember them in their opinion. They thanked me for coming, and I thanked them for having me. Then they gave me a bunch of eggs, 15 I could count in total from the community, and I thanked them again and after some more greetings, we returned back to the house.

At the house, waiting for my ride to come, we sat by the lounge, the smooth logs now imprinted with my own bottom; a farewell signature so to speak. Near the front of the house, I could see a mother goat, till yesterday pregnant with her young, lick them clean from residue they were collecting exploring their new universe. Baby goats are amazing to watch.

As the pick-up made its way into town, my ride to go back, I said my goodbyes to my family, wishing them well, and gave my host father a small offering for his hospitality, a gift of 5 cedis. It was small, but I’ve heard not to flaunt money, and I didn’t want to offend him.

The family waved goodbye to me, and we went off back to Chereponi, with my bike sitting in the truck of the pick-up, and memories with me to last a very long time.