Monday, August 14, 2006

From Strange to Beautiful

I want to thank everyone for following along and supporting me every step of the way. On more challenging days, I have looked back at the comments people have written and they’ve motivated me to push on. Thanks to my chapter and all the EWB supporters who truly made my placement possible. Words cannot describe how rewarding this experience has been. Thanks to my friends and family. Distance had definitely made the heart grow fonder. I love you all very much.

This is my last posting from Tamale, Ghana. Over the past three and a half months, Tamale has become more than a sea of indistinguishable dark faces; a flurry of giant trucks whizzing by with men hanging off the sides and colourful taxis honking their horns; bicyclists passing by with tv’s, lumber, other goods attached to their bikes; herds of sheep (or are they goats?) crossing a busy intersection; an overwhelming jumble of unusual sights and sounds and smells. Tamale is my home.

It took me a while to get here, but I love it. I love the city, the people, the culture. I will miss it all very much. Things have transformed from being strange and foreign, to familiar and comforting. The echoing calls of the Muslim prayers tell me the time of day. I know just where to step to avoid open gutters (most of the time!). When I return home from work and walk through my neighbourhood, I’m greeted with shouts of “Madam Sarah! Madam Sarah!”. The voices of the women in my compound who have already started a day of hard work, calm me as I wake.

My compound

I have tried to follow along with the experiences of the other JFs. I have read some of their blog entries. And I’ve realized that there’s so much more to experience. My experience, as full and vibrant as it’s been, is still only the slightest sliver of what Ghana has to offer. I truly hope that I will have the opportunity to return, but for now I’m trying to treasure the time I’ve had and the wonderful people I’ve met.

And so the time to look to the future and preparing for my return to Canada has arrived. I’ve been trying to write a posting on what I’ve learned about development. But I feel my most valuable lessons are not just development related, but important lessons in life.

In development work, there is no right answer, no quick fix. Some development efforts have used this approach and the results are unsustainability and negative attitudes. Each project must be carefully thought out, the end goal clearly defined, and the steps by which to get there should be verified to ensure they will achieve the desired result. If not, unforeseen consequences will arise and goals will not be met.

My family

Development, just like life, is complicated. So many factors intertwine and things that seemed small and insignificant can become insurmountable obstacles. The role of Westerners in development is another issue. I think everyone can develop their own opinion on this, but one thing I have realized is that the line between a better, more efficient and effective way of doing something and simply a cultural difference can be blurry. I think if you approach development with an open mind, a willingness to learn, and a respect for different ways of doing things, you will naturally find the right path.

And so I hope to return to Canada with not only a greater appreciation for what I happened to be born into, but a more thoughtful approach to life. I want to really consider the effects of my actions, and the choices I make. I want to give more thought to who or what I’m supporting by the products I purchase, the beliefs I’m supporting with my political choices, the effects of my daily life on the environment. And so there is still so much that can be done! I think that our actions in Canada have the potential for greater impact and the elimination of poverty than overseas work. So perhaps this isn’t the end, but only the beginning.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Wise Was Right

The longer I'm here, the more challenging it becomes to think of interesting blog topics. Things that I once found intriguing, amusing, or astonishing are now part of my everyday life. So what if there's a herd of sheep walking right through the main intersection?

After reviewing our six district visits, Luke and I decided it would be best to visit two more. So last week we set out one last time. Upon reaching the district where Luke would be staying, I also alighted to catch a different tro-tro to my destination. After being mis-directed to the tro-tro station twicew, the tro-tro going my way happened to drive by. I hopped on thinking it was my lucky break!

We soon stopped at the actual tro-tro yard. I should have realized that considering I was one of only four passengers on a tro-tro designed for (read: capable of squeezing in like sardines) 39 people, that I would be waiting for a while. There was no point in asking when we'd be leaving. The answer is quite obvious - when the tro-tro's full, of course!

Three hours later, we were on our way! After waiting for an hour to meet with the person I'd come to see, I completed my day's work quickly. So I decided to explore the town. I wandered down the road to town, greeting people and admiring the quiet calm of a small town. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I saw a speeding vehicle coming straight towards me! The bike's owner quickly introduced himself as Ishmael, a teacher in town and an electrical engineers graduate from Tamale Polytechnic. He was a friendly guy with a smiling face, small stature, and navy baseball cap. He showed me around town (well, the one road and handfull of shops) explaining the history, geography, and religion of the town. We passed by and greeted his sister and her small baby. She welcomed me to the town and was concerned if I had somewhere to stay and if the accomodation was alright. We continued our walk for another half an hour until we reached my guest house, where we parted ways. It was an enjoyable afternoon.

RILADEP Guest House in Saboba

After completing the district analysis, I was ready to head back to Tamale. But there was no means. No means? The lorry to Tamale leaves only in the morning. Oh, no means. You see how we suffer? Yes, I see. So I stayed an extra night, waking early to catch the first (and perhaps only?) tro-tro. I walked along the unlit dirt road, hoping that the directions to the lorry station I had received were correct.

I arrived at the centre of town - night still casting its shadow, people only just starting to stir - the women starting fires for cooking, the men heading to the mosque for morning prayer. No one else seemed to be waiting for a tro-tro so I began to worry. Finally, a man carrying a suitcase appeared across the street. I stepped over the open sewer to cross the road to inquire about the tro-tro. I asked the man if he was waiting for the 5am lorry. He said yes. Phew! I was in the right place! Iwent to step off the street and take a seat on the bench to wait. Ooops! Suddenly I was a foot and a half lower, off-balance, my backpack lopsided, my spectacles askew, and utterly bewildered!! My right foot was in the gutter! I had completely forgotten about the open gutter I had just crossed. Luckily, thie one wasn't full or very gucky at all. With just a dirty sandal and a bruised ego, I moved to the bench to wait for the tro-tro.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Really Eating Like a Ghanaian

So, I’ve been promising a blog on Ghanaian food for a while now. I’ve been putting it off though because I’ve wanted to take photos of my meals, but that’s a pretty strange thing to do, even for a saliminga! But I now have a few pics to show you some of the things I’ve been eating for the past few months.

Starch dishes are staple foods in many cultures. In Ghana, traditional meals include some type of starch dish made from maize, millet or cassava eaten with a soup or stew. The four main starch dishes are TZ, fufu, banku and kenkey.

TZ is a common dish for large families in Northern Ghana. My family has it almost every night – in my two and a half months here we’ve had something other than TZ only 4 times! TZ is made from maize flour. A porridge type substance is brewed using maize flour and water in a large pot. This is cooked for a while before it is reduced. The thicker substance is stirred with a gigantic wooden spoon, folding it over in the pot. The liquid taken off from reducing is slowly re-added to the mixture, along with more maize flour and my family adds cassava flour as well. TZ can also be made from millet and when I stayed in the village this is the type of TZ they served. The texture is hard to describe. It’s kind of like bread dough with not much taste. It’s the soup or stew that accompanies the TZ that really provides the flavour.

Adding maize flour to make TZ

Fufu is gooier and you can roll it into a ball before dipping it into the soup. It’s almost like thicker whipped mashed potatoes. Banku and kenkey are both fermented dishes made from maize and are stickier and more solid. I have yet to see these made since my family has had banku and fufu only once and hasn’t served kenkey since I’ve been here.

There are many soups to accompany the TZ, fufu or banku including groundnut, fresh okru, dried okru, bura, vegetable. Kenkey is usually served with a pepper sauce. In the soups, there might be some bits of meat in the soup or a chunk in the bowl. Meat is more expensive so my family rarely serves large chunks in the soup. Some of it is pretty tough as well, and there have been times when I’ve almost flung the chunk across the compound when trying to bite off a piece!

The groundnut soup is made with water and groundnut oil, boiled in a pot over a coal stove. My family adds different spices, and Maggie cubes which are packets of shrimp flavoured powder.

Adding the Maggie cube to the groundnut soup

To eat a meal like this you take a chunk of TZ with the fingers of your right hand, scoop some soup and put it into your mouth. With the other starch dishes you can play with it in your hand to roll it into a ball before dipping in the soup.

My usual TZ dinner

Maybe not as traditional, but definitely common are rice dishes. Rice is a common Ghanaian crop, although many people purchase imported rice (American, Thai, Vietnamese). Many Ghanaian rice farmers don’t have access to processing machines that can provide a higher quality of rice, and they aren’t provided with large subsidies to grow the crop like American rice farmers.

Tonight's dinner - rice ball and groundnut soup

Similar to the four dishes described above are rice balls, which like the name suggests is a ball of rice. This is also served with a soup into which you dip a chunk of rice. Another common dish is plain rice served with spicy pepper sauce and often a piece of chicken. Another rice dish is watche, which is rice with beans cooked in a purple leaf so it comes out a mauve-ish colour. One of my favourites is joloff rice, which is rice cooked in a pot of water with pepper and tomato.

Joloff rice with salad and a boiled egg

(my favourite meal!)

Along the side of the road you can also find boiled eggs (both chicken and guinea fowl), fried egg sandwiches (usually found in the morning for breakfast and in the evening for a late-night snack), grilled maize, kose (fried bean paste – really tasty!), wageshi (fried cheese). You can also find lots of fresh foods – bananas, pineapple, mangoes, watermelon, coconut, avocado, cabbage, carrots, oranges, apples (imported from Europe).

You can find some type of bread practically everywhere. In Ghana there are three types of bread – butter bread, sugar bread and tea bread. The butter bread looks like a loaf of white bread from the grocery store - very square and very white. The texture is similar to a loaf of white bread from home but it seems to lack any sort of taste. The sugar bread is, as the name implies, sweet. It looks like a loaf of white bread from a bakery. I like this type of bread initially but it really is quite sweet (even for my sweet tooth!). Tea bread looks more like a baguette. I remember that at first it didn’t taste at all like a baguette, but now I forget what a baguette tastes like and I enjoy tea bread with tea in the morning for breakfast. If I'm not having bread and tea, or an egg sandwich for breakfast there is also coco, a smooth porridge made from maize or millet, oats and rice water.

Also available on the street for lunch or dinner are fried yams - yams cut into chunky strips and deep fried. They taste similar to thickly cut french fries. They are often served with pepper stew or another more oily fish soup. You can also get boiled or grilled yams as well.

Along the road you can also easily find kebabs of some type of meat. Intestine is often available, but I have yet to try it! Goat, cow, chicken and guinea fowl are the most common meats available. I have yet to see pork being served, but with such high population of muslims I doubt there is much available.

Some of the dishes took a little getting used to, but I've found my favourites and am now enjoying Ghanaian cuisine!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

It's More Like Shades of Brown

Four weeks. I can’t believe there are only four weeks left. Looking back on the past two and a half months, I’ve had my ups and downs. There have been moments when I’ve been frustrated with cultural differences, annoyed by the constant attention, disgusted by the sanitation facilities (or lack thereof), and really really homesick. There have been times when I’ve been breath taken by the natural beauty around me, impressed by the genuine care and concern of people I’ve met, mesmerized by the fascinating culture, and savouring every moment I have here.

I keep a list of all the things that I would like to write about. The list is long and I have barely made a dent in it. There are many aspects of my experience that I have yet to mention. Also, my experience is just a very brief glimpse of life in Tamale, never mind life in Ghana or life in Africa.

In project-related news, I completed our final district analysis last week while Luke finally took some time off and trekked up to Mali. So now our mission is to figure out what all this information we’ve been collecting actually means! From the district analyses we hope to identify general areas in which capacity building activities would be beneficial to the District Water and Sanitation Teams (DWSTs). The next step will be to do a more detailed analysis with one pilot district, working alongside the DWSTs to identify district specific areas in which to build capacity, tailoring a program to suit the team’s needs. And then after developing a capacity building program, we will implement it in the pilot district. This work will likely be carried out by Luke, who will be in Ghana until December (at least!). It’s been very rewarding to have completed one phase of the project and beginning to see the shape it might take in the future.

A few weekends ago, we had a mid-summer retreat. We discussed what we’d done so far – the challenges and successes we’d each had, and what we planned to do for the remainder of our placement. These exercises were useful for sharing ideas and approaches, as well as for organizing the hundreds of thoughts zooming around in my head into a realistic work plan. It was also extremely motivating to hear about all the small successes that all the volunteers have had, and realizing the effect of the summation of each of these seemingly tiny contributions.

Out of the three-day retreat we had one day for pure relaxation and fun. We chartered a tro-tro and headed 4 hours south to Kintampo. Kintampo is famous for the Kintampo Falls just outside the town. However, we first headed to the lesser known Fuller Falls. It was like discovering a secret garden – a rocky staircase leading down to a secluded area with low stone walls separating little stone sitting areas, under the canopy of towering trees, with the sounds of rushing water loudening as you approached. The staircase falls look like they were perfectly carved out of the earth. We spent several hours there, swimming at the base, climbing up the rocky steps of the falls, and generally just enjoying the beautiful scenery and each other’s company.

Fuller Falls

The Secret Garden

Kintampo Falls

Two weeks ago, I was in the East Gonja District for another district analysis. I borrowed a bicycle and rode to the neighbouring community to buy some bread. At the small kiosk where they sold the bread, I had an intriguing conversation with a 46 year old man named Mohammed. He asked if I had a husband. I said no. “I will take you as my second wife,” he said. I said I was flattered but not looking for a husband. “You would not marry a black man?” he asked. I replied that I didn’t care what colour he was, I just wasn’t here to look for a husband. I then tried to explain how my parents are different races, but to no avail. “They are both white,” he said. “Oh. How many different races are there?” I asked. “Two,” he replied, “black and white.”

Now this is just Mohammed’s view and the young men around us found it highly amusing, but I have heard similar beliefs before. There are blacks and then there’s everyone else. Africa and the rest of the world. Growing up in a multicultural society, I’ve always been aware of different races but not overly concerned with race. Growing up in a small rural community here, where possibly the only foreigners you see are white people driving by in white SUVs or white people in nice clothes posing for photos with the new hand pump they paid for, your view of other races would likely be significantly different.

Conversations like this really make me think. Who’s right? Why does he think that? Is it my responsibility to rectify misconceptions about “white” people in general? Is it other people’s responsibility to be open-minded?

And my usual answer is, “Is there an answer?”.

Monday, July 17, 2006

In Someone Else's More Practical Shoes

It’s Saturday morning and I finally rouse myself from bed around 7am. The morning prayer from the neighbouring mosque no longer disturbs my sleep. (Well, if it does I don’t have any recollection). The sky is grey and somber; it might saa today. On mornings like this my bucket bath doesn’t quite have the same refreshing relief from the heat. I have goosebumps! Despite the chilly weather and threat of rains, I head out towards town to meet Marka, a JF from MacMaster, and Gwen, a new LTOV, to go fabric shopping.

Clothing here is usually one of two styles: traditional brightly coloured prints made into long skirts and fitted tops for the women, or Western-style clothing, some new and some from thrift stores now for sale in Ghana. (I’ve spotted a boy wearing an Oilers jersey, another wearing a Team Canada jersey, and a man wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a middle-aged white woman with the caption “Look who’s 50!”; so if you’ve ever wondered where the third-hand clothes from home go, my guess is here).

This is a photo of Okaps, a DWST (District Water and Sanitation Team Member) who I have worked with, and me in one of my traditional Ghanaian outfits.

Back to the beautiful fabrics. There are cloth vendors up and down the main street, so we start there. The rain gods have a different idea and the sky now delivers on its threat. We take shelter in one shop, where the woman kindly offers us seats to wait out the rain. We wait and wait, but the rains are not letting up. All I can think of is how much I have been looking forward to browsing the fabric shops along the road and in the market. And now we are stuck in a store, trapped by the rain.

But then I start to think of what the rain means to other people. To me it has delayed a day of shopping. For many others, it means much much more. Although it is the rainy season, we have not seen much rain in the past few weeks. The farmers rely on the rains to water their crops. Here in the Northern Region, there is only one rainy season whereas in the south there are two. So the rains must come or there won’t be any crops to sell or to eat. And not only must the rains come, they must come at the right time. The farmers plant their seeds and pray for the rains to come soon so the seeds will germinate. If the rains come a few days too late, the seeds will be wasted and the farmers must plant again. When farming is your livelihood, the unpredictability of the weather makes you extremely vulnerable.

The rain continued for most of the day, putting a damper on my day of shopping but providing life to both the crops and the people they will feed. Oh well, there's always next weekend to go shopping!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Canada Day...Ghanaian Style!

Work-wise, this past week has mainly been spent learning more about Ghana’s water and sanitation sector and refining the district analysis tools. This coming week Luke and I will be heading out two districts to complete assessments of current capacities of the DWSTs.

On Thursday, we attended a workshop introducing the new database system that the CWSA will be implementing at the district level to manage water and sanitation coverage and monitoring information. Effectively managing data, such as the number of household latrines in a community and the functionality of borehole pumps, is essential to plan for future development, as well as for striving to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals. (One of which aims to halve the number of people without access to potable water). The CWSA Head Office has been introducing this system at the Regional Level with the aim of it being used by the DWSTs to manage district data.

As we sat around the table alongside key figures in Ghana’s water and sanitation sector, members of the RWSTs (Regional Water and Sanitation Teams) from the three Northern Regions critiqued the system and suggested changes that should be implemented to make the system more effective. It was quite a significant meeting for the CWSA, with substantial changes being made to the system that will eventually be put into place nationwide. To be in the room where such momentous decisions were being made was quite an experience.

Many other data management systems have been implemented in districts across Ghana. Unfortunately, none of these have proved very effective or long-lasting. Many of them are linked to an externally funded project and collapse after the project concludes and the donor withdraws funding. It seems that effort is being made to learn from past mistakes and incorporate suggestions from levels closer to the ground to help ensure effectiveness and sustainability. From what I have witnessed at the district level so far, the full implementation of this system is a long way off but, hopefully when the times comes, it does its job and doesn’t become another addition to the database graveyard.

As everyone back home was celebrating Canada’s 139th birthday this past weekend, there were 11 Canadians on the other side of the world celebrating just the same! Five JFs came in to Tamale from their districts and along with those of us based in Tamale, we tro-tro-ed it just outside the city to celebrate Canada Day – we went camping!

The trip started Saturday morning when we were to meet up with a guy who was lending us tents. The meeting time was 9am…10 am rolled around and no tents. With the easy-going Ghanaian attitude, we shrugged our shoulders and went to find a tro-tro. Fortunately, three Ghanaians were being honorary Canadians and taking part in our Canada Day festivities. With their help, we located the correct tro-tro and climbed aboard. The blue van was your typical tro-tro. It had a name like “Still Except God” in colourful letters on the back window. The inside was stripped down to the metal shell with extra seats added, including a wooden bench behind the front seats for people to sit on facing backwards. We packed 20 people into a mini-van-sized vehicle, with cargo up on the roof. We lurched forward, backfiring our way down the road.

When we reached our destination, we went into the community to greet the chief, who was allowing us to camp on his land. He was out farming, as we had just had heavy rains the night before, so we greeted another village elder and offered the traditional gift of kola nuts. We camped out near the local school, right by the football pitch. We attracted quite a lot of attention from the village children and soon a football match, Canada vs. Ghana, was underway.

Later on, we started a campfire and roasted some hot dogs. This probably sounds completely normal to everyone back home, but finding hot dogs in Tamale was almost the highlight of the entire weekend! The children were still around and had slowly formed a tight circle around us, with the fire in the centre. Turning around, it was an eerie image of tens of children standing over you illuminated by the fire. We were visitors in their community, intriguing foreign visitors at that, but we had to eventually ask them to step back as the circle was becoming a little suffocating.

We all enjoyed our brief return to almost Canadian life. It’s always refreshing to get together with the other JFs and share our experiences, both good and bad. It’s hard to believe that I’ve only known most of them for barely 2 months! We closed out the night with the patriotic singing of the national anthem. We hit the sack with satisfied tummies, ready to return to our Ghanaian lives the next day.


I have been collecting small anecdotes in my journal. Here are a few:

Being a female Westerner, you attract quite a lot of attention from male Ghanaians. It’s commonplace to be told that you’re beautiful, to receive multiple marriage proposals and even exclamations of love as you walk along the street. This is the best I’ve received so far: When speaking with an older man who expressed interest in having me as his second wife (meaning wife #2 – polygamy is common in rural areas), he exclaimed, “I don’t love you because of your breasts…I love you because you’re white!” Oh…ok.

The currency in Ghana is the cedis. It has been heavily devalued and inflation is a concern. Currently, it’s at about 8000 cedis per $1 CDN. When I withdraw money from the bank machine the wad is so thick it doesn’t fit in my wallet! Also, to demonstrate the dual economy here, you can easily purchase lunch from a street vendor for under 3000 cedis. If you eat at a hotel or “white” restaurant the prices for the same foods will be in the 30 000- 60 000 cedis range!!

Not many foreigners reach Northern Ghana, explaining the attention and excitement when I go anywhere. But for some reason, more people here pick up on my asian heritage than people in Canada. Countless times I’ve heard “China!” been called my way. I’ve even been asked if I know karate. (I said that yes I did know karate, it’s a genetic trait). I had heard that Ghanaians often clump all Westerners together and classify them as “white” no matter if you’re blue, green or purple. But apparently, many Ghanaians are quite adept at identifying subtle racial differences.

The overwhelming majority of people that I interact with everyday are black. My compound doesn’t have a bathroom sink never mind a mirror, so I rarely see my own reflection. So sometimes I forget that I’m not actually black like everyone else. I am quickly reminded though, when my bright white legs peek out from under my skirt, or I’m walking at night and my glowing skin is the only thing I can see!

I have been struck by the caring, maternal nature of everyone here. Children, both boys and girls, look after their baby siblings with such tenderness and skill. Although generally the men don’t participate in many domestic activities (gender roles are a whole other can of worms!), I have seen fathers care for their young children with visible gentleness and emotion. Family is seen as extremely important and having children almost the purpose of life. Whether such large families are responsible when living in or close to poverty I can’t say, but the care that many people display for their children is heartwarming. (This is not meant to be a contrast to family life in Canada, just an observation of Ghanaian culture. )

Not so heartwarming is the reception that I receive from some small children. There seems to be a certain age when Ghanaian children are naturally blood-curdling-ly terrified of “white” people. They will exhibit one of two reactions: petrified shock – fear seizes their joints and they freeze as if someone pressed the pause button, or screaming in absolute terror for someone to hide this ghastly thing. It can be amusing – the game hide-and-seek takes on a whole new dimension! But it’s also heart-breaking for a child to be terrified at the very sight of you. Here is an image of a baby I had just made cry, turning away to avoid looking at me!

This summer my senses have been bombarded with new experiences. My head is full of lessons learned and fresh perspectives. I try to share as much of this experience through my blog, but I realize that there are more things that I am omitting than including. So to fill in these gaps (and for some interactive fun) please post any questions that you would like to ask a Ghanaian. It can be about anything – dating, football, education, whatever! Ben, a fellow JF here in Tamale, tried this on his blog and found it worked really well, involving and engaging people on both sides of the ocean! So start posting and I’ll start asking!!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Field Work & Football

This past week, Luke and I began our first district analysis. We are planning on analyzing the current capacities of the District Water and Sanitation Team(DWST), and the current methodologies used by the DWST and other people at the district level, such as the District Chief Executive, the District Coordinating Director and the District Planning Officer. From these evaluations, we will determine in which areas it would be beneficial to build capacity and what type of program would be most effective. So, we left Tamale to spend four days in the capital of a nearby district.

On the first day, we spoke with the DWST about the challenges they face, how they collect information about the water sources in their district, and what (if any) database system they use to store and organize this data. After a long and informative conversation with the extremely knowledgeable team leader, two of the DWSTs took us to the District Assembly(DA) guest house. It felt like a five star resort, with a flushing toilet and a shower!

The following day we accompanied two of the DWSTs out to the field to monitor boreholes, household latrines and a small town water system. Sitting on the back of the motorbike with the sunshine warming my skin and the fresh breeze keeping me cool, I was mesmerized by the practically untouched natural beauty of the rolling hills lush with deep green vegetation.

Once we reached the intended small community, we observed as the DWSTs went about a typical monitoring visit. First, they greeted the village chief and explained why we were here. At the borehole, the DWSTs inspected the cleanliness of the concrete pad surrounding the borehole and the tightness of the bolts of the pump. They gave the pump a try to check the flow of the water. We took a tour of one household to monitor hygiene practices – if the drinking water was covered and kept separate from the water for domestic use.

Helen and me with a newly installed borehole hand pump.

Rufia and me inspecting the construction of a household latrine.

Luke “Space Ranger” Brown – to avoid being “grossly negligent” we EWBers wear snazzy head protection when riding motorbikes.

That night neither Luke nor I was hungry so we didn’t venture out until later to find a bite to eat. The guest house was on the main road, but at the edge of town so we had to walk a ways to find some street vendors. There were no street lights (or if there were they weren’t on), so we walked in the dark accompanied by lively music echoing through the darkness. It can be near impossible to see Ghanaians in the dark and so occasionally when a truck would pass, the lights would eerily illuminate dark figures moving slowly in the night. As creepy as that seemed, I can’t imagine how spine-tingling it would be to see two ghostly figures approaching, seemingly glowing in the shadows!

On the third morning, I woke up not feeling so well. My body was achy, which I thought might have been from the bed even though it was better than the one I usually sleep on (mattresses in Ghana are usually pieces of foam). The aches intensified, I had a crushing headache and my stomach was upset…both ways. I stayed in bed the whole day, only venturing out when one of the DWSTs took me to the local hospital to get checked out. The diagnosis was malaria and I started popping the treatment pills that night.

An interesting note about the strong hierarchical influence in Ghana (or I guess it could show the high prevalence of malaria here): I was really not feeling too hot during our journey to and from the hospital. The DWST even told me I looked “rundown” (initially I thought he was talking about the hospital…oops!). But on our way back to the guest house, we stopped twice to have lengthy conversations with two of the higher ups at the District Assembly not only to update them on my condition but also to chat about what they were doing and where they were going. Greeting people is very important here and paying respect to superiors is even more so.

Without a lab test to verify the diagnosis, I’ll never be entirely sure if it was malaria. But malaria is a definite reality here. In Africa, over 2.5 million people die each year because of it. Most of these are children. The heartbreaking part is that malaria is completely treatable. Treatment to cure the disease costs about $5. Seriously. Preventative measures such as sleeping under a mosquito net can also drastically reduce the deaths due to malaria. Bed nets are also ridiculously inexpensive (in our terms). As I was already taking anti-malarial medication, my case was probably a reduced version of what malaria can be. I cannot imagine enduring that discomfort with no hope of affording those twelve little pills and knowing you may not survive.

During the last two days of our visit, Luke spoke with many other stakeholders in the water and sanitation sector at the district level. Our first district analysis was extremely enlightening about issues at the district level that we, working out of the regional office, were not aware of. We also were able to test out our methods of analysis, which try to ensure we are seeing the whole, true picture.

When we returned to Tamale, Ghana’s third match of the World Cup was almost underway. I missed the first game, against Italy, when I was in Manga. Watching the second game, against the Czech Republic, on the streets of Tamale was quite an experience! After each goal, people jumped up, waved flags, picked up chairs and ran around screaming! At the end of the game spontaneous parades were formed, people were dancing in the street, every car was honking its horn (more than usual!) and flags were being flown from motorbikes racing (and swerving dangerously) down the main street!! A constant cheer was audible from across the city. The third game, against the US, I followed from the two cheers and groan that I heard from my bed as the effects of malaria slowly wore off.

So yesterday was the start of the next round for the Black Stars. Here is a before picture of Luke and me decked out in our Ghanaian flags, all ready to cheer on our newly adopted favourite for our newly adopted favourite football team:

And here is an after picture:

Next time, Ghana, next time!