Saturday, May 27, 2006

Finally Photos!

As promised here are some pictures (in no particular order - it's not cooperating):

My compound

Sahara Desert

Hand-dug Well Assessment

Bus to Tamale


Thanks for all the great comments! I love reading them!! So after experiencing some of the highs and lows of culture shock, I thought I'd share some of the cultural differences or “ghanaianisms” I've noticed so far:

- you pass items with your right hand only, and eat just with your right hand - your left hand is reserved for one use only!
- you “pick” a taxi and ask to “alight” at the next “junction”
- beer bottles here are 625 mL
- conversations are very interactive, and so to let the other person know you are listening you must say “eh heh” throughout the conversation
- “how is it?” = “how are you?”
- to get someone's attention you hiss at them
- it’s completely normal for heterosexual men to hold hands when walking down the street
- the biggest vehicle has the right of way – trucks before cars, cars before motorcycles, motorcycles before bicycles...pedestrians watch out!
- shared taxis are taxis with multiple occupants with possibly different destinations
- there this Ghanaian handshake involving a two-person snap that is impossible between two Westerners!
- Ghanaians can sleep anywhere – on the street, amongst red peppers in the market, on the road under a truck!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What I do, Where I've been and a Chicken

So I’ve been in Ghana for 2 whole weeks now and I realized that I never fully explained why I’m here! I’ll start at the beginning with a very broad overview. Get ready for the acronyms!! Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB) is a national charitable organization dedicated to promoting human development through access to appropriate technology. The head office is located in Toronto and EWB chapters are at 24 universities across Canada. Each chapter fundraises to send one or two volunteers overseas for the 4 month summer break. This program is called the Junior Fellowship in International Development (JFID).

This summer there are a total of 44 Junior Fellows with 23 based in Ghana. My placement is a little different than the regular JFID program, as my chapter and I are participating in the Working Partnership program (WP). Through a WP, a JF is placed with a long-term overseas volunteer (LTOV). The chapter helps financially support the LTOV and the chapter shares in the overseas experience through regular communication and special workshops.

So, I joined Luke Brown, a fellow Western grad who has been in Ghana since February. We are working with the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA), a governmental organization responsible for providing water and sanitation facilities and programs to rural communities and small towns. We are working out of the regional CWSA office in Tamale. In Ghana, regions are like provinces and districts are like counties. One of the goals this summer is to explore the possibility of placing future JFs at the district level of the CWSA to help build the capacities of these district bodies and have more direct impact.

Last Tuesday, Luke and I headed out to the field to assess hand-dug wells in three districts of the Northern Region. As we left Tamale, the scenery changed from cement houses on reddish-brown dirt streets to mud huts in open fields. We picked up a member of the District Water and Sanitation Team (DWST), the group responsible for water and sanitation issues on the district level. Then we headed out to visit several communities, leaving paved roads and a smooth ride behind!

In the first community we looked at several wells, assessing the condition, quality of construction and usage. Many NGOs have well-digging programs, but without implementing maintenance and servicing programs the wells are often soon broken and abandoned. The CWSA’s program works such that facilities will be provided only to those communities that request them, the community is required to provide a small percentage of the capital cost, and the community is responsible for operation and maintenance of the well. Each community has a sense of ownership and responsibility for their well, helping to ensure its sustainability. Committees within the community called WATSANS are set up to maintain the facilities, provide hygiene education and contact the DWST if there are any problems. The DWSTs are responsible for visiting the communities and monitoring the wells and boreholes.

Later that day, we set out for a remote village in the neighbouring district. We turned off the main dirt road onto what looked like a footpath. We crossed chasms and drove over boulders. I felt like we were in a pick-up truck commercial! There came a point when our trusty pick-up could go no further. So we walked…and walked…and walked. It was a scenic walk, passing rock formations, leaping across streams and seeing the majestic baobab tree.

After about 40 minutes, we reached the village – a collection of mud hut compounds sparsely distributed over the fields full of newly planted crops. We headed to the chief’s compound. He was called in from the fields and donned traditional garb before greeting us. We explained (well, the DWST explained because we didn’t speak the language) why we were there and what we wanted to do. We were taken to the village’s only well. As we approached we could see that the well was not fully constructed and not in use. The people of the community were fetching water from the nearby stream instead of their new well. Why use contaminated water when clean water is available? Logistical details like the overflow water not draining properly, the cover not being properly aligned allowing objects to fall in the well and contaminate the water supply, the water level being so low that the pump is too hard for the old women of the village to use are all giant obstacles that can result in the community returning to an unsafe water source. At EWB, we have all learned that development is complicated. There are always hundreds of factors to consider and no simple solution.

After examining and recording the condition and problems with this well, we returned to see the chief. The men of the village had come in from the fields - guests are an occasion for a village meeting. As visitors, we sat on a bench in front of the chief while he thanked us for what we had done (although I did not feel like I had done much at all). We were then presented with a chicken, as a token of friendship and appreciation. I accepted the chicken, excited as this was the first chicken I had ever received and nervous that it was going to peck my eyes out!!

As we trekked back to the truck with the sun retreating in the west, my mind was full of thoughts of how different people’s lives can be.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Travelling to Tamale

There are so many sights, sounds and stories that I'd like to share with you, but for this post I've chosen to describe our journey to Tamale.

After staying two nights in the busy capital, seven other Junior Fellows (JFs), Luke and I boarded an STC bus headed to Tamale. STC is the state run bus company and apparently one of the more reliable and safe bus lines. Our bus arrived practically on time...only one hour late! It made me realize how much my life is run by the clock at home. We went for the true Ghanaian bus ride experience - another group of JFs caught the bus yesterday but they were spoiled with air conditioning and Nigerian movies!! The bus was full with people sitting all the way down the aisle. No a/c wasn't a problem since when we got going, we really got going and the sweet breeze was enough to keep us cool and send us to sleep.

The backdrop to our journey was the beautiful Ghanaian landscape. In the south it's lush, green hills and as we moved north the land flattened out and the trees became sparse. The few trees that we saw in savannah area were huge, tall and strong - probably a common visualization when thinking of Africa.

Along the way we passed through smaller towns and villages. Women sat by the side of the road with goods to sell and when the bus approached the bargaining would begin. From the bus you can just see the containers holding the goods perched on the womens' heads. Sometimes the bus starts to move again before the transactions are complete. Then you hear the womens' flip flops hitting the pavement to return the change to the customer. On our bus, a man bought a bag of red peppers but the bus pulled out before he could pay. He passed the bag out the window to return it to the woman. The bag hit the ground and the red peppers covered the road. The bus let out a collective "awww".

We arrived in Tamale 12 hours later, tired and excited to explore our new home.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Arriving in Accra

On Monday, we landed in Accra at about 6pm local time. We spent two nights there and arrived in Tamale last night after a long bus ride from Accra. I'll have a more detailed post recounting these events and everything in between soon. For now, I'll just say it's been a really fantastic experience! Every sight, smell, and sound is new and interesting. Everything is different and everyone has been welcoming and friendly. Our senses were definitely overloaded when we arrived in Accra. Here in Tamale, it seems a little calmer. Luke is taking those of us based out of Tamale out this weekend to look at some places to stay. So, hopefully I'll get a little more settled in the next week or so and have time to fully (and properly) describe all the things I've experienced in Ghana so far and post some photos too!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Eating like a Ghanaian

Training has been quite intense over the past four days. We've been learning about cultural integration, development approaches, situations we may encounter overseas and much, much, much, much more! Tonight we got a step closer to actually setting foot on Ghanaian soil by eating a traditional Ghanaian meal of fufu, groundnut stew, fried plantains, fish and beef skin. It was pretty tasty - the swallowing the fufu whole without chewing took a little getting used to though!!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Training Begins

So I was a little nervous and apprehensive about a week of intense training and living in a house in Toronto with 20 other people...but so far it's been great! Other volunteers arrived from all over Canada and we've been really busy, learning lots and getting even more excited about going overseas. More to come later....