SARAH'S SUMMER IN GHANA

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!