29 May 2006

The Storm Report

With May comes the rainy season; the busiest time for farmers, and therefore the busiest time for Ghana, since agriculture makes up a large portion of the economy. We arrived in Accra just a few weeks ago in a hazy humid mess. The rains started almost immediately, turning the brown terrain into a lush green landscape. As we travelled north, the same could be said for Tamale, and we watched as the rains transformed the savannah and brought them to life.

In Damongo, rains have threatened us for a few days. Large, perilous storms which seem certain to hit veer away from us at the last minute. There is a system to these storms that anyone can use to detect their occurrence minutes before they start (besides from looking at the clouds, of course):

The relatively calm Ghanaian air whips into a whirlwind of activitity, picking up with it the deep red sands and the occassional black plastic takeaway bag. These slight winds draw ever stronger, blinding you and pelting sand at your eyes at nearly 80kmh. The sand and wind is followed by an immediate darkness, as the monstrous cumulus clouds move overhead, bringing with them a dark that sets in faster than after an African sunset.

Finally, when the Gods deem Damongo worthy of a rinse, the sky bears fruit to the crops below. The rain, although light at first, pelts at my tin roof with a resounding thud. As the intensity picks up, I notice a hole which lets in the occassional drop.

The children run to gather bins, buckets, pots, and bowls to collect the rainwater. This incoming storm is good news, because if it rains well, we will not have to fetch water for three to four days.

Adisa runs and collects the large metal bowls that she uses to collect water every morning. We give them a quick rinse and run them along the perimetre of the courtyard, allowing the rainwater to fall and collect from the roof of the house. The high-pitched pings of the rain hitting the bowls stands out to the barotone thuds of the grape sized rain drops pounding the corrugated roof panels. We watch as they fill up within seconds, and are careful as we pour them into the awaiting drums which fill slowly as the rain continues. For an hour we sit, wait, and occassially get up to empty another bowl into the drums. Each bowl that fills with rainwater saves one of the women the hike to the borehole.

Only here could so much anticipation come in the first rains. For Ghanaians, the rains mean food security, hydration, and substinence. It is with this anticipation that you realize just how connected to the climate we are in Ghana.

The next time it rains in Canada, I will be sure to think about how much I have invested in the rainfall, and I will be sure to evaluate the amount I rely on the climate for my livelihood. The obvious answer is not much. But what is the right answer?

26 May 2006

A Family Affair

We borrowed a truck from the MoFA office and transported my mattress from the Shangrila to my new home. We were greeted by all of the neighbors as they were about to settle for the last OIC training session before we install the communities cassava processing unit.

As the truck came to a halt outside the family compound, we were joined by dozens of children from all over the community. They seemed to be everywhere. Immediately, they hopped onto the back of the MoFA truck and grabbed my bags. I got out just in time to pick up the mattress. Surrounded by the neighborhood kids, we walked to my room as the women greeted me.

"You are welcome"
"You are welcome"

I dropped my mattress in my room, ensuring there were no kids in its path, and headed back outside into the courtyard of the house. The first wall of the house is a straw interweaving mat which spans about 15 feet to provide some privacy to the compound. Two other walls consist of the existing house structure. Six rooms each with their own access point to the courtyard, sharing the same corrugated steel roofing structure and porch area. Along the rugged edges of the roof are partially rusted steel drums to hold the water that the women transport from the borehole each morning. In the rainy season, the all-purpose water is provided compliments of the slanted roof which pour the water into the drums in large amounts, decreasing the need for the women to trek the 500m to the borehole.

I sit on a wooden bench in the middle of the courtyard, while a flurry of activity takes place around me. The young girls painstakingly wash piles of dishes and prepare them for our dinner, while the boys are moving around furniture, checking water levels, playing with the radio or tinkering with the bikes in the corner.

My Ghanaian mother, Atomi, sits over a charcoal fire preparing the soup we will enjoy, while my senior Ghanaian sister pounds and prods a boiling hot cauldron of maize and ground cassava. She is preparing TZ, a popular starchy dinner meal shared by almost every Ghanaian I have experienced in the evening. The TZ is served in ceramic pots fresh from the stove, and begins to settle immediately. It forms a consistency of JELLO, but is still quite hot. I am served and I dig my fingers in quickly, form a ball, dip it in the stew, made from ground nuts and cassava leaves, and heave it into my mouth before my fingers burn. The food is served so hot, that the options are to either drop the food on the floor to prevent burning your fingers, or tossing it into your mouth, which from Louis' advice, has a higher heat tolerance than fingers. So I toss the TZ into my mouth and let my tongue deal with the heat, and I fan my fingers to cool them before going for more. The process creates a stream of sweat down my face in the cool evening breeze, but I wouldn't have it any other way. We wash and I listen to stories from the family. They are all in Gonja, the local language, but from the body language I can pick up the jist of the story, the helped along by Ali, my senior brother, who speaks English.

As soon as dinner ends, the sun begins to set, and all of Damongo is sent into darkness because of a power-outage. We sit and continue to share stories anyways, and eventually are joined by a ceiling of a billion stars. The black silhouette of the courtyard's date tree, and the corrugated roof provide a blackened border to a sky with so many stars it would seem we have left earth's polluted atmosphere.

The rooms of the house, after baking in the Ghanaian sun for twelve hours under a metal roof, are far too hot for sleeping even though the evening is cool. So the entire family lays in the courtyard of the house under the starlit sky. I join them, and we sleep through the night interrupted by the occasional goat or crying baby. This is the quietest it has been since I arrived in Ghana. a peaceful serenity I am sure to enjoy whenever the power goes out.

At around 10pm, the lights flicker on, the neighborhood cassava grinder returns to normal pace, and the sounds of Gonja music mixed with the occassional Bryan Adams return to the air. The sounds are back, but we stay and sleep in the courtyard anyways.

24 May 2006

The newest group in town

Wednesday May 24th
Today I finally moved in with my host family. I will be staying with the group leader, or 'mother' of one of OIC's new project groups. This new group is undergoing some dramatic changes in their last days before forming this cooperative. They have undergone ten training sessions on everything from business management to how to price their products, and proper sanitation. I was lucky enough to attend the last meeting for these 32 women.

All of the pieces are almost in place for their cassava processing facility. They are just finishing up the groundwork for the new shed that will house the grinder, and the land around it is being flattened in preparation of the cement that will be poured soon. The walls consist of a basic sand, soil, grass and water mixture which is made to a fine paste and hand formed into the wall structure. Concrete will be poured over this structure at a later date, forming the solid walls around which the cassava grinder will be placed.

The meeting goes quickly after I take attendance. I take my time to reach each person's full name and try to match it to their face. They are patient with me, and Patrick flies through the session, ensuring the women understand how to price the cassava processing services that they will soon be offering.

Not only will the women buy cassava from farmers and sell the finished gari themselves, but they will also rent out the equipment to other groups to allow them to process the cassava they have produced to feed their families or sell in return. On the side, the starch is extracted from the water that is squeezed out of the cassava. This starch can go into anything from baked goods to clothing. The entire process and by-products will be looked at indepth at a later date.
The women disperse less than an hour after we meet. They have to prepare dinner so they cannot be kept long. They give me a quick welcoming cheer, and head off in every direction to their families to begin the long process of preparing TZ.

21 May 2006

Analysis Point: Cassava


A Point of Analysis is created once in a while to present problems we are facing in our techniques and processes. They are issued to University of Windsor EWB members, but anyone who reads these blogs are welcome to join and comment in the discussion. These situations are real. Comments and suggestions posted will be taken into consideration into the actual operating procedure of the projects I am involved in. This is an amazing way to have impact overseas from Canada! They will be posted whenever a problem arises that requires research beyond what I am capable of producing in the field. Please be creative, be thorough, and thoughtful in your replies.

Point of Analysis: Cassava Processing Equipment Deterioration

When pressed, cassava releases water that is highly corrosive and eats away at the concrete floor of the building. This creates an uneven floor below the press, which results in the press itself being subjected to uneven pressures and forces, bending the threads for the tightening rods, and eventually rendering the entire press useless. As you can see, this is a very costly issue.

At this Analysis Point, look up the naturally occuring components in cassava and determine which ingredients could be causing the destruction of the concrete. Also, are there any materials that are resistant to this material? Your responses can be posted below in the comments section below this post, or by clicking here.

The bent rod creates uneven pressures in the threads of the press. This results in the tightening rods loosing grip, rendering the press useless.

Things to note: » press in not on level surface » press is exposed to elements (not housed in facility)

This cassava press is operated outside, and has bent compression rods and threading.

The Gombaga Tour

Thursday morning we headed out to Gombaga in the NE area of Ghana. The three hour journey was dotted with various WATSAN and ME project visits, and we were even lucky enough to encounter a borehole project in the drilling phase, a very rare occurance.

Our journey started out on a relatively smooth highway headed north from Tamale, but just as the road to Damongo, things turned rocky. The drive north was beautiful, because Northern Ghana is sprinkled with natural rock formations and escarpments that create a very unique landscape of rocky cliffs with tropical plants and palm trees.

We stopped at many OIC borehole projects, built primarily near schools, and watched as the students pumped for water and slowly filled large metal bowls to carry back to the school. There is a runoff path from each platform that leads to a small pond. Here the water is allowed to stagnate for animals, and keeps them away from the pumping platform, to allow for cleanliness at the water source. The animal pond runs off into a gravel pit where the water is filtered before being returned to the ground source. It is a very innovative process that works without a hitch for the most part, but in some cases, the water was allowed to stagnate too long, and there was severe microbial and algae growth. The cows didn't seem to mind however, and a group being herded past us stopped for a quick drink just long enough for me to snap a quick picture.

In some instances, communities had pooled together the ¢2 000 000 investement required to begin construction of a borehole. Although it is just a fraction of the cost to dig, it is a sizeable investment for which OIC guarantees a return should the initial analysis prove unsuccessful.

After passing through Gombaga, we encountered a rare sight. A drilling maching was in position surrounded by a slew of contractors busily pulling levers and pushing buttons as the drill let out a deafening roar to the hundreds of villagers who had come to see the spectacle. This was probably the most fascinating thing that they would see that day, that is until Marka and myself pulled up in the NGOSUV. The children were not sure whether to stare at the drilling operation, or at us, and were constantly looking back and forth the whole time we were there. We talked to the local drilling coordinator who informed us that this dig was not providing the yields they had hoped for, but they had dug two very successful holes in the days prior.

Contractors drill a new borehole in a community in Northeastern Ghana.

The drilling truck can be seen with the NGOSUV in the background.

Contractors test the flowrate of the new borehole using some pretty basic techniques. They dig a trench from the drill site and into a tube, where they use a bucket and a timer to determine the pressure of the hole that was dug. In this case, the drilling operation was not a huge success, and did not create the flowrate required. They will test it for a few days, and if it does not improve, the location will be abandoned.

The drilling operation was the biggest show in town, and attracted hundreds of people from the village, primarily children. The drilling operation was the biggest spectacle, until we showed up.

We stayed at the Rabito guesthouse that night, and headed back to Gombaga the next morning.

The next day we payed a visit to some millet farms that dotted the countryside, and looked at some OIC-constructed post harvest storage facilities. These were built to prevent immediate spoilage of farmers goods immediately after harvest. Farmers could store food longer to sustain themselves and their families, or store food to sell to market at later dates when it was not flooded with similar product causing drastic price decreases.

Some Interesting Pictures:

A millet farm in rural Ghana. The setting sun provided a spectacular backdrop to our first tour of a rural farm. This is the typical sight in the agricultural parts of Northern Ghana. The soil is very shallow, and below it is clay and bedrock, creating ideal soil erosion situations which are hard to cope with.

A post-harvest lost storage house at the same millet farm pictured above. This shed allows farmers to store their harvest for longer periods of time to sustain their family or sell to market with their product is not readily avaiable. This allows them to make a maximum profit for their product. Not too shabby.

18 May 2006

The Damongo Tour

My first mistake was to plan out an agenda for my first week of work.

We arrived promptly at 8AM Monday, May 15th for our first day of work, and waited in the Conference Room for instructions. After one or two hours we assumed that they were still getting things together, but after 4 hours, we realized something was up. Mondays are planning days at OICT, so down the hall behind the closed oak door of the PM's office, the district managers were busily reviewing their operations for the last week, criticizing, learning, and growing, with the Program Manager. The meeting began shortly after 9am, at which point Marka and myself were to be driven to one of OIC's training centres nearby. However, in the isolation of the Conference Room, we sat ignorantly for hours on end, reading months of old newspapers from across the region. (Newspapers and the media will be discussed in a more indepth report in July).

It wasn't until we enquired about stepping out for lunch did the managers realize we had never actually left the building and since it was our first day, we did not want to interrupt such a critical planning meeting. So we went for lunch and came back to discover that there was no transportation available for the afternoon because all of the NGOSUVs were taken, and we began the long journey back home, thus concluding our first day of work with OIC.

The rest of the week would prove to be extraordinary.

On Tuesday morning we met with Osmund, the regional Micro-Enterprise Coordinator and my boss. We packed a few things and headed for Damongo in our NGOSUV. Damongo is where I will be based, but since we were just being given an overview of all OICT projects, I would return to Tamale the next day. The road to Damongo is in rough shape. The first half hour is paved, but the highway turns south to Kumasi, at which point we take a right turn and head down a rocky path that challenges some of Canada's best off road courses. The further along the road we went, the deeper the red of the earth; at times appearing almost as a path of lava that spewed up behind our heads as we sped down in the NGOSUV.

The Road to Damongo in the NGOSUV

Cows flee to avoid the NGOSUV

Suprisingly, in just over an hour, we arrived in Damongo, after hearing that the trek would take approximately four hours. We settled into our accomodations, and I immediately took a nap. We met at six again with Osmund, and went to find some dinner. After dinner, we started to visit some OIC projects in the area. Damongo is the destination for several OIC initiatives, such as cassava processing, bee keeping, and a few other various training centres.

We started by visiting a local cassava processing unit operated by a group of women. While only some member women were present, and the chief was nowhere to be found, we got a quick tour of the facility, but the shed in which the cassava grinder could be found was locked, so we would have to return the next day.

Osmund explained to us the new technologies that were used to process cassava, to create a dry ground final product called gari.

The OIC signboard which designates each OIC funded project in Northern Ghana. Here, the signboard introduces one of our cassava processing facilities. The 20' x 10' covered concrete slab houses a shed which contains a cassava shredder attached to a small diesel engine, and another area where the cassava is pressed, bagged, and sorted.

The cassava grinder housed in the shed can grate cassava at a much faster rate than using conventional methods. This allows faster processing and increased gari production.

Pictured right is the cassava press which compresses the
sacs of cassava to extract water. This press is the focus of our first Point of Analysis.

The gari processing is very intensive and labourious. When women used to process it entirely by hand, it would be ground using an unrolled tin with holes punctured through it with sticks. The women would grind the cassava against the can, which was nailed to two sticks at each end to keep it straight. They would then sac the ground cassava, and smash the sac between rocks to extract water. The dried final product is gari.

The new process, pictured above, uses a cassava grinder (the women must first peel the cassava), and then the ground cassava is placed in burlap sacs and pressed for several hours using the cassava press. The smell of the pressed cassava is quite foul, and the runoff water is so corrosive, that it eats through the concrete floor of the cassava processing centre. This is the focus of my new Analysis Point (please see post titled "Analysis Point"

The first women's group we visited has been succesfully operating their cassava processing unit for several years. Their press is on uneven ground however, and it would be ideal to prevent further bending of the materials before it happens.

Another cooperative we ventured to that evening was not as successful. The petrol generator was in poor condition, and had to be taken in for servicing. We discovered the group had often let the gas run dry before refuelling, allowing sediments from the fuel into the engine and damaging one of the pistons.

There were three different centres we visited in our two day stay in Damongo. Each will be reviewed and analysed more indepth at a later date when I begin working with these groups on a regular basis.

We returned to Tamale Wednesday night and I fell ill from the lunch we had eaten. It was a rough night, but I was lucky enough to have a semi-functioning toilet close at hand. I would have to recover quickly however, because on Thursday morning, Marka and myself would travel to the far Northeastern region of Ghana, to visit Gombaga, the area where she will be based.

14 May 2006

Q: What am I doing?

I will be based out of Damongo, in the West Ganja District of Northern Ghana. Projects I will be involved with include a cassava processing system, or gari processing, as well as a beehive implementation system, for honey processing in the Northern Region. All programs will focus on the empowerment of women in the projects, and bring about new income-generating techniques for thousands of people who earn less than $1 a day.

My specific project, Micro-Enterprise, focuses on building economies which are not only sustainable, but welcome, because they are fostered and supported by local people who are investing in their own achievements and lifting themselves out of poverty in a true entrepreneurial spirit. To do this, we examine local communities and determine if a specific technology is appropriate for their use, and together with the community develop a plan to implement the technology.

I will travel to different regions throughout Ghana on a daily basis to work with women's groups and communities on their plans for processing equipment. Most of the travelling will take place on a motorbike, with some Ghanaian travel books and my laptop thrown over my shoulder. I will be on the road quite a bit, and will report as much as often.

After this first week in Ghana, I will be posting rather infrequently, but be assured that you will be taken along for all of these amazing journeys.

The Agenda Week 2

A look at the week ahead:

Monday May 15th - Friday May 19th, 2006

Monday - My first full day of work with OIC. I will outline my project goals and outlines for the rest of the placement, and pack my things before I finally leave Tamale for good.

Tuesday - OIC will be taking Marka and myself to Damongo, where we will start our respective projects with our field officers. Marka will be analyzing bore hole placements, while I will be looking at cassava processing units and honey production systems for rural womens' groups.

Wednesday - settle into Damongo and start looking for a host family. I am home.

Saturday - I will venture into Mole National Park for the first time, the main tourist attraction in all of Ghana. I will be based just minutes away from the main gates, so will probably frequent this attraction or become a tour-guide for the other EWB volunteers who venture up to this region.



Friday, May 12th, 2006

Friday was NGO day. Tamale is the NGO capital of the world, and it lived up to its name as we entered the NGO sector of the city, where Oxfam and WorldVision catherals sit behind guarded gates and thorn-ridden walls. OIC was down the same road as Oxfam. Luke took us over as a group and we all split up to go meet our respective partners. We did not realize that OIC was much further down the road than we originally planned, and we also took a few wrong turns because the signboards directing us in the proper direction had been removed. We ended up arriving at OIC an hour late. A great first impression for a new partner organization to think about Engineers Without Borders. However, in Ghanaian fashion, were were just in time. The regional coordinator left for another meeting, but we were able to meet with our local directors, as well as meet some of the staff. We booked another meeting for 2pm that day, and then headed off to the main road to find our way to Luke's office.

We were introduced to Nancy Cosway, who works for the Canadian High Commission. She has been living in Tamale for many years, and is in charge of contacting all Canadians in the region if there is an emergency. This is an extra precaution that goes beyond EWB's already stringent Emergency Response Plan (ERP), but comforting to know that the government will be aware of our location if there is an immediate danger. She was also a nurse and offered to help us out with any health concerns.

After filling out the forms, we headed out to Luke's favourite lunch spot for some fried yams. They are served with hot sauce, curry powder, and a beef sauce, and were so good that Marka and myself returned for dinner after work.

In the afternoon, we returned to OIC and met with our respective regional reps. Marka met with Patrick, the WATSAN (Water & Sanitation) Coordinator in Tamale, and I met with Osmund, who co-ordinates the Micro-Enterprise operations of OIC. The size of the organization is truly phenomenal for such a successful NGO. These were just two of the four areas in which OIC operates, and it has operations in seven districts throughout northern Ghana.

We finished our meetings, met with the Program Coordinator, and headed home in time to attend the farewell party for Tom and Eli. They are two long-term EWB volunteers who have been involved with the organization from the start. This summer, they will be trekking across Africa by bike, boat and foot as an awareness campaign for EWB in Canada. Their blogs and reports will be linked from here when they become available. We met at Tom's house and sat in a big group of about 30 people, sipping Fanta's, sharing stories and digestive cookies. After mingling with Tom's Tamale friends for some time, we headed to a local drinking spot, rightly called Point Seven. We enjoyed some Star Lager, which turned out to be a fantastic beer, which can be enjoyed in 750mL portions for just c7,000.

We headed home at around 12:30 for the weekend.

That was Day Four.

Pictures from Day Four are not yet available. Stay Tuned.

11 May 2006

The Tamale Tour


Thursday, May 11th, 2006

Thursday morning was my first chance to catch up on almost three weeks of poor sleep. The girls returned with mangoes and plantains just as I finished my bucket shower. As we sat around eating fruit the school beside the hotel was singing songs. The goats and sheep around town were making their presence known, and the hotel managers sat in the tiny office watching a football match. All these sounds combined were quite overwhelming, and are just another image that will never leave me. We headed out to the market to forage for food and check out what Tamale had to offer. Finding food was much more difficult than I could have ever imagined. There were very few fresh vegetables, but an abundance of miniature mangoes and raw okra. Not too many options for a meal. There was also fresh cut meat everywhere, but since we were staying at a hotel and had no way to prepare the meal, this was also not an option. We finally settled on a loaf of bread and some plantains. Unfortunately, finding the essentials I required, such as a transformer for my battery charger, or an adapter for my cell phone proved much harder than I thought it would be. I eventually found everything I needed after walking around for several hours.

We ended off Thursday by going out for a few drinks at the local drinking spot before some of us left the next day. As it turns out, only Ben would end up leaving, and would return the next night for a party to give a proper send off to Tom and Eli (Their adventure will be explained soon).

We returned home and were in bed by 11. It would seem things are finally calming down, atleast until I meet with my NGO tomorrow.

This was Day Three.

10 May 2006

The Road to Tamale


Wednesday, May 10th, 2006

After having trouble sleeping, I relaxed on the terrace of the hotel and watched the sunrise in Africa for the first time. By 5:45 everyone else was up, and we hastily packed and headed out to the State Transport bus terminal to board our bus to Accra. The scheduled departure for the bus was 8am, but the bus didn't actually arrive to the terminal until around 9am. We thought this was a disturbance, but from what we knew about the culture, we had come to expect it. The MoFArians, who had left the day before, had actually waited almost 5 hours to depart. We boarded the bus for our 12 hour journey to Tamale.

We left Accra, and headed NW through Koforidua through lush rainforests and an expansive construction project that saw most of the infrastructure of the highway being rebuilt. At first the delay did not bother us too much, but the same could not be said for the driver. The rest of the journey was spent at speeds not much lower than 120kmh, with many close calls, and even some smaller vehicles being forced off the road.

PHOTO CAPTION: Luke Brown, LTOV from Western, sits in the aisle for the trip to Tamale. His seat offered a poor view and poorer back support, but he took it all with a grin.

Ghanaian roads are amongst the most dangerous in the world, and this is something that I can certainly speak for. As evening approached, the impending thunderstorm and darkness did not ease our fears.

We travelled through Kumasi to Sunyani, as the lush rainforest gradually decreased in density until it became savannah. This occurred as darkness fell over the country, and the rains hit.

PHOTO CAPTION: The scenery slowly shifts from beautiful rainforest to a sparse savannah. This picture was taken during travel as we passed Kumasi.

Every three hours throughout the journey, we stopped at a local ST station for bathroom breaks and some snacks. Being relatively new to the culture, we stuck to what looked familiar. Plantains, loaves of sugar bread, salted plantain chips, and of course, sachet water packs, a phenomenon I will explain in detail when I look at water and sanitation indepth at a later date.

When not at a rest stop, the bus is approached by dozens of women selling everything from napkins, to q-tips, to 20 gallon jugs of olive oil, all perched mercilessly on their heads in quanities you could not imagine unless you saw it in person. They surround the bus yelling what they are selling as soon as it slows to below 20kmh.

In urban areas where the bus is slowed down, a large crowd forms outside the bus, and as we again pick up speed, the sounds of dozens of flip-flops cracking against the compacted dirt echoes through the bus. These sounds are of the women running alongside the bus, trying to complete their transactions. In some instances, the bus pulls away too quickly, leaving some bus passengers with product they have not yet paid for, or in other instances, have paid for or not yet received their change. In each of these circumstances, the issue was resolved in a number of ways.

Usually, when a transaction goes incomplete, most passengers yell at the driver to stop or slowdown so that the merchants can collect their money or returned product.

PHOTO CAPTION: As the bus speeds past village after village, we take in the sights and sounds of Western Ghana at 130kmh.

In other cases, the women toss off their flip-flops, raise their skirt to their knees, and sprint alongside the bus until they are in arms reach to return the change they took from the customer.

Lastly, if all else fails, the customer will return the product if it has not yet been paid for. Such an incident occurred several times on our day long journey to Tamale. One being when a bag of red peppers was not paid for, the passenger through the bag onto the side of the road, only to see the bag split open and peppers roll in every direction. The bus let out a unanimous moan, but the woman was still grateful that the product was returned.

In no circumstance was an item taken without being paid for, or no change returned. This is the social framework on which Ghanaians operate. One that I will get used to rather quickly.

The red dirt of the savannah rises up in an impenetrable cloud as we speed across the western region, slowing down for few if any other objects or people. The logging trucks take up most of the road, with their rainforest stumps weighing down the truck to the point of tipping. We wearily pass them, and in some instances, do so with just centimeters to spare between the truck and our bus.

This goes on long into the night, and we arrive in Tamale at 10pm. 13 hours after our journey has begun. We have arrived in Tamale.

This was Day Two.

09 May 2006

The Accra Tour


Tuesday, May 9th, 2006

We pulled into the House of Lords hotel last night quite late, but immediately ventured out to experience the night market we had passed on the way in. Luke Brown, a long-term EWB volunteer from Western showed us around and at one of the first booths we encountered, we met a woman selling kenke, a fermented maize dough, with some onions, fish sauce, and some other spicy items. It was an interesting mix with the fermented corn and spicy sauces, and did not sit entirely well with me. Half of the group split up and found a restaurant further away and enjoyed some benke with ground-nut stew.

We later ventured back to the hotel and fell asleep quickly from the two days of travel we had just endured. The next morning, the group of 23 was split up. 12 people, working for the Ghanaian Ministry of Food and Agriculture, left for a bus to Tamale to meet their host families, directors, etc.

This is where our stories split. The MoFA people had quite an adventure getting to Tamale. To read their story, please read one of the following blogs (the links can be found to the right):

Apoorva, Jeff, Jamaal, Dave, Elisa, Chloe, Dan, Jeff, Deborah, Jon, Mike and Ghislaine will be working with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. After 10 days of being together, they have separated and left for Tamale, a destination we will head to tomorrow.

Tuesday morning, those who remained at the House of Lords, myself, Marka, Troy, Mari, Jess, Bryn, Ben, Ian, Sabrina & Samina and Sarah, were left in the hotel to sleep in a little until around 9am. Those working with KITE, Troy, Mari and Jess, ran some errands with Monica, an LTOV, while the remaining eight of us set off to the market in Accra for the day.

We traversed the market for an hour or two and split up into smaller groups. The market was almost entirely indoors in a multi-floored building that resembled a parking garage. The exterior was painted bright yellow, and the perimeter was filled with women selling everything from salted fish to tomatoes and mangoes. The smells from the market were immense, and followed you to the upper floors, which were primarily dealing with textiles. We met a few women who we talked to for a while, introducing ourselves with the Ghanaian names we were given during pre-departure training. My Ghanaian name is Akwonko, meaning Wednesday-born.

Midway through our discussion, the bustling sounds of hundreds of sewing machines ground to a halt and we experienced our first Accra power-failure. The women in the market said it was a rare occurrence, happening only a few times a month. However in the 24 hours we remained in Accra, it would occur three more times.

In the darkness of the indoor market women stuffed into tiny cubicles quickly salvaged what they could of their work after the power went out. They sat patiently by their machines, waiting for the power to return so they could get back to work to prepare their customers clothing. The sound of diesel generators could be heard in the distance, and for the most part, all that could be heard now was traffic. The people in the market were rather quiet, no longer having to scream over the sound of the sewing machines.

We headed downstairs to find a meal, and met up with the other JFs just as the power came on.

We travelled to the tro-tro station across the street, and found a ride to Jamestown, at the south end of Accra and on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

Upon reaching Jamestown, we met a man, ironically enough named James. He showed us the way to the coast and showed us the Jamestown Fort which was built by the British in the late 19th century, and used during the Slave Trade. It is now a prison, and its high red mud-brick walls were adorned with crowns of sharded glass and iron spikes protruding from their topmost surface.

We headed down to the beach on the very roads built to transfer slaves to their awaiting ships, and encountered a rather quiet and subdued fishing market. A few boats were anchored in the harbour, empty, with their nets drawn and folded neatly over the bow. The rest were on shore, either in maintenance or pointed at the sea in anticipation of the next fishing trip. James later informed us that since it was Tuesday, there would be little to no fishing taking place. This is because it was the 2nd day of the week, or the day God created Water. As a symbolic gesture, fishermen pass on their lucrative yields for another day, and rest on the shores or visit family.

After leaving the beach, we ventured to a drinking spot and enjoyed some Fantas with James. We discovered that he is a teacher of history and religions in a high school in Accra. He had much to say of Ghana's past, political status, and the pride that every Ghanaian has in his country. His main focal points and pride in Ghana came in two aspects:

Ghana is Free.

Ghana is Peaceful.

There was no greater atmosphere in which James wished to raise his family, whom he spoke of proudly, and would later introduce us to.

He showed us the way back to the tro-tro from where we came and we headed back to the hotel, late in the day and exhausted from our journey through Accra. We set our mental alarm for 5:45 the next day, which would prove much more adventurous, with a 12 hour busride to Tamale, in the Northern Region. However I had much trouble sleeping as I could not help but reflect on the lessons we had learned, and the journey we were about to embark on.

This was Day One.

08 May 2006

Welcome to Ghana

Thank you everyone for e-mailing your concerns and requests for pictures and information. I have arrived safely in Tamale, Ghana after nearly four days of travelling. The journey is not yet over, however, and after meeting with my partner NGO tomorrow morning, I will travel to Domonga, Ghana, in the Northern Region where I will spend the majority of my placement.

I am slowly compiling records of each of the days I have spent here so far. I will post when it becomes feasible. As for photos, the files are large, and I have not yet figured out a way to get them uploaded yet. I can assure you, the pictures are beautiful, and for a taste of what we have seen, please browse the other JF blogs whose links can be found down the right menu of this page.

Composing the first week into this blog will take some time, likely several weeks, as I will be spending much time rocketing across the Northern Region of Ghana.

Also, for the people keeping track, I will be sure to post each city we visit.

Until I post again, take care, and please leave comments on the blog. I will not be checking my e-mail too often, and I will not be sending replies to any e-mails, except for extreme circumstances.

The Sahara


With a last minute breakfast in Toronto, Danny (UofA EWB Canada Intern), and my coach for this JFID placement, took us for Mexican food seemingly to mock us as we were about to endure several days of travel. The meal went down well however, as did his advice informing us of EWBs expectations for filing reports and questions about our work overseas.

With some last minute packing, we left for the airport, and were in Amsterdam after a few scotches, beers and wines and a short nap. In Amsterdam, we generally split up and some headed to the roof of the airport to get in some fresh air before the next leg. I made the mistake of staying indoors the whole time on a beautiful day in the city. However before we knew it, we were off again on our second flight, a strikingly beautiful flight directly south to Accra over the Sahara Desert. Scattered across the vast wasteland were blowing sand dunes and tiny villages near small oasis' of trees and lakes.

After a little more wine, we arrived in Accra in a humid night. We boarded the shuttle bus which drove us the 30m from the airplane to the terminal (we were not allowed to walk), and we flew through immigration. We left the airport to hectic scenes of chaos in the perimeter of the terminal. We were in Accra, Ghana.

Monday Night 7pm Ghana time.

06 May 2006

The training photos

Sorry about the lack of feedback.

I have attached some pictures that should hold you down until I arrive and get settled in Ghana.

Pre-Departure training has been incredibly intense and eye-opening.

CAPTION: JF trainees relax outside during a one week intensive training session in Toronto.

CAPTION: Fellows sit through a three-hour Q&A session with the co-founders and CEOs of EWB Canada.

CAPTION: EWB members in the training house after a Ghanaian dinner. There are 27 people staying at the EWB house, with two bathrooms, one shower, three bedrooms, 7 bunkbeds, and 9 air mattresses.

01 May 2006

The Training

Good Evening

Well my camera problems have been solved. I picked up a new one the morning of my arrival in Toronto.

After a meeting with Louis, Director of West Africa Projects for EWB, I have also discovered more information regarding my exact location when we arrive in Ghana. Rather than being based in Tamale, I will be based four hours to the west, in a smaller town working on irrigation and agriculture projects in the northern region.

EWB members have settled into the house, and things are tight. I have attached some photos for your enjoyment.

Training has been intense, and quite indepth, including sessions with the EWB travel doctor discussing everything from cushion worms to rabid dog bites. We have looked at the cultural differences we will experience once we get on the ground, and got a sneak peak behind EWB after some Ethiopian food at a local restaurant. The training sessions have been split into two groups, one representing the Ministry of Food & Agriculture, and the other for the various other placements, of which I am a part.

The idea of creating a new partnership between OICI and EWB is very exciting, and I look forward to being a part of the long-term relationship that can come from this placement.

I will have more info coming soon, such as the location of my new placement, and some answers to the many questions you have sent via email.

Good night.