22 August 2006

Long Term Placement in Canada

The time has flown way too quickly for me to handle. The last two months have been a blur. I'm sitting in an internet cafe in the capital of Ghana, Accra, with just hours left before my flight.

I'v just gotten the word from Louis. I have been accepted for a long-term placement in Windsor, ON, Canada. My partner organisation is Engineers Without Borders Canada and my goal for the placement: Make Canada the most pro-development nation on earth. Seems easy enough.

The biggest decision I have to make right now is what I will eat for lunch. Should I get banku or kenkey, easily available in the south, or should I seek out some TZ, which could take hours. It will be years before I get to enjoy my favourite foods again. There are rumours from others who have visited North America that a majority of the foods they consume are processed.

People have to buy food and goods from corporations who sell items in large warehouses called supermarkets. You can't walk down the street and buy a fresh pineapple or coconut. There are no street vendors or market stalls to buy fresh meat or vegetable any time of day. If I want an egg omelette, I have to go to a restaurant! There are no street vendors who sell them all day and night.

Also, I've heard that Canadians hardly greet each other. How then do they form relationships with their neighbors? What must their communities be like if they don't sit around the street drinking porridge or pito (maize beer)? How then do they communicate?

How do Canadians get their food? I met a Canadian once and he told me there were very few farmers in Canada. Do most people understand or know where their food comes from? Do they know which foods are imported, and which are prevented from being imported due to tarriffs and subidies? Do Canadians know how their country treats coffee or wheat or milk producers in other nations?

My Canadian friend also told me that any time they turn on the tap, it is always running. He also told me that electricity is in good supply and rarely cuts out. People don't have bucket showers, but rather hot showers right from the taps. Not very many people have to fetch water, and on average a Canadian uses over 150L of water a day!

I don't believe what these Canadians have told me, but I will see for myself tomorrow when I arrive in Toronto, the capital of Ontario. My placement will probably last quite some time, as the task I have been assigned is quite large. From the time of arrival, however, I will be counting down the days until my return to beautiful Ghana.

14 August 2006

Damongo Snaps

A collection of photos from Damongo, to serve as an introduction to the community which has been my home for three months.

The mosque that Al-Haji built. My Neighbour, Al-Haji, spent the majority of the last three months constructing a mosque between our houses. Often, with some free time in the afternoon or a lazy Sunday, I would help weave the palm leaf roof, or set branch trusses. It was an incredible experience to learn local building techniques which have provided shelter for hundreds of years.
Goats love to climb. They love the feeling of being up high. So if there is a pile of rocks, or a misplaced log, or even a fast moving pile of sand, be assured that it will have one or several goats clamouring to be "King of the Mountain." It is assumed that if you bend over to tie your shoes, you will have a goat on your back before you know it. That is why everyone in Ghana wears sandals. True story.
This tree has an interesting story. After falling over almost 20 years ago, the lower branches became sheep fodder while the upper branches slowly turned skyward, and the newly exposed roots slowly turned towards the now-distant ground. The result is a fascinating tree near the cassava centre that provides ample shade and roofing for our group's meetings and training sessions.

Black & White

This indepth report on race and its classifications of myself and other JFs lacks the political correctness that would censor a similar work in another environment. We are, after all, merely a product of our surroundings.


The warnings were present at our pre-departure sessions in Ghana; from here-in, everyone would be referred to as white, no matter what their background or cultural heritage, which in the case of this round of JF's, was as diverse as the various communities from which we had originated.

Disregarding this info, I was expecting people to be able to differentiate my white colleagues from myself on the ground, but what I discovered shocked me.

Obruni & Salaminga are terms used to define white people, and calling any one of the JFs this term upon our arrival back in Canada will surely result in a back-handed slap to some portion of the head, after hearing the term profusely for the last four months. Either that, or the person will respond automatically without a second-thought.

Such a blatant recognition, or dis-classification of race is a rare and impossible occurrence in Canada, whose extreme political correctness cloaks any obvious recognition of physical differentiation. Such is not the case in Ghana, especially in rural areas.

Upon arriving in Ghana, I was surprised that what they had told me at Pre-Dep was correct; I would be confused with a white person on a regular basis. Few people would detect my Indian heritage, and when they did, they would refer to me as 'India-man' hardly less jolting than being referred to as white.

In the first weeks and months, travelling to the north from Accra and throughout the Northern Region, I became accustomed to several different terms for 'white man', ranging from obruni, to salaminga, to local terms for Sunday-born, which should have prepared me for the name I received upon my arrival in Damongo:


From my initial days exploring my new home, the children's calls perplexed me.

"Kobruni Fatha" they would scream with huge grins on their face, in as high a pitch as possible without making my ears bleed, often followed by an equally high-pitched "hallow!"

The english term, loosely translated is 'white priest', which, just like the term Sunday-born, hails to Ghana's Colonial and Missionary past in which the first white settlers were primarily focused on religious conquerings and assimilation. The fact that it was being stated by the youngest of children was proof that it is a term still taught in the schools and in the home, and generally, any presence of whites in these rural areas had primarily religious purposes for the past century.
Why this term is used in Damongo is beyond me. Damongo sees its share of Westerners thanks to Mole National Park, which sits just 25kms down a dusty trail to the north. These people rarely leave the bus, however, and buy oranges and water through the window to the women who have the baskets propped on their heads making for an easy transaction.

Even more astonishing (and further evidence that the term white is a blanket term to cover people who are not black) was the continued confusion between myself, and a UVic JF, Dan Beck, who also calls Damongo his home. On book-swapping or battery-charging trips to his home, I would enter his neighborhood, and often be greeted with: "Dan Aninwulaa", or "Good Evening Dan". People could not differentiate us, even though when seated together, similarities are hard to come by.

Dan encountered the same phenomenon when walking down the dirt path to my home, often hearing "Kyle Maraaba", or "Kyle welcome!" Even in the market it became a problem when one would be referred to as the other. An attempted explanation in our poor Gonja would simply bring a look of confusion and dismay upon the person who was greeting us in the first place.

Despite the inability to differentiate non-blacks, many people have absolutely no problem spotting a Westerner from the furthest distance, or in the poorest light. Even I, whose tanned brown skin has darkened several shades since my arrival in May, am noticeable in the darkest evenings when the moon is blocked by the cumulus clouds of the rainy season and my visibility extends not an inch beyond my eyes. In night time situations where it is hard to discern ground from open sewer, I step carefully, and it is perhaps my awkward movements that make me so obvious to those around me. "Kyle Aninwulaa" says my neighbor, who I didn't even know was there until she spoke, seemingly into my ear, causing me to jump. "Awoo", I say, stuttering from surprise, in cordial response to a Gonja greeting.

Whether it is night-vision or obruni radar, the classifications placed on my shoulders have been pretty interesting for the last four months. Even more so considering that India is the second-largest investor in Ghana, and other noticeably different cultures, such as Lebanon, China, and Japan, are well represented. Perhaps it is evidence of the lack of foreign investment in the north, or the low levels of interaction between foreigners and rural Ghanaians.

Whatever the case may be, we are but a product of our surroundings, regardless of the colour of our skin.

13 August 2006

The Poverty Sampler Pack

First, a note about the text below. This is meant merely as a specific look at circumstances which I have encountered at specific times regarding the general definition of poverty. It is not an indepth look into average Ghanaian life. It is a description, however inaccurate, of how millions of people survive, and the staggering numbers which hold humanity by the neck. This is the Poverty Sampler Pack.

3 billion people all share one condition: Poverty.

Under varying circumstances, poverty is a blanket term which is used to describe the lack of opportunities which face almost half of the entire planet's population for one reason or another.


There was a glaring omission in my indepth accommodations report from last month. I forgot to mention a particular location which I stayed at for under a week, yet had a profound impact on my views of the world around me.

Upon my arrival in Damongo, and before I found a host family, I was housed at a compound known as the Shangrilah (the actual name is unknown, but this is what I refer to it as). Colourfully painted and well maintained was it's exterior, and friendly and cordial were its inhabitants.

However the people living in this compound had no proper access to latrines or toilets. Indeed, the people who live at the Shangrilah have to defecate in the bush. These ten inhabitants are just a tiny fraction of a much more staggering fact.

2.4 billion people, or almost 40% of the world's population, do not have access to appropriate sanitary conditions.

Perhaps what shocked me most was that the people living at the Shangrilah are teachers, NGO workers, and businessmen and women. Their relative income is quite high, and they speak openly of the resources they have been denied. The problem stems from a landlord who promised to install the appropriate equipment as soon as he was able to rent out the entire complex. This was accomplished almost two years ago, and still no progress has been made.

The tenants, bound by contracts or lack of other housing, stay regardless, and add a new, educated face to the poverty that I have read about and experienced for the last three months. Poverty not only affects those with a lack of income, but also with a lack of appropriate resources or choices.

Access to appropriate sanitation is perhaps one of the largest issues facing the developing world today, and breeds avoidable conditions such as diarrhea which claim the lives of thousands of people.


When I returned to Damongo after the Ghana retreat in mid-July (a retreat in which I was reunited with the 10 colleagues which I had trained with for just six days before departing for Ghana, but felt like I was reuniting with childhood friends) I quickly settled down into the rural lifestyle I had been accustomed to. However just days later, our family was denied one of the luxuries we had enjoyed for the previous months.

Ghana's hydroelectric system is the legacy of the first President of it's independence, Kwame Nkrumah, who erected a dam so large that it created the world's biggest artificial lake (Lake Volta), and provided enough electricity to power the entire nation.

It is from this dam that Ghana's ever sprawling energy grid expands.

The various utility commissions in Ghana are quite abrupt when it comes to past-due bills and overdue payments. The national newspapers often publish a list of customers whose accounts have summed up millions of cedis in charges. This, along with a tendency to disconnect an entire neighborhood of electricity when only a few of it's inhabitants have not paid is a way to be certain of receiving payments on late accounts.

One day, while reading in the courtyard, a commotion broke out just outside the boundaries of our home; some meter-readers had arrived and were insisting that we had not paid our electricity bills. Having not yet received the receipt of payment, my father had little other than his personal assurance that we had paid the bills. This was not enough to satisfy the workers, however, and they cut our power source (as physically as it sounds, with really big scissors).

This blanketed the household in darkness and added myself and my family to another statistic.

400 million households do not have access to electricity.

This denies them the simple enjoyments of listening to the radio and lighting their compounds in darkness, but also increases the use and need of propane torches, charcoal, fuelwood, and other costly measures which are required to prepare food and illumination in these rural households.

The provision of rural energy can have tremendous impact on livelihoods and the quality of life which people enjoy.


Chilled water in Ghana is available on every street corner, either in locally-produced clear plastic bags, called ice-water, which is rarely anything more than chilled bore-hole or tapwater, or fancy sealed sachet packets carted in lorries across the country from Accra, under various labels and brands, each of which promises to be purer than the next. The prices range from ¢100 to ¢500, depending on your geographical location, and in most cases are completely safe for human consumption.

There are a few still, however, that either cannot afford this source of water, or live in too remote a place for the hawkers to sell their chilled bags. These rural villagers, in many areas of Ghana, form a group of people that share the same condition:

1.2 billion people lack access to clean water.

Decades of development in Ghana have left the countryside dotted with boreholes and wells, each in varying states of operation, if they run at all. Borehole water provides a safe, reliable source of groundwater for washing, cooking, and consuming, and indeed has sustained myself for the duration of my placement, and my family for years beforehand. However in portions of Ghana, which experiences a prolonged dry season, the water table sits very low, requiring special equipment to dig deep enough to access the water. This cost (about ¢9 000 000), just for the drilling alone, prevent such water sources from being feasible in every community, and when they are, they are the lone source of clean water.

Damongo is blessed with having multiple bore-holes dotted around the community, and sometimes clustered over good groundwater sources, helping prevent both bottle-necks for water and complete reliance on one pump, which when broken requires women to collect water from unreliable and frequently contaminated watering holes.

Such pumps we have discovered in many smaller villages around the region where the borehole pump has been rendered useless over time, and the organizations or people who first installed the pump are nowhere to be found. Water being an everyday essential regardless of circumstances, requires that people find any source they can, no matter how unsafe it may be.


Ghana's enormous dependence on agriculture in the north spells disaster when the rainy season fails to provide appropriate fruits, and adequate substinence when the rains are good. This dependence and lack of diversity of income means that many Ghanaians fall under the category which the UN uses to describe 'exteme poverty', whose umbrella covers the

1.2 billion people who make less than $1 a day.

These people live from the hand, to the mouth, without savings or banks and usually being uncertain of their long-term prospects. Having little capital and title, they fight to acquire loans from Ghana's weary banks, and struggle to make ends meet on a daily basis. This struggle forms their lives, and consumes their time to an almost infinite degree. Having spent just a handful of days farming, I appreciate the work that has gone into these endeavours, and quite selfishly was pleased that it was not something that I would have to endure for an extended period of time. But what of these farmers, who struggle for their livelihoods? How am I to merely sample this struggle and not feel as if I am just scratching the surface; just getting a taste.

Thus I have titled this post 'Poverty Sampler Pack'; a term coined to describe my integration into a society which is termed impoverished by the international community, as defined by one of the circumstances above. The reason for this title is simple. My escape from poverty has been booked on a KLM flight on August 22nd. I will leave behind my lack of opportunity, because my choices are many and I have been granted the sheer luck of being born into a society of abundance. There is a helpless feeling that comes with having a ladder out of the drowning pool. A pool which is being continuously filled by the economic super powers, whose policies and ideologies are making it almost impossible for millions of people around the world to escape the poverty that leaches their creativity and prosperity. This feeling is what has driven me to such a barbaric title, and will be my fuel for the fervor I will unleash upon to my return to Canada.

12 August 2006


One of the biggest adjustments one must make upon entering Ghana is to the pallette, and consequently, the entire digestive tract, with which many battles are fought in the first weeks of integration.

Ghana's food choices are many, which is a shock considering the few food items it imports and the scarcity in its selection of locally grown and produced goods.

With the basic crops consisting of cassava, maize, yams, groundnuts, and a few other legumes, the basic diet of the Northern Ghanaian is formed. With the addition of readily avaiable meats such as goats, cow, guinea fowl and chicken, and seasonal fruits such as mangoes, watermelon, pineapple and plantains, there is an enormous offering of products which cater to breakfast, dinner and everything in between (like lunch!).


Maize, or corn to you Canadians reading this blog (which surprisingly makes up only 60% of my readership), was to the best of my memory only prepared by the process of boiling, and afterwards served whole, 'on the cob' as they say, perhaps with some butter.

This familiar style of preparation is one that I could not find until late July in Ghana, despite the readily avaiable milled maize (dried maize kernels which have been ground into a fine powder) despite its popularity back home. This was, as I would later discover, because maize was just entering its harvest season in early July, and the maize products I had been consuming since my arrival were the stored remnants of previous harvests.

Until the discovery of boiled maize, which was the sweetest and most brilliant corn-on-the-cob I have ever encountered, I had grown accustomed to maize in almost every form. It made a large portion of my daily diet.

In the morning, I awoke to porride, or coco, which is a fermented and well spiced maize concoction which I have alluded to in previous posts. It is sometimes served with fermented maize balls which are fried in shea nut oil and occasionally sprinkled with sugar which seem to be unique to this region. In lunch form, maize can be roasted whole, which was also a recent occurrence after the harvest season began, where it is boiled slightly, cooked over charcoal, and lightly salted for a crunchy snack, or it can be fermented, wrapped in leaves, and cooked to create kenkey, served with a spicy pepper-tomato based salsa, and a side of smoked fish. If fermented maize is prepared without the leaf wrapper, banku is the result, which provides a slightly softer, more volatile mix and is often served with okra or groundnut stew.

The maize flour, described earlier, also forms the basis of the Northern Ghanaian staple, TZ, or tuo zafi, which is a 50/50 mix of maize flour and milled cassava, mixed with water and stirred in such a fashion to create a settling gelatin with a dough-like consistency. This is also served with various stews, which provide the essential oils to the Ghanaian's starch-ridden diet.
And that's how we eat maize!

Each of the staple crops, in fact, have several ways to be prepared, and are the result of decades of dependence upon dependable crops such as cassava, and high-yielding crops such as maize.

Groundnuts, which you may recognize as peanuts, are ground to a pasty consistency and sold as such, for use in soups and stews, but are also a close parallel to peanut butter.This groundnut paste is highly sought after by JFs, some of which will remain unnamed. These anonymous EWB volunteers often walk the streets sucking it straight out of the bag in which it is sold, garnering many looks from Ghanaians.

Then there are the yams, which can be boiled, steamed, deep-fried, grilled, and in all forms result in a tasty, filling meal, often served with a sauce of crushed peppers mixed with vegetable oil and tomatoes.

Which brings me to Pepper (p. Pepe), the blanket term used to describe readily avaialable hot peppers which are grown in Ghana, and mashed or dried to form various spicy mixes for everything from hard-boiled eggs to deep-fried yams.

Beans come in many shapes and sizes, such as soy beans and Bambaram beans, which can be mashed, and then boiled or deepfried, and served with a variation of Pepper, either dried and ground, or mixed with oil and tomatoes for a spicy salsa. The boiled bambaram beans is called tobani, and are cooked between leaves which add a certain flavour.

Cereal grains, such as millet or sorghum are also on the menu. Millet forming the basis for breads, and in dried form and mixed with sugar, milk powder, and water, to form a mushy cereal that tastes just like Corn Flakes!
A multitude of breads, some with sugar baked in, others crusty and baguette-like, sell for ¢5000 a loaf, and are readily available on all street corners.
That is a basic summary of the foods which are prepared and consumed across the north on a daily basis. Ghana also has a strong milk-product industry, as well as brewery sector.
Milk powder is the safest bet for those missing a tall cold glass. Cow's milk, often straight from the udders, is sold by the nomadic Fulani tribe, warmed by the sun in plastic containers they have hoisted above their heads as they walk through the market.

A large corporation, Fanmilk, also makes a variety of dairy products, like vanilla ice-cream, chocolate milk, and strawberry yoghurt, all sold in plastic pouches which sell for ¢3000, easily found in Tamale.

In terms of drinks, Fanmilk produces a Sunny Delight clone called Tampico, and flavoured juices and mixes which are prepared locally can be bought in clear plastic bags similar to ice-water, and have flavours such as Tang, ginger, and a chilled fermented maize juice called 'light'. Coca-Cola pounces on Ghana as it does in any developing market, pushing a reliable alternative to water, and plundering local resources to ensure it's domination over the market. In a continuing battle fought with Pepsi-Cola, the only losers are the local consumers.

As for fruit, the selection is small, but relatively affordable, and local. Mangoes were abundant upon our arrival, but have since dissappeared and retreated to the south, where they are still readily available. They have been replaced with pineapple, watermelons, coconuts, bananas, and oranges which are available in Tamale at decent prices. All are fresh, and incredibly delicious.
Vegetables that are easily found in Tamale and seem to be locally grown include tomatoes and onions. Other vegetables, such as carrots, green peppers, and cucumber can be found, but are much more costly, and appear to be imported from other countries or regions.

Candy is also readily found in Tamale. Luke Brown, Western LTOV, readily experiments with different candies, and has found some similar to Pez, and he even managed to track down those small caramal squares that used to frequent our Halloween loot. Remember those? They were awesome. Most candy is imported from China or Nigeria, and is essentially a mystery until tried.
Thus is the extent of the food stuffs I have tried in Ghana. Most of which are available only in Tamale, or are hard to find at the village level. Although this has been an indepth report, I have left a lot out to keep it short. With all this delicious food, however, I am still looking forward to returning to my mom's cooking, even if just for a few days, before I return to Windsor, land of the chicken wings and shawarma.

Diet Snaps

Cracked wheat, cooked in a pot over the charcoal fire, is an excellent and filling afternoon snack, especially if the afternoon is cold because of the rains.

Leaves provide essential nutrients for the Ghanaian diet, which is rich in starch and carbs. Vitamin C, Calcium, and many other vitamins have their main provisions from the addition to cassava leaves, and other leaves to soups and stew.

TZ, pictured front, is a mix of milled maize, cassava, and water, pounded and heated to a thick consistency and served with a soup. It provides the staple diet for people of the Northern Region, and was my dinner each night for the last three months. The stews would change each night, with a different mix of okrah, groundnuts, cassava leaves, etc. My favourite soup being groundnut soup with cassava leaves and okrah chunks.

Okrah has been cooked, mashed, and is here being boiled to form the basis for a soup. Okrah is readily available and joins onions and tomatoes in being one of the only vegetables available at the rural level.

10 August 2006

Shots from the farm

Because I haven't provided any recent pictures, here are some shots from the excursion to YahYah's farm:

The road to the farm; some sections are in far better shape than others. The mud easily washes away in the heavy summer rains, leaving exposed boulders, rocks and ditches several feet deep as a surprise as we approach on our bikes.

The farm, which was cleared using slash and burn methods, sprouts sweetyam plants, cassava and the occassional watermelon in a weaving sea of dirt mounds. The yam plants yearn for the sun and crawl up the charred branches of the trees' ashy remains.

Yahyah clears the farm with some help. The plant in the front of the pictures is that of cassava, whose signature leaves provide essential nutrients in the rural Ghanaian diet.

08 August 2006

The Cedi

For months I have listed specific items which I have paid for, or the cost of living in the local currency, the cedi (p. seedy).

The cedi has recently undergone a devaluation to just a tiny fraction of it's former worth, for a plethora of reasons, and has created an inflated economy in which the cost of any good has risen several times.

Not only did this doom any chance of savings for the small percentage of people who put their money away for keeping, but it created an entirely worthless pesawa, whose relation to the cedi is similar to the cent's summation to a dollar.

Indeed, after this serious devaluation, the value of a one pesawa coin is rarely worth the sand it has displaced when you stumble across one on the road.

Even 20 and 50 cedi coins, which pay for just a fraction of a sachet water pack, or piece of bubble gum, bring a sigh to my face when given to me as balance (change), because I know I will be lugging them around with me for the forseeable future.

With this severely devalued currency, and inflated price of imports, I have purposely left out the conversion to $CDN or the USD, in hopes that I would one day get a chance to ask a question like this:

Based on the following products, whose average price I have outlined in the local currency, the cedi, please comment on the exchange rate which you think is accurate between the cedi and the Canadian dollar. I ask that you comment without aid, and if you do look up the conversion, please refrain from posting, as it makes this less interesting for myself and others.

Purified sachet of potable water: ¢400
300mL bottle of Coca-Cola or similar mineral (pop): ¢4000
250mL of soy milk: ¢6000
Watche from a street vendor (full serving of rice and beans): ¢2000-¢3000
A delicious egg sandwich: ¢3000
A personal sized pizza at a Tamale restaurant: ¢60 000
A can of Pringles: ¢28 000
A one-night stay at the fabulous Maacos Hotel (see Accomodations INDEPTH for more info): ¢50 000
A deep-fried doughball at a tro-tro station: ¢500
1 hard-boiled egg: ¢1200
Transit from Damongo to Tamale (3 hour journey): ¢20 000

Based on these average prices for specific items and services, guess the conversion! Remember don't cheat.

01 August 2006

Yahyah's Farm

Each morning is a routine that I have slowly gotten accustomed to. The early morning call to prayer and roosters sound off at around 4am. This usually gets me out of my regular sleep, but looking at the time, and thinking about the still-distant sun, I remain in bed and fall asleep again. Around 5am the activity in my compound begins to stir. My neice runs to buy some fermented maize porridge and sugar from the street, my mother starts the fire to prepare the morning water, and my siblings prepare for another day of school lessons. Around 5.3oam the porridge is served, on certain days with a portion of sugar bread. This is usually the point at which I am outside, showered, and ready for the day. Any longer and my porridge begins to settle into a thick, unconsumable slop. I sit in the compound trying to pound back the porridge as quickly as my nephews. It might just be me, but a steaming-hot, well-spiced, fermented maize drink doesn't go down so well early in the morning. I do get it down each day, however, and as the spices and my stomach begin their daily morning battle, I get out my notebook and jot down the events of the previous day. After some lounging and relaxing, it is now 6.3oam. A gentleman by the name of Yahyah pulls up to the compound on his bicycle.

Yahyah is a close family friend, and a farmer. Each morning he approaches the compound, greets the family, then states with a grin: "Obruni, today we go farm?" Most days I have excuses lined up, such as work, or travel... but one day, on Wednesday, June 28th, 2006, to be exact, I decided to stop making excuses, and experience the day in the life of a rural Ghanaian farmer. The MoFA JFs have been lucky enough to spend a whole week on rural farms to understand the work that goes into agriculture. Jealous of this opportunity, perhaps, I agreed to Yahyah's challenge of travelling to his farm, which he proclaimed on a daily basis to be '50 miles away'.

I grab my kahula, a few sachet waters, a pair of boots and my bike, and we head out for a day that I will never forget.

The first leg of the journey is not long, we travel for just 20 minutes before we reach a small shop by the side of the road. We greet the shopkeeper, walk behind through the door of a families compound. Inside is a chaotic scene; large metallic bowls filled with fermented maize dough, or banku line the compound. "The best banku in Ghana", Yaya promises me as we sit and eat. If the morning porridge wasn't enough, a second serving of fermented maize should be a great start to a hard day. I singe my fingerprints off as I tuck my hand into the scolding banku, and then into the simmering soup, which makes the banku seem cool in comparison. I awkwardly heave the mix into my mouth and look at my pulsating red fingers. Then I go back for more. After a hearty 7am breakfast of banku, groundnut soup, and cow, we head off again.

The hilly areas of West Gonja rise gradually up until they reach the escarpment, which carves across Ghana to Gombaga. The valleys and surroundings provide tremendous scenery, and vegetation is in full as we are into the rains. We traverse hill after hill for hours at a time, and I easily pound through the little water I have brought with me (just 2L). Around 10am, we reach a juncture in the road, and Yaya indicates to me that we are to leave the road. Exhausted, I only hope that the farm is not far away.

For several more kms, we head down a path which is barely suitable for our bicycles. Yaya leads the way and snaps back thorny branches and vines into my face, constantly knocking off my kahula, and leaving me cursing with words I can only hope he doesn't understand. We continue for some time, finally reaching a small clearing, at which point we are to venture the rest of the way on foot. We take a small bush trail through the overgrown grass and tall shea nut trees, and suddenly spring upon a patch of land that he proudly announces to me as his farm. In this 'clearing' of the surrounding bush sit rather unorganized mounds of dirt. From each mound sprouts a large bush or vine. Yahyah explains to me that the bushes, with their signature leaves, are cassava plants, and digs down into the mound to reveal a single cassava root, still rather small, and slender in comparison to its harvest-ready counterpart. the vines are yam plants, and sprawl up sticks inserted in the ground or nearby trees to collect the sun.

Tired from the journey, we both head to his hut to take a quick rest. About an hour later, we emerge from the hut, and I am immediately handed a cutlass, or very very large machete. He directs me forward and follows me down a path which leads through the mounds of dirt. We walk past Yahyah's first acre of cassava and enter a thickly vegetated patch of land. The ground is not visible below my waiste, but I know we are still standing on farmland because I constantly trip on the very mounds on which the cassava plants are seeded. We walk some distance before Yahyah calls out to two gentlemen, Mussa, and Ali, whom Yahyah has hired to help clear the land we are standing on of it's weeds. Yahyah has let this area grow fallow for quite some time, and it is time to clear it and plant some yams in the dirt mounds. The two men emerge from the bush with arms full of yams.

After further inspection of the farm, which reveals some damage to yam mounds by grass-cutters, we get to work beginning to clear away the weeds and vines that have overgrown the area. It is back-breaking work. The commute to the farm was an ordeal in itself, having taken anywhere from three to five hours. In the exhaustion and dehydration of the trip, I had lost track of time. With machete in hand I hack at the base of the small bushes and weeds which have grown, and then with a firm grip grab the remaining stump in the ground and shake out the remaining roots. The weeded plants remain where they lay, as they provide essential moisture and nutrients for the growing cassava. We clear a tiny area before Yaya announces that we have finished weeding for the day. Upset, but at the same time relieved, I slowly stand and stretch my back and stick my machete in a nearby dirt mound. Yahyah has hired Mussa and Ali to clear the rest of the farm. The process will take three days, and Yahyah will have to pay the gentlemen ¢200 000 for their work.

After just half an hour of weeding, we walk a bit further to discover a field of sweet yams. The vines are very long on these plants, and they sprawl across the ground in the channels between the mounds. Occassionally, I stumble across a watermelon, which Yahyah has dispersed throughout his crop. The channels between mounds allow for the perfect drainage for watermelon growth, which oddly enough, requires very little water.

As we walk acre after acre, I see the fruitful efforts of years of hard work. Slowly, Yahyah has expanded his crop to the surrounding bush. Land is quite plentiful in West Gonja, the largest district in the Northern Region. The relative fertility of the soil in comparison to areas further north makes it an attractive opportunity for farmers who have been less succesful elsewhere. After an hour of exploring the farm, I see the satisfaction Yahyah expresses in standing amongst his crop. These efforts will pay off if the rains are good when it is time to harvest later in the summer. His cassava roots can sit anywhere from six months to two years between harvests. Letting the root grow larger can fetch a better price at market, but makes the plant more susceptible to the various diseases and weather effects which can quickly destroy a crop.

Yahyah is not the only farmer down this long road from the village. He introduces me to Al-Jafa, a neighboring farmer whose property is as diverse and expansive as Yahyah's. Al-Jafa is not a day under 65, yet four days a week he hops on his bike from Damongo for the four hour trek to this remote farming community. Al-Jafa walks me through his perfectly planted acre of groundnuts, and we continue through the bush for sometime until we come across a wide expanse of maize. Maize is highly susceptible to droughts, and if the rains do not improve, he will risk losing a lot of his crop. Luckily enough, like most farmers in this area, he has an assortment of cassava, yams, groundnuts, bambaram beans, soy, and other various products which will ensure that he can sustain his family if one or more crops is to fail.

We visit the few remaining farms in the area, and after a makeshift repair to ensure my bike makes it back to Damongo, we are on our way down the hilly red-mud roads of West Gonja. I return home five hours later and nearly collapse on the ground of the courtyard. Luckily my nephew is standing near me and brings a bench over just in time. How farmers like Al-Jafi and Yahyah have the energy to travel to their farms several times a week is beyond me.

My best estimates put the round-trip distance at 40-50kms, the majority of which is extremely hilly, sandy terrain. A commute which these men make on a regular basis but one that I can only endure a few times for the remainder of the placement.