Mari's Adventures

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Ghanaian Time

As stereotypical as it may sound, in certain situations Ghana operates on its own time. The best situation being the case of taking the tro-tro. Like I said earlier, tro-tros are mini-vans or mini-buses that pick up people between two points. They depart from tro-tro stations, but when they leave is determined by when the vehicle fills up. This can take up to several hours if there are no other people heading in the direction that you're heading. Although this is not so much the case in Accra where there are many people taking tro-tros, in more remote areas where there are less people and if you are traveling a long distance, then waiting for the tro-tro to fill up can be a routine process.

It is in these instances where the patients and endurance of the Ghanaian people are showcased. They sit quietly in their seats, without complaining about the heat, while I impatiently keep asking the driver when we are leaving, in which I always get the same response "when the tro-tro is full."

In these situations, westerners and Ghanaians have the opposite concept of time. In the west, we think of time as the one thing that we do not have control over. Time ticks away without us being able to manipulate it. We are consumed by time and all of our actions and planning is dictated by it. On the other hand, Ghanaians see time as something that they can control. Maybe not so much control, but it is not something that they are consumed by. Even in the office when we have meetings, it never, ever starts on time. Ghanaians control time in a way by not being consumed or dictated by it. An event will happen when it happens, not when it is supposed to happen.

These are some of the things I need to get used to as I'm the type of person who hates being late and likes to stick to schedules. Much can be learned form the Ghanaian way of life.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

You Want To Marry Me?

During the past two weeks since I arrived in Ghana, I have received several marriage proposals. The scenario goes like this:

I would approach a pineapple stand on the street for example and order a pineapple. The man would tell me that he loves me. Then I would ask how he can love me without even knowing my name. Then he would ask for my name and then tells me he wants to marry me.

I usually try to make a laugh out of this whole situation so then I would usually tell him that my bride price is 50 cows. I would ask him if he has 50 cows and he would most likely say no. Then I would tell him to get going on it and I leave (with my pineapple in hand.)

Why would these men tell me that they want to marry me? Obviously it is not because they love me. Is it because I am "white" and they want to go to Canada with me? I have people constantly asking me how they can go to Canada or if I can take them with me. I tell them that I will take them if they fit in my bag.

Do Ghanaians see Canada as a paradise that they want to go so badly? If so then why? Is it because Canadians are friendly? Is it because of Canada's reputation as peacekeepers in the international community, or is it because Ghanaians see Ghana as having no hope?

But there is hope for Ghana. From the little time I have spent here, I have noticed that Ghanaians are very hard working. They are not lazy. Contrary to what some people think, Ghanaians are not poor because they are lazy. The people in the village of Challam wake up at 5am everyday and attend their fields and work all day long. Their work ethics can teach some people in Canada about dedication and determination.

So then why are these people poor if they are so hard working? I understand that there are many external factors that affect their state of being that are out of their reach, but it is extremely unfair that hard working people are poor. I guess if hard working people lead to development then none of the developing countries would be having a problem, as there are plenty of hard working people. I just hope that they will be able to see the benefits of their hard work soon.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Rain, Rain and More Rain

I've safely arrived back in Accra yesterday night after a long 13 hour bus ride from Tamale. It has not stopped raining since I arrived yesterday in Accra, so my visit to Makola market will have to be postponed until the sky clears. It is the start of the rainy season here in Ghana. I thought I was going to be able to escape the rains in Vancouver, but I was wrong...

The past week has been an incredible trip through Ghana. After Atebubu, the four of us left for Tamale in the northern region. We crossed part of Lake Volta, which I believe is the largest man-made lake in the world. The water level is low right now, so there are many temporary fishing settlements on the exposed surfaces of the lake. The ferry got stuck in the mud several times and at one point I thought we were not going to make it out, but the rusty old ferry pulled through and we made it to the other side safely.

From the other side of Lake Volta, we took a tro-tro to a town called Salaga, where we switched tro-tros again and headed to Tamale. The ride to Tamale from Salaga felt like we were sitting on a massage chair for four hours. The roads were extremely bumpy and dusty to say the least. We had to keep our window open because we were baking inside the tro-tro, but the dust kept coming in. By the time we reached Tamale, we were covered in dust from head to toe and we all could have passed as a black person.

Tamale is NGO central. Many NGOs have offices in Tamale, which are all clustered in one area behind a walled and gated compound. As a result of the concentration of NGOs, there are also many obrunis. There are several people from the Engineers Without Borders programme located in Tamale, so we all got together to have a drink. The Crest, which is where we hung out was an obruni spot. There were so many of them that it felt like I never left Vancouver.

The next day we went to visit the New Energy office, which is one of the partner organizations that KITE works with and the organization Troy will be working with. Their whole office is powered by solar energy, so they are really an environmentally friendly organization. One of the directors at the New Energy office coordinated for Jess and I to stay at a village, so we packed our things and headed there the next day.

The village that we stayed in was called Challam. It has a population of about 300 people who are predominantly Muslim. They are one of the communities waiting to have a multi-functional platform (MFP) installed. A group of about 14 women have applied for the MFP and they have built the building to house the platform, but they are still searching for a source of funding to pay for the MFP. It was quite awkward for Jess and I to stay there because they kept asking for funding from New Energy, which they don't do. New Energy provides training and the instillation of the MFP, so the applicants are to find their own source of finances to cover the share of the platform not subsidised by KITE and the UNDP. The women's group has not been successful in securing funding, so they kept asking us over and over for New Energy to give them the money.

Nonetheless, the stay at the village was wonderful. There is no electricity and no toilets, so we had to go out in the bush. We woke up at 5am to go out to the field with the women to collect shea nut, which they process to make shea nut oil for cooking. Some women in other parts of Ghana have agreements with the Body Shop to produce shea butter for body lotion and cream. We also helped the men with their farm. We planted okra seeds in the field and helped to make mounds in the field where they will plant yams. They only let us make one mound each, which was unfortunate, but we were much lower than the rest of the men. We played with the children as there are plenty of them. We taught them how to do the chicken dance, so now everyone in the village is dancing it.

The women in the village do not stop cooking. They would feed us 5 times a day and the portions are huge. In the morning, they will feed us coco, which is a maize and millet porridge by the pot and about an hour later, they would feed us boiled yams. Ghanaian food is quite greasy and they use plenty of oil for everything. The thought of losing weight during my stay in Ghana might not be so realistic anymore.

The woman we were staying with was really friendly and wanted to just feed us all the time. They would always try to feed us first and then they would eat, so we tried to eat all together if possible. Communication proved to be quite a challenge as the village speaks Dagbani, which neither Jess nor I speak a word of. The women would make us repeat what they were saying and then laugh hysterically.

We also fetched water form the CIDA funded bore hole and tried to carry it on our heads. The locals were on the ground laughing hysterically as we were getting a shower from the bucket as we walked. By the time we got to the house, our buckets were half empty.

We only stayed in the village for two nights, so it felt very much like village tourism. We were not there long enough to really experience and understand rural life in Ghana. I really hope that I can go back to Challam again, this time for at least a week. By then I will have mastered my Dagbani.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Ghana So Far: Part 2

The people that I am traveling with are all working on a project called the multi functional platform (MFP), which is a diesel engine that can support many agro-processing devices. The main purpose of the MFP is to mechanize the daunting task of agro-processing such as de-husking rice and processing cassava, which are mostly done by women and they take up much of their day. By being able to mechanize these processes, women will have more free time to work on other tasks. The MFP can also be used to generate income as the women can sell their processed products on the local market or rent out the MFP to other users and charge a small fee.

The Kumasi Institute of Technology and Environment (KITE) is the main organization that allocates the funding that is given by the United Nations Development Program to their partner organizations, WACSO in Atebubu and New Energy in Tamale. These organizations implement the MFP in the villages. So this week we have been visiting the partner organizations where Jessica and Troy will be working. I will be working at KITE to help out with the administrative things with the program and come visit the two organizations from time to time to see how they are doing.

We traveled to Atebubu, where Jessica will be staying. It is a small village, but very cozy compared to Accra, where things are very chaotic. I sort of envy her because I prefer staying at a small village, but Accra will turn out to be interesting in its own ways, I'm sure. Atebubu turned out to be quite an interesting place. The night we arrived, there was noise and music coming from the village square, so we all headed over there to see what was going on. What seemed like a festival turned out to be a crusade for the Pentecost church, where they were hosting preachers who travel to different villages, preaching their religion. People were just going nuts. They were dancing and chanting in a circle while the preacher was preaching to them in almost a cult like manner. A lady came over to tell us what was going on and helped to translate what the preacher was saying. She was just really weird and she all of a sudden said that the Americans are coming to kill them and that we have come to kill them. The four of us just stood there, not knowing what to say, but just reassured her that we are Canadians, and not Americans.

It was hard to tell if the preacher had actually said that and she has translated it, or she added that part herself, but nonetheless, it was quite a frightening and weird moment. It is unthinkable that a religion would preach such a thing, but it is not impossible either.

Also, another uncomfortable thing that I felt during my stay in Atebubu is that everyone stares at us. Three of us were eating breakfast at a road side stall when a bunch of people surrounded us and began staring. It was really uncomfortable and I was not sure why they were staring at us. Were they staring because we were foreigners or because they were hungry and wanted something to eat? These things are hard to pick out and troubles me sometimes. Hopefully by the end of this placement I will be able to understand Ghanaians better.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Ghana so far

The past week in Ghana has been amazing. Accra seems similar to Vancouver in many ways, such as having the ocean near by, but more different than anything. It is very hot, dusty and very busy. Taxis are honking from all directions and people on the street are calling out obruni, which means white person. It is something that takes time getting used to.

I met with the KITE people at the office in Accra and I must say it has been an interesting experience to say the least. The people working there are quite dynamic and have interesting characters. It will be an interesting office dynamic.

I traveled to Kumasi, which is known as the "garden city" as it is lush and green with vegetation. This is the heart of the Ashanti region and famous for gold and other traditional items. We stayed at a Baptist guest house, which was quite beautiful. I am traveling with Monica, who is the long term volunteer to KITE from EWB and she will be staying in Accra for a year. I am also traveling with Troy from UBC and Jessica from University of Calgary, who are both short term volunteers like me and they will be working in Atebubu and Tamale respectively in KITE's partner organizations. The stay in Kumasi was too short and I was not able to visit the traditional and cultural locations, so hopefully I will be able to return shortly.

The trip to Atebubu was most interesting. I never imagined that I would be driving passed mango fields listening to Celine Dion blasting from the speakers. The men here love her.

The internet is getting all wonky here, so the rest will be continued in the near future.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Tro-Tros and Fufu

This week in Toronto has been hectic and intense and all of the work we have been doing will all be tested tomorrow when we arrive in Ghana. The flight over there will give me some time to try and digest all that has taken place over the last week. I was so looking forward to the stop over in Amsterdam, but our group won't be able to get out of the airport because our insurance will not cover any place outside of Canada and Ghana. I would have been fun to revisit Amsterdam again.

The crew in Toronto has been great in trying to get us ready for the Ghanaian experience and we were treated to the marvels of Ghanaian food the other night. We tried some fufu, fish, rice, fried plantains, peanut soup, and some "mystery meat", which ended up being pork skin. That I must say was an interesting experience to say the least.

So many questions are running through my mind and it seems like I'm not ready to go overseas, but I guess no one will ever be fully ready. I guess I'll just have to trust myself and hope that I will not get hit by a tro-tro : )

Friday, May 05, 2006

Training in Toronto

Wow, this is my first entry. I never thought that I would be the type of person to have a blog. But I guess things change. I must say that my stay in Toronto has been interesting. I'm living in a three bedroom house with 26 other volunteers, with only two bathrooms, so plenty of chaos in the mornings.

Toronto is an interesting place with much to do. The house I'm staying in is sandwitched between Chinatown, Little Italy and Little Portugal, so I'm right in the cultural hub with Kensington Market near by. It's a totally different feel from the relaxed Vancouver atmosphere, where things here feel really rushed with lots of traffic.

Training has been really intense with 13 hour days plus homework, which is totally not doable. We've been covering a range of topics from the philosophical question of what is development to culture shock and going over many case studies.

One thing that I found a little constraining was the way certain frameworks are taught. It seems like engineers see everything in a linear line, which I have an issue with because development does not occur in a linear fashion. There are inter-twining variables, conditions and influences that can affect the process of development and I have a hard time conceptualizing it in a straight line. Development does not occur when there are factors A,B,and C in order, but when they interact at different levels and angles. I'm having a hard time conceptualizing development in a straight linear fashion. But who knows, it just might be the case in Ghana. I guess I'll find out soon enough.