~~Mantinsu ~~ I Will Never Forget

•August 5, 2011 • 2 Comments

With a little more than a week left in Salaga, my mind is buzzing and heart torn to pieces. All I hear in my heart are my host family calling me “Mantinsu”, my traditional Gonja name. The name has stuck with me from my first week meeting my host family and will forever be a part of me.

I met my host family through my close friend Razak, who is a driver for the District Assembly. After my first week in Salaga, I had been feeling terribly frustrated stuck in a guest house lonely and constantly needing directions to get around town. So I went with my counterpart, Alidu (Planning Officer), to buy a bicycle to help me find some independence in my life here. Knowing how terrible I am with directions, I decided to get Razak to draw me a mini map of Salaga so that I could go exploring on my first weekend here.

The bike ride into town was relieving, just having the flexibility to go into town buy some mangoes, fried rice and visit my tailor to pick up my first traditional Ghanaian dress. It is funny to look back at this time and realize that “the eyes of a stranger are wide open but see nothing” (another proverb from Razak). The road to my tailor is a gravel road that eventually leads to where my home is, that road so intricately familiar to me now looks nothing like it did back in May. My lack of sense of direction coupled with Ghana’s lack of obvious landmarks and lack of road signs or house numbers makes getting around as a stranger fairly difficult.

As anticipated, I lost my way after picking up my clothes from the tailor and heading to buy some fried rice. The scene was HILARIOUS. A lost “white girl” in town that couldn’t figure her way back to the guest house where all the streets and stores seemed to look all the same. A group of almost 20 people gathered around me along the side of the road (the road that currently leads directly to my house) holding a small mini map that Razak had drawn for me and trying to figure out which way was north on his map and which direction I needed to head to get back to my guest house. Keeping in mind that most people could not understand my fresh Canadian accent, and that I couldn’t really understand their Ghanaian accents. I gave up trying and starting laughing at how ridiculous I felt.

Out of nowhere it seemed, Razak pulled out of an alley way in his white pick-up and was laughing at the scene I had caused. He was supposed to be travelling to Navrongo (Upper East Region) that day but had decided to delay for some small time, only to find the white lady from the office lost and holding the small crumbled map that he had drawn for me. He helped me send the crowd away and asked me while smirking “Do you have something urgent you need to do at the guest house?”, feeling relieved to have found someone who I knew and eager not to go back to the guest house I told him “Other than eating, I want to avoid the guest house!”

And that is where it all began. Razak took me to sit by Hajia Moda’s (my host mother) provision store. Razak and I mingled and he introduced me to Tahira, a beautiful 18-year old girl (my host sister who has grown inseparable from me) that was very strong headed and tom-boyish with an elegant strength about her,  and to Zakariaya (bana zaid — our father zaid, my host father). We sat together eating mangoes and re-drew a map of Salaga that extended to my office and all the major landmarks of the town, and added a north arrow on there as well.

My host father could not stop laughing at me the entire time as Razak and I recounted the story of how he brought me to the store that day. He said that he would name me “lost” since I somehow managed to loose my way in a town that has only 3 arterial roads. But after finishing the map we sat together in silence, and my host father quietly said, “Mantinsu” will be your Gonja name. It means “I will never forget”.

To my host family and friend’s surprise they later began to realize how forgetful I am always loosing something or other and it became a family joke at the store each night where I take my dinner. But now the name resounds in my heart. Mantinsu. I will never forget.

With a very heavy heart over this week and the next two weeks, I will forever cherish everything I have learned here in Salaga with my family and friends that will always have a place in my heart. As difficult as goodbye is, I know this week will not be my last with my friends and family here. I am dreading saying goodbye, and it will be one of the hardest things I have ever done. But nonetheless, life goes on, people change and grow. and that is what makes every moment of my life here so special, knowing that life is fragile and moments are fleeting, and that is what lets me hold a glimmer of optimism looking towards my departure from Salaga.

A tribute to my friends and family here in Salaga of my travels saying some goodbyes to friends and family in Yeji, Kumasi, and Buipe.

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Ghanaian Proverbs!

•August 3, 2011 • 2 Comments

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my close friend Razak, who has a huge interest in learning to develop his typing skills.

So as a courtesy from Razak here are some Ghanaian proverbs that he has been working on typing. Hopefully more to come!

Enjoy!

 

Razak and I at the Buipe market along the harbor.

 

1. DOG HOLD BONE NO MORE WOO WOO{BARKING}:One must rather appreciate he or she have rather than trying to have more when you know you can’t.

2. DONT SCRATCH WHILE YOU ARE STILL BEEN BARBERED: One should not be interrupted when you are narrating a story.

3. WHEN A BAT SAYS IT WILL DEFAECATE ONTO GOD IT ENDs UP DEFAECATING ON ITSELF: When one always intends to do or say something he should not forget it could end you.

4. WHEN A CHILD DEFAECATE ON YOU WILL YOU CUT THAT PARTICULAR PART OF YOUR BODY AWAY?: We should learn to forgive and consider no matter how you are provoked especially with relatives and children.

5. IF YOUR CHILD DROWNED DOES NOT MEAN YOU WONT DRINK WATER ANYMORE: We must learn to move on with life no matter what the challenge.

6. DON’T TAKE THE STEW WHEN I AM STILL PREPARING THE SLICES: Don’t interrupt me when I am still telling you a story.

7. DON’T SAY WE HAVE BUT I HAVE: One should know to search for himself and not to rely on what the entire family have.

8. WHEN A SHEIKH IS GETTING DROWN THEN YOU ARE ASKING OF HIS HAT: One should make a suggestion before and not after an event.

9. IF WISHES WERE HORSES THE POOR WILL BEG AND RIDE:

10. IF YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN ONTO SOMEONES FARM YOU WILL THINK YOU ARE THE ONLY FARMER: One should not think he is only one capable of doing certain things for there are others elsewhere who are more capable than he is.

11. A DOG THAT HAS TWO HOMES WILL GO HUNGRY

12. A BILLY GOAT WILL FIND ITS WAY HOME ON THE DAY IT LIMPS:A person will know his way to the house when he has a problem.

13.THE MOUTH OF THE ELDERLY SMELLS BUT ITS NOT ROTTEN:One need listen to the adult for what they say might not make sense but will make sense in the future.

14. THE ONE WHO HAS EVER BEEN BITTEN BY A SNAKE IS ALWAYS SCARED WHENEVER HE SEES AN EARTH WORM: One will always be scared and more careful  when he seem to be going through a similar problem.

15.DO NOT PUT ON A CAP ON YOUR KNEECAP WHEN THERE IS THE HEAD: One should not lie when there is the truth to be told.

16.WHEN THERE IS THE MOUTH DONT USE YOUR HEAD TO TALK:Go straight to the point and going round in circle.

17.WHEN A CRAB SHOULD GRAP WHAT IT SHOULD NOT IT WILL END UP BREAKING ITS CLAWS:When a person does or says what he should not,he finally gets in trouble.

A Trip To Buipe: The Harbor City of Northern Region

•July 27, 2011 • 3 Comments

As I have been continuously mentioning throughout my posts, life with my host family and with close friends here in Ghana has been amazing. Since my days are beginning to feel numbered, I have to decided to take every opportunity to travel with friends and family here to meet other members of my host family and see what life is like in other parts of Northern Ghana.

Last weekend my good friend Razak, host sister Tahira and myself all set off for Buipe to attend the wedding of Razak’s brother/close friend (Muniru) and also to meet his family and friends. Tahira has currently left Salaga and is doing computer studies in Tamale so myself and Razak passed to Tamale to pick Tahira up and head to Buipe. The road from Tamale to Buipe being on the main highway was amazing and a wonderful change from the bumpy roller coaster of the Tamale-Salaga road. We got into Buipe pretty late on the Friday and found a pre-wedding party and reunion with all of Razak’s brothers and sisters and friends. Being included with the group was seriously amazing…. I can’t even being to describe. It was my first time in Ghana to feel that no one was paying attention to me being the “white lady”. This feeling lasted all weekend.

The wedding ceremonies started on the Saturday with a giant trip to the mosque for prayers to bless the bride and groom (Rashida and Muniru). This was unlike anything I had seen since both Muslims and Christians alike attended the mosque and joined in the prayers grouping together for their friend. (I should mention that religion is SUPER important to most Ghanaians, not a specific religion but just religion in general).  After this prayer ceremony, we headed back to rest because of the late night reunion and spent some of the afternoon watching a Nigerian PoPo movie at the groom’s house.

By 4pm everyone (except for Muniru) headed to the bride’s house to witness the bathing ceremony. This tradition is carried out depending on tribe and family. It is considered a cleansing of sins, since there may be a chance that the bride and groom “met” each other before marriage.  As for this wedding, the bride has a one month baby girl, so to Rashida’s family the bathing ceremony seemed pretty important. Basically only one of the bride’s family members is entitled to bathe the bride based on inheritance. In this case, it was Rashida’s aunt. BUT before she could be bathed, one of the cousins caused a scene for the groom not paying to bathe the bride. Why? Just to pick the groom’s pockets a bit deeper before the full ceremony on the following day. She demended he give her 50GHC which ended up coming from the groom’s freinds on behalf of the groom.
Rashida was covered head to toe with amazing henna designs and hidden under a bright cloth after being bathed and performing a final prayer with the aunt to start afresh. This fresh start then permits the entire group to take Rashida to Muniru’s father’s house as a sign of passing the bride over to the groom’s family.

Overall my perceptions from this process was basically how LOUD the women could be. It was a day filled with lots of traditional dancing of the “Damba” (traditional Gonja women dance), cute kids causing mayhem and lots and lots of fresh fish and amazing spicy food!

After passing the bride off to the groom’s family, myself, Razak, and Muniru headed to a viallage nearby the Kentampo Waterfalls to pay respects for a funeral. It was nothing I had ever expected in a funeral. Men and women alike were dressed in bright patterns with loud hip life music playing and groups dancing  and dancing. The mood was lively and all the elders of this village were present and dancing. It was a bit of a perspective shift from celebrating life and a new beginning to celebrating death. The atmosphere was almost the same as the wedding and although different from anything I had seen at a funeral before, it was amazing to see family members of the man who passed away smiling and taking life as it comes.

That evening, guess what? More dancing! This time it was a giant croud outside of the Buipe community center where the wedding was to be held the following day. Running on sleep deficit and and the energy high from the day’s affairs we left early and ended up hanging out watching movies later in the evening.

The following morning, Buipe was bitten by a hard rain storm and was MUDDY! The main road of the town is elevated than the surrounding communities with no drainage constructed anywhere. The entire day was hot, humid, more humid, and muddy.  We used that Sunday morning to do some last minuite prep for the official wedding ceremony that afternoon, running errands picking up plastic chairs, making sure food and drinks were ready. Myself and Razak’s group later headed out to visit the harbor where “The Queen” (a large fuel ship, brings fuel from southern Ghana to transfer to reserve tanks and a pipeline that connects to the rest of Northern Region) and the Savannah Cement Factory (A major Geek moment for me!).

That afternoon the BIG party began.. as they call it in Ghana: The Brighting, since the bride will change her dress three times looking more bright and beautiful each time than previous! Having attended 3 other weddings in Ghana, I must say that the organization of  this wedding was phenomenal. There were performers from Tamale, a rapper and a break dancing group that drew out a HUGE crowd to the point that the dance floor was reduced to a quarter of its initial size!  In between the performances and dedications for dancing (Yes people will dedicate a song to you and you have to get up and dance…and only those who receive the dedication are allowed on the dance floor) mini introductions of special guests are made and continuous balloon popping is carried out based on donations and the size of the balloon. The “brighting” lasted until 6:30pm as the sun began to set, everything dissolved. The entire area became a bumpin’ ballroom dance floor.

With an amazing night coming to an end and a heavy heart, myself, Razak and Tahira ended up spending our final day seeing the bustling and lively market on Monday morning buying mangoes, lots and lots of smoked fish, sugar cane and spending time together with much laughter and enjoyment.

All in all my time in Buipe was amazing. It was a memorable weekend that summarizes my time in Ghana and the amazing relationships that I have built with my friends and host family here in Ghana.

To supplement my story here are some few pictures (what I could upload for now) of my adventures in Buipe. As for this coming weekend, I’ll be headed to Kumasi to visit my host brother and back to Buipe for a pre-Ramadan greeting to all the people I met last weekend.

All the Best!

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The View from Mole National Park

•July 14, 2011 • 4 Comments

Update on life and the works! I am now starting on the second half of my placement now after two weeks of travels and lots and lots of learning.

Mid-placement retreat was held at Mole National Park, followed by our In-Country meeting with all EWB staff in Ghana. Reconnecting with other JFs was filled with lots of story sharing, awesome discussions about our placements, and even a hip life concert at the Tamale Stadium! It was a surreal experience in a way, reconnecting with team members and stepping outside of my work, and outside of life with my host family and reflecting on where we want to drive our placements forward over the remaining 5 weeks. It was a bit of a weird experience at first being back in a large group of Canadians in Ghana after being separated for the 6 weeks. Most of all, I realized how special my connection with other JFs was that I had not truly felt before.

Changing gears now has been a major shift in energy in every aspect of life.

Work has shifted from developing a tool for data collection and analysis to now focusing on the systems that need to be put in place for the tool to function and ultimately enhance service delivery of the district government. After mid-placement retreat and the in-country meeting with all EWB staff in Ghana, I set off on my village stay where I lived with another family for 6 days in the village of Kpolo where I had plenty of time to reflect on the strategy of G&RI. I had some serious challenges feeling the connection between our team’s work and how it can help create some of the opportunity that we are working towards for rural Ghanaians. Particularly looking at government corruption, it was very explicit in Kpolo that political affiliation affects the resources that a community receives ie. electricity… Electrical poles were placed as part of a political campaign right before the last election and have been sitting on the side of the gravel road for 10 years, all a part of political strategy to sway votes of people at the village. And it seems to be a political strategy that works. The main question that I was battling with was this: “If people within the government truly want to be fair and distribute the limited resources they have in a just manner, won’t they do it?”.
I tried hard not to feel discouraged in my work, and it has taken me some time and numerous chats with the Planning Officer here to find value and meaning in my work again. At the end of the day there is only so much that I can do as a volunteer here, and there is only so much that the planning offer and other em? officers at the planning and coordinating unit can do when making recommendations to the political leaders of the district. So is there still value in creating a data system? Yes. All we can do is set the processes and procedures in place and leave it to change agents here at the district to drive the change forward.

On the family side of things, my host family has been going through some major changes and my connection with them has grown in ways that I had never thought imaginable before coming to Ghana. The family has been amazing and wonderful spending time with them, although my host brother and sister have both now traveled to Kumasi and Tamale to further their studies on computer literacy. Not having them around will be an adjustment for me but it has already created more room for me to spend time with my host father and mother, and the extended family. I will still be spending lots of time with my close friends from work who are also connected to my host family here, and will be doing some travelling on the weekends to visit family in other parts of Ghana.

Here are some pictures over the past two weeks from Mole National Park, the concert in Tamale, my village stay in Kpolo, and my host family here in Salaga

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A Model For Behavior Change

•July 1, 2011 • 1 Comment

So it has been a month since I last posted an update here and my apologies to you all for not being more connected!

Life in Ghana has taken me on an amazing trip, I have been integrating with my host family in ways I had never thought imaginable before leaving Canada and have also been tied up at work in the District Assembly. But now my time in Ghana has come to a mid point where I am now at the mid-placement retreat at Mole National Park.

Yesterday at our sector specific session here in Mole, we were encouraged to look at a Behavior Change framework and create a vision for the change that we want to work towards in the remaining 6 weeks of our placements. The framework focuses on the 4 things that need to happen for changing mind-sets:

– A purpose to believe in
– Reinforcement systems
– The skills required for change
– Consistent models

With this framework in mind, I had an instant vision of a scenario that I want to achieve:

Seeing a director of a decentralized department and the District Planning Officer consciously choose to reallocate resources                           to a different community based on trends of data.

 

Looking at each level of the framework, there are key things that I think need to happen for this vision to be fulfilled:

* A purpose to believe in — A compelling story that aligns the motivations of the people working in the decision making processes

Emphasizing to key players that data and information can make the planning processes more efficient and will increase the                               performance of the District.
The challenge that I see at this stage is finding a way to align the motivations of people outside of my own personal motivations. For me emphasizing that improving this process can allocate resources in a fair way to the people in the communities at the District. It could be anyone’s family in a specific community that does not get a teacher training program or a school built in their community or access to potable water if the evidence does infact support that community, because the decision makers did not assess the needs of the district holistically.  The challenge that I know I will face is that district officers are more commonly not from the district they work and often decision makers from the district want to emphasize that their villages and communities get access to these resources, but really can they be held at fault for this? People want what is best for their families.

 

*Consistent Models

Deputy officers District Directors, and Directors of decentralized departments are key role models that need to be active role                         models that support the change.
The challenge with this is the current negative perceptions that exist both internally at the District Assembly and between the Department heads and the District Assembly.  Finding a way to create empathy between these key players is difficult but I belive needs to happen and can happen if they are open and receptive.

 

*Reinforcement Systems

For this change to happen my goal moving forward is to find ways to co-facilitate open meetings between decision makers and Information officers to encourage collaboration in the development of plans.
I have become aware that the 4-year plan at the District Assembly is currently going to be held under revision. This is a very big opportunity that I am hoping to leverage and will definitely help me shape the impact of evidence on planning.

 

* The Skills Required For Change

Currently my vision is to create a core focus group of individuals that are passionate about learning and furthering their                                    computer literacy and basic analysis skills.
This is something that is currently under progress in my work, as I have gone through an informal process to determine individuals that are interested in learning more about data analysis. Currently this includes the Planning Officer, Budget Officer, and an MIS officer from the Department of Health, Agric, and Education.
I am hoping that focusing on training this core group of people, and then later co-facilitating training sessions at each department will help me understand the current skill level of other officers and also will help create a system that will encourage people to seek training from their co-workers rather than external agents.

 

Changing Lenses

•June 8, 2011 • 4 Comments

Week 3 of my work in the East Gonja District Assembly is coming to an end, and things have been very challenging. It has been a roller coaster ride, from trying to find a host family to get out of a lonely guest house to helping facilitate a two-day capacity building workshop in the office.

Time is flying by but also passing slowly.

The work environment is continuously challenging, constantly walking a fine line between very limited resources, and sometimes a lacking sense of urgency in work. But even with the challenges that exist, somehow Ghanaians are always smiling, lively, and passionate about their work and even more compassionate towards their co-workers.

Getting set up in Salaga has taken some time. Feeling pressured with such little time to achieve goals that I have defined for my placement (and possibly a lack of patience on my part) often contributed to a sense of frustration that I couldn’t seem to shake since I arrived here. But now even looking back at that first week, my understanding of how a Ghanaian office operates was incomplete. I found myself trying to integrate into an office environment where I see everything through the lenses and perspectives that are unique to me, a combination of each encounter and past experience, and wondering why things are not functioning. Feeling overwhelmed and torn but unable to pinpoint what it was exactly, until I became self-aware, allowing myself to step back and things became brighter. I was looking at the system based on how I define an effective system, based on how I define ‘functional’.

A big part of this process happened over the two-day training with the Regional Planning and Coordinating Unit  and Mina (AfricanPrograms Staff on team G&RI – http://zikomoafrica.wordpress.com).

This training session was awesome! It gave me a different lens to see that although there are indeed things that people want to improve in the office, there are also things that work that I did not see before. I saw information officers from various departments apply their analytical skills and work collaboratively to share their knowledge with their coworkers. I had a true Ghanaian “AH hhhhaaa!” moment watching people interact.

They helped me pinpoint the tension, frustration and overwhelmed feeling I had been carrying. My experiences with each of the individuals in the room was unique. Each of us has value to add to the system, and each of us sees life through a different set of lenses with each life experience and encounter shaping the way we interact with everything around us.

And so my journey at the District Planning and Coordinating Unit in East Gonja begins. I want to challenge myself to be continuously aware of the filters, lenses and perspectives that I use to understand my environment and the people around me, in the office, the market, with my host family, wherever the rest of this summer takes me.

From Toronto to Salaga

•May 25, 2011 • 2 Comments

Again another pre-written blog post! The past two weeks of chaotic traveling leading up tothis past Monday deserve a specific post, and not to mention PICTURES!

Traveling to Ghana has been nothing but exhausting but yet exhilarating.  Our flights were delayed leaving from Toronto to Newark, and again from Newark to D.C. All in all we missed our flight to Accra in spite of an amazing team collaborative effort to get the flight held for us (being large group of 20 we thought this might be feasibile) and an insane sprint across Washington-Dulles airport. The group was spilt up  and we spent an additional day in D.C. The strain on emotions and the apprehension about missing more days of work in Ghana was stressful.  Many of us had some apprehension about being able to contribute meaningfully to our placements, but the experience of delays truly demonstrated how much we really wanted to be in Ghana, probably more so than I had realized!

But nonetheless, this challenge and hiccup in plan was met with positive attitudes as we kept our spirits high in D.C. and not to mention a great team bonding experience, I might even say that this experience helped us get to know each other a bit better being in an frustrating situation but still learning lots from each other and bonding even more!

With our flights to Accra re-routed to go through Frankfurt, a small group of us decided to head down to D.C. before our flight to Frankfurt to explore and see the White House, Washington Monument, and WWII Memorial. Washington had a very grand, official, yet a factor of simplicity to it. Buildings were large and sleek but and carried an air of history within each of them. Definitely not an expected part of our travels, but very much worth it!

After landing in Frankfurt, the atmosphere was distinct. I would almost want to say there was a distinct feeling of efficiency in the airport (I dislike stereotypes but it was an interesting feeling that was probably based on my perceptions of German culture). At this point we had been traveling for almost 3 days straight!

Landing in Accra, and getting off the plane I was slapped in the face with intense humidity and heat. The bus ride to Tamale the next day was difficult. We were delayed by 8 hours waiting at the bus station (STC Station) for a bus that was supposed to depart at 8am but left at maybe around 4pm (and not to mention rush hour traffic trying to get out of Accra!). But this wait was much different than in the Newark airport where everything felt tense. In Accra, things were laid back people engaged in conversations and not to mention trying some Ghanaian food: drinking tea with milk out of a mini plastic bag, eating some spicy tomato fries rice (Jolaf! SO good!!), and not to mention drinking 1L of water per hour (the heat takes a while to get used to!).

The bus ride to Tamale took us around 16 hours. We traveled overnight on bumpy roller coaster roads while watching some hilarious Nigerian movies. Making new friends and seeing some of the Ghanaian scenery made this experience fun and exciting regardless of how tired I was.  But even when we arrived to Tamale, our travels were not over. We stayed for 5 days of in-country training learning about Ghanaian culture, venturing out into the town and experiencing the bustling, high-energy market.

On Monday we all parted ways and began our individual ventures off to our placements in various districts throughout Ghana. I  ventured off to Salaga, the district capital of East Gonja on a two-hour roller coaster ride on the bumpiest truck ride ever, with my counterpart Alido, the District Planning Officer. It was a very surreal experience after being with the same group for more than two weeks and constantly around each other, I was on a whirlwind of emotions. I was (and still am) filled with excitement about everything I will be learning at Salaga and from my fellow JFs, but also felt some apprehension as I separated from what is familiar and immersed myself into a totally new environment.

This brings me to where I am today. More updates will be coming shortly, but for now enjoy some pictures that describe my travels from Toronto to the District Assembly Office in Salaga. (I have been having trouble uploading these so they may not be fully in order..)

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