Monday, 28 February 2011

Day 1 at the District Office

After 10 hours sleep,( the heat is exhausting), I arrived at the office for the daily "Devotion". There were about 24 of us by the end of the short service.The hymn wasn't familiar but everything was in English. Madam Director gave a few notices and some urgent issues were shared. The staff always meet together at 8am on Mondays. The Circuit Supervisors (School Advisors) are then in their own cluster areas for most of the week. Other officers are more easily contacted during the week. I was welcomed into their "family" and introduced myself. The rest of the day, I spent trying to learn some names and match them to responsibilities. Apart from a couple of well used computers in one office, the others are just furnished with desks and chairs. Clearly, as I expected, there are no resources. I shall be visiting some of the more local schools this week. I don't get the rest of my motorbike training for a couple of months apparently, so I'm cadging lifts further afield for a while.

Laura and I went out for lunch and had spicy groundnut (peanut) soup with a piece of rabbit and Fufu ( a large lump of mashed yam that is elastic and vaguely like mashed potato). You eat it all with your hands and can only manage half the fufu as it sits very heavily in the stomach. I've found pasta now so things could look up on the familiar edible food front! The tomatoes taste lovely but are strange shapes.

Following a few requests I shall take some photos around Nadowli and the house tomorrow and work out how to upload them. Watch this space

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Sunday Afternoon Pito

I have been a resident of Nadowli for an entire week and it feels like a month. 3 goat kids have been born this week and one has taken a liking to the cool floor inside our gate. Twice he has been inadvertently been locked in. His plaintive bleating alerted us to his plight although his mother didn't seem to notice. The weekend has been quiet but eventful at times. My washing took hours but dried within 30 mins. Maybe I'm being too thorough. After 2 weeks of this heat I'm perspiring pure mineral water and it could be argued I'm washing clothes by wearing them........maybe not!

Laura and I bought supplies from the small daily market yesterday including a selection of different beans and a bag of white stuff that is like tapioca and made of cassava. The variety of carbohydrate staples in small bags is endless and I'm struggling to remember their names. Some are palatable and others quite dreadful and grey. I have also found porridge which is a huge relief. It cooks quicker than home varieties too. We also bought a large bunch of green leaves from bean plants that taste a bit like spinach. After all that we needed a Star Beer at the Spot which overlooks the main village junction and where we were joined by a colleague from Jiripa up the road 20 km. Gin is incredibly cheap here and bought in sachets 30 for £1.50, probably of dubious quality and tonic water costs a fortune. I'll stick to the beer, I think.

I went for a walk around the village this afternoon to see how far it extends. I was invited to sit and drink Pito with a local family. Silvenus runs the petrol station and Alice brews Pito herself. It is fermented millet with yeast which they scrape off the top of the carafe before pouring into a bowl made of half a gourd called a Calabash.  I learned a little more of the local language from them and spent a while enjoying the unseasonably cooler late afternoon sunshine. After a second bowl as a welcome drink from Peter, who joined us, I decided to leave them and walk home. I don't think this was a particularly alcoholic version otherwise I would have  struggled to find my way! It was so good to exchange more than Dzemani (Good Evening, I'm fine tuning my greetings as they change from one day to the next!) with a local family. I think they would oblige me by sitting for some photos in the future. I am gathering suitable subjects and families for a project or two. On my way home I passed a number of young girls carrying large bowls going to the borehole for water. We are very lucky to have a reliable supply running water in the house.

I am looking forward to going to work in the morning! I can't remember saying that in a while

Friday, 25 February 2011

Global Warming !

It rained last night weirdly as we are nowhere near the wet season. It made for a mildly refreshing early morning that didn't last. Laura and I are now shouting across the room to each other as another downpour is thundering on the tin roof! It smells amazing. We haven't moved today because of the heat so tomorrow I shall be up at the cock crow to get some washing done.
I have been listening to the band rehearsing for next week's 54th Independence Day Celebrations. The school children are practising for the parade and marching. It should be good next Sunday with Monday off in lieu.

I am gathering information about the organisation and management of the education system in the district from my house mates to give me an idea of what to expect when I meet the staff in the office and schools. They have done a lot of the spadework in identifying what needs to be done. I am lucky as this will save me weeks or months of research and planning. I am ready to start learning and exploring all that now. I could spend weeks getting used to the heat and acclimatising but its time to get stuck a slow Ghanaian pace though!

The view from the kitchen window is a treat each morning as the animals pop by for a drink and the children set off across tracks in the parched grassland to school in their yellow and brown uniforms. Women are also up and about mostly carrying loads of long branches on their heads. A lot of charcoal is produced around here.

Mashed yam for supper with a vegetable and tomato sauce. Yams are very similar to potatoes but enormous and can be eaten in all the same guises. Can't wait to try a bit of chip frying and wonder if malt vinegar can be found!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Another Market Day

Today's visit to Wa market was a whole different experience to yesterday's and took all day. The trou trou was packed before we got on. One seat wasn't too secure so the driver's mate took it out and put it on the roof. I did wonder whether anyone would be expected to sit on it there! 18 of us crammed inside not including the driver  plus a baby who took one look at us and burst into tears for the rest of the 40 minute journey.
The market was packed with most things being carried in large metal bowls on women's and young girls' heads. Interesting looking liquids and pastes in small plastic bags tied up tightly in small balls. Fantastic colours all around in the food being sold to the dresses & headdresses of the Ghanaian women selling. Huge tomatoes, peppers, avocadoes, pineapples and unfamiliar vegetables were very inexpensive but 4 small carrots cost the equivalent of £1 and 5 potatoes £1.50. The seamstresses were busy with teams of women operating old singer hand wound machines. I look forward to choosing some fabric and having clothes made for me.
For refreshment I had ice cream in a sachet and numerous 500ml bags of cool drinking water - a great idea except the empty plastic contributes to at least half the litter around the locality.

Goats & sheep wandered everywhere seemingly unaware that others were being sold by the chunk nearby for tonight's evening meal in more affluent homes. Pots and pans were piled up on stalls and very cheap plastic and tin kitchenware. Most things can be found but it is surprising how little we can manage on. A fully stocked Tesco's is a million miles away from here.

The journey home took longer as each shopper's purchases had to be retrieved from the bus roof. Mine included a roll of 2 bright blue mats for my bedroom floor. A useful and very interesting experience and one I shall repeat with my camera when I don't need to buy anything.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Market Day

On a borrowed bicycle I followed Patricia to the office this morning to meet the staff. I can't be doing too much too soon!! They were all extremely welcoming and greeted me warmly and all said they were very busy. I remember "busy" differently, but then I never worked in this heat. I shall struggle to recall all their names even though so many Ghanaians have beautiful names, Patience, Comfort etc. I can feel a list coming on!

Our bikes took us along another red sandy track to the village centre. Here the market  was doing a swift trade. We bought Pawpaw, some deep fried bean paste that looked like doughnuts and comes on a variety of flavours and then we ventured into the meat section. A pig, cow, sheep and lamb had been slaughtered and each lay on a table under a corrugated awning. You tell the sellers how much you want to spend and they hack off an appropriate sized piece. That is as far as the butchering goes! You could get fillet or anything else that comes to hand. The heads are there too with a discrete pile of other stuff! So we are marinading pieces of pork for supper.

I investigated some mats for my bedroom floor and will compare prices with the market in Wa tomorrow. It appears you could spend the week working from market to market. Not a bad idea. Markets are every 6 days in each village and town. I need coathangers tomorrow and keep remembering the sacks of them that went to the dump at home only 3 weeks ago! I really need to get my cameras out now. I haven't so far as I don't want to appear a tourist and there will be hundreds more opportunities. Once the villagers know me better I can take some careful studies rather that stolen shots.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The locals and a "Spot" of beer

This is all so different, but I will quickly develop some routines to make it all feel like home. I am getting a lot of help from Patricia and Laura will be back up from Accra soon, hopefully with a pillow for me! I'm not sure that parts of me have realised the long term aspect of this life yet. That may hit as rather a shock!

We walked down to the "spot" bar for a beer yesterday evening via the office. I am not expected into work until March 1st so I have plenty of time to get into a routine with my new life and duties. Everything takes a long time due to the heat and the need to do everything by hand.
I have had a very busy day! I walked the few minutes on a sandy track to the main road and our nearest shop. I seemed quite a curiosity as I walked in but tried a bit of local Ansummar (Good Morning) which helped. With a loaf of bread and 6 eggs I managed to negotiate my way home......not as easy as you may think, the tracks all look the same! All the people who greeted me would have been able to point me in the right direction though, even the tiny children apparently wandering loose!
I did a bit of washing in the sink and realised that the waste water was pouring onto the back of a large pig lying under the spout. She was loving it, bubbles and all. There are no drains except for the loos. Soak away is the name of that game. Later 4 guinea fowl complained that I was disturbing their drinking pool.

Water filtering is a vital duty and I've set up a second filter as 3 of us will need much more drinking water when we get further into the hottest season. The Harmattan (colder, very dry) is coming to an end. Filters have fork handles  .....sorry 4 candles of chalk in the top can and the water filters through them down to the tap.

Just been out to lunch on bicycles after removing a tiny kid (goat variety) from the entrance enabling us to lock the door! Spicy bean stew, rice, peanut soup (also spicy) and smoked dry sardines. You dip this sort of grey dough, Tunpani, pressed, boiled bean paste into the soup........I'm getting used to it very slowly.

I shall try to keep this blog up daily but when I have to may be less frequent.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Yewayahe in Nadowli

Welcome, Yewayahe! What a relief to get here and what a journey. The coach left Accra only 30 mins late. Between 7 of us we had 451 kilos of luggage. I'm glad that any journey from now will involve no more than 1 bag!
Everything was fine until the village of Asuboa where the engine overheated. We spent 7 hours beside the road waiting for a replacement coach. The village was very interesting and we met plenty of locals. We were greeted as "Obruni (white people) how are you?" by the children, one wearing a Bangor Eisteadford 1995 T shirt! Their coconuts were delicious ( funny how a large group of teenage boys with machetees can be so welcoming when they have coconuts!) and we managed to live off banana rolls and ground nuts washed down with coke and fanta until the "Spot" (bar with little blue & white fence around - they all have this) ran out. Eventually the coach arrived in the dark. The busy road full of trucks and buses thundering past and throwing up red dust everywhere seemed quite dangerous while we repacked the new coach and set off. This one had a windscreen that was so cracked it was all held together with clingfilm. Fortunately we are in the dry season!
This was now an overnight journey and we pulled into Wa at 7am. After a freshen up and breakfast at a local guesthouse I was brought to Nadowli by taxi.
Patricia met me and I have now eaten bean stew and rice and had my first night's sleep under my mosquito net. The noises were amazing and varied. A snorting pig woke me up with his goat friends. I am now sitting listening to the life of the village outside the screen. Some lovely music and women going about their work. When Patricia returns from the office soon we will take a walk to the market for food.
No doubt there will be plenty more news, especially when I make it to the office 2 mins walk down the track!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Dongle day

I was handed 566 Ghanaian Cedis in a brown envelope this morning and it has to last me 6 weeks. There are 2 to the £. Finding a dongle was interesting and challenging. The large bright clean MTN shop with sweep round tiled entrance and balloons outside didn't have any dongles. However, a man in a kiosk directly across the road had loads.........but just a little more expensive! A bit of clever marketing by somebody.

I met my new house-mate at the office in Accra and am looking forward to getting up there to Nadowli now. Long journey tomorrow with 3 bags to check onto the bus. Apparently they show very load Nigerian films on the monitors all the way. Can't wait!!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Trou trous and learning the lingo!

I've now had 3 hours language training in Dagaare and should be able to greet people politely, find my way around, particularly to the Chief's house and the market, and count to 1,000! With at least 9 groups of us learning different Ghanaian dialects, you can imagine the sounds emanating from our conference room. Many of the groups will be working and living within 50 miles of each other so the languages are that local!! It was hard not to get hysterical when 30 people were all making indeciferable gutteral sounds in small huddled groups, repeating themselves over and over again. Anyone listening at the door would imagine a tiny zoo was housed within. It was very funny.
Anyway, Ansumar, Antrey or Annulla, depending which time of the day you open this blog! The spelling is phonetical as the language is not a written one.

Last night 19 of us squeezed into a trou trou (battered minibus taxi) and bumped our way through the outskirts of Accra to listen to traditional live music from Koroleko, a superb band from Burkino Faso. Some of the entertainment was provided by the very athletic dancing from members of the audience, back flips included. I discovered that STAR beer is worth having and a welcome alternative to the gallons of water I'm consuming. The journeys there and back were at least as interesting. Small shacks selling everything appeared to be planning to stay open all night. Many of those that had closed had their owners or guards sleeping in the entrances. Large crowds gathered around TVs in shacks and on the street as Arsenal played Barcelona. I have no idea who they were supporting or why, but it was clearly an important match for all the spectators.
There seemed to be far too many young children on the streets, cleaning windscreens and sitting around at 11pm, but that is part of their lives, unfortunately, and part of the reason why some of us are here.

Tomorrow, we get some of our allowance in cash. I imagine Wells Fargo will draw up in front of the hotel!
We have shopping opportunities for mobile phone credit and dongle purchasing, not to mention steam irons and other household items for a few people, before the long journeys by bus up country to our placements. It will take 12 hours as a minimum to Wa with 3 stops for food etc. Not only will each of us have 2 large bags, but also a bag with our course folder, bedding, mosquito net and 1st Aid kit that we will be presented with! As for any hand luggage and not to forget motorbike helmets, I can't imaging how we will manage. Never mind, we have an experienced friend looking after the 8 of us travelling on our particular bus. She says we will be fine and my guardian angel agrees!

My next posting on here will be from Nadowli, where I shall be residing from Sunday night.
As they would say up there   Gitaganzo (Good Night)  !!!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011


Well, a group of about 20 of us made it to Accra. We are staying in a good hotel for the rest of the week being inducted. It's hard work but interesting with few breaks and numerous forms to complete. Some of the food is an introduction to the future in the NW. I have experienced grey millet dumplings and Hausa Koco which comes in a variety of forms, some sweet, quite pleasant, like semolina and another grey sludge that is indescribable. There is a fair bit of hot spice in the cooking here which makes something of ingredients with little taste.

I have been learning the basics of Dagaare today. Greetings etc in a language that is only spoken in a small local area of NW Ghana. I shall be quite fluent after 2 years and won't be able to use it anywhere else on the planet!

We had a torrential storm tonight with some impressive lightning. I got soaked running from the pool side restaurant to my room. Gallons poured off the umbrellas above us.

Yesterday, we were trated to a bus tour around Accra to get our bearings. The sights were amazing with huge loads of all sorts being carried on people's heads around the streets and markets. One woman was crossing a busy road with what I calculated to be about 21 dozen eggs balanced on her head! A heavy old Singer sewing machine appeared around the next corner supported confidently by a young man.
Outside Barclays Bank under an elaborate awning an efficient orderly Blood Doning session was under way. I didn't notice any tea and biscuits!
The coast and fishing areas were busy and we saw a coffin builders workshop with caskets shaped as beer bottles, aeroplanes and fish! They were quite beautiful and extremely well constructed.
Areas were slaves were collected before deportation were pointed out to us from the bus. There was a real mix of cultures along the streets from very western dress and commercialism to traditional Ghanaian clothes, street food and life generally.
I continue to be excited!!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Ready to Go!

"My bags are packed, I'm ready to go......."
The last week or so has been a mass to Goodbyes and final preparations. Strangely, I'm still not at all anxious about my future in Ghana. This must be the right thing for me. I have been reading a lot about the country and the people, wildlife, transport etc. Life will certainly never be the same again.
Next stop Accra for nearly a week for preparation and some training. Then I go up country with a few new arrivals to start my adventure and huge learning experience.

Watch this may take a while to get up and running with a dongle etc.