Tuesday, 29 March 2011

A load of yams

Great excitement at the office this morning. A truck full of yams drove down the drive and was emptied out in front of the entrance. I learned this is an opportunity for office staff to buy cheap yams and the profit goes into a Welfare fund for bereaved families of teachers. This seems to be happening often here.

The mountain of yams was huge and the staff spent the whole morning haggling over prices and distributing them. Each time I looked up from my laptop another typist was walking past with an armful of heavy yams. They weigh a ton too. Voices were raised with excitement and urgency as the yams moved up and down the corridor. I never actually saw any money change hands. I have never witnessed so much activity and dedication to a task. It's a shame that excitement is not evident when education matters are pressing. By 11.30 everyone was disappearing off up the road with yams strapped to the back of their motorbikes and scooters. Obviously, this was an excuse for an afternoon off to peel the yams and start pounding them into Fufu. What fun!!

Georgitta with her haul and a very shy man!

The President did not generate that much enthusiasm yesterday. People were glad to have seen him but there were issues about his very late arrival and the teachers not waiting at school to see him! Our Director was not amused!

Monday, 28 March 2011

All the President's Men

The President of Ghana, John Atta Mills, visited Nadowli today to open a residential wing of a Catholic School 5 kms outside the village. There was great excitement at the District Office and 36 people attended Morning Devotion looking their best - twice as many as usual! The President is making a tour of the Upper West, the poorest region in Ghana. My enquiries of colleagues this morning were met with expressions of great respect towards the President and they were going to try and catch sight of him.

The 12 SUV cavalcade swept along the 46 km road from Wa, whilst large crowds waited on the crossroads by the market. I was there for a while but the midday heat was unbearable and I came home to recover. Apparently, they arrived somewhat late into the afternoon, unsurprisingly. I shall learn tomorrow whether he got out from behind the smoked glass windows and greeted his people. I hope so. There were plenty of sirens around the vicinity most of the day. This will have been a big day in the lives of Nadowli's citizens.

We are experiencing some wild winds lately, which are often followed by heavy downpours of rain. I wonder how long we will wait for the rainy season and will it be easier to manage? Cooler, but wet, humid and more mosquitoes.

At our regional meeting in Wa on Saturday, to which all 17 current volunteers attended, we learned that 3 who came out with me have already gone home! These include the couple of headteachers from Eastbourne. They have had dreadful health problems including malaria and typhoid. It is surprising how often people get malaria here whether you take the medication or not! Hospitals seem to manage the diagnosis and treatment very well and it is not considered alarming at all, fairly normal and routine, in fact. It is unfortunate when folks have complications to make situations more serious. So far so good, as far as my health is concerned. I don't worry about it, I just take care and rely on my Guardian Angel who is doing a wonderful job, bless her.

We are entertaining a Dutch friend for dinner, who walked from Wa today in 8 hours. A little longer than the President who swept past her on the road. It was a challenge I shall not attempt. Apparently, it was worth it despite the blisters, sunburn and aches. She is catching the tro home tomorrow!

I limit my challenges to a half day at work, a cycle to the Post Office or market and a walk some evenings as the temperature begins to drop slightly.......very slightly. Living and moving around is challenge enough!!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Girl Child Celebration Week

This is Girl Child Celebration Week involving all the older girls in the Junior High Schools from around the District. They spend all week in Nadowli preparing for today's celebrations with the Girl Child Education Coordinator and taking part in a range of activities. The issue of girls remaining in education and raising awareness of their self worth is enormous here as so many are pregnant very young or are expected to stay and work in the house. Yesterday, a competition of debates and quizes took place. Today started with a procession accompanied by drums and singing as the girls snaked around the neighbourhood.

The banner reads "Guide and direct us and we will become better people". As an invited guest, I sat with Madam Director and others under the trees and watched as the events unfolded. Lots of speeches were made and the hundreds of children from local schools who gathered round to watch and support their friends were very well behaved considering the tedium of some of it. Some watched from up in the trees, the best view over all the heads.
The celebrations included dancing, poetry, singing and some drama, all on the theme of girls taking care of their best interests and celebrating their talents.

The quality of the performances was very good and the entire audience appreciated their skills. The children don't smile a great deal and take photos very seriously. I struggle to get the older ones to look cheerful. That's not so hard with the toddlers! There were very young children there all looked after by older friends and siblings. Very few adults were in evidence.

By the end of the 3 hours when the sun had chased me out from under the canopy of leaves a number of times & the audience had crept forward and been ushered back frequently, the events drew to a close. It had been a fantastic experience to, not only, observe children performing, but also to watch others supporting and appreciating them. This is something that used to warm my heart particularly in my own school. Children around the world are not so different!

I was surprised to be presented with a box of cooked rice and chicken and a can of fruit juice to take away with me! It was very nice. However, I would have been happier if the children had had some. All of them needed it. There is a programme of school meals provision so I hope they ate afterwards, but I am sure theirs would not have included chicken. I was advised that to give my gift away would not have been received well.

Monday, 21 March 2011


I've decided this could get very tedious if I just write a diary. Therefore, I'm going to let you into the world of my learning about Ghana.

Despite what you may think from my posting about food and the lack of certain things, I am not losing much weight. Unfortunately, the food here is designed to fill you, is extremely cheap in its natural and cooked form and is also very labour intensive. The staples include yams, beans and cassava. The local women pound these substances with a pole in a bowl for hours and hours to bind them and make them smooth. You can hear them in the evenings. They are then formed into balls and other forms before it is steamed, boiled or left to sweat. Some of it is not eaten the day it is made and some has long periods of drying before they start the preparation process. You can buy it all on the street and in the market ready prepared. They charge a pittance for it after all that sweat and the time devoted to it. Patricia and I just bought some Tumpanii or Belibeli (same thing) it looked like slices of liver but was made from beans. It came in a hot spicy tomato/chilli sauce. A bowl full cost the equivalent of 25p !! So......the next time you complain about peeling potatoes or waiting for pasta to cook, spare a thought for the women of rural Ghana who will still be pounding Fufu long after your dishwasher has finished its cycle. Here endeth the lesson according to ...............Sorry!

The St Patrick's Day Party was good. Folks traveled some distance to get here. On average an hour on a moto. The Pitou was good and we ate some excellent dips that tasted genuine even though we were creative with the ingredients. eg Hummus without chick peas or tahinni!!. The avocadoes here are enormous and great for guacamole.

On the subject of food, if anyone wishes to send anything in a powdered or dried form that does not require butter or fresh milk to reconstitute it, that would be lovely. We can do amazing things with dried mushrooms & fruits, herbs, spices and cake mixes esp.Chocolate!!  Brownie mix was sent to Laura last week with only a small hole chewed by mice in one corner in transit. They were gorgeous! The local flour suffers from mould or lots of "creatures" in it that need endless sifting out. I apologise if the last bit made anyone squeamish. I'm way past any of that.

Must go, we need to find the ripe dead mouse in the spare room before tea time!!

Friday, 18 March 2011

More Life!

By popular request here is photo of me outside my house. Yes, I am really here. I'm not sitting in nice hotel  making this up. My address, for all the people who are desperate to send me parcels etc is:
PO Box 18, Nadowli, UWR,, Ghana...........thanks, anyway!

I have been eating the Acaia Apples from the tree in the picture. They are like sweet chestnuts, similar size, but more oily and you eat them raw when you have removed the red peel.

The market is beginning to sell small ripe mangoes but the large ones have a while to go before harvest. I have been amazed by the things that women carry on their heads. This morning I passed a beatufully dressed woman with a fully packed suitcase balanced on her head. last week someone else had 2 heavy bags of shopping in each hand and her purse on her head. The women start very young to develop this skill. Young teenagers will carry large heavy, aluminium bowls which are used here to sell and transport everything. They must weigh a ton but you never see a drop of anything spilt. I'm thinking of asking someone to teach me the basic skills and I could practise.

In recognition of St Patrick's Day, we are throwing a party tomorrow. The guests travel long distances and probably need to stay all night due to the erratic transport system here.

I'm adding another photo taken under the tree above. There is a large hole in the base of it and the ducks lay eggs inside the tree. There was a bit of a queue yesterday! The area is overrun with chicks, kids, goats, pigs, piglets etc. I'm told this is not just a productive time of year, it is the same year round.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Motorcycle Diaries

My helmet and very warm jacket had their first outing yesterday, when I got a lift to Wa on Laura's bike. It will still be a few weeks, probably Easter, before I'm called to Bolgatanga for my final week's training. With any luck a bike of my own will follow. 44km pillion felt a much shorter distance along one wide road, but I'm assured it gets longer with practice. However, we managed to transport some rare goodies on the back coming home, including Olive Oil, Honey and Brown Bread.

A crate of chicks accompanied us on the tro this morning. I don't know how many as they were behind my head. I don't think they were enjoying the journey as much as I was. I'm told it's quite normal to have all sorts of animals on the tro. Goats etc strapped to the roof. I have yet to experience that. The woman beside me was going to market to sell wigs. It appears most professional women shave their hair almost completely and then attach a short straight hair wig. The wigs are all very similar and don't move all day! It seems such a shame as they look strange and very fake.

This is the house across from ours. The children are lovely they were picking Acaia Apples from the tree between our homes. These are small fruits that are white and oily in a red peel.

I must go we are having papaya tonight. The fruits are gradually ripening and give us a greater variety to enjoy.

Bliss under the kitchen window!!!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Post Office exploits

This morning I borrowed a bicycle and peddled some way out of the village to the Post Office. The door was open, radio on, I suspect a till full of cash behind the counter and no sign of anyone!! I called, walked around the building and searched as far as I could see in either direction along the road. There was a phone number on the open door so I rang that. A man answered and said he'd be there in a minute. Sure enough a minute later he emerged from behind the hedge!
Our subscription for the PO Box was well overdue and cost 60Ghana Cedis (£30 to you). I'm hoping for lots of post to make it worthwhile!!!!!!!!!!!!

We have had a few non-paying guests in the house recently. One or two mice have died, probably from shock. I found a gecko and his rather sick lizard friend in my room today. The lizard is now recovering outside somewhere and the gecko is always welcome. He will keep the ant population under control.

Life at the office was quiet as usual. Some staff went to the funeral of a local teacher and apparently one of the headteachers died suddenly yesterday in hospital. Death is not a rare occurrence here. I'm looking forward to my first invitation to a funeral as, I am told, they are good celebrations and entertaining.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Busy Day at the Bank

I am now the proud owner of a Ghanaian Bank Account! It took 2 and a half hours! However, the air con was welcome. The Bank Manager deals with 2 customers at once which is rather disconcerting. The guy sitting next to me was taking far too much interest in my case. I kept expecting him to join in the conversation and check the photocopy of my passport. After a while a bank teller arrived with a stash of cash in a brown envelope for him and he said something to me I didn't understand & got up. At that point Tony, the Bank Manager, produced a tennis racquet from under his desk and handed it to him. He left. Tony, then addressed me as "Auntie Debra" for the remainder of the proceedings. I can only assume he couldn't pronounce Adrienne.

On the way back to the tro station I bought anything green we could eat in the market . I also found potatoes. I got 6 for £1.50 which we have plans for tomorrow. My bag was filled with tins inc Heinz beans, Heinz vegetable salad and Laughing Cow (the only cheese we can get) in the shop next door. I munched on groundnut balls and tiny green bananas on the way home.

Today we washed the sitting room floor. Fairly normal you may think. However, as it is concrete, this involves standing at one end and throwing buckets of water down the room. It all sloshes out of the doorway at the other end. Simples!!  No dust!

I have to go as Patricia has baked a cake! It smells so wonderful, I'm inhaling my slice while they eat theirs, then when I eat mine I have had twice the enjoyment. What joy we find in simple pleasures.
Bon Appetit or something else in Dagaare!!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Nadowli Market

Tro tros waiting for passengers
It has been a rather uneventful day, today. We took a short cycle to the market to stock up. I managed to remember my camera and took a few snaps to give you a flavour of it.

Jugs of Pitou

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Day 2

Day 2 of the Heads' INSET was a little more active and I was asked to contribute too. I was told in all the training that you watch, listen, learn, shake hands and smile a lot for the first few weeks if not months. However, on Day 7 I find myself telling people how to do their jobs!! ie. How to observe a lesson and make informed judgments. I just couldn't keep my lips zipped. We will see whether anyone asks for my advice now or whether I've scared them to death.

Some brave people got up and did demonstration lessons for their peers to pull apart. I was amazed how they could improvise without resources. The biggest problem appears that most schools don't have a full compliment of teachers and have 2 huge classes in one room.

The participants were paid cash in hand to attend this course as it was sponsored by MTN (mobile phone network). Lunch was good again - Jollof rice (mixed and a bit spicy) with a piece of chicken. All of the huge bowl of leftovers was carried home by participants and facilitators for supper.....also sponsored by \MTN.  The issue of funding for anything or anybody is massive here and overrides everything. Cardboard sheets for demo lessons were bought especially in Wa and were counted along with the pens....and counted back in too. Some very small babies strapped to their mothers' backs attended both days and didn't so much as murmur.

It was a very enlightening 2 days for me. However, my overriding memory will be of constant mobile phone ringing and folks going out to answer them, including the facilitators!! I shall be offering my feedback tomorrow.

Sorry, forgot to take my camera with me! Pretty poor, I know.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011


I was one of 40 participants at a Locality Headteachers' INSET course today. The aim was to train headteachers to deliver training. Once we got started, 2 hours late, it was most interesting and enlightening for me. I'm getting a much clearer picture of my future at work here.
We were joined very briefly by a grubby but inquisitive pig at one point.  Later on a small dog came in and lay on the floor. I learned from my neighbour that he belonged to a participant who is blind. The dog didn't arrive or leave with her!
Lunch was Jojo (peanut soup) with Banku (fermented maize and cassava dough ball thing!) and a piece of smoked fish, all eaten with your hands. I'm struggling to get used to the heavy balls of stuff. There are 4 types now- Banku, Kenke, TZ and Fufu. The fish is lovely and the soup is good but spicy.

I go back for Day 2 tomorrow. It will be a little more practical and I can help with the facilitation, apparently. Great stuff. I can feel useful and have a free lunch!!

Here are a couple of photos from inside the house. Despite the intense heat and sunshine it is quite dark.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Independence Day

As my housemates were away this weekend, I decided to look up some dutch friends in Wa who came out to Ghana with me. We had a great weekend and met up with a large group of other volunteers at various times. Life in a large town brings a range of new entertainment and opportunities. My hosts were wonderful (and I'm not just saying that because they read this blog!!) The range of food items is infinitely greater and we ate very well with lots of fresh fruit and veg. I could become vegetarian here. However, last nights chicken and yam chips, the first meat in a while was delicious and very cheap! £1.50 for a plate full including half a chicken.

The market is very colourful and sociable

I bought a piece of green and blue cotton batik fabric in the market, bartered down to £6.50 for 3 yards to have a dress made. The estimated amount needed was the vendor's not mine, but they are very accurate and used to this. There are dressmakers  everywhere including in Nadowli so I shall be visiting them this week with a dress to copy.

On the way home we visited the Wa Na's Palace (Chief of Wa) from the outside. Situation currently vacant due to dispute, apparently!

Sunday was the 54th Ghana Independence Day. Everyone gathered in Jubilee Park for celebrations led by local chiefs/politicians and starring the school marching teams in competition. (These are ones who have been practising for weeks to the beat of drumming.) There were lots of schools and even more supporters. We watched most of them and listened as they cheered at each score. The marching was very military which made us feel that some dancing may have been more appropriate for children, but this is clearly a tradition and taken very seriously.

Later in the day we walked through Wa in search of an ancient mosque built in traditional style, like the Wa Na Palace with mud and sticks. It took some finding in the backstreets of the older poorer residential area of Wa. Some repair was being made to another mosque nearby and we were told the local community are desperate for funding to restore this 17th Century one,

I traveled to and from Wa in the tro tro. Both journeys were very pleasant despite the dilapidated condition of the vehicles. I entertained a toddler for ages with a bracelet. She was fascinated by my white skin and laughed all the way there to the amusement of everyone else. On the return journey I was lucky to get a front seat with my backpack and a young Ghanaian showed me where he was working on a food production project near Nadowli. We passed endless mango trees heavy with ripening fruit. I can't wait for the harvest.

As I trudged along the sandy path to the house I was met by a gaggle of small children who all wanted to draw. They have been doing this with Laura & Patricia for some time. I produced paper and crayons and they were happy for a while, until they needed to teach me a song and dance. I think they would have stayed all day but I had washing to do and a blog I was itching to write!!

By the way, yes, I can read all your comments and they are copied as emails too to my Google account.
Keep commenting. The communication means a lot to me. Thank you

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Photos at last!

Village children returning from school outside our house
Carrying wood for charcoal 

The Nadowli District Education Offices a 5 minute walk from home or 2 minute cycle

Local residents finding a cool space against the kitchen wall

Finally, I have managed to upload some photos. More will follow if these are successful.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

A little visitor

I am getting into an early morning routine of letting my porridge cook whilst I fill the water filter and unlock the rather tricky padlock on the front door. It's actually a gate. All the windows and doors have metal bars. We are sure we don't actually need them but it is the security provided and is therefore reassuring. Most houses don't have doors, but then they don't have laptops, cameras, Kindles and cash either.

I'm beginning to look forward to the Morning Devotion outside the office at 8am. It is a very civilised way to start the day with all the staff. A short bible reading and the others all sing. I can't imagine ever knowing the words. Little bits of news & notices follow.

I was reading handbooks for headteachers and supervisors with fascination when a little face appeared at the door. We never did discover his name but a small boy spent most of the morning sitting at one of the vacant desks in our office, drawing with a borrowed pen on a piece of A4 paper that is issued out of a locked cabinet as if it were gold leaf. Our new friend has Special Needs which was not difficult to ascertain and also he wore a blue shirt that was confirmation of his SEN, apparently. He smiled broadly and didn't answer any questions he was asked in English or Dagaare. After  a couple of hours and a sachet of drinking water, he hopped off his seat, took his drawing and left. There used to be a Special Unit attached to one of the schools I visited yesterday across the field. It is no longer staffed so the children in blue shirts visit classrooms in other schools..............or our office!

All the children are wonderfully polite, interested and cheerful. having visited many of them in school yesterday, I am now greeted in English "Good Afternoon, how are you?" instead of "Mansala,", yelled from any distance. Mansala means Master as well as White Person, so this development is extremely welcome.

At the end of the school day - 2pm, ALL the children walk home in groups or alone, whatever their age. None are met by adults. A whole gaggle of very young Kindergarten in pink passed me in the market, heading home. When I asked them how they were, they all answered "I am fine".  This must be the first lesson of English in all schools and they love to test it live on us.

Bean & veg stew for lunch .....and dinner......and probably lunch tomorrow too. Actually, it is very tasty. I hope I shall be able to find the same beans when I get home. The market only really has tomatoes, onions, beans, rice and a few peppers at this time of year. mangoes will be ripe soon and then the rainy season will allow more variety to our diet. We really do eat in season.

I am attending some Headteacher INSET next week as well as a meeting on Friday. It's all getting more interesting the more I see, hear and read. I'm still not sure where to begin, but SEN children wandering the neighbourhood could be a start.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Visiting Nadowli Schools

I've been trying to upload some photos but so far have failed. I think the files are too large and need reducing before uploading, I think.  I shall seek advice (any offers?) and try again.

I had a fascinating morning visiting the main schools in Nadowli thanks to Laura who took me around. There were 2 KG (Kindergarten), 1 Primary and 1 JHS (Junior High Sch). They are all in low buildings where the classrooms are in a row, sometimes 2 rows facing each other. The office is at one end.  There were no boundaries between the schools so it seemed as though they were all on one site. The schools varied but most classes had a teacher. Some were doing mock exams and had a range of ages of students in them. All wore uniform, yellow shirts and brown pinafores and trousers. The children stood up in the JHS and I was introduced to them. They welcomed me with an applause. In some classes the children had a short rhyme of welcome. Class sizes ranged between 25 to about 50.
At the moment many of the children are practising for the Independence Day March which is a competition for some. Every morning for a number of hours we can hear the drumming to keep them in time.

I met the headteacher in 3 of the schools. Each seemed pleased that I would be working with them to improve the education management in their school. They appear to have many problems, one being keeping teachers and ensuring they turn up every morning. Their conditions are poor and they are not respected. I have a lot to do!

I am hoping to attend a locality heads' meeting on Thursday. I'm expecting that to be different to the last one I experienced. However, the lack of funds I am sure will feature in both!

On my return home, the pigs were lying beside the cooler side of the house in a muddy patch. It is particularly hot today.