Saturday, 30 April 2011

On Safari

The 2 hour walking safari in the early morning was wonderful and unforgettable. We decided we would try a jeep safari at the end of the day in the hope of covering a wider area and seeing more animals. In fact, although we saw a variety of animals, we did not see them as clearly and even the guide was a little frustrated. However, these are one of the beautiful antelope type species we found.
These kobs were everywhere and often in family groups. After two and a half hours of cruising the dirt roads we returned to the hotel. In an attempt to keep cool we had had the side sliding door open all the way. It was only as I stood in the shower later that I realised how much dust I had collected!
Back at the hotel, there were problems with the baboons helping themselves to people's food and emptying bins to feed their hungry families. The staff were shooing them away.
There were many gorgeous birds which were hard to photograph. However, I have always loved kingfishers and have now seen an African one!
The last day was a time for relaxation and observing the wildlife from the hotel escarpment. A truly fantastic view. There was always something appearing for a drink or a swim.

Some of the animals were confident enough to wander around the hotel grounds. The Warthogs were most amusing. They shuffled along on their knees hoovering the ground for food.
I am sure I shall return to Mole whilst I am here. The staff were very friendly as are most Ghanaians. The park covers a huge area of North Ghana and they have plenty more wildlife for me to find on another occasion.
We left early on Thursday and spent some time in Larabunga with those same young "tour guides" as we awaited the bus back to Wa. Actually, they were very helpful on this occasion and I hope the new road will open up possibilities for them to experience more fulfillment in their careers. The village was a hive of activity at 6.30am. Men drinking tea while the women fetched water, chopped wood and tried to sell yams through the bus window. A typical Ghanaian morning!

Friday, 29 April 2011

Unforgettable Elephants

We arrived in Mole so early on Monday that we had 3 full days of delightful experience. I had said to myself before I left home, that if I saw one elephant from a distance I'd be happy. That was achieved before lunch on Monday! On Tuesday morning before the heat broke through, we saw 3 at close quarters during a walking safari. They stood and looked at us for a while and then headed into the pool for a swim.

Our guide led us across an open area and around another pool.  The pools are very small at the moment, but within a few months will cover huge areas of the park once the rains come. We saw Nile Crocodiles lurking below the surface in a very sinister fashion. When we came back round the elephants were out of water and hungry. This one broke off an entire branch of the tree to get to the leaves he fancied. The elephants are black when wet, before they throw dust over themselves.
We learned much from our guide, Adam. These Savannah Elephants use their left tusk for gathering food and the right one for defending themselves. They are more likely to damage the left one with constant foraging, particularly as they eat for about 16 hours a day! Apparently, they are the second fastest mammal after the cheetah and their greatest fear is the Soldier Ant. If one gets inside an elephant's trunk it climbs up and the elephant beat its head incessantly to get rid of it and dies trying.
It was wonderful to see them so close. From a viewing platform by the hotel, we could watch wildlife coming and going across the open space below us. Binoculars and long lenses gave us an advantage here.

The scarcity of water in the dry season means the elephants are drawn to these pools. In the rainy season they have more choice and observers may need to search further to find them.  How lucky were we? More animals tomorrow........

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Dancing in the Aisles

I'm back safely from Mole Park with photos I'm proud of. Before I begin holiday tales, I must mention the Easter Sunday mass I attended in the village. I was told it began at 10am, so taking account of "Ghana Time" I strolled along to the church at 9.45am, expecting to be one of the first there. The place was packed!
I was the only white face amongst about 350 Ghanaians, all squeezed around the doorways and leaning in windows. Everybody was aware that the "Nansala" had come to church. Suddenly, Georgitta (of heavy yam carrying fame) appeared and dragged me down the aisle to a plastic chair that she had stuck on the end of a pew. Now I was not only the token white person, but the only one sitting in the middle of the aisle! Well, what an experience! The service lasted 2.5hrs, was almost all in Dagaare (I think the odd English word was for my benefit) Georgitta was instrumental in getting the dancing going at every opportunity, accompanied by whoops and wails of excitement. At one point there was a conga going round the altar! It was great and I'm glad I went. I shall have to get some lessons organised before I join in the dancing.

The "long road to Bolga" does improve with practice! The washboard effect wasn't nearly as bad this time. Actually, we learned this morning, that the President is coming north again tomorrow to formally start the road surfacing project to tarmac the whole road across the country, a distance of about 200kms. That will make a huge difference to the communication links of North Ghana. I can't imagine I shall see it finished, but who knows.

The Mole Motel lies 6km from Larabunga, the nearest village. We were met off the bus by some helpful young men who claimed to be tour guides and assured us that you can only reach the park by walking or by riding pillion with your luggage on a moto taxi. A quick phone call to the Motel and they sent an SUV out to collect us. Phew!!!

We had 3 full days of relaxation and short Safari trips, one walking and one by SUV. It was lovely. I shall leave you with a taster and write more tomorrow.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Taking a Break

We are having the most tremendous storm at the moment and I can't believe I still have electricity. The rainy season must be on its way. I am off to Mole (pronounced Mo-lay) National Wildlife Park on Monday for a few days and hopefully will see elephants. Unfortunately the bus journey there involves repeating half of the long road to Bolga! I shall see whether it gets better with practice.

With the rainy season on the way, my neighbours are making preparations. This morning they were building the pen for their animals. Once the crops begin to grow the goats, pigs, sheep et al cannot roam about the neighbourhood helping themselves to ripe shoots and rich pickings. Apparently, they are all penned in. That must come as a huge shock to them after so much freedom!

This is a view from my bedroom window showing how parched everywhere is. I am assured that in a couple of months this area and all around will be shoulder high with new green growth of various types.

Just one more picture that I took on the main road on my way to the market this morning. In all villages there are many shops and homes painted bright yellow with an MTN logo or scarlet with vodaphone emblazoned across them. These phone companies will paint your property free. The paint protects the walls for longer but you need to endure the vivid colours and inappropriate logos. It is far too tempting for many but quite an eyesore, as I'm sure you agree!

I shall be back in a week woth some wildlife pictures if I'm lucky! Happy Easter to you all. Enjoy the weather!

Thursday, 21 April 2011


I think we have had enough of motorbikes for a while and my trips to the Post Office and Bank today were more entertaining!

My wonderful sister Ros sent me a parcel of M&S summer clothes a month ago. On Monday I had a note in the PO Box to tell me I had to collect it from Wa Post Office during one of 2 short windows of time in the week. I went this afternoon. Having paid 3 Cedis for the privilege of collecting my own parcel I sat for ages as the Customs Officer needed to check it. 5 minutes before the window closed she appeared, probably quite young, mid 20s, in a tight official blue uniform that she was bursting out of from every seam. She was chewing gum so audibly that I imagined they could hear it outside. I was called into the Postmasters Office where all 4 of the people in there were holding loud mobile phone conversations. I sat down on a sofa and waited patiently. There were 2 of the most enormous safes on one side, which when opened were packed with packages.

The Postmaster pulled one out randomly and it happened to be mine. The Customs Officer gestured to me to open it. She then proceeded to spend 20 minutes with a calculator and a receipt book. Eventually, she asked me for 55 Peshwas (25p) which was tax, apparently. I gave it to her and a few moments later she gave most of it back. I left with my parcel finally after an hour and a half. Later, I bumped into her in the market and wondered how she was managing the mathematics of shopping. Clearly, the Ghana Education Service needs help.

My next stop was the bank, to see if my ATM card was ready, 6 weeks after opening the account. It was found eventually and I was handed the little envelope with the PIN number. Yes, I could use it straight away! Outside the branch my card was immediately swallowed by the ATM. CARD NOT ON FILE. Back inside I needed to fill in a form and they will text me in a month when the card is retrieved. I did manage to withdraw some cash with a cheque that required 4 signatures! Do I look that suspicious? At the counter the cashier surprised me by asking when I was next going to Bolgatanga. I must have looked confused until he told me he'd seen me there last week!

I learn new things every day. Some of today's wisdom was.........I can't hide here at all; Ghana is still not ready for technology and the teaching of mathematics here leaves a lot to be desired.
The clothes fit perfectly and are lovely. Thank you very much, Ros!

Another thing I have learned this week...........if packages have a customs label that says "Ladies Sanitary Goods" no value,  they come straight to my PO Box in Nadowli  !!  A tip I was given and it works. The Wa PO experience was not to be missed though!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Motorcycle Diaries Days 3 & 4

Day 3 was thin on training to say the least! We learnt a bit of mechanics and I can now find all the important parts of the bike......brakes foremost! One trainer had other commitments somewhere and the other needed to arrange the embalming of his uncle who died at the weekend.

Day 4 was more exciting with a long ride out to see crocodiles at Paga. The dirt roads take an enormous amount of concentration as they have sections of deeper sand, large potholes and either mounds or ditches. It's a bit of a slalom course to say the least! We had to take it in turns to be in the lead with one trainer dodging up and down the procession of bikes. On one stretch I was gripping on for dear life following the trainer & I was interested to watch him perform an interesting manoeuvre . He took his helmet off and propped it on a wing mirror, reached around and took a bottle of water from the box behind his seat, unscrewed the cap with both hands took a long swig from it, replaced the cap and the bottle before putting his helmet back on his head! I suppose that is confidence, but I failed the next test when we were told to let go with one hand and wave at the next group of children. No chance, not yet!!
We stopped for a break and a coke at a busy village called Sirigu. This man proudly showed me the guinea fowl he had just bought for £4 each........and his red teeth!  Beetle Nut chewing, I think.

When we saw the crocodiles heading towards us out of the pool, I was slightly alarmed however, they were clearly under the influence of the men holding the bait. It was all rather a tourist attraction. However, the children bathing in the pool behind them didn't seem concerned either! It may not look it but I've lost 5 kilos since you last saw me. Good eh?

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Getting to Grips

Yes, that's me under all that protective clothing. I can't begin to tell you how hot it was but I drank about 8 litres of water each day. My adrenaline was keeping me warm too as I gripped the handlebars like a vice. The challenge, I realised was staying on the bike whilst driving on sand and grit. It was scary and I didn't get out of 2nd gear until Day 2!

Bas, Jeannine (Dutch friends) and I had 2 days on this football pitch, going round and round, figures of 8, slaloms round rocks, slow turns, gear changes etc. The trainer, Abass, sat under a canopy and watched from the shade with a cool drink. Actually, "trainer" is probably not the most accurate title as he hardly spoke until we asked "Are we doing this right?" To which he nodded. During a break I bought a knitted rope doormat from this man who is blind and made them himself. His grandson took him around and he carried the mats on his head, of course.

Day 3 was a little more exciting as we were let out on the open road! This was even more of a challenge as they had forgotten to clear the highways of other road users. Miraculously, we returned after a couple of hours, exhilarated, exhausted, a little more skilled and intact.

Our first adventure took us to this reservoir which we circumnavigated. Every time we stopped for a break, we had to strip off all the protective clothing or we would have expired. The trainers, needless to say only had helmets and possibly only wore those to set a good example to us.

Day 4 was something different again!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Long Road to Bolgatanga

As we endured the excruciatingly uncomfortable bus journey to Bolgatanga a week ago, I tried to imagine how to describe it to you. Here goes.......Envisage yourself sitting on half a plastic chair surrounded by far too many hot, sweaty and smelly people, predominantly men, in 40C+  temperatures. The chair, which you are being squeezed off by neighbours on both sides, is secured to a flat bed trailer that is being towed at about 50 mph over a cattle grid continuously for 3 hours! That was part of the journey. The other 7 hours were marginally more comfortable. Oh, and there was no sign of a toilet or anything close for all that time! I'm fast realising that ALL journeys over an hour are incredibly uncomfortable and stressful, starting at 4am fighting for a ticket in the dark!

If you imagine a clock face with Wa at 9 and Bolga at 1, it made sense to travel clockwise. Unfortunately, the bus was full by 4am so our only alternative was to travel anti-clockwise via Tamale. Both directions involve a number of hours on dirt roads on a bus with no suspension. The best part was seeing lots of very healthy looking donkeys. We don't have many of those in the Upper West.

Each time we stopped to cram another body into the packed aisles, helpful folk selling snacks passed goodies through the windows to keep us alive.

Never mind we got there, shattered but in one piece. My black rucksack came out from the luggage space underneath the bus, the same colour as the road, orange.

Bolgatanga is the largest town/city in Northern Ghana. It has far more facilities and shopping opportunities than I was aware of. However, we had little chance to take advantage of those this time. We were there for the moto training and that is what we did. Follow the adventures throughout the next few days.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Hard work

These women were walking the 5kms home from the market last evening as we were out walking for pleasure. Their bowls were not full but still contained a heavy load of shopping. They laughed so much when I showed them the photos and set off down the road giggling together. They would certainly not get home before dark.

We saw some beautiful trees but the light was not good enough for photos. I was admiring a huge one when the top branches were ruffled and a small voice shouted down "Nansala, how are you?" The child must have been at least 10 metres above the ground. We never actually saw him!!

I spent the morning preparing for tomorrow's JIM Meeting. The Teachers' Resource Centre was thick with the ever present dust when I opened the door. I mentioned this to someone in the office and within 10 minutes I had an army of 14 year olds with makeshift brushes and cloths. I was astounded by their efficiency and teamwork. They dusted every book, de-cobwebbed the walls and ceiling before sweeping a mountain of dust and rubbish across the floor and through the door. They even fetched water and washed the chairs! They never spoke, looked perfectly happy and stayed on task for nearly an hour until the job was done. I thanked them profusely and I think they thought I was bonkers!

The Teachers' Resources Centre.  There are lights inside but no water or toilets!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011


This could be my last blog for a while. Having felt the weight of the bag I am lugging on the bus to Bolga, I've decided not to take my laptop. All my protective clothing is very heavy. Unless I have access to someone else's I shall probably not write until I return home on April 17th.

I returned early from the office having participated in some interesting conversations with a variety of colleagues. I have learned so much in the last 5 weeks even though I don't feel I've achieved much. As I listen to them all and ask pertinent questions I am learning more about the politics of the office and what makes things tick. Who is prepared to say what they think and who knows it is not worth it. The Boss is away on business and, as I know from experience, everything that can boil over chooses now to bubble!

This is exam week. All schools had papers delivered last week for P3,4,5 & 6. The big surprise was that the schools needed to pay for them from an extremely meager budget. Some asked parents to pay, others didn't. Emotions ran high. The tests were earlier than usual and the pupils haven't been taught all the relevant curriculum. A few schools returned their papers to the office on Monday, boycotting the tests. Lots of officers were rather twitchy, needless to say. I wonder where I have heard all that before?

A senior representative from an NGO arrived unexpectedly yesterday to talk with all staff at the office. She needed to complete a questionnaire about the value of the implementation of a local language literacy programme over the last 2 years and the use of the funding for it. She expected evidence too!  Difficult questions, harder answers and an incredibly astute lady. I admired her tremendously for her forthright comments and advice to the group as a whole. I wonder what recommendations will be in her report?

On Friday, I have my Joint Introductory Meeting not a moment too soon. VSO send a rep from Accra and I choose people I wish to attend from here. By the end of the meeting, we will have drawn up an action plan for my work and they will all understand, hopefully, why I am here. I need to organise   lunch and drinks. Nothing happens unless you can provide everyone with lunch and refreshments. All meetings and training have to include lunch or nobody will turn up. It is the biggest expense. Luckily, I don't have to pay anyone to come to this meeting! I look forward to being able to get my teeth into something worthwhile  following my JIM and the Easter holidays.

On my return to the house I was greeted by the largest pig I have met yet, peering at me from over the edge of her swimming pool, my shower outflow. She had enlarged the pool considerably since yesterday and could now invite a couple of friends to join her. I had had enough and reached for the shovel. I surveyed the area and decided the best route for an escape channel. Within 10 minutes the pool was empty. I am hoping that now we have a new tap in the kitchen sink, the pigs will relocate back to the kitchen and away from my bathroom. By the time I return from Bolga I shall expect to find a diving board, flume and toddler pool for the numerous piglets!

I took this a week ago. The pool is now 4 times this size!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'll be back in 11 days with my motorcycle diaries! Bye

Sunday, 3 April 2011

A load of gas!

We have been living on borrowed time with the gas cylinder attached to the cooker. It should have run out weeks ago. The full one to replace it has been stored in a house in Wa waiting for collection. Today, I took the bull by the horns and embraced the challenge to get it home. I had spent the weekend with my Dutch friends in Wa and doing some shopping at the "Point & Shout" (a dark, very untidy shop with shelves 15 feet high, that sells Quakers Oats, Heinz Baked Beans, Corned Beef and other luxuries) It was aptly named some time ago. A team of young men armed with long poles knock down anything you need from the top shelves. However, they are not terribly well conversant with the names of things in English, hence the need to wave your arms around pointing and shouting "No, further along, the next one!". I ended up with a heavy bag of cans and packets that will give us considerable pleasure over the next couple of weeks.

All the taxi drivers are young, cheerful and desperate to find some connection with you. They live in the same village or know it, have a sister with your name, or even a sister who looks like you, amazingly!! Ali was no different this morning, desperate to be helpful at a price. I explained the task and we ventured out in search of the house with the gas. We found it after a couple of wrong turns and before long the gas cylinder was in the boot of his car. Not long after we had negotiated the tro tro station and having paid and tipped Ali, I needed to tip someone else to get it on the tro, fortunately not on the roof today. Everything was going smoothly as we set off, for the first time in a partly filled van. Unfortunately, we came across a broken down tro and needed to squeeze as many people as possible into ours. I was now 1 of 4 adults with 3 children on the back seat and me with my feet on a heavy, large gas cylinder and my knees around my ears. We made it to the village. Patricia met me and we managed to carry the cylinder and bag of cans between us for a few metres, until a teenage girl insisted on taking the handle on my side and completing the journey to the house. This is not unusual behaviour here. Children are brought up to do a wide range of chores around the house, before and after school and some physically demanding. They are naturally helpful and seem never to complain. They are also incredibly strong.

Here are a couple of shots from the tro. Just a little scenery that will change in a month to being spectacularly green and lush with the rains, we hope.

This is one of the "spots" we pass with a makeshift petrol station at the kerb. No, don't mention health and safety! You buy it by the jug out of the can. You never see Ghanaians smoking, just as well outside the bar, really!

Friday, 1 April 2011

A normal day at the office

We struggled to gather 10 of us for Morning Devotion today. Madam Director and the Senior management Team were all at another funeral. It is amazing how many funerals there are and how many teachers and headteachers die. Mind you, they do have a celebration a year after each funeral so I suppose that doubles the number of occasions. Funerals are huge celebrations here with a moderate amount of mourning that happens before the event. Eating, drinking and lots of dancing are the order of the day. I can't wait for an invitation! It appears most deaths are due to accidents. When you see how they zoom around on their motorbikes without any protection at all, it is hardly surprising.

 I have my motorbike training in just over a week. Don't worry Mum, I shall always be wearing my helmet, trousers and reinforced jacket, driving slowly and always in daylight! Seriously, it's not worth the risk even in this heat.

Back to the office......... Everest, the District Inclusion Officer, and I spent an interesting morning greeting visitors and talking about the issues that affect his job. It appears teenagers are the same the world over. You pay 30 Ghana Cedis (£15) for a goat here. Everyone knows who each goat and kid belong to even though they roam the neighbourhood and most households have them, constantly multiplying. A group of boys have been kid-napping at night and selling the young goats in surrounding villages. Everest is on the case!

I was busy making a large calendar for the next school term so that all events could be posted on it and people would know what events and activities were happening on any day across the district. Everest found me a large sheet of paper for this purpose. He suggested I may need to glue 2 pieces together and he would bring some glue when he returned from a short errand. half an hour later, as I was finishing the job, he returned with a bunch of green berries. I assumed these were some delicacy I should be tasting. No no, these were glue berries from the Glue Tree! They work too, when you squeeze them a type of clear gum oozes out. Perfect for the job!

Ghanaians mostly don't know the names of their trees and flowers. They are not taught them in school and have no way of researching them. If there is a particular value to a tree or plant then that is the name it is given - Glue Tree!

On my way out I was talking to a headteacher of an Infant School. I had met her at a Training Day a few weeks ago. Margaret was pleased to inform me she now had some more teachers for her children. When I enquired she told me she now has 5 teachers for 8 classes, 2 are trained and 3 are volunteers. Each class has about 35 children and if they had some resources the older children could work alone when they didn't have a teacher with them. Her school is a little too distant to reach in this heat on a bicycle. I shall visit her on my moto as soon as I have one. What challenges they face!