Tuesday, 31 May 2011

New challenges

Every morning I cycle to the office through a network of sandy paths that wind between homes, trees and, increasingly, large puddles of rainwater. The other day I discovered the foundations of a house right across the junction of a number of pathways beside the main road. The next morning, after a storm, a fairly big pond had appeared right beside it and threatening to engulf the beginnings of the house if more rain fell.....which it will.
This photo doesn't do the situation justice, but people on motos and bicycles are still finding a space through the foundations. All the land belongs to someone, so each landowner has the right to build a house wherever he likes, especially as there is no drainage or electricity to consider. He will have lived in the village for a long while and surprisingly hasn't thought about the encroaching lake beside this plot. Maybe he fancies a moat. It increasingly amazes me how Ghanaians think......or don't! One day the road system will be completely blocked by a high wall and we will all find another route through someone else's back yard.

I have to say, I am delighted by the water spaces that are appearing around the village. It means the ducks can finally swim! They are denied this pleasure for much of the year. In the bottom of the tree outside our house, a group of 3 ducks have formed a cooperative and have accumulated 12 eggs in their nest. As soon as they have 12 they stop laying and start sitting. Apparently this arrangement has been repeated for a few years. I haven't worked out whether they have a strict sitting rota system yet.

 Meanwhile, a couple of guinea fowl have elected themselves to a duty of some sort around the tree. They parade around making a dreadful racket and are either:- very proud of their friends and want all of us to know; extremely jealous of the full nest; minding the collection and daring anyone to come close or have a death wish as we will be having roast guinea fowl for lunch if they don't quieten down!

I have just returned from a "Postings" meeting, concerning the posting of teachers to schools for September. We had 32 new teachers to post in over 150 schools. The decisions were made by analysing the Pupil/Teacher Ratio in each school. We chose the schools that had a PTR of over 80 (that is over 80 pupils in a class!) to receive a new teacher. The schools with a few less than that will have to manage for another year. There is a huge shortage of teachers, as I mentioned before, and they don't choose their schools. To be in a rural area miles from a tarmac road  and civilisation is not good for new teachers and many don't stay long. Some schools have some volunteer teachers who are untrained and receive a small allowance. In our district there are many more of these than trained staff.
We also posted a new teacher in a KG (Kindergarten/Infant School) where there is not a trained teacher at all at the moment!

There are thousands of issues to consider here, where some people in this education system are trying their best to make sense of things with no resources and little guidance or support. They are the ones who give you enormous faith. Improvements are measured in minutely small steps that often crumble and the priorities that are identified are often bizarre and unfathomable. It is also hard to work out who cares! Hey Ho. This is the challenge.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Raising the Roof

The roof came off my bedroom last night! The storms are definitely more frequent now with dramatic lightning and thunder for hours and recently, very heavy rain. The roof is sheets of corrugated tin, thin tin too, nailed to narrow beams. The rain is deafening on the tin. As my room is on the end of the house it takes the brunt of most storms.

Last night  the tin sheets tore and peeled back, unbeknown to me, as there is a thin boarded ceiling above me. There I was running about with buckets and bowls to catch increasingly persistent streams of water. Luckily not a drop landed on my bed. Little did I know I was so close to a thorough drenching from the torrent from the sky. I didn't sleep wonderfully well, surprisingly. The bullfrogs began calling to each other at the first raindrop and the goats were all panicking. They lose their kids in the panic and dark and then spend the rest of the night screaming at each other. They all sound the same so matching mums to kids takes hours. The kids sound like human babies so it is hardly conducive to a good night's sleep!!

At 6.30 I heard noises on the roof and on peering through the window, discovered a man on a ladder with a new sheet of tin and a hammer. The landlord had seen it all from his house. The roof was all fixed in 15 minutes but we'll see how long it lasts. It would be good if the other repairs around the place that we have identified could be attended to quite so rapidly.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

School Visits

Patricia and I were supposed to have a meeting this morning about the posting of new teachers to schools. (Teachers don't choose where they teach here and can be moved, without any consultation, to a village school miles away!) The other colleagues were nowhere to be found so we re-planned the day.

Patricia is working on a project to restore 15 school libraries and train teachers to promote and organise them with the help of someone in each village community. Although these schools have relatively few books, they were given some in January by another NGO and the plan is that they will be used effectively. There is no reliable postal or email system here, which means if you want to get information to someone, you need to go to them. So we took the motos on a tour of 4 very rural schools.

Michael performed wonderfully on all terrains, including red dirt, sand, tarmac and a rather narrow bridge. I was very proud of him...... and me, as we covered about 100km in the day. As always our arrival brought children out from everywhere to stare at us. I'd love to know what they are thinking. Anyway, pupils & teachers were interviewed about their libraries and I got to talk to a couple of headteachers. It was interesting how, the welcome we received and  the interest of the staff closely matched the level of engagement & cheerfulness of the children we met. Within moments I knew with which schools I want to work and where any support will be welcomed.

At this school the pupils were waiting for lunch. They benefit from Ghana's "School Feeding Programme" funded by a range of providers. The cooks were working so hard in the cook house and produced a similar meal of rice and beans every day for hundreds of school age children.

By the time we had left the last school, it was time for our lunch too. Being fairly close to Wa we went into the town to find some decent vegetables in the market. Amazingly, we bought, green beans, a few carrots, white cabbage and green peppers all on the same stall. I took responsibility of strapping them onto Michael's pannier with rubber strips. Surprisingly, they are still edible having fallen off twice during the journey home. Once I noticed, and once I was flagged down by a guy waiting for the tro. He taught me how to use the strapping properly. Tales of the hopeless Nansala will be all round the Spot tonight!

It has been a lovely day. The icing on this cake was our encounter with this gorgeous goat. She was hanging around our front door and followed us into the area where we keep the bikes. I am sure she is looking for somewhere quiet to give birth to her kids. She must be carrying at least 2. I offered  her a few precious leaves of our cabbage  but she didn't seem keen. We have left the gate open so we will see what she does.
The animal activity has stepped up recently with the arrival of more frequent storms and rain. The pigs are muddier and stink and bullfrogs mate noisily outside my window through the night. I have to use the ceiling fan some nights, not for the breeze but to drown out the noise! There isn't a lot I can do about the pigs. They are clearly not using the soap I left out for them. (Thanks for sending that, Jeny!)

Friday, 20 May 2011

Home again

We've actually been home since Wednesday lunchtime but the internet has been difficult since then. It is strange how quickly somewhere can become "home". I enjoyed Accra despite the long journeys each way. Plastic seats and endless bad Nigerian movies don't help. The city is vibrant with lots of opportunities and a few interesting places to visit. Accra is not a huge tourist destination. The interesting parts are just outside. It's expensive though and easy to get into the habit of taking taxis everywhere. It is too hot to search for trotros between destinations. It is also too easy to shop! There is nothing to buy in Nadowli and 10 Cedis can last a week. That sum won't buy lunch in the capital.

I stayed with a couple of volunteers who came out with me and it was really good to catch up with them and discover how our experiences compared. I am reasonably happy with my haircut. It is very short again but will grow extremely quickly. I felt a little nervous when the hairdresser explained that she knew how to cut European Hair as she had watched her friend. It is not a bad job and cost me less than £10. I am now almost all my natural colour.

We visited Jamestown, a very poor  but picturesque ( in a dilapidated and grubby sort of way) fishing area of Accra. There are wide contrasts in wealth in this city as in others.

I could not believe how accessible varieties of fruit and vegetables are in Accra, all on the street! Here we are reduced to tomatoes and yams with a few onions now. Although I found a pineapple this morning. On our last morning we visited Koala. This is an ex-pats supermarket - very expensive but you find things you crave. Patricia and I bought a whole mini Edam cheese for 28 Cedis (£14). What a pleasure and a treat! We found some other goodies too - muesli, good black pepper, ginger nut biscuits and Homepride flour (without weevils). We managed to transport them all home in reasonable shape although the edam is now a rugby ball.

On Tuesday morning we visited a Children's Library set up by a Canadian woman some years ago. It is all housed in a couple of transporter containers. We met Kathy Knowles as she was visiting that day and found her quite inspirational. The library was so well organised and clean, even if many of the books were yellowed. I loved it and the staff cared so much about the place and the children who visited to read and listen to stories. It was a significant haven in an area where children have so little.
It is quite a relief to be "home" although I shall look forward to my next trip down to Accra and the coast. I did manage another task over the weekend. I succeeded in booking my flights "home" for Christmas! It was such a trial though. In the end I booked on line but had to go out to the airport to pay with a credit card. Nowhere else would take one! Fortunately, we were heading there anyway to say Goodbye to Laura.
So, I shall be in Blighty between Dec 16 and Jan 5. I have lots to do and see before then but it is wonderful to be able to look forward to seeing everyone.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

The Big Smoke......or Dust!

I'm sitting in an internet cafe in Accra waiting for the Hair Salon to open. It's 7am and we survived the journey from Wa. It was a million times better than the last time I traveled that road up north in February. The omlette sandwich at midnight was welcome too. The bus pulled into the bus station at 5.15am and we walked most of the way here to kill time and wake up........not that we slept, actually. The goats and sheep in the market were silently tethered awaiting their auction later. I would be posting a photo but it was too dark. The streets were heaving with traffic and people setting up their small shops and stalls, sweeping debris that accumulated during the night. Trotros heading in all directions with the driver's side-kick yelling the destination from each one.

On arrival in the centre of the city, we sought tea and managed to acquire 2 cups from a stall after a great deal of explanation  and still we nearly got milk and sugar! Greetings were multiple and very forthcoming from various Rastas gathered in the area. Derrik chatted for ages enlightening us with a range of unlikely stories. I was offered breakfast of plantain and a spicy dipping green leaf sauce by the guy on the other side of me. I declined politely. The local ladies of the night also came around to say hello. They are a friendly bunch in Accra, early morning on the streets.

This is an initiation for me. I'm pretty sure I could now get from Nadowli to the centre of Accra by public transport all on my own. I'm still learning something new every day! Mind you, I'd only need to go slightly astray and Derrik or one of his associates would be sure to put me straight!!

By the way, I've now taken "Michael" (my moto) out for a spin on good and bad roads. He handles wonderfully. I can just tell we have a very positive partnership ahead of us!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


What a week, and it's only Tuesday!

I went to the seamstress yesterday and finally have both a skirt and top in Ghanaian Batik. She has been working on these for almost 2 months. Mind you I paid a princely £2 for her work! In answer to the various queries and concerns, for which I am grateful...........my 6 kilos seem to have fallen off evenly across me, although you probably can't tell from the picture. Also, the bits that show are tanned but you don't expose more than necessary here for a range of reasons. I'm braving a salon in Accra at the weekend as my hair needs a cut and is very dry. The colour will have grown out by Christmas and you won't recognise me.
The next exciting arrival was my moto, that drew up in front of the house an hour ago on a trailer from Bolga. It's new too, only used to train other volunteers. It is a little different from the one I used in Bolga but the same as the one on which I froze to death in Crystal Palace before I came to Ghana.
Needless to say, I shall not be riding it dressed like this. later I shall brave the suffocation of the protective gear and have a ride out to check I have remembered everything I was taught. Disappointingly, for the Year 5/6 boys who took so much interest in my forthcoming motorcycling exploits, it doesn't have flames emblazoned up the fuel tank. However, it does state "Yamaha Brilliant Riding", which is good enough for me!

Sadly, Laura left Nadowli yesterday to begin her journey home to Ireland. She had a bit of a send off from the District Office and was presented with a typical Ghanaian dress. It is lovely, but I've never seen anyone wearing one. She models it here with Patricia who remains here a while longer, thankfully.

Lastly, but by no means least, you can't have failed to notice the new design of this Blog! I can only take credit for some of the ideas and the photo. I have Patricia to thank for everything else. I love it! There is a small prize for the first person to find a translation for the Ghanaian words. Bit of a clue......the symbol is Adinkra.

I shall be in Accra from Friday to Wednesday as I have a few jobs to do there. It will be my first sojourn south since I arrived. Quite an adventure. The Blog may take a holiday, whilst I discover new things with which to furnish it!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Local sightseeing

The house is full of people and I have company for the first time in weeks. It's wonderful! My housemates arrived with Laura's Mum and were brought in style by Francis, a Ghanaian driver who brought them up from the south. I shall be employing Francis in August to take some friends and I around the south of Ghana on holiday.

Whilst Francis and his car were available we needed to make good use of his time. A trip out in a car! Wow, quite a novelty for me. We struggled to find local tourist attractions around Nadowli. However, we were finally drawn to the Mushroom Rocks near Jirapa.
Not many of these enormous, odd looking rocks looked like mushrooms, but then mushrooms come in random shapes anyway. Local children followed the Nansalas around fascinated by the odd white people who take photos of everything. The rocks were in the middle of a rather parched, sandy landscape that seemed to stretch for miles.
On the way back, Francis spotted a stall selling guinea fowl, a delicacy we had promised ourselves we'd taste. Also there were women cooking Sensay with some green leaves of some sort and the obligatory group drinking Pitou.

 Laura's Mum, Anne, needed to taste all these things with photographic evidence. There were photos with the men who decided we would make good wives too. I didn't get a photo of my "husband". Shame. He wasn't a day over 75. Having drained our calabashes of Pitou, we took our leave and headed home to Guinea fowl, kenkey, bush pig and mashed yam, purchased in Jirapa market. There's a nourishing Ghanaian Dinner for you. All washed down with Duty Free Whiskey! Thanks Anne.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Getting there!

It has been an interesting first week of term and in many ways more positive for me. I think I have found my job!!! Working in the office is a touch more comfortable since new furniture appeared over Easter. We now have padded chairs and tables with a flat writing surface. The government paid for them, apparently.

I have had more fruitful meetings with headteachers too. One proudly showed me William and Kate's vows on his mobile! I learned that the whole day was televised live on Ghana TV and many Ghanaians were enthralled and desperate to talk about it all. I had seen a few clips on the BBC website having no TV. The network was slow and the clips needed to re-load every 15 seconds. By the time I saw the kiss on the balcony, in real time they were on the third course of lunch!!

The headteachers here have a very difficult job with precious little support and no training or resources. I sat and listened to 3 in turn in their offices this morning and soon realised that they really did need some help and guidance from me at a very basic level. It is so challenging trying to put yourself in their position and not taking anything for granted. A new head still had only 2 teachers out of 7 in school today, the 4th day of term. Lessons start on Monday.

I met some lovely children as I cycled through the school site. They are so polite and greeted me with "Good Morning Madam, how are you?" in beautifully clear English.

When I returned to the office, I was directed towards a bright, almost fluorescent  green shape in the middle of the car park. It was a gorgeous chameleon who was visible from 100 metres against the red soil and showed no evidence of camouflage at all!!

We watched him walk towards and up a tree very slowly & cautiously. It was like a "Hokey Kokey". He put his feet forwards and backwards a few times before he actually took each step. He was just over a foot long, head to tail tip. By the time he reached the tree branches he was perfectly camouflaged!

Still no significant rain, just a few, isolated, heavy showers. The locals are getting concerned. Maybe it is global, eh???

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Back to Work

Today marked the first day of the new term. The office was fairly quiet and the people with whom I wanted to meet were not there. I took the opportunity to accompany an officer to do the first day attendance check in all the local schools. You can walk to all the 6 local schools as they are all on one huge site.

This census was most interesting. There were children in all schools but teachers in only 5. After a quick phone call the headteacher arrived and opened the doors for the children who had been playing quite happily together for an hour and a half. She had been helping to deliver her grandchild at home, apparently.

In each of the other schools children played around the site whilst others swept. We had quite a rain storm last night so there was plenty to be swept up and the children of all ages are extremely skilled at sweeping. One group of young boys expertly used a sheet of corrugated iron as a giant dustpan. Lessons don't start until at least tomorrow, possibly Monday. The teachers we saw were filling in registers and other administration whilst the children played out. In some schools just over half the teachers were present although  2 had their full quota. There is no system of supply teachers here. If yours is absent you play out!

Teachers are generally not respected here. There are not enough of them and they are not well paid. Those trained teach until they can find a better job. The absentees today will be questioned when they return to school but sanctions are useless as a teacher a few days a week is better than none at all to their class. I suggested they should be paid for the days they work. My colleague agreed but the administration of a system like that would be too much for Ghana and anyway, what about genuine sick leave?

I sympathise with the headteachers. They are under pressure to deliver training after school but their staff are often absent even while the children are there. Quite a challenge, and heads are paid very little more than their staff having been appointed by the District Office for being the best teachers...............sometimes they didn't even apply for the job!