Wednesday, 29 June 2011

It's all about food!

Despite the fact that we haven't seen rain for almost a week, the farming chores continue. Wherever you look there are people of all ages hoeing patches of land with short handled tools that dig up large clods and are incredibly efficient. I walked to a school in the village last week and on my return needed to totally re-route my journey. The path had been turned over and was now part of a field!
Every now and then there is the deafening squeal of a large pig being forcibly tethered. The goats seem to bite through the string holding them within minutes, unless they have a branch of tasty leaves hanging beside them. I can't imagine people hand feeding their goats for long and I imagine they will get very hungry in the next 3 months. Small boys try unsuccessfully to lead herds of up to 6 unruly goats from one grazing place to the next. Meanwhile the chickens go where they please. So do the piglets who seem to be assisting with digging duties!
I am posting this photo for 2 reasons. One, this is the skirt I made for those interested and secondly, the enclosure behind me, which I posted on here some months ago in its first phase, now has healthy crops growing in it. I thought these pens were for the animals and everywhere else was farmed. Clearly, not. (This is not great of me but Patricia said I looked too "military" in the others!)

There will be a "farm" behind the office before long. I have offered my services as a labourer to Godfrey who is organising it. In the meantime tiny shoots are showing from the tomato and strawberry seeds I have sown in an old bowl. The conditions here almost allow you to see them developing. Bring on the Harvest!

Friday, 24 June 2011

Yellow Berries & other gifts

Almost every time I leave this house there is the material for a new blog posting awaiting me. Yesterday, I had arranged to visit a school in Gbierung which is not completely built and the headteacher was very keen for me to see it and meet the Chairman of his PTA. (PTA are also like Governors) I had directions that were vague but enough to find it........I thought. I ended up too far along the main road and should have turned off somewhere, so I turned around and stopped to ask directions of a young woman walking to the market. She didn't understand me but assumed I was offering her a lift. She climbed onto the back of my moto, sidesaddle with the large bowl still on her head. Although my first gear setting off is getting better, it can still be a bit jumpy to say the least. Anyhow I managed to get all the way back to the village without losing her or her bowl!

I found the school, eventually, down a narrow sandy track and most of the children were absent due to the heavy rain during the night. They were needed by their families for farming chores. The pupils attending were building a fence around their school garden as I arrived. The headteacher took me for a walk through the fields to a locked building which is his temporary office. There was little in it and nowhere for him to work, just a store with a thick layer of cement dust over the books, papers etc. On the way to the PTA Chairman's house he told me he had taught for many years under a tree before the new school building was started. We came around the mud walls of a sizable compound containing a number of separate rooms facing a courtyard and were greeted by the Chairman and one of his wives. The rest of the family were farming. This was the first time I had been inside anyone's home. It would have been inappropriate to take photos on a first visit but I expect to return here in the future. After a brief chat sitting on low stools I was presented with a large bag of groundnuts to bring home. Groundnuts are being planted everywhere now that the rains are a little more frequent.

Back at school, the children brought me Yellow Berries. I forgot to take a photo but will try to find more somewhere. They look like gnarled yellow/orange pears with thick peel. When you squeeze them they split and reveal small pieces of fruit, quite sour but similar to mango squashed inside. Each piece has a large hard black stone at its centre. When I sucked the fruit and removed the stones they laughed and told me you are supposed to swallow them. They seemed huge and like swallowing a Gobstopper! Needless to say, some of the youngest pupils showed me how easy it was. In fact they swallowed them without first enjoying the fruit. I was told, "They are good, they fill you up". I imagine swallowing rocks would serve the same purpose! Needless to say, I shall wait patiently but nervously for the re-appearence of the two I managed to swallow so as not to lose face!

I like this school and the staff. It has a lot of potential. The headteacher told me "I want to make my school really good so that one day a doctor may come back and thank me for his education." Looking at his resources and the problems he has getting his pupils to come to school regularly, he has a big challenge ahead of him. I hope over the next 20 months I can support him towards his vision. He deserves success.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Sleeping on the job

I attended some training for teachers of KG (Kindergarten) today. It started rather late and was the first day of a 3 day course. The INSET was led by the Regional Director for Early Childhood Development, a very charismatic and engaging lady. She arrived in a car (almost all cars are open backed SUVs) with a tall pile of mattresses in the back. I was rather impressed, imagining a revival of afternoon naps for young children and teachers getting the opportunity to engage in some 1st hand experience.  I discovered, quite incidentally, that some of the teachers had traveled such a distance to get here that they would be sleeping here until Thursday. The reality suddenly dawned........These teachers are sleeping on the mattresses on the concrete floor of the Teachers' Centre for 2 nights water & no facilities. Again I find myself doing a comparison with the Teachers' Centres I have known & loved and considering sleeping there!
The course itself was interesting in a range of ways. A conversation took place about the use of the cane for one thing! As you will have appreciated by now, things are often different here.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Dirty Oil and Things

There hasn't been a great deal to write about over the past few days. I have been busy dressmaking. I made a skirt on Saturday, all hand sewn, zip, loops to hand it by, the whole works. When it is daylight I shall take a photo and post it. I'm rather proud of the result. So, my O'Level Needlework Failed  in 1971 was not all a waste!

The rain is getting more frequent and heavier but not enough for the farmers' liking. The mosquitoes are happy though. They are smaller than the British variety but more deadly as you will know. They are breeding nicely in the pig's swimming pool but fortunately there is plenty of netting between us. I was telling 3 different people at the office about the poor drainage around our house and each responded with..." well, you need dirty oil". Tomorrow I shall be seeking out the corn grinding house in the village to acquire dirty oil to pour over the surface of the pool. This will prevent the mosquitoes from hatching , apparently. The answer to all our problems!

The animals are being gathered up and tethered. Some more successfully than others. I keep spotting a goat with a long piece of string hanging around it's neck. A vain bid for freedom. Once there are crops growing, stray animals can be shot as they will devastate the farming. A little drastic but this is all taken very seriously. This food feeds local families. They rely on the success of their small farms to survive.

So, tomorrow is the longest day of the year for most of you. It is for us too. The difference is that your day will be about 17 hours and ours will be about 12.5, one hour longer than our shortest day. We are 800kms from the equator so the difference is negligible . Enjoy your long evenings but come January, I shall be gloating!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

School Day

It was 9.20 as I parked Michael under the massive Baobab tree outside Kaleo Baptist KG after an almost uneventful journey. I nearly ran over a chameleon!

The children were all lined up singing "When the saints go marching in" followed by the Ghana Pledge, which I almost know by heart now. "I promise on my honour to be faithful to Ghana my motherland..........."
These children are considerably privileged. Money sent from UK pays for their smart uniforms, has furnished their classrooms & subsidises their lunch. The problem for their teacher is that she needs help with knowing how to use all the classroom resources that are also provided.
I had a wonderful day showing her and her team. The children were very responsive and demonstrated that they were able to listen and think for themselves. This is unusual in the schools I have visited. The emphasis is always on having the right answer. How you get it doesn't matter. Often the teachers tell their pupils the answers before they have had time to think. Answers, not methods or skills are learned!

So, 40 children "matched, compared, ordered, and sorted"  bricks and plastic frogs for about 2 hours.It was like old times for me.......with a difference or two. The children were a range of ages from 4 to 6. This boy, Abu, was older, more mature and took his responsibilities very seriously. He was desperate for me to take his photo.

 They had deserved their playtime.

I was treated to lunch, which today was Okra soup with green leaves and TZ. The TZ doesn't soak up the soup. You use it to scoop the soup which is slimy with the okra. and slides off!  It would be so much more efficient with a spoon, but that is not how you eat soup in Ghana.

In the afternoon we played games of Snap and Dominoes and they sang to me in Dagaare, beautifully.

I have my first Dagaare Reading Book which I shall be studying closely. I traveled home happily knowing I had definitely earned my allowance today!

My allowance, by the way, is 1000 Ghana Cedi every 3 months. (1 GHC = 40p)   It is plenty to live on here. In fact I even funded my weekend in Accra from it!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


I woke early this morning to some unfamiliar sounds outside my window, heavy hoofs, men's voices and chopping of wood. I looked out to discover serious ploughing going on. Large cattle were pulling the plough across land that was barren sand a few weeks ago. A man was chopping away any shrubs and small trees that were in the way.

I spoke to the farmer of this area and realised he had bought me pitou one Sunday afternoon in my second week in Nadowli. He will be planting maize here next week and in 3 months it will be ready to harvest. The whole landscape of the village is changing as farmers of these small plots make the most of their land. Almost everyone you meet has a little land somewhere where they can plant and reap the benefits. Plants grow very quickly here but are also prey to lots of bugs. Needless to say it is all very organic!
This fine creature took a turn with the afternoon shift.

Yesterday, the Minister for Education visited the district after a thwarted attempt a couple of weeks ago. She visited a secondary school in a neighbouring village with little warning. We were told the story this morning by our Director. Apparently, the school found a turkey which would suffice as an appropriate gift for her. However, the headteacher was advised something bigger would be better. Eventually, in the nick of time someone donated a sheep which the minister accepted gratefully.

Following this sharing of information, I enquired as to what the minister would do with the sheep. Evidently, she would either have it "chopped" and shared between her entourage, or if it was a good one someone would feed it near her hotel until she returned to Accra. It would be transported for her and she may add it to others if she had a farm of her own. She may, of course, be visiting any number of schools where such gifts would be presented! A farmer told me that often all these animals die if they are not very well attended to, because they all come from different areas and carry different parasites. They kill each other off! He added that it was unfortunate that the poor people of the Upper West need to give gifts to the wealthy minister from the affluent south.

This is rural Ghanaian hospitality. You share whatever you have. "Everyone is welcome", as they say, if you come across anyone who is eating.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Counting Blessings

Monday began with the usual "Morning Devotion" and the most beautiful Psalm sung in Dagaare. Since I am unable to join in.....yet......I stood there listening and counting my blessing. There were so many I needed much longer than the length of this haunting song.

It was quite idyllic really, sitting in the shade under the trees with just a nice breeze to cool us. Four birds the size of starlings with iridescent blue wings landed in the branches nearby and a tiny insect was digging itself a hole in the sand by my feet. As it threw the sand clear of the centre a perfectly miniature crater was formed. As we tried to concentrate on the bible reading the smallest kid came bleating frantically into the circle of chairs. One of the officers picked it up and carried it across the clearing to its mother who had not yet missed the tiny goat. Most of the people in our office are farmers in the evenings and weekends. The wildlife here is a huge part of everybody's life and that affects their priorities and values.

The daily "Greetings" are always warm and genuinely shared. There are more on Mondays as everyone is there, before they take off to their far flung locality schools for the rest of the week. Some of these people are good friends now and show considerable concern for my welfare. They are kind people who live through the firm beliefs of their various religions.

Now that I have settled into the food, climate and life change, I have never felt quite so healthy in so many ways. (That's tempting fate!) I don't really want for anything that I need and have realised I don't actually need much of anything! Some things I would have regarded as necessities 4 months ago are now luxuries or completely unnecessary.

Michael and I head out to schools again on Wednesday. (I now have a list of heads & schools who need my support.) I shall get to teach Kindergarten pupils and teachers, and take some photos so that I can show you a privileged school in these parts.

I have had exactly 4 months in Ghana today. Despite the odd wobble, some evenings of boredom and periods of professional frustration, life is good. I like it here. It suits me. I know that coming here was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I am very blessed both here and at home, not least because so many of you are interested enough to follow my experiences and that gives me huge amounts of pleasure. Thank you for being some of my many blessings!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

New beginnings

I promised some people a photo showing my natural hair colour. Sorry all get them! As you can see some colour is left at the front. i quite like it and shall not return to colour on my return home.

Whilst I'm showing photos, here is one of the most beautiful moth perched on a post outside the office, this morning. It is about 10cms across. All sorts of wildlife are appearing with the rains. Birds are more obvious now. We only saw the huge ones until recently, but I can hear them singing in the trees. It is a lot more pleasant than the deafening scream of bullfrogs for most of the night!
Patricia has been running workshops for teachers this week focused on using school libraries. She was telling us that she began by asking the group what they had read that they enjoyed. One man proudly told everyone that he had bought a book a few years ago because it was recommended to him. He realised he could not read it and carried it around for 3 years. Finally, he accepted he needed to learn to read and went along to school. He was taught in the same class as his young son! Eventually, he read the book and was inspired to read more. He is now teaching others.
When I visit schools, it is very difficult to know which stage and level you are watching. Classes that at home would be full of 7 year olds will have mixed ages including a number of teenagers at the back, pleased to be there and learning alongside much younger pupils. There is no stigma, just a desire to discover new skills, at whatever age that need becomes urgent.

I have realised I need to make more effort with learning Dagaare. The headteacher at the KG (Kindergarten) yesterday offered to lend me the first of 7 books which would lead me to virtual fluency! I shall give Book One a go for a start!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The "Haves" & "Have Nots"

Michael and I "picked" (gave a lift to...) Clara, the German friend staying with us, to two schools in Kaleo this morning. This was the first time I had "picked" anyone and was nervous about the responsibility of it as passengers affect the weight and handling of the bike. All went fine and I was glad of the company.

We had traveled about 2 miles when the heavens opened. I was desperately looking for a tree to shelter under and eventually found one where a young mother and her child were also keeping out of the rain. She suggested we stood in the veranda area of her house, which we did gratefully whilst her husband shelled ground nuts in preparation for planting. Eventually, the rain stopped and we continued on our way.

The first school we visited had 6 classes with only 3 teachers in classrooms today. The classes averaged 60 pupils in each but due to absentee teachers some had doubled up. Most of them were having English lessons as we were shown around. The classrooms were very basic with black painted slogans scrawled across some walls. One was "Boys is best"! Rather inappropriate when so much work is being done to include girls in school more. The children were happy enough and responded to questions I asked of them.

I asked for directions to the Kaleo Baptist KG and a boy with a bicycle was detailed to show us the way. We were welcomed with open arms here and proudly shown classrooms with children eager to shake hands with us. The thing that struck us most was the quality and quantity of resources available to these pupils. They had boxes of expensive looking games and toys and everyone had pencils crayons and erasers! Their uniforms were clean and in good repair, unusually. The headteacher explained that the school was supported by a Baptist Mission in UK who raised huge sums of money for the school and had sent all the resources and money for furniture. It was very refreshing to see a school with so much potential. If only other schools had half the stationery and equipment we could see there. It made such a difference to the teachers as well as the children. They had resources in boxes that they were not using so I have arranged to return next week and do some training in using their equipment more effectively. I can't wait!

I shall be going back to the first school as well and helping their teachers make the most of the little they have. That will be a much greater challenge for me.

I shall take photos next time. It didn't feel appropriate on this visit.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Life and Death

The week began this morning with the usual "Morning Devotion". Prayers as always were giving thanks for bringing everyone safely to the office and for sparing us all through the weekend. People here appear to be grateful, literally, for each day. However, it seems that if they survive motorbike journeys whilst under the influence of drink at funerals and all the diseases that are not diagnosed ( if they are is there any available treatment?), Ghanaians can live to great ages.

Madam was telling me this morning that her mother was 105 when she died last year. I don't think the people in our rural area have Birth Certificates, so I don't know quite how accurate ages are. However, anything close to 105, having given birth to 11 children 9 of whom survived, is pretty good going!  Similarly, one of the older officers, who has his own farm and brings us green peppers and cucumbers, was absent today because he is mourning his "last mother". Apparently, as his father had a few wives (this is quite normal here) each one is mourned as a "mother". The last of his fathers wives died yesterday. Sisters of your mother are also regarded as "mothers" to you as well.

I was hearing about a baby whose mother died in childbirth and the father had already died before the birth. The Grandmother was looking for anyone to look after the child. She was not prepared to do this herself as the baby was classed as a witch for bringing so much bad luck to the family.

There is so much about family life and how people are valued here that is fascinating. Your relationships with your family members and those you work with are more important than anything you might achieve. Hence all the laborious greetings and handshaking with everyone each morning at the office is vital to maintain good relationships, even before you have started thinking about doing any work.

Oh. A quick correction.............TZ is made from Cornflour!  We had yam chips for lunch. Good but will never replace potatoes for me. I haven't seen a potato for over 2 months. Imagine that.

Friday, 3 June 2011


On Wednesday evening, we had a visit from Madam Director and her son. It is one year since the death of her mother so there is a celebration for that occasion. Fred has come home from East Croydon where he works and lives to share this event with his mother and family. We enjoyed some beer in their company at a local Guest House. They had also brought us a gift of TZ and Jojo. As a reminder......TZ is one of the nicer staples of Ghanaian diet. It is (I think) Cassava flour mixed ferociously and appears as a white lump when cooked. You scoop bits off with your right hand and dip it in Jojo, a groundnut soup with spices and green leaves. The soup varies in its level of spice and I like it. The TZ, I am getting used to.

Daily we have visits from local children who appear at the door and call "Sister Patrcia, Sister Adrienne (or even Sister Laura although we have explained that she has left) I want to draw". They obviously have no paper or pencils at home, so, for some time beginning before I arrived, paper and crayons are provided on our veranda. The quality of their drawing is improving and some use pencils too.
They insist on sitting on a mat and all manage to squeeze on it. Some days there are all ages here drawing. When they have finished they are eager to show us their work and proudly carry it off home having tidied up the crayons into the box. These children are very tidy. I imagine as they have very few toys, just some made by hand from old food cans, they are used to caring for them and keeping things tidily. Many homes are one room with very little space for storage.