Wednesday, 27 July 2011

School Books

The school year finishes here tomorrow. I purposely don't say "Break up for the holidays" as the children here don't have holidays. Their 6 weeks will be spent farming and shepherding goats and sheep, finding them grass to eat. The officers at the GES are busy ensuring schools have exercise books ready for next term. These are allocated and need to be delivered, particularly to far flung villages. As I had not visited the most distant schools from here, I cadged a lift with the man from stores.

The plan is that one day I shall do this journey on Michael and deliver some INSET to the staff. I'm not so sure now. The jeep journey took over an hour at speed on the dirt roads. I estimate about 2 and a half slowly for Michael and I........each way!

Nevertheless, it was another fascinating experience. These children are poorer than those around Nadowli and very rarely see white skins. It is still rather unnerving to have a couple of hundred children crowding around just to stare at you. Their English is not good enough for much conversation and they are embarrassed when you talk to them. These were proudly showing me their craftwork and some young girls were very skilled with a crochet hook.

The process of handing over exercise books is lengthy and laborious. Up to P3 teachers have to write the names of all their pupils in a list and sign for the books they are given. From P3 onwards each child has to sign for their own exercise books. I asked one teacher how many pupils she was listing for her class. She responded with 93. This took ages, whilst the labourer counted the books out of the back of the jeep. Finally, the books were carried by children into the school, on their heads, of course.

The bulging file full of signed lists was carried back to the office where, when complete, it will be parceled up and sent to Accra, as evidence that rules were adhered to. I wondered, on the long bumpy, dusty journey home, how many of those lists will be scrutinised at all. This is one example of the excruciating, bureaucratic paper chasing that keeps people busy but wastes so much time & money that could be devoted to improving school provision. I imagine it will be a long time before the trust exists that allows officers to distribute stationery fairly.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Growth and Change

Strange things are happening around here. Outside the front door it is Autmn and Spring at the same time!  The Accai Apple Tree is shedding its leaves. They go slightly yellow before they fall and have formed a carpet on the ground that is turning brown slowly. Odd really when the ground is at its wettest. This is not happening to all deciduous trees at the moment as far as I can tell. The strange thing is that at the same time new leaves are developing on the ends of each branch.
It may not be clear from the photo but it shows both seasons on one tree. The trees shed leaves according to their own needs, apparently. There is no official Autumn and no Winter. The trees never get to rest, they constantly renew. How exhausting for them!
On the other side of the house the maize is doing wonderfully well. It can only be about 6 weeks since this crop was planted. Another friendly goat is tethered outside my bedroom window. Corn cobs are now appearing in the markets. Small, but providing the promise of something different to eat!
It is interesting how  many things are considered differently here. It is a real compliment to be greeted with "Hey,you are looking fat" or "You have increased" or even "You are fat and fresh"! Losing weight is not a good thing however large you may be. Extra weight is understood as stored energy and always a good thing in times of hardship. I haven't been graced with one of these compliments as I have clearly "reduced". However, nobody is wringing their hands with concern either! Size 12 trousers, I am sporting today.....almost unheard of since my teens!!! Yippee. I feel good on it too!

Monday, 18 July 2011

Sunday Lunch at the Pub

Yesterday found Patricia and I in Jirapa for lunch. We met up with some other volunteers at a very nice "Spot". There is a market every Sunday in Jirapa, unlike everywhere else where markets are every 6 days. (Most people operate their lives in 6 day cycles as market day is so important to them) We passed a lot of people miles away on the road carrying produce and hand made cane chairs on their heads and bicycles.

The beer is very nice here. 80p for a half litre bottle. We discovered that this spot was renowned for it's delicious dog stew. Dog is more expensive than other meats and is considered a treat. However, we settled for goat which we enjoyed barbecued to begin with. After a while we were served half a goat skull each in a spicy soup with rice. I'll try most things once but this is not my most successful venture into Ghanaian cuisine. My half was the lower jaw, very little meat and a variety of indigestible tubes! You'll be glad I didn't photograph it.

The journey home was interesting. We left rather later than we had intended and traveled most of the way in the dark. VSO advise us not to travel in the I know why. I found Michael's lights which are angled straight up into the sky and no help at all. I was amazed how many insects hit my helmet visor constantly along the way. I narrowly missed a dog. There are so many at the moment, I would imagine the going rate for them will tumble! The biggest hazards were the people and unlit bikes all over the road with absolutely no regard for other vehicles using it. Miraculously, we made it home without incident. I shall time my journeys better in future.

My evening craving ............ a large bowl of cornflakes with chilled fresh milk.......fat chance!
It is raining so hard outside the office, and has been for 2 hours that I am wondering whether I shall ever get back to the house. Certainly, I shall be finding an alternative route as my bicycle will not get through the lake in the lane. Wish me luck!

Thursday, 14 July 2011


I revisited a school this morning by request of the headteacher. He was holding a PTA meeting and wanted me to be there. The PTA here are more like Governors. I arrived at the appointed 8.30am to discover that nobody else had arrived, as I rather anticipated. One day I shall arrive somewhere an hour late assuming "Ghana Time" and I shall have missed it all. Unlikely, actually, but you have to set a good example.

I taught some English to a class for a few minutes before the teacher arrived and took over. Eventually, the pupils were ushered out of the classroom and a group of adults moved in. Few looked young enough to have children of Primary School age. A couple of young mums slept through the first 2 hours, heads on desks. It was the elders of the community who had most to contribute. I don't know what they contributed as the whole 3.5hrs was conducted in Dagaare. I managed to sneak a peep at the minutes of the last meeting which were in English and peered over the shoulder of the teacher writing minutes today. There was a lot about attendance and the building of a bridge to allow more pupils to attend in rainy seasons. They are hoping for a borehole so that drinking water does not have to be carried a mile or so to the school in large basins.

The meeting was well attended by 23 people from the community. The head asked me to speak in favour of persuading more parents to send their children to school, especially the girls. Also, to encourage the elders to put pressure on the contractors to finish the building and provide him with an office. I hope my efforts were what he wanted.. I learned during this meeting, that the school had only English and maths text books, no other books at all. As a new school there were no arrangements for it to be furnished or supplied with equipment & books. The school has it's Capitation allowance of very little and this year are buying drums. Drums are a necessity in schools and come before pretty much everything else........including books, apparently. I watched, nervously, out of the shutters as a second storm cloud deposited gallons of water over the school roof. The journey there was along a sandy lane that would now be a stream. How would Michael and I get home? Luckily, the head offered to "pick" me back to Nadowli on my own bike. I readily agreed and the journey was painless.
I just thought I'd include this picture of a moth trapped between 2 pieces of netting at the office. My finger is in for scale!

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Back on the road again

Michael has been a star over the last week. We have regained our confidence and traveled far and wide. To reach this school, we needed to head through the middle of the market and then on for miles along pleasant grit lanes between healthy looking fields of developing crops. The only people I passed were on their way to the market, some obviously intending to walk the long journey with full bowls of produce on their heads. I understand now, that when the women say there will be tomatoes later, it is taking that long for them to arrive on somebody's head.
You could imagine that these children are unhappy. Admittedly their lives are very poor in almost all ways. However, the taking of photos is a serious business. I wish there was someone to take a photo of their faces when I show them the results on the back of my camera.

I am writing this with the deafening sound of torrential rain on our tin roof in my ears. I almost cannot hear myself think. All the people who farm land here.......and that is everyone....will be delighted. Clearly, my Guardian Angel is doing a sterling job today. I have only just returned from a volunteer's leaving party 50kms away. If I had left 20 mins later I would be riding along drenched and in the dark now. The journey was a challenge anyway as a large section was dirt road with huge potholes. I managed to miss most of them and Michael and I are home safely feeling quite proud of our achievement today.

This storm will bring "lights out" in a minute so I shall end this blog for today.

Monday, 4 July 2011

A Spot of Bother

I have had problems with internet access for the past few days. MTN seem to think they can zero my credit at will! Never mind, I'm back in business now. What with that and storms which bring "lights-out" at any time, life is anything but predictable. We heard today that 2 children in Jirapa ( the next town north) were struck and killed by lightning yesterday. It is dreadful but not altogether surprising. We were in Jirapa at the time and it was very dramatic fork lightning.

Last Thursday I made a tour of 4 schools. These are ones I have been advised to spend time in. I am used to taking Michael on tarmac roads and even red grit, but these lanes are sandy tracks.....No...paths that join one village to another. They get narrower and you assume you have taken a wrong turning until a familiar long yellow building with wooden window shutters appears before you.........the next school! I have no idea where to go from one to another and need reliable (not a commonly heard word here) directions. At one school I was offered a guide who lived in the next village. With no protective clothing she sat sidesaddle behind me and we set off, me nervously. The paths got narrower and more sandy until we were embedded! Needless to say she nimbly hopped off as I crashed onto one side. It was always going to happen but came as a bit of a shock and has knocked my confidence for a few days, not to mention a range of nice bruises. With the help of a couple of field workers Michael resumed an upright position and we continued to Kpazie. The school was in the throes of farming tasks and, alarmingly, huge machetes were lying on the grass playing area. Older pupils wield these expertly. However, most children were busy shelling ground nuts. Some were for planting but others to be made into soup (Jojo)
 Luckily, my guide was staying there and didn't need a lift back. What a relief! The Assistant Head led me along a much easier route that ended up back in Nadowli. I decided to celebrate and buy a yam, harder to come by at the moment, as are most fresh foods. The ladies in the market were standing behind this large bowl of scarlet local hot peppers and happily posed for this photo. Alice on the left calls my name in a loud voice from one end of the market to the other....."Adrianna". Unfortunately, she sells a lot of little dried fish only used to make very spicy soup so I don't buy much from her stall. It is nice to "Greet" though and the Ghanaians are masters at "Greeting".
I am back at one of the more accessible schools on Thursday to assist with some training in teaching English. I shall pray for more rains in the meantime as that makes the sand a little more stable for driving.