Wednesday, 28 September 2011


All the senior members of the office staff have safely returned from their week long training course in Accra. By all accounts it was pretty full on all week and they didn't see daylight! I learned that the course focused on "Transparency in Management", interestingly. The work I have been doing since I arrived in the office has been all about transparency and team building and it is nice when people suddenly say......."That large calendar in the corridor helps us to know what is happening." Maybe now that transparency has been identified as a need from another source, I shall start to get somewhere! With a few carefully placed words I will have folks realising why we need Job Descriptions too. If I am lucky, some of my ideas will be picked up by somebody and developed as their own.........then we will be really motoring.

Today, I addressed the issue of Teacher Motivation with the Director. There is a system of Appraisal but clearly nobody has seen the link between Appraisal and Motivation. As I have said before, teachers get a bad press here and therefore perform poorly. At this stage of the term, some have been moved due to poor performance and usually away from the town schools. Those who have been identified as good teachers are promoted and brought nearer the town. Some will have high morale and some even lower than before. I am addressing this issue of motivating teachers and the careful use of praise with all the office staff on Monday.

I have been working with two highly motivated new headteachers this week and it is so refreshing to find some educators who don't put "money" before all other priorities in their day.

There is such a long way to go, but as they say here.........."small small"..........easy does it!

I'll find a few photos for the next posting. Been too busy this week!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

"Chopping" everything!

"Chopping" is the only word used here to describe any action with a knife or cutting tool. There is a lot of chopping going on around the town. Yesterday, it seemed  most pupils over about 10 yrs old were chopping high grass and weeds everywhere, wielding long sharp "cutlasses" expertly. Some groups were supervised by a teacher. There is a great deal of fear over snakes at this time of the year so they need to clear large areas and particularly around homes, schools and offices. Teams of strong school children are called upon for most tasks that require physical labour.

It will be "pay day" this week, so schools will be either closed for a day, or open without teachers whilst everyone travels to Wa to withdraw money from the banks. The queues will be long and stretch around the block. One day to avoid the ATM! Public sector workers are not happy, evidently, as the government promised them all a 20% pay rise and have chopped it. I was hearing that the costs of basic provisions are going up accordingly and the people are worse off than ever. Strikes are being mentioned for next week.

Teachers are still reeling from the shock of discovering, in February, that their new Single Spine Salary System did not include the expected rise for most of them. However, teachers are coming under some criticism for the dreadful exam results this summer across the country. Only about 50% of pupils leaving Junior High Schools (about Year 9) passed their BECE. This is causing problems as many want to come back and resit the tests. Not surprisingly, there is not room in the schools for these returners.

Happy Days, eh! Some of this may sound vaguely familiar to some readers.

During a conversation with someone this week, we speculated on the question..."How many years will it take Ghana to provide an education system anywhere close to the quality of the ones in our home countries?" Suddenly, from around the corner came a gaggle of chattering, young barefooted children chasing a rolling bicycle tyre, bowling it along with a stick. It struck me that this was probably one small clue to the answer.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Corn Harvest

It is quite easy to get lost on my way home lately. Nowhere looks familiar, everywhere is overgrown and one tin roof on the horizon looks like any other. As I navigated paths across farms to find the house on my return from visiting some local schools, I came across a whole family harvesting their maize and removing the sheaths from the cobs. They offered me one as a gift so I offered my assistance for a while.
This was the result of half an hour's work and they still had a long way to go!! Notice the repair in the bowl. Things are expected to last a long time.
Some of the maize is for eating off the cob and some will be ground to make flour for TZ and other delights.

The "Drawing Group" have returned after the holidays and seem more enthusiastic after their break. Here are L to R ......Juliet, Portia, Paula and Paulina. The 3 "P's" are sisters and the 2 on the right are twins.
They were very keen to show me some African Dancing which is a series of jerky movements & pelvic thrusts to a strong beat. That may not be obvious from this photo. They were very good at it without any accompanying music!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A Happy Birthday

I had a wonderful Birthday yesterday, which I celebrated with volunteer friends from across the Upper West region. Thank you to all the people who sent messages and calls. It made the day very special. I know some folks have sent cards and I shall look forward to those arriving through the Ghana Post between now and Feburary 2013!!! Many thanks. They all mean a lot to me and I can extend my Birthday for some time. I received one package from my parents and the enclosed candles were promptly stuck into the cake that Bas made. Thank you everyone.
As well as the beginning of a new school year, this a change over time for volunteers. Some have left or are leaving soon and a small group of new recruits have arrived in country and will head up here soon. I look forward to welcoming Gemma to the house in Nadowli by the end of the month.

Farming is going well due to the huge amounts of rain we are experiencing. Children are back at school and have spent the last week tidying their buildings and cleaners or caretakers here, the children sweep classrooms and weed the play areas. I followed 3 pupils aged about 10 on their way to school on Tuesday. each carried a long sharp "cutlass". At home we exclude any child bringing a penknife or similar into school. Here they are asked to bring along what in effect is a weapon. They learn to use them responsively and respect their value. They are also very adept at using them too.

Along the same path as these children there was a man leading 28 small goats to their grazing space for the day. Each was led by a piece of string around their neck. This happens every morning but usually with not quite so many. It still amazes me that they recognise their own.

I had not slept very well the previous night due to the racket outside my room. It was a full moon and I wondered whether some birds had mistaken the light for day light. When I mentioned this in the office the next morning, I was quickly informed that they were vampire bats! Evidently, I should be grateful that they chose to throw their party outside and not in the roof space. Then the noise problem would really start. I won't allow the vampire aspect of their nature to worry me. However, if I need to venture out after dark I shall wear a thick scarf!!!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

A life on stilts

This is the last holiday posting, but one of my favourites. We ventured beyond Axim close to the border with Cote D'Ivoire. In fact we passed a refugee camp on our way to Beyin. From there we were punted and paddled through swampland & across Lake Amansuri in a canoe for about 45 minutes towards Nzulezo, a village on stilts. This journey was idyllic and very peaceful over peaty, still water.

There are about 500 people living here. They get quite a few visitors and the children love it. The adults, however, were rather wary and unhappy being photographed. The children were desperate to have their photos taken.
The tiniest children staggered around on these boardwalks and it is almost unheard of for any to fall into the lake. Indeed, the little one in the picture below gave us a wonderful demonstration of how to manage getting across the gap made by a missing board. She sat down, putting her bag beside her, straddled the gap and reached for her belongings. She then stood up and toddled away. It is all they know and not at all threatening. This group were fishing out a pet baby crocodile to show us.
There are most conveniences here including a church and schoolrooms. We were given an audience with the chief's brother......don't get excited he was in a t shirt and shorts and only wanted donations towards the new school library! I'm still trying to imagine how they will keep books in such a humid environment. I was assured they were being donated through the University and the library, currently a few poles lashed together, would be completed in 3 weeks ready for the new term. Mmmm, I may return there before long and see how it is progressing.

It was fascinating to see how these people lived in such a small, isolated community on very fragile foundations. Many rarely leave the village. However, understandably, most of the young people won't stay there once they have seen what is available to them further afield.
Following our return "cruise" across the lake and a very rough road trip back to Axim, we stayed a night at the Axim Beach Resort. This was the most luxurious hotel we stayed in at £14 for the room B&B. Our meal cost rather more as I ate the most gorgeous prawns I can remember ever, with white wine,an enormous treat. We had a quick "swim" before dinner. I waded into the water through the waves, was immediately tossed upside down by one and swallowed half the Gulf of Guinea! I suppose you could call that a swim!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Swinging through the tree tops

We enjoyed 2 nights at KoSa, a small resort on the beach near Elmina. We slept in a thatched hut and the restaurant/lounge overlooked the sea and the palm fringed beach. The sea is quite rough here with a strong undercurrent and swimming is inadvisable. It was all very beautiful and run by a Dutch family.
We ate fish caught locally, of course, and mashed potato! (A huge treat for me). I could have stayed there for a long time. It was very relaxing, quiet and friendly and there was very little to do unless you went inland.
Nevertheless, there were places to see and further challenges to experience. We made a visit to Kakum, a protected reserve of rainforest through which you can trek and take a range of tours. We did the canopy walk which was wonderful, initially a little nerve wracking and exhilarating. The exciting wildlife tends to keep away from this area, unfortunately, but understandably.
The explanation about the safety of these walkways was extensive and almost too much to be reassuring! There were quite a few of us. This was unusual as everywhere else we had a guide to ourselves. Tourism in Ghana hasn't taken off yet. The children went first as they needed to make it all swing. I was happy to follow on at a more steady pace and admire the view. We were 40 metres up and suspended between 7 trees with viewing platforms along the 350 metre walkway. I felt perfectly safe every step of the way. It rained a little, but then we were in rainforest.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Past & Present

The enormous Lake Volta is the most expansive artificial lake in the world and is held back by the Akosombo Dam, inaugurated by the first president, Nkrumah, in 1966. The hydro-electricity produced powers all of Ghana! It is quite a sight.

Our journey towards the coast took us past Assin Manso, the place where the slaves had their last bath in the river. There wasn't much to see but the thought was enough. The bodies of a man from USA and woman from Jamaica were returned here for re-burial in 1998 as a symbolic gesture. There are slave caves up here in the north from where people were shackled and driven all the way south to castles on the coast. These distances don't bear thinking about, especially with bare feet and heavy iron weights around their feet and necks. At Assin Manso after the washing, slaves were polished with shea butter to make them shine and each given a reasonable meal before being labelled ready for auction. The final journey to the coast was a long way in a car, let alone walking.

We joined a tour of Elmina Castle, the oldest European building in W Africa, to find out what conditions were like for the slaves who made it this far. Intensive overcrowding and despicable conditions were described to us as we looked through the "gate of no return".

I later learned from a museum in Accra, some slaves who were eventually given freedom in Brazil returned to Ghana and settled in an area of Accra known as Tabon. I am amazed that anyone had the physical and emotional strength to live through all that and then a journey back home. Some of their descendants have been very influential in the development of Ghana.

The views from the castle showed the fishing industry of Elmina although the weather made for dull photos. A new boat was being carved out of teak on the beach.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Beads and Trees

 Beads are an important component of Ghanaian culture and decoration. You can buy them everywhere and there are some huge and well known markets around the south of Ghana, selling new and ancient beads. "Cedi Beads" has very small premises including a shop the size of most people's bathroom! However, they export beads all over the world.
We were the only visitors having found our way down a very long. uneven dirt road and were greeted by a man who seemed to be the only member of staff there, except 3 girls stringing beads and chatting. He showed us meticulously, the whole process of bead making including how they build the kilns.
Small moulds for each bead are made with kaolin clay. Ground coloured glass from bottles is used in layers to make patterns in some beads and also old beads are re-formed to make new ones. Decoration is done with a sharp stick and a slip mixture before a second firing in the kiln. Kilns are built from the clay of termite hills as it is finer and stronger. All the materials are found locally to reduce costs. The sticks in the middle of the mould that allow the hole through the bead are from Cassava plants as they burn without leaving ash. Every part of the process is so simple and so carefully performed......for each bead!
Then they are polished. It won't surprise you to learn that we bought some.

Bunso Arboretum is home to a wide range of amazing and huge trees and shrubs. The Ofram Tree grows to quite a height and throws out massive buttress roots. These have been used to send messages by hitting them with a beater so that they resounds like a drum.

There were "cheese plants" (Monstra) growing in the canopy of this tree and their aerial roots reached the ground. Ali climbed some way up them.

There were so many trees that I hadn't seen before and some had special medicinal qualities. All were growing healthily and massively in perfect humid conditions.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Nibbling around Ghana

It was imperative that both my visitors had opportunities to try Ghanaian cuisine whilst they were here. As I have said before, most Ghanaian dishes are an acquired taste. They survived Groundnut Soup and Fufu, but also Redred (Beans cooked in Palm Oil), Rice Balls (sticky rice), Palava Sauce (Identical to Sag Aloo in your local Indian take away) and fried & grilled Plantain (like unsweet banana). I tried Kamfor (sweet white blancmange made from maize and wrapped in banana leaf, Mpotopoto (mashed yam with palm oil and strips of beef, like a very thick broth....nursery food)), and a skewer full of grilled snails! I was only asking what they were selling at the side of the road and within moments Francis had bought some. A little over rated and would have been better sauteed in butter and garlic! I shall not bother with them again.
It is amazing what is sold at the side of the road and particularly at toll booths. Young boys struggled with trays of huge live snails all bidding for freedom at once. Somebody stood swinging a large dead bushcat which are eaten here. We met a family making palm wine beside the road and the boy had found a pangolin which he was trying to sell. I can't imagine eating this! As a nocturnal creature it was very unhappy in the light.
At the Aylos Bay Hotel, we ate huge grilled Tilapia fish (the only fish available inland here) on a floating pontoon on the river. After a while we retired to the main building as the bullfrogs' calling made conversation impossible.
In Liate Wote we came across this calabash tree. These "fruits" are the size of water melons and only the outer casing is used, as bowls. The white substance inside has no use, apparently. Unusual here where everything is useful for something!
As an aside.......about 2 months ago we gave some old packets of assorted seeds, that were in the house, to one of our office colleagues. He arrived here today with 3 courgettes the size of marrows. Apparently, he harvested large quantities of these on his farm and fed most of his village with them whilst we were away. They were much enjoyed although nobody knew what they were eating. He came to bring me some and to find out what they were called. He is drying seeds ready for next year. Might we be responsible for bringing courgettes to North Ghana?

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Challenges of Paradise

One night of each week was spent at Mountain Paradise, a remote lodge most of the way up a mountain in the Volta hidden, almost by trees of a wide variety. On arrival we were offered a visit to the mountain waterfall, which we accepted. We didn't ask too many questions and departed in sensible shoes with the guide and handy bottles of water. A mile down the road as we were wondering where the forest walk began, the guide headed down a steep drop into the trees. So we continued for a total of 3 hours navigating precipitous paths and steep wet leaf covered slopes. Even when we needed to lower ourselves on ropes it still seemed better to continue than turn back. Eventually, we reached the falls and they were beautiful. As we emerged on our knees at the bottom of the lodge garden, soaked and exhausted the guide said, "I'm very pleased with you. I didn't think you would manage that when we left here!" We slept well that night.
This area is full of natural treasures. Above the village of Amedzofe, the highest in W Africa, is Mt Gemi. That was a bit of a hike too. It looked glorious from the village but weather is fast moving here and by the time we reached the top the view was obliterated by dense cloud. Shame!
Another village, Liate Wate, home to another impressive waterfall, had local industries to be proud of. We cut through a gap in foliage along the lane to visit a group of men making palm wine. They gather the sap from the inside of a fallen palm tree trunk which has been left for 3 weeks. The white liquid oozes through and is collected in bottles from a hole drilled underneath. It ferments until refrigerated so our plastic bottle of wine needed to have its gas released frequently on the journey back to the hotel. The taste varies and is better chilled. It can be very sweet and also rather earthy tasting. Palm gin was being distilled nearby through a line of huge petrol drums and dripped into a bowl. This can be extremely strong and lethal with no taste but burns all the way down!

Oyster mushrooms were grown in sheds in plastic pockets very successfully. The bagful we bought were kindly cooked for us that evening. We bought black soap made from burned coco pods and palm oil. It really is black and is a wonderful exfoliator, but looks like a ball of sheep droppings. It's not perfumed either!
This girl was pounding palm nuts for soup.

We returned to the Visitors' Centre and, bizarrely, watched replays of Wimbledon Tennis whilst taking a rest and a snack. During our walk we were told about the Fetish Priest. There are many in Ghanaian villages offering alternative healing and release from problems. The priest in this village bathed in the river once a week and had his path swept before him as he walked through the village. He must not speak on his way back home. Many people visit the Fetish Priest but some choose not to admit it and go after dark. They pay something up front, but the balance after 2 years. My guide didn't understand my questions for the obvious clarification I needed on this issue!
We visited a monkey sanctuary where the Mona Monkeys are protected and considered sacred. They can be hard to track down and as we arrived in the morning, the guides had no idea where the families were. After 2 hours walking in the woods we found a large extended family. All members happily come down from the trees for bananas offered by hand.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Waterfalls and Rainforest

I made a trip to the Volta Region of Ghana twice. It is so beautiful and everywhere is lush green. The area has many waterfalls and high peaks. The walk to Wli Waterfall takes about an hour, depending how often you stop to photograph your surroundings. We saw coco pods growing and tasted the sweetness around the beans inside, a long way from chocolate at this stage!
Having crossed over the river 9 times on our walk, we reached the impressive falls, the highest in Ghana. They descend twice in upper and lower falls. This place attracts Ghanaian visitors too and some feel the need to get into the water. I imagine the hour long walk back was uncomfortable!

We needed to take care walking through the forest as serious looking ant trails ran across our path intermittently. If they get on your shoes they quickly climb up and can bite painfully. The guide showed us a troop of soldier ants in pairs returning from battle, each one with a dead termite in its mouth. Scouts ran around protecting them and some brought up the rear of the line to ensure no stragglers were lost. This was amazingly organised. The ants would be returning to their chief to show their spoils of war. How fascinating!
We walked a lot in forests this holiday and learned a great deal about the life there. Beautiful butterflies were everywhere but were extremely camera shy. Birds were less obvious but audible and the undergrowth seemed to be growing around us visibly.