Friday, 14 December 2012

Interval


For two months now I, and the few other people in Nadowli who need it, have endured the lack of access to the internet. I didn’t realise how much I would miss it. As I have said before, everyone here “manages” day to day and we don’t worry too much what is happening elsewhere. However, VSO and UK generally, assume I am in constant contact and can respond to requests and enquiries instantly! It is frustrating and there are no signs of improvement. I shall make another dash to Jirapa and hope I can send these last few postings from there before I start my journey home to Tunbridge Wells for Christmas and a host of other celebrations. I had hoped to reach my target of 200 postings in 2 years, but we will see.

I have never been away from my family for a whole year before and cannot wait to see them, including my brother and his family from the US. Following Christmas, New Year, my sister’s wedding and my parents’ 60th Wedding Anniversary, I shall return to Ghana for my final 6 weeks. I don’t know how to prepare myself for the tsunami of emotions that I shall experience over the next 3 months. I suppose I just let it all happen and deal with each day as it comes. As they say here...”I’m managing”. I do know that once I am back in my newly decorated home with all my memory prompts surrounding me on the walls and surfaces, Ghana, Nadowli and a few people here will hold a significant space in my heart forever. My life will never be quite the same again and I shall keep returning to this part of the world as long as I can travel.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS and may 2013 bring all you hope for and a few surprises that allow your life to be enriched in a direction you don’t expect!

Preparations for Christmas here in Nadowli appear to be similar to last year. However, I am more aware, this year, of the concerns that holidays bring to teachers, District Office staff and parents. Following the Carol Service this morning, the Director gave her Christmas message. The main point was to advise girls about not becoming pregnant and for boys to stay clear of “Galamsey”, illegal gold mining!

Headteacher's Funeral


It was announced at Morning Devotion yesterday, that one of the local headteachers had died just an hour before in Nadowli hospital. Everyone present was shocked and saddened by this news. Philip had suffered a dreadful accident a year ago and had awful facial injuries. He had recovered and was back in school, but was awaiting plastic surgery in Accra, to rebuild his nose. Red strips of cloth were tied to office door lintels, cars and around the wrists of mourners. The Welfare Officer began procedures to move the corpse from the hospital bed in a hastily acquired coffin to the family’s home in Daffiama. I may have attended more Ghanaian funerals than British ones now but this is the first death of someone I knew. He attended recent Heads’ meetings and I shook his hand a week ago.
Plans were made for a deputation from the District Office and schools to attend the funeral this morning, although family mourners will have been wailing and walking around the staged body all yesterday and all last night. I decided to travel with Michael as I would be free to come home when I chose. It is customary to stay and socialise for hours but I wasn’t sure I would want to. The office cars swept past me in huge clouds of red dust and I coughed my way along the road behind them.
When I arrived I found people I recognised walking around the corpse lying under an awning in a raised open coffin. The circling group walked slowly whilst a young man, possibly a son, ran wailing around us and finally prostrating himself on the coffin. Meanwhile a wailing woman was tossing and turning on the ground in the dust until someone pulled her to her feet. We threw coins towards the coffin and also to the xylophone players nearby. The men were almost all in traditional smocks and the women wore either black dresses or usual colourful cloths with black scarves.
Catering on these occasions is a major operation for family and neighbours. We were ushered to an area ringed with chairs designated for teachers and the District Education Office staff. There must have been about 70 of us at any time, with people arriving throughout the morning. The Elders and other members of the family walked around the circle greeting us in turn before sitting down. Then we rose and reciprocated the handshaking. By this time crates of bottled drinks, two huge containers of pito and a mountain of lunch boxes containing rice and fish were deposited in front of us. Donations for the grieving family were collected and the widow was sent for. Money is customarily given to the family, but the widow doesn’t always receive much. The funeral itself has cost a lot and people are looking for reimbursement. There is no Life Insurance here and widows struggle to provide for themselves and their children. Boys often drop out of school when they lose their father young.

While we were “refreshing ourselves”, another wave of wailing voices began and a group of about 60 school children came running up the path towards the coffin. Surprisingly, this was the only really emotional moment. They circled the staged body whilst a Circuit Supervisor was organising something in our midst. This turned out to be something quite normal for teachers’ funerals but an activity I found rather bizarre. A mock school lesson was acted out before the corpse. Chairs were laid out and teachers took the place of students. Everyone gathered round to watch as a teacher began the mock lesson. After a few minutes during which the “students” played up in their roles, the teacher asked where Philip was. A “student” told him he was absent and then that he was dead or “late”. At that point the actors all ran off the “set” wailing. The scene was specifically to mark the passing of a teacher. I found the principle to be sound but the activity itself made me feel uncomfortable. Maybe if the “students” had been real students I would have felt it was more respectful to the deceased teacher.
There was a long wait before the coffin was carried to the church for a Mass before burial. I decided to take the lead back to Nadowli, as the idea of numerous cars and motos overtaking me on a narrow, potholed and very dusty road was making me nervous.
Funerals here in Ghana are so different to those at home. I am wondering whether I should come to Ghana to die…….not yet obviously. There is a different attitude to grief. There are so many that people seem to just take them in their stride. Weekends are times to attend at least one funeral. With all respect, it seems attendance at weekend funerals is planned just as the youth of Britain plan their partying. Funerals are very sociable occasions. Walking around the body is a respectful and more sombre duty, but it appears once that is over the rest of the funeral is a party to be enjoyed at the family’s expense. Maybe some mourners reminisce about the dead man’s life, as we would at home, but I am not aware of that. The whole process is understandably quick, all over within about 36 hours of death, due to extreme heat and decay. It feels to me as an outsider that “mourning” is sudden and intense for a family, but short lived. Life carries on, as it must, as best as it can be managed. There will be another funeral tomorrow, probably.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

SPAM 2


I attended 2 more School Performance Appraisal Meetings last week. It is interesting how they differ. There were still no suggestions for schools to do anything different to improve education for their students. At each there was a good representation of parents and community members. They all took the gathering very seriously.

In one there was a considerable focus on the students themselves. The chair of the meeting, asked them various questions which I had translated for me. One question was, “What do you want to be when you leave school?” This is a question we don’t ask children any more at home. There is so much choice as to how someone can earn their living and how their interests and skills can be explored. Also, most young people now, will develop their lives in a number of directions through the years and not necessarily focus in one area. Careers are being developed as fast as technology can find names for roles in its new discoveries.

In Ghana here, of course, young people don’t know what they could do if they worked hard and got qualifications to spread their wings. The media doesn't come this far in terms of what is happening and available further out in the world. They know what they can see. So the responses to the question of career prospects were ……… nurse, teacher, seamstress etc.

The other issue that is hard to overcome is, how to talk to parents about their aspirations for their children when the parents have no idea what is possible and they are illiterate themselves. I look at people sitting in these meetings and wonder what they are thinking. They are, predominantly, farmers earning just enough to live on day to day, if they are lucky. They may be perfectly happy surrounded by their family and managing through the seasons. I am not sure whether they want their children to be too successful. They would leave home and move south. Many people here haven’t been further than Wa, ever! The rest of the world, if they can imagine it, is a scary, unknown place. They may fear for their lives and not be at all convinced that if the young people leave, they will return.

Of course, many young people travel south to look for money making opportunities, some being immoral. They all want to have money and understandably, getting money is far more important than finding something that gives you interest and further opportunities to learn and contribute to your country and its citizens. Over time and generations, there should be more evidence of the youth of Ghana being able to choose how they spend their adulthood purposefully and with enjoyment for the work itself. More work opportunities may also encourage them to study as they will see a purpose for it.

The Basic Education Certificate Exam results maybe woefully poor, but the sun still shines and if it rains at the right time we will all be able to eat. Nationally, improving education is seen to be a major issue and it is talked about in the Upper West. However, realistically, day to day in Nadowli, we are just “managing”!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Night Noise


There is almost no traffic noise here and certainly not at night. It is after dark when most of the accidents occur as few people bother with lights and alcohol plays a significant part in those.
There are so many other sounds at night, though. Some you get used to and hardly register. Others are repetitive and very annoying. Then there are the unusual new sounds that I lay awake and wonder about! The window louvers are always open to allow as much breeze as possible into my room. Sometimes the ceiling fan masks some sounds.

The usual cicadas are there rasping away as a background to everything else. Sometimes the vampire bats throw a party in the tree outside my window and “laugh” for hours. Cockerels crow at all times of the day and night and the persistent ones set off others so I can hear them across the town in chorus. The moat platform around the house is inhabited by goats all the time and they rest there most of the night. There is a wider space below my window and whole families lie, grunting, snoring, farting and generally being farm animals a few feet from my head! Pigs sometimes try to join the goats and then the fun really starts! Lately, sheep have been heard around my house. Their bleat is louder and the animals larger but thinner than our more cuddly, fluffy sheep. I am not a fan of Ghanaian sheep and wonder why they keep them as I have never had the opportunity to eat any meat. The wool is thin and I’m not aware of them being shorn for their fleece either.

During the rainy season, large puddles form around the house and these are inhabited by bullfrogs who croak very loudly from dusk until about 11pm each night. I imagine they have to sleep sometime too! The local dogs have nights when they howl and bark for hours across the town to each other. They clearly set each other off. I have been told they sense when one of their number is killed, to eat, and they mourn very loudly for hours.

There are other sounds that fascinate me and are quite unusual. It is impossible to determine whether they are insects, bats or other nocturnal creatures but their noises are often rather musical in their repetition. Since the harvests have finished and the animals let loose to roam and forage, huge cattle have lumbered through the dry grass and dead plants, eating their way around the houses. Their lowing is very deep and I can hear them coming from some distance.

Man made noise is not so evident except when somebody leaves their music or radio on throughout the night. There appears to be only one level of volume and the assumption that everyone wants to hear your choice of music. There is no soundproofing in these houses and it is astounding that anyone sleeps on these occasions. Nobody shouts for it to be turned down or off. The local people are extremely tolerant and as a visitor, I bite my tongue, of course.

Before dawn, small groups of women pass my window on their way to forage for wood to fuel their fires. Their conversation is unintelligible to me except for a few greetings. The mosque calls Muslims to prayer before 5am and I usually hear that. The calls vary in volume and duration and I always wonder how many leave their beds and heed the call each day.
I know the day has begun when the sweeping starts. Swishing short African brooms herald the dawn and a new day.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Hair today gone tomorrow!


I don’t think I have written much about “hair” in Ghana and it’s a significant part of life. Children and students at school, of any age, have shaved heads. There is no danger of head lice here. Maybe this is something that should be considered at home, although, probably,  it would be contravening children’s human rights to demand they remove all their hair. Nobody seems to mind and you don’t notice after a while, that none of the pupils have hair. Most have good shaped heads and the style suits them.
Men shave their heads too. You don’t often see men with hair. Most work manually and become filthy during the day. Bathing is easier without hair. There are a few Rastafarians around, but not many in these parts. They have plenty of hair, of course, which is mostly coiled under large headgear.  I have not met any Rastafarians and know little of their culture.
Women’s hair is an enormous industry here. Like seamstresses, there are many hairdressers who all have small salons around towns and villages. Some women have very little hair and often what they have is not good quality due to damage from plaiting and it rarely being exposed to light and air! Others have a lot and the texture varies. There are various choices for wearing hair. Some women keep it very short and often wear a cloth around their heads like a scarf. Others wear wigs. Understandably, they vary in quality by price and how well they fit. Some look dreadful and others much better. As they are all synthetic, they tend to be shiny and look very black.

Women who can afford it have their hair woven regularly. I think it is like extensions, although I have never had any!! You buy the hair pieces and they are woven/plaited into the natural hair you have. These stay in for as long as you like, usually weeks but you need to have them washed at the salon. There are advantages to this, like you can totally change your appearance every couple of weeks. The process takes a few hours as they need to undo the old piece and wash your hair before they work on the new one.  These weaves can look really good and natural. Some people, usually younger women, have their hair braided close to their heads. Often they will have extensions added to the braids so that they appear as lots of long, thin, tight plaits. When I have seen this being done, there have been two or three hairdressers working on one head. It takes hours and they pay a very few Cedis for this service.
I have had people touch my hair and pull it to see how strong it is. You don’t often see grey hair and I imagine mine grows more quickly than Ghanaian women’s hair. I have never seen anyone have their hair cut with scissors except in Accra and then that was another white person. Cutting “European” hair is something hairdressers up here won’t attempt. They have no experience or training for it. I daresay a brave one may take clippers across my scalp but we would both need to be very brave or foolish!! Layering straight hair demands different skills. The “scalping” I have had on a few occasions in Accra would make any good English hairdresser pale in horror. However, people still recognise me, so it can’t have been that bad!

Farmers' Day


A couple of weeks ago it was National Farmers’ Day. Normally, this is a public holiday and is celebrated on the first Friday in December. Unfortunately, that is Election Day this year. Therefore it was moved to November, but was not given holiday status. Election Day is a holiday.

In this district, Farmers’ Day competition finals were being held in Sombo, about 24km up the road towards Wa. I was supposed to accompany the Assistant Director in the Director’s absence. However, on the said morning, all 3 of the office cars were “spoiled”. Undeterred, I chose to take Michael. The timing of all these events is a moveable feast so I welcomed the opportunity to have the freedom of my own transport.

The seating was laid out and the loudspeakers were belting out some popular music as I arrived. Some exhibitors were there proudly displaying their produce and craftwork. These were clearly the finalists. A long line of sparking new bicycles stretched out in front of them. These were the prizes for categories of farming including, “best pig” and “best shea butter”. The overall “Best Farmer of the Year” would receive a motorbike.

It was encouraging to see the arrival of two Senior High School buses with livestock tied to the roofs. Students were there representing their schools with prize goats and sheep. The craft teacher from one of our local JHSs, who is blind, was displaying his brightly woven beds and stools. Peter weaves these with students and has his own business too. By selling them he can buy more frames and the ropes with which to weave. Quite rightly, he won some recognition for his work at this ceremony.



After 2 hours the district Chiefs were still arriving and being escorted to their seats by a band of talented young musicians, mainly drummers. An hour later and prayers had been said and libation poured on the ground to honour ancestors. The ancestors of these farmers would be rightly proud. I am sure if the day had been a holiday, many more spectators would have been present to honour them and celebrate their achievements. As it was, there were a large number of children from the school beside the park, showing enthusiasm for the competitors.

Heat and hunger drove me to leave before the end, unfortunately, but it was good to see the livelihood of the vast majority of people in this part of the world being recognised and celebrated publicly.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

A lot of hard work


It’s strange that I have never been too bothered about cooking at home, but here, where everything is labour intensive, I love it! I pass a small building on my way to the market from which emanates at all times of the day, the sound of the grinding machine. All the maize has been harvested and the cobs dried. Most of the corn has been removed from the cobs by beating them with poles and the grains are now stored in sacks waiting for grinding. 

After grinding the flour is spread out on large concreted patios to dry in the sun before the women take it home to cook with. I have seen many women sitting watching their flour dry. I think it is the only time they get to rest!  I doubt there will be a shortage of corn flour this year and TZ will be prepared vigorously in many a household.
There have been good harvests of beans too. Beans come in a range of sizes and shapes for different uses. Banbarra beans are fat and round, growing on the roots of their plants. These are dried and then pounded in a mortar to remove the shells. The shells are then winnowed away in the wind to leave the choice beans. These are a wonderful source of protein and very tasty.

Others are much smaller and are ground into bean flour. There are a number of recipes which require bean flour including Kose and Bele bele. Both of these start as a thick batter. Kose is then dropped into boiling fat to produce savoury dumplings which you dip in spicy salt and eat hot. Sometimes they are mixed with some leaves and onion to give more taste. This is the closest you will find to “fast food” in the markets. A bag full for 15p.




Bele bele is poached. You need the large leaves from a Glue Berry tree and a pan of boiling water. Some batter is poured into each leaf like a tiny boat. These are then floated on the boiling water. With large numbers they are sunk and poach until a dark green colour. When you peel off the leaf it looks like small pieces of liver on the plate. It doesn’t taste like it though! The texture is quite heavy and they are filling. You need a stew of tomatoes, onions and fish to dip the Bele bele into.

SPAM !


School Performance Appraisal Meeting….. SPAM for short! I was given a yellowed, foolscap document, a couple of weeks ago and asked to brief Circuit Supervisors about conducting SPAM.
There are readers of this blog who have sat through many a similar meeting with me in school, under a range of different acronyms ……. and right now I can’t remember any of those!! The meetings I recall well and the feeling that any shortfall in test data was probably my fault. Hours we spent pouring over percentages and figures beating ourselves up over the one child who missed the target by half a mark which threw the whole show and landed us in hot water with an imminent OFSTED inspection. (I’m quietly having a panic attack at the thought, now.) The children were never at fault, nor parents blamed. All test data appeared as black shadows over the shoulders of the teachers and ultimately, the Head. Accountability with a capital A.

Anyway, I arrived at a Junior High School this morning where a group of maybe 25 parents, many with a hoe under their seat, were assembled under a tree with the school staff. The Head had very efficiently made an agenda for the meeting and had run through the data for the school’s BECE (Basic Education Certificate Examination) test results for last year. These results determine who is promoted to the Senior High Schools, of which there are few in this region and these are seriously over crowded. This school had achieved a 27.3% pass rate. Also, please bear in mind that the school decides who will take the exams each year. If a student looks unlikely to pass, they can be told to register the following year.

These parents showed great concern for their children’s success and were quite forthcoming with ideas for bringing improvement. I expected the meeting to present itself in 2 halves. The parents would suggest how they could send their children well fed, rested, having completed homework etc. Then the school would explain where their extra effort and focus was to be placed. The second part didn’t happen though! Clearly, any poor showing of results was squarely the responsibility of the pupils and in turn, their parents. Mobile phones seemed to take most of the blame and one father told everyone how he had burned 2 last week! All of this meeting was conducted in Dagaare, of course.

The final point on the agenda was for the school to set targets. Ah, I thought, this is where they reveal how they will raise standards for 2013. There was a slight exchange of banter between teachers and the figure of 30% was rapidly confirmed as the target. “Think of a number,” came to mind. Suddenly, it was all over. We were on our feet for the Closing Prayer and the parents shuttled off at speed to their farms. Later on I thought further about this and realised it is the issue of methodology again. If you teach everything from a text book and only have chalk as a resource, there are few strategies for teaching differently and nobody is looking for them! The Director was surprised when I said the schools should be offering improvement strategies at the SPAM meetings. This clearly hadn’t occurred to her either.

Before I left the school I was invited to speak to the Form 3 students who will be in the “hot seats” for 2013 in April. “Something motivational”, was required! Briefly, I retold the Ghanaian fable of the orphan eagle chick who was raised believing he was a chicken and refusing to spread his wings and show his true potential in the skies. The students listened attentively and seemed to comprehend when I asked if they were chickens or eagles.

As I kick started Michael to take me home, I wondered whether they had much chance to be eagles when their teachers predominantly, scratch for grain!! 

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Elections


I just learned that Obama has secured a second term as US President. I don’t expect anyone else in Nadowli, nor for many miles radius from here is aware of this. I could say, they won’t even know who he is. However, following a visit to Ghana in 2009, Obama mania hit Ghana and the T shirts, school exercise books and, bizarrely, children’s underpants bearing his image, are still widely worn!

Ghana has its own elections next month. VSO have given us instructions that we should stay indoors throughout December 7th in case of “trouble”. It’s hard to imagine “trouble” in sleepy Nadowli, but I shall probably follow orders anyway. I am assured the NDC, National Democratic Congress, will be triumphant come the day. The other parties are still campaigning hard here. They have party offices, some of which have painted images of candidates on the walls.

 Large SUVs emblazoned with poster images and blasting loud music from speakers on the roofs are a common sight up and down the local routes. A few weeks ago the local MP held a rally on the local park. We went to see what was happening 2 hours after it was due to start and found nobody about. He must have arrived at some point as his promotional T shirts were in evidence stretched across a range of chests for days afterwards. Groups of voters, including headteachers are invited to meet candidates with a very soft carrot of a bottle of sugary mineral. These fool nobody but the politicians continue to hope that their constituents will be swayed by this weak generosity. Soon it will become impossible to purchase a Coke or Fanta as they have all been bought by the MP to butter up the locals!

The President, himself, paid a visit to the Upper West last week. I heard sirens but didn’t realise it was his cavalcade sweeping through the town towards Jirapa. When I visited Wa on Tuesday, his plane was sitting on the airstrip close by. I have a feeling, the last time anyone landed on this airstrip it was the same man as Vice President when he launched a development project here about a year ago.

I was talking to officers at work today and discovered the fragility of their jobs due to political influence. Evidently, Public Services are prone to changes in personnel following elections. If there is a change in government, they fear for their jobs. The District Assembly, local councillors, will change completely and can bring in all their loyal supporters to fill roles in the Education Service and Police, to name but two. I had not realised the precarious nature of their positions. As well as holding positions as education officers, some are Assembly Men and Women.
The process of registering everyone to vote was a huge operation earlier this year. Voting is clearly seen as an important responsibility of the greater majority of Ghanaians and I hope their Election Day, a public holiday here, passes without incident and safely for all.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Caning!


I have made a few references to my “Booklet for Teachers”. This is an 8 page A5 leaflet that is now in the hands of all teachers in the District. Production was funded by friends from home and money has never been better spent according to officers and headteachers alike. The Director carries a few around and distributes them like Business Cards. I’m sure it will be cloned around Ghana, which is all to the good.

Local headteachers and I wrote it in July in response to various grumblings about the failings of teachers on their staff teams. It appears there is nothing written that tells a teacher what they should do in their role. It is basic stuff and you might imagine, doesn’t need to be said. You would be wrong! Here are a couple of excerpts……..

Teachers provide role models for their pupils and are expected to behave in a professional manner at all times whilst on education premises. As good role models they will not smoke, shout, drink alcohol or be under the influence in the classroom. Their behaviour and dress will give good
examples to pupils in the community. Kindly, with respect, avoid “Oto Fister & “I’m aware”.
( Oto Fister was a coach to the Ghana Black Stars, football team and was the first man here to wear his trousers below his hips! I’m aware, is directed at women who show too much cleavage or midriff.)

Teachers should accept that they are there for the education and welfare of pupils throughout the school opening hours. Nobody should be engaging in personal conversations, activities or transactions during instructional hours. This includes phone calls and the playing of music.
 Teachers must be fair to all pupils. Pupils should be treated equally including fairness in examinations. There must be no malpractice or leaking of questions to anyone. 
 Staff must be fair and firm in dealing with pupils. Caning is discouraged, will only be administered by the headteacher and recorded in the Punishment Book.
 Teachers must make sure they do not have sexual relationships with any pupil. This is illegal and a very serious issue. Sexual relationship issues must not be settled outside court.


 Many teachers carry a stick throughout the day. In many cases it is a threat. The pupils don’t appear particularly threatened by canes. Indeed, they rather expect them and treat a caning as we would a “missed playtime”! Is it all just about what you are used to? The Director wrote the “caning” sentence. I told her if I wrote it, it would read quite differently!

I recall the many “Victorian Days” I have experienced over the years in aid of primary school history projects. Teachers walk around with a “cane” in their hands and the children are pleading with her to cane them. The mock punishments elicit great excitement and everyone wants a go!

When I have introduced this booklet to various groups, there have been comments about the sentence above. When I tell them I would have lost my job if I had ever hit a child, they laugh in amazement and disbelief. “The African child cannot be controlled without the cane”, is a response I have heard often. They cannot believe we manage that in England and probably believe we have some alternative powers to achieve it. I suppose they are correct. The “powers” are called, self discipline, mutual respect, pupil accountability, positive focus on learning, pride and consistent approaches to discipline, to name a few. These things take a long time to develop but you have to want to achieve them. I wonder whether this will ever change in Ghana? The roots of this change are very deep in the culture and would herald all sorts of behaviour developments amongst adults too. If you saw the frequent incidents of “domestic violence” that make people laugh on TV soaps, you would know what I meant.

Water, water everywhere


Georgitta cleans the house according to a rough schedule of weekly tasks each Monday morning, without mishap. This week was different, however! Her phone was “spoiled” and I needed to be at a school in the next village to do some INSET at a staff meeting. We arrange for her to leave the key with a friend at the main junction and all would be well.

What we hadn’t anticipated was that my training would be twice as long as expected and my toilet cistern would fall off the wall as Georgitta mopped underneath it!!!! Of course my phone was turned off through the training, as I try to set good examples. She was running around the town looking for someone who knew my number or where I’d gone.

Anyway, eventually I opened the door to be met by a tide of water spreading across the sitting room and the cistern in my bathroom hanging on by one bracket. The stop cock was there beside it but then Georgitta would never have been familiar with a flushing toilet, may indeed never have seen one before she met mine! I am so proud of my plumbing skills. I thought attaching a new kitchen tap was pretty good, but this demanded even greater skills.

I mopped up 2 hours of running water before remembering there was a redundant toilet with a dodgy ball cock in the house. Within 30 minutes I had fixed the whole problem. Despite the brackets and cistern failing to be equidistant, which may have put undue pressure on the protruding peg, It all screwed in nicely and the hardest job was getting the pipe into the back of the bowl.
The skills I have mastered through this VSO placement are beyond belief. I can feel a second career coming on………………….. possibly one more lucrative than the last!

Thank God for Thunder!


Thank God for thunder and slate grey skies! I’m sure he sent it on purpose to rescue 90 headteachers and me from the frightfully poor experience of today’s “workshop”! This is a repeat of the training for headteachers on organising and delivering INSET in their schools that was previously endured in my first week in Nadowli. I offered many times to help with this or even run the whole thing myself. Finally, I was given a 30 minute slot on Day 2 of 3.

I know I have written about these occasions negatively before but today surpassed all previous horrors to the point of being humorous, hence my decision to write this. For those of you who have ever organised training, this is the nightmare you experience the night before and then wake with relief that this couldn’t be real.

The programme stated an 8.30 – 9.00am registration period. At 9.00 the padlock still held firmly on the Teachers Resource Centre Door. A few phone calls were made and the facilitation team were discovered in a church hall not far away. By 10am we had all got the message and were gathered inside the long dark room. It wasn’t until after the welcome that I was aware of raised voices at the back. These continued undeterred by the voice of the first facilitator, so I turned around to see what was going on. The back of the hall was partitioned but only to about 8 feet high, providing an integral room. Clearly, there was a gathering of cleaners or suchlike who had no idea their every word could be heard. An officer was despatched to ask them to “keep it down”. I don’t know what he said but it made absolutely no difference and they continued with occasional peals of laughter. Later on they took delivery of a large consignment of heavy cardboard boxes which took some organising. I sat at the front and struggled to make sense of the trainer. I can’t imagine they heard a thing of any use at the back.

I was distracted, as were the other participants at the front, by a beautiful toddler in a pink flowery dress who was extremely busy, quietly disrupting procedures whilst her mother watched. She helped herself to an exercise book and a box of pens from the top table and signed in before swinging on the flip chart frame, lying underneath it and at one point pulling on the District Head of Supervision’s trouser leg. Later we were entertained with dancing and the unpacking of our mid-morning snack biscuits. Bless her, she did far more “work” than anyone else in the room and probably learned more too! What a bright, inquisitive and imaginative little poppet. It won’t be long before all that is extinguished through her school education.

Anyway, facilitators continued unmoved by the comings and goings in front of them, people jumping up to answer phones with increasingly bizarre ring tones, other facilitators interrupting them, latecomers appearing and needing to sign in, a teacher coming to collect a key from a participant but not knowing who and a line of mothers breast feeding in the front row………. oh yes, and the chicken and goat made appearances. Finally, to cap it all, the office driver and a cleaner were distributing crates of minerals and cream crackers all around the hall. There were choices to be made re. flavour of drink and then bottle openers were found and circulated.

Now, bearing in mind this was a complex programme of training for these headteachers, whose concentration, I have discovered can be short lived, nothing of the first session could have reached anyone’s consciousness!

Much later I heard someone mention “CPD”, a new acronym for Ghana Education Service. Nobody explained it which was a mistake as “Professional” is a word I have not heard used here. Good professional development is rarer than gold dust, never mind Continuing Professional Development.
I lost the will to live at the bottom of my coke bottle as there was no reference to any values of INSET in school. The importance was placed firmly on completing an action plan, ensuring a suitably experienced Curriculum Leader was appointed to deliver it and the correct form was completed at the end. If only I had been allowed to say something.

The brightest of the Circuit Supervisors eventually suggested the heat was getting to us and we should all take our chairs outside under a tree. A flurry of conversation took place between the more than sufficient facilitators and one than came across towards me. “We are waiting for lunch and wondered if you would like to share something small with us all?” Hooray, my chance to bring children into the proceedings and to suggest that headteachers prioritise open and honest dialogue within their staff teams. How INSET without funding can be valuable if teachers are willing to open up and share their skills and experience with each other. As usual, I’m not convinced they understood but there were a few nodding heads amongst them. Huge balls of banku in palm nut soup arrived, and was served, from the open back of the office car. All anyone wanted to do following that was sleep………… and then thunder rolled in the distance. Closer and closer it came whilst the sky darkened and the wind whipped through the trees overhead. Within minutes the chairs were stacked back in the hall and speeding motos were heading off in every direction.
Tomorrow I get my 30 minutes………………

Friday, 26 October 2012

Education or Training ?


The thing about my Blog Posts is that you don't see one for weeks and then 2 come along together!

I must apologise again for the lack of Blog posts recently. The server connection is currently poorer than I have ever experienced here. I am told it is a small problem that the provider is working on….. for over 2 weeks!......., I have changed my provider but it doesn’t seem to be making much difference. I suppose I could just try and live with no contact through phone or internet and experience how it must have been for volunteers in the 1980’s! The trouble is, the rest of the developed world assumes I have the access, which makes the situation doubly difficult. Also, I am still hoping to reach my target of 200 blog postings before I leave here in February. Never mind, please don’t desert me. I’m trying my best.

I have had the opportunity to help with some training for teachers, qualified and un-qualified in recent weeks. This has allowed me to consider all sorts of issues related to “learning”, that confirm my feeling that I have been time travelling back to the British 1950s or beyond whilst here.
Increasingly, it occurs to me, hardly anyone in the world of Ghanaian Education in the Upper West, holds any beliefs or opinions about the profession in which they are employed. That may be due to the fact that they are never asked their opinions about anything educational!

If different strategies were employed in classrooms to enhance pupils’ learning, then comparisons could be made about effectiveness. However, there is only “chalk and talk”. Chalk is the only resource in most classrooms. Teachers are there to tell children what they need to know to pass the exams. Nobody needs to think, they just need to remember. Enquiries about their thoughts or opinions are not made to pupils or teachers. There is no discussion about theory or practice. Applying any information at the most basic level is a massive issue in teaching and learning for pupils and teachers.

All teacher and headteacher workshops are precisely the opposite. They are briefings. We tell you how to do it. Don’t ask questions other than for clarification of facts. The term “workshop” implies some activity, discovery and sharing of expertise. Well, the “trainers” have been told from Accra what they should impart and they follow instructions. Training is about “taking people through procedures”.

Teachers and pupils behave in the same way. They are programmed to sit, listen and don’t talk. Asking questions implies you don’t understand and that is a weakness that you wouldn’t want anyone to be aware of. I don’t think there is any political reason for denying teachers the right of personal opinion. They just haven’t got to that stage yet. When you take the openness of expressing opinions and ideas for granted, it is stifling and frustrating when you can’t get any out of a whole room full of educators! I just wish I had the opportunity to experience some teacher training to see what they do in college.

Misguidedly, I tried to suggest some groupwork in lessons, “talk partners”, discussing a simple issue and feeding back to the class. I explained how they worked and the value of these strategies to pupils and teachers. The blank sea of faces almost put me off but no, I forged ahead with examples and reasons why. The crunch came when I gave an example of a learning objective. (Remember the pupils are in ability grouped classes in Ghanaian schools. If you are not up to it you are not “promoted” to the next class and repeat a year.) “Most pupils will understand why a plant has roots.” There was a low mumbling in my audience. It was then quietly explained to me by an Education Officer, that “most” was too demanding and the African child cannot be put under this much pressure. It is testament to my new found tolerance that I remained in the room until the end of the session!

I wonder where creativity fits in anywhere in these parts of rural Ghana, except in terms of life skills, in making what you have fit the purpose. Basic problem solving in the home, I imagine, requires some creativity if it means you eat or not. So, is any other type of creativity unnecessary, time wasting, not even considered worthy?  Art, including live music is rarely evident. What is there is good and often intricate, making careful use of precious resources. In school, however, Art consists of, “make one that looks exactly like this.” So, Art is a luxury. Plenty of other tribal communities wouldn’t agree.

Of, course there is a difference between productive creativity and creative thinking. In schools in UK we aim for both, ideally. We give children a little knowledge and skill them in using a range of tools, then we allow them to explore within a framework of expected learning outcomes. Rarely is anything “wrong” unless it is a specific mathematical or scientific fact.

We are educating young children in the affluent developed world for a future we cannot imagine. They have to be able to think for themselves and solve unimaginable problems. We can probably imagine the future, possibly still reduced in life span, for most children here. It may not be much different from their present. At best, their future will be our present.

The education system here feels as though it covers what they think they should be providing without really thinking about it! For instance, English consists largely of remote and unnecessary grammar. Shades of my early years of French lessons with no conversation just declensions! I have got to 58 and think (although you may disagree) I can write reasonable English in a wide range of tenses without knowing the names of them as explained in a P2 textbook! Would there be harm in leaving that to degree level? It would be nice to think someone was learning from the mistakes of our frequently changed and modified education system.

So, what qualities does the Ghanaian system look for in their teachers? Bear in mind that there aren’t enough and they are all assigned a school somewhere in the country. No teacher is unemployed.  They are all posted. “Professionalism” is not a word you hear. However, “Appraisal” is one being mentioned more frequently. Through the “Handbook for Teachers” that I have produced and reproduced throughout the District, thanks to funding from friends in UK, I have highlighted a range of professional behaviour issues that would not need mentioning to teachers in UK. “Accountability” has not been realised yet. If your class achieve very poor exam results at the end of the year, a teacher will not assume they have any responsibility for them. It will be the children’s fault! They didn’t learn. There seems to be no correlation between teaching and learning. Teachers teach and children learn. That should just happen. Teachers are not responsible for considering other strategies than the chalkboard to improve or accelerate learning. Why should they? Nobody is holding them accountable!

I have hinted before at the “No Blame” culture I have encountered at all levels. You may be incompetent, however, woe betide anyone who points that out in any official capacity. Dark forces are very real here and you fear for your life, literally! Parents respect older teachers who come from their community. Whether the teacher attends school and their child is learning anything is a minor factor in many parents’ evaluations of the situation. As I remember writing a long time ago, it is “who you are and where you originate”, not “what you do and achieve”, that matters here. It is reassuring to stay with the familiar. Change is scary and there are enough frightening things that can happen to your family here without adding “educational development” to them!

This post continues a rambling of thoughts I have mentioned before. I am still realising the enormous canyon between a system I have grown with and the one I encounter here in Ghana. My feelings oscillate between fascination, frustration and horror. My short time here is beginning to run out but I continue to live in hope that there is hope for a better future for schools in northern Ghana.

Return to Mole


The drive across Ghana from East to West from Tamale to Mole was quite an experience and a testament to the quality of Francis’s driving skills. Some of the journey was conducted in silence as we all held our breath through the worst of the mud baths and the mammoth, rain filled craters in the road. Surely we would become stuck somewhere, wheels spinning, heading for the ditch. But no, we made it, quite miraculously having come across no more than 3 other vehicles in about 4 hours. We would have waited a long time with poor network connection for assistance!

Mole National Park was as welcoming as I remembered from 2 previous visits. Some refurbishment since Easter included the luxury installation of AC in the same room I have stayed in for each visit. After dropping bags we headed for the bar and a much needed drink. As the permanent residents have a free rein here, the baboons, in particular can be difficult if hungry. One took a liking to my colourful handbag and snatched it off a table whilst I was distracted briefly. All my worldly goods were inside which alarmed me somewhat. Fortunately, a waiter armed with a catapult fired a direct hit at the animal and it dropped the bag before darting up a nearby tree. It seems to be a game they play, a means to a peaceable end but disconcerting when you are not expecting it!
 Our morning walking safari took us in a different direction than previously trekked. Osman, an experienced guide, took only 3 of us in the group along muddy paths and marshy areas. He knew we were desperate to see elephants. However, these wonderful creatures are not always accommodating when it comes to appearing at the appropriate times to suit visitors. We saw plenty of wildlife, some beautiful birds which were of special interest to Jeny. Large herds of members of the antelope family were captured on cameras at fairly close proximity……. but no sign of elephants! Finally, Osman had a call from a colleague. A trio had been spotted heading towards a waterhole some distance from us. We had time to return to the hotel, eat some breakfast and return in a jeep to track them. Great excitement!



The best view was from the roof of the vehicle and I managed to climb up there, holding tight to the flimsy rack. Nothing got in the way of my camera and I was in heaven as we sped along the muddy tracks ducking under overhanging branches.






Eventually, we came to the lake and there they were as regal and magnificent as ever! Two were in the water and one stood on the bank watching, alert for predators. We watched from the opposite bank and from the shelter of a large hide.




 After some time we got back in the jeep and toured the immediate area to spot other interesting animals and birds. We were rewarded richly and loved this morning of exploration. We couldn’t believe our luck when we came around a bend and there were the three elephants drying themselves off in the sun and throwing dust over their backs. We edged closer and closer with me on the roof, slightly nervous but extremely excited. The youngest one stamped his feet and trumpeted his concern about our proximity, but neither he nor we were in any real danger. Mission accomplished, we dragged ourselves away after a long time and returned to the hotel.
This was probably my last trip to Mole. I have been very lucky and seen elephants each visit and in two different seasons. I feel privileged to have had these experiences and the memories will stay with me forever…….. along with many photos of which I am proud.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Harvest


I realise that my usual flow of Blog posts has dwindled recently. This is due to a couple of things. One is the internet connection has been dreadful recently and secondly, I have been busy with harvesting!
The amazing maize is now spread out and drying in Louisa’s yard under the watchful eye of her mother. Once dry and stripped from the cobs it will be ground and ready for use. There will be TZ and Banku enough to feed the population of Ghana!

We were waiting until it was dry enough to pick and that seemed to coincide with the weekend. The school children did a wonderful job on Friday afternoon whilst we were at a Headteachers’ meeting. As the closing prayers were being offered a procession of girls appeared across the park laden with bowls of corn cobs, all heading for my garage. Load after load were tipped into the corner until we had a veritable mountain. 

You would not believe the weights these girls can carry, and over a distance too. I tried it later, the bowl, nowhere near as full, was so heavy I managed to haul it about 30 metres and my arms ached by then, not to mention my neck!



It all stayed in the garage over the weekend waiting for the truck to transport it to Jirapa.

Meanwhile we scoured the devastated field searching for missed cobs. There were plenty. We filled a couple of bowls on Friday evening and another on Saturday morning. Once the locals think you have finished your harvest, it is a free for all! Anyone can come in and chance their luck. I’m fairly sure there was little to be found. Mind you, people are cheeky enough to help themselves, under cover of darkness or even in broad daylight, before the harvest starts.
We are doing a few calculations now to see whether the whole farming business has been financially worthwhile. When the sacks of flour can be counted and we know the going rate, our profits can be counted……. or not!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Songnaayilli Day 2


 Day 2 dawned bright with the usual chorus of crowing cockerels. We enjoyed a lovely breakfast of omelette sandwiches in the sunshine before setting off to watch a new born baby being washed. This is quite a ritual performed by a woman other than the mother for up to 2 months! 

Very hot water is used and it involves a massage and streams of water poured over strategic nether regions to encourage the child to perform at that time rather than waiting until a clean cloth is wrapped around it! A very good idea. 


A herd of children followed us everywhere, desperate to appear in all the photos.


The Assistant Chief led us around the village and finally we were invited to sit under a tree whilst a band and group of exclusively male dancers in wide smocks danced traditional dances for us.  
There was a hint of Morris Dancing about it, especially when the rotation with striking of metal sticks took place. We were expected to join in and none of it was too taxing. It was a considerable struggle for Jeny as she was almost incapable of extricating herself from a crowd of children, most of whom were on her knee, trying to take photos with her camera and ours!!

This was a lovely experience, albeit a little rushed, in a village of very welcoming and genuine people and it gave us an insight into some aspects of Ghanaian life that I had not seen before. As we were planning to leave we sat briefly with a group of Ghanaians, from Meet Africa and the village who were talking about the roles of men and women in Ghana. Times are changing for them too, but they are a long way from female emancipation. Some traditions are very embedded in culture and this culture has a long way to go. The women will continue to do 90% of the work for many years to come, I feel!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Eco Living Experience


Finding our way to Songnaayilli Eco – village was quite a palaver and involved a drive through Tamale following a girl on a moto to the offices of “Meet Africa”, another NGO. We met members of this organisation and bought some drinks before continuing the journey to the village, where we were staying a night.

 We arrived and were shown our accommodation. The round thatched huts with central support posts were very nice and had mosquito netting that prevented the mosquitoes getting out of the rooms!  It was all a bit of a rush as we needed to take part in some rural craft activities but there was just enough time to test the deep drop toilets! However, Francis used a whole can of Insect spray down them to reduce the population of mosquitoes to a mere thousand or two. A thick carpet of dead ones greeted us on our next visit.

This is a village with a Muslim population who welcome visitors and show them some of the life skills they use every day. The welcome we received was genuinely friendly and some of the villagers came to the house to greet us in the evening too. We were invited to take as many photos as we liked. We were taken to watch a woman spinning cotton by hand with a spindle. It looked simple enough except for the fact that the spindle rotated without encouragement and she managed to keep the cotton the same thickness throughout. I didn’t risk asking for a turn as I know I would have tangled the thread or broken it at least. A large piece of woven white cloth was displayed and it was explained that here they work towards weaving their own piece or pay someone else to, in readiness for their own funeral. This is what your body is wrapped in. To die without one is hugely regretful. The cloth was beautifully woven and very soft to the touch. It seemed such a waste that it would never be really admired!

We just had time for a visit to the Soothsayer before dinner. Individually we sat In a dark room whilst he shook a bowl of beads and a very sick looking child lay on a sofa in the corner. I was assured of a long life and wouldn’t end it poor, which was greatly reassuring. I was born to be a “giver” (that could have been wishful thinking on his part), and my maternal grandmother watches over me and I should be more aware of that. My friends didn’t find out anything mind shattering or life altering either and I think everyone was too focused on the imminence of a hot meal!

Our meal was lovely, I had fried plantain, palaver sauce and Tilapia fish. We did the whole thing in pitch dark, which is tricky with fish! We were mindful of the lightning and thunder rolling around the sky as well as clouds of mosquitoes that appeared to want to share our meal and whatever else was going on. A carton of wine helped to pass the evening along with the groups of villagers who came to peer at us through the meshed doorway. The children, as always, the most inquisitive.


One rather wonderful experience was standing naked to the stars, which were so plentiful, in the walled bath area, pouring cool buckets of water over my sticky, tired body. It’s surprising I haven’t done this before as millions of Ghanaians do so twice every day of their lives!
And so to bed! The biggest bed I have ever seen. The three of us could have slept in it and not seen each other. With no electricity, no fan so it was rather warm and with the incessant sizz of mosquitoes in your ear, sleep was slow in coming, but eventually we succumbed, exhausted.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Hand in Hand


Hand in Hand is one of many Dutch NGOs in Ghana. This organisation gives a home and an education to disabled and rejected children and young people. Their site is near the village Nkoranza and we drove there from the Monkey Sanctuary to stay the night and visit their organisation.

The students are of all ages and most will be there all their lives. The educational accommodation for the 90 students was well organised and attractive. We were shown around by one of the “parents” who stay with their wards throughout out-of-school hours. We met some Dutch students who were there as short term volunteers sharing expertise, some of it medical. I imagine the stimulating artwork around the complex was the responsibility of such helpers.




The organisation welcomes visitors and we stayed in a small cottage that was very comfortable and had its own facilities. We were not the only guests in the cottage as I discovered the following day when pulling out a half nibbled muesli bar from my rucksack! However, I had the best night’s sleep of the holiday in this place.
The students appeared very relaxed and happy here. Early in the morning, everyone was walking around the pathways in small groups singing. This seemed to provide a recognised daily routine of exercise, assembly and communication. Some expert drumming kept everyone in time. As we toured the site, older students were engaged in vocational craft activities and we watched them weaving and working with beads. These are sold in the shop and at various places around Ghana. Their 4 beautiful donkeys were clearly precious to them and some had their welfare as a responsibility. Much of what we ate was produced on their farm too.
 The staff were making the very best use they could of the little equipment and few resources they have. It was really admirable how they were managing to stimulate some extremely disabled children. It was clear to see how much more could be developed in the future with continued funding and interest from donors.

I liked this place. It was very sobering to read the students’ histories in the brochure we were shown. Each had an extremely sad past and I couldn’t help thinking how fortunate these young people were to have ended up here. So many rejected children, if they survive, are enduring desperate lives elsewhere. This is a small haven in Ghana where people are dedicated to making a difference for some young people who really need it.

These are the lucky few.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Monkey Business


I had visited a Monkey Sanctuary in the Volta Region a couple of times so I assumed this one at Boabeng Fiema would be similar. Actually, it had so much more to offer. Here there are 2 breeds of monkeys, Mona and Colobus, although the latter are very shy and not often seen clearly as they inhabit the higher branches of trees.





Our guide was delightful, very informative and enthusiastic about his home village. The walk to it took us through another beautiful forest with some fantastic tree formations and yet more gorgeous butterflies. It wasn’t until we arrived in the village that the monkeys became obvious.

Evidently, they are the most accurate timekeepers in Ghana! They know exactly when the women are cooking and arrive in the village morning and evening to claim any food that is inadvertently left uncovered. The villagers were again very welcoming to us and the monkey, surprisingly. They know when tourists are “buttering their bread” though.


There are many stories about the history of monkeys in this settlement. One of these was told to us by our guide whilst we were standing in the monkey graveyard. A former chief was able to use his powers to turn his warriors into monkeys to confuse their enemies when fighting in the forest. Unfortunately, he was killed before he could change them back into human form. Since that day, generations of monkeys have been born and they are all assumed to be descendants of those warriors, therefore worthy of protection and a funeral with a dedicated grave when they die. Other stories involve Fetish Priests who have an understanding with the monkeys and who are buried in the same graveyard.

This was a lovely way to spend an afternoon. We hadn’t spotted Colobus monkeys until we returned to the entrance to the sanctuary and there was a small group waiting for us in the trees. We missed nothing. We were taken to a carver’s workshop…..of course, and his work was skilful. Needless to say I needed an African mask…….of course!

Friday, 28 September 2012

A Quiet Retreat


Last year, Jeny and I visited this remote and beautiful forest that teems with gorgeous butterflies amid huge and impressive trees. We vowed on a future trip to stay a night here. Electricity is supplied by generator and is limited to 3 hours each evening. Bedtime is 9pm, ready or not! When it is turned off, with a warning, the darkness is total. Needless to say, on a clear night the stars are incredible and so many that they almost appear to join together. The Guest House has a distinct Germanic feel to it, simplistic with plenty of floor tiles and opaque glass. Our hosts were very welcoming and our evening meal was delicious. In fact the breakfast was the best I have had in Ghana.

The silence and calm of Bobiri Forest, except for the inevitable singing of insects, encourages you to take in all the wonders of your environment. In the morning we were taken for a walk through the trees to discover species very unfamiliar to the three of us. This is virgin forest and when trees die they are left to rot and for the wildlife around to inhabit as they wish. There are a number of routes and we travelled a different one to our previous visit.

We were shown various trees with medicinal properties. One which cured madness! This required you to gather clear sap by cutting the bark in the early morning or late evening, when there were no shadows or the sap would run as blood. The sap should drip onto a raw egg underneath the tree. This concoction should be taken with a strong slug of Apoteche (very strong spirit) twice a day. There were cures for everything naturally produced in this small area of virgin forest. We didn’t feel the need to test any but our guide was in no doubt that they all worked!

The profusion of butterflies was even more impressive than last time due to the season and although they were just as difficult to photograph, the memories and snapshots with a naked eye were good enough for me. 


We loved this place and each felt we could come back for some weeks of solitude to    read, write, walk, watch and listen. Quite a retreat!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Cape Coast Festival


The road to Cape Coast and Elmina is now becoming very familiar but I always enjoy a few days at Kosa on the beach. It is so relaxing and they always have mashed potato on the menu. I rarely see potatoes so this is a real treat. The big disappointment this time was that I hadn’t anticipated am off-season for lobster! We did find crabs for sale along the road, though. They looked exciting but we decided to give them a miss.




Our time here was short as there was a large area of Ghana to be covered in 2 weeks. How fortunate were we when it was discovered that the annual festival in Cape Coast was the day we had planned to visit the castle and city. In typical African style, the start time was about 4 hours out.

We had time to take in the slave castle, for me the fourth visit, and have lunch before threading our way through crowds to find a place in their Jubilee Park in order to watch the festivities. Along the road we came across a group of expert roller bladders and excited revellers, some dressed in bright costumes with masks, familiar we realised from the front cover of the Ghana guide that has become my “bible” to Ghana here.











The news reached us that the new President was due to attend this event. No doubt that was a contributing factor to the more than a little late start. His arrival was preceded by the grand entrance of Chiefs and representatives of local Asafo Societies. Their elaborate umbrellas shielding them from the sun and announcing their superiority never fail to impress me.





There were colourful groups of all ages singing and dancing.



The President finally arrived in a cavalcade of SUVs driving unnecessarily fast into the arena. The man waving to everyone was not the President, I was assured by children around me. He was the nervous looking guy in the brown suit, pictured here in the middle.  






We stayed long enough to see a stilt walker and some characters in carnival costumes before we decided we would leave the residents of Cape Coast to their celebrations and head back to the beach.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Trading Beads


Our first day of exploration was to Koforidua where each Thursday a bead market is held. When we arrived in the main square there was no sign of anyone selling anything and I began to prepare myself for a major disappointment. Francis made enquiries and we soon found ourselves at the new venue beside the Jubilee Park.  The market wasn’t as extensive as I imagined notwithstanding the fact that there were more beads than we could look at in a week. It was also far more organised than I had hoped for and set up in individual little shops. Excitement mounted!

I wanted to buy beads here and I’m sure that was obvious to every stallholder. “Woman with money to spend” could have been tattooed on my forehead. Actually, there was a lot of encouragement to look but little pestering to buy, which was refreshing. Having seen beads made at Cedi Beads and bought some in a range of places, I had some idea about what I was looking for.




We were nearly back to the beginning of a circular route when we met a guy with a wonderful selection of old beads. He worked far too hard at telling us about his experiences selling beads in London Markets, even showing us his receipt book in Sterling with a recent sale in Camden. He needn’t have bothered. I was hooked anyway and knew I would not be leaving empty handed. He may have had a stall full of valuable beads but was only able to offer me this small broken piece of mirror with which I could admire them! The beads I am wearing here are now in my house and, evidently, are ancient trading beads. The trader said I could look them up in his numerous books to prove their authenticity. If they are fakes, I don’t care as I love them anyway. They have a gorgeous smooth and heavy feel to them and have clearly been worn many times before. Many thanks to Jeny for intervening and buying me an early Birthday gift.  How lucky am I?









It was important to leave then, before I could get completely carried away. We staggered to the car with heavy bags and I couldn’t wait to explore my purchases at leisure and make designs for threading them.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

A Birthday to Remember


Welcome back to my Blog. I have returned from travels with Jeny and Kate and have new tales and photos. I don’t think there can be too much left in Ghana for me to see as a tourist and I wonder if I could set myself up as a guide now. Before I start those stories I must write about yesterday.

Yesterday was my 58th Birthday. After so many I recall some being very exciting, some expensive and extravagant and a tiny minority forgettable. Yesterday was my first day back at the office in Nadowli.  My friend Louisa arrived with a live chicken and a bag of palm nuts hanging from her moto handles. The chicken was my Birthday gift from her mother! Not a gift to keep, you understand, but to eat later with fufu and palmnut soup! I was assured I didn’t have to kill it myself but I should watch and learn. Anyway, the chicken was placed unceremoniously in my bicycle basket for me to take home and keep in the veranda until after school closed. She was a beautiful specimen. On arrival at the house I discovered an egg in the basket too! To begin with, the condemned chicken behaved as you would expect, rather depressed and full of doom. I was advised to give her water and a handful of rice. After half an hour she perked up and demolished her last meal ……and seconds too!

Well, it poured with rain all day yesterday, which apparently is good luck here. Obviously, I am very fortunate as the same thing happened last year. As soon as it paused Eric from Stores knocked on the gate to announce his arrival as executioner. I did watch and it was quite quickly performed with a sharp knife across the throat.

Later, when Louisa had pounded the palm nuts but before she pounded the fufu, I took a fascinated look inside the bird. I have never seen the workings of a laying chicken before. I could see the production line of eggs in varying stages of development. It was rather like a very small factory production line. Evidently, if we had let her live we would have had an egg a day for a couple of weeks at least. I suppose that would have been an option although she would have had to live in the veranda all the time or I would have lost her!









Anyway, the meal was delicious. I have never had a celebratory Birthday feast like it, nor one that was prepared from the most basic raw ingredients in my kitchen. Within 2 hours, (remember there is no such thing as fast food in Ghana), a chicken, a yam and a bag full of palm nuts were transformed into a dinner to relish at the end of a Birthday to remember.

I also received many Birthday wishes brought to me through a range of technology and the post, which made me feel very close to family and friends despite being quite a few thousand miles away from almost all of you. Many many thanks for all of those.