Thursday, 23 August 2012

Being Creative

The weeding/sweeping/drawing team are expanding since I gave them 1 cedi (33p) to share as reward for weeding down one side of the house the other day. Evidently, this was a lot as they were only expecting 10 peshwas each. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any coins so they were left to organise how they would share the note between 5 of them. They swiftly dashed off home with it as heavy rain was threatening so I have no idea what consternation this caused between the 2 homes.

Yesterday, they returned and waited noisily on the veranda step whilst I finished preparing Konkonte. (I’ll explain about that on another occasion. It falls between fufu and TZ in a culinary sense!)When I eventually opened the gate, I was amazed to find them all moulding clay models.              
 The models were lovely and the clay seemed very good quality.

When I asked where it came from, they took me to see. We only walked a few metres from my front gate.
This is the remains of an old termite mound under a tree. Termites process the soil and leave behind a pile of high quality, smooth clay. Rain from the previous day had left it in perfect moulding consistency and the children had just pulled lumps from it.

Naturally, when I produced a camera there was a lot of posing and an impromptu display of Azonto.  Azonto is a popular dance that looks like a variation of street dancing involving copious punching the air in all directions. I’m assuming it’s African and hasn’t caught on in Europe yet. If not it should do. The children are terrific at it.

Well, I am heading for Accra on Monday, to meet friends from England and visit some familiar and also some new places in Ghana, before bringing them up here to Nadowli for almost a week. I shall not be posting blog news for about 3 weeks but hope to have new material and photos to share with you then.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The Vernacular

As I have said recently, it is quiet and not too newsworthy around here at the moment. Children are kept fairly busy with chores but a few still come to draw in the veranda once in a while. A new little face arrived this week. Wendy taps on the gate and calls “Agoo”, which roughly translates to “Is anyone in?” and “I’m here.” The response is “Amin”. Her younger brother and sister get almost to the door and then Cindy bursts into tears at the sight of me and they run off.
Two other stalwarts of drawing come by once in a while. Juliet, aged about 10, asked for a broom yesterday. When I enquired as to the reason, she replied that my yard needed sweeping of leaves. She was right. It is Autumn for the huge Accai Tree at the front of the house and a carpet of leaves fall daily. I supervised her and her friend Paulina, whose twin, Paula was busy trying to sell a bowl of tomatoes around the town. The girls swept whilst I lit a fire under the growing pile of dry leaves.
Juliet told me off for leaving the leaves for so long and assured me the neighbours could go to the police with a complaint if they liked. I wasn’t entirely sure whether I had understood that correctly. Anyway, with the next breath she said, “If we speak the vernacular you don’t understand do you?” I confirmed that this was true and that my grasp of Dagaare was pretty poor. However, their understanding of English was improving immensely through speaking with me. She agreed.
When they had finished sweeping and the inferno was under control, needless to say I was in trouble for the fire being too near the tree, we shared an English story book and they promised to teach me more of the “vernacular”! I shall look forward to that. Nevertheless, it is probably more important to improve their English than my Dagaare, especially as the vernacular changes if you travel a relatively short distance up the road in any direction.

By the way, this photo shows one more week's growth of maize on the farm! 

Friday, 17 August 2012

A Maizing Progress!

News is slow at the moment. Probably because schools are out and the children make some of the most interesting entertainment. I have been resting my ankle injury and the prognosis is good for an almost complete recovery by the time I head for the south and my final brace of visitors in Ghana. My Kindle is emitting smoke as I work my way through a range of literature of very differing quality.

I have paid a few visits to the farm. The maize has been benefiting from the copious falls of rain we have been enjoying recently. It certainly shot up after the fertilisation a few weeks ago and bearing in mind we only planted it 6 weeks ago, I think you will agree it looks pretty fine!  (I’m only in for scale, of course, and to allow my mother to see I am not wasting away!)

Last week we paid a squad of 4 boys from P6 to complete the process of supporting the plants by digging mounds around them. The workforce could have been greater. However, they are canny enough to know that the team shares the spoils and the bigger the group the thinner it is spread. The going rate is GHc 5 (£2) a day each.  This included water and a meal. They were delighted at the end of 3 days’ work and didn’t expect the GHc 15 a piece that they proudly carried away.

 I helped with the second round of fertiliser spreading, a small amount at the base of each plant. Our prayers for rain are answered with increasing regularity and I imagine when I walk down there tomorrow another foot of growth will be evident.

Apparently, there is nothing left to do now except walk up and down offering encouragement to each plant and wait until October and harvest time. We may be employing an army for that. Who knows?

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Housemate Departure

Gemma has been my housemate since October and this week saw the end of her placement and departure from Nadowli.  She has been a TSO (Teacher Support Officer) and has found as many frustrations as I, with a few rewards in schools along the way. Her greatest personal success is having  lost 5 stone in weight in 11 months!! What an achievement. 

I have mentioned before about weight and how it is seen as an advantage to be heavy and generally over-weight in Ghana. "Reducing" is something to worry about and can be linked to diseases like HIV/AIDS. Gemma has endured her fair share of comments that would be unthinkable at home. Two come to mind. Whilst sitting in the hospital waiting room recently, she was asked by a nurse, "How can you be sick when you are so fat?" In a conversation with a senior officer last week, they were talking about parents. Gemma asked if her mother was still alive. The reply came, "Oh yes, she is alive. She is short and fat like you." ( ....and you should see the size of the officer!!) 

These are considered matters of fact. There is little attention to tact and there are plenty of other things that can cause offence. Indeed, what can be offensive here we may not even be aware of. That's culture difference for you.

 Gemma’s final day at the office brought with it gifts to take home and a vote of thanks from the District Director. She is pictured here with the director and the gifts of heavily beaded placemats and a handbag. Also a letter rack painstakingly woven with straw by a disabled student at the local vocational college. 

They may not be everybody’s taste but it cannot be denied that a great deal of work and skill has gone into their production and design. The house feels rather quiet and empty now and I shall be rattling around in it on my own until February. It seems VSO are not sending new volunteers here. They are focussing their efforts and personnel on areas north and east of here where there are charity funds from Cadburys, Barclays and Comic Relief to name but 3.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Bio-metric Registration

I’m not sure how the system for paying teachers works here. I know there are some who haven’t been paid for months or years. I wonder if they still turn up for work. There will be little that is electronic, I feel. I understand that there are plenty of teachers around the country collecting more than one salary. This is due to a few loop holes. One is that people have a variety of names… given, family and some pertaining to the day of the week they were born etc. these can be spelt in a variety of ways too. In addition many people don’t know their date of birth so may give more than one when asked on different occasions. All this means you are likely to have duplications of your details with slight differences. Also, teachers who die are not always removed from the system.

Evidently, a programme of Biometric Registration is being rolled out across the country to “clean” the records and find out how many teachers there really are in Ghana. This week it was the turn of Nadowli District. A team arrived from Accra and took over the Teachers’ Resource Centre. There was some confusion over the order in which education staff would be registered. In the end it was District Officers followed by Student Teachers before those qualified in schools. The process took hours and some were sent away and told to return on Saturday.

Apparently, original documentation of everything pertaining to your birth, qualifications, employment and pension was required. After a lot of panicking word went around that the District Director could sign your photocopies and then those would suffice. Evidently, she sat outside the centre every day for hours signing photocopies. Finger prints and photos were taken and for 1 cedi they would laminate your registration document for you.  All this had to be done in person and everyone had precious few days notice. If you don’t attend this registration you will not be on the records and will not be paid! We were trying to imagine how this would be organised at home. It is just as well nobody “goes away on holiday” here. There is no danger of someone having booked a fortnight on a beach somewhere and being unavailable.

I can't imagine how long this process will take before the whole country has full registration. It is to be hoped that the system can cope and that it will be more efficient and fairer in the near future.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Mishaps with Michael

Michael was feeling a little sluggish last week and I realised it was high time he was serviced and had his oil changed. This was accomplished in about 30 minutes from leaving home and cost me the princely sum of £3…..including the oil!

I delivered a workshop for my group of Nadowli Headteachers the day after term ended. We agreed that a handbook for teachers outlining the expectations heads had of them would be useful, particularly in time for the new school year. As I left home to buy water sachets for the day, I hit a kerb up a slope and Michael tipped over. I was stationary at the time but he is so heavy when his tank is full that I cannot hold his weight. I was none the worse for wear except for a grazed elbow and leg bruise. A little shaken but not stirred. The workshop was successful and I now have the materials ready to type up their requirements into a handy booklet.

On Friday, however, I got caught in the rain and dark. Whilst trying to manoeuvre Michael around some obstacles in wet sand, he slipped and tipped again, but on the other side. This time I was pinned momentarily underneath, fortunately with an audience of friends who pulled me out and put me back together! I returned home immediately before the third mishap could be generated. I am left with impressive bruises, a painful Achilles tendon and a swollen ankle. I have had a Ghanaian “hot massage”, as well as ice, which was excruciating but seemed to help. The colour is building nicely and I’m working my way through a large tube of Arnica, which I discovered fortuitously in my cupboard. I am taking the opportunity to rest it and read a lot as it is rather painful. I think this may take a while but I am confident of a full recovery before my holiday at the end of the month.

 I have learned a few lessons, two being, don’t fill the petrol tank then he will be lighter and beware of wet sand. Oh, incidentally, Michael doesn’t have a scratch on him!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Home Thoughts from Abroad

So, the Olympics are underway and, I imagine, the majority of the UK population are keeping up to date with most of our athletes accomplishments if not actually watching every discipline on 24 hour TV coverage. I understand the Opening Ceremony was the most impressive event ever staged in England and seen by virtually every member of the public.

I picked a bad time to come to Ghana, in some ways, although it was right for me in many others. I hadn’t anticipated that I should feel I was missing so much. As far as I can tell everyone in the UK has had their spirits significantly raised by public events that have taken place over the last year. The Royal Family seem to be evident everywhere and are working hard on their A+ celebrity status. It all sounds such fun!

I have almost no idea what has been happening in the world since February 2011. I see no TV, nor newspapers. There is the Ghana Graphic, which compares to the Mirror or Sun, but copies rarely get out as far as Nadowli.  The Guardian online is helpful when the internet strength allows, so it is possible to follow the major world news events if I feel so inclined. But the fact is, increasingly, I’m not that interested nor care! The rest of the world is so far away from my life here that it fails to exist. We live alongside rural Ghanaians who manage day to day and whose past is more significant than their future. Worries are focussed on providing for families in the present and the future is unknown and therefore not of concern. Changes and developments, for most, are extremely small, as to be unnoticeable, so the future is expected to be the same as the present.  The past is known and involves ancestors. Wisdom, generated from stories of their experiences, lives on by word of mouth through generations and demands enormous respect and reverence.

I am sure many of the people in Nadowli have never been, nor need to travel, further afield than Wa, 46kms away, so their world is small and focussed on extended families…………and they are very extended! Our cleaner was here yesterday and when I asked whether she had been to Accra, replied, “No, I don’t know where Accra is”. Maps are not evident anywhere so directions, distances and scale will be unfamiliar too.

It is very easy to live in this cocoon of stressless existence. I have almost no pressure of any type. There is no media encouraging me to go to places and spend money. There is nothing, except colourful cloth and beads, to spend money on. Essential ingredients for nutritious meals are available in our locality if I eat Ghanaian style, which I am increasingly enjoying. I used to travel to Wa for “European food essentials” like baked beans, corned beef, ketchup, potatoes etc, but lately would rather enjoy Groundnut Soup and TZ . It is amazing how one can adapt to circumstances and a completely new way of life relatively easily. I can live comfortably on my allowance of approximately £135 a month and have change after filling Michael’s tank & paying miniscule bills for water and electricity. A month’s water bill for under £3 was delivered this very morning.

On one level, I could stay here forever and life would be so easy! There are many things….and people, of course, I miss at home. Culturally, I am starved and long for live theatre and a museum or gallery visit. I am learning a huge amount about the culture within which I live, but experience performance arts very rarely.

Falling seriously ill or having an accident is the greatest worry.  No wonder, people in Ghana here show concern if you feel the slightest bit under the weather and whip you off to the hospital. Health care is very basic and my daily prayer is that I remain well……..touch wood, thank my Guardian Angel etc etc!

Anyway, I shall be coming home early in 2013 and ending my placement in Nadowli.  However, as you will be able to tell, there are times when I compare the stress, expense and pressures of living at home to life in Ghana and wonder why I don’t just buy a plot, build a house and stay. There are a few people here who would be glad if I did.