Friday, 14 December 2012


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


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.