Tuesday, 19 February 2013

I made it to 200 !!

So here I sit on the terrace of an hotel in Accra having slept most of the bus trip overnight from Wa, emotionally exhausted. I have left Nadowli on the journey home to England following the most amazing 2 years of my life. As predicted, it is harder to leave than it was to come here. The Goodbyes seemed to last for ages and each was painful. The generosity of people overwhelmed me at times. Louisa instructed me not to cry. I was told to "try as hard as a monkey's buttocks" not to weep. People here don't cry! It was almost impossible at times though, especially when presented with a host of gifts and kind words. All of these were hand made in Ghana, some very locally. I have woven baskets, woven Dagaare Kente cloth and exquisite batiks too. My Ghanaian colleagues made wonderful speeches, that I am sure I don't deserve, and I responded effusively. My responses encouraged them to look to the future and their responsibilities to the thousands of children in their care. Rewards come in different guises not just in monetary form, I reminded some, but I haven't met many people here who would believe that.

On top of all of that, I have reached my target of 200 blog postings in 2 years. I am proud of that achievement as much as any other. I am grateful to those who have stuck with me and read it to the end. Thank you for your interest and loyalty. It has been a labour of love and a valuable diary of my most significant experiences. I have learned so much about so many things and the opportunity to be immersed in this culture has been an incredible privilege. I only hope my "giving" has matched my "receiving". There is much that I shall miss about Ghana and life in Nadowli specifically. Some of those things will be a little negative but most I feel sad to have lost. I have listed here the top 50, not in any particular order, of course!

Things I shall miss…………….

Sunshine to wake me almost every morning and endless warmth, sometimes too much.
Having virtually no responsibility and nothing to worry about.
Friendly greetings at all times of the day, with smiles.
The thrill of riding with Michael in challenging conditions.
Being slightly overcharged for almost everything and not caring
Hearing “It is finished” about something vital
A whole wealth of wonderful Ghanaian English phrases……. “ I came and met it here”
“African time”….being hours late and nobody at all bothered!
People managing very well with nothing.
Eating soup with my fingers
Cooking with bare essential ingredients, all from a tiny market.
Sleeping with no covers almost every night
Exciting storms and the heaviest rain
Exotic fruits growing plentifully nearby
Not having a clue what is happening in the outside world, nor caring.
Wondering what types of creatures make the amazing sounds at night
Not needing anything much and feeling free and healthy
Hearing, “I’m coming” and knowing it won’t be any time soon.
Endless sand and dust everywhere
Not being able to blend into a crowd
Wondering whether I have been undercharged for utilities
Sitting in the shade of beautiful trees in a slight breeze
So many identical plastic chairs
Getting tangled in my mosquito net
Knowing there won’t be a flushing toilet anywhere I’m going all day
Finding £133 a month more than I need to live on.
Being addressed by my colour rather than my name…”Nansapor”
The sound of sweeping arriving with the dawn
Knowing a smattering of an African tribal language and using it.
A million stars in a clear black sky and the moon lying on its back.
Trying to eat unrecognisable pieces of meat, often hairy skin wrapped tightly with intestines, floating in my soup
People offering to help me carry things, however light.
Women wearing multiple bright coloured cloths, all clashing and looking wonderful.
Wearing the same 2 pairs of shoes for 2 years.
The horror of seeing canes on teachers’ desks
Being surrounded by naturally, beautifully toned, fit young people
Farm animals sharing my living and working spaces
Being called to prayer several times a day
Being sure nothing will be quite as I’ve planned it
Buying beautifully coloured cloth very cheaply as my only retail therapy
Experiencing something new each day that excites me
Drinking water from sachets
Wearing “summer” clothes all year.
Everything being dispensed in small black “polythenes”   
Being only slightly concerned about my safety in a tightly packed unroadworthy tro 
Very polite, learned greetings from children accompanied by a curtsy or salute                                      
Almost never wishing I had a TV
Realising that managing from day to day as enjoyably as possible is all that really matters here
Knowing my washing will be dry in a matter of minutes

This blog will rest now as Adrienne will not be in Africa! However, I shall be returning here many times. I cannot really leave as Ghana has got under my skin and into my heart forever.

Beginnings and Endings

Well, would you believe it? Doris has given birth to triplets just in time for me to see them before I leave. Perfect timing and they are beautiful, if I may say so. I didn’t witness the birth but could hear the kids bleating from a shelter near my kitchen window. This photo was taken minutes later. I haven’t seen them since then as I think the family are keeping a close eye on this brood. I am sure Doris delivered two last time in the dark and rain, but one was taken, probably by a pig or dog and didn’t survive. 

The following day a pig delivered 6 piglets under our tree. It is all happening! My sister, Ros, thinks they are all giving me leaving gifts. It is a lovely thought. Imagine if I had to transport all of these home!

As you can imagine, it is the survival of the fittest here……..for animals and humans! Life goes on and as I prepare to leave Nadowli, these new arrivals begin their life here in the increasing warmth of an impending hot season. I may miss that too!!

Market Traders

I have got used to buying nearly everything from markets. I visit 3 different ones regularly, in Nadowli, Jirapa and Wa. I don’t have many photos of them as I am usually preoccupied with searching for what I need. Also, the taking of pictures is not welcomed, largely, and I don’t want to upset these women. It is amazing how I can find almost everything I need on one or two small stalls to allow me to cook a whole meal. Over this time I have become used to eating Ghanaian staple foods that that I found quite repulsive 2 years ago.

Pito sellers are there in their numbers having brewed their local beer over days. A calabash is delicious and nourishing and I shall certainly miss it. Some people enjoy it too much, of course, so market days involve some strange conversations, usually with old men who address me with a string of unintelligible Dagaare and then laugh hysterically when I try to respond.


This is one of my most recent photos and one I took at my final workshop. I have realised that you cannot focus training at too basic a level for teachers here. The teaching of Phonics for Reading is something so fundamental and all children in England learn sounds of letters to build words. Here they recite the alphabet endlessly but don’t seem to realise that this is of little help to young readers.

I invited these teachers to come and learn the sounds of letters and then gave them a sheet of cardboard and a marker. These resources are seldom found in schools. As always there is no child care so a few babies arrived as well.  This one slept most of the day. The teachers, many untrained,  worked enthusiastically, demonstrating they have little practice writing letters and using scissors. However, by the time our boxes of chicken and rice arrived balanced on someone’s head, each teacher had a set of phonic cards in a plastic bag and a free marker to take away. They promised me they would use them and from what I have heard, most are trying their best.

I suppose it is inevitable that the most worthwhile activities I have carried out should be at the end of my placement. Hey Ho!

Wonderful Giants

Another highlight of my travels in Ghana has been my trips to Mole National Park. Many people visit and do not catch a glimpse of the elephants. I have been lucky enough to see them on all three occasions. Each trip has been different, from tracking them to the water hole to riding on the roof of a jeep in search of them. The guests I have taken there have all loved this experience. Ghana may not have many of the “Big 5” African animals but  I have spent considerable time with friends and family watching the “biggest” of them all. These three had just finished bathing and were covering themselves in sand to protect themselves.

Past revisited

I have visited the “Slave Castles” of Cape Coast and Elmina  along the coast of Ghana 4 times while I have lived here, taking different visitors every time. On each occasion I have learned something new and been increasingly horrified by the conditions under which people were forced to live. Most Ghanaians will never travel so far to see these historic sites but I am sure they hear the stories of their ancestors and the horrors they endured.

My holidays on the coast have provided some of the highlights of my stay in Ghana. The happiness of those days is tempered with the knowledge that from most beaches you have a distant view of a slave castle. What a contrast!


This is Louisa, my Ghanaian daughter! She is one of the headteachers I try to support through their almost impossible role. Here you are paid on a scale no matter which position in the school you hold. Therefore, there is no bonus for being the person who tries valiantly, with no training, to maintain a grasp on the reins. You are appointed to headship. You don’t apply! It is, in many ways, a poisoned chalice!

Louisa has taught me so much about Ghanaian life and what it means to be an African. I shall always be in her debt. Without our friendship I would have missed much of what I have learned about Ghana and my time in Nadowli would have been a shallower experience. Since September 2011, I have gained a truer grasp of the customs, beliefs, traditions and expectations of the Dagaaba people and from that depth of knowledge my love for this area of the world has grown. I have accompanied her to funerals, a rather daunting experience alone, and been shown what I should do and how to behave. My Dagaare, though woefully poor after 2 years, has benefited from her input and patience. However, it is possibly the cooking instruction I have received from Louisa that crowns our relationship. She has painstakingly taught me the rudimentary elements of cooking many Ghanaian dishes, from buying unfamiliar ingredients in the market to helping me eat them! My lack of strength and stamina to pound fufu and stir TZ has been laughed about and excused but my Jollof Rice is widely praised.  How many of my successes I can replicate in England remains to be seen. Already I have a large container of groundnut paste in Uckfield and various types of flour will accompany me next time.

The loyal friendship of someone who has grown up in the culture of an unfamiliar country must be the most valuable relationship I could have found in Ghana and thus I shall treasure this friendship with Louisa for the rest of my life and cannot believe my good fortune. How lucky am I to have found the love of a daughter so far away in Ghana?

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Heavy Responsibilities

I met these two little girls at the Bong Ngo Festival. They were selling water sachets from this box. I have included the photograph because it reminds me of the continual need for drinking water and the tender ages of children carrying out essential tasks.

Girls learn very young that there are jobs to be done and they have responsibilities each morning. When you see a four year old sweeping with a short African broom you can tell she has been taught how to do it well. Three year olds already carry very small items on their heads as early training for a lifetime of transporting heavy bowls of water and long unwieldy bundles of firewood. These tasks are carried out before school and early evening. The boys spend time collecting animals that have strayed and using short hoes on farms to sow and weed throughout the growing season. Chores have to done and the children are extremely efficient. They have to be. There are no labour saving devices here and producing meals involves ALL available hands being “on deck”! When all the children are doing this work, it is the norm for them, what they expect. There isn’t a great deal for them to do in terms of leisure activities so there are not too many distractions.

These little girls have been sent to sell water sachets at the equivalent of 3p for 500mls. Thousands of children will be doing this around the country. They must make precious little profit but it is an essential service. Despite the poor quality of mathematics teaching in schools, they have no problem taking money and dispensing correct change!

Festival Dancing

I really enjoyed this dancing at the Bong Ngo Festival in Jirapa. Different groups from within and outside this district came to demonstrate their skills. These dancers, apparently, travelled from Lawra to dance here. They looked very professional. However, many young people look as athletic as this, not through dancing but because of the physical nature of their work. What appears to be the result of hours in a gym, is in fact just living a healthy and physically challenging life.  Almost everyone farms land. They grow plenty of staples such as maize, ground nuts, yams etc to sustain them as long as possible over the coming year.
Dancing is accompanied by xylophones and drums and sometimes includes different types of bells, trumpet playing and whistles. As you might expect it is very rhythmical and repetitive. The dancers in this picture are wearing cowrie shells as part of their costume. These are still used for bartering and specifically as currency in dowries. They are a valuable commodity in these parts, but can be bought more cheaply on the coast where they are still gathered by fishermen.
I love this photo for the enthusiasm of the dancers. The troupe includes some young girls and you can be sure this dance will continue to be performed through generations. Many dances are identifiable as part of local culture and tradition. Their costume is very simple but attractive and the energy they conveyed caught the attention of all the spectators in this large arena. It was a special and memorable day for me.


The people of Ghana take their faith and religious behaviour very seriously. The majority of citizens are Christian or Muslim. However, many follow the Traditional religion worshipping ancient deities represented through nature in trees, rivers etc and showing reverence towards their buried ancestors. Libation is poured into the ground in their honour.

We are called to prayer from the loudspeakers on the mosque at regular times of each day starting around 4.30am. Nadowli is not a strong Muslim area due to the predominance of the Catholic faith introduced into these parts by missionaries during the last century. Morning Devotion at the District Education Office begins each day with a hymn, bible reading and prayers and every meeting I have attended here starts and ends with a reminder that God blesses us all and steers our lives in every way.

This photograph shows part of the Voodoo market in Togo. The journey to find it was gruelling but worth the challenge to see what other people need in order to carry out the rituals of their faith. We cannot fail to be horrified by the sight of animal parts, dried and in some cases, ground to powders. These creatures will have been slaughtered for this purpose and that makes the act appear appalling. I imagine it is impossible to trace the origins of Voodoo or other African tribal faiths. They go too far back into the history of the world. Largely, these days, people worship without the need for inhumane sacrifice and unnecessary pain inflicted on humans and animals. Nevertheless, there are parts of the world not so far away where this ritualistic worship and practices still remain and those beliefs live on.

When I hear from friends and colleagues about their fears of witchcraft and evil powers that take or threaten to take the lives of family members, it makes me realise the strength of these powers and the control they have over the minds of strong, intelligent people. This is all too real here and those fears influence so much of professional and social life. Don’t insult or annoy anyone as you have no idea what they could use in their response to you! It is not considered worth the risk.

Marching Onwards

The “marching” season will begin again soon. I haven’t yet heard the sound of drums as I awake at 6.30 each morning. Usually, the practising starts around the beginning of February in preparation for March 6th Independence Day celebrations. All schools from KG to Senior High School prepare a team and they march for hours throughout the school weeks building up to the great day. New uniforms are purchased from precious school funds so that all competitors look smart as they represent their schools. There is military precision about this which alarms me somewhat for a peaceful nation. There is more emphasis put on the success of this day than any other in the year and more time spent marching than reading. All teaching and learning appears to be halted whilst all teachers supervise the team. Relatively extravagant prizes are awarded to winning schools following serious judging by senior official members of the community.

In many ways this is a positive event for children. They are encouraged to support team members and be proud of their school’s challenge for success. It brings people together on the day they celebrate their country’s independence. It is joyful as well as serious. My only reservation concerns the time spent on rehearsal and that the dedication to this cause is not matched in any way to the efforts made towards the education of children at any time in the year. It is clear where people place their priorities.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Winnowing woman

This lady was winnowing her rice as I cycled home from the office. She stays just up the path from me. There has been a lot of winnowing since harvest time. Rice, maize, beans etc have all been ground out of their “shells” and the winnowing has separated the grains from the chaff. You just need a good breeze! The good stuff has weight and falls in the bowl whilst the chaff blows aside. She had a lot to winnow and the pigs and fowls enjoyed the chaff after she had finished.

One reason I have included this picture is to emphasise how hard the women have to work and it is all very physical. They have amazingly strong muscles in their arms, back and neck from the carrying heavy loads on their heads to beating and grinding as an integral precursor to preparing food.  Everything is labour intensive and accepted proudly as making the best nutritional use of the raw ingredients available. Carrying huge heavy loads of fire wood, women pass my window numerous times a day. They tend to perform this task with company and it appears to be quite a social event judging by the cheerful banter that heralds their passing.

I have made good attempts at cooking Ghanaian style and am proud of my successes, however I would need to be living here many years longer to display half the skills these women have been practising since childhood. I take my hat off to them and salute their endurance and patience amongst other qualities.

Doris !

I don’t know how I shall leave Doris. She will be one of my saddest farewells. She is known all around here as my “Grandmother” and I am chastised for not giving her prime choices of precious food from my fridge. You will be glad to hear she is hugely pregnant again but I fear I shall miss this birth.

Unless you have met Doris you cannot fully understand the amazing character of this goat. She all but speaks! We certainly have a special bond and whenever I appear at the door I can spot her staring at me from somewhere nearby, often peering around a tree or the side of the house. She just stands and looks me straight in the eye with her head cocked on one side. This is particularly strange because her eye sight is dreadful. If I put scraps on the ground instead of under her nose, it takes a while for her to find them. Meanwhile there is a danger the large clan of noisy chickens has grabbed what they can and run off with it! She is very placid and won’t stand up for herself. If I was to be here any longer I may have started a course of assertiveness training with her!

Some of my favourite neighbours

How could I reminisce about life in Nadowli without mentioning the pigs. At this point in the year they are looking pretty healthy and stout. There has been a lot to forage on after the harvests and as the pigs roam freely now, they can help themselves to anything they fancy. The remains of maize and other crops litter the whole farming area and provide good feeds for these animals.

Any waste water offers them a mud bath and they wallow contentedly before wandering proudly displaying a crusty tide mark at various levels on their fat bodies. Although they seem contented and free to roam, there is always pork in the market. Slaughtering is done where they are caught and within earshot of their friends. I imagine that makes you rather nervous and inclined to hide a lot of the time!

Keep it in the Family

I have chosen this photo because it reminds me of the community structure in Ghana. This chief is proudly escorted to his place of honour at a festival by an entourage of less senior members of his community. They are wearing traditional clothes and smocks worn everyday by men across the Upper West. The hierarchy of men, almost exclusively, is very important and respect is demonstrated through behaviour. Local chiefs and family elders are responsible for their communities and extended families. Tribal traditions continue their long history as decided by ancestors long departed this world. Ancestors remain a vital part of their culture, however, even in death and libations are poured into the ground to them at gatherings to this day.

We are reminded of the strength and unity of extended families as part of everyday life. Although people do move away from their home village, it never seems far and the connection between people from the same village or town is a close bond. From where you originate is a key element of your introduction to strangers.

Elders and chiefs are elected to these posts and your position and reputation within that community are significant factors in your nomination. Younger members look up to these wise figures and can aspire to those lofty, regal heights of respect. Elders are called upon to mediate in disputes and to add their opinions when all else fails. They discipline members and intervene when evil powers are at work between enemies. Their word is final and the communities and families they support know that and respect their judgement.

I imagine that in a country where there is limited respect for the undermanned police force in which training is less than sophisticated, it is far better for local disagreement to be managed within small communities than risk outcomes from armed police involvement. Managing your families in this way is as it has always been and that must seem the most effective solution for all. You know the people in your locality and family and can deal with them. How could a strange law enforcer do a better job?
Of course domestic disputes at home are largely managed very differently, sometimes heavy handedly by the police and social services. As we know, families in our culture are spread, often, across thousands of miles and offer each other no support at all. There is no extended family, nor wise elder advice to resolve differences there and I surmise we are the poorer for that.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Photo 1

In just over 4 weeks I shall be leaving Nadowli and heading home at the end of my placement. Much of what I see day to day I have documented in this blog over 2 years. Many postings have included photos to illustrate my experiences. However, most of my photos lie unseen, here in my laptop. I am going to take the opportunity, during these final weeks, of posting some of the best ones and those that evoke the more vivid memories of my life here in Ghana.

I have to begin with a school photo. This is Class 3 who I have come to know better than any other group of children. They arrive each morning, most punctually, to await happily whatever learning experiences are available to them. I never cease to be in awe of their enthusiasm to be in school when I consider the lack of stimulation afforded these pupils.  The attendance of a teacher heralds a good day in itself. If their teacher had had the privilege of the best training available, he would still be lethargic in his daily delivery at the front of the class when denied access to the most basic of resources. If you live in interesting times and have imaginative stimuli surrounding you almost constantly and you feel valued and respected, you can strive to be an imaginative and exciting teacher with very little equipment and funds.  However, when your own education and teacher training involved solely the use of chalk, ancient theories and monotonous instruction, and imagination is not considered an asset to teachers or pupils, then you are hardly likely to break out of the mould from your own initiative.

It may be true that for most children in these schools who will live out their adult lives in this same community unaware, largely, of the outside world, their school education will suffice as it exists. Oblivion can allow peaceful, stress free existence. Nevertheless, there are some who could spread their wings, be exciting and contribute to the development of their country if they were empowered. The injustice of this poor educational provision and the frustration that I feel is about those children with unrealised and stifled potential. They are tethered chickens scratching in the dust who could be eagles exercising their wings and preparing to soar.

No change then!

Well, Nadowli hasn’t changed much in 4 weeks. I’m not sure it will change much in 4 years! However, there have been a couple of surprises. All the dead scrub from the harvest has disappeared and the spaces between buildings are parched and wide open. The very dry Harmattan winds make your skin like sandpaper so I shall be getting through some moisturising cocoa butter in the next few weeks.

I cycled to the market this morning for the first time, searching for tomatoes and tins of sardines. It came as rather a shock to turn a bend in the well trodden path to find a partly built house across my way. All these sandy pathways are well worn and well used by motos, bicycles and walkers. We just have to find a new route through someone else’s land. As a “main road” this will be a challenge for us all!

I made a visit to a local school in the afternoon and had a similar experience when I came around the side of a neighbouring house and found another house blocking my way. I am wondering how soon it will be before we cannot get out of the community!

Joys of Travelling

The night bus from Accra to Wa, mercifully ,showed no dreadful Nigerian movies, nor inane Ghanaian soaps this time and my ear plugs protected me from most of the repetitive, loud music played through the coach system throughout the night. I was so tired I slept longer than all my previous journeys combined. Arriving in Wa at 8am, I dragged my suitcase down the main street and arrived at the tro station at an earlier than ideal time. The market was only just coming alive and the tro took an hour to fill. Heaven forbid that it should leave for Nadowli with a spare seat, unpaid for. This is the time for people to arrive for business…..not leave it for the villages. I sat in the front seat with a sachet of water, a hunk of bread and a hard boiled egg and watched the station begin its day.

Most young men seemed to have a full time job greeting each other jovially and play fighting. Supremacy was obvious amongst them and the ones with any business oozed confidence. It was clear which ones would not be part of anything lucrative throughout the rest of the day. Some were busily loading and unloading various vehicles that arrived, blocked everyone’s way, and left in a hail of horn blasts.

The women, of course, were seriously going about their business of earning enough to feed their extended families. They carried everything on their heads, eggs, bread, water and small pouches of other liquid refreshment, fruit, toothpaste, tooth cleaning sticks, wrapped kenke and bolts of cloth to name but a few. Their eyes are everywhere looking for potential customers. Being white and therefore “rich”, I am an obvious target and they all make towards me in hope. Surely I must need all that they offer. I noticed an old man who had already spotted me from afar, gesturing his hunger and begging for cash. I am not able to refuse this one.

Some traders announce their goods with shouts and calls and others tap their box or bottle. In this case a bottle of clear liquid that promises to start your day with a shot of either neat spirit or some restorative “ herbal medicine”. It didn’t take much for me to refuse this!!

Finally, we are ready to depart. A couple of petrified goats have been tied to the roof rack along with some large baskets and bundles of something light and soft. The locals pay a few peshwas for their wares and belongings but a suitcase seems to demand more!  The tro “mate” who deals with everything except driving it, asked me for 2.5 cedis. Laughing, I pointed out that this was more than it cost to transport ME! I gave him one cedi and lifted the case into the back of the vehicle myself. He had no answer to that!!

"Home" Again

So here I am back in Nadowli for the last 5 weeks of my placement here. I return from a wonderful 3 weeks in England enjoying a host of family celebrations including Christmas. Yet again I was staggered by the pace of life and struggled to keep up with my 90 year old father! The two of us managed to make some significant headway in preparing for the re-occupation of my house. I am sure I parted with more money in a few days than the total monthly salary bill for Nadowli  District Education Office. A far cry from finding the equivalent of £133 a month more than sufficient funds here.

The journey back to Upper West Ghana seemed long but was only 3 days in duration and passed painlessly. My Guardian Angel continues to do sterling work on my behalf.

On my way through Accra I managed to put in motion my Police Clearance check. This allows me to bring home to England the proof that I have been a good girl in Ghana! Getting there took 3 tro rides but I was assisted by fellow passengers all the way, eager to deliver me safely to my destination. One even walked me to the main gates and wished me a successful visit. The process at the Police Headquarters was much as I expected. A very small office, packed with people and seemingly chaotic, but with a system in place that worked for them. I was sent out for a photocopy of my Residents Visa which involved picking my way through a car wash area and out of the back gate to a container in the market behind. A dusty photocopier provided me with the required duplicate and I returned to the office for fingerprinting and passport photos that immediately brand me a criminal! It was interesting to note that the people ahead of me in the fingerprinting queue couldn't bend their fingers! The guy behind the desk was almost dislocating their hands to get the required fingers in prominent positions. I shall collect, I hope, the final document on my way out of Ghana next month.

My lunch of chicken and salad was enjoyed in Osu, a main retail area of Accra. There it is common to find other white faces, many being volunteers and NGO workers in Ghana for a limited period and others forging lucrative business links in a fast developing country. I find myself wondering what brings them to Accra and whether they venture further north to experience the real Ghana. I am somewhat disturbed, on occasion, by what feels like unwholesome business transactions between seedy looking white men and a young Ghanaian couple, taking place on an adjoining table. I may be wrong but the expression on a young girl’s face tells me she is scared of the deal her brother is arranging for her. She is the only one not laughing as they all shake hands and leave. Business wears a lot of different faces in a capital city.