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.