16 July, 2006
The hardest thing I encountered in my time with CEJOCEP has to be leaving...
..can't wait til the day I return
Please see these websites for more information:
03 July, 2006
WOWIE, Ghana I love this place. I have been meaning to write this entry for about two months now but have not been able to get the time to sit down to write it. I guess that is a good sign about how much work there is to do out here. I have no idea how Lucie and Debbi find the time.
My name is Charlotte Rampton and I am an Africa Trust volunteer based in Kakumodo, Cape Coast. I arrived in Ghana on the 5th of April 2006. I am going to briefly (but I am very passionate about Ghana so I may go on a bit, if so I am sorry) describe my experience as a volunteer in Ghana, so far!
I am only going to be out in Ghana for three months, rather than the full six as the other three volunteers are. I could not come out in January as I intended due to my medical school applications. So when I arrived Lucie, Caroline, Matt and Debbi had already been out here for three months. It was very weird joining the team after they had been out so long, but I think that part of things all went very smoothly.
MY FIRST WEEK IN GHANA
The flights out were ok. The flight from London to Milan was short and very bumpy. I thought I was going to throw up for most of it, the food was awful so I was dreading the proper meal on the next flight.
I got off the plane in a bit of a rush as I was feeling so awful. Then later in the airport when I decided that I wanted to buy some food I couldn't find my wallet. I had left it on the plane! Luckily the plane hadn't taken off yet so I went to the Alitalia desk and they managed to run and find it. I was SO lucky!
The next flight to Lagos (in Nigeria) was really good. I had booked a seat by the emergency exit in the hope that there would be more leg room, but it was the one at the front and there was a wall in front. So I had less leg room than all the other seats! Luckily the plane was really empty so I could move. I moved next to a girl from England who was going out to Nigeria to meet her boyfriend. We had a lovely chat about what we were both going to do in our various destinations. She couldn't believe that I was going to an Africa country by myself!
Then it dawned on me what I was doing ARGHHH I think that was the start of the fear. I think I had just got with things before that moment. Before I left I had so much to organize I didn’t have time to take stock of things, but the long flights gave me time to reflect on what I was about to embark on. It was definitely going to be an interesting experience!
The plane was very delayed by the time we left Milan and then it left Nigeria very late. I was starting to panic that the in-country directors and Lucie would have left the airport and that there would be nobody to meet me! Of course when I got out of the airport Lucie and Joe were there with big smiles. It was a huge relief, especially when Lucie handed me a bottle of cold water, priceless.
After visiting the Nukrumo memorial we got an STC to Cape coast. The journey was pretty long, four hours, and very hot (for someone who has just arrived from the wet UK it was). At this point I was very glad we had Charles and Joseph (the locals who help run Africa Trust from Accra) with us, they sorted everything out and made sure we didn't get ripped off as we were white. They are so friendly.
Eventually we arrived at Cape Coast then we got a taxi (these drivers are mad!) to the village where I will be staying for the next three months, it is called Kakumodo. It is a proper African village with huts and not much else. I was a bit worried that we would be based in the big city of Cape Coast and not get to grips with real African life. I didn't need to worry, we are seriously in the middle of it all! Which is a bit scary at times, but it is what I wanted.
Walking around the village is amazing. The guys who run CEJOCEP, (Center For Job Creation and Environmental Protection) who we are volunteering for, know absolutely everyone. It is a large village and normally takes about 20 minutes to walk from one side to the other, but if you walk across it in the middle of the day with Lucie or Caroline or the other people who run CEJOCEP then you have to stop every five meters to say hello to the children and adults (but mostly the children who come running at you at some speed!). They are all amazing people and so smiley.
Lucie has talked about CEJOCEP below so I will be brief. They are trying to build a school and have about a billion other projects that they want to do. For example build a training center for the village people, so that they can learn skills so that they can get work. They also want to build a clinic and zoo/botanical gardens. Basically anything that will help the community is in their plans.
I had a big welcome when I first arrived. A couple of the CEJOCEP and Africa Trust workers welcomed me. Then we went out for a drink. I was very scared about being outside at night/evening because of the mosquitoes. I think everyone goes through this initial paranoia when they first arrive in a foreign country, especially Africa. The following week Caroline and Lucie showed me around the local area.
My guided tour of the local area consisted of a visit to a local posh hotel, where we could swim in their pool and drink pineapple juice. This was great after rushing around for a couple of days in the heat. I definitely needed some relaxation time. The view along the beach of the seafront hotel was amazing.
I was very quickly falling in love with the country. I also met the chiefs of Kakumodo. I was very worried about doing this as there was so much hype surrounding the whole thing, but in actual fact it was a lot of fun. The formality made it all the more real for me. I was not so keen on drinking the gin that we had given to them as a present. It was very strong and made my eyes water!
The same evening that I met the chiefs I started feeling very ill. I am still not sure what it was, but it was most probably my body adjusting to the different environment. Being ill in such a foreign country was pretty horrid, but I got through it. I had a pretty bad first week.
As well as being ill I found out that I didn’t get into medical school. One night I was so down that I decided that I was going to go home. One of my best friends at home managed to persuade me that I should stick it out for a while. I am sooooo glad I did. I think everyone who goes aboard for a fairly substantial amount of time gets homesick, it was just bad timed for me that I got it all at once. I got through it and now I am out the other side things are a lot more positive.
NOT ALL PLAIN SAILING
Another thing that put a dampener on my first couple of weeks in Ghana was the whole controversy that surrounded what I was meant to be doing out here. I had intended to spend six months working in a third world country volunteering. As I had experience of working in a hospital I had intended to do voluntary work in hospitals.
I wanted to set up art workshops and do sort of occupational therapy style stuff on a children’s ward. As I am a passionate sports person, I thought I could use that love to create sports events at orphanages. (I didn’t want to come out here and teach as I haven’t got any experience with teaching and it wasn’t something I was passionate about). This was my plan, which I thought I had communicated this to the Africa Trust director.
However, a communication break-down somewhere along the line meant that everyone in Kakumodo thought I was coming out here to teach at CEJOCEP international school and help build the school, as Lucie and Caroline have been doing. It took me a couple of days to realize that this was the case. Initially I was very confused about what people were saying, then I got ill so things got even more confusing.
It was about a week into my time in Ghana before I could say anything to anyone about what had happened and by this time I had fallen in love with CEJOCEP and its plans. This made it all the more harder to tell Lucie, Caroline and the CEJOCEP founders that I didn’t want to work with them. In the end I found a middle ground and divided my time between all the projects. It was a very horrid experience, as I really wanted to help CEJOCEP, but I also wanted to be true to myself (and my sponsors) by doing what I had come out here to do. Luckly the CEJOCEP founders are absolutely amazing people.
They helped to find a placement in a hospital. They spent so much time trying to find contacts in one of the local hospitals, meeting and greeting them with me, sorting out all the references and NGO stuff. They were in effect helping me to spend less time helping their organistion, but still they put their heart into helping me. I can't believe how amazing they are.
They want the volunteers to be happy in their work. They understand that if we are happy we work harder and enjoy the whole experience a lot more.
We visited two hospitals. The University of Cape Coast Hospital, which is a pretty small but beautiful. The regional Hospital, which is massive but very close to where we live. I felt as if I could do more to help in the larger hospital, but as it turned out they wanted to charge me $200 just to be a volunteer. I think they have had too many "volunteers" who actually turn out to be people who just want to follow Doctors around and get a sort of “work experience” out here. I guess if I was trying to do that it is fair to charge for the extra time the nurses and doctors would use up in showing me around.
I tried to explain to the managers of the regional hospital that I wasn't coming here to follow doctors around and that I wanted to HELP the nurses. Try to make their job easier in any way I can and attempt to improve the horrid hospital experience for the patients/children, even if it involved changing bed pans all day (I am used to that!). The CEJOCEP leaders were completely against paying to volunteer and were offended that someone from their country would ask me to pay to give them my time.
In the end it all turned out ok as the university hospital were amazingly welcoming. Ever since I was handed over to one of their equivalents of a nursing auxiliary (my old job title in the UK) called Dora, it has been amazing working with them. They are so friendly and were so pleased to see someone new coming to help them. After my tour around the pretty small hospital, (about the size of the hospital I used to work in, so it was the perfect for me) I went to the children's ward to try to help out there.
It is not easy to volunteer out here, you have to push very hard to get them to let you do any work. Because I am white they have this sort of idea (I don't know how else to word this but I don't mean it literally) that you are above them, or that they want to be friendly and welcoming to you and treat you well, so they don't want you to do any hard work. It took a lot of time to explain to them that I am here to do hard work and I can cope with it! As I say it is not easy (this is a very common saying out here, as things are seriously not easy)!
About a week after I arrived the other two Africa Trust volunteers, Matt and Debbi came to Kakumodo. They were leaving their previous project as it had all turned nasty where they were working. After our two week tour of the country they were heading to a new project near Kumasi. It was great to see them again. I had only met them once before we came out.
They helped show me around some more and we went to the local tourist attraction called Kakum National Park. This forest has a rope walkway high up in the trees. It is very high, so only Matt volunteered to take me up! It was a bit scary at times, when the rope stated to shake a lot because someone else was behind me, but it was defiantly worth doing. The view from the tree tops was amazing. I also loved being in my first proper rain forest.
On Easter Sunday Lucie and I went to church. It was amazing, so colorful and their singing was so loud and full of energy. There was a huge collection twice during the six hour (!) service. This worried me a bit as I knew that all the money would go to the church, rather than poor people, which I think it should go to. But that is how things are done out here.
Another thing which I think is wrong, is that a lot of people don’t go to church as they can’t afford to donate anything, so they would rather just not go than embarrass themselves. I think this is very sad, but it’ll take a lot to change how the church does things.
On Easter Monday, Caroline, Sly, Lawrence and myself went to Brenu beach. There was a huge beach party. People from all over Ghana came to party and swim in the sea. There were so many people. It was very much like a lot of festivals I have been to at home, with young people everywhere.
On Tuesday the 18th of April we started out ten-day tour of the country. This stated
with a Tro-Tro (the only way I can describe them is a large mini bus, with two seats either side of the isle and then people sat in seats in the isle, Ghanaians defiantly like to pack people in and get their money’s worth!). We decided to sit on the back seat, which turned out to be a very bad idea, as there was hardly any leg-room. The four hour journey was very painful! But we got to Kumasi eventually.
In Kumasi we went to a lot of museums, which were very interesting. We learnt a lot about the Ashanti people and their fighting against the British Colonists. The Ghanaians were also made to fight in the war at Burma, there were loads of detailed pictures, which was very interesting.
The next day we got a STC bus (very posh coach, with air conditioning!) up to Tamale. This took seven hours, so I was very glad we took the more expensive option! Tamale did not have much to offer us, so the next day at 3am we got a Tro Tro to Mole national park. This place was amazing.
We stayed in a hotel that had a swimming pool and a view over the whole park, including the watering hole below. We sat by the pool reading and looking up at the elephants bathing in the pool. AMAZING. The next day we had to get up very early, for our early morning Safri walk. We saw elephants from about 2/3 meters away, that was awesome. They just carried on with what they were doing and took no notice of us.
We saw lots of Baboons (that had stolen my lunch the previous day and Lucie tried to fight them off), antelope, birds, crocodiles and many more animals. It was amazing doing the four hour walk and stumbling across more and more animals. Getting up close to the watering holes and seeing the elephants was one of the best things I have seen.
Then that afternoon we hired bikes (with not much of a brake so I was very fearful for our lives!) and cycled to the local village of Larabagna. This village has the oldest mosque in Ghana. The Mosque was good to look at, but the thing I enjoyed the most was wondering around the village and meeting all the villagers.
I was very shocked to find out that they did not have a clinic and then how far away the nearest one is. I really wanted to spend my time in Ghana at that village
as I loved it so much and I felt the people there needed my help more than they do in Cape Coast. But the project in Cape Coast is so amazing and has some great leaders that I couldn’t let them down.
We then spent a day on two tro-tros. We were very tried after all the traveling on dirt roads and were VERY red! We decided to stay in Bimbila for an extra day. One of the German girls who decided to travel with us had met a local nurse on the tro-tro.
He showed us around the hospital and the village. It was amazing to see the hospital, well maybe not amazing as it was so moving, but it was definitely an experience I won’t forget. The hospital was pretty empty as the nurses were on strike over pay, but the patients that were there, will be in my thoughts for a long time. I couldn’t believe how expensive the treatment is for the Ghanaians (in terms of how much they get paid it is massive), I have no idea how people afford it. Well a lot of people don’t and have to go without treatment. Which is very sad.
On Tuesday (25th) we got a tro-tro to Ho Hoe. The journey was very bumpy, but the views were amazing. We went from arid flat country to hilly/mountainous lush countryside. It was awesome. Then yesterday we went to the highest water fall in Ghana. Seeing it from the bottom was not enough for me, so we decided to climb to the top of the first waterfall and swim in the bottom of the top waterfall (this involved a lot of sweat!). The climb (literally) up was very hard and I thought we were not going to make it, but we did and it was amazing.
The next day we climbed to the top of the tallest mountain in Ghana. It didn’t take as long as the previous days climb (6hours to the top of the waterfall and 4 hours to the top of the mountain), but it was also very steep. The panoramic view from the top was worth it we could even see as far as lake Volta (there were loads of flies at the top though which made it feel horrid to stand still and enjoy the view).
We ended our tour with a trip to the beach resort of Kokrobite. This place was a great way to end our tour. It had everything, from freshly squeezed pineapple juices to cauliflower cheese (this is something I am really missing). The beach was gorgeous. The sea was great to swim in, although we did have problems with the very strong currents when Lucie got swept out to sea. Luckily my fears that I would never see her again did not come true and she came back into shore a little further down the beach.
As the hospital stuff was not sorted when we got back from our tour, I spent the next week teaching with Caroline and Lucie. My first day at school was very interesting.
I had no idea how I was going to remember all the children's names. For the first day I got them to write on sticky labels, even this was harder than I thought it would be, as some of them couldn't even do that without a lot of help. I could see this was going to be a very interesting couple of months ahead of me.
We were initially (Caroline and Lucie had been for the last three months) teaching outside as the school building had no roof. I was amazed at how hard it was to keep the children's attention, impossible even! I like to think it was because we were outside, but I guess three to six year olds are not interested in numbers for more than about five minutes.
Caroline, Lucie and I had all the children together for my first day so that I could get to know them. The next couple of days were even more interesting as the class got split in two. Caroline had the younger ones and Lucie had the older/clever ones (some of the younger children are in the older class and visa versa). I just switch between the two.
The schooling system is very different here to in the UK. Children do not go to school if their parents can't afford it. Yes, the Government schools are free, but the parents still have to pay for books, school uniform and food. Also if they send their children to school it means that they are not earning money for the family. So there are a lot of older children in the same class as the younger ones. This has taken me a long time to adjust to.
The older children should be so much cleverer than they are, it is very frustrating to see a four year old child doing here alphabet and then the six/seven year old sat next to here that can't even write most of the letters. It is very upsetting that all the children do not have equal opportunities.
I was expecting things to get a lot better in terms of behavior once the children got used to me, but it didn't really happen. It just got a little easier to tell them off when they started fighting, mostly because I was learning Fante.
We are all against using the cane, which every teacher out here uses (expect the volunteers from abroad). It is the only thing that they respect so it is very hard for us to come in and get them to behave when they know that we will never cane them. We are working along the lines of respect rather than fear. I guess looking back on things, two months on, the children are much better behaved now. We just have to look upset and disappointed with them and they try to impress / cheer us up. So it sort of works!
It didn't take me as long as I thought it would to learn their names. They all have such different personalities that you can tell who is who. I have slowly learnt how to recognise the differences between the sea of Ghanaians that I meet each day. (At first when I was meeting all the children and people in the village I had no idea whether I had met that person before or not.) It was very funny for them at times. But they have similar problems, i.e. when they see one white girl walking through the village they often shout out the wrong name. We all look the same to them, even though we are all very different.
Lawrence, one of the CEJOCEP founders, gave me my induction course. Which consisted of a weeks worth of two hour Fante (the local dialect) lessons and then a weeks worth of two hour social and culture studies lessons. These were so useful, especially the Fante lessons. It was very weird being sat at the same black board that I was teaching at that morning. Lawrence also used a very Ghanaian approach to teaching that I was not used to.
It was great being taught Fante at the same time as trying to teach the children English. I could sympathise with them so much more! Even the alphabet I found very hard and it is very similar to the English one! I am so glad I spent those days working on it, it has really paid off. I know so much more Fante because of it. Even on the way to this internet cafe I had a short conversation with the taxi driver. Then when he asked how long I have been here and I said two months, he was very impressed. When things like that happen it makes it all worth while.
My routine now is that I spend three mornings/days a week working at the hospital and then two mornings helping Caroline or Lucie teach. Then in the afternoons I help with the building of the school or anything else CEJOCEP needs me to do. I am also going to an orphanage on Sunday afternoons and playing with the children there.
I spent my first week at the hospital at the children's ward, doing not much except playing with the children and fetching and carrying stuff, but that was all they needed me to do at that time because they only had four patients most of the time! The following weeks I helped out at the anti-natal clinic, then the young babies clinic. That was great.
I spent a whole day weighing hundreds of babies. They use a Newton meter and put the babies in small flour sacks with handles attached. They were all so cute and it was great to be working hard. Even though I was knackered after it all, it felt as if I had achieved something. It is often the case out here that volunteers feel as if what they are doing is not worthwhile and they feel that what they are doing could have been easily done by someone else.
I have spoken to many volunteers who have had these thoughts, but I guess we just have to keep telling ourselves that we ARE making a difference, even if it is small. We are not going to see the difference on a day to day basis as we are so involved in it. We all just want to help people out here so much, that when we can't see the changes we get frustrated.
I also spent a day on the out-reach project, where the clinic was taken to a small village and we spent the day weighing the babies and the nurses gave the mothers and babies their jabs and a check-up. That was a great morning. It was good helping a poor community and not just those that work at the university or who can afford to pay to get to the hospital.
AFTERNOONS OF SWEAT AND TEAMWORK
The work in the afternoon is pretty demanding. Making cement blocks and moving rubble out of classrooms takes a lot out of you. Doing the work myself makes me appreciate HOW much work they have done already. The boys who come and help build the school in the afternoon are not paid and do not have any reason to be there except that they want to help their community and believe in the vision of CEJOCEP. I love them all and they work SOOO hard.
The day the roof went on, was a great day. I don't think I have ever seen Sly, Teresa and Lawrence so happy. They were all so to have reached this landmark in their project. Their vision was starting to become a reality, at a very fast pace. It was going to make so much of a difference being able to teach the children inside a class room. Lawrence constructed benches for the children to sit on out of cement blocks and planks of wood. This meant that the children could have their own space to sit, not have to share chairs and have somewhere flat to put their books, rather than on their laps.
Another very good day for CEJOCEP was when their internet site finally went online www.cejocep.org
They are so excited at the idea that their organisation is now international because of the website. Have a look and see what you think, it needs some work to add more photos and to update the fact that they have got THREE volunteers from the UK!!
My time out here has not been straight forward, with all the hickups over the what I was actually doing, being sick when I first arrived, not getting into medical school, problems with not being able to access money, but it has still been very enjoyable and rewarding. Then just to make sure I had truly experience the true Africa I caught Malaria!
On the day that I went on the out-reach project I started feeling really sick, hot and had stomach cramps. I got myself home as quickly as I could, then the aches all over my body started. I thought it was just a cold or something like that. Then when Lucie came home she saw me and pointed out that it could be Malaria, this had not crossed my mind before that as I didn't feel too bad until the afternoon. Dora, my nurse friend from the hospital came round and took Lucie and I to the hospital.
I had a blood test and it confirmed the doctors suspicion that it was Malaria. It is ALWAYS Malaria out here. About 80% of the children’s ward cases are Malaria. It is a horrid disease. I was given some tablets and an injection for pain relief in my bottom (that hurts!) and sent home. It was great knowing everyone in the hospital as they treated me very quickly, didn't charge me and sent me home in the ambulance (they only use it to collect the night nurses and take patients for X-rays to the larger regional hospital, it is not used as in the UK, to collect patients, they have to make their own way to the hospital).
I don't know how people cope going to the large and very busy regional hospital. They have to queue for hours and hours to see a doctor (and many are much sicker than I was and can't even stand). Then they have the worry about whether they can afford the treatment that the doctor recommends. I hate the whole idea that people have to pay for their treatment and the fact that people don’t seek treatment because they are too poor. This really upsets me. The NHS does have its problems, but my experience out here has made me love it.
I got home and then spent the next week in bed or sitting around the house. It took me a long time to get my energy back. It was very frustrating doing nothing for a week when I know I don't have long left out here. I am a lot better now and have been back at work for two weeks now. Hopefully all the Malaria parasites are gone, but with Plasmodium (the parasite that causes malaria) it can stay in ones liver forever and come back at random moments, which is a really annoying!
The day after I feel ill Lucie collapsed, it was very scary that she got so ill. Our house was not a nice place to be for a while. We had loads of well wishers call by to see how we both were, it made us appreciate how many friends we have made out here. It made me very sad when I thought about how we are going to have to leave them all behind in not too long.
I have also managed to visit a local orphanage. I have only been twice now. It is a pretty rich orphanage as it has been set up by a family from America. However, even though they have lots of toys to play with it seems they don’t have very many people around to spend time with the children. This is where I come in. Well at least I am trying to come in. I haven’t been able to spend as much time there as I would have liked, for one reason or another.
When I do go in I have been playing rounders, cards and making lego houses with them. It is great to spend time with such amazing children. They have been through so much, but still are amazingly smiley and generous.
Since working at the hospital I have noticed that the nurses do not comply to the same infection control procedures that we do in the UK. For example they use the same thermometer for all the patients in the ward and do not wash it or their hands in-between patients. So I am planning to do an infection control awareness day. I am hoping to get some posters sent out from my old hospital in Bath and stick some of these up. Hopefully it will make a difference and reduce the number of hospital acquired infections.
Last week I went up to Kumasi, one of the major cities up north. The other two Africa Trust Volunteers are working up there, so we (Lucie, Sly and Lawrence) went up to visit them and see their project. They are working for an NGO called TACCO. Debbie is writing all about it so I won’t step on her toes. Basically they have got a great project that they are getting stuck into up there.
We also visited Lake Bosomtwe The lake is gorgeous and well worth the visit. Although on the way home we had a lot of trouble trying to get a taxi. The wait reminded me that we are in Ghana and things often don’t run smoothly! In the evening we stayed with one of Sly's friends, who took us out to dinner and bought everything. The tradition of buying everything if you invite someone out is a great one, but it does make us bankrupt sometimes! We stayed with the family. It was great sleeping on the floor with all the girls and the babies, we felt like we were really accepted.
When we got back from Kumasi, Caroline, Lucie and myself took out Sly, Lawrence, Teressa and Esther for a meal to say a huge thank you for all they have done for us and making us so welcome. It also served as a bit of a goodbye dinner before the American’s arrived. This was really sad. However, we did have a lovely meal. I loved the fact that we were all sat around the same table eating and talking. I don’t think we have all sat down to a meal together before.
It is always Teressa who does our cooking and we never get to appreciate it in front of her. She is an amazing woman. We had lots of speeches and evaluations about our time here, how it could be improved for the next volunteers. We came to the conclusion that on CEJOCEP’s part it could not be improved upon :) They are great.
We were having such a lovely evening and them my mother phoned, so I went outside the spot to phone her back as the music was way too loud inside. After a ten minute conversation we said goodbye and then I started to text my dad. When a small by came and snatched the phone from my hand. It was horrid. I ran after him shouting that I would give him money if he gave me the phone back. I was shouting so loud, but nobody came to help me. He ran into a very dark field and I had no idea whether he had other bigger boys with him, so I stopped and ran back to the spot to get Lawrence to chase after him.
We spent about two hours combing the area for the boy, but he got away. Lawrence and Sly were so angry and the boy and did everything within their power to try and find the phone, but it was gone. It was such a horrid experience, especially since I had said to Caroline the previous week that I felt safer here than I do in the UK.
It feels like such a safe country and I hate the fact that I no longer feel as safe and secure as I did before. Never mind, these things happen for a reason. My dad believes that it is because it is a lesson to teach me how to stop relying on my phone. I guess it will be very good for me to not have a phone for two weeks!
Ok So I have written an essay, I am sorry! I hope you found some of it interesting. I am sorry for any SPAG mistakes, I am a scientist! Well that is my excuse and I am sticking to it! I am feeling very sad about going home in two weeks, but I guess all good things have to come to an end at some point.
Now we have the help enlisted from the boys in the Culture Group we have the ability to really connect with the kids in lessons. They are so young and yet so keen (when they're not fighting over pencils that is!)
We have a whole repetoir of songs and rhymes that they all jump at the chance of singing.
We have been faced with one moral dilema with teaching and that is a huge cultural difference between our methods and the traditional Ghanaian way of doing things. The cane is an everyday part of schooling here. It is not that long ago it was stopped in schools in England, and I have no personal experience of being physically disiplined at school.
The view here is that it is so normal that we should be using the cane in our lessons when the children start acting up. Caroline, Charlotte and I have real trouble doing this. It just doesn't seem right to us.
Our punishments so far have included making the naughty one stand in the corner or kneel on the floor with their hands on their head. This creates the desired 'you've been bad' reaction, but it is quite unnerving when one of the guys come in with a cane to scare the kids into behaving.
The Culture Group are practicing loads more recently because they have the chance to enter a competition, the winners of which will go to America to perform! This would be an amazing oppourtunity for everyone involved and I know how much work they put in already, I just hope they get shortlisted!!
More power cuts, rain and lack of tap water this week have become like normal now, its easy to get used to things when you are in the middle of it all. Everyone's sense of community spirit increases and the bonds are strengthened by the shared inconvienience.
(written by Lucie)
21 June, 2006
The days have become even slower this week.
We are able to keep up the teaching, Charlottes hospital visits and work all at a relaxed pace, and still find the time to watch films, play card games and have a natter with the boys from the Culture Group.
More rain has been the main reason for this relaxed pace, but also because we are still sourcing the best and cheapest roofing sheets, and until then we really don't have much to do except the basics.
We ran out of water this week, and by that I mean our usual supply stopped completely, Jeffery's reserve was used up, and the other villagers were in the same boat. Jeffrey found a pump that was working in the next village, so we all set off one night to find it.
There are huge differences in the queueing system here, and we were very privallaged to be put at the front of the semi-queue when we got there. A small fee was paid, and we set off with our full buckets. It may seem strange, but to carry things on your head is much more comfortable and practical when you are walking over such rocky terrain, that to carry the bucket by the handle seemed ridiculous. It must have been funny for the people passing us, that these three white girls were copying the traditions and fetching their water.
When Caroline and I arrived, we had our funds in our personal bank accounts, and accessed them from several trips to the bank. That meant that every time CEJOCEP needed to buy bags of cement or a trip of stones, we could pay for it when it was needed. Now CEJOCEP need some more funds to get things going, but Charlotte's money is a bit tied up.
Charlotte's fundraising money has been put aside into the Africa Bridge Club charity, which is based in Wales, and to access that money has now become quite a task here. To get in touch with the UK is not as easy as it seems and lots of visits to the internet cafe's as well as expensive phonecalls to England have made things tough. We are hoping that it won't be too long before she can get it.
I've been a bit over-keen to do some physical work ever since the hole we dug for the safety tank filled up with rain water. It has put a stop to the pick-axe fun, but Lawrence has been finding me all sorts of odd jobs to keep me out of trouble.
The area around the centre has grown many weeds and so I have been enjoying my brief encounter with gardening, and digging up old roots this week.
Sly and Lawrence have been involved in finding Charlotte a placement at a local hospital for her to volunteer at. They have worked all hours enquiring and travelling with her to find a suitable position.
It is so encouraging to know that they have taken us under their wing with such care, even though Charlotte won't be able to spend as much time at the CEJOCEP centre, they know it is her passion and are bending over backwards to try and achieve it for her. They truly rock!
A few of the boys from the Culture Group have taken on the role of assisting us with teaching, which is helping to bridge the language barrier a great deal.
We can now have things explained to the children in their mother tongue, and also their comments and questions can be answered straight away.
It has never been a problem communicating with the children, as they are so lively, and a few of the older ones know enough English to get by. Language is not the only communicator though, and Caroline, Charlotte and I all have sussed out the personalities of each child since we started.
My class have been improving their understanding of letters and their sounds in the last few weeks, and now we are working on two or three letter words. It is very satisfying when they remember something other than a song, and I am starting to feel real progress is being made!
It is so tough trying to explain things like the sound of 'sh' 'ch' 'th' and other diagraphs, but I have drawn all over the walls in chalk in an attempt to help them learn.
It was Ben's 19th birthday on Friday night and we all went to a bar in Abura called Em J spot. It was lovely to take Ben out and buy a few drinks for the others, as we know they would not have even celebrated otherwise. I think this is the first time Ben had gone out for his birthday before. (So different to what we are used to, of birthday parties from age one up!)
After singing 'Happy Birthday' with the extra round of 'How old are you now?' it was time for speeches. Everyone around the table takes turn to stand up and wish the Birthday boy a good time, a long life and any special messages they have. Then, out of nowhere, a whole sachet of water got poured over him, and everyone cheered. It is nice, I have been told, that he had water poured on him, as on your birthday here it could be any drink at all that soaks the celebrator.
It has really become a new home to be living here though!
One of the kids who helps us in the afternoons - Alex found a tortoise the other day! I have a feeling it might end up as soup for someone, but it was a cool find and everyone in the aea got all excited to see it!
The frogs have been making babies in every puddle since the rains started too. We have a small flooded area around our house and they spend all night croaking in it. They even make their own songs - something to rival Paul McCartney's Frog Song any day!
We got to understand the inner workings of the family life here too. We went to Bogga's house this weekend and spent the afternoon with his family learning how to Palm Fufu and make Groundnut Soup. It takes hours of preparation, but tastes so delicious!
The pecking order of siblings (age order,) and also the gender roles play a big part in what work you are required to fulfil to be able to eat together at the end of it. I got the job of peeling of the cassava and plantain and also wafting the fire in the stove (best not to let me cook really).
His mum is so lively and had lots of questions for us girls, we were very privalaged to be invited to such a lovely household.
(written by Lucie)
17 May, 2006
(Fixing the Roof and the children of KG1 and KG2 enjoying lunch)
The first day back, with a roof on three of the classrooms, I was more excited than the children! I jumped around pointing and running around from classroom to classroom. The kids too, seemed different now that they are separated by walls, and have windows and a door and everything! It makes a change from teaching under the trees, where the goats and chickens used to join in lessons every five minutes, and every falling leaf, or passing lizard was a distraction.
It makes me feel so happy to be a part of the life of these kids. I know they won't remember me, but I will always remember them and especially the day they got their roof!
We have been fetching water in the evenings this week, as we not only lost power several nights, but water too... The nearest bore hole that was working (pump) is over the hill and round into the next village, and even better, when we went to fetch water it was muddy everywhere, we just knew it would be a messy event! A lot of people were shocked that we were joining in with carrying water on our heads as they expected us to send someone else to get it.
At the centre, Charlotte has been recieving some lessons from Lawrence and Sly on the Culture and Social background of Ghana, with a bit of help from Irene. It fills in the pieces of the puzzle about the country that we don't know about, and also helps the culturalm practices make more sence.
The work on the centre has involved building steps into the ground by the school this week as the rains have been eroding the paths and changing the shapes of the whole area. The steps may not be permanent, but will last for at least a decade, and keep the children safe when they are playing around. It also looks so neat now it has been done.
There has been more block moulding now, and we all feel confident that we are getting stronger. It was so tough in the beginning to lift a block or move the wheelbarrow, and now we are competing with the guys from the Culture group!
The whole area around the centre is having a bit of a face lift and we have been weeding the grounds too. There are tonnes of mosquitos breeding in the hole we dug for the safety tank, that bite your ankles while doing the weeding, but its good hard work. I feel like I am gaining all sorts of hands on skills here!
I used my pac a mac for the first time this week, the rains have invaded so much. It was fun for me, but so many street traders lose business during this time due to people staying in and avoiding the rain if they can. I am sure whatever novelty factor is at work right now it will wear off for me in a few weeks too!
(written by Lucie)
14 May, 2006
The Muslim wedding we went to last week reminded me I wanted to elaborate some more on things that have no real time frame. Here is the second installment of things that have no place anywhere else.
It may have been Charlottes first experience of a wedding here, but Caroline and I have been to many occasions now that are worth a mention…
The first weekend after our induction we were a little bit confused to be invited to a wedding of someone we had never met. Similarly, the confusion arose the very next weekend when we were invited to attend a funeral. We have also been to a Graduation like no other.
Unlike our weddings, there are no table plans here, invitations by post or Bridesmaids, but some things remain the same as our ceremonies. The all-important sound system features highly, and usually comes in the form of a rig you might find at a small rave! The huge speakers blast out High-life songs at a constantly distorted volume loud enough to hear in the next village. The DJ's like interrupting these songs with their own invaluable comments on the dancing taking place, or general observations about those who have chosen not to dance.
Drinks and snacks are provided usually in the form of a bottle of coke or sachet of water and a rock cake. At the end of most ceremonies, guests are presented with a polystyrene box containing their 'take-away' meal, usually rice, fish heads and hot sauce!
At the Funeral we went to, the Culture Group were performing some of the traditional dances, so we had front row seats with the Directors of CEJOCEP. All these occasions cost the families involved a lot of money, so it is customary to provide a small donation to them to help cover the costs. When our Culture Group were dancing, they also received donations for their performance and in the same style as sexy dancers, had the money tucked in their skirts or shorts by the crowd.
The Graduation was very entertaining and we felt even more special as this time, we knew the person who it was all for. Faustina was Graduating from Hairdressing school, as her master – our mate Esther had believed she had reached the right level of skills and she could go on to open her own Salon.
We arrived an hour late at 11am, but after two more hours of waiting for more people to arrive we realised it had not been a faux pas! We were made honourary chairpersons for the proceedings by Lawrence, who was MC-ing the event. Caroline and I were not expecting this at all and had hoped we could sneak out of our very prestigious positions and go and sit among the crowd, but no such luck. With speeches to give, we were brought up on stage and seated in important places in front of everyone!
The guests all need to bring lots of money (in low denominations) as the party lays on food to takeaway and drinks, all which cost a fortune here, and the way in which the host gets their money's worth is usually quite fun!
The ceremony included hiding Fausty at the start and making her family pay money for someone to go and find her and bring her. She was brought in covered in maybe 15 cloths and the guests had to dig in their purses and pay to reveal them all. (When each cloth was removed we were one step closer to seeing her and the new hairstyle she was sporting.)
The games hadn't finished as more money had to be paid to protect her beautiful hair style being spoilt by talcum powder! It was loads of fun, and when they had decided she was ready and could graduate it came to our turn for speeches. Luckily, the microphone was playing up by then and we kept cutting out, so Lawrence had to repeat everything we had said in Fante and made us sound really great as we got a lot of applause!
I am personally a big fan of animals, although, mostly just to look at and only if they are not too dangerous.
Before coming to Africa I was a bit nervous that there would be tarantulas in my room, and snakes in my boots, that sort of thing, but so far I have just been amazed at all the different wildlife I have seen, and none too close up. It has become a little joke between us volunteers in the case of insects, as every time we are walking somewhere and I spot another various pretty winged creature I stop dead in my tracks to get a closer look and get left behind, saying 'Wow!' Everyone says 'Another 'wildlife thing' is it Lucie?!'
The most impressive animal and insect groups that I have got used to seeing now are:
Dragonflies and Butterflies – absolutely beautiful, they appear in their dozens and brighten up any dull morning. [Ghana is home to more butterfly species than anywhere else.]
Fireflies - They can be found glittering in the bush like fairylights. Garenteed to guide us safely on the path home at night.
Birds – in particular, the tiniest little birds I have ever seen are especially cute when you walk past some tall grass, not even noticing them and all of a sudden 14 of them flutter past with a chirp and land on the nearest telegraph wire.
Frogs – Since the rain has increased, so has the frog population. They have been spawning in millions and I've even had dreams of them taking over!! Every dry night you can hear the chorus of hundreds of frogs just outside our window!
Goat / sheep hybrids - Is it a goat? is it a sheep? Most of them are distinguishable, but some of them look worryingly like a cross between the two!
Migrating ants - These have fascinated me at all hours of the day, on all sorts of paths, weaving their own walkway and carrying their luggage across a gap of maybe 2 metres in their hundreds.
Giant Spiders - I was reluctant to mention them as it may put people off coming, but the ones we have been sharing a house with are very harmless and we have overcome any problem with them by calling them Ananse to make them go away. (He is the African folklore hero who is both a spider and a man in many good stories.) We had a mother spider carrying her huge egg sack in our shower room and the idea of all her babies hatching was the only scary spider moment we've had really.
The most annoying ones (or ones I won't say 'wow' to) are:
Mosquito's – as you would expect, these pesky things can irritate even the people most cautious of them. And every bite has the possibility of the malaria parasite being transmitted, which both Caroline and Charlotte have had already. I have squashed plenty of them so far, and there is a sense of satisfaction if you get them just as they land, before their proboscis gets you!
Teeny flies - At altitude these things appear from nowhere in their dozens and lazily fly around your head and even into your eyes at times.
Teeny ants – I have nicknamed them the Critters. They are much smaller than normal ants and not entirely black, but slightly dark reddish. They hold residence at Jeffrey's house and appear in swarms on any surface they like at any time. It is very annoying to find them crawling through the bread we have for breakfast, or being woken up with a group of them playing around my ankle! Pesky critters!
(They are even crawling across this keyboard as I type!)
(written by Lucie)
Right! Hello again! The Tour - yeah, that was well exciting and a bit scary and all of that. Don't worry though people, we're away from the sea and back to the village for the time being. I'm sure there will be more dramas ahead, but for now its back to the quiet life! (I've finally found the time to add Week 14 as well, so better late than never, if you scroll down you will find it there…)
Debbi and Matt packed up and headed to Jachie this week near Kumasi to sink their teeth into the project with Africachild and TACCO. (For more information go to www.Africachild.net) So we said goodbye for a while and let them go off for a more promising second half! They will be a lot closer to the Internet café's while there too, so we are hoping to hear more from them soon!!
This week was particularly special because on Friday we got our first aluminium roofing sheets on three of the classrooms! It has made such a difference already, and it is by far the most expensive part of the project but its also definitely the most important, as the dreaded rains are coming our way every minute!
The roof sheets have caused a drama of a different sort though, as the price of them has been increased twice in the last few months due to the fuel increases. The Petrol prices increased by only 500 Cedis (less then 4p) while we were on tour and yet the hardware stores have taken it upon themselves to put up the price of every roof sheet by 10,000 Cedis (about 70p). To roof the 6 classrooms was originally totaled at 13 million Cedis which was the largest part of our raised funds gone in a flash, but with the extra price on every sheet we now need to find 1 and a half million more.
For the most part of our first day back at work, we trawled around Cape Coast Hardware stores checking prices and unsuccessfully bartering with the owners to try and get the original price. It's so disheartening to know that the people of Ghana are affected so much by every fuel increase. The taxi drivers went on strike a while ago because of the same thing. They also needed to increase their fares (much more necessary being fuel users too) and as Taxis are everybody's main form of local transport it caused mayhem.
Now the price of petrol will never go down, as everyone knows, but the owners of big businesses like these are making unreasonable leaps that the average person cannot keep up with.
We also know a couple with a baby who we are friends with from the Culture group who are being evicted from their rented property in a month. We have helped out with some roofing sheets for the house they are building, (which is basically one room) as they have real financial struggles, but if the price keeps on jumping like this, they will never be able to finish their house and will end up homeless.
While we were on Tour, Caroline and I missed the children and spent time filling Charlotte in on all the personalities in the groups. The lively ones, the jokers, the brilliant and the bossy, this was Charlottes first week of meeting our horrible, wonderful kids. I am happy to say it was a good meeting and they have done us proud. They are all extra excited to have another Obruni teacher now as well.
Our first morning was a mini riot with both KG1 and KG2 together, and lots of singing and mucking around involved, Charlotte was instantly a favourite with so many of them as she definitely has a natural way with children!
Caroline has met a lovely lady from Theresa's family who makes Tie and Dye and Batik clothes on order. She is called Gloria and Caroline is going to be helping her out from time to time with the various methods and prints. Gloria works just outside her house, under the baking sun, as her building has not been finished yet. She has to mix the dye by hand and has no mask or anything to protect her from the fumes. Her work is beautiful though, and when the finished products are drying in a row at the top of the hill it creates such a beautiful sight of vibrant colours and patterns that you can see drying in the breeze.
Eventually it is in the plans of CEJOCEP to create a workshop where women in the village can go and print on their fabrics and cloth. They would then be able to sell the designs and create some money for themselves, maybe under one name. The workshop would also become a training centre for the benefit of the younger women who would be trained up in that skill.
The work at the centre this week was mainly weeding the grounds just near where we used to teach. The area is full of trees and some small plants and the job is done with rakes and larger versions of the gardening hoe. The area is so nicely shaded that even at midday it is cool to work in and with enough people working, you can get quite a large area done in a short space of time.
The only downfall of this job is the mosquito population in the area. They are black and white striped and come out in the daytime. Effective repellant and a pair of trousers is always the best way to avoid being bitten, but these critters were interested in any bare flesh found, so got us anyway. I have found the bites to be annoying, but as long as you don't scratch it when it is itchiest it goes down pretty quickly! Although dangerous, they are no way as annoying as the tiny ants that take a bite and won't let go. Ouch!
Our friend Amponsah invited us to his Sister's wedding this week in Abura. They are Muslim, so we covered up completely, donned the customary headscarves and got approval from the rest of the family before going. The weddings in Ghana last three whole days, and we were invited to the final part – the Sunday afternoon ceremony.
After preening, we walked to the place where it was all happening to find that we were arriving late. Not to worry in Ghana though, as there is no official time for anything, and even if there was, it would never be held to! There were tonnes of people there, all on the obligatory plastic chairs, and we took our places at the back of the courtyard. I was surprised to see Amponsah's mum sitting just one row ahead, rather than at the front of her Daughters wedding, but then as the whole thing seemed quite free, I realised no-one minds where you are or when you come as long as you make it.
The Bride, Groom, Best man and Maid of honour all sat on stage to one side of the 5 Imams. Amponsah's sister looked absolutely stunning, and not at all nervous considering the marriage had been arranged. The two families had known each other for a while though, and we were told they were happy to be getting hitched. The service was in Fante and Arabic, although Charlotte, Caroline and I could never have told you which was which! There were prayers, a short sermon, love songs and some rites performed that I don't know much about. Then Amponsah whisked us off at the end to appear in his family photos!!
(written by Lucie)
10 May, 2006
Well, it's been a few days since we arrived in Jachie near Kumasi and we're settling in nicely. We're still finding our feet but there seems lots for us to do. Our job is made much easier by the support of David Boateng, the director, who although based in Reading, UK, is very much on hands with helping TACCO - The African Child Charity Organisation - run as smoothly as possible.
The computer room is an excellent facility but is currently not being used to its full potential.
Our main aim is to get as many children using it as possible both during school hours and after school.
The schools were initially reluctant to timetable formal computer lessons because of the token charge and the lack of consent from the District Education Authorities.
In order to rectify this, David Boateng has waived fees during school hours.
We have also met with the District Director of Education. She seemed very impressed with the facility and requested that we write a formal letter stating our intentions. We have sent a draft of this to David Boateng and hope to submit it to the office as soon as possible. Once we have permission from the District, we will start to approach individual head teachers and begin to schedule classes. We are confident the computer room will be full of children every day by the end of the month.
Currently 24 out of 31 computers are fully functional. The remaining seven will need to be connected to the server before they will run Edubuntu (the educational software). We hope to help resolve the networking problems as soon as possible through our connections with network experts in the UK and by working with Bernard and Solomon.
The creche appears to be well used, with an average of 40 or so children attending every day. Despite the cramped conditions and minimal resources, the children seem to enjoy their time here and the women in charge are excellent.
We have consulted with the Creche organisers to find out what they most urgently need. Following our discussion we have arranged for age appropriate toys to be sent from England (they are already in transit). We have also commissioned a local carpenter to build a toy box for the children, which we will paint and present in the next few weeks. This will occupy some of children's time and also teach them responsibilities such as tidying up, looking after things and sharing. Playing will stimulate their imagination and some of the toys will be educational.
On the reccomendation of the Creche helpers, we also intend to use some of our donation money to buy more mats for the children to sit on, as well as a supply of spare underwear for when the children soil themselves.
The library is small but well stocked. However, there is always room for more books. We have arranged for two boxes of books from WH Smith to be donated to the library. These are currently in David Boateng's safe hands.
The library is already patronised by a small number of school children, who visit it weekly. Once the computer room is full on a daily basis, we will approach the schools again and encourage more formal use of the library.
We hope to finish cataloguing the books that are already there and, if time allows, install a computerised system for registering and borrowing books.
We have spoken to the librarian, Mr Arthur, who has said that the shelves need painting to avoid the books being eaten by bugs.
JACHIE DISABLED CENTRE
We heard about this centre from a Peace Corps volunteer and were keen to see it for ourselves. We visited the centre and were very impressed by their motivation and hardwork.
Currently the centre trains disabled people to make local cloth and crafts, including kente, shoes, school uniforms, wooden crafts and leatherwork. They have many workshops, which are fully equipped with machinery and their training programme offers an alternative to disabled people begging on the streets.
However, the centre is having trouble marketing and selling their goods. This means trained disabled workers are now unemployed because they are unable to continue their craft due to the lack the money to buy more raw materials.
We have already arranged for a web designer in England (a former Africatrust volunteer) to build a website for the centre, which we will put on line.
We have suggested that they design some posters, which we will place in guesthouses in central Kumasi and Lake Bosomtwe (a major tourist destination). Jachie Disabled Centre is located on the only road between Kumasi and the Lake, which means it is in the ideal position to pick up some tourist trade.
In addition, we have already comissioned the woodwork department to make some sturdy, educational toys for the TACCO creche.
We are extremely happy in the house in Atonsu Agogo. The food is plentiful and excellent and we have plenty of water. They are always quick to provide us with anything that we ask for.
The children are delightful and full of energy and the adults are also friendly and good fun. We feel part of the family already and Daniel has promised to take us out clubbing in Kumasi on Friday!
Thank you David B for arranging our taxi to work and back - Adu is the most punctual Ghanaian we have met so far!!
04 May, 2006
...according to Debbi
It was a drama of elephants, baboon fights, waterfalls and near death experiences. If you want to know more read on - if you require something slightly less surreal I do believe Lost has started again on C4.
It should have been 14 days of hedonistic fun but our tour consisted of outrageously early starts (we're talking around 3.30/4am here!) and the most uncomfortable, long, dangerous bus rides ever.
We left Kumasi for Tamale (that's in the Northern region -check a map!) It was a seven hour bus ride but luckily we'd splashed out and left the battered tro-tro's behind in exchange for a relatively luxurious bus, which played very bad Nigerian films all the way.
Watching the landscape change from lush greenery to flat dry lands was very interesting. The abundant church buildings were replaced with mosques as we entered the Islamic north (basically the missionaries couldn't be bothered to go that far.) Houses were merely round clay huts with thatched roofs - making the cement brick and tin roof houses of the south seem like relative luxury.
Ironically, considering it's Ghana's third largest city, there's not much to do in Tamale except get ripped off by the helpful guides - one 15 year old showed us round, gave us advice, then hit on us for money for school books - we found out later that he'd quit school last year because fleecing tourists for money was much more profitable. I don't feel too bad because as I handed over the money (only a few pounds) I gave him the full force lecture on how he shouldn't waste his life and even if he was tricking us. I informed him he wasn't going to be a cute school boy for too many more years...
Fresh from our seven hour trip we got up at 3.30 to head to bus station for our next bus. It was quite interesting to walk through the streets while it was still dark, stepping over the sleeping bodies and seeing people preparing for their day.
At the bus station there was a disorganised scrum for tickets. We got numbers 60-65. Considering there were only 48 seats on the dilapidated bus, this was going to be interesting. And it was. Firstly they filled the seats - 2 on each side of the aisle. Then they put down a flip down seat and rammed 2 onto that seat. Moving/breathing was impossible. I decided I was going to get DVT but then after reading in the guide book that we were about to go on some of the worst roads in Ghana, I settled on straight death.
After lots of loud complaining from the Ghanaians that they had packed us on like animals, we set off. After 30 minutes of tarmac road we hit the rough stuff. Red, bumpy roads that almost threw us off our seats (if we hadn't been wedged in so tightly) as it hurtled along.
Three hours and a taxi drive later we arrived at our destination: Mole National Park.
Although, in the middle of nowhere, this place is a dream.
On getting there (alive) Matt and I decided to celebrate by getting the most expensive room in the place which overlooked the watering hole where elephants came to drink and bathe.
It was worth every penny as baboons and warthogs wandered past our balcony to a backdrop of gorgeous forest and elephants spraying themselves with water and mud.
Also, the swimming pool just metres away added to the luxury of it all.
We went on a walking safari where we stood just metres away from the elephants - they're even bigger than you expect them to be. There were antelopes galloping around and bird and butterflies of all descriptions. We even saw some antelope bones that had been ravaged by a lion but unfortunately/fortunately there was no sign of it.
But the baboons proved to be a bigger problem.
LUCIE Vs BABOON
Relaxing by the pool, Charlotte ordered some toast but then disappeared the room. The toast sat on the table untouched but was soon sniffed out by a huge and hungry baboon.
He galloped over on all fours. I promptly legged it to a safe distance but Lucie stood her ground and tried to shoo him away with a pair of trousers. He backed down for a moment but then stared at her with his beady eyes and unmoving, mask-like face. She hesitated, so he took the chance, grabbed the toast and ran. It was very scary as they are so strong and, well, hairy really.
One tried to get in our room later that day - it actually opened the doors. Matt very bravely hid inside the room while we all cowered behind Lucie - now known as Dave Baboon for her ability to fight the hairy apes.
BIKES BUT NO BRAKES
We hired some bikes to cycle to Larabanga - a local village which is home to one of the oldest mosques in sub-saharan Africa. Although, that was exciting in itself, the most exciting thing for me was finding out exactly what was wrong with everyone's bikes. Matt had no brakes - yup - he fell off but only once. My bike had dodgy steering - it was kind of like those BMX's they stunt up at seasides so when you turn the handlebars right the wheel moves left. But we made it. The mosque itself is pretty amazing - legend has it that a holy man threw a sword and it landed on the site of the mosque. When they started digging they discovered the foundations were already there - Hmmmm.
ON THE ROAD
Up and on a bus by 4am - we got back to Tamale at 8am and decided to push on to the Volta region. It was a 14 hour trip so we needed to break it at Bimbilla - a small village en route.
We sat on the Bimbilla bus and waited for it to fill up. And waited. And waited. Two hours passed, then three, then four. It was nearly five hours of waiting when we finally moved. By which point we'd gone through the various stages of madness, seen a woman get run over - I could see the tyre of the bus that was on her leg as she screamed in pain - it was horrible.
It's amazing how much happens around you when you are sat in one place for hours. We got talking to a man on our bus - whose dad only happened to be the Chief of Bimbilla - the village where we were headed. Fantastic! His name was Jacob and he was very funny. Eventually, our bus set off. We bounced and rattled along terrible rocky, untarmaced roads, just grateful to be moving after hours of stasis.
And then...the bloody bus broke down in the middle of nowhere.
We piled off, covered in our usual armour of red dust and sat despondently at the road side while the driver and his mate tinkered under the rust bucket that was our bus. Somehow, they managed to get it going again. We arrived at our destination around 7pm - making a neat 15 hours since we'd left that morning.
It is a great little village - everyone was very friendly, just shouting hello and not asking us for money, which does make quite a nice change. It helped that Jacob came to show us around - escorted by the Chief's son is always the best way to see a place. We also went to the palace (a small collection of clay huts - although they did have a horse!) to see the Chief - Jacob's dad. He was very interesting - he'd been a mechanical engineer before being made chief 4 years earlier.
WATERFALLS AND MOUNTAINS
The next day we arrived in Ho Hoe - a mountainous village surrounded by lush green forest in the Volta region.
Wasting no time, we went for a hike to the waterfalls, it was only an hour walk through some quite nice forest. It was beautiful and we went for a swim
in the plunge pool and watched the bats flying at the side of the mountain.
There was the option of climbing to the higher falls but frankly, why risk your life when most water looks the same?
However, I did decide to tackle the country's highest mountain - at 885 metres it's probably a hill - but the highest I've ever been is to the top of Primrose Hill, North London to celeb spot...
Hill or not - it was bloody hard work. We had to stop a few times to rest and often were scrambling up on all fours. But it was worth it - the view from the top was amazing.
The trek down was slightly harder work - my lack of balance soon became apparent as every few minutes I would slip and slide a short way, while a stream of expletives came out of my mouth. One of us - not me I assure you - had to have a 'toilet emergency' up the mountain! That's got to be one of the most inventive places to go to the loo!
To recover from our hectic schedule we spent the last two days on the beach in a hedonistic hippy paradise owned by a British woman.
It was lovely and we met lots of fellow white people. One American girl had even gone to UEA and knew my friend - small world and all that!
I even met a Jewish Canadian, although after a few drinks I started to talk at him in that 'I'm the most interesting person ever' way that you do when you're drunk. After about an hour he excused himself to the bathroom and then never returned, leaving me sitting there like a muppet waiting for my friends to return. Nice to know I still have the ability to talk a guy into bed - kind of!
There wasn't much else to do at the beach except drink fresh banana daquiris, get massages, eat lovely fresh fish from the sea and sunbathe. All very relaxing you would think. But no - enter Lucie...
THE LUCIE DRAMA
Caroline and I were lying on the beach sunbathing when a Ghanaian man jumped over us and started stripping off his clothes. Immediately this caught my attention, along with lots of people standing on the beach and pointing out to sea. We jumped up and immediately my innate journalistic abilities kicked in.
'Something's going on,' I informed Caroline.
Then Charlotte, our fellow volunteer, ran up.
'I can't see Lucie,' she said.
All of a sudden it stopped being interesting and started to be pretty scary. We desperately began scanning the sea in the place we had last seen Lucie - who, although proud of her individual style of doggy paddle, is not the strongest swimmer.
There was no sign of her.
Then all of a sudden we saw her head bobbing above the water far out to sea. About 10 Ghanaians were swimming over to her.
All we could do was stand on the beach, saying 'no, no, no' over and over again.
Thankfully, the tide pulled her back in to shore and she was able to stand up.
After what can only have been a few minutes, she was back on the shore and was fine. She said she realised she was in a bit of trouble but was focussing more on keeping her head above water rather than panicking. She was more embarrassed about all the fuss that had been caused.
The sea is so strong that one minute you're standing up near the beach, the next it's pulled you out so far you can't stand up.
After that scary moment I decided I'd skip sea swimming for the rest of the weekend and take my chances at the bar.
27 April, 2006
So… I never managed to finish writing about Charlotte's induction into our cosy part of Ghana last time… As the boys who managed ours (Charles and Joe) had gone back to Accra, and the induction is now only for one person, we decided to enjoy the fun ourselves. (All the challenging things like Fante and Culture lessons we would leave to the experts at CEJOCEP!)
Charlotte has now been to most of the tourist things we did all those months ago. We spent a morning at Elmina Castle and the afternoon in the town, and then lapped up the luxury of the pool at Coconut Grove once more! Charlotte also managed to brave the walkway at Kakum and spotted Crocs at Hans Cottage Botel.
As custom demands, when there is a new arrival to the village, the Chief must be informed. All the rest of us had our glorious meetings with the Chief and Elders of both Kakumdo and Bawdia during our induction, so it was only right that Charlotte's time had come… Armed with the usual bottle of Schnapps (a gift to pour libation to the ancestors) we dressed up as smart as we could and proceeded up the hill to the Chiefs Palace.
Kakumdo is 'between Chiefs' at the moment. Their old Chief popped it just beforf the wonderful work that had been going on at the centre. They were all pleased we had come to help in their village and should other (nothing like ours) will address all these qualities in the prospective Chief.
When they have selected the lucky person, they will make some arrangements for that person to come back to the village and send for him.
Then on the right day, the chosen Chief would be grabbed from his house and brought back to a closed room for 6 days of preparation. (In the closed room, he will be taught the entire history of the village and also any other information he might need while he serves as Chief. He will also use this time to decide on a new name for his Stool!)
On the 6th day they will 'Enstool him' as Chief of the village in a 2 day ceremony and party.
There are about 10 Elders in Kakumdo and one Queen Mother and they are all Elders of different clans. Each Clan has its own symbol and cloth, but once in the Chiefs Palace it is the Linguist who rules over all. He speaks on behalf of all the Elders and more importantly, keeps hold of the bottles of gin, schnapps and various other spirits, that have been presented as gifts!
Although I have been practicing Fante as a language for three months now, I am not fluent enough to understand what is being said much of the time, which is a little frustrating, but the ceremony went according to plan, and we all introduced ourselves and explained why we were there as expected.
The Linguist in turn welcomed us all and said he had heard of the wonderful work that had been going on at the centre. All the Elders were pleased we had come to help their village and we should begin to pour libation to the ancestors. This custom is a dangerous one (especially if you haven't eaten first.) The Elders and guests all get offered a generous sized shot of the spirits. You can drink it all or choose to pour it on the sacred ground of the Palace for the ancestors to drink.
Most of the Elders had huge shots poured, and the most potent drink was a local one, which was a type of gin that left your mouth glowing. Needless to say, once the ceremony was over we all piled out grinning and merry, Elders and guests alike!! I even bagged an Elder as a Husband as he quite charmingly said I had a small face, but plenty nose and he liked it! ;)
Unfortunately for Charlotte, she got ill the same night. If it was the strong alcohol or the usual Western adjustments to climate we will never know, but a dodgy tummy kind of fits into the induction course as something we all had been through – sorry to say it was like a final initiation. :(
Things for Charlotte did not go according to plan in the beginning. It was hard to place any blame as the circumstances are just unfortunate, but, Sally Honny, the amazing Pharmacist in Cape Coast, who supplies ATN volunteers with health lectures on arrival, was not there at Charlotte's arrival. We were told she has traveled to the UK! And this proved to be even more harsh because Charlotte is studying Medicine and was hoping for contacts in the hospitals around Cape Coast.
Although new to things, there was ATN business to be getting on with too, and Charlotte along with Charles, Joseph, Caroline and I all made our way to Saana Lodge. This Hotel has been hosting Gym equipment for Africatrust Networks and had started charging customers to use it, but never given any of the money promised to Africatrust's Partners. The Hotel said they had not had many customers in the last few months and was even changing owners in the near future, so to bring it up with them. The new owners would be able to shed some light on whether to keep the equipment there at a loss or find it a new home.
The week before Easter, with the children off school, I assumed we would be getting dirty and doing loads of work (digging - my favourite!) But instead it was suggested that we rest a bit before traveling North on our tour of Ghana. (Boring!) So the others rested and I opted for the only work available…
Monday and Friday, I got the chance to be a brickie! (Or at least a Mason's helper.) I loved it so much I may have found my new vocation! There is so much to be said for standing on the roof of a structure and using a trowel and mortar board! I used a spirit level too and the Mason didn't have to correct my work too much. Dead chuffed about that!
We also spent one afternoon playing LUDO up at the centre. The game is played so fast here, and for every volunteer playing there was a Ghanaian helper shadowing, moving our pieces for us and yelling to speed the game up. Cheering, encouragement and jeers to the other players about their pieces having to go back to base made the game hilarious! I never thought LUDO could be so much fun!
Tuesday, Caroline and I went to help Ben from the Culture Group paint his new shop. He has been working on it for the few months we have been here and now it has finally been erected and is in need of a fresh lick of Paint. Boga and Amponsah were also there to lend a hand. We painted the majority of it white and the lowest few layers of wood in dark green. Ben named it 'Clubino Collection' which we don't understand, but he likes the sound of it, so that's good enough for us!
It was such a fantastic day, as we are good friends with all of them and to be able to help in this small way just by giving up some time was really nice. We had a real giggle painting too! The shop sells very new designer men's clothes to the young men of Abura. T-shirts with 50cent on the front, some Tommy Hilfiger and Von Dutch, that sort of thing.
Debbi and Matt have been experiencing things very differently in Bawdia and have come across some major problems. They are going to be leaving Bawdia and the project there in the hands of the retired headmaster Mr Okoe as they feel that it is not appropriate to be spending time and money on a Government School after they found out the plans to refurbish the School had already been made.
The School will be using money from the Government to work on the old Primary building and not to invest in a new structure as Debbi and Matt had been led to believe.
The whole team are upset about what has happened there, most of all Matt and Debbi as they have grown to love the School children and members of the community, as well as begin valuable computer lessons with the teachers and also extra reading lessons for the under achievers. All their hard work will not go to waste, but we all feel deeply saddened that this has had to happen. However, Africatrust wishes Bawdia to remain an outreach placement for future volunteers and has not lost all hope in the future working relationship there.
Good news for us though because Matt and Debbi arrived to stay with us in Cape Coast on Thursday, so the house was now very full but very happy. We caught up on all the news and heard about the situation in full. It seems the experiences can differ greatly due to a few factors, but it made us feel much more lucky to be working with CEJOCEP. In Bawdia there was no NGO to work for, with a common goal for improvement.
We went to Mobil spot on Friday night for a bit of fun at Ladies night, and Caroline, Debbi and I enjoyed a good dance to the Hi-life and rap music. Then Sunday morning, Charlotte and I went to Abura to The Roman Catholic Church and met Ben and Joseph there. It was The Easter service, and as usual it was in Fante so we didn't understand much of the content, but there was lots of singing and very beautiful clothes to look at.
The Tour starts on Tuesday and I am going to let someone else write that one up as I have done so much writing now… It will be nice to have things from someone else's perspective.
(written by Lucie)
11 April, 2006
The children broke up from School this week and Caroline got all the fun! They had a party on the last day with fizzy pop and party games! They were all allowed to bring in a toy and also wear their own clothes, a sight I wish I had a chance to see! :)
Caroline has told me it was an incredibly noisy but happy morning and that she had not much more to do than supervise them playing and sing songs with them. Bliss!
(My last morning of term with the tresures, I sang my heart out to teach them a new song. The subject was inspired by none of them knowing their colours right in the exams last week.
The song was made up on the spot, and involved some dodgy rhyming and a stolen tune.
'Yellow is the colour of the Sun' .. 'Green is the colour of leaves' ..
'Blue is the colour of the deepest sea' .. 'And red is the colour of berries!'
I even drew a picture using coloured chalk! Nope, no good. It doesn't rhyme. nor was the tune any good. Nor could they sing it. Must have been a hippy moment. Back to the drawing board with me!! )
Its not rainy season here for another month yet, but when it comes I can assure you I will be losing my tan quickly and probably catching the cold I so very narrowly escaped before coming in January!
Last Sunday we spent the whole day in the house because of the rain... it would have been boring, but lucky for us, some of the guys from the Culture Group had come to visit. We must have watched 6 films in a row!! We had bought The Matrix on VCD for Jeffrey as a present, so we watched that one first, then some third rate 80's films that had been recorded from the back of a cinema! Next was amazing ones with Jet Li, and all the while the rain was getting heavier, the thunder and the lightening more intense. (All added to dramatic effect for the Jet Li ones though - Ace!)
Charlotte, our new recruit to the Cape Coast team was arriving this week, and Caroline and I had our last night just the two of us on Monday, wondering what Charlotte would be like, and what she would make of us, and the project. Now we have been here for three months we both feel so at ease with some things. Remembering back to the first few weeks we were here, there is so much to take in and adjust to, we could tell how nervous Charlotte would be feeling.
I left on Tuesday by STC coach to Accra, which is the Capital of Ghana, similar to London in many ways. On the journey it seemed to me that so much of Ghana is currently Under Construction. Moulded blocks lying everywhere in neat stacks. New buildings sprouting up all over the place, half finished ones and some left altogether in a state of abandon.
Many of them are indistinguishable, guesthouse, house or spot, so alike in their curvy architechture and different brightly coloured walls.
The closer we got the more the buildings took on the characteristics of places for business, not residence. Then more Adverts started springing up.
The advertisments in the small towns here are mostly painted on the walls of the houses on the roadside. Key Soap or Nestle or Cadbury's, for all the passers by to look at and start thinking of. In Accra, the modernity sets in and the painted ads are replaced by only huge billboards and posters with the latest mobiles or perfume or watches...
Soap box moment...
In comparison to Cape Coast, Accra is free of rubbish at least. I have been used to a town where my usual incessant recycling is lost because no rubbish gets collected. The floor is the nearerst bin. It is a criticism of the Government that I observed and found out about when I first got here, because people somewhere get paid for the removal of the rubbish, and yet it remains, builds up, scatters everywhere into the landscape, spoiling that lush view. Then it occasionally gets raked into a pile and burned, which unsurprisingly stinks. Our local rubbish tip is right next to a whole group of houses and where the local children play football.
Also I have found that Boycotting Brands is impossible - the biggest 'no-no' brands like Nestle and Nike are everywhere, and nobody would understand why they are seen as 'bad'. My ramblings in the UK about multi-national corporations are only brought to life even more when I see the hold they have over developing countries.
Almost all coffee is imported from America, and the menu will even state 'Nescafe' instead of 'Coffee'. This seems stupid considering that Ghana grows its own coffee beans. The most widely available soft drink for children is 'Coca Cola' or one of it's other formats such as Sprite or Fanta . Yuck. There are also three different types of evapourated milk (all with different names but all made by Nestle). Double yuck.
So leaving them all behind I have been scoffing the traditional Ghanaian dishes much more and I am mildly annoyed for growing a bit of a tummy since being here! Being a Vegetarian I thought I would lose weight but it all tastes so nice, I keep having seconds!
Accra smells. It has the same horrible smell of any city its size. And the same amount of traffic jams! The air literally stops when you are in a traffic jam here.
Luckily I had Charles picking me up at the STC station to take me across the city.
Once we had Charlotte safely bundled inside a Taxi I got to find out how things were for her. After an interesting flight sat next to a drunk lady, she was beginning to see her first glimpses of Ghana, albeit at night so slightly strange for a first view. The heat had gotten to her instantly, so when we arrived at the Golden Spoon in Tesanao she was pleased to find the bed and the fan to cool her down!
Next day we went to the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park. It was the second time for me and made a lot more sense than the first time!! I think it helps to have had lots of converstaions about him too, as he is such an influential figure in the history of Ghana, and yet was so controversial in some of his ideals.
On to Cape Coast and time for millions of Introductions. I am sure Charlotte faced the same thing we did when first arriving - not knowing who anyone is , if you have met them already, or if you will ever meet them again!! Saying that she has been doing a stirling job of trying to remember names and faces.
My time is up in the cafe now so more next time...
(written by Lucie)
The Technical men came to finish the concrete roof/floor of the toilet block at the Centre on Monday, so Lawrence and Sly worked all weekend to complete the grid of iron rods that would hold the conctrete in place.
Early on Sunday morning we were summoned to look and take photos, and we know they were still hard at work late Sunday night. CEJOCEP have won so much respect in my eyes by doing a lot of the work themselves and therefore saving money at every step . For example – hiring someone to bend the iron rods, would have cost 2 million cedis. The hole that us volunteers and Culture group members are digging would have cost 5 million cedis in labour! This money can then be spent on what is really needed like bags of cement, trips of sand etc.
Setting a great example, these time consuming, sometimes tedious tasks have all been done by the very directors of the NGO itself. Lawrence is often the one sweating the most, but he gets a kick out of learning how it all works, having a go and then mastering every step of the building project. Sly puts in countless hours going around sourcing the cheapest (and best) raw materials and Theresa works tirelessly to feed everyone, collect water and oversee that the men as well as us are looked after in every way.
They work so well as friends and they work so hard for the benefit for the project. It's an honour to be part of it all.
A different sort of busy, but Caroline and I had been working over the weekend too – on the exam papers that Sly wanted us to give the children. As this week was EXAM WEEK!! With no real knowledge of what to do, we bluffed our way through a few questions and tried as much as possible to make the papers easy!
We got grossly overcharged for the photocopying, but the colouring-in was good fun and Ben came over to help with that.
Monday was the Oral exam, so one of us taught while the other tested students one by one. They were asked to recite the alphabet as well as count and various other tasks. We has to see how their singing was too, and Christopher made me chuckle with 'Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star' as he didn't seem to know when to stop and sang it four times in a row!
We both made up the marking scheme ourselves and were probably a little bit generous with the scores, but they all did really well in this exam.
Tuesday was written exams - much more difficult to guess how they would do...
To put things in perspective a bit – most of the younger children have never had an exam before and some of the older ones will have only tried a few tests in learning books that their parents have bought them.
The baffled looks on their faces was so cute. (They had the luxury of tables to sit at.) You could tell they weren’t sure what was going on! One of my younger students –Theo spent the whole time looking anywhere except the paper and found the whole thing very curious. Top of the class was Kofi with 94%, but at 7 years old, and having attended a different school before this one, he has a clear advantage over the others.
Exams have always stressed me out and being the teacher this time was no different. I was biting my nails on behalf of all the children and just hoping they understood what we were trying to ask them.
The Government Schools have been holding their exams too, and the situation up in Bawdie has been a stressful one. The School Governers had spent some of the exam budget on sports day instead and so couldn’t afford everything their students needed. Debbi has quite rightly been getting upset about this and has tried to speak to the (paid) Teachers and sort things out on the children's behalf. Her group are at a much more crucial satge of learning when it comes to exams and the mountain of work she has had to mark at the end of this week is now ridiculous!
The highlight of this week was the Total Eclipse which I have been talking about since before I came away to Ghana! I was even more excited because the path the eclipse takes goes directly over the area we are living in!! So with Wednesday off school (after much umming and ahhing about whether to keep school open or not) we headed down the beach with Sly Esther and the kids.
Irene bought us some Eclipse glasses to look through, which were totally black unless you look directly at the sun. We sipped on coffee and waiting for the event to happen. Once it started we were all in complete awe of the whole process and especially the speed at which it all takes place!
The moon covered the sun from the top right corner like it was biting a chunk out of it! We all took turns looking through the glasses to see where it had gotten too, and then this nervous energy started up when the sky began getting dark. There were so many people on the beach by then (mostly ‘Obrunis!’) and everyone let out a gasp as the moon completely covered the sun.
It was really dark and this pure glowing halo of light in the sky was immense! I was so impressed by how it looked and we figured out it wasn’t damaging to look at without glasses when it was total so we all took as many sneeky peeks as we could!! When the light came back it seemed so intensely bright all over again and the beach was full of people swapping photos and talking excitedly. I feel so lucky to have been among them and we didn’t stop talking about it for the rest of the day either!!
Another interesting day was Friday, when we were invited to the School where Lawrence teaches. His class are about 12-15 year olds and the day we were invited was also the day of Football match between teachers and some older students.
We had to get up stupidly early and travel quite far to get there. It was now we realised how easy it had always been for us to get to the Centre where we teach, from the house we stay at. Also just how far Lawrence has to travel every day before coming to the centre after School!
Once we had arrived at Biriwa (the village before) we had to wait half an hour for a cargo van to come along and give us a lift. We piled in with about 10 other people all bringing maize or other products to sell.
The village we visited is called Asofura and in complete contrast to Kakumdo it has no electricity and no running water. There are plyons being set up all along the main road to provide electricity sometime near in the future, although some of the older members of the village say it will be too expensive and not needed. The villagers are used to a small journey to the river that provides drinking water, a place to wash clothes and bodies too. But the town could really benefit from a bore hole or water pump.
The children seemed a lot poorer than those we has encountered before, and Lawrence has explained that there are severe problems in School due to some of the children skipping exams because they need to get the crops in for their family. It makes sense from a survival point of view, but hurts to hear when you know the child has already stayed back a year or so in school because of this and there is no alternative.
The football match was slightly difficult to follow as we had a crowd of children from age 3 to 16 all around us watching, giggling and daring each other to say someting to us. They went a bit more shy when the Teachers were around but were a good audience to my jokes and faces when they weren't.
Lawrence also introduced us to Palm Wine, which is abundantly tapped from the Palm trees in the area, and we got to sample some for ourselves the same day! Its smells rotten, but has a charming sweet taste as well as a kick, once it has had time to brew. We got given a bottle to take home and Caroline and I dispached it quickly in an evening! Nice!
(written by Lucie)