Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Playing tourist for just one day

This weekend was the mid-summer retreat for all the JFs, a time for reflection of what we've done so far and things we still want to accomplish before we leave. I was startled to find that I only have six weeks left in my placement, and then a few days after that for a final workshop / report day and travel back to Accra. While I knew that we had just past the half way mark, I was startled to find that we have so little time left. I'm only starting to really feel like I have a handle on the way things work here, and I have such a short time left. Don't get me wrong, I'm REALLY excited to go back home and see all my friends and family, but I know that I have so much still to accomplish here. It was a really good weekend to refocus and plan the remaining weeks here.

Yet, somewhere in between the storytelling, sharing of experiences, and really intellegent conversations about development on Friday, and the really intense interregation of our plans for the rest of the summer (in a fun mock-court style) and planning on Sunday, we managed to play tourist for the first time on Saturday.

We had travelled to Damongo from Tamale early Friday morning for the workshop in the town where Sarah from the McGill is staying. She's working with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) there, and set up most of the arrangements for hotels and buses. At this point, I have to mention the ride to Damongo. The road was bad. There's really no way to describe the bumping and shaking of a tro-tro on one of the worst roads in the Northern Region, but we finally made it there after about one hour on a paved (but still bumpy) road, and then two more on an almost unpassible road by tro-tro.

The state of the road really made me upset, not because of the headache that came about because of the shaking (though it sucked as well), but because this is the road to the main tourist attraction in the Northern Region. This tourist attraction is Mole National Park (said molay), a game reserve for the animals of West Africa to protect them from hungry hunters and the transformation of forest to farmland. It's really, really beautiful, peaceful, and rejuvinating... something I guess it might not have been if there was a large hotel and many tourists around, but I just kept thinking about how much wealth could be brought to the area if the road was paved and the area more developed for tourism (a gift shop, more hotel rooms, other activities). But then, it really wouldn't have the rustic charm and feeling of going back to nature, and the way things were 50 years ago when the park was established.

When asking the other Junior Fellows what we wanted to see at the game reserve, the unvarying answer was "elephants!" and within the first half hour of being there, we got our wish. The only way you can go into the main area of the reserve is with an armed guide, so for the first hour we sat at the viewing platform looking through binoculars to see many different kinds of antelope and birds, and enjoying each other's company. I hear a squeal of excitment coming from one of the volunteers and the rest of us turn to see what she's looking at; a heard of elephants is making its way to the water hole. We all jumped to our feet, pointing and snapping pictures as they crossed a more open area and slowly entered the water, swimming to the middle to meet some more elephants passing around the other way. We all willed them to stay there for a long time, so that when our tour started we could see them up close and personal.

They stayed for a short time into our tour, but more interesting was when they started to retreat and we followed them, getting even closer than before. They are truly magnificent creatures, and I enjoyed it so much. The funniest part was when we were watching the elephants, and our guide started to get a little worried. "Step back," he whispered and forced us back with movements of his hand. "You see how that little one is looking at you?" He's thinking about charging." Of course, we scrambled back in a hurry, and in doing so we saw another few elephants on the other side of us, but much farther away. Also truly beautiful, but now some were worried about being surrounded by the elephants with no way of escape. It was okay, our guide knew exactly what to do and we were safe, but there was a brief moment of panic.

We continued around the park for about two hours, seeing all three of the different kinds of antelope that lives in the park, as well as monkeys, warthogs (which are REALLY ugly, the Disney character was much cuter) and many different kinds of birds and trees.

When finished we relaxed for some time at the lodge still looking from high atop the ridge that gazes over the water hole and a large part of the park, ate some lunch, and some of us decided to walk to the nearby town of Larabanga. The town is known for two things; the oldest mosque in Ghana, and a stone that was not able to be removed from the ground when they tried to build the road (the story is that they kept removing it, but each morning it would back in the middle of where they were trying to build) and so the road curves around it.

Gill, Sarah and I visited the mosque only, but had a nice walk from Mole to Larabanga (about six kilometers) having some great conversations about development and tourism. All in all, it was a very good and refreshing day.

We also celebrated it being 07-07-07 by making the numbers with our bodies, and hands and took some pictures... at this point we were so tired from the day that everything was funny! We returned back to Damongo for dinner, and were told to meet back in the guest house for 8:00 PM for a special activity. After much confusion and silliness, Liz (a long term volunteer based in Tamale) tells us that we're now celebrating all the summer birthdays of the Junior Fellows and Long Term Volunteers, and they bring out something covered in candles as we all sing "Happy Birthday". My stomach flips... did they somehow find a way to get a cake? No, I realize as they get closer, it's really just a loaf of bread with the candles on top, but we all blew out the candles and had slice anyway.

It was a great start to my own birthday, as we then stayed up late playing charades and telling stories before finally turning in, knowing that we had a big day ahead of us on the Sunday. We worked really hard on Sunday, but I also got lots of birthday wishes (including a call from Folk Fest at 4:00 AM) and I got to talk to my family and some friends from home. I also got a bunch of emails and comments with birthday messages, so I thank each one of you for that.

The retreat was a lot of work and a lot of fun, and I know that I still have a tonne of work to do before I can go back to Canada. I'm so glad that we had the opportunity to refocus and share our plans for the coming weeks, as well as share some of our experiences from weeks past. I'm excited to see what I can accomplish.


Anonymous said...

Hi Laura,
Great Pictures! Sending you lots of encouragement. Happy Birthday!!
The Foubert Family

Anonymous said...

Oh man. I'm at work and ever since you posted this story I've come back at least twice a day to see your and Steve's smiling faces.

Wow. I miss you two so much! Can you hug each other extra tight the next time you're together and pretend it's from me?

Love you lots,