Monday, August 6, 2007

The sights, sounds, and smells of Ghana

The day starts before the sun. I awake to the morning calls of the nearby mosque, the voice chanting over the speakers telling people to start getting ready for morning prayers. I desperately try to fall back asleep and it sometimes works, but the hen in my compound is about to wake as well with her 10 baby chicks. They start chirping just as I'm starting to drift back off, and I'm forced to admit I'm not going to get any more sleep.

I take my buck of water to the bathing room, pausing briefly to step around the scuffle that just started between the puppy and the mother hen. I finish bathing, get ready for work, and hop on my left-leaning bicycle and peddle into town, the opposite direction of the district assembly so I can visit my favourite eggs and tea place for breakfast.

I ride uphill most of the way, dodging goats and sheet that are searching the gutters and fields for their morning meal and passing many people shouting their greetings. Desiba! (Good morning) Nnaa Toomasin? (How is the coolness of the morning?) Nnaa A gbihiira? (How did you sleep) Gom beni (I slept well) Tuma be wula? (How is your work?) Alaafee (It is well).

About once a week there are workers cleaning out the open gutters, removing trash that has both blown and been thrown inside and piling it on the shoulder of the road, allowing it to dry. When it dries they will dispose of it by burning it, as it is done with all rubbish in the north, so the smell of burnt plastic and molding fruit permeates the air. I reach the stand by the side of the road where the lady makes the fried egg sandwiches and tea and sit at bench behind her. I greet her and she goes about making it right away. I'm a regular, and she likes me. I talk with the other regulars and they make me laugh, even though they are usually just asking me to marry them.

I hop back on my bicycle and go to work, getting calls all the way. "Malititi!" they yell and I wave my greetings and continue on -- I don't have time to stop for everyone that knows my name.

I reach the district assembly and snake from office to office greeting people along the way and taking a minute to play with the baby that stays with her mom during the day; Amina is too little to stay without her mom for the day. Her mom works as the district assembly cook, which means that whenever there's a workshop or meeting which needs food, she takes the orders, goes to her house, makes the food, and delivers it back. Meanwhile, if there is no food that needs to be prepared she sits with some assistants and relaxes for the day with her small child.

I reach my office and am told exciting news: that day we are going to a rural community to re-educate their WATSAN committee and make sure it is still active. A WATSAN committee is the group of people in the community that looks after the borehole pump, collecting dues from the people that use it and contacting area mechanics if it breaks. They also promote hygiene and sanitation practices in the community.

I grab my motorbike helmet and climb onto the back of a motorbike and we set on our way. The road starts off paved but we quickly turn off to the red dirt roads filled with potholes and bumps. We reach our destination in about 45 minutes and go straight to the "Chief's Palace." We remove our shoes, enter and squat before him. As he greets us and we answer "Nnaa", we clap quietly and rhythmically. He is satisfied with our greetings and offers us the traditional gift of kola nuts, a bitter nut that has a caffeine content that can ease hunger and stain your teeth if eaten too much. It was the original ingredient for cola drinks, though now they use artificial flavours.

The chief knew we were coming and gathered the WATSAN committee and other community leaders to the meeting spot in the village. We listened as the members talked us about challenges they were having (me through an interpreter) and asked us questions about certain situations. We asked them about the status of their accounts and money, and if the children are using the hand washing station that was just donated and set up outside the school latrines. Our time is quickly up (we have one more community to visit that day), but my co-workers are satisfied with the information we got and we promise to return a month later to see how their new initiatives are being implemented.

The second village we go to is much harder. The WATSAN committee has fallen into disarray, so we re-form it and start to give them some small training. We'll return when we have more materials to train them properly, funding for those materials, and a plan on how to train them and who has which tasks.

We return to the office just in time to jot down some notes and leave for the day, albeit early. We'll write our full reports tomorrow. It's market day, and that takes priority.

Before I reach the market I can feel the excitement and I hear many goats and sheet baaaing and making noise. People are holding them tied to rope calling out prices, and holding closed baskets that are filled with chickens and guinea fowl. I weave between them and pass a butcher feeling slightly nauseous from the waft of raw meet. I enter the market proper and get overwhelmed again by how many people there are and how much stuff there is, but I don't plan to stay long, I'm on a mission. I need batteries for my flashlight.

I complete my mission, eating a few treats along the way, and make my way back to my compound. I see a few more friends and stop to talk to them, so by the time that I get back to my room I'm tired and it's starting to get dark. The kids call me to come play some of the card games that I've taught them. The eldest son has just returned from Senior Secondary School (which usually boards its pupils) so he's still shy around me, but it's not long before we're laughing and teasing each other playfully.

The smell of the charcoal stove outside automatically makes me hungry and go to see what she's making. She's stirring a large pot of a dough-like material and I can tell by the smell and texture that we'll be eating TZ tonight -- a starchy dough made from maize and cassava flour that is a staple of northern meals. The soup, or thing that you dip the TZ into will be okra soup and I'm excited -- it's one of my favourites. It's much less slimy than what we had while in Toronto.

We finish quickly and it's almost time for bed; the morning comes early and it was a busy day. My family doesn't want to let me go yet, though, they instead entertain me with funny stories and ask me my plans for the following weekend or how I found the market that day.

I finally have to leave as I'm getting too tired to continue. The air is now cooler and I walk across the courtyard to my room sleepily. I crawl into the bednet that shields me from mosquitoes while I sleep and I smile. It was a good day, and tomorrow will be the same.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love the glimpse this kind of post gives to your everyday life.

I cannot wait to see your face light up as you tell these stories in person - I miss you dearly and want you home. Soon, please.

Your PB

Jenny said...

It all sounds and looks like a great experience. :)

When do you come home??

Anonymous said...

Hi Laura,
Thanks for sharing these stories. What awesome insight you have Laura!
I know that you will have left your mark in Africa and look forward to you safe return.
All the best as your trip, work experience, wraps up!
Have a good week!!
Sincerely, The Fouberts

Anonymous said...

Hello Laura!

I am so happy to hear you are enjoying your experience in Ghana! I am counting down the days until you and Steve get home and I can see you both and hear ALL about it!
Only a couple weeks left! Congratulations on a job well done! I know everyone here is very proud of you!

Carly

Adam F-K said...

You are a great writer. I am just about ready to doze off and reading this post has got me all nice and happy too. I'm also excited to learn more about how you were forming the WATSAN groups and some of the challenges.

Stay well buddy!

Adam

Anonymous said...

When we finally consider the word the idea of enjoy, not only in relations to an enchanting partnership with one more, however like a sense that is engendered when you've got miltchmonkey a much better partnership with ourselves much too : or even just for a feeling of increased unity family members as well as humankind - this will become much more clear that every one anybody is looking for in daily life is definitely love.

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