Monthly Archives: October 2013

Aside

The Plastic Problem

This post by Laurie, a Calgary Pro Fellow working for Engineers Without Borders, does a great job discussing Ghana’s problems with waste management, lack of recycling,and the abundant use of plastic.

My host mother bought me a box of bottle water and I’ve been trying to refill the bottles every time I go to the ProWorld bunkhouse. As the former president of my high school’s recycling club, wasting this plastic is killing me.

I hope you take the time to read Laurie’s post and follow her blog!

 

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Nzulezu Stilt Village

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Some of the other interns planned on taking a day trip last Saturday and invited me to go along. Of course I was game, no matter where they were going. Because most of the other interns are leaving in December, they started a bucket list of places they wanted to go before departing Ghana. This list included a trip to Nzulezu, the stilt village located in the Western region.

We met up at 7:00AM to take a trotro to Takoradi. From there we would take another trotro to the village of Beyin, and a canoe ride before arriving at Nzulezu. We were joined by a few students of the University of Cape Coast. It was nice to meet some more fellow Americans. It also meant that as a group of ten obrunis, we would definitely draw some stares.

The whole group

The whole group

The trotro to Takoradi was about two hours and mostly uneventful. The road to Takoradi is mostly paved, so it wasn’t too bumpy. Once we made it in Takoradi, we wandered around until we found the correct trotro station to take us to Beyin. Everyone we had asked, as well as the guidebooks, said that the village was very close to Takoradi. They all lied. We were shocked to learn that it would take four to five hours to get there. It was the longest car ride of my life. The roads had potholes the size of craters and I kept hitting my head on the top of the trotro. By the time we made it to Beyin, we were all sleepy, stiff, and starving.

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Once in Beyin, we were taken to a small office where we each paid fifteen cedi (About $7.50 USD) for the canoe ride and were introduce to one our guides/rowers, Joseph. We all piled into a hand-carved canoe and began our boat ride to Nzulezu. Despite feeling like a french-fry baking in the oven, I really enjoyed the canoe ride. We passed through fields of tall grasses, marshes filed with lily pads, palm-filled jungles, and finally a large lake. Along the way, our guides explained how the river changed during the wet and dry seasons and pointed out traps to catch fish. Once on the lake, you could finally see a spattering of buildings that make up Nzulezu. Only up close, do you notice the extreme poverty that these people live. Honestly, it’s what I’ve come to expect from Ghana: a gorgeous landscape filled with heartbreaking poverty.

Sittin' in the canoe

Sittin’ in the canoe

We hoisted ourselves out of the canoe and were allowed to wander around the village with strict instructions not to take pictures of any of the adult inhabitants. It was nice to stretch my legs after a long day of sitting, but I was a little dubious about the conditions of the walkways. There was one main “road” through the village and each branch that extended from it was organized by family. The walkways consisted of bamboo and wooden plants. It was important to watch your step as some of the boards were rotting and there were holes.

The two most important building in the village were the church and the school. Like the rest of Ghana, the villagers are very religious and mixed Christianity with local traditions. The school was just a series of small rooms with desks and chalkboards. It is very hard for the village to attract teachers because most don’t fancy living over a lake. The village also has a fairly large collection of books, most of which were donated by Western tourists.

A Classroom in Nzulezu

A Classroom in Nzulezu

While at the school, we were introduced to the chief of the village and encouraged to ask him any questions. We asked him about the origins of the village. He stated that the village was built in the 14th or 15th century by people who were trying to avoid tribal wars over gold and other resources. We learned that the village is always moving as the wooden building only last about forty-five years. Therefore, they are always building new structures and shifting the village as the wood rots. I wish I had asked about sanitation and diseases. The water beneath the village was filled with garbage, and it has no real sanitation system. I wonder how often people get sick as they swim in the lake and use it for their source of water.

After answering our questions, the chief asked us to donate money… for the children of course. I felt pressured into giving a few cedi despite the fact that some of the fee for the canoe ride already goes towards the village (We had confirmed this with the chief). The chief recorded the amount that our group donated in a large ledger and thanked us. Only once we were leaving did I realize what a tourist trap the village was. I was bombarded by people trying to sell me souvenirs, miniature canoes and postcards. I left with mixed feelings from the village. While I enjoyed seeing the village and learning about the people’s way of life, I felt uncomfortable with ways money was wheedled out of us. But then again, a few cedi is worth practically nothing to me and can be a great use to them. Thus, the conflicted feelings.

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The canoe deposited us back to Beyin and we finally got to eat something! There was restaurant run by a Spaniard where I was able to get my first piece of cake in Ghana (It was REALLY dry). We got into the trotro to ride back to Takoradi and then realized that we were in trouble. Because of the miscalculation of the travel time, it was much later than we had anticipated. We the time we made it to Takoradi, it would be past 9PM. In general, driving at night in Ghana is a really bad idea. There are no street lights, the roads are horrible, and the cars are equally as broken down. There is a high chance of getting in a car accident anytime in Ghana, but nighttime is the worst of all. So we decided to stay the night in Takoradi and wandered around until we found a hotel. We haggled with the owners to get the price down to ten cedi per person. Luckily the bed was big and we fit three people on it no problem.

The next morning I felt pretty lousy due to the fact that I had slept in my contacts. We wandered around again to find a place for breakfast, which is nearly impossible on a Sunday. After a stop at the ATM, we boarded another trotro and headed home. I’ve never been so happy to go home and take my contacts out. My bucket bath felt pretty awesome too! Overall, the trip wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I enjoyed it nevertheless.

Palm, Pizza, & Progress

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Because the computer network at CRAN’s new office was still out of commission, it seemed that I would have a lot of free time on my hands last week. However, the fine folks at ProWorld decided to get me involved in a new project. Usually, ProWorld places students with partner organizations and acts as the mediator between them. The staff recently decided that they wanted to host an internal project with a local village that participants could work on. I was to be the guinea pig.

After receiving permission from CRAN to take most of the week off, project coordinator Isaac and I headed about an hour away from Cape Coast to a remote village near Kakum National Park. The village looks like a cliché still from a film. Clay huts with thatched roofs stand surrounding by children playing with sticks. Women in traditional dresses stand over fires stirring kettles of mysterious liquids. There’s no electricity. The only glimpses of the modern world appeared through a spattering of cell phones and a visit by a petrol truck.

Most of villagers work as farmers growing cocoa, cassava, and palm. Palm was the reason for our visit. While there several products that can be derived from palm trees, palm oil is often the lucrative. We had come to interview farmers about their use of palm oil processing equipment. The villagers pay a man to use his machines to process palm crops. However, the man doesn’t maintain the machines and inconsistently provides petrol to run them.  We were looking into the feasibility of helping the village take out a group loan to purchase their own machines. The community would then share the burden of repaying the loan as well as maintaining the machines. Ideally, this would be long-term way to increase the whole village’s profits.

Palm

Palm

Our visit to the village on Wednesday was brief. We interviewed three people and introduced ourselves to the village’s chief. I’m not sure what I was expecting a chief to look like, with the tiny man in polka-dotted pants was not it. Isaac told me to follow his lead as we bowed and talked to a spokesperson rather than directly at the chief. The chief gave us his blessing and promised to support us with our mission as best as he could.

After leaving the village, Isaac asked me if I was interested in bees. I told him that I am afraid of bees, as I am highly allergic them. He laughed and delightedly told me that he could take me to the International Stingless Bee Centre where I could frolic with bees for the first time. I was a little hesitant. What if a stinging bee got mixed in? However, I figured that might as well embrace every new experience and asked him to take me.

The centre consisted of a flower garden and a couple of shanties supporting wooden boxes. A tour guide took me around to the different shanties and explained that each shanty held a different species of bees. The bees looked smaller than your typical honeybee. One variety even looked to be the size of an ant! The bees surrounded me and bounced off my face and neck. I had to resist swatting them away. The main event came when the guide opened up a large hive and invited me to put my hand in. I gingerly placed my hand in the box and listened to the comforting hums of the hive. There was a slight breeze from the beating of their tiny wings and felt a few crawl up my hand. It was a neat experience and I’m glad I went through with it.

Other than providing tours, the centre focuses on a few other activities. First, it specializes in research and training. Some of the research includes pollination services, hive development, and colony management. The centre also trains community members in bee cultivation so that they can support their own hives. The centre also develops medicinal hive products. I picked some honey at the office, which can either be used topically or ingested. I’m planning on bringing it home for my mom since she loves honey.

Feeling the stingless bees! It tickled.

Feeling the stingless bees! It tickled.

After the bee centre, Isaac and I returned home for a biweekly Fante lesson. Afterwards. Our coordinator Sarah took us to Sizzler one of the few pizza places in Ghana. We got four pizzas: margarita, chicken, veggie, and Hawaiian. By U.S. standards the pizza was pretty bad. However in Ghana, it was the tastiest thing I’d eaten in a long time. I binged on about seven pieces, which my intestines would regret the next morning.

On Thursday it was back to the village. I met Isaac there and we spent almost the entire day talking to community members. After realizing how limited my knowledge of palm was, a group of farmers gave me a tour of their palm farm and explained the entire process from the seed to the store. Palm takes about three years to grow before the fruit is ready to be harvested. After reaching maturation, the tree will produce fruit for about twenty years before it dies. The trees produce fruit all year long, but the largest crop is harvested March through June. Once the fruit is harvested, it sits in a barrel for about a week in order to make it easier to separate the seed. The seeds are extracted by hand before the pulp is roasted and left to sit for another week. Next, the palm is milled and then heated to melt the oil. The milled product is pressed to isolate the oil and voila, the oil is ready to sell.

Palm is a very efficient crop and the villagers make sure to use every part. The leaves are used to make brooms, the branches for baskets, and even the materials left from processing the oil are used as firewood. The kernels of the fruit are roasted and processed into palm kernel oil, which can be used for commercial cook and is frequently used in soaps. The palm is also made into palm wine and a type of spirits that has hefty 40% alcohol content. Nothing goes to waste in palm farming, and unlike in Asia, Ghana has not experienced the negative ecological impact. I do worry about the future of the palm oil industry in Ghana as large investment funds are purchasing palm plantations, shutting out the local farmers.

Barrels of palm about to be processed into oil

Barrels of palm about to be processed into oil

After my tour, we spent the rest of the day interview farmers about their current profits, costs, risks, and expectations of the project. I complied the information that evening and sent it to Isaac. The next step is to research the cost of machine, maintenance, and petrol so that we can give CRAN a budget. I really enjoy working this project because I can see the tangible impact that I am making in the community. I’m also excited to work so hands on. I feel like I am learning a lot about sustainable development in a very active way. It is times like these that I feel very grateful for my time here in Ghana.

One of the palm oil process machines. The oil comes out of the spout in the front.

One of the palm oil process machines. The oil comes out of the spout in the front.

A Weekend in Paradise

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I had a lovely weekend! For the first time, I felt like I was on vacation. Once a week, everyone gets together at the ProWorld bunkhouse for either a Fante lesson or Global Citizens Initiative (GCI) class. Afterwards we either go out to eat or cook. Due to a holiday on Tuesday, GCI was bumped to Friday and I was assigned to cook with a fellow participant. We scrounged the obruni shops and found ingredients for pasta and cheesy garlic bread. I’ve never been so happy to eat cheese!

On Saturday morning, we had our monthly Impact Project, in which we pair up with a local organization and help out for a few hours. We were helping HEPENS, a healthcare initiative organization. We helped provide some checkups for a community, taking weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar. I honestly didn’t do that much, but it was nice to see everyone being proactive about their health.

Afterwards, some of us went to a batik-making workshop. Batik is a traditional fabric that uses wax to make designs. It was surprisingly difficult to stamp the wax neatly. Either you press too hard and the design gets smudged, or not hard enough and nothing shows up. Once the wax is stamped, you fold it like regular ole tie-dye, dye the fabric, and then boil off the wax. It was really fun and mine fabric turned out nicely. It was also an incredibly hot process. Between the weather and all the fires used to heat the wax and dyes, I was sweating profusely. That night I went out with two other participants, Abby and Amina. I didn’t stay out long, but had a nice time listening to some Ghanaian music.

Sunday a few of us went to Anamabo Beach resort. You have to pay about 10 cedi to get in, but the beach is cleaned up really well. The guests were all obrunis, mostly from Germany or Scandinavian countries. It was nice to relax and soak up some sun. The waves weren’t too big so we could actually swim. It felt like paradise and was really beautiful. I felt a bit odd about it though because a few hundred feet from the gorgeous beach was such poverty. I almost felt guilty for having such a wonderful time.

Sustainable Development

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Part of ProWorld’s mission is to educate, thus I have a biweekly class called Global Citizens Initiative. For my first class, we talked about sustainable development and how it relates to our projects. We summed it up by watching this Ted talk by Ernesto Sirolli. Despite only being here two weeks, I can really relate to his ideas about aid and development in Africa.

I hope you enjoy! Ernesto Sirolli is actually pretty hilarious as well as brillant.

A Note About Work

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So some of you might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned my work in any of my posts! I work for the organization Christian Rural Aid Network (CRAN) at their Kiva desk. During my first week, I learned how to process new loan requests and submit them to Kiva. Despite the constant Internet and power outages, it was a pretty good week and I was getting into the swing of things.

My second week was a bit bumpier. CRAN’s head office consisted of a series of rented offices in a building owned by an insurance company. The offices were super cramped and I had to share a desk. When I first arrived, I was told that CRAN had acquired a new building and that we would be moving maybe in the next few months. Well, it wasn’t in a few months, but a few days. Last Monday, I was told that the movers might be coming the next day (which I had off for a religious holiday). So Wednesday morning, I went to work and discovered entirely empty rooms! All my coworkers were excited and we headed out to go to the new building. When we arrived at the beautiful orange and white building, we noticed a couple of problems. First, all of the furniture was sitting outside. Secondly, there was no power or running water. The workmen had not finished our new building and the desks needed to be sanded before they were brought in. So my co-workers and I started organizing some files and went home around noon.

I haven’t worked since then. I stopped by work the next day and found the conditions to be the same. They told me to try on Monday and have a nice long weekend. Today I went to work and the building is almost finished. However, the computer network was not set up and I was not able to complete any work. After gossiping with two of my coworkers, playing spider solitaire, and briefly falling asleep, I just went home. Everyone said that the network should be set up tomorrow, but I’m not holding my breath. It is Ghana after all, and things can’t be rushed here!

Because of my project difficulties, I might be working on an internal project with ProWorld. They are partnering with CRAN and a small village west of Cape Coast to develop an agro-processing facility. I’m going to be doing some research on this and figuring out the logistics. I’m very excited about this and it will help give me something extra to do with all the recent down time I have.

Once everything settles down at work, I’ll give a more in-depth description of what I’m working on!

Fante 101

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While English is Ghana’s official language, around forty-five different languages are spoken here and seventy-six dialects. I’ve discovered that the most Ghanaians’ English is pretty limited. This has proven to be a challenge at work and day-to-day activities.

In Cape Coast, Fante is the primary language. It is very similar to the most widely spoken language, Twi (which is pronounced as a mix between “tweee” and “cheee”) I’ve been taking a biweekly Fante lesson and have been slowly picking up some useful phrases. I find Fante difficult to learn because some of the sound combinations are not found in English. Also, it’s just pure memorization. No cognates here!

I learned all of this information from ProWorld coordinator, Isaac. Because he tries to simplify things for us, I can’t guarantee that it is 100 percent accurate.

So let’s start out with the alphabet:

Letter

Pronunciation

A

ah as in mama

B

D

E

ay as in day

Ɛ

eh as in fed

F

G

H

I

ee as in bee

K

L

*silent

M

N

O

oh as in no

Ɔ

aw as in law

P

R

S

T

U

oo as in food

W

Y

Z

Luckily, words are spelled phonetically (with the exception of some tough letter combos), so you can try and sound out anything unfamiliar.

Fante Names:

As well as having a given name, every Ghanaian also has a Fante name. These names are derived from the day of week in which you were born. For example, I was born on a Wednesday. This means that my Fante name is Ekuwa. It’s fun to introduce myseld with Fante name as locals find it hilarious. Plus, it’s a lot easier for them to pronounce than my regular name.

Day

Male Name(s)

Female Name(s)

Sunday:

Kwesi (kway-see)

Esi (eh-see)

Monday

Kwodwo (koh-joe)

Adwowa (ah-jew-ah)

Tuesday

Kobina (koh-bee)

Araba  (ah-rah-ba)

Wednesday

Kweku  (kewh-koo)

Ekuwa (eh-koo-ah)

Thursday

Ekow (eh-kw-wow)

Aba (ah-bah)

Friday

Kofi (koh-fee)

Efuwa (eh-foo-ah)

Saturday

Kwame (kwah-may)

Ama (ah-mah)

Useful Phrases:

Here’s some useful words or phases that I’ve picked up.

English Words

Fante Words

Welcome Akwaaba (ahk-wah-bah)
Thank you Medaase (med-ah-seh)
Foreigner (white person) Obruni (oh-bro-nee)
Food Edziban (ed-zee-bahn)
Home Fie (fee)
No Dabi (dah-bee)
Yes Enyo or yo
Sorry Kosɛ (ko-say)
Please Mepa wo kyew (mm-pah-cho)

So “medaase” for reading and enjoy using random Fante words around! Until next time!