Sunday, May 28, 2006

Contact info!

One more update for today. I got a cell phone!!! The number is 011 233 24 615-1238
The best time to call is about 9pm local time here. I am four hours ahead of Toronto time, so call around 5pm Toronto, 3pm in Saskatoon. It might take a few tries to connect properly, but it will go through eventually.

Oh, and can everyone send emails to my gmail account. Yahoo is a lot slower to open, and I want to read everyone's emails.

Thanks all, hope to talk to you soon!

Funerals and other things

Yesterday, May 23, I was stopping to visit the house next to ZOVFA in the morning when i heard these booming sounds from a distance, like explosions. I was curious as to what they were because the normal morning sounds were roosters, goats, sometimes a donkey and people (children laughing, yelling, crying) radios blaring and so on. I asked Alhassan - (a teacher working in Walewale who is on leave for 10 days to attend the funeral tomorrow of his brother (i think) who died in the South - What these sounds were. He said that the night before yesterday an old man had died in Poyamire, one of the communities I've visited. Traditionally in the morning when the burial is ready the tradition is to put gun powder into a pipe and then pack it down with sand. You then put the pipe in the ground and light it making the boom, explosive sound. It is a signal that someone has passed on and that anyone who has family members living in that direction should come and pay their respects but if you are not family then you are not invited, although the definition of family is so inclusive here that i'm not sure anyone would be turned away. They sound the pipes before they are going to bury someone and then afterwards to tell people that the burial is finished. People are normally buried around the house although many communities have started cemetaries when the houses are too close together. Normally they are seperated by farm land so it is very difficult to tell where one community begins and one ends. If the man or woman was a very great person, such as a chief, they are buried in a room in the house which is then reserved for them. If the person who died is very old, above 45, then the funeral is a huge celebration that they have lived a good long life. If the person is young the funeral is more serious as people mourn an "unnatural death". The funeral tomorrow in the house next door will be the latter because the person was only 37 years old and left behind a young daughter. Now people light gun powder during funerals as a display of wealth and sometimes there can be up to 100 blasts. The number of successive blasts also tells whether the person was a man or woman (3 for men and 4 for women). Numbering here seems very important such that odd numbers are associated with masculinity and even numbers are associated with feminity. For example, a man should marry 2 wives or 4 wives but not 3 although more than one wife is becoming less common and is associated with the traditional religion or Islam. The ratio in this area I would estimate to be 15% traditional, 35% Islam, 40% Christian and 10% agnostic. But this is very much intermingled with the culture that is predominant. I say that I am both which gets a few quizzical looks.

There is an excellent description of village life in the May 2006 New Internationalist magazine that is worth the read as it gives a perfect description of the area. Although the village community is in Burkina Faso it could easily be access from here because I am in the North East and the BF community is in the SE. It is probably a 30min - 1hr drive away.

Ethnicity and Electricity

Zuuri, the village I am staying in and Binduri, the village connected to Zuuri, don't have electricity altough nearby Bawku and communities on the main road have had electricity since 2000. The main hardship, especially when talking to the men, is the lack of electricity in their community. The reasons people give are usually very political with ethnic undertones.

For example, the electoral system in Ghana operates such that you vote for a president and an MP representative seperately. The current party in power is the NPP...whose slogan read " so far so good" - this seems like a very apathetic slogan for a political party but who am I to judge the local meaning. The representative elected for this area is from the second major party the NDC so he does not have to ear so to speak of the president to further development initiatives in this area. This seems to be one reason why, although it was promised in the las election in 2004 and before that, electricity has not yet arrived. During the last election the NDC candidate I think or the presidential, I'm not sure, came and installed the posts to support the wires but since then nothing has happened. The government recently wanted to remove the posts to provide electricity for a nearby funeral of a chief which caused quite an uproar in the community. They did not get the poles although they are still without wires.

I am currently writing because the generator is running for Ema to work on the computer. He is the accountant and he must do some reporting for PAGEV, a water and sanitation project along the white volta river.

The other reason for the lack of electricity runs much deeper into the history of the area and the settlement and migration patterns of people back in the early 1900s. The Kussasis people are the native people from this area, they were living in this area for ages in an unhierarchized society. The Mamprusi tribe were traders from the north or nomadic, depending on which account. From what Alhassan told me, they were establishing a trade route through this area but kept having problems with robbery so they decided to send people to settle the area. One way or the other they came to settle here. THey had a very hierarchized society with a clear power structure and soon came to rule over Kussasi people. There was therefore a situation where the majority Kussasi were dominated by a minority Mamprusi which lasted until the 1960s I believe when the Kussasi people organized and fought back. Ghana gained independence in 1957 and the government representative came and made the decision that the Kusassi were the rightful people to have power of governance so the Mamprusi people had to give up their positions. Even now this thread is very prevalent in politics as it is very hard for a mamprusi leader to be elected into government because people fear Mamprusis in positions of power. In 2000 and 2002 brief conflicts flared up again surrounding this ethnic tensions but were quickly resolved. Since there has been so much intermarriage and Kusal is the dominant language spoken in the area the differences in ethnicity are no longer clear cut and for the most part I don't think it affects people's lives. They certainly do not talk about it much. But when people talked about why they did not have electricity they were clear to point out that in this area most people are Mamprusi and are thus not on the receiving end of development in this area. I have not been able to talk to too many people so I do not know how accurate this is or how many people attribute ethnicity and politics to underdevelopment at a community level. It's an interesting story though......and either way I hope electricity will come here soon because people do enjoy it.

Right now people use latterns with oil or flash lights with batteries so function after dark. Alhassan my neighbour has a TV and VCR and sometimes buys petrol to show Nigerian movies to the 50+ people that show up. I think the biggest impact of electricity in this area will be in the mindset of the people who now feel left behind and abandonned to a certain extent since they can see others who have light when they do not. They are also worried that it would be a great hardship for me but I try to tell people about tree planting and Alveena and put their minds at ease. Normally, when the sun goes down I am so tired that I fall straight to sleep, earlier than most, so for me maybe there is even less of an effect.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Making my way

Hello everyone, sorry that it has taken me so long to post things on here but I have not figured out how to get to town on my own to take the hours necessary to write everything down properly. You have to walk out to the road which is about 1-2km away and then flag down a tro tro (Ghanian bus) for a ride. Thankfully enough, Emmanuel, the staff memember of ZOVFA that picked me up, needed to do some photocopying in town so he took me along. I had a brief disagreement with the food last Thursday but it seems to have mostly worked itself out.

I have a story to tell about the day that you think you've seen everything. I was on the back of the moto going to Bawku when I saw atype of boxy mini-van piled high with stuff. Trucks and cars andpretty much every vehicle is always packed to the max with things tiedon top for several layers so this van was no different. Severalplastic chairs bags and ...two goats adorned the top of van...I juststared and didn't know what to think other I wish I had a camra right now. Luckily the van was moving quite slowly...probably because of the goats, so I hope it doesn't have far to go. Livestock is transported in all sorts of ways, baskets attached to the back of bicycles. I saw a rooster strapped to the back of a motor bike which was inevitably going to be supper and a goat in a big water basin strapped to the back of a bike. My little moments of joy are the goatbelieve it or not, there are so many baby goats around, I feel like I am in a petting zoo, and they are playing and sleeping out under trees. Whenever I feel tired I try to find a goat to watch.

Working with ZOVFA is proving to be very informative. It gives me a chance to get out to different farming communities and really meet the people work with them and so on, but it is also confusing since I don't understand the language and what exactly is going on. Plus, the people are used to working in the heat without much water for long hours so they are always asking me if I'm tired. They are taking very good care of me, teaching me the ropes and making sure I'm not out there too long. I was working with other ZOVFA members in a community called Poyamire demarkating 10 acres with sticks for a mango plantation. After 3 hours in the late afternoon it was getting dark and a man that I had come to know, Avado, came up and gave me 4 guinea foul eggs as a thanks. He appreciated that I was doing the same work that they were and helping them with their project. In 3 years time hopefully they want to have a organic mango plantation that the community will harvest and export for extra income.

Other times, there is very little to do it seems, the staff are around reading or talking or in town so I need to find a project that keeps me busy, builds capacity in ZOVFA and doesn't take up too many resources (such as petrol to run the generator to work on the computer) I've been doing some training on a digital camera that was given to ZOVFA as part of a CARE Canada run project. I will really need to figure out all the diferent projects, I think there are about 8, each one with its different objectives, reporting criteria and soon. With a staff of only 9 people and one of them is injured ZOVFA has it's work cut out for it.

Living in the Philip's compound has proved both insightful and challenging. Insightful in that I can see how a family compound operates and challenging because mostly women live there and few speak any english at all. My Kusal is coming along but not at the rate that I would like, there are no books that I have been able to find so I'm spelling the way things sound...unless there is no spelling for the sound such as frog (gwan in the back of your throat). There was also a German junior social anthropologist researcher staying there for 6 months who was living in the compound and left 2 weeks before me. The family is therefore used to treating white people like guests and my requests to eat meals with the family have met little success. They were very fond of her but she was also very busy with her research and probably didn't have as much time for integration activities. It's hard to know...I try to help but since I start to sweat because of the heat they think I am tired and want me to sit down.

In the morning I try to help sweep the compound with stalks of grass tied together at the end. The sweeping is done by stooping close to the ground and brushing back and forth. I also try to pull up water from the well whenever I can to fill the metal basins that the women carry water with. Trying to lift one of those onto my head is a little out of my reach right now, I'll have to start small or else I might spill water so labourously pulled up from the well. On the weekend I also had the opportunity to help plaster a cow pen by the compound. I came home from the market with a Emilia (a 17 year old elder daughter living in the compound) and saw all the women slapping mud onto the walls. Buildings here are made by either cement or mud. The mud is rolled into balls and piled up for the walls. Then, tar is heated and melted into a sandy material which is all mixed together with water. It forms a kind of paste which the women smooth onto the mud wall and then resmooth with a smooth surface so there are no rough spots. I was bringing the paste to the women with a shovel and bucket so that they could slap it onto the walls. We finished the pile of paste in about 2 hours and a bit.

So as you can see things are going well and I am trying to integrate and learn as much as I can. I had a skirt and top made for a funeral on Thursday from the material I bought in Tamale and I went to see a Nigerian film at a neighbour's house yesterday night called Tom and Jerry. It was about two boys who were tormenting their blind grandfather while he was watching them for his daughter. Let's just say they weren't setting a very good example for the kids.

I'll try to write more soon and thank you for all your support. I always love hearing from you even if I can't respond right away so thank you for writing me...hint hint


Appropriate Technology & Ownership?

During my visit with Philip he disclosed something with Oxfam which makes me question the value of appropriate technology without adequate ownership at the local NGO level. Even with the best intention of appropriate technology, if the implementation is not controlled at the local level then it is still not appropriate. There needs to be appropriate technology and implementation.

The situation is such that Oxfam is supporting a project to supply 8 grassroots NGOs, one of them being ZOVFA, with Donkey Carts, Ploughs and Ridgers which the NGOs must pay for and then sell to the farmers in a credit based system. In theory and good practice this an excellent initiative because donkey carts provide a way for farmers to transport their harvest to market whereby they can obtain a better price. It also allows transportation of manure to the fields and such. The ploughs are pulled behind two bullox and make planting the fields much more efficient and less labour intensive. Hopefully with more donkey carts the women could use them to transport water home to their families from the wells and bore holes instead of carrying the water on their heads for distances of 200 meters to 1 or 2 km. Although they make it look very easy it takes 2 people to lift the basin full of water onto the head of the woman who will carry it which is a remarkable thing to see when they don't spill a drop.

Oxfam contracted a supplier in Tamale to make the carts, ploughs and ridges for the 8 parteners and then delivered them to the local NGOs in big truck loads. ZOVFA was the last partner to receive their supply and when Philip Ayamba, the program director, happened to be there to receive them he outrightly refused to sign for them because they were of poor quality. Already some of the donkey carts from Oxfam were bending under heavy loads and the ploughs were breaking.

The farmers who have invested their resources into these equipment were justifyably very angry...wouldn't you be? Therefore when Philip inspected the supply of new materials and found wheel frames welded together, old broken tires, even thinner metal he refused the shipment outright. Since all the other 7 partners had accepted their shipments you can image the up-roar that ZOVFA caused among the supplier. Philip shares an office with Trade Aid in Bolgatanga, who are one of the 8 partners, and they are already experiencing problems due to the equipment provided and their farmers are angry. In a reality where clientalism is apparent this was a very brave and risky thing to do. ZOVFA could develop the reputation of being difficult which would make it difficult to receive funding for more projects which would essentially put the organization out of business. But Philip and his staff are also accountable to the communities in which they work and therefore could not accept the supplied materials.

Two questions come to mind...why were the materials of such poor quality when previous inputs from the company had been of high quality? Secondly, why were the materials being transported from Tamale, a 4+ hour transport when there were local manufacturers in Bawku, just 19km away or Bolgatanga just 45km away who produce high quality goods.

The answer is in mass production. Oxfam wanted to speed things along so for them it is easier to give the entire contract to one company and then distribute the products to where they are needed. Much the same way which is standard operational practice in the West since the advent of Fordism. But this supplier does not normally receive orders for the mass quantity of carts, ploughs and ridgers that were ordered, but I do not know if Oxfam checked their capacity or their quality control independently or not. Over the phone the company would have perceived a lucrative opportunity and jumped at the chance, leaving the practical logistics for later. Philip suspects that the company was unable to keep up with the production timeline and thus bought carts from suppliers in the market and painted them to seem like they were produced by just one supplier. The supplier was depending on his previously strong reputation of producing good quality merchandise. There is also the factor that maybe the quality standards were negatively affected because the materials were being produced for Oxfam for communities far away,which may be seen to remove the accountability to the local farmers. Furthermore, the price list for the donkey carts that Oxfam ordered were 2.7million cedes each (divide by 8000 for Cn$) while the ones produced locally of better quality were 1.6 million cedes. A substantial difference when you think about subsistence farmers whose access to income generating activities is a struggle at best.

ZOVFA has previous experience with equipment sent from Oxfam such as huge water tankards that need a pump to be filled because they are over 2m tall, pesticide spraying pumps (for an organic organization), rubber boots (the farmers are always barefoot or in flip flops and it is too hot for boots), and brass rings for the cows where the farmers use rope. It seems like all these things imported from abroad really don't have a place here. If people change then what do they do when there are no more rings, boots and such. They are currently waiting for Oxfam to come and collect their things that are sitting in the compound cluttering things up.

Oxfam and ZOVFA have agreed that ZOVFA should get the money and arrange to buy their own supplier of donkey carts ploughs and other material in a kind of hush hush deal. Philip wanted to hold a general meeting with the suppliers, partner organizations and Oxfam Ghana to discuss the matter but Oxfam thought this would create an uproar that would be greater than the current problem at hand. The larger question is - why wasn't ZOVFA able to buy their materials outright, determine what the farmers needed and then report back to Oxfam about their progress. ZOVFA knows the local suppliers and their quality and if they needed anything in Tamale they could have arranged it. They also know the perceptions of their local communities and what the people expect of them. Here is a case where the ownership project management level was not sufficiently transfered to local partners. This has cost Oxfam, and all those who support Oxfam here and abroad, wasted money on tranport, shoddy material and un-needed equipment.

I don't want to completely trash Oxfam, they are a very strong organization who genuinely have participatory intents at heart and the fact that they are using local NGOs at all is a sign of true commitment but it is dissapointing that it has happened this way. Call me idealistic but true trust between partner organization, with an equal valuation of knowledge on both sides would have placed ZOVFA in charge of the local aspect and Oxfam in charge of international awareness campaigns and getting the story out, something ZOVFA does not have the capacity to do. Both aspects of development are equally important and both need to have organizations and people who are best suited to carry out these tasks. When one attempts to tread on the others feet then time and valuable resources are wasted which could have been used for shea butter processing plants, more bore holes being dug or increasing the number of class rooms and teachers in rural areas (a small sample of the things that people want to do in the communities). So my conclusion in all this is that appropriate technology is not enough, it must be partenered with trust and power at the local level to be truly effective.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Tamale town

Hi everyone, these have been an eventful couple of days and I am hoping this post goes through as I am not writing it in notepad as a I should be so that I don't loose everything if the page doesn't load. One thing I know is that I should have brought more of these MEC breathable shirts, my cotton T-shirts get soaked in an hour during mid day and then they aren't much use other than being wet. Although it is not too hot today and there is a nice breeze. The rainy season is late this year so people are anxious for the rains to come so they will have good crops this year. Drought is a major problem for the norther regions. I bought my first Ghanian cloth to make a skirt and shirt today, I will wait until Bawku to buy anymore clothes. I met two boys named Hassin and Fajarak who were tending to a store and they walked all over town with me while we looked at different clothes. They showed me the cultural centre which is where all the foreigners hang out and I am sorry they thought to bring me there because I wanted to see the market that people here shop at (which we eventually did see) We spent a good hour walking and talking, they were teaching me Dagbani and as we went to greet people Hassin would whisper the appropriate reply to the greeting so that it seemed like I could speak really good Dagbani. Then we went back to their shop and they gave me a sachet of water (filtered water is bought in sealed bags of 500ml) This is very typical of my experience in Ghana where people are willing to take the time and sit with you and talk even though it might be easier for them not to talk to you but to speak to someone that they already know. People here speak excellent english for the most part, it is taught in school and Tamale is the major urban centre of the Norther region. I hope my Dagbani will get better as well, I will have to force myself to speak more but I am learning new things everyday. People here see education as the highest priority for the future of their country so there is a large emphasis on being in school. I've found out more about my placement, I will be in the town of Zuuri 15km West of Bawku in the Bawku district in the Upper east region. It is small town of about 300 people with one borehole and electricity for the office. I am looking forward to finding a family and community that I can come to know and develop a relationship with.

Another story, yesterday I was coming home from the Communications and cultural studies centre in Tamale TICCS and I was waiting to buy water. There was a man ahead of me on a bike with a long flowing white shirt that went past his knees and a white cap on his head, I couldn't help thinking how he didn't get dirty since I'm always covered. I think sweating makes things stick to me resulting in the look of having just rolled around on a dirt road. The man that was ahead of me bought these red nut-like things that I wasn't sure if you were supposed to cook, ground or eat raw. He turned around and broke off half a nut and gave it to me and bit into his half. I couldn't think of what to do so I did the same, the nut tasted very bitter, kind of like radish but more fibrous and dry. The man road off on his bicycle and I had this half eaten nut on one side of my mouth (which was too dry to swallow it) as I tried to order water with the other side of my mouth. I decided the best thing to do was to rinse the nut out of my mouth because I didn't know what is was or where it came from so I quickly went around the corner where the woman selling the nuts wouldn't see and gave my mouth a good rinse. I later found out that what the man gave me was a Cola nut which people eat here to stay awake, it must have some caffeine in it or something. It was such an out of the blue experience which made me think that I need to develop more trust in people around me.

Sorry I can't upload any pictures today it seems

Thursday, May 11, 2006

My Life


Hello!!  I am very sorry but I don't think my last post from
Accrawent through so to all of you who have been waiting...
I'm sorry. I am in Tamale now, we arrived yesterday after a
12 hour bus ride. This morning around 10am we walked along
the main road - Bolgatanga Rd - with the girls who were up
first and we met mostly highschool boys who wanted to show
us around. They are very friendly and were helping me with
my Dagbani. Afterwards we went back to the hotel/motel and
waited for Luke to do some logistics stuff. We are hopefully
going to talk to our NGOs tomorrow and figure out where we
are supposed to be, I have not gotten an email from my NGO
yet so it is very important that I contact them somehow.

It is very hot outside but not as humid as Accra which is
nice, so you cool down faster when you go in the shade.
After this we are going to go to the market to hopefully
find some hats and take out some money from the bank. All
the currency is in 1000s so it feels like we have a lot of
money. Walking along the street is very interesting you
can find anything from car doors and cellular telephones
to goat heads or intestines. It all feels very comfortable
although I hope I get used to the heat soon, I forgot that
I sweat more than most people.

Last night I recorded my first voice recording with Adam's
MP3 player and that system is going to work out very well,
I don't have the time or energy when I have to time to
write everything that is going on but saying it is much easier.

The bus ride was also something else, the busses have a
middle seat that folds down when people are on the bus so
we were sitting 5 across. The bus was vearing around other
buses and trucks and people walking on the side of the road.
We would stop periodically and buy things from people at
the side of the bus through the windows, what really struck
me was this area of construction with mounds of red dirt
piled on each side and women selling corn on the cob at the
side of the road on their heads. Lots of people in the bus
bought some and for a moment the bus smelt like sweet corn.
The bus was very nice when it was moving and we got a good
breeze, I slept off and on and tried to learn Dagbani with
a new friend Amin who was going home to Tamale from Accra
for the summer holidays. It started raining at one point
and the smell of the earth was amazing!! We drove past some
rural villages as well with kids running around and women
walking with babies tied to their backs. The countryside
is very green with tall trees that look like oaks and banana
plants surrounded by other brush. As we moved further north
into the country on the bus the trees grow shorter and the
brush flattened out so we could see more of an horizon.
It is also much less humid here in Tamale which is very
welcome on my end, although the farmers and people that
live here might wish for more rain. We are coming at the
beginnning of the rainy season so I'm sure it will get more
humid soon but the temperature will be a few degrees lower.
The smells are very intense, sometimes so sweet and then sour,
sometimes spicy and then very earthy they always change and
I can't even hope to begin to identify them right now.

All in all, things feel very comfortable and I feel safe
and well taken care off,the people at the hotel we are
staying at are very friendly and most people speak english
so it is easier to communicate. I hope I can learn Dagbani
fast so I can talk to them in their local language.

Thank you for all your thoughts and hopes,
I hope to write soon again, maybe making a little more
sense than I do right now