Sunday, June 5, 2011
A personal thank you to everyone who followed the blog. Knowing you were with us and reading of our journey made a big difference and allowed us to feel connected. We look forward to sharing stories with you when we get home, but having you all with us for the journey was wonderful; it was great to share and being a bit of an insomniac here, it gave me something to do during sleepless hours.
Thanks for joining us on our journey and enjoy the blogs below.
Enskinment ceremony; Here the Chief is inducting me into the community. It was a very moving and unforgettable moment.
Once the chief has placed the robe over me, he then kneels and places shoes on my feet. For the chief to kneel in front of me, a woman and a stranger was a very powerful gesture. Needless to say, that gesture was not lost on me.
Jan's turn; the man who is performing the ceremony is second chief, and chief of the Nangodi people nearby. He is also an adult education supervisor so I though his induction of Jan was fitting since it was adult education that inspired Jan to come with me in the first place.
Traditional gifts are presented in the form of eggs, live guinea hens and a case of coca cola. We both wondered what customs officials might have thought if we brought the guinea hens on as carry on baggage.
Once the ceremony was completed, we were danced back to our chairs. The Chief's normally very stoic expression was a delighted smile all the way back and he is very happy to have this project in his village. I am encouraged by this young man; his daughters are in school, he is very progressive and welcoming and he wants the very best for his community. He is young, not even 30, but has a presence and dignity far beyond his years. The Enskinment ceremony was indeed the highlight of this whole trip and I knew in that moment, that I would come back. Connection is everything.
Friday, June 3, 2011
It is fitting then, to use one of the final blogs to introduce the team to all of you who have been following our travels. They are all wonderful, dedicated people and I’ll do my best to introduce them and fill you in on their backgrounds.
Cynthia is a Health Services Administrator and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Administration and is Vida's niece. It would take an entire, separate blog to really do justice to Cynthia's contributions, both to GROW and as our travelling companion. She met us at the airport, arranged all of our transportation, devised great places to see, showed us a side to Ghana that we would never have experienced on our own. She listened attentively to every single observation and often acted on something as a result of a comment or having overheard something Jan and I might have said. In the villages, Cynthia, like Vida, is an inspiration to the girls, and a fine example of why Girl Child Education is so important. She is also a fierce negotiator who either won the match, or in the rare moment when she didn't, gave a dismissive wave of the hand and found an alternative. Every single Ghanian man who dealt with us seemed to prefer to talk to her and Jan and I got very used to seeing this happen on a daily basis. Using her great charm and dignity, she could smooth the way and get us out of whatever predicament we found ourselves in. By the way, the Ghanian men were also dismissed, but in the nicest possible manner. As you can see by the photo, she has a great smile and that, I think, is a big part of her success. Many thanks to Cynthia; you have been a great friend and fellow traveller and we will miss you very much.
Clifford Clifford has just graduated from high school and is now attending the University for Development Studies in Tamale. He picked up the slack on many of the small, tedious tasks such as printing off programs and other administrative tasks. And of course, once we were able to get going on the buying, Clifford, like everyone else, was involved in that process.
Hannah is currently enrolled in a vocational program to become a seamstress and lives in the twin villages of Nyobok-Nkunzesi. She is the mother of 2 daughters, and serves as the secretary for Project GROW. Because Hannah has secondary education, she will also work as one of our two adult education facilitators to carry on the program. The adult education program was perhaps the most exciting moment for the first villages involved in the program, and having Hannah as a facilitator will ensure that the opportunity to learn continues. Hannah was everywhere during the two presentations to make sure all of the women got to the events and assisting in the details. Hannah’s husband also puts in a great deal of time with the project, especially this year when there were two major events and lots of livestock to manage.
Sampson Sampson is the other adult educator for the program and has taught primary school so is comfortable in his role. He lives in Sakote but since the two locations are close together, facilitating the program not only be possible, but he is also ideally placed to encourage participants from the new village as well. During the presentations, and leading up to the big days Sampson made countless trips between the villages to set up the canopies, assist with transporting animals and keep the two main presentation events running smoothly. He was also involved with handing out the goats and other goods
Naya is one of Vida's brothers who lives in the village and was involved with organization from that end. Naya took care of the livestock as it arrived, caring, feeding and then on the big day, was part of the distribution. At the moment, I have no picture of Naya, but will post that as soon as possible.
My farewells to Ghana. As I sit on a breezy veranda seaside in Accra, I want to thank the people of Ghana for their sincere welcome. I met with outstanding courtesy everywhere I went. I want to celebrate their vibrant culture that is is full of music and colour. I think back on the red soil of the countryside that gives Prince Edward Island a run for its money. It supports the agriculture that is the backbone of the country. I marvel at the entrepeneurial spirit of the traders. There is no WalMart in this country. Goods are sold in small stalls that are open early and stay open late into the dark night. I am impressed with the emphasis on education that is widespread in the country. I am very grateful for the companionship of Vida's entended family, and I thank them for their hard work on behalf of Project Grow. I feel I have made many new friends in this hospitable country. And lastly, I thank our beloved Cynthia who was beside us every step of they way on this amazing journey. Ghana, I salute you.
Cindy's Final Thoughts
This morning (early morning I might add; I seem to be awake at 5:30 every morning) I am back in the Afia African Resort in Accra, back to a place where we began our trip 3 short weeks ago. I can hear the ocean and am in a comfortable room and knowing that a good resturant is just steps away.
We are finished with long gruelling bus rides and after yesterday's journey from Tamale, the positive attitude to bus travel in Ghana dried up. The bus itself was a good one; air conditioned and roomy seats. All luggage was underneath the bus which means no yams or suitcases in the aisles. As well, no flat tires, no breakdowns, no torrential rains, so those were all bonuses. Yet bus travel is always a challenge and no matter what the estimate, add at LEAST 2 hours.
We were told to be at the Tamale depot at 5:30 and so we were. First clue that this was not the time was the fact that we were the only people there. Bus stations are always busy here, and when it was so quiet, we began to wonder. An hour later people started to trickle in and finally, at 7:40, our bus left the depot. We knew the trip would be about 12 hours and although daunting, prepared ourselves for a long ride. Cynthia is used to this and has done it twice in the last 3 weeks, but Jan and I are another story. I envy Jan, she can sleep on the bus whereas I can be exhausted and yet won't fall asleep for fear of missing something.
The better buses in Ghana have TVs on them, so for the entire daylight journey, we are forced to watch soap operas that all have a moral message under every plot line. This in itself is perhaps doable, and you might think, just tune it out. Unlike an airline, this TV service does not come equipped with headphones and instead the speakers are on full blast because noise is part of the culture. So, for 8 hours we watched these soap operas, trying to tune them out was impossible. Finally, when they ran out, a live soccer match came on, again at full blast but Ghanian commentators. By this time I had my fingers in my ears which helped a bit. Ghana is soccer (or football) crazy by the way. There are games on every field, even games being played on the beach in front of our hotel, with teams in their full uniforms and the surf as a backdrop...pretty cool atually.
We had a smooth, if noisy ride to Kumasi, the big city that really seems to divide north and south. When we stopped in Kumasi on the way up we were impressed with how busy it was, coming back, that busyness translated into gridlock traffic and of course all bus depots are in the centre of the city. We arrived at 1:25 and we finally got back on the road and moving at a reasonable clip at 3:45. Since there is only one main highway and it is single lane traffic through this, the second largest city in Ghana, I did not envy the driver at all. Even on the highway, we tend to average 50 km per hour because of big trucks, single lane traffic, and speed bumps at every small town the road passes through (and there are zillions of small towns) The delay in Kumasi, plus the need to pick our way through a very long stretch of road construction as we neared Accra, and further gridlock in Accra with yet more construction, meant that our bus trip was now over 15 hours. We had hoped to arrive at 8 pm, did not get here until 10:30. We knew the dining room closed at 11 and began to worry that we would go to bed hungry so phoned ahead to see if they would have dinner prepared for us. Bless their hearts, they had a wonderful meal for us, we checked in to our clean suites and all was well.
So, that is the last bus ride and although we have lots of airline travel in front of us, it will seem a luxury to know that the person next to me who is watching a movie can do so without my hearing it. I also know that there will be food, a washroom, and perhaps a glass of wine or two on my KLM flights, bliss indeed.
I will miss many things when I leave. Bolgatanga, for all of its challenges, is a place full of fond memories. I enjoyed the markets, watching the people conduct small businesses out of ramshackle kiosks. I will miss hearing the Muslim call to prayer in the quiet of the early mornings because I always seemed to wake up about that time. As Jan pointed out, one of the benefits of the air conditioning failing was how clearly we heard it without the whirr of the fans. Watching the goats meander through everyday life was also kind of peaceful, they were everywhere, nibbling on any grass and leaves they could reach. Cattle also wandered through our hotel grounds, although it was a bit of a shock to open my curtain one morning and see a bull looking right into my window!
Most of all I will miss the people; their warmth, their openness, and desire to talk and share stories was wonderful. I think in our heads-down, busy culture, we have lost that special link that can only be made through sharing stories with strangers. I especially loved how everyone would get to know you, ask questions, and then, this would translate into asking you for your cell phone number so they could put it into their cell phone. Ghanians must have a huge contact list built into their phones because it was always the final question of any conversation. I know I will be back because of Project GROW, and I will look forward to reconnecting with many people.
I will appreciate the predictable plumbing, smooth roads, good food (bring on a salad) and my comfortable life in Canada. Decent rest areas and public washroom facilities are something we take for granted, but on a bus, on a long journey in northern Ghana, such things don't exist and it was always necessary to strike a balance between enough water to avoid dehydration, but not so much that we would need a bathroom.
However, challenges aside, Ghana offered connections and simplicity on a grand scale...things slow down here and you soon give up your demand for punctuality and organization; it simply doesn't matter and in Bolgatanga it is just too darn hot to make an issue of such things. So, a fond farewell to a place that, for all of its challenges, taught us much about ourselves and about the world we share. And farewell to the very special friends we made along the way.
As the speakers in our presentations liked to say in closing...Long Live Ghana!
Thursday, June 2, 2011
After celebrating with Vida's family over a final dinner, we returned to the hotel and the power went out. This made the final packing rather exciting and I am still wondering if I have left anything important behind. Without air conditioning, the room was steaming hot, and of course, now that I know how much spiders prefer the warm temperatures, I couldn't help but wonder if there were any lurking nearby. We were planning to leave early this morning, 5:30, to catch another one of what I choose to call a 'yam' bus much like the one we took from Kumasi. Resigned to sweating all night, and again for a minimum of 2 and a half hours on a crowded bus, it was a wonderful surprise when Josbert and Cynthia pulled up with a man who was heading to Tamale in his very new, airconditioned security truck. For a fee of 30 cedi, we rode in style, had a chance to see the landscape up close and listen to local music on the radio. The driver was a bit fast, and a bit ruthless and one dead dog later we arrived in Tamale. (Jan, our dog lover, was asleep at the time, and I was glad she missed it as it was a pretty callous moment and she had a hard time watching the goats get vaccinated, the dog's demise would have been much worse!)
We arrived in Tamale at 8, and are currently in a pretty basic hotel, not nearly as comfortable as the Comme si Comme sa., but it is for 1 night, and then we are up early and at the bus again at 5:30. This will be a higher end bus, air conditioned so should be at least a little easier than the trip up. It will be long though, minimum 10 hours and I am learning that Ghanians like to tell you what you want to hear so if you ask how long the bus ride is, you will hear a positive response; they want you to be happy after all. It has taken me all this time to learn, don't ask:)
So, sadly, our Ghana experience is winding down. We'll be in Accra tomorrow night, spend Saturday getting ready for the flight home and then on the plane on Sunday evening. However, we do have Tamale to explore this afternoon. Apparently the food is much better here with more variety and the town is definitely attractive, lots of trees and quite green as more rain falls here than in Bolga. We will be going to visit the University of Developmental Studies and looking at some of their adult education programming as well as community development programs. Then dinner, bed, and a long journey tomorrow.
Off to explore the Tamale market too as once UDS is done, we are finished the obligatory visits. It is great to have all the speeches and presentations behind me and I will get to be a tourist for these last few days. I have led more discussions and made more presentations and speeches on this trip than I have in my entire life, so time to do a bit of travel and shopping...always a great way to come down from an intensive stretch of work.
Bye for now
As well, long before we got involved with Vida's village, the Salmon Arm First United Church has been busy supporting education in the villages. Through the support of the First United Church of Salmon Arm in Canada, we have also been able to provide numerous items; Furniture for the Nkunzesi Primary school, a water tank for the school, school supplies and the sponsorship of 64 girls and 4 boys with special needs. There are many initiatives in Ghana that are sponsored by churches from overseas; it is great to see Okanagan churches part of this involvement and having seen their impact first hand, this is a good opportunity to salute the contributions of both churches. Your generosity is making a big difference.
Local landscape. The day was ending here but the villagers showed no signs of slowing down!
Okay, yes, this does look slightly biblical!
This was a wonderful sight. They had the Canadian flag up, and as we walked into the village, there was something moving about seeing the maple leaf against the African landscape. I felt a certain pride that this project was associated with that flag, but as a country with our incredible wealth, we could do much more.
The dancers are presenting to us and are dancing to tin clackers, and a big lug nut around their thumb that is tapping the metal. I am astounded at the rythym of these people. I have seen children drumming on an empty cardboard box, and it sounds great. And when the drummers get going, it gets even better.
People are jammed in, watching the presentation...needless to say it got very very hot standing in the crowd.