Monthly Archives: July 2012


Last week I was in a nearby community helping my local NGO collect population data. We were going house-to-house and recording how many people lived in each house. Although the work was tedious and consisted of a LOT of walking, it gave me a chance to practice my Ewe with people I met along the way. Additionally, it was interesting to see the layout of the community and everyone’s house. One lady we went to was growing sugarcane outside of her house. When I told her I like sugarcane she promptly picked up a machete and started hacking away at one of the bushes. Then she offered me the stalk sugarcane she came out with. Sometimes it pays to be a yevu.

Sugarcane growing outside someone’s house.

Sugarcane stalk.



Damanko Trip Part II

The next day we left Nkwanta at 7:00 am to finish the last leg of the journey to Damanko. This last 50 km takes us two and half hours, because the road isn’t paved. Fortunately I was starting to feel better at this point so the bumpy road didn’t affect me too much.

The reason we came to Damanko was to train Ghana WASH latrine beneficiaries and community volunteers on the importance and use of household latrines. Recently, a Peace Corps volunteer who lives in Damanko had about 100 latrines built there. However, many of these people haven’t had a toilet to use their whole lives so they don’t understand why they should use one. If you are given something and don’t understand the importance of using it, there is a good chance you won’t use it. This isn’t Field of Dreams, just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come.

The first two days in Damanko, we held workshops for the latrine recipients. We asked them where people defecate in the community. The typical responses were “in the bush”, “in the refuse dump”, “in the gutter”, or “behind the house”. From here it was easy to make the connection between feces being everywhere in the community and the types of diseases that will result from it. We also taught the basics of how to use a latrine, such as never put chemicals into the latrine pit, but always put anal cleansing materials into the latrine pit. Before coming to Ghana I didn’t know of some of these principles. The final two days consisted of similar training except to community health volunteers.

The biggest challenge wasn’t the material being taught, but the language barrier. Not only was there a language barrier between me and the people from Damanko, but also between my Ghanaian NGO colleagues and the people from Damanko. The majority of people living in Damanko are from the Konkonba tribe that speaks Konkonba and my colleagues are from the Ewe tribe that speaks Ewe. So, most of the lessons were done in Twi (a more common Ghanaian language) and English with a Konkonba translator. You know there are a lot of languages in Ghana when there is a language barrier between the natives. My lessons on latrine maintenance and hand washing were done in “yevu English” and occasionally translated to Ghanaian English (more on that in another blog post).

My work counterpart training household latrine recipients with a translator.

After the four days of lessons we attended part of a Konkonba funeral, were people were dancing around large drums. The dancers held props, such as shovels, tree branches, and machetes. I’m told the Konkonbas have a tendency to fight, so holding props while dancing makes them feel powerful.

People dancing at the funeral.

Drums in the center of the dancing circle.


Damanko Trip Part I

Last week I travelled to Damanko with EDSAM to educate Ghana WASH latrine recipients and community volunteers on the importance of latrines and how to use and maintain them. Damanko is 290 km from my village in the northern part of the Volta region. However, since I’m in Ghana getting there isn’t as simple as spending two and a half hours on a freeway.

7:30 am – I arrive at my work counterpart’s house. The EDSAM car is supposed to pick us up at 8 am. The week before I ate some bad food on the roadside that gave me terrible diarrhea for a couple days. Yesterday I thought I had recovered, but I am having a relapse this morning.

9:30 am – I use the toilet in my counterpart’s house and as I finish the car arrives to pick us up. As we leave I pop some anti-diarrhea pills so I don’t have to stop the car to use the bush as my toilet every 30 minutes along the way.

The EDSAM Car. The back seats are aligned parallel with the car so when sitting on them you view out of the side window. Still better than riding on a trotro though.

11:30 am – We arrive in Hohoe and stop to eat lunch. My travel book calls Hohoe “A sleepy town nestled in the Volta Region”, but last month in the town there was a deadly clash between the Muslim and Ewe communities. In fact, the Peace Corps banned all volunteers from entering Hohoe for a week. Here is an article describing what happened. We head to Del’s Restaurant for lunch and they have burgers and pizza on menu! However, the anti-diarrhea medicine is making me feel really nauseous (although it is working), so I opt for chicken with plain rice.

12:30 pm – We leave Hohoe and after ten minutes of driving our driver notices that something is wrong with the car’s brakes. Fortunately, we just passed a mechanic so we turn around to have him look at it. The mechanic is located in a dirty lot filled with broken down trotros. There are a lot of guys working on the trotros, but they quickly find time to help us. At this point I feel like I’m going to puke, as my “system” must be clogged up from the anti-diarrhea pills. Somehow I’m able to sleep for two hours in the car as about six mechanics work on the back brakes. You would think they were performing open-heart surgery the way they all huddled around each brake.

There are at least six more people behind the camera.

5:30 pm – After five hours the car is repaired and we take off. I’m amazed the mechanic only charges us GH¢10.00 (about $6) for five hours of work. In my experience many people in Ghana don’t know how to properly price their services. I feel better after sleeping and I enjoy the next hour and a half of the ride, because the road is smooth.

7:00 pm – The paved road ends. It just rained so the dirt road is a mess. I feel nauseous again, probably because I’m getting thrown around like a rag-doll in the back of the car. I think to myself, “people actually pay to go off-roading in America?”

9:30 pm – We reach Nkwanta and still have 50 km on a dirt road to Damanko. We decide to overnight at the first accommodation we find, the Gateway Hotel, and finish the rest of the journey in the morning. Luckily, the Gateway Hotel is the nicest hotel I’ve been to in Ghana. They even have a shower with hot water. This must be my reward for enduring such a long day.

Promotional Hygiene Campaign

Last week I helped my Local NGO, EDSAM, conduct promotional hygiene campaigns in three of the four communities we are currently constructing latrines in. On Wednesday we combined my community, Abutia Teti, with another nearby community, Abutia Agorve. On Friday we went to Tsyome Afedo, a community farther into the bush where you can to take a torn-up dirt road to get to. The goal of the campaigns was to get the community aware and hopefully excited about health, sanitation, and personal hygiene. We wanted to involve the youth in community to educate them about proper hygiene. Specifically, we educated them about washing their hands, and using and maintaining a household latrine.

To do this we brought in a brass band and gathered the school children (first grade through junior high) and the band at one end of the community. Then the students marched with the band to the other end of the community. Naturally, random community members joined the march. Many Ghanaians like to break out into dance at the sound music, let alone a brass brand. After the march, everyone gathered under the community-meeting place. In my community it is under two huge trees. Here, municipal environmental health officers spoke to the community. After the talk, the students were served meat pies and refreshments.

For the most part the promotional hygiene campaigns were successful. The community and the students were excited about the march. However, the largest school in my community opted out from joining. The headmaster requested that the Municipal Government send him an official letter before he involved his students. However, the other school’s headmasters did not request a letter, so I have a hard time believe that such a letter was necessary. Unfortunately, there was not nearly enough time for this to happen, so the school did not participate. This annoyed me because we recently built a large latrine for the school. Most of all, I felt bad for the students who had to watch the march from their classroom. The next day I had to answer to some of the students who asked me why they weren’t involved in the march.

Here are some photos from the first campaign:

Brass band marching.

Front of the marching line.

Middle of the marching line.

Health talk at community meeting place.





Tea bread, or maybe it’s sugar bread.

Yevubolo literally translates to white man (yevu) bread (bolo) in Ewe and ironically it is just about the only type of bread you can find here. I have yet to see whole grain, whole wheat, or rye. The yevubolo comes in many different shapes, sizes, and variations. Typically at the market a small loaf costs GH¢1.00 and a large loafs costs GH¢2.00. Some of the different various are sugar bread, salt bread, and tea bread. However, they all look and taste the same to me. I like to think the yevubolo is a step up from Wonder Bread, because it is baked fresh without many preservatives (as with most of the food here). The Yevubolo is usually eaten at breakfast with tea (hence tea bread) or oats.

The main reason I wanted to write about yevubolo is because oddly it is part of the culture here. Whenever someone from my community sees me leaving the village they tell me to buy yevubolo for them. For example, it’s about a five minute walk from my house to the only paved road that runs through my village and during this walk I will always get at least a few people to tell me to buy yevubolo for them. This isn’t just my community hazing the new white guy either, anytime anyone leaves town someone will ask him/her to buy yevubolo. It’s almost a way of telling someone to have a safe trip.

Do I ever buy yevubolo for someone? For the most part, no. I don’t want to set a bad precedent that my measly living allowance can’t support. However, it is considered a nice gesture bring back yevubolo for someone when you return from a trip. For instance, when I first arrived in my community I brought some yevubolo for my landlord.