This is a guest post from my parents, Alan and Linda, who visited me in Ghana this summer. It was interesting for me to get a different perspective of Ghana after living here for a year and a half.
I have a lot of memories of my trip to Ghana this summer. And we were lucky to see what Ryan has been experiencing since arriving here. One of the most interesting things for me to see was the way the people can carry most anything on top of their heads. On the streets, in the city and the villages, people are everywhere selling their goods off the top of their heads. They can balance heavy items, flat, square or even lopsided things. They can even run or bend down with whatever is on top of their heads. These women are selling items to people passing in cars. It’s the ultimate drive thru.
These women are at a market and they didn’t appreciate us taking pictures. But you can see the ability to balance so much on their heads is amazing. And their posture is perfect.
On the first night we were in Ryan’s village, we needed to purchase a case of soda. The soda was part of our gift we gave to the clan leaders of Ryan’s village at a formal greeting the following morning at 6:00 am. That’s another blog post. This case of 24 soda bottles in a plastic crate was no problem for Ryan’s cook, Beatrice, to put on top of her head and carry through the village, on an uneven road, parts up hill, and almost 9 months pregnant!
And there are a lot of babies in Ghana and no strollers. So in addition to carrying all things on their heads, the women also carry their babies on their backs.
Not just the women carry things on their heads either. We came across this man, with machete in hand, carrying a huge piece of wood. I know it looks photoshopped, but it’s not.
It was interesting to see how Ryan has adapted to the way of life in Ghana. But the time we were with him, he never attempted to carry anything on his head.
Last Friday there was an interschool culture competition for Primary and Junior High students in a nearby community, Abutia Kloe. Students from my community participated and I got to see some of it despite having some other fieldwork I had to do. While I was there I saw choir singing, drumming and skits performed by the students. Unfortunately, I missed most of the bobobo dancing, which was the main attraction, because it is the most popular type of Ewe dance/music.
Students singing choir songs.
Easter is a big deal in Ghana, especially in the Volta Region. It’s probably a bigger deal here in Ghana than in the U.S. For instance, the day after Easter is a Government holiday in Ghana, but not in America. Ghanaians also celebrate Easter differently than Americans. There aren’t Easter Bunnies, colorful eggs, and toffee (all candy is called toffee) in Ghana. However, Ghanaians do have unique ways to celebrate Easter.
On Saturday, the day before Easter, an annual custom in my traditional area of Abutia took place. People from Abutia dress in red and bring out their drums and hunting rifles to parade dance around the community. During the parade they play war songs, dance war dances, and fire their rifles in the air. The whole event is led by the war chief of Abutia who lives in Norway, but came back to Ghana for the festivities.
Some D&D (drumming and dancing).
On Sunday I went to church in my community. However, instead of a normal two and half to three hour service, we received a five-hour service, partly because more than 50 people were baptized. After church it proceeded to rain for the rest of the night, which was nice because the weather was cool. We also had our regularly scheduled “light off” from 6am to 6pm. Every three days the Government has been turning off our power during those times to save electricity.
Me and the pastor.
In Ghana summer, fall, winter, and spring don’t exist. The only two seasons are the “rainy season” and “dry season”. You can also think of the two seasons as REALLY hot and hot. We have been in the rainy season here for the last couple of months.
You can imagine how loud these things are.
During the rainy season there is an abundance of critters. The other morning some of the children in my village were digging small holes in the ground with machetes. After some investigation I discovered that they were hunting for crickets. Back in America some children like to play with insects. However, these children weren’t just having a good time, they were hunting for their lunch. Later that day the children came to my house with about a dozen huge crickets in a bag.
I wasn’t ready to try grilled cricket, especially one prepared by a child.
I once had a conversation with a Ghanaian (pronounced gone-ay-an if you didn’t know) friend that went something like this:
Ghanaian: All Americans are very Christian people.
Me: That’s not true. People practice many different religions in America. There are even many people called atheists who don’t believe in God.
Ghanaian: But, you have “In God We Trust” written on your money”. That is why your country is so blessed.
Ghana doesn’t have any mention of God or religion on its currency, yet ironically as a whole Ghana is a lot more religious than America. Most of the country is Christian or Muslim with some Traditionalists sprinkled in. I could be way off, but in my neck of the woods it seems like 9 out of every 10 people is Christian and the other person lives in a Zongo or Muslim community in one of the larger towns.
However, you don’t have to inscribe “In God We Trust” on your currency to be religious. You could name your hair salon “God’s Time” (just about every shop has a religious name like this). You could have 14 different churches in your community of 4,000 people. Or you could have your public schools hold worship every Wednesday morning when school starts. For about an hour every Wednesday morning the school comes together to sing Christian worship songs. If you are a student you could choose not to sing, but the teachers would cane you until you start singing.
Students singing praises.
One Wednesday I attended the worship session at one of the public schools in my community. All of the students, Kindergarten through Junior High, and teachers met under a mango tree on the school’s campus to sing and dance. After the worship, one of the teachers asked me to talk to do an impromptu health lesson. So I gave a short talk on the importance of handwashing. Then I taught them a handwashing song I learned from one of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers during Peace Corps training.
Some of my previous blog posts seem to suggest that I’ve been on vacation for the past eight months. Contrary to popular belief, I’ve actually been working. Sometimes it’s just more exciting to write about the “fun” things that I’ve been experiencing. However, this post will be just business.
A latrine artisan I’ve been working with in a neighboring community informed me that the kindergarten, primary, and junior high schools in the community don’t have toilet facilities. The students were defecating in the outskirts of the school, because they had no other place to go. Aside from the negative health implications, it also causes the students to be late for class and puts them at risk of snakebites. He pleaded with me to try to do something about it, so I applied for a small grant to build latrines for the school.
I was just informed today that the small grant I submitted over a month ago was approved! Now the actual work will begin when I have to monitor the construction of the school latrines and form health clubs in the school.
Other Projects In the Works
- I am currently writing a small grant to get shutters and doors for a school in my community. Having classrooms without doors and shutters causes many problems. You can read about the problem here, as it was featured in the news. My community seems really gung-ho about it, so I’m excited for the project.
No doors and shutters leaves the classroom open to the elements and potential thieves.
- I’m looking into getting boreholes for some nearby communities. My community received piped water right before I arrived, but some of the neighboring communities don’t have the same luxury
- I agreed to teach ICT once a week at a junior high school in my community. Teaching is really challenging for me here. I have to speak very slow and clear for the students to have a chance of understanding my English. Also, students aren’t taught how to think critically at school; they “learn” through rote memorization. I’m a firm a believer that you aren’t learning unless you are thinking. Needless to say, I’m up for a challenge.
On top of all this I’ll be supporting my Local NGO, EDSAM, with all of their Ghana WASH activities and household latrine construction in the Volta Region. We are trying to finish building 200 latrines before we start building another phase of construction. I think I’ll be very busy in the foreseeable future.
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.