In honor of my 50th post on this blog, I recently sat down and wrote 50 random things I’ve learned from Ghana.
- Always greet.
- Unless you are going to the restroom or throwing something away
- Different greetings in Ewe literally translate to, “Did you wake up?” and “Are you alive?”
- Utensils are very optional, even when eating rice.
- And when eating with your hands only use your right.
- You drink, not eat oatmeal.
- Therefore, oatmeal is a substitute for tea. Seriously, don’t order both oatmeal and tea for breakfast.
- Everything can be carried on your head, including machetes and chainsaws.
- A man’s primary responsibility in a household is to produce children.
- Women mostly take care of everything else, including cooking, cleaning, paying school fees, etc.
- Health insurance cost about 7 bucks a year.
- I can get a fully tailored suit for 70 bucks.
- Ghanaians are crazy about their national football team, the Black Stars, and always remind me they beat the U.S. in the past two World Cups.
- Stone chippings are valuable, so people spend hours cracking stones.
- A simple construction project often takes decades to complete.
- Ghana has an abundance of cocoa, yet it is a chocolate wasteland.
- There are two main seasons in Ghana: rainy season and dry (hot) season.
- But my favorite season is “mango season”.
- Oranges are peeled with a knife.
- They are eaten by cutting the top off and squeezing the juice into your mouth.
- Spiders are your friend.
- Mosquitoes are your enemy.
- In fact, every illness is attributed to malaria.
- Insects are edible.
- The only critter you should be really scared of is a snake.
- Many people think washing your hands after eating is more important than before.
- You cook sitting down.
- It’s acceptable to throw your trash anywhere, especially the bush.
- The “bush” is any part of outside of town where nobody lives.
- It’s not rude to call someone “old man”, “white man”, “black man”, etc.
- AVA is a global phenomenon.
- I really miss washing machines.
- I can make small children cry on command just by being white.
- Prepaid phone plans are great!
- Electricity typically goes off everyday.
- A drinking bar is called a spot.
- A restaurant is called a chop bar.
- Obama has his own food line.
- And clothing line (Obama underwear. Sorry no photos).
- Due to inflation, the decimal point on the Ghana cedi was moved 4 places to the left a few years ago.
- Many people have yet to adjust, and as a result, 1 (new) cedi is still referred to 10,000 (old) cedis.
- Transportation costs have increased 50% since I’ve been in Ghana.
- A taxi isn’t full unless you have 4 people in the back and possible 2 in the passenger seat.
- Checkers is called draft.
- Underwear is called pants and pants are called trousers.
- The same can be said about coffee.
- Make sure you finish your run by 7am or the sun will beat you.
- There are plenty of people in senior high school that are older than me.
- Few people know the difference between Europe and America.
- Despite and because of all these, I love Ghana.
Like many people in rural Ghana, my landlord owns goats. They are kept in a pen and everyday they are let out to wander, play, or eat just about anything. Although not very entertaining for Ghanaians, the goats are a great source of entertainment for me and I know I’m not the only white person in Ghana who loves watching goats. It’s particularly exciting when the goats fight each other over food or just for fun. When goats fight they continuously butt heads until one gives up. My favorite though is when they play “king of the hill”. Image a goat fight on a mound of sand and more than two goats involved. One goat tries to defend the top of the “hill” while the others try to knock him off.
However, the goats do get annoying at times. Many people here cook outside and roaming goats can often be found with their head in an unattended coal pot. Furthermore, the baby goats are always crying for their mothers when they want milk. The goat pen is about fifteen feet outside of my bedroom window and I can hear the goats making weird noises at night.
After church yesterday I came home to see a sick goat lying down outside of my compound. A man who lives in my compound decided that the goat should be put out of its misery. Soon after, two other men from my community came. In about an hour they slit the goat’s throat, skinned it, and gutted it. That night I ate fufu with goat meat.
Goat being cut open.
Fufu with light soup and tilapia.
I want to serve up a little bit of Ghanaian cuisine and today I’ll start with arguably the most popular—fufu. I mentioned earlier that fufu essentially is an eating utensil that you eat. It’s used as a vehicle to get whatever you are eating with the fufu into your mouth.
Preparation: Fufu is made with cassava and either plantain in southern Ghana (where I am) or yam in northern Ghana. Cassava is a flavorless starchy root that is fairly abundant in parts of Africa. First, the cassava and plantain are boiled. Then they are pounded together using an oversized mortar and pestle. Typically, one person stands and pounds, while the other sits and mixes the fufu while the pestle is in the air. The result is a large sticky ball with a dough-like consistency.
My host mom and host sister pounding fufu.
Eating: Fufu is usually served with a light soup and some short of meat, such as fish, beef, goat, or grasscutter (deserves a blog post on its own). Fufu is made to eat with your hands. My method is to grab a chunk, mold the chunk so it’s spoon-shaped, and scoop-up some soup. Now the hard part. Once it’s in your mouth don’t chew, only swallow. Chewing will cause the fufu is expand, making any attempt to swallow futile. As always, practice makes perfect.
Final Thoughts: During my first week in Ghana I was scared of fufu and you most likely would be too. However, after eating it for the past few months it has gown to be one of my favorite foods.
Part of the “software” portion of the Ghana WASH project took me and a few of my colleagues to a Primary School (Elementary 1st – 6th grade) and a Junior High School (JHS). Ghana WASH built latrines for these two schools a few years ago. In exchange for the latrines, the schools have agreed to teach regular health lessons to the students and keep the latrines properly maintained. Our job was to evaluate how well these schools implementing the health lessons and maintaining the latrines.
Inspecting the latrines.
One of the schools we visited was Tsito E.P. Primary, a Presbyterian Elementary school. When we arrived with met with the SHEP (School Health Education Program) Coordinator. The SHEP Coordinator is one of the teachers at the school who is in charge of everything that includes health education – from health lessons to after school health clubs. SHEP is a program started by the Government of Ghana a few years ago, so every school is “supposed” to have a SHEP Coordinator.
After meeting with the SHEP Coordinator, we patrolled the campus. First, we looked at the latrines, which were very clean because the students clean them five days a week. Then during break we got to interview the students. We observed their general hygiene and also quizzed them to see if they have learned anything from the health lessons they have been receiving. Our criteria for having good hygiene is clean nails, a full head of hair (ring worm is rampant here; I’d say 1 out of every 10 kids has it on their head), a personal handkerchief, and a cup for drinking water.
Inspecting the children’s fingernails.
I’d say about half the children I evaluated passed the test. Since the children love to swarm around any person who is white, this also provided a good opportunity for some impromptu health lessons.
The rest of the month is looking like it’s going to be rather busy. I have a couple of workshops I need to attend, I’m teaching a computer course to the staff of my NGO, and the construction of latrines is about to get underway in four communities. At least I’ll have plenty to blog about.
The first couple of weeks living at my site, Abutia Teti, have been both exciting and challenging. So far the Peace Corps hasn’t been a two-year vacation. I’ve been very busy working with my Local NGO, which has been subcontracted by Relief International to implement the Ghana WASH (Water and Sanitation Hygiene) project. In short, Ghana WASH is split up into “hardware” and “software” portions (I knew this engineering thing would come in handy eventually).
The main goal of the hardware portion is to work in communities to end open-defecation by subsidizing the materials to build household latrines for anyone who wants one in the community. However, there is long and sometimes complicated process to this. First, we introduce the project to the chief and elders of the community. Next, we create a water and sanitation profile of the community. Then we “convince” the community that they need to defecation in latrines, not out in the open (this step deserves a whole blog post on its own). After people agree that they need to build latrines, they must produce some of the materials (such as sand, stones, etc.) themselves, while local artisans trained by us produce the rest (bricks, roofing sheets, etc). Finally after the latrines are built, we ensure that they are properly operated and maintained.
The main goal of software portion is to ensure that community water and sanitation facilities have continued use and function. We plan to accomplish this by working with the Water and Sanitation (WATSAN) committee in each community.
In the past few weeks I’ve worked in both in the hardware and software portions in about a dozen different communities. My Local NGO is in charge of over 30 communities and each community is in a different stage of the process—so we always have something going on. I’ve had a lot of practice speaking Ewe and people are often surprised that “the white man can hear Ewe”, however I still need a lot more time until I’m conversational. Here is a photo of my co-worker and I monitoring latrine materials for each household of the community.
The most challenging part of the Peace Corps isn’t the physical aspect of living in “harsh” conditions (although I have running water and electricity most of the time) or the mental aspect of learning a new language. The most challenging part is the psychological aspect. Living in a village where you are the only foreigner can get tiresome at times. There is definitely a fishbowl effect where it feels like everyone is always watching you and there is nowhere to hide. Luckily everyone in my community is extremely friendly and always willingly to help the Yevu (foreigner). For example, the other day someone I just met gave me 5 huge avocados (or pears as they are called here). Sometimes it seems as if everyone under the age of eighteen is scared of me or nervous to interact with me. However, I’ve already noticed people have started to get more comfortable being around me, especially when I try to speak Ewe.
So far I have no big complaints with my community or work and I feel blessed to have this opportunity. Here is a photo overlooking part of my community. I will get some better shots once I climb the steep hill that overlooks my community.
I’ve been in Ghana for 11 weeks and I still haven’t been able to call myself a Peace Corps Volunteer—until last Thursday when I officially swore in as a volunteer. Peace Corps Ghana threw a big ceremony for our homestay families and us. After the Ghanaian and United States national anthems, the 23 trainees swore in with an oath and were handed “graduation certificates”. The rest of the ceremony consisted of speeches, cultural dances, gifts for our host families, and lunch. After the ceremony we took pictures with our host families.
Me with my homestay mom and dad.
Me with my homestay mom, two brothers, and sister.
For the ceremony, each homestay family made matching shirts for the guys and dresses for the girls. So my dad and I wore identical shirts and my mom wore a dress made out of the same pattern. Unfortunately, the tailor finished my clothes halfway through the ceremony, so I had run outside for a wardrobe change during the Peace Corps Ghana Country Director’s speech. However, my shirt was worth the wait, because my mom picked out a bright red fabric with shiny golden streaks on it. The next time I wear it will be for Chinese New Year.
It’s a huge relief to be done with training, as it was starting to drag on and get really repetitive. Now, the rest of my service will be drastically different from what I’m used to. Instead of having every hour of the day planned out for you, it will be up to me to find ways to fill my time. Furthermore, it’s going to be difficult to be apart from the other 22 volunteers. After spending every day for the past 11 weeks with each other, we have all grown to be pretty close. In order for us to integrate faster, the Peace Corps requires us to spend the next 3 months at our site with little to no travel. So there is a good chance I won’t see the other 22 volunteers until we have a week of training in 3 months. However, I am excited to finally start living at my village!
While in the Upper East Region, we visited a crocodile sanctuary. Part of my job description for Peace Corps is to tame crocodiles, and as you can see from the photo, I was able to round one up pretty easily with my bare hands. Actually that’s not true, Ghanaians just have a good relationship with crocodiles. The people who worked at the sanctuary summoned the crocodile out of the pond and we all took turns sitting on the crocodile. Before any of us touched one, the workers told us that no one has ever been attacked by a crocodile at the sanctuary. Here is proof that crocodile is real.
After everyone has his or her turn with the crocodile, it was fed a live chicken and quickly returned to the water.
The other day we traveled to a Peace Corps Volunteer’s village outside of Tamale to build latrines and soak-away pits. I was on a team that built two soak-away pits, so I will talk a little about those. Most small villages in Ghana don’t have gutter systems like in the U.S., so it’s very common to see all of the dirty water from a household flow straight into pedestrian paths. This creates a breeding ground for mosquitos carrying malaria. The solution is to dig a 3-4 foot deep hole and fill it porous stones to collect the water.
We started digging around 9 am and with the help of some people from the village, we finished two soak-away pits by 2 pm.