Friday, 2 April 2010

Day Light Saving and Slimy Fish Stew

Sun 28th March 2010

My alarm goes off and I get straight up, that £30 at least resulted in a good night’s sleep! I said I would be at George and Joyce’s house for 7.45 so I leave at 7.30 and take a leisurely stroll up the road. It’s a lovely lazy Sunday morning; women are brushing their children’s hair by the side of the road and they are dressing in their Sunday best for church. I arrive at the house and I am surprised that no one is around, perhaps they have overslept, I call out Grace’s name quite quietly just in case I wake anyone not going to church! Joyce comes to the door just as I look at my watch and see that I am an hour early. The clocks in the UK went forward last night and my UK phone is also my alarm clock so when it went off this morning at 6.30am it was in actual fact 5.30am Ghana time. I laugh and try to explain this to Joyce, apologise profusely and tell her I will come back in an hour. At least I get to do that walk again.

Back at the hotel I ask if I can have some coffee and I sit down to do some work. My coffee is taking ages so I remind the waitress and am told that it is just coming. I wait for a bit longer and a bit longer and just as I am thinking I will have to leave it as it’s now time to go back to the house, a waitress arrives with a tray of coffee, toast, eggs and fruit! Obviously when I asked for coffee she thought I wanted an entire breakfast. It looks lovely and I don’t want to cause offense so I eat it as quickly as I can without appearing gluttonous and head off to the house, now I’m going to be late! Luckily everyone else in the house is running late, we have more coffee and laugh about the fact that I was an hour early and then 10 minutes late. Jason left early this morning to arrange for the second container and crane to come up from Accra, it’s getting very exciting and I wish I could stick around to see the whole thing come together but Jason has promised to take plenty of photos! Grace, Joyce, George and I talk about where we go from here with the project. I will write a report and have a think about how we can apply a little more strategy to the project, I am sure there will be scope for us to partner some way in the future. I will see Grace when she is in Accra next Tuesday, we agree to have dinner at the posh Sushi place that I have been desperate to try. I have to get to Ho today and Sammy is coming for me at 10am so I say my goodbyes and head off.

Sammy is early so we hit the road and head to Ho. Next stop, Madventurers projects in and around the villages of the Volta region. My good friend and Madventurer Founder, John Lawler has arranged for me to stay at their volunteer house just outside of town. Gideon, Madventurer Ghana Manager, comes to meet Sammy and I in his car and we follow him to the house. When I get there I am introduced to two other members of the MAD team, Courage (who is Gideon’s right hand man) and George (who mainly just helps out when not at Uni in Accra). Gideon tells me there are 3 volunteers here at the moment but 2 of them are out. I introduce myself to the one volunteer in the house and find out that she just arrived and her name is Fuzzy , she is here for 6 weeks, her friend is also volunteering but went to church this morning as it’s Palm Sunday .

Gideon says we will have lunch before Sammy has to head back to Accra. I’m so relived because I am really hungry. Lunch is Banku (fermented corn/cassava dough) with Okra and Fish stew, I hate to say it but for the first time, I really can’t eat it. I try and eat some but there are so many fish heads and scales and tails and it’s so slimy that despite my ravenous hunger I really can’t eat much at all. Because of the fermentation process the banku just tastes like off milk and it’s not really going down very well. I just wash it down with a bag of pure water and try not to let on to the guys that I am not a fan!

We finish eating, I use the internet, update my blog and Gideon, George and I head to Shia village to see the very first Madventurer (MAD) project and meet the man who worked with John back in 1998 when he first lived in Ghana. John is a Chief of this village due to all the work that he and MAD have achieved there. I look at various different school buildings that have been put up by MAD and I am told what the plans are for the summer volunteer group. COCO has worked with MAD in the past mainly on projects in Tanzania and I hope we can do something similar in Ghana. MAD’s speciality is getting buildings up and functioning and we’d like to work alongside on the long term development objectives. This visit gives me a good idea of what they have achieved so far and how they operate in country.

There’s a football match going on in the village, the away team are from across the border in Togo which is very close by, in fact we can see the border from one of the schools. The football match has attracted lots of villagers on this lazy Sunday and there’s a real feel of community in the village. After a thorough examination of all the buildings and getting the low down on development plans for the summer, we head back to Ho.

Gideon tells me he will take me out for dinner as I didn’t like the fish stew (obviously I didn’t hide it very well) but I am so relieved! We get back to the house and all 3 volunteers are there, we have a quick chat and I get a quick much needed bucket shower, there’s no running water at the house at the moment. Gideon, George, Courage and I venture out to town and I order chicken and rice (nice and safe after the adventurous lunch). Gideon quizzes me about COCO and we chat about just about everything!

Back to the house, I talk to the girls about volunteering; I tell them all about COCO and then turn in. I wake up in the middle of the night because there is a huge storm and the rain is spitting at me through the open window! It’s really refreshing in the heat of the night so I don’t bother to close it and just throw the sheet over my head and go back to sleep.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Bikes, Bissap and Big Birds that Bite

Sat 27th March 2010

I had a much needed lie in this morning, and I am now on my 4th coffee chatting to Rupert and his “lodger” Mickey. I am not expected in Dodowa at the bike project until this afternoon so Sammy comes to pick me up at midday. Mickey has led an interesting life, originally from London, he has lived in Ghana for years and in Thailand before then, he is quite a character, unfortunately he smokes like a chimney and at 60 pesewas (28p) a packet, I think he’s unlikely to ever stop. We’ve been out here for an hour and I am sure he’s had about 10 fags! Before I keel over from passive smoking, I polish off my coffee and Sammy and I head for Dodowa.

I am going to Dodowa in the East on my way to Ho, the main reason for this visit is that ex COCO intern Faye, has put me in touch with an organisation called Ezetela. It is a memorial foundation set up in memory of a man who was dedicated to improving education opportunities for children in Ghana. At the moment, 2 volunteers, Grace and Jason are setting up a bicycle workshop in conjunction with an organisation called ReCycle, which has just sent a second shipment of ex Royal Mail bikes over to Ghana. The bikes are perfect for the area as they are hard wearing, they can carry heavy loads and they come equipped with a plastic basket on the front which is great for carrying anything from yams to chickens to children. The bikes are sold to local people and the money raised pays for impoverished families to send their children to school. The reason for the workshop is to train up a mechanic who can fix the Royal Mail bikes as they have a specific mechanism inside them that local mechanics would not be able to fix. The profits from the workshop will also be used for charitable purposes linked to education. It sounds very innovative and better still, sustainable and I am hoping we can learn something from each other about income generation activities.
Getting out of Accra is a real mission but once we make it past the University, the roads are relatively hazard free. Sammy puts his foot down and sticks on one of Rupert’s CD’s we have a bit of a sing-a-long and in no time we reach the bridge over Lake Volta and it’s not far from there.

Sammy and I arrive in Dodowa and I call Grace to find out where I should meet her, she says to stay put and she will come to us. She says “I’ll be the abroni (white person) on a bike”. I like the sound of her already with her Durham accent! Sure enough a few minutes later a petite blonde on a bike appears, I get out of the car say hello and we follow her to the hotel. Sammy has to get back to Accra so I check in and he heads off. The hotel is very nice, the only place to stay in Dodowa apparently, 64 cedis, wow that’s almost £30! Good job Rupert’s place is free to even it out!

I throw my bag in my room and meet Jason and Grace for a fanta fruit punch (not recommended tastes a bit like fairy liquid) in the outdoor gardens. Jason is clearly very passionate about this project and he is itching to show me the workshop and tell me all about the project. He fills me in on the background of the project and suggests that we take a walk to the workshop to explain their current status. The workshop is a 5 minute walk from the hotel, up the main road. We pass numerous market stalls selling everything from pure water (filtered water sold in plastic bags) to boiled eggs and dried fish.

We leave the main road down a dirt track to a clearing where there are a couple of houses, lots of washing hanging on the line and several children playing outside a couple of whom are riding bicycles. This is George and Joyce’s house, they are relatives of the late Ezekiel Lartey (after whom the foundation is named) their home is the location for the bike workshop and the 1st container that arrived sometime ago. Unfortunately George had to go to a funeral this morning so he is not around but I have promised to stay for a couple of hours in the morning to catch up with him before church.

Jason shows me the clearing where the 2nd container will go, the cement foundations, and the bike workshop which is very organised and well kept. We chat about the project and then realise that we are all really hungry, not wanting to impose on Joyce, we venture back to the hotel to eat, non of us have had lunch and it is almost 4pm, Grace’s Mum is visiting so the 4 of us sit in the hotel garden and try to order a very late lunch although most of the popular Ghanaian dishes are not available. I fancy Red Red, (a dish made with ripened plantains and black eyed beans) but there is non, so Grace suggests palava sauce (made with greens mainly spinach and meat), none of that either, eventually I discover they do have Gari (some kind of corned beef and tomato creation made with fresh cassava) and I decide to give that a go! We all order and discuss the project while we wait.

There are peacocks in this garden and they take an unwelcome interest to us when our food arrives. I was chased by a peacock on holiday in Devon when I was very young and as a result I am very frightened of them (in fact I’m not really a fan of any big bird that might bite you, so that includes swans, geese and anything else that has a beak and a ferocious streak). I manage to polish off my Gari without getting attacked by any of the peacocks.

Back to George and Joyce’s, good news George is back already, he seems keen to meet and talk to me about ideas for how Ezestela can progress. We all sit outside (it is very hot inside their house under that corrugated iron roof) we talk about the project, the problems in Dodowa with teenage pregnancies, a lack of understanding about the importance of education, the levels of poverty leading to hunger, the list goes on.

Once the mozzies become too much, we venture inside to the oven that is the living room, Joyce has made the most amazing Bissap (a really refreshing sweet drink made from red hibiscus) and cinnamon pancakes – must remember next time I am making pancakes to put cinnamon in the batter before I cook them! I am still full from the Gari but it’s rude to refuse so I have a little bit of the best pancake I ever ate!

The heat becomes unbearable and we are all tired, even the kids have fallen asleep on the floor, it’s 9pm so Grace and Jason walk me back to the hotel, I set my alarm for 6.30am and I am out for the count in seconds!

Lonely Planet to the Rescue

Fri 26th March 2010

Last night I got back to the hotel to find that I was the only guest there! Not wishing to eat dinner with all the staff staring at me, I choose to go back to my room, take a shower and venture into town by taxi to try out one of the restaurants there. Unfortunately when I get to my room I find the shower is broken so they move me, to a room where the shower head fell off whilst I was using it. Not having much luck with the plumbing, I decide to give in, throw a bucket of water over my head and head out! I have to leave early in the morning and have not really experienced Tamale, cue The Lonely Planet which recommends a place for good goat curry it’s called “Swad’s Fast Food” but according to the travellers bible I should not let that put me off, so that’s where I head! I meet some locals and volunteers and we talk all things developmental over a rather spicy but very tasty goat accompanied by chapattis and naan bread! The evening is really pleasant and definitely worth the 8 cedis (£3.80) return taxi ride to stop me going crazy in the tee total ghost town hotel!

Back at the hotel, I am shown to my 3rd room of the evening, the shower in this one works apparently, but I am so tired I don’t really mind! The receptionist gives me a very uncomfortable and inappropriate hug complete with an attempt to nuzzle his nose into my neck which I obviously pretend didn’t happen whilst pushing him in the direction of the door. I am not letting anything ruin my otherwise lovely evening!

I am up at 6am for my flight back to Accra, still full of goat I skip breakfast and meet Karimu who drives me to the airport, we say our goodbyes and I join the very long queue for check in! I meet a really lovely lady from Johannesburg in the queue, ( I remember how much I love and miss the accent) we both work in development so have a good chat, swap contacts and she gives me some names of NGO’s and useful contacts in South Africa and Uganda. She calls her work “due diligence” which I think sounds a lot important than project assessment!

I land and Rupert sends a message to say Sammy is running late, of course I don’t mind, Rupert has been extremely generous and I am happy to wait. I have a long debate with a Ghanaian airport employee who is trying to get money out of me and I argue that he doesn’t need it because he has a job, is wearing ray bans and Levi jeans! We have a bit of a giggle and he tells me he’d like to marry me to and I inform him I am absolutely definitely not interested. Surprisingly enough this is not enough to get rid of him so I put up with it for another 20 minutes and then feel relieved that Sammy arrives! It’s 10.15 and I have lots to do so we pop to Rupert’s to drop my things off and we head out, I have been without internet for too long so I ask Sammy to drop me at an internet cafe and tell him he can leave me there for most of the day. He leaves me at a place called busy internet, I meet some volunteers who tell me there is a faster broadband connection in Osu so I finish what I am doing and head to the there. The volunteers were right; I get lots done with a much faster internet. Not much to report today, a bit of an admin day. I prep for departure to the East tomorrow and persuade Rupert to let me take him out for a drink, we meet with some of his work colleagues and have a really fun night. I could get used to this!