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!

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