Saturday, March 10, 2007

Okay… well then!
So it seems as though its been awhile since the last blog update, and surprisingly a LOT has happened! Christmas came and went, with mark coming and going, new years, this and that, here and there, and now its MARCH! Yikes!
So I actually attempted to contract out the blog writing, but unfortunately my special guest writer and contractor has been a little delayed, so I’m going to write in my two cents here concerning what’s happening now, but fear not, there WILL be a full update coming concerning the Christmas and new years festivities!
So the biggest news around town here is that its ghana’s BIRTHDAY!! And how old is Ghana??! FIFTY years old (as of March 6th) !!
Ghana was actually the FIRST country in sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence, so it was a big day for Ghana and the world! The whole country has been celebrating for the last few weeks now, so its been a pretty good place to be. The whole country began “rallying around the flag” a few weeks ago, and it actually started to remind me of HOCKEY playoffs…. The flags on the cars, everyone dressed in the colours, wrapping themselves in the flags, painting their bodies… it was quite a sight to see!

So as for the festivities in Koforidua, they began the night before the big day. The events took place in Jackson Park (the cement square in the middle of town) with kids doing events like… umm.. how do you describe it… I feel we used to do it on May Day back home, where there’s a pole and kids are all holding pieces of rope attached to the pole and they’re all skipping around the pole and weaving in and out of each other so that the strings make a neat design on the pole? Wow… that probably wasn’t worth the effort describing! Anyways, they did some of that, and a couple other presentations… The first picture I attached you can see a dance some of the school girls were doing with the finished pole in the middle!

Then for the COOLEST part. The minister of the region slaughtered 2 COWS!!! And then they cooked it up and a couple hours later everyone was enjoying their own slice! I LOVED it! they had kebab style and cow cooked in soup. Fortunately I was with the kids in the house, so they made sure that we were sampling both varieties!

After this came definitely the highlight of the festivities for me… the fireworks that were set for midnight but ACTUALLY came around 10:30pm (WHAT the?? An hour and a half EARLY?!.... Ghana works on a very similar time awareness as I do, which is why its so surprising!).

It was the first time MANY people in Koforidua had seen fireworks, and everyone was just going CRAZY!! People running and shouting on the streets, "That's MY country" "They're so beautiful" "Look at what Ghana can do!" "Kufuor is good to us". The kids at my house were screaming their lungs off after every firework and as Boatemaa the 14 year old at my house put it “they’re the most beautiful things I have ever seen!” it was pretty awesome. My auntie came out of her room too because they were so loud (she's 76) and after some time she started to tell me about what it was like during the colonial days and the fight towards independence. Apparently, every year they would celebrate "empire day" sometime in May, where all the school children would march into Jackson park and salute all the british officers. They would then have to sing Rule Britania (which of course contains the words "Britain never never never shall be slaves..". Which is very significant considering MANY of the slaves in the slave trade came from West Africa, and Ghana had one of the biggest ports in which they would ship them out) and God Save the King. Auntie still remembers the words and tunes to both, much better than I do!

Ghana has actually kept some of the traditions from that day, since on Independence Day every year all the school kids have a marching competition, and the school that wins gets food and drinks at the minister's residence. The second picture posted is at the marching event, but unfortunately there were SO many people that we couldn’t see or hear anything. I really didn’t get any good pictures at all, but with this one you can see quite a few flags and Ghana colours around (green, yellow, red and black).

Now the big discussion AFTER the event is that Kufuor, the president of Ghana, was wearing a SUIT while giving his address on March 6th. A SUIT!!! Where are you, CANADA?!! People were LIVID!! My workmate mark stormed into the office on Thursday and said he couldn’t believe kufuor had done that, and said he would NOT vote for kufuor again if he was able to run (Kufuor is working on his second term, so he won’t be able to run in the next elections!)!! Its particularly insulting since ALL of Ghana was TOTALLY decked out in the colours and in traditional wear… which when it comes to traditional wear he has a LOT of BEAUTIFUL outfits to pick from. He didn’t even put on a Ghana TIE for heavens sake!! His defense in the paper the next day made everyone just a little bit angrier… he said “although he appreciated the country’s traditions and culture, it was equally important to recognise the dynamics of cultural change and identify oneself with the rapidly advancing world”. Okay fine, but its ghana’s birthday from INDEPENDENCE from this advancing world he speaks of!!! Please take note that this rage mostly stems from my work colleagues… I LOVE how passionate they are about it, its wonderful!

Alright, so there’s just a little snippit from the last week for you. Things are going super, and I’ll hopefully be writing again soon! Only three months left, YIKES!!


PS. tried three times to post picture,s and it doesn't seem to be working for me today, so i'll try again soon!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Hello everyone to another blog update!! Its been awhile, so I thought I should definitely write something before the old Christmas holidays kick in! speaking of… three more days of work left for me and then mark comes, and its vacation time for THREE weeks!! Oh baby, that will be good times!
We’re not entirely sure of our plans yet, but we’ll be sure to keep you updated! The only plans we have is to be in Kete Krachi for Christmas, and then back to Koforidua on January 6th because my work mate Mavis is getting married!
So YES, to continue with talking about themes in my emails… I’m going to attempt to touch the surface on religion here in Ghana. I thought it was suitable being Christmas and all! since its such a big topic though, one which I’d LOVE to get into with anybody when I get back, I’m thinking I’ll just talk about my experiences with religion since being here.
So people in Ghana (and a lot of Africa I’m told!) are INCREDIBLY spiritual. Very, VERY spiritual. Yes. Although I was anticipating it, it still took me a bit by surprise at points when I first arrived. The belief in God and attending church is just a given here… everyone goes! A big question you get a lot here is “which church do you attend?”… which of course is quite different from the Canadian version of “do you attend church?”. The family I am staying with attends the big Methodist church that is just a couple minutes walk from the house, so that’s the church that I’ve attended most here. So when someone asks, I just say that the family I stay with attends the Methodist church, and I usually go with them. If that answer doesn’t satisfy them and they ask me which church I attend in Canada, then I differ my answer based on who I’m talking to. If its someone who seems a little more open to new ideas, then I may say that I don’t attend church in Canada, and then some really interesting conversations can come of that. If they don’t seem so open, then I just say that I grew up in the united church of Canada… which is the church I went to Sunday school for a very short time while growing up.

So YES, when I first arrived with the family, I wanted to get in their good books, so I agreed to going to any event they asked me to. This meant that within the first week of living with them, I’d been to church on Sunday, morning devotion at 5AM on Wednesday, church on Friday night for a preacher and singing and dancing, and then back to church again on Sunday. It was intense!
I feel morning devotion should be explained a little further. So it turns out that every Wednesday morning here at my house, around 20 women and a couple men come from the neighbourhood to my house at dawn (5AM!) for morning worship and tea and bread. So the first Wednesday I was there, I got invited and felt I couldn’t say no. so there I was, at 5, dragging my butt out of bed to join in on the bible studies that was all in TWI!!! It was a little rough… to say the least I followed very little, but on the bright side, the tea and bread was great. Afterwards, the preacher who runs the devotion comes up to me, and after the usual greetings, asks me straight up “do you know jesus?”. It was 6AM, my mind was NOT functioning … and I had NO idea how to answer that question. So in my moment of panic, the first thing that came out of my mouth was “not very well...” uncomfortable pause, and then “do you know jesus?”.
YES, that’s right, that’s where an engineering physics degree will get you. Asking a PREACHER at 6AM if they know jesus. Anyways, turns out the answer for him was definitely yes!
So Anyways… that’s the entertaining story for you. As to whether or not everyone here actually attends church every week, that is an overwhelming no. only the truly dedicated ones go every week. Common reasons I’ve heard for not attending church here is that they don’t have clothes to wear, they don’t have any shoes to wear, they need to do the wash, or they don’t have any money for collection. As you can tell by the reasons, church is something that people really get dressed up for, and so people will not go if they feel that they don’t have the appropriate attire. As well, collection is a BIG focus of a lot of the church services…so if you’ve got no money to donate than that is a big deterrent for attending as well. The collection issue got me very frustrated and heated when I first arrived… I even walked out of the second church service I attended because I felt the requests for collection had gone way too far… but I’ve calmed down slightly since then.
As for which religions are followed here… I’m down south so its MOSTLY Christians here. I believe the number I heard was that Koforidua is 16% muslims, then there would be a few in the “traditional religion” category, and then the rest would be Christian. Haven’t met any Ghanaian atheists yet… I’ll be sure to write about it if I do! The ratios start to flip though when you go up north… northern Ghana is MUCH more muslim dominated and it’s a little tougher to find Christians. Its totally incredible though that in a country with such a mix of Christians and muslims, its TOTALLY peaceful! Quite inspiring to see actually… a few other areas of the world could really take a few lessons from Ghanaians!
Okay, this has been a very surface talk here… if you have any specific questions then feel free to ask, or I’ll try to bring it up again sometime later. Particularly after Christmas to discuss how that was celebrated… definitely looking forward to that!
Speaking of… Enjoy the Holidays everyone!! and i'll be sure to get mark in on the next blog, with some good pictures to boot!

enjoy some eggnog for me!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Alright then! It appears as though the fans are getting restless here, so I feel its about time for another installment of the infamous BLOG!

So first off, I want to add a couple notes to my last food email…. I forgot to mention SOOO many important things about FOOD here, I was just so desperate to pump out a blog before going away for two weeks, I was frantically putting that one together! So YES, I did want to mention the AMAZING fruit that they have available here, and the wonderful freshly baked bread I eat most mornings. So YES, because I have no choice on what I eat for dinner, I always eat with my family and I’m clearly not going to start making demands there, I do what I can for breakfast and lunch to eat as much fruit and vegetables as possible. So I load up on the fresh bananas (smaller and much sweeter than back home, they’re awesome), avocado, oranges, papaya, pineapple…. Awwwww… its all SO good!! and then fortunately for me, we actually have a giant mud oven out back, where two different people come and bake bread three times a week, so we’re totally spoiled in eating fresh bread with maybe some all natural peanut butter (or ground nut paste as its called here… reminds me of good old adams back home!) or there’s this incredible chocolate spread called “choco delight” that I may have been a tad obsessed with when I arrived… so I’ve cut back substantially on eating that stuff, I’m trying to hold out until mark comes, I know he’ll fall in love with it!! but so YES… and as for lunch, my choice of the month has been beans with plantain that is toasted on the barbeque. SOOOOOOOOOOOo good… plantains are truly amazing. I will definitely be seeking them out when I get back to Canada.

Okay, so that’s my little addition to the food portion!!

Moving on… I think because its been such a long time here since I’ve written anything and I’ve been lucky enough to do a fair amount of traveling in the last couple months, I’d like to talk a little about the ups and downs of living in Ghana. Lets be honest here… its not all clouds and roses here all the time, and with a continuous stream of new experiences and situations you’re always finding yourself in, it just really intensifies the ups and the downs.

So first I wanted to describe my first real honest “holy shit” moment I had here. I went to Kete Krachi for two weeks about a month ago to work with the BAC and to try and live with some of the clients of the project. I wanted to get a bit of an understanding as to some of the struggles that are happening at the field level, and so that I could find out some of the impacts that our project is actually having on PEOPLE here, and where our project is missing out.

So first off… bar none the most inspiring trip I have ever been on. I visited the BAC (business advisory center… if this is confusing you you may have to check the post that talked about my project …) that is probably doing the best in the country in terms of success stories, so I really should have expected the two who run the BAC, the BAC Head and the Business Development Officer (BDO), to have it together. And they DID!! It was incredible. They were both so passionate and cared so much and BELIEVED in the work that they were doing, wow… it blew me away. Both of them were originally from Krachi, but hadn’t spent any time there, and went out, got educated, and had stable jobs FAR from krachi. And then they both independently made the decision that they wanted to go back to where they came from and help their people get out of poverty. Krachi is in an interesting position in that it used to be the second largest city in the country… it used to be the trading point between all the big towns in Ghana and many rich traders used to live there. But THEN in the sixties, the government built a dam in the volta river to power the whole country, and with it, they ended up with the largest man-made lake in the world. As a result, the town of Kete Krachi ended up getting totally submersed in water, and the WHOLE town had to be moved. Kete Krachi then became totally surrounded by the lake, and no longer had access to any of the big towns that it did before (Kumasi, tamale and Accra). There was then a giant exodus of the town, and since then the whole district has just been plummeting more and more into poverty as the years go on.

ANYWAYS, that was a giant side bar there, but now that you have a bit of background, I’ll now explain this moment that I had. So when I first got there, I was taken to a small village right on the lake that was holding a workshop. The workshop involved fish processing, and the man who was leading the workshop was teaching them how to build a more economical fish smoker oven. So I went and participated in the workshop for two days, and lived with the people there. The village was quite remote, had no access to electricity or running water… and all the water that they used for everything (washing, drinking, etc) came from the lake. My host was a woman who was also participating in the workshop, and had seven kids.. four of them were in the Kete Krachi town going to school, and there were her six year old twins and a two year old still at home with her. Her husband died eleven days after her two year old was born, so she’s had to take care of all of them by herself. She has one mud hut where she does the cooking, and then a separate one room mud house where her and her three children sleep, all on one straw bed.
So the moment was a little extended, in that it started when I was talking to one of her nieces, Deborah, who had come to the village to wait for her own mother to come and give her money for school. Deborah’s mother had gone to accra to buy some things to come back and sell, but she hadn’t been back in some time, and in that time deborah’s school fees were due, and since she didn’t have the money she was kicked out of school (or sacked as they call it). So I was sitting with her and just started asking questions and discussing, and found out that her parents aren’t together, and that she used to live with her father and her father’s girlfriend. The situation had been very bad though, so she had left. Her father and his girlfriend were both idol worshippers, and for reasons that Deborah doesn’t know, her step mom had decided that Deborah was a witch, and she was treated like one. Her dad used to beat her by whipping her legs and arms so hard that they would swell, and he would also put hot peppers in her eyes, which has now caused permanent damage with her vision. The worst of it was that they had locked her in a room for almost a year, barely fed her, and didn’t let her go to school. It was at this point that her mom came and freed her from the situation. Deborah’s mom is a Christian, so Deborah is now too. she then started telling me that the people in her church are telling her that she needs to forgive everyone, which for her obviously includes her father. So there we were talking, and after she had finished telling me this whole story, she told me that the church is telling her she should forgive him, but that she can’t. she has no idea how she could forgive him. Then, she turns to me and asks me what I think…. If I think she should forgive him…. So YES, that was a situation. I had never felt more white and protected than at that moment.

So after I fumbled my way through an answer, involving some thing involving that it will take time to forgive, and she might not be ready to do it for many more years, and hey, that’s okay… and so forth, the sun started to set and it was time to make dinner. Her aunt (who was my host) had already started preparing the dinner, but it was time to pound the fufu. So I went into the kitchen, and at that time there were two pots cooking, but the stove involved a mud structure that allowed for fire wood to burn under the pots. As soon as I walked into the kitchen, I nearly choked there was SOOO much smoke in the kitchen from the firewood, I had to leave. So I stood outside the kitchen hut, and watched while the woman had her two twins inside, along with the two year old tied to her back, and start pounding the fufu, which involved a LOT of work. I could see the sweat pouring off of her, all while watching all the smoke escaping from the door of the kitchen. I couldn’t believe that this woman was pounding the fufu, which takes a lot of physical strength, all while breathing in COPIOUS amounts of smoke. And there was nothing I could but stand there completely dumbfounded and stare. There was a BIG part of me that just wanted to tear into the kitchen and grab the mom and children and pull them out, and yell until they understood that breathing in the smoke was killing them, but I found I just couldn’t do anything except just watch.

So that was my moment when things REALLY started sinking in that YES, this is somebody’s REALITY. It’s not just somebody who you see on tv, or a fictitious person that you talk about… this is how people actually LIVE…. With the fear of being called a witch and being abused because of it, where your husband dies and you have no idea why, and where you do your cooking in a kitchen full of smoke that will kill you one day. We have the luxury of just seeing it, and at any time we want to leave we can just pick up and take off, but many people don’t have that option.

So there you go… my holy shit moment. Of course, I say all this, and then after having a WONDERFUL meal with them (my first time eating a pure yam fufu, it was incredible!), we then ended up in a prayer circle down by the lake with everyone holding hands, and feeling an incredible sense of community and togetherness that you could never get in Canada.

So to say the least, the rest of my Kete Krachi was equally amazing… spending time with the BAC Head, Martin, and the BDO, Evelyn, I was just blown away. My attempts to find where the project was lacking with the clients were failing in that district. I had a good talk with one of the clients one night, and all she could say was that people love and trust Martin. You know he’s working, because they’re always seeing him getting out into the communities and getting things done, and if EVER they have a problem, they know that they can go and unload on him and he’ll calmly go through all their problems and find solutions for them. It was amazing. This woman had learned soapmaking with the project, and now she makes enough where she can pay three people to help her out, and she now has enough money every month where she doesn’t have to worry about paying for her kids school fees. I met a man too who used to shine shoes for a living, and now after he had been trained in leatherworks and business management, he now owns a shop where he has five apprentices and he is actually now a “service provider” for the project, which means that we pay him to go around and give the training to more clients. Seriously man, I was a BIG fan of the project by the time I got back from Kete Krachi.

So to say the least, because I was on such a high while I was in kete krachi, I had a bit of a fall when I got back. It didn’t help that I got sick (potentially malaria, not really sure…) and had diarrhea for a week and a half. But yes… I can’t really describe how I was feeling… I don’t really remember honestly, but I was definitely feeling very down about everything, and that’s of course when the little things like how everyone calls at you when you walk down the street really start to get to you.

but NO worries people… I’m back now, and feeling really good. I’m really feeling like I’m starting to know my community and my family more, and we’ve had some amazing conversations about life in Ghana, women’s rights… and a whole bunch of good stuff! And now, whenever I go anywhere, at the end of it I’m always looking forward to going back home, and seeing the family again, so that’s exciting!!

I’m also super excited to see mark come in 48 days, on a side note!

Okay, I think I need to wrap up this book of a BLOG here... but I really did want to share some of the real experiences here!! Life is always exciting here... something new is always happening, which I’m loving! Much learning is going on, let me know tell you!

Okay, that’s it from here… i hope everyone’s doing well, and I’ll hopefully write again soon! Keep the comments coming, or emails… whichever you prefer. I love to hear how things are doing back home!

Miss you!

And now that i know the pictures were able to upload this time... you may have already guessed, but the first picture is one of my favourites, and its of the two year old who i stayed with, and she is fanning the mud stoves that i was talking about. you can see the firewood under the pot. The second picture is of the Kitchen hut that I was talking about, and my host was the lady in blue on the left. You can see the Volta lake in the background... the whole district was beautiful with the lake!!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Excellent! Alright, back for more BLOG mania!
I’m sorry, this one will have to be short, because I’m getting currently getting ready to go live in one of the districts for two weeks!! But I did want to write something before I head off to Krachi, for those getting your atlases out, its in the northern part of the Volta Region…
I think the quick topic of the day will be “FOOD, wonderful food”.
So what the heck do I eat here? Well, first of all, the food is incredible. I admit that there were a couple foods here that took me some time to get used to. It was amazing, I felt like I was a little kid again being forced to eat peas. Remember that feeling when you know you have to eat the food, but trying to even SWALLOW it makes you want to gag?? Yes, I was getting that the first few days. I actually totally lost my appetite when I first arrived, just a tiny amount of food would totally fill me, and I would always have leftovers on my plate! I’m sure some of you are having troubles imagining that!
But FEAR not, about one week later, the OPPOSITE started to happen. I couldn’t eat enough food, nothing got me full!!
Yes, fortunately things have started to balance in that department, but there are more troubles brewing..So in all that banter, I STILL haven’t mentioned what it is we actually eat! The long and the short of it is a WHOLE lot of carbs! My friend Leah put it best when she said “Carbs in mushy piles, carbs with sauce, liquid carbs, crunchy carbs, they abound”. So yes, they eat a lot of carbs, and then combine it with “stew” or “soup”. The carb will normally consist of ampesie (which is boiled yams or plantains), or banku (which is made of corn dough), or fufu (which is a mixture of boiled cassava and plantain, beaten to a pulp!). Either way, they’re all very tasty! The stews are normally a mixture of vegetables (tomatoes, onions, hot peppers, etc) all ground up and made with a whole LOT of palm oil. So yes… the food is amazing, BUT, for a poor body like mine that is not used to eating CARBS with OIL for lunch and dinner, its not doing too well on the old waist line to say the least. YES, the famous ORAAS metabolism appears to have found its nemesis!! Most people are VERY surprised to hear it when you say that you’re gaining weight while IN a developing country, its incredibly counterintuitive! But yes… its TRUE! We were warned before leaving that it would most likely happen, but I tried to deny it as long as possible!

Alright, looking at the pictures for a minute! We have mark on the left (one of my friends from work), smiling eating his ampesie! So you can see the boiled yams and plantains at the top of the plate, and then on the bottom is two kinds of stews. The one stew is called contomerie, and its base is mostly coco yam leaves, which is VERY similar to spinach. The other stew is called garden egg stew, and is made mostly of garden eggs (these are VERY similar to eggplant, just a lot smaller and yellow in colour). Ampesie with garden egg stew is my favourite, VERY tasty! As you can see from the empty plate though, there is PLENTY of oil residue! Now normally this would be eaten with your hands, but this was taking place at a workshop where the food was being catered, so when events are catered they always give you the option of the cutlery. When i'm eating at home though it would definitely be with the hands!

as for the other picture, this is at my house. Boitemaa is pounding the fufu, with Sister Na (her mother) turning it over. Kwame, the three year old, is on sister na's lap. You can see in the picture the well that's at our house, and a girl is carrying it back to her place.

okay, so i gotta wrap this up, but i will be writing more when i get back from my trip... two weeks from now!

oh, and by the way... MARK bought his plane ticket! so he'll be visiting in december-january. VERY excited about that!


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Excellent… I’m back again, ready for my bi-weekly third installment in a month-and-a-half BLOG!

So I’m thinking the theme of this one will be “What happened to Kathryn? A day in the life…” what do I mean by this? Well, I figure I’ll give you a recount of a normal day for me, and you might begin to understand!

At around 5:30 or 6AM, my alarm goes off. I normally hit the snooze button once or twice, then I get up, go to the bathroom (which by the way has been like clockwork, the diarrhea has not hit me yet!), put on my running clothes and go for a run! That’s right… back in Canada I refused to go running before noon, now here I’m back by 7AM. The next thing on the agenda is weeding! I normally weed for about 30 minutes every day. Everyone has a chore that they do in the morning, so on the first day I asked for a chore. At first they said there was nothing I could do, and more IMPORTANTLY, they felt there was nothing I would be ABLE to do (my abilities with everything has been highly questioned here… including my ability to carry my own backpack, wash the dishes, the list goes on…) so anyways, it was determined that the job that i would be able to do was the weeding. BUT, you’ll be pleased to note that I have been PROMOTED in my chores as of late.. I was told yesterday that I could do sweeping of the GUTTERS in the morning… sweet…

Okay, so I do my morning chore, then go for my bath. The bath is a bucket shower, which involves a big bucket full of water, and I have my own little bucket that I use to dump the water on my head. It DEFINITELY saves a whole lot of water, yowsers. So after the shower, I get dressed and head to work around 7:45. I stop to talk to people along the way, pick up breakfast and am at my desk by 8 or 8:15, oh baby!

Work closes around 6 or so, and then I walk home, eat dinner with the family, help wash the dishes and then go to bed around 9PM. The biggest surprise of all? There’s a pub (or drinking spot as its called here) DIRECTLY across the street from us, and I haven’t even been INSIDE, not ONCE!!! The ONLY exception was ONE time… when I needed to buy a beer because I was going on a “date” with Mark, but I didn’t actually drink the beer there… and we can definitely discuss the date later!

so that’s it… my rambunctious, rebellious, hard core, fight-til-you-drop days have sadly come to a close in Ghana! Or that might have happened when I moved in with aara…. either way…

So I think I’ll cap off this email with a bit of a story, and a taste of how my weekends go. My apologies to those who have heard this one before… and my apologies also to those who get a little grossed out, be warned!
So I normally do laundry on the weekend… and by “do” the laundry, I mean that me and Boatemaa (the 14 year who I live with) do it, and I normally swish around the clothes for awhile, and then she would actually CLEAN everything that I had done. Of course I always do enough damage that the knuckles on both of my hands are BLEEDING!! Its actually more of a wound reopening now… the FIRST time I did the laundry, I got blisters on both knuckles, and then they just keep opening up again every time.

So anyways, one of the most EMBARRASSING experiences happened to me the first time doing the laundry with the family. So picture this… THREE Ghanaian women and me, all huddled around the laundry bowl thing… and them all discussing how DIRTY and STAINED my underwear is, and they’re all helping Boatemaa dump more and more laundry detergent directly on the crotch to try and get them CLEAN!! “dump MORE on Boatemaa… more…!!”
and the whole time.. I’m like “please, PLEASE, they’re NOT going to get white!!! Just let me clean my OWN underwear!!!”… and they would NOT let me… yowsers.. that was humiliating! I was trying to explain that they were stains that had been there for YEARS, and they were like “why don’t you get new underwear then??”… hmmmm…. My mother might have the same question… Let that be a lesson to me for next time: bring CLEAN underwear to Ghana!!!

So anyways, that’s enough of that! I hope everyone’s doing well, and I’ll write more later! Oh, and i think I’ll post another picture, and this will be from the business orientation seminars that we helped out with a couple weeks ago! so in this picture, we have Edith who is talking, who works for the REP in the district level. she's a very neat lady, she is also an assembly woman, which means that she was voted in to represent her area at the regional level of government. in the back, looking at the two guys, the one on the left is Mark, who i work with. the one on the right was azumah, who is the BAC Head for the district. Azumah is a funny guy, they call him "the professor" because he's CONSTANTLY quoting development theories and such... he took development studies in university. anyways, this workshop had about 40 people participating, and it was held under a tree, so i thought that was a nice location! and if you look very closely at the writing on the flip chart, that's MY handwriting!

excellent.. take care everyone!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

it WORKED!! halleluiah!!
okay.. so here are the pictures i meant to send last time..
AND, i've got another post ready to go, so i'm just going to add it here..

So I’m back again here…my apologies about not quite hitting the “twice a week” goal I’d set for myself last time. Let’s be honest here, that was a BIT of a lofty goal, in ANYBODY's standards..

This leads me to the TOPIC of the day…. What the HELL do I do here in Ghana!! My apologies about the strong language, but I have been asked that question a COUNTLESS number of times… with each person getting a little angrier and angrier for me not having responded!!
So I’m going to try and keep this short and simple… we’ll see how that turns out. I find it’s also sometimes really hard to describe what exactly you do at work… my dad worked for 30 years at the same job, and I STILL don’t have a clear picture as to what exactly he did.. but we can get more into that some other time…

So I work for the Rural Enterprises Project (REP). REP is a poverty reduction program set up here in Ghana in 1994. It is funded by IFAD (international fund for agricultural development), the AfDB (African development bank) and the GOG (Government of Ghana). Its main strategy is to support micro and small scale enterprises (MSEs) in rural Ghana, with a particular focus on helping vulnerable peoples (mostly women, but also unemployed youth, etc).

There are potentially supposed to be three phases of the program. Phase I ended in 2002, after which they did a full assessment of the program and because of the successes decided to move onto phase II. The attack of phase II was then worked out, and was begun in 2003.

Phase I worked in 13 districts in Ghana, all located centrally. There was one head office that was managing everything for the original 13 districts, located in Kumasi (for those who want to get out a map!). with the success of the first phase, they decided to expand the project to the northern and southern regions of Ghana, so two zonal offices were opened, one in Tamale (in the north), and one in Koforidua (in the south, which is where I’m at). The plan is to expand the project to 53 new districts by the end of Phase II.

What do I mean by a district? Ghana is set up into Regions (of which there are ten), and then within each region there are a number of districts. Not sure approximately how MANY districts there are in each region … information I SHOULD know! My guess would be around 6-20 districts per region. So EITHER way, there are plenty of districts available! In each district, there are district assemblies made up, where the district chief is voted in. they act as the local government for the district. Within each district, there are a NUMBER of towns of villages, so the district assembly is set up within the district capital. I promise this will all be relevant in a bit!

Back to the project… not sure how much detail I should go into here at this point. my thoughts are that if you’re super interested in exactly how the project works, then keep reading!… if it gets boring, then by all means, STOP reading, I won’t be offended! I promise to make my next blog entry full of entertaining stories that you won’t be able to take your eyes off of it (no ACTUAL promises are being made here…)!!

So the approach of REP is to work in close contact with the district assemblies. If the district assemblies WANT REP to work in their area, then they have to apply, and then we choose which districts to work in based on a few criteria (ie level of poverty, level of commitment and readiness of the community to take on such a project.. etc).

Once you have been selected, then the first order of business is to set up a Business Advisory Center (BAC) in the district. The BACs are partly funded by the District assemblies, and are set up in the same spots as the district assemblies. There are many roles that the BACs play, so I’m finding it a little difficult to know where to begin. I was thinking of cutting and pasting what the OFFICIAL project description says, but there are plenty of big words and jargon there, so it gets a little much. The overall goal of the BACs is to support existing MSEs (micro and small scale enterprises… get used the acronyms, there are MANY of them in development!!) and help encourage people to start their own business. To accomplish this, the BACs will set up different workshops and target different groups of people. Examples of what entrepreneurs do here is soapmaking, dressmaking, carpentry, snail rearing, orange juice making, leather works, bee keeping etc etc etc..

To know which workshops to hold, BACs will hold meetings in many of the towns to have group discussions with the community (using participatory methods approaches!!) to find out what it is that they need and want. For example maybe there is a lack of soapmakers and tailors in the community and there is a market for them. So THEN, the BAC will FIRSTLY, organize a Business Orientation Seminar (BOS), where they teach all interested individuals about starting a business, and some of the things you need to know and consider. They will THEN hold programs where they TEACH groups of people a particular trade. The actual teaching is not done by the staff working for the BACs, this is contracted out to specialists.
Okay.. so this is just an example of some of the stuff the BACs do. I’m sure I’ll definitely be giving more examples as the year progresses!

So in terms of the ZONAL office role, we’re basically managers of the whole operation. When the BACs apply for money to do their programs, their budgets go through us first, then up to Head Office where they write the cheque, and we deliver it to the BAC. We also act as support for the BACs, and we help them set up the first few workshops and such until they get the hang of it. If any BACs are having problems, then we go out and try to help them out. We also are in charge of getting Zonal pictures of the IMPACT (oooo… impact… we can talk more about THAT word later..) that the project is having, so we compile all the data that is sent to us by the BACs. This is important because it helps us dictate where the project should head, what levels of success our project is having, and also monitoring and evaluating every aspect of the project is VERY important for getting more funding for the project!

So YES… that is a quick summary. In terms of my contribution, there is a HUGE lack of human resources in the office. There are three people in my zonal office that are supposed to give support to THIRTEEN districts.. so as soon as I arrived I was put to work (helping with report writing, data analysis, organization of workshops..etc). The newest challenge is that ONE of our THREE officers just got reposted to Kumasi to work in the head office, so he’s gone. He was the monitoring and evaluations officer of the zone. So at any rate, SOMEONE had to take over his work until we get someone else hired, so I was voted to take over his work! AHHHHHHH!!! So before he left, we went through all the things that he does, and all of his databases where he inputs data to (which I helped make a little neater and simpler), and now its up to me… yowsers… I’ll let you know how that works out!

As for the schedule next week… the six new districts that enrolled in the project this year in our zone (they enroll only a certain number every year.. five more will be enrolled next year) are starting to run their BOS workshop, so we’re traveling around to each district to help them get started with that. We’ll help them the first time, and then they’ll be expected to facilitate them on their own for the next few times.

Hmmmmmmmmmmm…. Okay… there are MANY details left out, but I think this might give a bit of a clearer picture, I HOPE! If you have ANY questions at all, please email them to me, and I’ll get back to you!!!


Saturday, August 12, 2006

August 12, 2006

The time has come… Kathryn has finally set up a BLOG!! My apologies to everyone for not having written sooner, I know there are a LOT of questions that people have been having, as mark has been telling me, so I’m WILL be getting to all of the answers!

So my plan of attack with the blog is that I’ll try and have a theme or story every time… I think I was starting to get incredibly intimidated on how much I was going to have to write for the first blog entry, so I’m just going to break it up and talk about one part of my life every time (inspired by my mother..)! I’m also going to try and use the blog as a bit of a journal, so just as a heads up, there may be a few controversial or offensive things I may in…. my apologies now, but I decided I really don’t want to sugar coat anything here… I’d much rather tell it like it is! So YES, that’s the plan.
Just as a quick note, I’m LOVING it here in Koforidua. Everything so far has been working out AMAZING: the people I work with, the people I live with, and the people in the town are all great!

So today’s topic is how I found my family, the people I have been living with for the past month.
So when I got to Koforidua, I had nothing set up in terms of accommodation. With an EWB placement, you are expected to find your own place to live, so that it’s right for you! Many people get set up through their work and that kind of thing, but as I had almost a week in K-town before I started work, I wanted to get out of the hotel that I was living in ASAP! It was sucking away all my money!
My approach was to just wander around town, talk to people, and see what the vibe was. So I found it was definitely much easier than it EVER would have been in Canada to find people to live with. The place that I’m living now though I found through a man who I might on the street who I’ve become good friends with now, named Nana Kofi. It was hilarious telling the people at work how I met him…. “what do you mean you met him on the street? You didn’t know him? You just met him on the street???”… “ummm… ya.. that’s kind of how it happened..”

So ANYWAYS…I met nana on the street… he started talking to me as MANY people in ghana will do. Ghanaians LOVE obrunis (the local language word for white people), so its difficult to go anywhere without MANY people calling you and talking to you. we can get into that later though… plenty of stories about that!
So YES, I met nana on the street, we talked for a bit, and it turned out he had lived in Switzerland for a couple years, so we talked about that, and then he asked me what I was doing. So after I told him I was looking for a place to live, he thought about it for a minute then said he’s got a few options for me! So I went and sat down with him and his friend sebastiano who happens to be the ONLY other obruni who I know of in town… sebastiano is an elderly man from italy (obviously!) and he came to Ghana ten years ago… he came here not knowing any English OR twi (the local language spoken in Koforidua), and now he knows english and VERY little twi…. I actually think I now know more than him! So we sat outside the restaurant that nana owns and had some palm wine (which they extract from the palm tree, its quite tasty!) and chatted, which was nice since I knew absolutely NO one in town!
Okay, I’m really babbling here… not sure if this is interesting or not, so I’m going to move on here at a faster clip….
Nana is actually called nana because he is the chief of a village and also an area of town, so the name nana is actually a title. So first, he took me to the village, which he told me would not be good for me, but where I was TOTALLY convinced I would want to stay. Of course after going, I realized what he meant. The village was very small, about 30 or 40 people, and about 6km outside of the city. The problem was that none of the people living there work in the city, they all spent their time in the village, so in terms of “integrating” into the village, it would have been INCREDIBLY tough. The plan though is once I work up my twi to a bit of a working order, then I’ll go a couple times and stay there for a few days, which I’m VERY excited about!

So then nana took me to his step-mother’s house, Auntie Julie, which is where I’m at now! There are about 12 people living at the house (it fluctuates a lot so its hard to put a number on it), and they are all AMAZING! I’m loving the family that I’m living with. When I first got there, I wasn’t entirely sure if that’s where I wanted to live because it is a fairly nice house that we’re living in, so I’m not roughing it by any stretch. But I really wanted to get out of the hotel, and when I got there it was more of the introduction of “this is Ama (that’s my Ghanaian name that most people call me by), and is it okay if she lives here?” and then I was moving in the next day! I didn’t really have too much say in the matter! Nana has another place that I MAY move to half way through the placement or so, we’ll see what happens. That place is with his real mother and is a compound house which houses around 30 people, which looks like a lot of fun! Of course though I’m starting to get along really well with everyone at the house, so I doubt I’ll want to go!

So I’ll just do a BRIEF description of everyone in the house…
So starting with Auntie Julie… you HAVE to love that woman. As soon as I met her, the only thing I could think of was “godfather”. Picture an elderly Ghanaian woman in place of the godfather, and you’ve got Auntie Julie. She’s an amazing lady, and is LOVED by the community. You have no idea how many times I’ve heard “you’re living with auntie Julie… she’s a GOOD woman, a good woman…” I’ve got the vibe too that she’s the go-to person if you need a favour or help, so there’s always people coming by and talking to her.
Okay… looking at the length of this email… i’m going to cut the descriptions… show a picture, and talk more about it later! Yes, I’m LOVING this theme idea with the emails, much more manageable!
So in the picture, we’ve got Auntie Julie in the middle.. and then starting from the boy in the bottom left, going clockwise, that’s KWAME, who on that day just turned three years old. Next is Moses, or Papa as we call him (you have to admit BOTH those names are gold!), and he’s 9 years old. After that is Boatema (pronounced Bwatema), or Mame, or Miriam (everyone seems to have a TON of names which is INCREDIBLY hard to keep straight), and she’s 14 years. She’s definitely a BIG resource person for me at the house, she speaks English really well, and we’re both very interested in each other (oh boy, that didn’t come out right!!) so we’ve had some REALLY good talks about life and all that!
And finally the little girl is Erika, she doesn’t live in the house, but her mom owns a hair salon right beside the house, so she’s at the house most of the time.. the CUTEST girl you’ve ever met… she makes my heart MELT!! … I mean… if my heart COULD melt… ummm.. okay we’ll leave that one alone!
So YES, that’s the first picture! And the SECOND picture is the view from work, we’re on the fifth floor of the building, so it’s a good view! You can see one of the taxi stations, and then one of the MANY mountains that surrounds the town!

That’s it for now, I realize there are still many more topics that need to be tackled, but please ask if you have any questions… and I’ll do my best to get back to you!

I miss you all!!