Hey all. I wanted to mix it up a bit this post, I’ll start with some lighter stuff, a cooking lesson on how to make fufu and light soup. Then I’ll move to a short essay I wrote on Ghana and the Global Recession, and finally I’ll throw in a documentary on youtube on global connections.

First though, the cooking lesson. Fufu and Light soup is a local favourite, and it’s really in at this time of year because the first yams of the year have just been harvested, and so everyone is excited to use “new yams” for fufu again.

I focused a lot more on the soup because I’ll need to know how to make that. In Canada supposedly they have this stuff called “neat fufu”, which is basically a powder that you add water too and it heat and it becomes fufu. It’ll push my culinary skills to the brink, but I think I’ll be able to pull it off.

Ingredients:

  • 2 New Yams (more then enough for 4 people)
  • 3 small onions
  • A chunk of ginger (maybe like, 10g…)
  • 1lb of Turkey, chopped into bite size pieces (well, they prefer bigger, but yea…whatever you want to do)
  • 1 can of tomato paste
  • Spices (Yea…not really sure what they were, spicy stuff, some salt, it’s up to you)

Before I jump into full instructions, I think I should introduce you to my two teachers, Xzibit (yea, like the rapper) and Kababu. This way you know who to thank (or blame) when I try to make this at home. (By the way, don’t think you can follow these instructions and get something even close to edible…I’m not Emril)

Kababu and Xzibit

Kababu and Xzibit

1. Peel the yams, try not to cut yourself (Kababu took me off peeling duty in about 30s, saying I was danger to myself and those around me)

     

    Kababu taking over the yam peeling

    Kababu taking over the yam peeling

    2. Wash the meat, cut up 2 of the onions, and throw them into a sauce pan with the spices, leave for about 5 min, stirring occasionally.

       

      Turkey, onions and spices in the saucepan

      Turkey, onions and spices in the saucepan

      3. Cut the peeled yams into reasonably large chunks, and put them into a pot of boiling water.

      4. Add water, the ginger and remaining onion (both whole) and the tomato paste to the turkey. There should be enough water to cover the contents of the saucepan.

      5. After a few minutes, pull out the ginger and whole onion. Peel the ginger. Then put them into a pound & grind thingy (pic should give you the details you need)

       

      Mushed ginger and onion (I actually did this...mostly)

      Mushed ginger and onion (I actually did this...mostly)

      6. Put the mushed up ginger and onion back into the soup, and add enough water to keep it pretty “light”. As the water begins to evaporate out, continue adding more to ensure it doesn’t thicken too much.

      7. Once the yams have finished cooking, take them out, and pound them into mush. Add water, and continue pounding to get all the air out of the mush until it becomes a pretty solid ball of starch. (The pounding is actually a lot more intricate, eventually you have get someone to gather the fufu into a ball as two others are pounding, I took a video if your interested, it’s actually pretty intense)

       

      Causing a scene trying to pound (this lasted like 10 secs, just long enough for a pic)

      Causing a scene trying to pound (this lasted like 10 secs, just long enough for a pic)

       That’s it! You should now have a lovely bit of fufu and soup (honestly, please don’t try to use these instructions).

       

      The finished product (the flash made the soup glow like that, it actually looks more like tomato soup)

      The finished product (the flash made the soup glow like that, it actually looks more like tomato soup)

       

      Switching gears now, I’m gonna jump into talking about Ghana and the Global Recession. I wrote this essay for a conference I’m trying to attend in New York, about how governments and businesses are reacting the recession. The question they asked us to respond to is “What drives your passion for business”. It’s really high-level stuff, I only had 350 words and so couldn’t get into details. It paints a pretty rosy picture, I don’t talk about what I feel needs to change to make Ghana more business friendly, or even why I feel Ghana should try to become more business friendly. But yea, in general, it does a decent job of summarizing my thoughts on this subject. The essay is at the end of the post.

      Finally, I’ve got another youtube video for you guys this week. This one is less about Ghana, and I actually haven’t even seen it (I struggle to upload pics on this internet, a video would shut down the nation). It’s supposed to be about global connectedness, shown through dramatic visuals from across the world. Saru recommended it to me, and it’s gotten some pretty rave reviews, so I thought I should share it with you guys. Enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqxENMKaeCU

      Cheers,

      Gajan

      Perseverance and Hope in Ghana

      My passion for business comes from a slightly different perspective than most students. I am writing this to you from the town of Bole in Northern Ghana. I am here with Engineers Without Borders Canada, working with the local government to help improve their planning procedures. Having arrived at what is obviously a tumultuous time for the world economy, it is plain to see that the world’s poor are among the hardest hit.

      But, in the midst of all this despair, I have seen so much hope. Poor farmers who have had their livelihoods stripped from them working together to find new markets and opportunities. Entrepreneurs using the recession in the developed world to give local consumers access to the world’s products, improving infrastructure and technological capacity at a rapid rate. Government officials working with local business owners to create an environment that promotes economical growth while implementing projects that ensures that the basic needs of all are met. Across this nation, people are working hard to adjust to the new economy, facing it’s challenges head on and taking advantage of the opportunities it presents.

      The perseverance these people have shown has inspired me to push for increased investment in the developing world. It has shown me that these people are not looking for hand outs, but want access to the capital they need to make their businesses competitive in the global economy. This is what drives my passion for business, the knowledge that it is through the ambitions and efforts of thousands of entrepreneurs across this continent that Africa will finally bring itself out of poverty.

      I have worked with many firms in a wide range of industries during my time as a student, and it is through them that I learned the fundamentals of business. But it is the rural towns of Northern Ghana that have shown me the true power behind dynamic, driven and passionate entrepreneurs, and how through their efforts, the world can overcome not just this recession, but the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced.

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      Posted by: gajans | July 30, 2009

      The Triple Think and a video on Malaria

      I was reading another JF’s blog the other day (Annette from UWO, http://annettedunlop.blogspot.com/) and she had made a post about how much more difficult decision making was for her overseas. After reading that post it occurred to me that I felt the same way, so I thought I should share my thoughts on it with you guys as well.

      I call the process the Triple Think, where every decision you make, you seem to go through three conclusions before finally bringing up the courage to act on your final one. I’ll walk through the process for a pretty simple example, shaving.

      The first time I was going to shave in Ghana, I spent a good couple hours thinking about it and planning it out. It’s a pretty different process here, I mean, no running water or sink (I went and bought a small bucket) and no mirror (I bought a small hand mirror, it was a mission to shave with, you actually end up dividing your face into quadrants, and basically go from one quadrant to the next of your face, making sure it’s clean). So I gathered all my things, had my bucket, razor, shaving cream and mirror ready to go, and was about to go out and get my bucket of water, then the triple think struck.

      In triple think, you have two voices battling it out in your head, so, to make this a bit easier to read, I’m gonna name them Caution and Action (yea, naming voices in my head…)

      Caution: What if they ask me what the bucket of water is for?

      Action: Well, tell them your going to shave.

      Caution: What if they don’t use water to shave?

      Action: Well you do, tell them that and go get your water.

      Caution: What if they catch you shaving in your room?

      Action: People shave, I’m sure they know that, go get your water and lets do this before it gets too dark.

      As you can see, Caution’s a bit of a wuss, but wants to make sure he doesn’t offend people or make a mistake. Action just wants to get stuff done, and deal with the repercussions as you go. So, we’ve reached conclusion 1, Action winning the argument and your about to get up and get the water. But then, Caution speaks up.

      Caution: Wait, what about those people you see who shave others at barber shops using those little blades?

      Action: What about them?

      Caution: Maybe we should go to them, they seem to know what their doing.

      Action: It’s true, good point, and you can meet some new people this way, let’s go to the one down the street.

      So, we’ve reached conclusion 2, your about to drop everything you’ve set up and go to the barber to get shaved by him. It seems like Caution’s won, but really Caution never wanted this to happen, Caution just didn’t want to get water, now you’ve gotta go and deal with a whole new crazy situation. So as you’re about to put your things away, Caution speaks up again.

      Caution: Wait, how much will it cost?

      Action: It can’t be more than a few Cedi, don’t worry about it.

      Caution: Will those weird blades they use work with your hair? You know it’s different from African hair. (I actually thought about this…)

      Action: I would guess so, but you may get cut up pretty badly, better go with what you know. Plus, you’ve already got everything you need, just go grab the water and let’s do this.

      So, that’s it, conclusion three, and you finally go to get the water. I’ve skipped a lot of stuff just cause I can’t remember every excuse I thought of to delay shaving, but yea, you get the gist of it. And this happens most times you do anything even slightly different from what you’re used to out here.

      For shaving, it’s not so bad, you know you gotta do it eventually and people here do it, if it comes down to it you ask one of your Ghanaian friends about what they do. The tough ones are usually work related. Like, I want to set up a meeting to discuss the results of a study done by the Government of Ghana on the governance procedures in districts. The neighboring district got $450 000 (USD, yea, big money) because they preformed reasonably well. We got nothing, because a report from 2006 (actually, a CIDA report) called the district corrupt. And from what I hear, the district was corrupt back then, financial mismanagement was rampant and accountability was slim to none. CIDA wants us JFs working with District Assemblies to get the reactions from the districts in regards to this study (and the financial incentives tied to them) and give them to EWB by August 1st.

      That’s Saturday…and I’ve been triple thinking every single little decision that goes into this meeting. My director is going out and the new one is transitioning in, do I really want to drop this on him now? What insight could he bring anyways, he’s brand new. Who else should I invite to this meeting? I want my planning officer there but he hasn’t been at work for the past week and a half. Maybe I should make this more informal, both directors invited me out for beers with them and Budget tomorrow, maybe I should do it then. Should I do this interview style using the questions EWB and CIDA gave us or try and get a conversation going just based on the general themes. Man, do I miss intra-organizational email, I hate having to go to Directors office and wait for him to be free anytime I want to discuss something, it can take hours sometimes…(just an update cause I wrote this on Monday, this worked out fine, had an interview with just the old Director and Budget on Director’s last day, and we talked for like a good 2 hours and I even got an audio recording of the interview which was sweet).

      So yea, that’s the general idea behind triple think, and the paralyzing affect it can have on my decision-making process out here. It’s funny, I can’t remember ever having this problem in Canada, having to think out minor decisions so much. Maybe it’s cause every decision seems so major here, and with 3 work weeks left, I don’t have much time to make up for mistakes.

      Anyways, media for this week is something pretty cool. Adam from U of M has been busy churning out videos, and so I thought I’d share another one of his creations, about his time with Malaria (he actually took the video while he had Malaria, the guy’s a trooper).  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2V6-LoyWiUw

      Enjoy! And definitely continue sharing your comments and questions. Really appreciate the feedback I’ve been getting recently too, thanks!

      Cheers,

      Gajan

      Posted by: gajans | July 24, 2009

      Q&A – Round 2 and Me and the Host Kids

      I’ve gotten a few more questions via email and comments on the blog, so I thought I’d take some time to answer them. If you make it through reading this post (I know, they’ve been getting longer), there’s some pics of me and the kids from my host family at the end as a reward. 

      Q: I know earlier you said you’d heard some good things about CIDA … what have you heard about other NGOs that are out there? Is there overlapping work, good or bad communication, collaboration (is there any UN or government collaboration involved)?

      A: Good question! This is actually an area EWB is starting to focus on in Ghana, and we actually have a long term volunteer who just started really pushing this stuff. So I’ll give you an opinion based on what I’ve seen while working with the district assembly and what I’ve heard from others.

      I know the District Assembly has collaborated pretty intimately with the World Bank, UN and CIDA. Those organizations have all expressed interest in supporting the District Assembly implement their plans. Through these actions, they’re basically saying “we think you have a better understanding of what’s going on in the district, so you show us your plans and we’ll help you implement some projects from them that fit our mandate”.

      As far as I can tell, this is the best collaboration possible because they’re all funneling their money through one organization, who, given the right tools, can prioritize and implement the projects that are most effective. It greatly reduces the chances of wasted money and overlapping work. But it also creates a pretty heavy reliance on the performance of the district assembly. To try and improve their capacity, a lot of donors have been running “capacity building workshops” for the assembly staff. But there’s a definite lack of collaboration and communication here, and often different donors run workshops on the same things, and it seems like staff spend more time in workshops then doing their jobs. 

      To try and get more collaboration and communication going, EWB has actually been working on improving meetings between all the major donors. On a regular basis, officials from these donors meet in Tamale (with EWB) and talk about their projects. So far, the meetings are basically just a run down of what each donor is working on. But EWB is working on improving the meetings so that they can discuss joint projects and improved collaboration between the donors.

       

      Q: What did you bring back from your village stays to your work?

      A: So, for me, my stay in the village was an opportunity to get confirmation on some of the things I heard at the District Assembly. From what I heard at work, officials go to the communities regularly, make sure they’re involved in the planning process and they should be able to voice their complaints through their assembly man.

      When I was staying with the Assembly man for the area, I asked some questions about the assembly and how he thought it could work better. He said he had heard of the plans the district used vaguely, but hadn’t seen one. This was a pretty big shocker because, having been an assembly man for 2 years, he should have passed atleast 2 annual action plans and their associated budgets, which decide basically what the district will work on for the whole year. If you don’t see that document, you can’t possibility do your job as an assembly man. I told him how important it was, and he agreed and said he would try and have a look at it, that way he could actually hold the district responsible if something that was in the plan was not implemented.

      When I was staying with the farmers, I asked them the same questions. They were actually really pleased with the assembly and their assembly man. They said they got frequent visits from district officials, were included in the planning process and got to decide what the community priority was, and the assembly man came around often to see how they were doing and hear their concerns. Basically, it was exactly what the district assembly told me I should see. I was really impressed to say the least.

      This made me feel a lot better about my work, because the projects I decided to work on were based completely on what the assembly told me. If what they were saying wasn’t true, I may have tackled the completely wrong problem. I still think that other communities may not have been nearly as happy, but the seeing a community that was helped me feel more comfortable with my decisions. 

      Q:  You mentioned that the farmers experienced obstacle in sales of their crops due to poor road conditions. Is there anything being done about that? 

      A: The farmers said that they submitted it as their top priority to the District Assembly. They also said they petitioned the MP about it. Sadly, I don’t think it’s high up on the list of priorities for the district overall. Water, Education, Health, Sanitation and Electricity are in general given higher priority then road infrastructure. Even when looking at road infrastructure, their a lot of major highways in and around the district that are in terrible shape (the road to Tamale, the regional capital, is considered one of the worst in the country when you consider traffic volume and road condition). So yea, can’t see them getting too much help on that front. I am hopeful they will work on the situation on their own, and may even come up with an innovative solution that doesn’t involve so many resources, and if they do I’m sure they will be able to get some help from the assembly.

       

      Q: How are you going to improve Computer Training with Adigun (the Planning Officer)?

      A: This is something I’ve been really struggling with. He’s been really busy and away from the office a lot lately. He isn’t here this whole week. So, I’m thinking I’ll try and work out a more defined schedule for training with him when he gets back, instead of the whole “come by when your free” thing I’ve been trying so far. 

      In the meantime, I’m focusing on improving budget, Wumbei, because I doubt I’ll be able to teach Adigun everything he needs in the next 3.5 weeks. Though I’m taking a bit of a risk, hoping the Wumbei will go a bit outside of his role to manage the database, create tools with Adigun, share his learnings and push the use of data, I’m feeling reasonably hopeful. This is partly because of Wumbei’s history working with an NGO whose mandate was improving government accountability, so he is passionate about the work, and also because he is a pretty strong personality who can speak his mind.

       

      Q: Why don’t you want to do the classes during work hours?

      A: So, it was something I was debating for some time. Part of it is the unpredictability it causes when it comes to attendance (a lot of my students are senior officers, and are barely in the office as it is). Another part is the fact that I didn’t want to take to much time off of work to teach, and wouldn’t want to miss any meetings etc. because of it.

      But the main reason is because I wanted to make sure that it didn’t seem like I was taking their work hours lightly. The work environment here is pretty slack, most people who aren’t senior officers spend most of the day chilling interrupted intermittently by periods of work. People often leave for hours at a time for breaks and to run personal errands. There’s some serious lack of motivation in the workplace, which I can get into later, but yea, I didn’t want to be like “oh, well your not doing anything anyways, come learn excel”, it just seemed like the wrong message to send.

      On that note, I have changed the classes up a bit, people can sign up for an hour of personal (me teaching 1 or 2 people) lessons on Sundays throughout the day. That way people can sign up when they know they’ll be free, and I don’t have to come in if no one signs up. I also don’t have to worry about having to teach a lot of people at once and can give people the help they need. It just seems a lot more effective overall in theory, I’ll tell you how it goes in practice. 

      Those were some pretty heavy questions, so I thought I’d throw in some pics of me and some of the kids playing around to lighten it up a bit. My relationship with them has gotten pretty good since I decided to show them the pictures of Canada and help them with dinner, eventually escalating to them throwing a mini-party in my room. I’m definitely the cool white guy now, especially after they found some Sean Paul on my computer. I found out that what they call me, Intha Kabrunei, actually means “our white brother”, so what I said about it being like a term of endearment was actually true literally as well. Anyways, Enjoy! And feel free to send me some more questions, comments or feedback.

      Cheers,

      Gajan

       

      Bushira showing me how to actually stir TZ

      Bushira showing me how to actually stir TZ

      Me stirring TZ (the kids took over again in about 30 s)

      Me stirring TZ (the kids took over again in about 30 s)

      The kids posing

      The kids posing

       

      The kids partying in my room, Rashid DJing up front

      The kids partying in my room, Rashid DJing up front

      So, second update post from work. I decided to split up the last two projects and so I’ll talk about the excel classes I’m running in this one, and the meetings in the next one. I realized it was a bit dry on it’s own, so I thought I’d throw in some pics from the Enskinment of a new chief, which is basically the ceremony that makes him a chief.

       But first, back to business. In my initial interviews with people, computer training came up all the time. It was something everyone seemed to want, especially training in Excel. They even had two extra computers in my office (which I know was tremendously difficult to get) so that I could spend some time teaching people. At first, I just let people come into my office when they were free and work through the Scala guide (a guide that EWB made back when it was running computer training centers in the Philippines). Eventually though, interest got really high and people started complaining that they couldn’t get access to the computers because it was always busy. Also, it was taking a lot of my time and, as much as I wanted to teach them, I had other work to do.

      So I decided I needed to make this a bit more efficient and organize classes. My peace corp. friend David works at the IT Centre at the local high school, and helped me set it up with the school so that the classes would take place at their computer lab, which was huge because finding 15 computers in a single room out here is harder then finding a needle in a haystack. I started telling people at work about it and everyone was pretty hyped. I went through and edited the Scala guide for excel, making the content Ghanaian and changing some of the exercises to make them more applicable to the District Assembly. After talking to it over, we (senior management) decided to charge a token fee of GHC 2.50 (about $2) just to get people to show some commitment. The money would be donated to the high school as a little thank you gift.

       I didn’t want to make the classes during work hours, but I wanted to make sure everyone, especially the women, could sign up. So I asked them and they said that 2-5 on Sundays would work for them as they could still go to church and still should be able to cook dinner. The sign-up list filled up pretty quickly, though I went around advertising it quite a bit, making sure people I wanted signed up, and in two days I couldn’t take on any more people. Because of the high volume of people, I asked Wumbei and Adigun (Budget and Planning Officers) for help, and also thought this would be good for reinforcing their skills. Adigun was busy preparing for a workshop, but Wumbei was free and happily agreed.

       The Saturday before my first class I went to the high school for a few hours to set everything up for the next day, make sure all the computers worked and install the necessary programs. I also sent out a text message to everyone who signed up to remind them about the class and tell them to show up on time because we had a lot of material to cover. I also reminded them to bring the fee to the first class because I hadn’t collected it at the time of registration.

       Sunday rolled around, and Wumbei and I went to the school around 1:45 to make sure everything was working. Then we waited for students to show up…and waited some more. The first guy showed up around 2:30, and another 2 people showed up by 3. By this time, not gonna lie, I was pretty pissed. I was sort of sick and skipped lunch, which didn’t help my mood, but to find that I had dragged my ass over to that class for 3 people was really disappointing. The three who did show learned quite a bit (with 2 teachers, they got all the attention they needed) and they could tell I was pretty disappointed, the whole time they were saying things like “you should know our people” and “they don’t appreciate learning”.

       Monday was an interesting day. I was still sort of pissed and had decided to talk to the people who had signed up, collect the fee and express my disappointment. But yea, I’m not exactly big on confrontation, and when people told me their reasons (I was out of town, my in-law was sick etc.) I was pretty forgiving, told them not to worry about it, said to get me the fee as soon as possible and make sure they attend the next one because they were pretty far behind.

       Then, we had a meeting with some reps from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). They had run a survey of the district and were presenting their findings. The meeting was attended by all the senior officers, a lot of whom had signed up for the class. At the end of the meeting, the UNDP people were presenting their next steps, and said that they were interested in teaching some senior staff data analysis skills with Excel and some other programs. I was tempted to bring up how I had tried that and failed pretty miserably, but decided not to publicly shame people and talk to the UNDP after the meeting about my experience. Wumbei though had no such reservations, and proceeded to explain what had happened with my classes, and rip into people who said they wanted classes now when they had turned down the opportunity just yesterday.

       After that, I (and a lot of other people in the room) just felt really awkward about the whole thing. The people at the UNDP said they would consider what had happened when determining who they were inviting to their sessions. After the meeting (and the days after that) a lot of the senior officers came to me and said how they “had disappointed me” and would try to make the next class. I said it was fine, just text me if you can’t make it, try and pay the fee etc. I also tried to see if time was an issue, and some people said it was, but couldn’t recommend a better time.

       Next Sunday, Wumbei and I went to the class again, this time we actually went a bit late. When we got there at around 2:10, there was already someone at the school. He had also been at the first class, and said he wanted to get an early start to try and practice more. I apologized for being late and was really pleased that this guy expressed so much interest. But by the end of class there were only 2 students who had shown up, the number actually dropped from the week before. Monday, I got a lot more “we have disappointed you” and very similar reasons for not showing up.

       LESSONS LEARNED AND NEXT STEPS

      So, what did I learn from all this? Honestly, I’m still not sure what caused the low attendance or what I could have done to remedy this. I’m adamant about not doing the classes during work hours, and people, especially the women, are busy in the evenings, so all I’m left with is weekends. Saturday was basically off because I go to Wa every couple weeks to get some internet and do some banking. I leave Friday night and come back Saturday morning, though often I can’t make it back until Saturday afternoon, and I didn’t want to risk missing a class. Sunday mornings is Church, and a lot of my students are Christian, so Sunday afternoon was all I was really left with.

       I think I’ve identified a couple of key mistakes I made though. The first is that I did not collect the fee when people registered. The reason for the fee was to give that little bit of incentive to show up, so that people will think “Oh, I did spend the money already, might as well go”. But a lot of people did not have the money when they wanted to register, so I let them register and told them to get the money at the first class. Because of this, a lot of people lost the incentive and to this day more then half the people haven’t paid me. The second mistake I identified was chasing after people to get them to register. I had in my mind people that I wanted at the lessons, so I went after them to make sure they signed up. The one person who has shown up both classes though was someone I didn’t even know, someone who saw the flyer and came to see me. I think I should have just put the flyer up and did some general promotion, but allowed those who were interested to come to me instead of chasing people down.

       In general, I think that the idea of having a class may have been wrong. Maybe I should have offered my Sundays for individuals, or groups, to sign up for lessons. I could still use the high school if a lot of people signed up for the same time, but it seems like the computers in my office would suffice.

       So what am I going to change going forward? I’m not sure yet. Our EWB team (Governance and Rural Infrastructure, or GARI) is in meetings this weekend in Tamale so I’m going to try and get some ideas from people here. I’m actually happier with smaller classes, it’s a lot easier to teach and people definitely learn more that way. I don’t think I’m gonna spend any more effort trying to get more people to come. I may switch to the “offering my Sundays” idea. It might cost me more time, but it would be way more effective and may even allow me to help more people. We’ll see how it goes.

       Anyways, so I realize that was a bit in-depth and wordy, so I thought I’d throw in some pics from an Enskinment ceremony I went to (when they make someone a chief in Northern Ghana, they say they’re “enskinning” him because he sits on a chair wrapped in some animal fur). It was pretty amazing, I missed the night before, where they danced from 11pm-4am. But Sarichi (my host brother) took me to the ceremony in the morning, and there was more dancing. Also, here’s a link to a youtube video that Adam from U of M made about our trip to Mole: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G33okIzQZOA. Enjoy!

      Cheers,

      Gajan

      A glimpse of the intense sound system for the Enskinment
      A glimpse of the intense sound system for the Enskinment

       

      The chief being raised on the shoulders of people as he is carried to the celebration

      The chief being raised on the shoulders of people as he is carried to the celebration

      The crowd of people parading down the streets for the enskinment

      The crowd of people parading down the streets for the enskinment

       

      The Chief being carried into the ceremony

      The Chief being carried into the ceremony

       

      The Drummers leading the parade

      The Drummers leading the parade

      Posted by: gajans | July 14, 2009

      An Update on my Work

      So here it is, the long awaited, highly anticipated summary of how my placement is going. Sorry this too long, just kept putting it to the back burner. Ok, just to recap (because it has been that long), I’ve been put with the Bole District Assembly, with the mandate to do what I can to increase the use of data in their planning process.

      The first couple of weeks, I went around and interviewed the senior officers, just to get a feel for what they felt were the strengths and weaknesses of the current planning procedures and how the currently collect, manage and analyze data. Though I felt like I might be a bit ambitious thinking I can find out what I need to know in a few short interviews, I only had like 3 working months and I wanted to make the most out of them. I was thinking that it’s better for me to jump the gun and try to adjust to new info when I find it then to wait until I’m completely comfortable with the info I have then start working on projects.

      Anyways, after the interviews I came up with 4 projects for me to work on.  They were to:

      • Create a central database for all the data on the district
      • Use this database and work with the planning and budget officer to create planning tools for the district, while teaching them excel skills that they could use to create future tools
      • Run Computer Training classes for interested staff members outside working hours
      • Try and facilitate the creation of monthly meetings for heads of departments to discuss and monitor the creation and implementation of the plans

      So, I’ve decided to split this up into two posts, one on the first two projects and the other on the second two.

      The first two projects tie into each other pretty intimately. I started by teaching the budget and planning officers some basic-intermediate excel skills, something they took to very quickly. Everyone here loves learning about computers, but to Budget (Wumbei) and Planner (Adigun) this was something that they were really passionate about. I share an office with the Wumbei so any spare moment he has we’ve been working on Excel. Lucky for me, he really doesn’t have too much work assigned to him, and beasts through it when he does, so he’s had a lot of time for training.

      Wumbei and I working on Excel

      Wumbei and I working on Excel

      Things with Adigun aren’t as easy. He’s a lot busier as the planning officer and doesn’t have as much time to work on this stuff. Also, Wumbei’s still in University (doing his Master’s) and so his excel skills are quite a bit better then Adigun’s. Adigun is still working on basic calculations and formulas, while Wumbei is using Pivot Tables and IF statements. Because I share an office with Wumbei, it’s also made me a lot closer to him then I am to Adigun, and this has also helped me train Wumbei better. I think this fact really hit me the other day, when Wumbei actually asked me for “homework” on something we’d learned during the day. I gave him the task of trying of trying to allocate 5 new boreholes in the district with the goals of trying to even out coverage ratios (people served/total population) in the various areas of the district and trying to serve as many new people as possible. At first I was pleased that I had come up with a pretty decent real-world application. But then, I realized that Wumbei, as Budget Officer, will probably never have to do anything like this while Adigun, as Planning Officer, will have to do this sort of stuff all the time.

      This puts me in a bit of tricky situation. The real point of these excel skills is so they can build and use planning tools, and obviously the person whose going to be using them the most is the Planner, Adigun. But because of the above reasons, I’ve been focusing a lot more on Wumbei. As budget officer, he can still use these skills to figure out how to best collect revenue from the district, and he can advise the planner on how to create plans (he’s basically second in charge of planning at the district anyways). But, when push comes to shove, if Adigun can’t build or use these tools, I’m not sure if they will be used to improve the way the district plans. It’s a problem I’ve had some difficulty trying to deal with, and with 5 weeks to go in my time in Bole, I’m starting to feel the crunch.

      The Central Database is going reasonably well.  We found a computer to use (ironically, one donated by CIDA), so we’ve been going around to various departments, collecting their data, trying to extract what’s useful and putting into the database. This has been a bit of a mission. The data is scattered, incomplete, and disorganized. Usually, I find out about some useful data, go to find it, and it turns out it’s in 6 files on 4 different computers across the district, in a mix of excel and word files. For example, the Environment and Health team did a great survey last year that looked at all sanitation-related stats in the district. I managed to find data for 3 of the 6 area councils in the district, but no one seems to know where the rest of the files are, they’re considering retyping all the data again from the hard copy (thankfully, that’s still available), but there are over 90 fields in the data, and over 100 communities that are missing data, so that would be quite the monumental task.

      The Central Database, with a User Guide taped to it's side

      The Central Database, with a User Guide taped to it's side

      In a way, I should have seen this coming. The whole reason I recommended a central database is because of these difficulties I’m facing trying to collect the data. I can’t imagine Adigun or Wumbei going through this process every time they want to make a decision based on statistics. But it doesn’t make the process any less frustrating.

      So yea, that’s how those two projects are going. In general, other then time pressure, I’m not too worried about it. I’ve got as much support from the team as I ask for, and both Wumbei and Adigun are passionate about seeing these projects completed. One of the big pluses of this is that they are working together a lot more now, and seem to be building a stronger relationship. If this trend continues that would be great because they can help each other overcome challenges and work together to promote the use of data in district planning.

      Anyways, I’ll try and post on the other 2 projects ASAP. After that, I’m planning on doing another Q&A Post, so if you have any other questions you’d like answer shoot them to me, either via comment or email.

      Cheers,

      Gajan

      Posted by: gajans | July 8, 2009

      Village Stay #2

      So, this is my second post on my village stay, about my time in the small farming village of Timburyiri, about 2 km away from Bale. The village has about 100 people in it, so it was a very tight community and I was definitely the “town wonder” while I was there.

      When I arrived in the town on Sunday afternoon, Kondep introduced me to the elders of the village (common practice in small towns). Then he introduced me to Jonas. Jonas is about 20, the second oldest child in his family, and he became my cultural informant/crutch during my time in Timburyiri. He studies in Grade 8 at the Junior High School in Bale, after he finishes JHS, he is hoping to continue on to Senior High School in Bole and, if possible, go to University to become a lawyer. He is trying to be realistic though, attending University can be very difficult, and expensive, in Ghana. So he has other plans, he hopes to leave the farm behind and use his education to get a job in a city somewhere. He is spending a lot of his time working with electrical components, doing some minor fixes on the small number of battery powered things in the village (mostly just flashlights). He’s been working on this cool mini project where he turns the flashlight into a stable, battery-powered light for your room. He is still working out the kinks, and learning a lot while he does, but he has a keen interest in it and seems to show some aptitude for it as well.

      Jonas and a friend (Jonas in white)

      Jonas and a friend (Jonas in white)

      The first night I spent getting introduced to the village, settling down etc. Many of the farmers had taken part of Sunday off for church and market day in Bale, so everyone was in a relaxing mood. And me, being the town wonder, became their entertainment for the night. It was cool when they would talk to me and ask me about stuff, but there was a point when there were like 20 kids staring at me while I was reading, and it was sort of creepy. I knew they were looking for me to do something interesting (you know, like when you go to the zoo and all the animals are sleeping), but it was getting dark and I couldn’t think of anything to show them. Eventually I got the idea to pull out my crank flashlight, one of those flashlights you can charge by cranking a handle, and showed it to the kids. They loved it. At first they were scared to touch it, but eventually they were all taking turns cranking it and being amazed at how bright it got if you cranked really fast. So, me being an engineer, I used this to teach them a bit about electricity, how it’s generated etc. I’m pretty sure I taught them some stuff wrong, and they probably didn’t understand half of what I said, but they seemed pretty interested. I think the person who was most interested was Jonas though. He took the thing and played with it for like an hour, cranking at different speeds, trying to figure out the mechanics behind it, it was cool to watch. I think I’ll give it to him when I’m about to leave Ghana, I probably won’t need it after that, and he would have tons of fun working with it, breaking it and fixing it etc.

      The next morning was my first chance to get a real good look at the compound. Jonas’ father had built a mud hut initially, expanded it a couple times, then he saved up money for the concrete extension in the pic below. Honestly though, I was way more impressed with the mud hut. The way they used logs for braces, angled them out into forks to make joints. You can tell a lot of care went into the selection of the logs, making sure they were the right size and shape so they could properly serve their purpose. In general, you just had to admire them for the workmanship and their ability to use random materials around them to put together a pretty nice home.

      Jonas' family compound

      Jonas' family compound

      Monday is the farmer’s day off to relax, so again I spent the day at the compound and surrounding village. It was good though, I got to talk to the farmers a lot about what they do, where they feel they could use help, how they interact with the District Assembly etc. To be fair, most of this discussion happened with only one farmer named Daniel. He was Jonas’ uncle and his English was amazingly good. It turns out that he went all the way through high school, graduating in ’74, a huge feat for anybody at the time, let alone a farmer from the village. So he and his farming buddies would come around and talk (and drink, oh man can they drink). I’d share my pictures of Canada with them and tell them about my life, and they would share about theirs, I had some pretty solid discussion. The one farmer even went to get his bow and arrow to show me. I got to try it out, which was pretty cool, though, for all the hype I created (the town wonder was using the bow and arrow, it was like a village event), my first arrow just flopped to the ground less then a foot in front of me. There was laughter all around for that one. But the second one flew a good 10 feet before sliding harmlessly to a stop, still though, got a nice round of applause from the audience which was nice.

      Me Shooting a Bow and Arrow

      Me Shooting a Bow and Arrow

      Finally, on Tuesday, I got to go out with the farmers to farm. By the time I woke up at 7, they had already gone out to the farm to scare away some pests (birds and monkeys mostly). So one of the village kids took me to Daniel’s farm. There, Daniel taught me as much about their local farming techniques as he could. Intercropping, Shifting fields, Rotating crops, using weeds as fertilizer, in general, there was a surprisingly high level of sophistication in the techniques these farmers used to maintain their fields. And in all my discussions with them, they never seemed worried about providing the basic necessities for their family. They farmed all the food they needed, and sold the excess to the market in the nearby towns and cities. They diversified their crop, and so even if a farmer was heavily reliant on yams, they would have yams that were ready to harvest in August, and some that were ready to harvest in December, so they weren’t completely reliant on one harvest for the year. But almost all the farmers diversified quite a bit. Daniel grew yams, cassava, beans, guinea corn and shea nuts. In fact, when I asked them what they needed most in the village, they said that they were petitioning for an improved road. Currently, the road to the town is basically a trail, making it hard for them to transport there goods to the market. They want a road that trucks and other vehicles can travel on so they can sell more.

      A child playing a drum to scare the monkeys away

      A child playing a drum to scare the monkeys away

      Daniel  (black pants) and his Brother taking a break on their farm

      Daniel (black pants) and his Brother taking a break on their farm

      So, that about does it for my posts from the village. I’ve been back in Bole for about a week now, work is getting pretty exciting and I know I’ve been slackin in telling you all about it, so I promise I’ll make my next post on that. Until then, keep the comments, emails, questions etc. coming!

      Cheers,

      Gajan

      Posted by: gajans | July 3, 2009

      Village Stay – Post 1

      So, I spent a week out in a couple small villages in Bole District. Because there’s a lot to talk about and I spent the week with 2 families, I’ve split the village stay into two Blog posts.

      Just to give a bit of background, EWB encourages volunteers to go out to a rural village to try and get a feel for what it’s like and because, for the most part, people in rural areas are the most impoverished. So, I asked around and one of the assembly members at the district, Kondep, invited me to come out to his electorate village of Bale and stay with his family with a couple of days, and then live with some farmers for a couple of days. I eagerly accepted.

      Friday Wumbei (the budget officer) took me out to the village to meet Kondep. But when we got there, we couldn’t find the assembly man. So Wumbei left me with one man we found who could speak some English and told him to flag down Kondep when he came by. Lucky for me, this man knew Kondep’s wife, so I was able to find her and head to her home. Unlucky for me, Kondep’s wife knew about 5 words of English, and the village I was in spoke Birfur, which is pretty different from the Gonja that I know. But, through some pretty extensive hand-talking on both our parts, she showed me her home, helped set up my bed, gave me something to eat, showed me where I could take a bath and even taught me how to say good night in Birfur. I was pretty proud of us, it took some serious effort but by the end of it we were pretty good at communicating with hand actions and some words.

      Her home was pretty different then the one I usually stay at. They had no electricity, had to travel about 1 km to get water, and had no sanitation facilities. But they worked pretty hard to make sure I was comfortable. She even heated the water before I took a bath, the first time I’ve had hot water since I left Canada, and man, I didn’t realize how much I missed it till I got it back again, it felt amazing. The bath house itself was made from concrete bricks, and was just a bit too short for me to feel comfortable with how much I was showing off. So, thinking quickly, I pulled the squat and bath maneuver, which was great practice for when I had to pull the squat in the field maneuver to go to the washroom.

      Kondep's Home

      Kondep's Home

      The bathhouse that was just a bit too short

      The bathhouse that was just a bit too short

      The next morning, I woke up and had breakfast, then joined the rest of the family out on the farm. The farm was pretty cool, they grew everything from yams and cassava to cashews and peppers, it was a pretty broad mix. Today they were working on clearing a patch of field so that they could plant some more cashew trees there. So I helped out by trying to do some clearing. After about 30 minutes it was obvious I was pretty beat, and so one of the kids took over and relegated me to watch the fire that was being used to burn down a tree. The family worked their buts off out there, clearing the field and chopping down trees and weeding for about 6 hours after I came. Kondep finally showed up around 2pm, turns out he had been in a motorcycle accident and had to be hospitalized overnight. Luckily he wasn’t hurt too badly and was released pretty quickly. Anyways, so he came and showed me around his farm while the family continued to work.

      Me helping to clear some of the field

      Me helping to clear some of the field

      One of Kondep's kids cutting down some branches

      One of Kondep's kids cutting down some branches

      Kondep proudly showing off his yam field

      Kondep proudly showing off his yam field

      The next day was Sunday and so I went with Kondep’s family to church (which was actually just a classroom in the junior high school). I’m not a Christian but, having gone to a Catholic high school, I have a pretty decent idea of what a service is like in Canada. The service here was mostly the same, they did the readings and all that (I’m making a few assumptions, the service was in Birfur so I was guessing based on what they did and how long they were talking for). But when it came to the hymns, the place burst into music, there were drums and clapping and while the adults sang the kids would dance, it was pretty amazing.

      Church - Children dancing to the music

      Church - Children dancing to the music

      After church we went to the village market. Every Sunday in Bale is Market Day, where the farmers from the surrounding villages bring their goods to sell and the village chills, shops, eats and drinks. After that, Kondep took me home to pack my things and I was off to Timburyiri, a small farming village nearby where I would finish off my village stay.

      The Bale Market on Market Day

      The Bale Market on Market Day

      Kondep and I enjoying some pito

      Kondep and I enjoying some pito

      So yea, I’ll talk about that other village in the next blog post, prolly early next week. Till then, keep the comments and feedback coming!

      Cheers,

      Gajan

      Posted by: gajans | June 22, 2009

      Answers to some Questions, and the Naming Ceremony

      So, I know I said I would talk about work in the next post, but a few people have asked some questions that I haven’t been able to answer yet, so I thought I’d take some time to do that.

      Q: What does antelope taste like?

      A:  It’s pretty tough, the muscle breaks away in fibres, I guess all that running makes for some tough muscles. As for taste, it’s sort of like beef, mixed with rabbit…I’m guessing it tastes like deer, but I’ve never had deer so that’s just a guess. The soup I had with it was amazing so I didn’t really take time to really appreciate the taste of the antelope, plus I didn’t find out it was antelope until I was almost done, so yea…hope that answers your question…

      Q: How do people react to you, you being obviously foreign but not white?

      A: This has actually been a bit of an interesting thing for me. I’m obviously not from around here, but they can’t pin me down as the standard white development worker, so I’ve had some interesting reactions. My host family children didn’t start calling me “kabrunei”, the term for white man, until a couple of weeks ago, and it was sort of nice, I almost look at it as a term of endearment from them now, I’m their kabrunei. Also, when I bring friends home that are white, like Adam from U of M, or David my friend for the Peace Corp., they get tons of attention, like, way more then I get. The first time Adam came over the kids started dancing and singing for him, I was actually sort of jealous.

      In general though, I think I have the best of both worlds. I get the standard “Western Privilege” treatment, people bring me chairs when I’m chatting, the kids run to get my bags when I’m coming home from work (they love it, the one kids struts home saying “look at me, I’m from Canada” in some mock impression of me), and they always respect my opinion on matters, even when I have far less knowledge on the subject then they do (obviously, all these things have their pros and cons).

      But on the flip side, people can’t associate me with the standard stereotype for white people, and so they’re always interested in hearing my story, and how I ended up in Ghana. I feel like it’s helped me build closer connections with people, makes me more approachable in a really weird way. I also get the most confused stares when I walk around. First, it’s pretty blatant staring, like, there is no attempt to hide it. But they look so intrigued, especially the children, that I can’t help but smile most times.  Throw in a greeting in the local language, and they’re completely thrown off, but they smile back and, if we’ve done this multiple times, we start talking, mostly about where I’m from, where my family is from and how I ended up in Ghana.

      Q: Why does Mr. Basintale travel so much?

      A: Mr. Basintale travels a lot for multiple reasons. Part of it is workshops, almost every day some senior officer is gone from the office because the government or some NGO is holding a workshop to help them do their jobs better. Though they can be helpful, people I’ve talked to say that a lot of the time material is repeated. Often, the only reason they go is to collect the “meeting allowance”, money given at every meeting and workshop to attract people to come. I’ve got mixed feeling about these allowances. On one hand, these allowances make the meager salary the government workers get (compared to their NGO counterparts) livable, and like I said, some of these workshops are really useful and should be attended. But on the other hand, it’s create this incentive to attend every meeting and workshop you can, even if it’s worthless. This not only wastes money, but valuable time the officer could be working on projects. So yea, it’s difficult.

      The other reasons for Mr. Basintale’s travel usually relate to work errands, a lot of which I feel he really could delegate to others. One final reason why he’s out of the office a lot is because his family, and a lot of the families of the male officers in the office, are located in Tamale, about 275km away . So, every couple weekends he goes to see his family, and tries to come back in time for work, but the way transportation works in Ghana, he could leave at 6am and not get here till noon (the road is terrible, and the bus stops frequently), and when he arrives he’d probably be too tried to work anyways. So he, and a lot of the officers, just take Monday off when they go to visit their families, something I can’t really complain about because I did the same when I was in Tamale for the EWB in-country meetings.

      Q: How was Lagos?

      A: I actually didn’t spend much time in Lagos, didn’t even enter the airport, they kept us on the plane because it was only an hour stop. But from overhead at night, Lagos looked like a pretty chill place, and I definitely hope to hit it up sometime soon.

      Q: How does Wembui completing his Master’s degree in Organizational Development compare to other workers in the district assembly and other areas?

      A: Tons of people here have a masters, it’s a bit ridiculous. I know a lot of people at my office are working at a Masters part-time, in things like Organizational Development, Development studies and other similar things. It seems like a crucial thing to get ahead, atleast in government and the few NGOs I’ve seen. And the people really do seem better for it, they really apply some of the stuff pretty well in meetings and workshops I’ve been too.

      So I realize this post has been a bit dry, lacking images and all that. So I thought I’d toss in some pictures from the naming ceremony I attended Sunday. It was for the child of the planning officer of a neighboring district, so I went with our planning officer. It was a blast, they had a pretty intense DJ set up, so obviously I hit the floor and busted some moves. I ended up dancing with the planner’s little daughter for a bit, but she soon realized her skill far outpaced mine, and dumped me, it was pretty harsh… Anyways, attached are some pics (none of me dancing, disappointing I know… but the little girl is their), enjoy! And keep those questions and feedback coming.

      Cheers,

      Gajan

      A group of people dancing at the naming ceremony

      A group of people dancing at the naming ceremony

      The DJ Set up at the naming ceremony

      The DJ Set up at the naming ceremony

      A group of people dancing around the planner's 5 year old

      A group of people dancing around the planner's daughter

      Posted by: gajans | June 17, 2009

      Mole National Park – Elephants!

      So, this week from Wednesday to Sunday was the JF retreat and Overseas In-country meetings for the Ghana team. So all the JFs met in Damongo on Wednesday, meeting up for the first time in a month. It was great to see everyone again and share stories about our placements.  Thursday we spent the day talking about our placements thus far, recapping what’s happened in EWB since we left (a lot supposedly) and relaxing in our guest house in Damongo.

      Relaxing in the Guest House at the JF Retreat

      Relaxing in the Guest House at the JF Retreat

      Friday we went to Mole National Park. The park is basically the closest thing to a safari in Ghana, with their main attraction being elephants (though there are some lions and hyenas at the park, people rarely spot them). Before going though, I had heard that it was a bit difficult to catch a glimpse of the animals as they usually tried to stay away from humans, so I didn’t really have high expectations. I would’ve been happy just seeing one African animal.

      Lucky for us, today all the animals seemed to be looking for some attention, because about 5 minutes into the hike (we hadn’t even left the compound yet), 5 elephants came by to grab some breakfast and see what us tourists were up to. They weren’t scared of us at all, eventually we had to back away from them because they were getting too close. It was amazing.

      One of the first elephants we saw, munching out in the Mole Compound

      One of the first elephants we saw, munching out in the Mole Compound

      Me standing in front of 3 elephants walking around Mole's compound (Check out my Ghanaian shirt)

      Me standing in front of 3 elephants walking around Mole's compound (Check out my Ghanaian shirt)

      Eventually, we ended up seeing elephants, baboons, warthogs, antelope and even a crocodile. Mole definitely blew my expectations out of the water. Big shout to our tour guide Jimmy, who took us around the park and made sure we were safe.

      Me and our Tour Guide Jimmy after the hike

      Me and our Tour Guide Jimmy after the hike

      After the hike we went back to the park’s office and chilled for the rest of the day. Mole is probably one of the, if not the, biggest tourist attraction in Ghana, and so the place is basically made for westerners. The washrooms are amazingly clean, better then most public washrooms in Canada. There was a swimming pool that most of the JFs took advantage of pretty quickly. Even the food was western, I actually had a cheeseburger and fries for lunch.

      Eventually we got pretty tired of the animals, as they really seemed to have no fear at all of us tourists. A couple warthogs joined us for breakfast/brunch, and at lunch we had to basically fend off the monkeys from stealing our fries. This one other British tourist was eating and a monkey came in, ran across her table and grab 2 handfuls and a mouthful of fries, it was pretty ridiculous. One of the other JFs (Brian from Windsor) actually had to threaten away a monkey from his juice, they were just so used to humans that they weren’t really that scared of us.

      A couple Warthogs chillin' in the mud

      A couple Warthogs chillin' in the mud

      A herd of antelope, just before we spooked them away

      A herd of antelope, just before we spooked them away

      A baboon squatting...all of a sudden evolution makes a lot more sense

      A baboon squatting...all of a sudden evolution makes a lot more sense

      Elephant taking a bath

      Elephant taking a bath

      After Mole we went to Tamale for our Ghana Team in-country meeting, which was pretty cool. We talked a lot about our plans for the various districts and the challenges we were facing. We also had a blast most nights, and even had time to play some Ultimate Frisbee (I played for all of 5 minutes until I sprained my ankle, I’m still hobbling around, but should be good in a couple of days.

      Anyways, that’s it for now. I’ll try and shoot off another post next week about my placement and how work is going. Until then, keep the messages coming!

      Cheers,

      Gajan

      Posted by: gajans | June 5, 2009

      UEFA! And Other Ghanaian Sports Stuff

      First I thought I should give a quick health update. I’m healthy. Malaria in Ghana is not a big deal as long as you have access to, and money for, appropriate medical care (which, sadly, a lot of people don’t have). My director’s already had it twice since I’ve been here. Still though, thanks to everyone who sent me messages and emails while I was sick, they really did cheer me up.

      —————

      Ghanaians in general are very peaceful people, and like talking through their issues. But there is one issue that seems to cause a great divide in Ghanaians, one that has led to some of the most heated arguments I have ever seen, and has often come close to blows. The issue revolves around the English Premier League, namely the team of Chelsea FC. In my in depth analysis of this issue, it seems that the root cause of the divide is the love-hate relationship the country has with Michael Essien. Essien is arguably the best Ghanaian player in the world, but when he plays for the Ghanaian National team, there seems to be a lot of debate around whether he gives it his all. Because of this, Ghana can be divided into two major camps, those who cheer for Essien’s team, Chelsea, and those who cheer for Manchester United, another team in the EPL with probably the largest fan base of any team in any sport in the world.

      This division was no more evident to me then on May 27th, the day of the UEFA Champion’s League final. People had been talking about this literally for weeks leading up to today, but today it seemed to be the only thing on people’s minds. The game was between Manchester United and Barcelona, with all the Chelsea fans supporting Barcelona. My officemate, Wumbui, is a staunch Man U supporter and the whole day consisted of people coming in and discussing/arguing about how the game would go. When Barcelona fans came in, the conversation usually ended with one person stomping out of the office in a fit.

      The broadcast was scheduled to begin at 6:00pm, and by 5 the streets of Bole seemed deserted, unless you happened to pass by the few spots in the city that had satellite TV, which were all jam packed with people anxiously waiting the game.

      Lucky for me, my host family’s home is one of those spots, so I didn’t have to go anywhere. People started showing up around 4:30, and by 6 there were probably around 60 people at our place, ready for the game.

      A shot of all the people watching the game at our home

      A shot of all the people watching the game at our home

      Another shot of everyone watching, this one showing the TV to group size ratio

      Another shot of everyone watching, this one showing the TV to group size ratio

      Before the game I wasn’t too adamant on any team winning, I’ve never been a big Man United fan, and I never really paid much attention to the Spanish League, but just before the match I decided I’d cheer for Man U because it’s English, the empire and allegiance to the queen and all that. My American Peace Corp. friend David, who came by too, isn’t much of a soccer fan but decided he would cheer for Barcelona just to spite me, and possibly to spite the queen as well. The air was tense, and every movement seemed to cause an uproar as the ball raced from one end to the other. When Barcelona scored their first goal, the place erupted as all the Chelsea/Barcelona fans jumped up, high fived, and rubbed it in our faces that their team had just taken the lead. After that, being a Man United fan sucked, but we kept at it, hoping that they could pull something together. But, to be honest, they were completely outplayed, and after the second Barcelona goal the looks on the faces of the Man United fans was pretty grim. When the final whistle blew, the place erupted once more, and even David was on his feet cheering with the rest of the Barcelona fans.

      A few kids passing the ball around

      A few kids passing the ball around

      So that was a glimpse of my exposure to the love of soccer Ghanaians have. The following the game has here is amazing, every day I see kids playing on rock and dirt filled fields, often without shoes. But that’s not all they play. Every day at 4:30 a group of guys gets together at the near by volleyball court and plays until the sun sets. They started it a year or so ago because they wanted something to keep them healthy, and it’s progressed into a daily event and there are even competitions between different teams within Bole. Since my soccer skill is no where near theirs, 10 year olds can school me out here, I decided volleyball was a safe bet. I still get schooled, but it’s not as bad.

      Me playing Volleyball with some of the local guys

      Me playing Volleyball with some of the local guys

      My host family also has a table-tennis table and they play that on occasion. I put up decent competition there, still get beaten pretty often, but it’s close. So basically I’ve created the impression that Canadians are better at games where less movement is required. I’m seriously considering challenging them to a game of shuffle board…

      My host brother and his cousin playing Table Tennis

      My host brother and his cousin playing Table Tennis

      Anyways, that’s it for now, I’ll be going to Mole National Park for the JF retreat next week, hoping to see elephants. I’ll probably post about that the week after. Till then, keep the messages coming!

      Cheers,

      Gajan

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