Volta Region: Lush Forests, Cute Monkeys, and Beautiful Waterfalls

It was Friday night, and the power was out, but I was waiting for a call from Yazan to find out when his bus would arrive in Accra.  Unfortunately, his phone has broken the night before so he’d be calling from the taxi drivers phone.  The driver got lost, but eventually he found the place.  It was nice to see my buddy from training after more than 2 months of working in different cities.  He threw his stuff in my extra room and we headed for Champs, a sports bar, which has karaoke on Friday nights.  It was 20 cedis to get in, but the money goes towards a voucher you can use for food and drinks, so it was fine.  We got fancy cocktails and American diner food while listening to off key notes, it was lots of fun!  We were both exhausted, so we left around 1 and passed out as soon as we got back to my place.

Saturday morning we decided to sleep in.  Originally we were going to try and find a phone repair shop, but we decided to leave earlier instead.  We hung out with our computers, looked at our itinerary, booked a few hotels, and then packed our bags.  We left my place around 1, and eventually found the trotro station where we would catch the ride to Volta.  It took more than an hour for the trotro to leave, but thankfully we had seats in the front, so we had room to sprawl and a good view.  We bought some snacks from the vendors at the window, and settled in for a journey that Google said would take about 2 hours.

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Of course the journey took a lot more than 2 hours!  The actual driving was okay, but I guess one of the bridges was under maintenance (for the last year or so), so we were stuck taking the ferry.  We were told that one of the ferries was also “spoiled” and we ended up waiting to get on for more than 2 hours.  The ferry only takes about 2 minutes, you can see the other side of the water, and after that our driver was in a big hurry.  It was dark and he was driving really fast, but thankfully we didn’t hit any of the goats that were sitting on the road (or any cars or people for that matter!).  It was 9:30pm by the time we arrived in Ho (the capital city of the Volta Region), and our driver informed us that all trotros to our hotel would be done for the night.  A taxi would have cost us a ridiculous amount so we decided to find a place in town.  Thankfully our driver was super nice and took us to a nearby guesthouse which had rooms available.  We watched some TV on our computers, grabbed a few drinks, and hit the hay.

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Sunday morning we slept until about 9, packed our bags, and had some egg and bread at the hotel.  We walked the short distance to the station and waited in the trotro again for it to fill up.  The trotro was headed to Hohoe, but we were going to get off in Logba, which was about half-way through the trip.  The journey on the map looked short, but of course it didn’t take into account all of the hills we would drive through.  When driving through hills you have to take a jagged path up one side and down the other, so the trip takes a lot longer than if you drove straight.  But by about 1pm we had made it to our stop.  The roads are narrow, so we took motorcycles to the sanctuary, where we got off at the reception building.

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At the monkey sanctuary we signed a guestbook, paid our fees (less because I’m a student, but more because I had a camera), and also paid for a guy to go buy bananas from the market.  Then our tour guide took us into the forest.  Eventually, we saw a few monkeys and he made some sounds with his mouth to attract more.  He taught us how to hold the banana firmly but push it up at a certain pace so that the monkeys couldn’t rip it out of your hand but would have to stay close to eat it.  It also encourages them to jump on you for fun pictures.  Yazan and I screwed it up many times before we finally figured out what he was talking about, but we definitely got to see a lot of cute monkeys!  I think Yazan was afraid of rabies, but I had a lot of fun.

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After all the bananas were gone, our guide took us to a group of benches where we sat for awhile to watch the monkeys while he told us stories.  He told us about the ancient myths, and how the people once believed that monkeys would tell them the word of God. In fact, he said the people of this region had followed to monkeys from their old home to here, which is where they finally settled. Eventually, he said, Christianity came so they killed the monkeys and started cutting down the forest.  Then in the 80’s, a Canadian came and taught them about tourism, which is how the sanctuary started.  The money from the visits has helped the community to build schools and get electricity.  He told us about the symbology of the different forest animals and some biology stuff about the monkeys too, it was pretty interesting!  The tour wasn’t very long, and he took us back to the information center where we paid him (which apparently was not included in the cost of the tour – strange), and bought some nice cloth we saw at a nearby shop.  We wanted lunch but there was nothing nearby so we decided to take the motorcycles to a nearby Kente Village instead.  Originally we wanted to climb a nearby mountain (the highest in Accra – but only about 800 m tall) but with the day passing quickly we didn’t think there would be enough time before nightfall.

In the village there is a large structure that is a recent addition, to protect the looms and their workers during the rainy season.  The large building has a row of looms on each side, with long strings of every colour stretched across between them.  The looms all look the same, but each belongs to a family.  The weavers use many different colours (which each have a meaning) and many different patterns (which also have meanings – mostly related to the history of their people and different types of environments in the area).  The kente is made in 2 and 4 foot narrow strips, which can take 2-7 hours to make depending on the complexity (which also determines the price).

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We also explored the small village, met with some of the people, and saw some “fixed looms”, which work in a similar way but the poles are dug into the ground for support.  The looms are located beside the family home in an open-air structure, which is basically a few wooden poles with a straw roof.  Their work is amazing and I was really impressed by the speed!  Each child learns the trade at the age of 7, and it takes them 3 years to master the techniques.  We then returned to the large building to buy some strips of the cloth and pay our tour fees.  We hopped back on the motorcycles, and headed back to the junction.  Since we hadn’t eaten lunch yet, we grabbed some food from the street vendors, and sat down in the sun to wait for a trotro.  We weren’t optimistic about it coming soon, but lucky enough we had waited just 10 minutes before a Metro Mass Transit bus pulled up.  The bus is much bigger than a trotro, and costs less money.  We hopped on and found seats in the back (though we has to move some luggage out of the way first – including some bags and a wheelchair).  The ride was super bumpy but we made it Hohoe (another big city) within about an hour.

From Hohoe we found a shared taxi headed in the right direction, and we felt lucky – boy were we wrong!  This was the shortest ride of our journey but it was my worst ride since arriving in Ghana!  At first it was just the two of us and a young school girl, sweet.  Eventually we picked up another guy – Okay that’s a full car.  Then he pulled over for another lady.  This lady proceeded to sit on top of me, elbow me, and yell Ewe (the local language) in my ear (definitely louder than was necessary for everyone in the car to hear!).  Everyone seemed annoyed at her but the driver was really chatty and that just made her yell more.  She was also yelling into the phone.  Yazan looked back at me… I could tell he felt bad, but neither of us knew what she was saying.  Eventually the car stopped again, for about 9 more school girls!  One lady who had a baby got in the back with us, while the other 8 of them squished into the trunk.  I was now between a guy and the yelling lady, with another girl from the trunk sitting on my shoulder.  Then the people on either side of me started fighting over a spatula!  It was a very strange ride and I was super relieved when everyone got out!  Later, we ran into the guy (who worked at the hotel where we ate) and he told us what had happened.  Apparently the yelling lady had found out her husband was cheating, and was headed home to assault the woman.  The man thought this was just too much, so he stole the spatula and accompanied to her house, but the lady had already left.  I do not look forward to ever having a ride like that again, that’s for sure!

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After all the stress of the drive we checked into our hotel, but found out they had no drinks.  So we walked to a nearby hotel and got drinks and food.  I felt social, so we decided to talk to a group sitting at a table nearby, and they were all really friendly!  Most of them were expats from all over the place, and they were part of a group called Adventure Junkies (which I’m totally going to join).  We hung out with them for the rest of the night and went back to our hotel when everyone dispersed.  Of course there was us banging on the door (because for some reason the door before our hotel door was locked), but we made it back to our bed and went to sleep.  However, the women in the morning did look at me in a stern way and give me a lecture about coming home late (even though it was only about 11), probably because I’m a girl – Yazan didn’t get in trouble.

We were told that the waterfall opens at 7 and we should start hiking then to avoid the hot mid-day sun, but that didn’t exactly happen. We got up at 8, attempted to shower (our bathroom left something to be desired) and asked at the hotel restaurant what was being served for breakfast. The answer we got was no.  We wandered the streets but everything appeared to be closed for the holiday so we ended up back at the Big Safari Lodge again.  The service was a bit slow that time since there were a lot of others wanting breakfast also. My pancakes were both burnt and soggy – bad combo – but there was bacon, so I couldn’t complain.  We paid or bill and walked back to the hotel, where the entrance to the waterfalls was.  We bought a few souvenirs, stocked up on drinking water, and paid our entrance fees (which was a bit more than expected but whatever).

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Our guide was an older man with no water (they laughed when we asked if he needed any and said he would drink out of the river – instead he found a used plastic bottle on the path at some point and filled that up to use).  He did have a machete though, which he used to get rid of some overgrown foliage, cut us hiking sticks from branches (which came in super handy), and he even cut us down the plant that is used for growing coffee beans (you can suck on the seeds, they taste like a sweet fruit candy).  He told us we would have to cross over 9 bridges to get to the falls (8 of which cross the river that is made by the waterfall).  After walking on flat ground for awhile (and crossing 8 of the 9 bridges), our guide told us to take a path up, this would lead to the top waterfall.  We had decided to take the middle option and do the 4 hour hike to the Upper Falls and back, instead of just doing the Lower Falls, or doing a big loop around the whole hill (due to time).

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The hike was fine at first and then I started feeling exhausted.  It was completely uphill, climbing on loose rocks and intertwined roots.  I wanted to give up but instead I took a little break and drank some water (I figured I must be dehyrdated based on how I was sweating).  I threw on my bandanna to keep the sweat out of my eyes (most people here keep a hankerchief on them all the time to wipe away the sweat anyways), and we kept climbing.  Eventually we made it to the half-way point and stared at the top of the lower falls.  We also saw beautiful views of the surrounding hills, and could even see all the way to the nearby town of Hohoe.  We climbed a bit more and then started descending down the other side.  Eventually we saw ants, no big deal, but our guide warned us they were soldier ants and we should keep away – no problem.  Until we saw a huge pile of them… I didn’t know what to do.  Eventually I just screamed and ran through them, for about 2 whole minutes of running downhill.  I’m surprised I didn’t slip on the wet leaves or loose dirt but I made it!  The guide told us to take of our shoes and socks and helped us pick off all the little ants.  I only got a few bites, but then we were on our way again.  We made it to the pool of the Upper Falls, which was a beautiful sight to see (but definitely too rough to swim in!).  After a couple photos we turned around and did the whole thing again, in reverse.  Yazan and I slipped a couple times, got a couple scrapes, but we made it to the bottom in good spirits – sweating but intact!

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Finally we were back on level ground! We walked across the final bridge and soon felt the spray of the lower falls. I pictured a serene pool of water with birds and fish and people swimming – I was totally wrong.  From about 10 minutes away you can hear the roar, and then you start to feel the mist, which eventually turns into a cold rain.  Everyone was huddled under a shelter (basically a roof over a concrete slab – it looked like a group had come for a picnic), but everything around was soaked.  I could barely even get a picture before my lens was covered in water.  Yazan and I had worn our bathing suits but nobody was in the water and we were a bit scared and insure what to do.  Even we both took off our outer later (which is hindsight was silly since they were coated in sweat already), and started towards the falls.  I went in up to my waist and splashed around a bit until the spray starting bugging my eyes, then I got out.  But Yazan had gone all the way in and was swimming around.  At one point I lost sight of him, but I tried not to panic and eventually he resurfaced.  When he was done we both headed back (which hurt the feet a lot since there’s rocks and branches and we hadn’t thought to bring sandals, since we wore runners for the hike!).  We put some clothes back on and headed back out the same path.

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When we finished our treck from the waterfall, we paid the guide (apparently he’s not paid from our entrance fee, which seems totally unfair and makes me upset). Our hotel ended up being right outside the reception office for the waterfall, so that’s where our trip ended. The whole way back, Yazan and I were debating our options. Should we take a taxi to the nearby city, find a trotro, and ride to Accra at night – is that too risky? Or should we spend an extra night but miss work in the morning? I said we should wait and see, which turned out to be a fantastic idea. As we approached our hotel, we saw a VVIP bus idling right out front! We thought there was no way it would work out, but they were a school group with a chartered bus, heading to Accra, leaving in an hour, and they had extra seats! Wow, we took it as a sign and agreed right away to go with them. An hour gave us the perfect amount of time to pack our bags, and go back to the hotel nearby for a drink while we waited for sandwiches and fries to take on the bus for dinner (a goat tried to eat Yazan’s but some men shooed it away!).

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By 6 pm we were on the road. Yazan and I drank a carton of sangria and watched the Great Mouse Detective before passing out. We got to the ferry but they refused us and told us to try the bridge. Arriving at the bridge, the gate was closed – oh no! Thankfully, they were able to call some people and somebody arrived to open the gate – we were back on track. We arrived in Accra, took a taxi to my house, and stayed up way too late (since we both had work stuff to do in the morning). We were both sweaty, dirty, and exhausted but I’m so glad we went! I would definitely recommend a trip to the Volta Region for anybody spending time in Ghana!

Canadian Thanksgiving (In Northern Ghana)

Originally Yazan was supposed to leave for Tamale on Thursday and I was to leave on Friday (because neither of us wanted to miss a lot of work), but the Thursday morning  bus was full.  Therefore, Yazan had to leave Thursday evening, and I figured I might as well join him, because travelling is always more fun with a buddy!  The bus was supposed to leave at 5pm, and we were running late so we decided to take a cab, but traffic was awful.  We were told the buses leave on time, so be an hour early… but we showed up with just 5 minutes to spare… and there was no bus in sight – oh no!  Thankfully, they told us it had not yet arrived (phew!) so we sit down to wait.  After about an hour we decided to get some dinner, and wandered over to the restaurant in the station.  The  food choices were the ordinary Ghanaian ones (fish or chicken with rice or plantains) but the quality of it was really good, and Yazan even went back for a second plate!  The bus arrived at 7pm and we quickly went to the bathroom before hopping on.  The bus was really comfortable, with big seats and armrests.

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The bus ride was pretty normal.  Some bad roads, while some were smooth.  Thankfully the driver didn’t play super loud music and blast the a/c… though he did drive fast and then slam on the brakes a lot (which is very common in Ghana – but makes it hard to feel safe or get any sleep!).  We stopped 3 times on the journey for about 15 minutes each, just to stretch, go to the bathroom, and buy some snacks – including a delicious glass of hot chocolate and some popcorn I really enjoyed!  I also had to finish up some work for MBC so that it could be sent out for the training sessions that were happening in a week… but it was really hard to format Word documents on the bumpy roads!  Eventually I got it finished, but I accidentally leaned on my screen and it cracked!  I almost had a panic attack (especially because it’s a touch-screen tablet) but thankfully it still works and I managed to send the work back to my office in Accra.  I’m still pretty sad about it though! :( I did a bit of reading, watched some shows on my laptop, and tried to catch a few Zs.

We arrived in Tamale at about 7am, and decided to go right to his house.  We hopped in a shared taxi and went to his house to chill for a bit.  He was planning to go into work, but I wanted to go into town for a bit.  So at around 9 we grabbed some egg and bread from a vendor near the house, and grabbed another shared cab back into the city (which is only about a 10 minute drive).  I took my fabric I had bought at the monkey sanctuary in Volta to a tailor that the Junior Fellows had recommended.  I asked if he could make me a skirt by Sunday, and chose a design based on the posters they have around the shop.  He said that Sunday wouldn’t work, and I was really sad.  But then he surprised me by saying they were closed on Sundays but I should come this afternoon to pick it up… awesome!  Yazan showed me the craft market, and we bought some groceries from the vendors on the street and the supermarket.  I headed back to his house with all of the groceries and he went to work.  Once back at the house I passed out for the rest of the day, I was exhausted from the bus!

At around 3, I headed back to the market and got my skirt.  I really liked it!  I was also able to get two of my long skirts hemmed and taken in so that I would actually be able to wear them back in Accra without them dragging on the ground or falling down.  I went to the market to buy some more fabric, and asked the tailor to make me a dress the next day, which he said would be no problem.  Yazan and I met back at his place and we headed out for dinner with some friends.  It was nice to meet new people, and it was my first time trying guinea fowl!  Everyone here loves it, and I’m not a big meat fan – I would say it’s equal to chicken in my books, but I’m no expert.

After dinner we took a cab to Gidipass, a local bar on a rooftop.  I like the rooftop aspect but there were way too many guys (I’d guess about 90%), and they’re very eager to talk to you and get near you, which wasn’t my cup of tea.  The music was good, but a few of us ended up going downstairs to the bar instead for some drinks and just sitting to chat, which I found much more enjoyable.  Once Gidipass closed at around midnight, we headed to Mike’s, which is near Yazan’s house.  The girls get in free, but the boys had to pay 15 cedi and they refused.  Plus the inside was packed, so we all grabbed some chairs on the patio and chilled for another 2 hours or so.  Eventually Yazan was falling asleep on the table (he did work all day while I slept), so we grabbed a cab and headed back to his house… it had been a long day!  Unfortunately, the gate was locked so we had to bang on the door to be let in.  They were not impressed, and Yazan felt really bad, but we didn’t have much choice.

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On Saturday, Yazan wasn’t feeling so hot, and we both wanted to sleep in.  We chilled in our rooms until about noon and then started our food preparations.  Yazan was making a squash soup, and cooked the squash on the charcoal grill in the compound before scraping out the insides.  I was in his kitchen peeling potatoes.  Just before 4, we left to go into town.  Yazan needed some extra ingredients, and I was going to pick up my dress.  The skirt had been almost perfect and took no time at all, but the dress was a different story.  The style was not what I asked for and it was almost impossible to get it on and off!  Eventually they cut off the sleeves, took in the back, and made a few other alterations before I decided to just take it home.  It was 6 pm by the time we got back to his house and we still had to cook!  Yazan went outside to cook his soup on a big pot, and I started boiling the potatoes and mincing garlic.  By 7:30 we were both done our dishes, we threw on some clothes, and jumped in the cab that we had called.

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Of course we got to the party super late and most of the food was gone, so I ended up eating a lot of mashed potatoes (no complaints here!).  Apparently the other Canadians also enjoyed them, so I’m glad I made a good choice!  There was 2 huge tables of people (so probably around 50 people showed up total).  The food was mostly potluck style, plus a turkey made by the restaurant, and a bar where people could buy beer (or Smirnoff Ice in my case, which is pretty much the only alternative to beer at most Ghanaian restaurants).  I chatted with lots of people, a lot of EWBers and other Canadians, but also people from different countries and working in different professions.  After dinner was done they brought our dessert, which was impressive!  There was apple crisp, a big tub of ice cream, and 3 types of pumpkin pie!  The pumpkin pie was especially impressive, since it was made of local squash… and one of the pies was made by some boys from Denmark who had never actually tried pumpkin pie.

Once all the dessert was done, we headed to a party at this guys house – his name was Chris, from Nigeria, and apparently he knows everyone (plus it was his birthday).  It was really hard to get there.  The road has been closed, so they sent a guy on a motorcycle to come meet our taxi and show us the way, but eventually we found our way.  It was a great party, which started outside with a table for food (plus a guy on the grill), a table of drinks, and a live band.  People were dancing and chatting.  later on it moved inside where Chris was DJ-ing and we all danced the night away (though the music was super random).

By about 3 in the morning there were 13 of us left.  Since it was late, Yazan and I decided to crash on Lindsay’s couch, because we didn’t want to wake up his host family again.  5 people were headed in one direction, so they hopped in one cab… but there was still 8 of us left, and only 2 cabs, so we all got in the other cab!  There was basically two layers of people, with 2 in the front and 6 in the back.  It was quite a crammed ride but we made it back to her house.  There was some argument over the price, but the prices in Tamale are way less than in Accra, so I was willing to pay way more than the rest (especially since we didn’t have much option at that time of night!).  I got the couch, Yazan got the floor.  We put our contacts in a glass of water, borrowed some comfy clothes and a pillow, and went to bed.

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In the morning (aka. about 4 hours later) we were woken at around 9 am (ugh!).  Their coworkers were coming over for a work breakfast, but we were invited.  We had some tea and pancakes, so after eating I felt much better about the early start.  Around 11 everyone left and the house went back to nap.  We went to Yazan’s house, took showers, I packed, and then we had about 1.5 hours left before I was supposed to grab a taxi to the airport.  We decided to hit up the craft market.  I bought a purse, and ordered a screen-printed tank top from this guy named Jay, before we had to rush back to the house since my cab was waiting.  I was late for the cab but made it to the airport with more than enough time to spare, since there’s only 1 gate and one flight leaving.

Before leaving Yazan’s house, I decided to raid his bookshelf that had been left behind by previous volunteers.  I took a bunch of books from different shelves (categories) – including: Shopaholic (seemed like a good lazy beach read), Catch 22 (a classic I’ve been meaning to read), Barack Obama’s biography, and a book about climate change. Since I was only going for the weekend, I decided that 24 hours in a bus was just too much.  While I was in Accra, I visited the office of Africa World Airlines and bought a ticket on the plane home.  Even though the bus ride is 12 hours, the flight is less than an hour! The airport in Tamale is a bit out of town (a 20 cedi cab ride) but the airport in Accra is actually pretty close to my house.  I left at 4:30 and was back at my house by 6pm… not bad!  I even had time to unpack that night before going back to work the next day.  It was a jam-packed two weeks (between visiting Volta, Yazan visiting Accra, and the weekend in Tamale), but I’m so glad I got a chance to visit Tamale and meet lots of cool new people! :)

Hot vs. Cold Showers

In Ghana there are many different levels of affluence and access to resources/services.  One of these vital everyday necessities is water! Hence EWB volunteers who live in different areas or with different families have different ways of taking a shower, and they each have their merits.

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Many indoor showers in Ghana look like this.  Tiled floor. shower head… but never any shower curtain so the water ends up getting everywhere.  (Note: this picture was taken in Uganda where the situation is very similar).

Hot Showers
Hot showers are lovely, especially on cold days. However, In Ghana there are no cold days. Sometimes it’s a bit chilly, but never cold enough that you need a hot shower just to stop shivering! Having hot water is nice because then you always have a choice, but it’s a luxury for many Ghanaians. In many houses you must turn on the hot water with a switch about an hour before taking a shower (depending how hot you want it and how long your shower is going to be). I find that hot showers are the only way to feel 100% clean. I still wear flipflops in the shower though (because in Ghana there are different kinds of bugs all over the place!). Hot showers also use the most water (because I never want to get out) and electricity. This also means that showers are no longer hot if you have a power outage and no generator!

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This man is selling “scrubby cloths” – they come in many different colours, and you can either buy a full or half piece (I think a half is totally sufficient).

Cold Showers
Despite the name, cold showers are not always freezing cold… It depends on your water source. At my house the cold showers make u wince when the water hits your head, and you try to avoid it touching the parts of your body that you aren’t currently washing. However, at some houses the water is stored in a black poly-tank in the yard, where it heats up all day. So afternoon showers can actually be quite a pleasant temperature. Taking a cold shower requires a “scrubby cloth” (I’m not sure what they’re actually called but everyone has them and they sell them everywhere. It’s basically a deconstructed loofah!). Using the cloth feels good because you’re clean(ish) but actually kind of hurts. It feels like sandpaper for your skin, but it really helps get all that dirt and soap off! The best part about cold showers is that it incentivizes people to save water. When it’s cold I always take a staggered shower (where you turn off the water while washing, shaving, etc. and only turn it on to rinse). Hence, both electricity and water are saved.  Plus it helps cool you off when you’re hot and sweaty (which is constantly – if you’re a Canadian in Ghana and not used to the weather).

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Jerry can of water at the door to your room?  Surprise!  You get to take a bucket shower for the next three days because the hotel is out of water.. (at our hotel in Kasese, Uganda).

Bucket Showers
When there’s no access to running water, a bucket shower is pretty much the only option (other than a river). However, some people choose to take this kind of shower because of bad water pressure, or because they want to use warm water but don’t have a hot water tank (so you can use a kettle or water heated on a gas/charcoal/wood stove to fill the bucket). The first step is to fill up a bucket or basin from a tap or other water collection point. Then most people use a smaller cup to actually splash the water on their body. Then you sudse up like normal and try to rinse it off with the cup. You can use the scrubby cloth to try and scrape the dirt and soap off of your skin but rinsing out conditioner is very difficult.  This method uses the least amount of resources (water and electricity) and can be performed when there is no running water available (which some people experience all the time, and many people experience sporadically, as water sources can sometimes be unpredictable – even in the city!). If you’re planning to live in Africa, I would recommend perfecting this method – It comes in handy!

Building Character: My New Motto

A few weeks ago I was really having trouble in Ghana. I didn’t have many friends, I was frustrated by the frequent power outages, and my job wasn’t exciting enough to balance out all the negatives I was feeling. So what did I do? I did what anyone would do… I called my mom! Her words inspired me to look at things a different way. Instead of thinking about everything I don’t like as unfair or annoying, I now think of these events as learning potential, opportunities for growth, and chances to use my positive attitude. I sum this all up as “Building Character”.

I know it sounds a bit silly, but it really works. It reminds me to complain less, take things as they come, and approach life with a little bit of laughter. Every time something happens that I would normally hate (or at least get frustrated over) – like the power being out, trotros taking to long to fill up, or a restaurant not having any food – I just think “Wow, I’m building so much character right now. Think about how much I’ll have by the time I get home!” It’s a bit funny and a bit motivating, and it really works for me!
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For example, this weekend, Yazan (a fellow ProF who lives in Tamale) and I went on a trip to the Volta Region of Ghana. We had a whole schedule made up of places we would stay, things we would do, and how we would get around. Of course, none of it ended up going according to plan. But we didn’t panic and we didn’t complain. We just said “This is Ghana, it happens. Think about all of that character!” It became our inside joke and motto for the next two days as all sorts of unexpected things happened. I’m also not a big hiker, but I climbed the waterfall by reminding myself to be resilient, that if I could do this I could do anything. We made it to the top of the mountain that day, and we made it back to Accra in one piece too – albeit with a few more stories to tell and ton more character under our belt!

A new place to live

As most of you know, Mike and I were forced to leave our first home unexpectedly (to be discussed in another post)!  However, we are now in a new home and finally starting to feel all settled in again! I know where to buy groceries, catch the trotro, and I even have a gym (with a big, marvelous pool) nearby!  Hopefully this will be my last post about new homes in Accra, and I will not have to be shown that third times the charm…

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This is my bedroom.  It has 4 big closets, 2 twin beds (one I use as a night table), and 2 big windows.  There’s also a vanity and air conditioning.  I have a fan to keep me cool at night, which doubles as a mosquito repeller (it blows them away so they can’t get you). There is also a mosquito net to sleep in when the power goes out (which I hate, since it makes me feel hot and claustrophobic).  I have my own bathroom (score!) which even has hot water when the electricity is working (there’s a switch I have to turn on about an hour before showering).

Our new place is great!  We really love the independence.  I can come and go as I please, and I have my own space where I can chill and keep all of my stuff.  Using the kitchen is nicer because there is only two of us sharing.  There’s even 3 bathrooms (which seems excessive) because we each have one in our room and there’s a third one for guests (off of the living room).  It has a balcony is we want to sit outside, and the neighbourhood feels really safe.

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This is our kitchen and our living room (before we moved in).  We now have some clothes lines in our living room to hang up our delicates, and we sometimes have a microwave on our counter (when Mike isn’t lugging it back and forth to the repair shop!).

Kitchen - Unfortunately, after a few weeks of living at our house we found that ants were weirdly attracted to the butter on the counter.  We kills those ants and hoped that would be the end of the problem… We were so wrong! Since then we have daily armies of ants parading down the wall. We spray them with raid and ensure that every single item of food is in a zip-loc bag, but we can’t yet seem to be rid of them. Thankfully, they’re not the big ants!  We used to have a mystery dust pile that appeared each day in the hallway, and our landlord said it was from the wood trim.  However, since the ants appeared, the dust has left – perhaps they’re related?  Or perhaps it’s because it is not hot and humid outside?  We’ll probably never know…

Landlord - Our new landlord is lovely.  She’s Ghanaian but has an American accent after living in the United States for a number of years.  She’s totally reasonable about all her rules, and accepted our payments in chunks (since we weren’t able to take it all out of the ATM at once).  Her grandsons come and help fix up the place (when the sink leaks or there are issues with the gas stove).  Mostly they’re just the people in the other house, and everyone just does their own thing.  It totally suits me.

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This is our courtyard (we share it with a larger house where the landlord and her family live).  The second picture is me enjoying a glass of wine on the balcony on the first night after I moved in.

Electricity - Our electricity situation is a bit problematic, but I don’t think it’s because of our new neighbourhood.  Our power at work and in other areas has been out a lot these past few weeks as well.  This means that about one in every 2-3 nights there is not electricity in our house when we get home from work.  Thankfully our stove uses gas so we can still make dinner, though it’s a lot harder to cut vegetables in the dark!  However, there’s not much to do without electricity.  Usually I play on my computer until it dies (and pray there will be electricity by the morning to charge it up again), and then read a bit by candlelight until it starts bothering my eyes.  That’s about it, and then you go to bed early.  Hopefully the ECG (Electric Company of Ghana) gets the problem fixed soon.

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This is the building we live in.  Each floor is a 2-bedroom apartment. and we chose the top floor.  The stairs to walk up are on the right side.  Currently, nobody is living in the bottom unit.  This is the street that leads up to our gate.

Neighborhood - I really love the neighbourhood.  It’s not full of expats and all the hawkers that come along with that.  It’s pretty easy to get around the city – we can take one trotro to work, one to Osu (the expat area with all of the good bars, restaurants and shops), and one to Labadi beach.  The people are really friendly and always say hi, as well as offering to help with my groceries when I’m carrying a big load.  It’s well lit at night (when the power is on), so I always feel safe.  There’s also lots of shops to buy everyday things like power bars, wine, bread, and phone cards.  What I can’t buy locally I can get at the big grocery store on the way home.


So this is my new ‘hood… I think I’m going to like it here! :)

 

EWB’s 5 Year Direction, rewritten

mandyrox2:

This blog was written by another fellow who is currently working in Ghana (though based out of a different city – Tamale – and working with a different venture – Amplify Governance). It gives a more detailed description of the work that EWB does, and where the goals and priorities lie within the organization. I thought it would be a good follow-up to my blog about work yesterday, and clarify any of the questions you’re still wondering about. I think it helps to make a lot more sense out of things… thanks Beth! :)

Originally posted on Rebuilding Foundations:

Last year the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) National Office (NO) wrote a new 5 Year Direction plan.  I’ve been involved with EWB for years, but I still only vaguely understand what statements such as “Our collective challenge is to unlock innovation” mean.  Give these documents to a First Year (or even Fourth Year) university student and the response is usually along the lines of “…Uh…what?”

I personally don’t like EWB’s jargon, but I understand their counterargument: they don’t want to be caged into someone else’s definitions, so they’re trying to invent their own vocabulary to describe their organization.  Still, though, no one else knows what they’re saying!  What’s the point of a written document if it doesn’t actually communicate your ideas?

I’m not trying to rag on EWB.  Their 5 Year Direction is super impressive.  However, I’ve taken the liberty to rewrite it into words that I understand.  That being…

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EWB, BDS, MBC… What does it all mean?!?!

EWB Canada (which stands for Engineers Without Borders) is the NGO who hired me for this placement.  EWB focuses on systemic change as its primary goal.  This is different from a lot of other development organizations, who might focus on just band-aid solutions.  For example, just giving a community a well when you don’t understand the complex water system and all of the actors involved is super problematic… especially after a well breaks down in a few years and there’s nobody around who knows how to fix it (which would fall into the category of WatSat – Water and Sanitation – which is a project we run in Malawi where two of the other ProFs are based).  Instead, EWB tries to understand an entire system, find out where the weak points are, and works with various actors to improve the entire system in a country as a whole.  Sometimes this makes it a lot more difficult to see quick, impactful results, but in the end we feel that this way of working is likely to lead to more positive sustainable change for a larger number of people.

EWB Canada (based in Toronto) did the recruiting, the training, and help with any HR related issues I might have.  8 of us were trained together in Toronto, but we went to work for different ventures, in 3 different countries, doing really different work.  As a ProF (Professional Fellow), I’ve been placed with one of the ventures (aka. project areas) called MBC (Mobile Business Clinic), who works pretty independently from the actual work of EWB.  MBC was originally started as a part of BDS, but now works independently.  BDS stands for Business Development Services, and their role is to provide capacity building and business development services to small and growing businesses in order to help them scale up and become sustainable.

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During my first week in Ghana, I attended this stakeholders meeting as a note-taker, and it was really informative.  The meeting focused on 3 ventures; MBC, Kulemela, and Growth Mosaic.  I learned a lot about each venture during the beginning of the day, when each Venture Leader did a short presentation to the group.  Mobile Business Clinic can be broken down into what it does based on it’s name.  Its involves providing business training (in the form of a clinic) in different regions across the country (aka. mobile).  Specifically, we focus on training agribusinesses on different skills that will help then to become investment ready. Each clinic takes place over a 3 month period, with the goal of running 4 clinics per year (each in a different region – Ghana has 10 regions).

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During the afternoon, we broke into smaller groups to discuss the issues.  Of course I stuck with the MBC group, and it was interesting to hear everyone’s perspectives!  Not only were EWBers at the event (from many different ventures), there were also past clinic participants, foundation representatives, investors, and business owners.  We talked about ideas for the future which would help MBC (and other groups like MBC) to grow and improve their business.

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The event was a great success, and even got attention in local newspapers and on the news (which I heard through the grapevine – since I don’t have a TV here).  After the event, we started planning our next clinic in the Eastern Region (which is the closest region to Accra).


 

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Another exciting event I attended (unrelated to my actual work) was with the Young Fellows Program (YFP), which is part of an EWB venture called AfriLead, where my fellow ProF Alexis is working with (you can check out her blog here).  They focus on recruiting young managers to attend a one month foundation learning session followed by a 5 month placement with a work place.  The goal of the program is to train young people to work within businesses to create positive change.  During the one-day session in Accra at the beginning of August, we helped to interview and work through case-studies with potential candidates.  Afterwards, 2 more sessions were held (in Kumasi and Tamale) and 16 participants were selected.  These 16 bright young managers are currently in the first month of training in Tamale as part of the program.


Back to MBC – The clinic will be held in October and last for 3 months, however, it’s not only in the classroom. The clinic will include 10-12 businesses from the area (selected out of those who have submitted applications). Two representatives from each business will partake, which likely includes both the CEO and a middle manager. Every two weeks a training module will take place, consisting of two days in the classroom. The three modules are: leadership and business, financial management, and project management. In addition to the training, each business is paired with a coach. The coach helps the business to understand the training, apply the training to their own business, and help the business overcome the challenges it might be facing. Each coach meets with their business at least 5 times.

At the end of three months there is a graduation ceremony.  During the ceremony, each business has to explain their business model and pitch it, as if they would to future investors.  One of the goals of the course is to get businesses to an “investment ready” stage, so that if they’re seeking financing to grow they will be more likely to succeed.  The alumni also form the MBC Club in their city.  This group can meet regularly and is a great chance to network, create partnerships, and help group problem solve with other diverse actors in the agricultural sector.

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For the last few weeks, I’ve been spending a large portion of most days in one of these: a trotro!  Trotros are used for both short distances (like city buses) and longer distances (between cities in different regions), though the cost changes based on the distance traveled.  We’ve been meeting with all sorts of associations related to agriculture, with groups such as mango exporters and poultry farmers.  We talk to the groups about what our clinic offers and invite them to apply for the upcoming clinic.  These meetings can take place in halls, warehouses, and even just walking down the road. So far we have received over 16 applications (with more that are scheduled to come in this week), and the next step is to sort through those applications to find the most appropriate businesses.  We will then meet with each participant at their business, fill out some forms, select the final group, and then match each business with a coach.

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We are also currently ensuring we have the best coaches and trainers for the job.  Another task that we’re focusing on in Monitoring and Evaluation (M+E) to ensure we have good baseline information before the training starts.  The last important task before the clinic starts is looking over the curriculum (including handbooks, slides and exercises) to ensure there are no mistakes and everything is being clearly explained.  There are currently only 4 of us running the entire project.  This team includes myself, Mike (another ProF from Canada), my Ghanaian boss (Kombate), and a Ghanaian co-worker, Bernard (who has actually been there the longest).  We have been sharing a small office with a big board room table for the last month, since we recently moved offices and are still figuring things out.  The power goes out frequently, which is pretty tricky since we don’t have a generator, but we just got WiFi, which is really nice!


So what happens after the clinic in October? Well Mike and I have been wondering if this is just a project, or if it can be turned into a sustainable, long term solution to meet the needs of the community. Looking into that is the next step…