We currently have the best neighbours on the planet. Everyone is super-friendly, and the kids are plentiful, cute and speak enough English to get along with. They are tons of fun! Ben recently revealed that he has a guitar, so that’s the current favourite thing to do. They love listening to Ben play, and the love dancing along to the music! This one little guy, Wuntira, is particularly energetic in his dance moves. He knows how to get down! He was making me laugh hysterically the other day, so I decided to film his dancing and post it on the internet. What else? You can also see his little sister, Nasara, trying to copy his sweet moves. Just another day in Tamale!
Also, if you haven’t had time yet to check out my Perspective for EWB’s holiday fundraising campaign, please take a look. I would really appreciate your support!
Yesterday was the outdooring for my friend Farouk’s new baby. This is a ceremony that is held 7 days after the birth of a baby here in Ghana, and it is the occasion when the baby’s name is announced to the world. So I present to you: Mohammed Taiwab!
This little guy is so small and super-cute! He slept the whole time I was there, despite the crowds of squawking women and the fact that he was passed from person to person every 2 minutes. I guess that’s what you do when you’re 7 days old? Maybe?
The outdooring starts in the wee hours of the morning, when the women start preparing food. People come and gather, men in one place and women in another, to celebrate with the parents. People get dressed up, food is served and everyone generally has a ball. Each guest will give something small to help with the new baby, like soap, baby clothes or some small money.
The first-time mother is surrounded by her mother and sisters, all of whom have come to help her with her new task of taking care of a baby. In many cases, she will actually go and live with her mother or female relatives for the first few months of the baby’s life, to learn how to take care of it/him/her properly. This is great for the father, who doesn’t have to deal with the crying baby in the middle of the night, but he also loses out on some bonding/loving time!
Farouk is a great example of a modern new father from Tamale. He is an electrician (he does all our electrical work and won’t let us pay him!) and he used to live right next door to Ben and I. He runs an electrical shop on the main road and you can find him there from 8am to 10pm – he works a lot! We’ve become good friends over the past year. Many times we’ve discussed his approach to marriage, fatherhood, life, etc. and how it differs from traditional beliefs in this area.
For example, even though he is Muslim, Farouk doesn’t want to have multiple wives. He himself is the son of a man with 3 wives, and he saw how difficult it was for the family, especially those 3 women. His own mother left his father when Farouk was young and took him to live somewhere else. (There’s not really any such thing as divorce in northern Ghana, at least it’s not common… but as far as I can tell, Farouk’s mom was outta there!) He says having multiple wives causes too much conflict, so he’ll stick with one, thank you very much.
Farouk has also told us that he will never beat his kids. Unfortunately, this is a VERY unusual stance in this area. It is quite normal to punish children with smacks, sticks and other forms of corporal punishment. I think this is very much a classic case of those who’ve been beaten taking it out on those who are “below” them on the food chain. When you grow up in a culture of physical abuse, it’s very difficult to change your mindset and the abused often becomes the abuser. But somehow Farouk has decided that it isn’t right, and it’s not the way he’ll discipline his kids. Good on you, Farouk!
I’ve enjoyed spending time with Farouk, who always, always has a smile on his face. He and his wife have been so excited for the new baby to arrive, and now he’s finally here. I know they will take good care of him and shower this kid with love, and I can’t wait to watch him grow. Welcome to the world, Mohammed Taiwab!
There are some days when it’s obvious that you’re working in a developing country. Today was one of them.
It rained again today. It started in the morning, when I was still in bed. Despite the soothing rain-drumming-on-the-roof sound tempting me to stay there, I forced myself to get up, work out, shower and get ready to go to the office. During a brief lull in the rain, Ben and I headed off to the egg-and-bread stand for breakfast. We found several of our colleagues there, hiding out in a veranda to escape the drizzle-turned-downpour. And then, it REALLY started to rain. It rained and poured for over an hour, creating massive floods of water overflowing the storm gutters and running through yards and along the road. Once the downpour subsided, we still had to wait almost another hour to escape the aforementioned veranda, which had become an island in the middle of a river. Mina and Romy’s motos were our water-mark measures, showing that at least 8 inches of water were flowing along the dirt road to join the deluge of the overflowed gutters. We finally escaped and tip-toed home through puddles full of dirt, worms, garbage and, invariably, shit. Gross.
We arrived back at our house to find something out of a disaster scene on a news broadcast. Our place was fine, as our veranda and door are raised up, but our landlord’s house next door had flooded for the first time in almost 20 years. Water had entered every room, and we went in to find books stacked on tables stacked on chairs in an effort to get everything up off the floor that could be damaged. The dirty water was everywhere, including the maize storage room, where it had ruined several bags of maize before someone remembered to look in there. That is part of this 15-member household’s food supply for the year, gone in a few short minutes. We spent the next couple hours helping them to scoop, sweep and propel water out of the house, pulling up carpets and emptying the furniture along the way. We emptied the house of its contents in order to bring them out in the sun to dry. There was a mattress on the roof, clothes hanging in the tree and chairs scattered around the lawn. It looked like a tornado had hit. One boy had 2 netbooks on the floor of his room that had both been soaked, so we put them in rice to try to save them.
At one point during the effort, one of the women asked me, “Does this happen in Canada?” I replied that yes, floods often happen, and in fact there had been some serious flooding in the US this summer where people’s houses were even washed away. She was surprised to hear this, and accepted that these freak natural disasters can happen even in profitable places.
But the problem is that this wasn’t a freak natural disaster; it’s the result of poor planning. Tamale is a huge and ever-growing city, made mostly of concrete, with insufficient storm gutters to take all of the water safely out of the city limits without dropping it on people’s homes. Apparently the extra water came today because one of the dams in town overflowed, sending a wave of water our way. But this wouldn’t happen if the engineers who designed the roads, gutters and storm drains did their work properly! The fact is, a flood of this nature would make the news in Canada. Here in Tamale, it’s just an everyday occurrence during the rainy season.
I never did make it to the office today. In fact, this is the first time I’m turning on my computer today. I had big plans for the work I was going to get done, but none of it happened. And that’s the reality of life in a country like Ghana. You can make big plans, but you just have to take things as they come.
Sure, today the rain spoiled my plans and some of my neighbours’ stuff. But it also gave me a chance to connect with people – first with my EWB colleagues, as we huddled out for 2 hours on a 4’x8′ square of covered concrete, then with my neighbours as we worked together. I was impressed, as I so often am, by their cheerful and resilient spirit, laughing and joking together even in the face of this disaster. Ghana has taught me so much about what is important in life – not your expensive carpet, but family, friends, togetherness, your ability to survive and to enjoy life!
Here are a few videos to show you the extent of the rain and how we feel about it:
Again, it’s been quite a while since I posted. Sorry about that! Life has been crazy busy lately, so I just wanted to post a short update about what life has been like lately.
August was an INSANELY busy month, with 6 summer students leaving (we miss you!), 5 new volunteers arriving, 2 weeks of meetings for EWB’s African Programs Leaders and… my 2-week Canadian vacation!
The 2 weeks of Team Leader meetings were held at the beautiful Lake Point Guesthouse on Lake Bosumtwe, near Kumasi, Ghana with ~10 super-inspiring leaders from EWB. The beautiful lakeside location provided an ideal place to step back from the day-to-day business of running an EWB team to think about our long-term strategy as an organization. Here are a few of the questions we discussed during the meetings:
- What are our theories of change within each team? How can we learn from each others’ experience?
- What are the investment criteria for EWB as an organization to invest in new or ongoing initiatives? What combination of results, potential and leadership needs to be in place?
- How can we invest more in EWB’s leadership pipeline, so great people continue to flow into our African Programs?
- How can we hire and use local staff effectively?
- What are various pathways to scale our change, either theoretical or from experience?
- What are the teams’ strategies for influencing the “big players” in their sectors?
- What is EWB’s overall vision? (We are currently undergoing a visioning process as an organization, pretty exciting to participate in!)
It was amazing to discuss these questions and to get/give feedback on our strategies. My brain was hurting! It was pretty intense – we even had a random woman buy us a round of drinks when she saw us working until 7pm on a Sunday, haha. Here are a few of my main take-aways from the meetings:
- Our team has come a long way! We were in a pretty rough spot last February, but we have really turned around and come back strong. I’m excited about the things we’re currently working on and can’t wait to see where another 6 months takes us!
- That said, I feel we have a long way to go in developing and articulating our strategy. These meetings were an AMAZING opportunity to push my strategic thinking and articulation further, so it’s something I’m passionate about pushing forward over the next 4 months. More to come on this blog!
- I think we need to invest a LOT more in understanding influence pathways for the agric sector (specifically public sector) in Accra. We’ve been trying to find out how to leverage our relationships, but there’s actually a lot of ground work that still needs to be done before we can do that.
- I’m also excited to build on more of the strong synergies between the 3 agric teams in Ghana – our public sector team, the Agric Value Chains team and Business Development Services. We’re all doing similar exciting things, and I hope we can find systematic ways of sharing and learning from each other.
- We really need to plan ahead, but it’s really HARD to plan ahead. Yeah, big learning, right? I’m being asked to project how many African Programs Staff we’re going to need in the next year, but it’s so hard to tell – will we still be searching? prototyping? scaling something up? doing a pilot in 2 districts, or 20 districts? At least I’m really happy to work for an organization that is so flexible and will allow us to adapt (to a certain degree) as things change. Pretty cool!
- EWB is exciting! We are developing a really inspiring model and I feel the African Programs vision is pretty inspiring as well. It makes me proud to work for such an organization and to be invested in the leadership of EWB 🙂
After the last day of meetings, I headed to Accra to fly to Canada. I arrived on a Saturday morning, was greeted by my lovely family, and whisked away to the cottage. It was spectacular!
After an exhausting month, 10 days at the cottage of eating, sleeping, drinking and dock-sitting was just what I needed. It was super-relaxing and we had beautiful weather (most of the time!).
After that, I returned home for a few days of errands, catching up with friends and visiting with my Gramma. It wasn’t long, and before I knew it (2 weeks to the day) I was back on a plane to Ghana! But I’ve arrived back feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to dive into the “fall semester” – our busiest time of the year!
Of course this first week back in Ghana has been a bit nuts, trying to get caught up with everyone and everything. I’m working on the budget and “strategic plan” for our team for next year, which is difficult to say the least. But it’s been amazing to get home, unwind and unpack. Ben and I just moved to a new place right before I left for Kumasi. We’re still settling in, but so far it’s wonderful – both the house and the family we’re living beside. All in all, I’m getting ready for a great few months until Christmas!
It’s rainy season here in the north, and we were hit with a monster rainstorm yesterday afternoon. Don and I had a fun bike ride home from the office to discover that not only were all the dirt roads flooded, but the paved ones too! A few pics to tell the tale:
That’s all for now. Just a quick update! I hope I’ll be back to some more regular blogging soon – I’ve got a few in the pipeline that I’m looking forward to writing, so stick around!
A few weeks ago I was hurrying from my office on one end of town to a meeting on the other end, when my taxi was diverted off the main road. I thought to myself, “oh great, I’m going to be late” when suddenly a bicycle passed us. Wait… what?! I did a double-take and sure enough, a Ghanaian wearing a helmet, bike shorts and clip-in shoes on a fancy-looking road bike was zooming ahead. When you compare this to the rest of the cyclists I regularly see in Tamale (no helmets, sandals, sometimes scrappy-looking bikes) you realize why it was so shocking. I had inadvertently found myself in the Tamale leg of the National Cycling Tour of Ghana!
I decided to be late for my meeting to explore this phenomenon. It was a great time! I snapped a bunch of photos, which you can see below. It was pretty Tamale-esque as they hadn’t quite closed the road for the race. The traffic cops would hold back the traffic for a while then let a big group go through and they would mingle with (and almost knock down) the cyclists on the way to their destinations. Almost-like-a-bike-race-in-the-West-but-not-quite.
I was impressed by these serious guys with their huge legs, but laughed out loud at the “Ghanaianisms” that still came out in the race. For example, instead of water cups or bottles, race volunteers were handing out water sachets to the cyclists (that’s how most people drink water here, in small bags). Also, the cyclists were akin to taxi drivers, yelling out “hey Charlie, hey!” (a common name to call each other, like “hey friend”) and yelling at length when someone cut them off, then getting over it in 20 seconds. Hilarious.
Anyway, it was a welcome little break from my work day, and a reminder that there’s always something going on in Tamale. Enjoy the photos!