Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

So that brings me up to date. I am leaving for the beach on the 19th December. I will be spending Christmas and New Year on the beach. I hope to have lobster for Christmas dinner, with crackers of course!

So I would like to say Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year to you and I will write again in January 2007.


Farmers Day/ World AIDS Day.

Both these functions fall on 1st December, so Tumu held a joint ceremony for them. The World AIDS day started with an AIDS walk. It was unfortunately only announced the previous night, so I was unable to attend but I have been told that it was pretty impressive. Many people marching around town waving flag streamers and blown up condoms. Farmers day is a bit like a harvest festival with many regional farmers showing their crops. There were many prizes, consisting of a bicycle, machete, wellies, matches, material, and much more, including a certificate. There was a star prize of a motorbike too. I have since been told that the farmers who win have to contribute to the prize fund! So the star prize may not have gone to the best farm but the person who contributed the most!!! - But that is only a rumour.

The day was also Market day. So I moved onto market fully expecting to see an abundance of vegetables now harvest has come. So I was somewhat shocked to see most veg had finished, and only managed to get tomato, cabbage and onion, so much for harvest. Oh well!

National Festival of Arts and Culture: Culture – a Vehicle for Wealth Creation

The National Festival of Arts and Culture celebrated biennially has become one of the Institutionalised national events of our country. It was established to bring our chiefs and people together to celebrate the underlying unity of our various cultural expressions. NAFAC has projected our cultural heritage and promoted our traditions and values.

This festival was established in 1978 and each region has hosted it in turn. This year it was the Upper West’s time to shine.

I was told about this festival at the start of year staff meeting. Principal asked if anyone would like to join him at the opening ceremony. A sheet of paper was circulated and was still blank by the time it got to me. I was up for it. Any chance to go to another town in comfort of a private vehicle rather than a tro (I still have a dislike for them). I am very much glad I went. It was a opening ceremony, I was dreading it to start with as every ceremony I had been to so far had been lots of speeches and not much else. However this one was different. Yes we had the pomp and circumstance, but it was glittered with traditional dancing and drumming for each region. These dancers were, may I say, AWESOME. I am always mesmerised by the natural rhythm that every Ghanaian seems to have bred into them from birth.

We had great seats, right next to the VIP stand (the president was supposed to attend, but unfortunately was unable to) so we had a great view. The highlight was a procession of all the dance groups. The only way I can describe this procession was an amazing harmony of drums, tambourines and xylophones. Not to mention the dancing every which way you turned.

The festival lasted a week. I am so glad I had the opportunity to attend.

College Happenings...

It’s been an interesting time at college over the last couple of months. College was due to re-open on the 2nd October. This was delayed by GES and the new date was to be the 9th October. However, the NAGRAT teachers union (graduate teachers) had called a strike at the beginning of September. Due to the outrageous pay increase that the Nursing staff had received. Now I am not denying nursing staff a pay rise, they thoroughly deserve it, it is just the percentage it went up by. It is a rise that that has put them out of league with all other bodies of employees. The best way I can describe this is to compare a newly qualified nurse with a newly basic education teacher. (one that would leave TUTCO) The nurse would start at a salary of ¢7million per month. The teacher would start on ¢1.1million. A Tutor at TUTCO who has a degree and a vast amount of experience receives less than ¢2.5million per month. The teachers rightly striked at this, however, the strike was futile, there is just not the money to give them an equal pay rise. The strike continued to mid November. Where there was a promise of money in the budget, and without getting into politics it is my understanding that this money didn’t materialise. The teachers are now back at work, doubling their work load as they are concerned for their students and don’t want them to fail.

Myself and Diane, our new volunteer chose to work through this period, the students were in college doing self study. I made it clear that I was totally behind the strike but as a volunteer was in the position that I could teach them. It was an awkward time for Diane. She was new didn’t know what was going on and had no way of gaining information. The tutors were helpful, but she didn’t want to put them in a compromising position as they were on strike.

Having gained a good relationship with my students last year, I felt protective towards them and to meet new ones it felt wrong. Now a couple of months in I am equally proud of my new students and they are mostly showing good aptitude to the computer. Though some lessons have been especially frustrating, I am not sure if it is me they don’t understand or the tasks. We are getting there though. It has made such a difference having the extra 10 computers. Mostly they get their own computer and I rotate the sharing. They also have 2 hours practice a week. Last year, they got one hour, sometimes sharing 3 to a computer! We also have a projector and laptop so our theory sessions have completely changed.

The next challenge is to get the rest of the tutors to use the projector. Which brings me on to my second big success – the first being that I found out at the beginning of term that only 6 our of 137 students had failed their ICT exam. I was very proud. This year I am going to strive towards no one failing and that they all pass with at least C’s – ambitious but hopefully doable!

The second success is that I have finally managed to organise the tutors attending Computer training sessions on Saturday mornings. We have had ok turnout, it is funeral season at the moment so I haven’t had everyone show. But it is good and they are all interested, apologising if they cannot make it. I have one more session before Christmas and then will start again in the New Year.

I have been made a form tutor I am not sure still what I am meant to do, it is a form 1 class so they are all new and cannot help me. I having to learn their names to. I am doing well with my 2nd years names surprising them when I greet them by name out of class.

The most recent update I can give on college is that this week I have managed to set up a dialup connection in Principals office. We are ordering a phone line for the computer centre so we too will have the Internet. One of my personal goals I set before coming. We are all very excited at the prospect of having the Internet at college. Kansec will still be our main source as it is faster and cheaper. But still it is good that we have it at college too.
College has now broken up for Christmas and will re-open on the 15th January 2007.

Week Four

21st September – our final leg begins. I had honestly forgotten up to this point that the last time I had been on the road west from Accra, it had not been surfaced. I suddenly remembered and shared it with mum. We thought it best not to tell dad. He had finally got used to the roads and was happy they were again tarred. I was anxious most of the journey and was thoroughly surprised that in the 4 months since I had last been on the road that it was completed (or almost – we travelled on bad road for about 20 minutes) The villages we passed through were very run down and I could feel dad getting tense. He didn’t seem at all impressed. I had not been to the beach resort before but as it had been highly recommended I hoped it would all work out. Dad would hold judgement until he had seen it.
I have never seen anyone change in a matter of moments. As soon as we arrived and entered the resort dad totally changed I could see him physically melt into absolute relaxation, and a broad smile spread across his face. Anomabu Beach resort is a little piece of heaven on the coast of Ghana. The staff, food rooms, beach, weather were perfect. We were practically the only guests for much of the time. At this point we were ending our time with Malik. Rather than saying goodbye there and then, which is what Malik thought. We wanted to thank him so made him stay as our guest for the night and leave the next morning. Malik had not been to the beach before so was like a kid on the sand. It was quite fumbling. What we take for granted can still be a first for people. He was astonished that the water was salty, and hurt his eyes. We finished the day with a lobster meal which was absolutely delicious
22nd September – we said a sad farewell to Malik. We spent the day on the beach, deciding that anything else would be far too much hard work. We planned our next day which was a trip out to Cape Coast and Elmina. We organised a taxi for the day.
23rd September – The Cape Coast area was the last stop for the slaves before being transported to the States and Europe. Elmina Castle was our first stop. We took a guided tour of the castle. Having been to Pikwora a couple of weeks before and driven the length of Ghana in a comfortable air-conditioned car. It made us think how hard the journey was for the Africans. The place even now were bleak in the castle, to try and picture the overcrowded, stark conditions, stench and punishing cruelty they had to cope with was beyond my comprehension. Something that caught my breath was the tiny crack of an exit that the Africans were forced to leave by - The gate of no return. We were told that if they were too big to squeeze through the gate they hadn’t yet been through enough and were kept back for further starvation and maltreatment.
Someone said to me recently who had also visited Pikwora and Cape Coast, that it is no wonder that many Black Americans are so big and strong, they come from good lineage. They had to be to have survived all they went through.
Cape Coast Castle was bigger and the dungeons worse if at all possible. There was an interesting museum.
24th-25th September – two more days relaxing on the beach, we walked down the beach to the Anomabu fishing village and watched them bring in the morning catch.
26th September – time to head back to Accra for the final time. We decided to hire a car for the journey. It was cheaper and more reliable than the taxi. In the few days we had been on the beach the road was finished, I was astonished.
27th September – time for mum and dad to leave. It was an amazing trip, one I was very much looking forward to I had saved my travelling to share it with them and none of us was disappointed.

Well that account was much longer than I originally planned. But once I start to write I find more things to talk about. As this is meant to be a online diary – why not, though it has taken a couple of hours to write. I can understand why I have put it off for so long.

Week Three

13th September – we explored the Upper East. We visited Sirigu, a traditional village where the custom is to paint the houses. We also visited the Pikworo Slave Camp. This was a highlight of the trip for the historical context. It was a camp where the slaves marched from Mali and Burkina Faso were kept before being sold and marched through Ghana to the Cape Coast area. Seeing this place brought home the truth of how badly the people were treated.
14th September – We returned to Tamale to pick up a new truckload of money to pay for the car and hire it for a further two weeks. We had planned our trip whilst in Tumu and decided that having a car was essential. Dad had by this time come to terms with the fact that is was better to have a driver. Malik by this time had become part of our trip and we couldn’t leave him behind.
15th September – we now headed south to the Volta region. This was by far the worst road we had ever driven down. It made the Upper West roads feel like carpet. It was not helped by the torrential rain we encountered and one village that was situated on a hill found its road turned into grade 4 rapids rather than a road. Malik did well to drive through it. After 8 hours we should have been in Wli our next stop however, we had only managed to get 2 thirds of the way before having to give in and find a bed for the night. This we managed quite comfortably.
16th September – the weather was much better today, and we continued with our journey quite quickly. Arriving at Wli falls by lunchtime. We found some accommodation – not the place we wanted but the another place. They owners were very friendly and on Saturday nights had local drumming and dancing. We were very lucky. The place was not in the Bradt guide but mum has informed me that following an email she sent them on her return the hotel is going to be mentioned in the next publication. We feel we have done a little something for Ghana tourism.
17th September – the reason we included Wli on our trip were the magnificent falls. The walk to them was through a mini rainforest, extremely different landscape from the barren north. We left Wli in the afternoon for Ho our next stop. By this time the roads had improved somewhat and the rest of our trip would be on tarmac. The hotel we stayed in, in Ho had a swimming pool. Malik was very excited about this as he wanted to swim. There is a pool in Tamale where he lives and he has used it a few times but only with armbands. Ho didn’t have any only a big rubber ring. After some unsuccessful attempts using the ring dad decided to teach Malik to swim. 2 hours later he had Malik swimming the length of the pool without stopping and with no aids. Quite an achievement for them both.
18th September – Malik was back in the pool first thing making the most of his new skills. We travelled back halfway back to Hohoe today, much to Dad’s uneasiness, to visit a couple of villages. Tafi Abuipe and Tafi Atome. The former is a Kente-weaving village and the latter a monkey sancturary.
We were all extremely impressed with both of them especially Tafi Abuipe. The whole village works together to produce the kente cloth. The money earned gets split amongst the workers. They also have a factory where 2 people from each family work and the kente produced there gets exported out. All the kente cloth. Mum particularly liked the kente and bought so much that I don’t think they needed to produce any more for a couple of months!!!
The Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary was fun we got to feed the mona monkeys. Very cute.
19th September – we again headed south, the destination Accra. We travelled via the Akosombo Dam. I had been there before but hadn’t had a very good guide. this time the guide was much better, and we got a good insight as to why there was such a problem with the water levels and how much was needed before minimum would be reached. (they finally reached the minimum in October and hopefully there shouldn’t be a shortage for the hot dry season).
We also stopped at a place where traditional glass beads are produced. In the olden days beads were used as currency. The method hasn’t changed much in the last few centuries, the source has. Instead of making glass from sand they now recycle bottles. I thought it was funny to see Bombay Sapphire and Baileys bottles lined up to make beads. Again we bought from the source. Ghana makes you realise the importance of fair trade. The prices they charge for a bracelet where the process has taken hours and is hot and hard work, is ridiculously low. I just know how much they would charge for the bracelet in Europe and the States. The money is just not getting back to the source.
Our final stop before Accra was Tema, we met and chatted to some doctors who were volunteering on a medical ship docked in Tema for a few months. It was with an organisation called Mercy Ships. They specialise in facial and eye disorders. They invited us to ship to have a look around. We took them up on the offer and landed at the dock. Malik was exceptionally excited about this stop. He had never been on a ship before so wanted to have his photo taken. Finally at the end of the day we arrived back in Accra and felt our trip was coming to an end. Not quite though we had another week to relax at the beach. But only after mum had bought the material shop out of all the fabric they had. 20th September – met up with new volunteers who were on their induction. I introduced myself to Di and Alan the volunteers coming to Tumu, we spent much of the day with them.

Week One and Two

31st August – mum and dad arrived mid afternoon. Spent rest of day and evening opening the endless suitcases they brought and spying all the goodies they brought me.
1st September – spent the day exploring Accra, trying to get Dad to relax into the pace. It is quite difficult to initially understand the pace of Ghana and the concept of Ghana time being much slower than Africa time.
2nd September – Flew to Tamale, way to go if money was no object. Only took an hour or so, rather than the 14 hours by bus. Their initial impressions of Tamale were not so good – it is the main city of the North but is not like a city at all, quite a contrast to the south.

The rainy season wasn’t so good this year. National electricity is mostly provided by the Akosombo Dam, the water level had not reached the minimum it needed this year. In order to conserve electricity to get through the dry season there was an electric shedding exercise whereby electricity was cut off for 12 hour periods in different areas. Therefore some of our trip was spent in power cuts, some big hotels and restaurants bought generators to supply electricity, however, I am not sure what was worse, no electric or electric but no sleep due to generator motor noise. The weather is much cooler in September, especially pleasant at night so the need for a fan (or aircon – for dad) was not essential. Tumu was one of the only places in Ghana where the shedding didn’t happen, we lose electricity when it rains, is too hot or just for no reason!! So shedding was not necessary.

3rd September – Sorted car, bit of a palaver, the car we were promised was not there, the alternative 4wd looked like it had been a write off at one time with bald tyres and no battery, dad was rightly worried about this, however there is only one car hire place in Tamale – competition is needed definitely!! The only choices were to travel back down to Kumasi (6-7 hours away on bus) or to hire their other car which could handle the roads – a mini bus! And take our chance to pick the good 4wd in Wa. We chose the latter option. And so Mum and Dad had their first experience of the roads of Northern Ghana. Fun all the way!

We left for Wa at lunchtime and arrived in Wa around 6:30. We would pick the new 4wd and driver the next morning.
4th September – I can tell you we all breathed a sigh of relief when we saw the new 4wd. It looked road worthy, tyres had tread and the windscreen was in one piece. Picking a few provisions we headed off early for Tumu…

Just as we thought all our car troubles were over we had car trouble. The fuel tank started to fall off and grate along the ground. We were in the middle of nowhere with no phone signal. Luckily for us it must have been market day in a local village as a man cycled past with his goat. He stopped and helped us. A little later another man came past seeing the bike he too stopped spoke to our helper and we discovered it was his brother. He too helped. We patched up the car and hobbled to the nearest village. More a through road with a few houses than a village but luckily for us they had a good mechanic with a large assortment of nuts. One eventually was found in the right size and 6 hours later we were back on our way. Mum and Dad realised there was no point getting too anxious there was nothing we could do about it so they just relaxed and enjoyed the experience (well afterwards at least).
The rest of our journey was pretty uneventful apart from the ominous black clouds I had been keeping my eye on all afternoon finally broke and we had a torrential down pour.
It was still raining when we arrived in Tumu – in the dark. And for once the electricity behaved itself and stayed on throughout the storm in honour of my parents trip.
5th – 12th September – We spent the week in Tumu, just relaxing, meeting people, eating and drinking. It was just nice to relax and enjoy the place. We were the talk of the town, everyone wanting to know who the folies were in the posh car!
The hippo came out a couple of times for our viewing. We took a trip to Gwollu with Bukari, (TUTCO Demo Headmaster) whose family are the bonesetters. That was an interesting and somewhat squeamish experience. I couldn’t watch it but dad photographed it. Insert web address other than that we didn’t go anywhere. The girls across the way took us on a guided tour of the market and made us dinner one evening. Dad made friends and went for pito. He was also fascinated with the building work that was beginning next door to me. He was impressed by how quickly the foundations were dug, how they made bricks from scratch and the walls went up. The rate they were going the building would be finished in no time (unfortunately after we left not much else has happened – the men left for the end of Ramadan – and have only just returned)
Dad was able to use his engineering experiences when the truck bringing sand got completely stuck in the wet ground. They didn’t learn very quickly, after ruining one track they started on a second one and got stuck again. This is when Dad intervened. He got them all rallying around and get the truck out of the trench. (3 months later the track is still bad and I have to use a different route to my house)
We eventually had to leave Tumu and continue on our journey. So we left on the morning of the 12th September for Bolga.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ghana: my first tour around.

As I said my parents came for a trip to Ghana in September. I was very much looking forward to their trip, for them to finally see the people and places I talk about, to share my experience with home, and not forgetting all the lovely goodies they were bringing me.

I tried to make a plan of where we would go, and what we would do, which I jotted down on a piece of scrap paper. I headed down to Accra a few days before they were due to arrive to book a hotel and buy our tickets for the flight to Tamale.

Buying things in Ghana is always an experience and something you have to plan. You see credit cards is pretty much an alien concept here. Virtually no where accepts them, and if they do, 99% of the time the authorisation process fails. Therefore the only payment choice is cash. I am not sure if I have previously spoken about money, the paper currency denominations are, ¢5000, ¢10000, ¢20000, with ¢1000 and ¢2000 as small change notes. It is likely when you withdraw money from banks they will give you 5’s or 10’s. Now the airline I bought the tickets from would only accept cash, dollars or cedis. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough dollars on me to buy three tickets so I had to pay in cedis. Each ticket cost ¢1,400,000. so in total ¢4,200,000. I had mostly ¢10000 notes, so 420 notes! I had to practically take a briefcase to deliver the cash.

I think the photo journey sums up our trip, it was wonderful to share my experiences of Tumu with family. Both Mum and Dad thoroughly enjoyed their trip and particularly Tumu. Everyone in town made them feel very welcome, and Dad was taken under the wing of some people and carted off for a Pito session. The rest of the trip we travelled around Ghana going to some very beautiful and interesting places. We hired a car and driver, Malik.

A brief outline of our trip was as follows in the next couple of Blog Entries

Finally a Blog update…

Well it has been a long time since I last properly updated my blog. I have just been so absorbed in life in Tumu that I just have had the opportunity to put fingers to keys. I’ll start with a quick summary of what I have been up to then will go into more detail on the interesting bits.

  • Mum and Dad visited for September
  • New Volunteers arrived end of September
  • College opened (or not) for 06-07 year
  • New Computers finally set up
  • National teacher strike for September through to most of November
  • Began training Tutors
  • Wa Festival
  • Farmers Day and World Aids Day.
  • End of term

That would bring me up to date.

I can also tell you that as of today 21st December the hippopotAAAmus is still alive and well and living happily in Tumu Dam. I have been told recently that he is a she! The water level is decreasing though so I am not sure how much longer she will stay. People are still fascinated by her, but fearful now. She goes into town very early sometimes and one day when I was on my way to the tro station at 4:45am she was busy eating a tree on the side of the road. Quite a crowd had gathered to watch.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

I'm sorry for no recent blog updates

I have been so busy with work that I haven't updated my blog for so long. I promise I will soon... I am trying to put together a photo journey of my holiday with my parents. but its taking a while.

I'm off to the beach for christmas and new year so very much looking forward to that.

be back soon for proper update

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The day a hippo came to town!

Yes you did read that properly, Tumu is now the proud foster parents of a full grown male hippopotamus. I was taking an afternoon nap on Saturday (as you do in hot countries!!) and I got a call from a friend asking whether I had seen the hippo. Considering I was half asleep I really didn't comprehend this information, and answered no... I slowly came to and realised I needed to ask what hippo?

Apparently a hippopotamus had found its way into Tumu dam.

This I had to see... I promptly cycled down to the dam with my camera to see the hippo. There were so many people crowded on the dam, and I was guided by one of the Demo pupils to the best spot to see it.

Now seeing a hippo in Tumu is not an every day occurrence, in fact this is the first time one has found its way here. Not so it would seem to the crowd of onlookers by the side of the river. They were more interested in the folie with the camera rather than the hippo in the water. As I got my camera aimed ready to take a great shot, I felt hundreds of eyes on me... I looked down and all the children were crowded round me waiting to see the hippo snap. I kept telling them don't look at me look at the water and tell me when he pops out of the water. Finally the suspense was over the hippo came up for air... just as my camera powered down into standby! so I missed the picture because by the time it had powered back up the hippo had gone back under.

I was determined next time to get it... and what a picture it is!

can you see it? can you, can you?? it is there honestly!

You might be wondering like I was how on earth someone spotted a hippo in the water if thats all you could see... I certainly wouldn't and as 99.9% of Tumu population have assuredly never in their life seen a real live hippo I doubt they would have either. However, on the friday night the owner of that piece of land was wandering around and stumbled across this big grey elephant without a trunk or ears and probably wondered what it was (the last description is my own - not the discoverer's!) anyway word got out that a hippo was in the dam...

That was Saturday.
Sunday the crowd had subsided somewhat but still around - the hippo was still in the water. Monday he decided to go walk about along with his onlookers who obviously thought he was a friendly creature that would like to be provoked and have stones thrown at him... much to their surprise he wasn't too happy at having stones thrown at him so he turned round and charged, knocked someone down and tore at their arm... luckily both parties are ok. However now the hippo is being guarded by the local reserve guards, so people are not allowed anywhere near him.

I didn't see him on Tuesday, but yesterday I passed the dam and the crowd had once again grown. I asked if he was around, and was told he was near the bank - I looked out and there he was having a wash, half out of the water. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me so wasn't able to take a shot. It would have been good too... one for national geographic - so you'll just have to put up with the posted one.

Today he is still around but I only saw his ears.

Question is how long will he stay and how on earth will he get home? - he is a long way from home. He's probably from somewhere near the Côte d’Ivoire border.

I'll keep you posted as to what happens next...

Friday, August 18, 2006

Brianne and Alhassan's wedding reception

The following pictures are from Brianne's wedding reception. i will blog about this later, but I thought it was about time I put some photo's up.
the night before the reception Brianne had a special foot painting ceremony, part of the muslim tradition.

they stick plaster strips on her feet and left hand in a pattern and then cover it all in henna

the special criss cross pattern

and a mango leaf

the next day was the wedding reception here's a picture of some of the guest, there was probably about 600 people in total who came! The reception was held in the KanSec assembly hall. (cos it was probably going to rain - and it did!)

brianne and alhassan making their entrance

They organised some traditional dancers, who were amazing. The drummers were drumming so hard and the beat so fast you could barely see their hands move.

then everyone got up and started dancing with them - I got as well, but it shows that whiteman can't dance. Ghanaians have this natural rythym.

finally one of me in my Ghanaian dress - I am standing with Ilona a Dutch VSO

To show how the henna pattern came out.

the Folies!! VSO and the Danes and Alhassan

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

trip south photos

the Upper West Volunteers...

just to show we can stay in nice places too...

a bridge at lake Volta

attempting to canoe!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

a selection of photos

I've been a bit slack to say the least on my blog site recently (not to self - must do better)

I, unfortunately am going to cop out again today and only upload photos. Firstly of my trip south, and then of Brianne and Alhassan's wedding (yet to be blogged)

Well I am sorry to say the connection is very slow today and I cannot upload the photos I have been trying for 1/2 hour now to upload one so after the weekend i will try again