Working_in_Ghana_with_ MOFA

Sunday, May 28, 2006

GETTING SETTLED…written May 16th, 2006

I arrived in Bole Thursday, May 11th at around 8pm, from Tamale. The journey consisted of a bumpy red soil road lined with many villages along the way. Brother Moosa knew exactly when to honk his horn coming around the meandering road as not to hit any goats or pigs who were passing by.

I was greeted by my counterpart Brother Gabby and Sister Jane (who I will be living with and who will be teaching me the local language, Ganja). Sister Jane is extremely friendly, as are all the Ghanaians I have met; as well she is a fantastic cook. I currently live with Sister Allison; she has been in Ghana for 8 months now and has moved to Bole 3 weeks ago. She is working for the Peace Core, from the US, aiding in the Shea Butter processing. Sister Allison is an extremely relaxed, cool, Zen woman and I feel very fortunate to have her as a roomie.

My current apartment is in the same compound as Sister Jane, so it is very convenient. Seeing as though there has been a problem with the arrangement of my accommodation, I will be moving in to Sister Jane's other room in the next few days.

Bole is a small town, and the MoFA office is close to my home. The staff at MoFA are welcoming, Brother Gabby and Brother deClercq are extremely self motivated. I have been, and will be, observing much of what is going on in the office, along with asking many questions that pertain to the DADU (District Agricultural Development Unit) Bole: their organization, data files, resources, job descriptions, constraints, expectations and questions that may help them think critically in order to become problem solvers.

On my first day I felt extremely overwhelmed: there were nearly a hundred farmers waiting outside the Office to fill out forms and receive their loans from the Bankers, who have traveled in from Wa (largest city within the proximity of Bole). Brother Gabby and Brother DeClercq were each exceptionally busy, not to mention the rest of the staff who were scurrying around trying to help the farmers get their money as quickly as possible. It was a lot of information to process for the first day of work.

Yesterday I made my first field visit. Unfortunately it was not a day geared towards training, regardless it was an informative meeting of 33 farmers, Brother Mohammed (AEA – Agriculture Extension Agent) and I who all sat collectively under a mango tree. They were discussing when they will be seeding their fields with groundnuts and most importantly, when they will congregate next in order to seed the test plot together.
The farmers seem to be very intrigued with the extension services and I am looking forward to attending and participating in the seeding demonstration with this same group on Friday.

Today I have just returned from another field visit with Sir Charles. We sat under the shade of a large tree. The meeting began with a prayer and followed by Sir Charles’ training. At the end the farmers asked me to introduce myself. As a “white man” they expect me to have money to pay for their needs: to buy them a processing machine for their cashews so that they can receive more money for their hard labour. This is not what I have been sent to do. I described to them my role with MoFA, and how I hope to help the AEA’s learn new techniques to better their extension of information to the farmers. Although I have yet to be trained on how to better their extension, I have some ideas of what can be improved upon when training farmers in the future.

As for the next 5 working days, I am hoping to go out to the fields with at least 2 other AEA’s to see their facilitation skills. I also hope to arrange my notes (of observations and responses to the many questions I have asked) and thoughts to collectively produce a document containing my general views of how the DADU can become more efficient with the resources they have. I hope to sit down with the Director, in these next 5 days, to discuss the areas he believes will need most concentration.

In order to have a successful first placement, I must put the pedal to the metal and do a lot of reading in the next week: I want to be well prepared for our training session in Tamale on the 25th of May. I have made a lot of notes and must organize them into something that is presentable.

As for integrating…my Ganja is coming along. As Sister Jane and I prepare dinner, she teaches me the native language. Sister Jane has also shown me how to hand wash my clothes, I believe that I am doing a sufficient job, however she still corrects me and giggles at my lack of experience. Last Saturday she helped me pick material to make some Ghanaian clothes. Sister Kate, the seamstress, managed to take a day to make a shirt and skirt and one dress. This just goes to show how hard working the Ghanaians really are.

In the mornings I wake up and practice yoga, if I am not going to the field early then I will help make porridge with Sister Jane and sit with her to eat before heading to the MoFA office. Once I am finished work I go back to the compound to watch/help Sister Jane prepare dinner. I have tried Banku and groundnut soup, FuFu and tomato based stew, cow liver, many fried egg sandwiches and rice and stew. The meals are all very tasty.

I am very content here…maybe I am still in the “honey moon” stage, but I feel like I am finally beginning to get used to the culture and what to expect (or not to expect) in Ghana.

I truly appreciate this experience and am hoping that my presence will be beneficial for the MoFA office, and essentially for the farmers.

Here is my cellular phone number (you dial this number from Canada): 011 233 246377078

Oh ya, snail care packages are happily accepted too: Ghislaine Johnson C/o EWB, Box TL1234, Tamale, NR, Ghana, Africa...(Bug spray...KD...TLC...heheheh)

Please call me whenever you want…I am 5 hours ahead of Montreal and 6 hours ahead of Winnipeg!!! I send out love to all of you!

TAM TAM TAMALE written May 27, 2006

Since the last time I have written I have accomplished a lot and am proud to have experienced many new things:

Church: I went to the Methodist Church in Bole last Sunday. Sister Jane does not usually attend church, but when she does she attends this one. When we arrived to the open building encompassed by the concrete floor, neon blue crucifix light in the back, wooden benches, and many open windows where those crossing by could linger and watch from the outside; we interrupted Sunday school, as Kubruni (foreigner) was a distraction within herself just sitting there attentively. The sermon consisted of quotes from the bible, many hymns, songs that were around 20 minutes long where people got up to dance and clap while those in the front played the bongo’s, tapped sticks together, jingled the tambourine, or sang extremely loud into the microphone…it was very entertaining.

Braided Hair: Lets first say that from now on, whenever I see someone with braided or twisted hair I will look at them through a new set of eyes…7 hours of tugging and pulling, having to divvy up small amount of synthetic hair upon a snap from the hairdresser and altering positions as to alleviate discomfort felt in my butt; the things one shall do in the name of beauty. I do have to say that the twists themselves were not so painful; Mom used to put in some tight French braids while growing up, making me somewhat desensitized to the pain.

Sleeping, well, lets just say that I have two positions to choose from: neither being of great comfort…AHHHH but the twists look good if I do say so myself…definitely worth it!

Getting Sick: This just had to happen at some point…Not only does making you sick realize how great it is to not be sick, it also makes you realize that squatting in the dark trying to balance is not so easy.
I must say that I am very precautious when it comes to what I ingest…now I feel that my health is somewhat out of my control…lets hope luck is on my side from now on…

Pito: I met sister Gladus on my first lunch break when sister Allison brought me to the market…she bought us both a Malta. From then on I would visit sister Gladus at her seamstress shop every time I went for lunch in town. One afternoon I asked her if she could help me find some tie and die so that she can sew me some clothes…After having purchased my material (after much debate due to my lack of decisiveness), she asked me to join her for some Pito (homemade millet based alcoholic beverage). I agreed to go, but was reluctant to try some because I had to go back to the office for an interview at 2pm. After the long ride on the back of her bicycle we arrived at our destination. Gladus had some girlfriends meet us there; the hostess handed us a cup and I only asked for my cup to be filled on order to just have a taste. It was somewhat sweet but sour and fizzy…I could see it tasting better after having a couple of cups full…After a couple sips, I seemed to have gotten a bit excited and spilled my bowl all over Sister Esther’s leg…what a clutz!!! Poor girl, she will never want to sit down to enjoy pito with me ever again!!! I went with her to her home so that she could go get changed…it was at her place that I discovered I had not seen my reflection in a week…she laughed at my excitement…

TaTa Ride: Jeff and I took the Ta Ta (Van/Bus) to Tamale from Bole. We arrived at the bus at around 3:30 AM…we were excited to get some sleep having woken up early to get a good seat on the bus. The bus then drove into the middle of the town in order to collect the rest of the passengers. After several long, extremely loud honks induced by the TaTa driver we were off on the paved road to Tamale. I put on my headphone and rested my head, excited for a long sleep. Around half an hour into the ride the TaTa stopped… “What’s happening…is the TaTa broken?…Oh, they are putting in some fuel siphoned from a barrel directly into the tank situated inside the from of the TaTa, Oh, with the motor still running…” GULP! Ok, we were off again…YES, SLEEP…

DOE, 10 minutes later we have come to the dirt road that would bring us ¾ of the way to Tamale…not only did the metal bars make such a tatter on my winder, but the bumps were enough to make you have to pee with a ½ full bladder…oh ya, as for sleep…let’s just say that I closed my eyes…

The TaTa stopped around every 20 minutes…to fuel up, or for the on board mechanic to fix the motor once again followed my 2 minutes of revving the engine proceeded by large puffs of smoke filling up the Tata…By around 11AM we finally hit the last paved stretch to Tamale…The city never looked so good.

The training is going very well. I am looking forward to the next steps I will have to take in the next week, preparing for the rest of the summer with the Director and the MIS, Brother Gabby. The following week will be me living and farming with a village farmer. I am looking forward to it, although I am a little bit nervous having gotten comfortable with my surroundings in the accommodations I have been so lucky to have been placed in. I want to stay with the community for a week, to live, eat, sleep, cleanse and best of all, work with the farmers. I hope to seek out many answers to many questions and will try my best to get to know and live within a group who is truly living in poverty. I hope that this experience will really open up my eyes, make me think with new perspective and in whole, make my placement that much more successful.

The rainy season is beginning…the air is a little cooler…the lightning is like nothing I have ever seen before: it is colorful and condensed…. It seems that the sky is so new to me here: the clouds are different, the rain falls in buckets, the stars are unfamiliar (with exception of the big dipper), the moons slit is placed on its side, and this is one thing that makes home seem so far away.

I am feeling great about my placement…I have lot’s of support and encouragement…exactly what I need…the best part is that my district is amazing: hard working, self motivated, organized and ready to learn and change with me…absolutely wonderful.

I hope to write again soon…I hope you enjoy the pictures!!! Lot’s of love…

Thursday, May 25, 2006

ANULA (Ganja evening greeting)

I am back in Tamale and will be getting a cell phone in the next couple days. I have written some blog entries but could not access them on this computer...I will send another blog out in the next couple days...with pictures too...I am feeling great and am loving it here...

I love and miss you all...please check out my blog by the end of the weekend!!!! Thanks for being patient with me!!!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


The two flights into Accra were quit long, around 7 hours each with a six hour stop over in Amsterdam. I decided to stay at the airport, having already seen Amsterdam two years ago, in order to sleep on my yoga matt waiting for our last plane.

My nerves were tense, not knowing what to expect. I decided to try and look out the window as we crossed the Sahara, while doing so I met Sir Abraham...a Ghanain male returning home to visit his family in Accra. He calmed me down with his friendly demeanor and genuine smile...after making his aquantance I relaxed while landing.

We stayed in "House of the Lord" Hotel in Accra...the sun set at 6:30pm so it felt very late when we arrived at our destination. Robin (long term overseas volunteer), took us for a walk to the "circle" in order to grab something to eat. It was dark and I had to concentrate while walking as not to fall into the ditches. There were street vendors selling many local foods...bbq maize...kenke with Pepe sauce...rice and beans...they set up stands lined one by one...I purchased my first "Pure Water" sachet (potable water sealed in a plastic bag: you bite the corner off and such out the water), and a cob of maize (very chewy and delicious).

I was very spoiled my first night in Accra as we had an air conditioned room that forced me to wake up early and do some yoga to warm up.

In the moring we headed over to the bank and bus depot...we waited patiently for our bus which was delayed four hours...apparently this is the norm...might as well get used to it...

We left Accra at around 4pm and reached Tamale at around 5am...The ride was very scenic for the first few hours. The vegetation was lush and green...many tall bushy trees surrounded by many palm trees. The bus would stop in order for locals to sell us their produce throught the bus windows. I bought my first bag of oranges from one of many women asking for my patrionage.

Ghana is beautiful, the food is tasty and plenty, and the people are hands down the most friendly I have ever come to meet.

I am off to Bole tomorrow morning to meet my MOFA office and host family...this is where the trip will begin...

Thursday, May 04, 2006


When being chosen to go to Africa with EWB my emotions went wild as I tried to comprehend the challenges of the life changing journey that lay before me. There was no doubt in my mind about whether or not I should go. After going home at Christmas I realized that my quick decision was made without taking the time to think how my family may feel about me leaving the country to go to a developing one. I was reminded of the many problems that Canada has, and how my passion and drive to help people would be filled with less personal risks in Canada. However, I truly believe that the training I receive, skills I will adopt and overall, the experience I am so fortunate to attain, will be such an asset, hence I will be of more aid in Canada upon my return.

"Pre-departure training in Toronto was extremely intensive: like opening up a fire hydrant, placing my open mouth in front and trying to swallow as much water as possible". I was forwarned about this week of training and didn't think that the training period would effect me in the way it did: I realized some of my strenghts and weaknesses and am extremely greatful for this. I am currently trying to digest the large quantity of information thrown at me, and although some of the info couldn't be absorbed in my "saturated sponge", I know I will be able to come back to it later to apply to situations to where it is relevant.

I consider myself to be somewhat self aware, realizing that even in the past two years I have made some of the best decisions in my life that have led me into a career that I am utterly passionate about. Attending McGill (Bioresource Engineering), has to be one of the best decisions I have ever made, regardless of leaving my family and best of friends in Winnipeg. I am truly thankful and realize how lucky I am to be on a path in life where I am blissfully content.

I intend to write regularly and I hope to come back to this journal at the end of my journey to reflect on my personal growth and impact on "Dorothy" within the course of my placement.

I will end by telling you where I will be going and what I will be doing:

My destination is Bole, Ghana. I will be working with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA), aiming at helping create Safe Food Networks (SFN) for rural farmers within my district. I will aim to use Results Based Management (RBM) with Agriculture Extention Agents (AEA) in order to try and make them more efficient at delivering useful information to the farmers.

I will be staying in a compound with a colleague and his wife, a nurse (BONUS), an NGO worker, and a young family.

I would love to hear from anyone who has time to give me feedback, or who wants to make my day with a sweet "hello", at any time during my placement.