Sunday, March 26, 2006

A message from the intergalactic overlord for World Water Day 2006

Well, World Water Day has come and gone in a flash of blinding glory, and I’m left to deal with the fallout – creditors demanding their bills be settled, random Ghanaians haranguing me for free t-shirts (apparently Ghanaians absolutely LOVE free t-shirts, and unfortunately we did not have the budget to supply one for every person in the country), and children who need their paintings returned to them. But the day was a good one, and the experience valuable.

WWD started with a parade through town, which started approximately an hour and a half late. This parade consisted of several pickup trucks carrying placard-waving people (the placards read “Water is Culture!” and “Protect our water bodies!” among other things), and a flatbed truck carrying a brass band. As I’ve mentioned before, Tamale doesn’t technically have water. As a result, we had a few people on the street angrily fist-waving at us, and I was left wishing that our police escort has shown up. I slunk down into my seat and avoided eye contact with the crowd. However, violence did not manifest itself, and the parade proceeded to the small town of Savelugu, north of Tamale. It was quite the spectacle to see the truck careening down the highway at 80km/h, with the drummer of the brass band still going at full tilt.

We’d also hired a few buses to transport the pressmen and children from the various schools participating in the painting competition. The day before, we’d gone to the schools to collect the children’s paintings. I was given a lesson in participatory development when I was told that painting is not actually a part of the curriculum at most schools here – I assume that the cost of materials is just too high. Too many development projects haven’t relied on the input of the beneficiaries – these bad projects are based on the knowledge and expectations of the development worker and his/her NGO. This has resulted in, for example, “graveyards” of broken down pumps and agricultural equipment that just weren’t suited to the community into which they were introduced.

So in my case, had I had enough time, I would have been able to speak with the teachers and students to establish their skills and abilities, and then plan accordingly. But, like a bad development worker, I simply forced my preconceived notion of a good project on these people, and dropped off the paints and bristle board. Anyway, my experience has a happy ending – the kids worked their butts off and taught themselves to paint, and produced some pretty awesome pictures.

I also had a lesson in how free-flowing life is here in Ghana, when we asked if we could take the kids away from school for the activities in Savelugu the next day. The response from the headmaster at each school was the same in every case: “No problem” (this is a really common expression here). In Canada, I can’t imagine how many permission forms would have to be sent home, not to mention insurance problems worked out.

In total, there were probably about 500 people at the festivities in Savelugu. This included several hundred school children from Savelugu, as well as dignitaries and random people from the public. The event was pretty packed, and included a cultural dance/drum show, a song by a local singer named Kaeba, a drama presentation by a local acting troupe, a quiz on water and sanitation for several high schools and several speeches.

I didn’t have much time to watch the events, since I was running around the whole time, but the crowd seemed to enjoy it. One funny thing was the song by Kaeba. Some background info: Concerts here are often lip-synched. Apparently people like to hear the songs they love exactly as they know them; i.e. straight off the CD. So Kaeba lip-synched a song he’d written about water and culture. The problem is that we’d made him include passages in Dagbani, the local language. Kaeba doesn’t speak Dagbani (he’s from the south) so I think he had someone write the lyrics for him. So his lip-synching the Dagbani lyrics was decidedly not Milli Vanilli quality. But the song was really good, and the crowd liked it.

After the public symposium was a lunch for about 300 people, which happened an hour and a half late, but was delicious when it finally came.

So that was World Water Day in Tamale. Definitely an interesting experience, and one that taught me many things about Ghana (for example, my co-organizers specifically factored in “African time” to their event planning), and allowed me to meet many people who could be quite useful for the future of my project.

Just hope that no t-shirt crazed person gets violent with me.


Weinstein said...

Hmmm...water...don't drink it, it isn't really healthy in belgium. That is why they invented beer!

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