Monday, April 17, 2006

Pictures 3

1) My Ghanaian brother Samed (I live in his compound) eating the pancakes I made him
2)A small girl at World Water Day 2006, in Savelugu (north of Tamale)
3) The crowd at World Water Day 2006
4) A motorbike with chickens on top of it in my compound

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Pictures 2

1) Women pounding fufu in the small village of Kambonayili, where I stayed for one night
2) Me verifying latrine construction in the field
3) Two boys in a small community I visited for latrine construction verification
4) A meal of pancakes and Canadian maple syrup I made for my Ghanaian family

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Pictures 1

People have been requesting pictures, so here are a few!

1) My brother Alex, my dad Bruce, me and my mom Gail at the airport shortly before takeoff from Toronto, February 7, 2006. Ian had to work unfortunately (watch those fingers, Ian).
2) Kids in the tro-tro yard at Atebubu.
3) A baby in Kambonayili.
4) Me and Ibrahim, the farmer I stayed with in Kambonayili.

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To Burkina and Back -- Or, I Went to a Church Service and Six Weddings Broke Out

I’ve just been told that whistling at night is taboo – it brings out the evil spirits. Unfortunately I have the song “Don’t worry, be happy” stuck in my head. I think the spirits will be swirling about my head tonight. But I’ll be happy about it.

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, I went to one of the Catholic churches in Tamale for mass. It turned into a mass wedding, which was surprising. The general structure of the service was roughly what I know from Canada, and the prayers were almost identical. One difference was that the hymns were sung with the accompaniment of a bongo drum, which made them a lot livelier – it was pretty cool to hear these songs start out quite solemnly, until the beat of the bongo drum broke in and the choir kicked up the energy level. And at one point in the mass, six couples went up in front of a crowd of roughly 700 people and exchanged vows and rings. Initially I thought they were just taking part in some kind of pre-wedding ceremony, but I was wrong. They were getting hitched, and in one fell swoop, the number of weddings I’ve attended jumped by 150%.

Last week I travelled to Burkina Faso, the country to the north of Ghana, for an Engineers Without Borders retreat. It was a successful retreat, and it was great to see many of the people from my training, although it was strange to see them in this context, and see how they’ve adopted African garb and hairstyles – we’re a far cry from the streets of Toronto now.

Although lower on the human development index than Ghana, Burkina has the feeling of a country in motion, one that’s worked itself further out of poverty than Ghana – at least, this is in the two major cities I visited (the capital, Ouagadougou, and Bobo-Dioulasso). The streets were incredibly clean – they have garbage cans dispersed throughout the cities (unlike Ghana), the buildings well kept and large, and the people friendly and often dressed quite well. However, this drives home to me the sometimes subtle face of poverty – that the truly needy are the ones least likely to be visible, and that some of the indicators of poverty can’t be easily seen with the naked eye. For example, Burkina’s adult literacy rate is only 28%, and in 2000-2001 only 10% of secondary-age students attended school – not things we could see in a 5 day visit. And we didn’t even visit a rural community, while a huge percentage of Burkina’s population lives outside of urban centres – 92% of the Burkina workforce is engaged in agriculture. I have to constantly remind myself that, although the people I interact with on a day to day basis may not have obvious signs of poverty, their true story below the surface may be an incredibly sad one – with children unable to attend school due to a lack of money for school fees, with relatives suffering from treatable diseases while they lack access to the proper medicines, with illiteracy slamming the door to opportunity shut on them.

But I don’t like to end on negativity, so I’ll just mention that today I went to an Easter “picnic” at a park in an army barracks. There were thousands of people out, playing music, dancing, eating and drinking, and generally showing a pretty incredible indomitable spirit, and demonstrating the universal human desire to have fun and celebrate. I’m sure those six newly married couples are pretty happy right now.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Mosque building and the hardness of fruit

In an effort to integrate into my community, I decided to help out with a local community project: mosque building.

Sounds as bit strange, I guess. There is a new mosque being constructed in my neighbourhood – right next to the old one, incidentally. It’s funded by a woman who lives nearby, and being built by the men who live around it. I can’t really imagine this happening in Canada – I’m trying to picture all the men in my Canadian suburb kicking in to make a place of worship. Then again, I can’t imagine all the homes in my community in Tamale picking a day on which to sell off all their junk out in front of their homes, so I guess every community in the world has its particularities.

So on a Sunday morning, I found myself out on the mosque grounds, wearing my trusty Bolga hat, praying (how appropriate) for a gentle breeze, and shovelling concrete. Right now they’re laying the foundation, which involved shovelling two types of sand together from two big piles (one coarse, one fine), then mixing cement into it, piling the mixture up in a separate pile, then pouring water into it. This is all done by shovel and bucket. The concrete is then moved by wheelbarrow, and dumped onto the foundation.

The men at first kept insisting on helping the white guy with his tasks: encouraging me to take a break, or stealing my bucket away from me to cart water. But after I repeatedly turned down their offers, and indignantly re-stole my bucket, they let me do my thing without interference. And it seemed to earn respect. Now all the guys in the community know me as the “saminga” who kicked in to help. I caught a taxi home one evening, and the taxi driver asked me if he’d seen me working on the mosque the other day. I told him that was me, and he was very impressed – so my actions have had pretty widespread results. I want to be seen as a member of the community, and not just a strange outsider, and this seems like a solid step in that direction. Although I still get stared at a lot.

I’ve included a picture from my trip to Togo. This trip wasn’t actually planned. Last week, I was in a city called Gbankurugu, which is on the border of Togo. I was there to interview the members of the District Water and Sanitation Team, and after our interview, they asked me to have a mineral (pop) with them. I suggested we go to Togo for the mineral, since it was right next door and I wanted to practise my French (Togo is a former French colony), and add another country to my “visited” list. So we drove down a rutted road, barely passable, bumping and lurching along for almost 15 minutes, before finally arriving at the border. The border actually had a really nicely constructed customs building, demonstrating that infrastructure development in Ghana isn’t all happening at the same pace – you can’t really drive any merchandise across the border, since the roads aren’t there, but you can definitely get inspected by the nice customs facilities.
The guys I was with got out of the truck and talked to the border guard, then came back and told me that the border guard wanted us to go to immigration, which was somewhere back up the road. I didn’t have my passport with me, and had been told I wouldn’t need it – the border supposedly isn’t very strict. So instead, I asked if I could just walk around the barrier separating Togo from Ghana, and have my picture snapped in Togo. When the border guard saw this happening, he resumed talking to the DWST men. He then waved us through – apparently the men explained that we just wanted to check out Togo for about an hour, and we promised to come back. Life is pretty easy going here a lot of the time.

So I got to go to a small village in Togo, speak French to a few people (including the guards to the town, who were having their hair cut by the side of the road), and bring back this funky looking fruit. I’m don’t actually know what it’s called – if someone can find out, I’d appreciate it. It’s about the size of a large coconut, and comes from a tree that looks a lot like a palm tree. It’s bright orange, and has a hard outer shell. The way I was taught to eat it is to bash it against something hard, then tear the shell off with your teeth, and then do your best to pull out some of the stringy insides. They’re quite sweet, but eating it is a lot of work. The person who taught me how to eat it said that it’s “hard as a monkey’s anus” (pronounced “eh noose”). This is my new favourite expression. Posted by Picasa