Sunday, November 26, 2006

Some more pictures

Me riding a new ZoomLion garbage bike -- part of a new national strategy to clean up Ghana's streets (the bikes are part of the strategy, not me riding them).

Helen, Mary, Me, Asana, Rufai and Salifu -- the DWST team.

Louis and Jean-Luc showing off our new goat, purchased in Burkina Faso to celebrate the end of Ramadan during our EWB retreat.

Me dancing in the sand dunes in northern Burkina Faso. (Forgot I had my camera with me. It no longer works. Photo credit: Kristy Minor.) Posted by Picasa

Winding Up to Wind Down

It occurred to me that I haven’t posted any pictures in a while, so here are a few (descriptions below).

Work is moving along quite well as of late. I’ve been working with the DWST for almost 4 months, delivering workshops on topics like team coordination and communication, proposal writing, and scheduling of monitoring visits. I’ve also been helping them with their database system, so that they can keep track of all the water and sanitation facilities in the district. They’re very keen, and have great ideas to improve their operations, so it’s been a pleasure helping them develop these ideas into an action plan. We also now have two National Service volunteers working in the office (Mary and Asana). These are recent graduates from a college and university in Ghana, who are placed with the DWST for 8 months in order to gain work experience. They’ve been a really great addition to the team, and will hopefully continue my work after I’m gone.

Speaking of leaving, my time is now running very short here. I have only a few more weeks in the district, and about a million things to wrap up. Furthermore, the Governor General, Michaëlle Jean, is coming to Tamale as part of her African tour, and I’ve been invited to a luncheon that she’ll be attending this Thursday. Apparently I’ll be sitting at her table -- stay tuned for pictures and updates from that.

Besides that, I’ll also be travelling all over the country in the next couple weeks for an EWB retreat down south, and then to fly out from Accra. So I suspect I’ll be pretty exhausted by the time I leave in mid-December.

Finally, people have occasionally posted questions for me on my blog. For my last few weeks here, I’d like to invite anyone with questions to email me directly, and I’ll then respond to them in a blog posting. If you’re curious about anything here (e.g. the food, the animals, my host families, my work, the weather, the environment, the music, the transportation, the festivals, the artwork, the water situation, etc.) then please don’t hesitate to let me know.

Mary, Asana and Helen during refresher training for Water and Sanitation Committees.

A child at the refresher training.

Mary at the refresher training.

Obligatory cute kids shot.

 Posted by Picasa

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Dusty cassettes and inspired music

“I’m looking for a cassette by Alhaji K. Frimpong” I say to the shop-keeper. I’ve been biking throughout the city, trying to track down music by an elusive Ghanaian recording artist.

I don’t know much about Frimpong: only that I heard one of his songs on the radio in a taxi cab, and I liked it. It was a strange mix of jazz,
Caribbean and Afro-beats, no vocals, and made me feel like I was sitting in the room with the artists as they laid down the track. I find out later that he was one of the leaders in development of Ghanaian highlife music.

The shop-keeper nods. The store is a small and cluttered – three walls of shelving crammed top to bottom with cassettes, and the fourth wall a plate-glass window, before which sits an elaborate sound system. The power is off in town, the system silent.

“He’s old, right? Just died.” the shop-keeper says. This man looks like an archetypal used record store owner. He has a razor thin beard running below his lower lip, and the wizened look that only dozens of years of careful musical fanaticism can bring.

Crouching down, he begins scouring the lower shelves of tapes, fingers moving quickly from label to label. He moves through Ghanaian gospel, Jamaican reggae, American country, Cote d’Ivoirian hip-hip, Céline Dion (so popular in Ghana she deserves a category to herself). Pulling cassettes from the shelves in stacks, he shuffles and shifts, moving top to bottom, side to side. The place is a maze of music, a heap of tapes so convoluted it’s nearly overwhelming.

After ten minutes of intense searching, he pauses. “I’m going to get my spectacles,” he says to me. As he walks away, I read his t-shirt: “Ask about laser eye surgery!”

Finally, many minutes more, and another cloud of dust detonated from shelves long untouched, he triumphantly hands me a cassette. It’s labelled “Alhaji K. Frimpong: Kyenkyen Bi Adi Mawu.”

After parting with 12,000 cedis (approximately $1.50) I’m on my way, wondering where I’ll find a tape deck.

Having regular access to new music is definitely something I miss from back home. No longer can I head into CHRW and start pulling CDs at random off the library shelves.

However, here in
Ghana I’ve been exposed to a whole other world of music, one that I’d never known before.

While you may not be able to easily track down any Frimpong, you can almost certainly find some excellent West African music in Canadian stores. Keep an eye peeled for the blind Malian recording duo Amadou and Mariam. Their album “Dimanche à Bamako” is a very accessible – and lovely – mix of traditional Malian instruments and styles with Western-style guitar.

Also out of Mali is Ali Farka Touré, who is rumoured to have developed his own style of blues guitar playing independently of any American influences. The album “Talking Timbuktu” is a fantastic collaboration with Ry Cooder. Touré apparently became the mayor of his hometown in 2004. He died earlier this year at the age of 67.

When I get back to Canada, I’ll try to upload a few songs by local reggae star Sheriff Ghale. Based out of Tamale, he sings in the local language, Dagbani, about topical issues like political corruption and the Chieftaincy Crisis (a problem stemming from a debate over the rightful leader of the Dagomba people). He’s also a local school teacher (who taught my Ghanaian sister, Fadilla).

Some other artists worth searching for, both out of Mali, are Afel Bocoum and Toumani Diabaté.

Let me know if anyone can track down any of the music I’ve listed. It’s certainly worth a little searching. A cool blog to check out is here, listing many great African acts.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Mangan Diversity

Another interesting experience I had during my village stay in Manga was getting to meet Dicko Issa. Dicko is a Fulani man, one of only four Fulani families staying in Manga. The Fulani are a distinct ethnic group in West Africa – they’re pretty easily identifiable by their colourful robes, ornate jewellery and unique hairstyles. To most volunteers, the Fulani are a somewhat mysterious people – they’re one of the few “different” groups of people in Northern Ghana (the majority being indigenous Ghanaians), speaking their own language, with their own customs and culture. We don’t get to interact with them very much, as they don’t spend much time in the city, preferring to live and move through the countryside.

Traditionally the Fulani were a nomadic people, moving cattle and other animals across their territory. Today, they’ve mostly settled in communities but still seem to maintain their pastoral practices. For instance, the Fulani in Manga are responsible for caring for the community’s cattle.

Dicko is from Burkina Faso, near the Niger border. He worked in Burkina Faso for the government, helping calculate and collect taxes – he’s pretty skilled at long multiplication, as he demonstrated to me on a scrap of paper. He settled in Manga with his family roughly two years ago.

It was interesting for me to note was that the four Fulani households in Manga were the only ones without latrines – latrines have to be partially paid for, and are often a status symbol. This lack of latrines could have been a sign that the Fulani houses were less prestigious than the Mamprusi houses (the Mamprusis are the predominant tribe in this area). Dicko’s home was certainly the poorest one I saw, with a few crumbling huts containing corn, not wall around his compound, and all-thatch roofs (the wealthier households had tin roofs).

Nicholas, the farmer who I was staying with, told me that the Fulani families were accepted as part of the Manga community. However, they all lived on the outskirts of the town. Furthermore, one day there was an altercation between a Fulani woman and two Mamprusi youths – apparently the woman refused to stop her cattle from cross a footpath so that the boys could continue along the path. The conflict ended in a physical altercation, although I’m unsure how serious it was. This case was brought before the village chief, who ordered the boys to pay a small amount of money to the woman.

But this indicated to me that relations may not be completely problem-
free between these two groups. Indeed, tensions between different ethnic groups can be a major barrier to development. Traditional enemies and allies and alliances have to be carefully analysed – the issues can be incredibly subtle, almost invisible to an outsider. Just one more complication in the field of development.

I appreciated getting to talk with Dicko. We had a long conversation in French – his English wasn’t strong, and French is the official language of Burkina Faso – and he taught me a few sentences in Fula. Definitely an interesting window into a world I hadn’t had much contact with before.

(Pictures -- Above: Dicko Issa's daughter and grandson. Below: Dicko and his family)  Posted by Picasa