Climbin’

Te dabai. It’s been some time!

I believe there is some truth in saying that all first time volunteers experience a low in the beginning of an experience abroad. I know I have, and I also know that I am climbing back out.

My particular low stemmed from many aspects: Being in such a different culture, leading me to feel extremely strange and downright stupid most times; missing my family and friends at home; feeling at first as though I may not be able to find purpose at work; and feeling sick, and constantly sweaty to name a few. These aspects led to an overwhelming feeling of loneliness, which then led on to an incredible feeling of guilt, for not loving every moment and taking advantage of this incredible experience.

Good news does come though! The past week, I have felt myself coming around the bend. I am surmounting this thing called the culture curve. See exhibit A:

I am enjoying the days, and really starting to acknowledge those moments when I am truly happy. I am feeling more and more purpose at work, and realizing just how much I have learnt in my past month in Ghana. Just yesterday, I wrote out a list of things I really appreciate about my surroundings in my journal. They are simple things that I failed to realize when I was feeling down, but now that I am feeling better, these fantastically simple things really do make a difference. I hope this short list also entices you to see the beauty that I’m experiencing!

The little things that count:

People calling just to see how you are doing, almost on a daily basis

The most genuine smiling that happens when you are greeting someone – especially the elderly women

Eating TZ and Okro soup out of the same bowl as my family, as they laugh and argue in Dagbani for hours

How little girls all have earrings

How people drive their motos extremely slow just to talk to all their friends on the way to their destination

The sound of the 7pm prayers, on a cloudless starry night

Loud exclamations of “Enh!!” in a conversation

Biking downhill on the way home, breathing in the beauty

How greetings to older, powerful men involve a bouncy, extended bow

Smocks

How everyone calls each other sisters and brothers

Washing clothes by hand, barefoot on the hot cement of my compound

The shade of mango trees. Oh, and mangoes, I guess.

Tribal marks on faces

Markets, and how the ground is so chaotic

The love neighbors have for each other, and how it is acceptable to just walk into each other’s homes

Veils

All the plastic chairs with the unity symbol on them

School uniforms

FanIce icecream bicycles

Baby goats

The wide range of tro tro names, like ”Iron Man”, “Look into your soul”, “Meat Van” and “God Bless us
Every One”

Music stores, blaring the latest pop music, or some lively Dagombe music

How beloved malt drinks are

How invested people are in their own families

The sound of rain thundering on the roof, even as it rushes through the window like a jet spray and soaks all my belongings 😛

Not ever worrying about my appearance – going several days without looking in a mirror

How you say “You are invited” – “Tidzima” to neighboring people every time you begin to eat

Dirt roads

The full out, lively 3 hour dance party that makes up Sunday mass

Drumming, with women screaming to the music

Sayings like “Have you seen? (Do you get it)”, “I am going to the White House” (I’m going to take a shit), “Daybreak” (good morning), “I believe it is in order” (basically agreeing with a statement)

How you can get a full out delicious meal for 50 pesewas

The rooster outside my room cock a doodle doo-ing every morning starting at 4:00 AM.. K, not always.

The comfortable silence that can exist between two women of different culture and language

The extra mile of joy that comes from relating with someone, even on the most trivial level

Eating with your hands and no shame

The first shock of dumping water on yourself when taking the twice daily bucket bath

The realization of how truly little material things you need to lead a comfortable life

Colorful clothing

How holding hands with someone is entirely natural

The sound of pounding fufu

The plastic teapots found everywhere used to wash

Shortened figure of speech, like”go-come” for “I will go and come” (I will be back later), “How?” for “How
is it?” (How are you?)

So there you have it – the preliminary list of what Ghana really makes wonderful, and the small things that are helping me to appreciate the bigger ones.

Next time, I promise humour. (Hold me to that one.)

As for me, I am off!! Di tu biela!

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Apathy

GaRI is exploring a new model through its theory of change; to act as a district consultant, and work on a demand basis. The 5 GaRI JFs, including myself, are testing out some areas where GaRI could build this consultancy expertise. Ryan and Guillaume are looking at Internally Generated Funds (IGF), which is the district taxation system. Akid is working on Evidence Based Decision Making (EBDM), an approach which uses relevant data to prioritize district plans. Gaelan and I are both working on information flow, accountability and feedback; Gaelan is at the Area Council level, while I am located in a Municipal Assembly.

One important point that I have not yet mentioned about Yendi: The district is known for its legendary chieftaincy conflict. My knowledge the story is limited, and it is still a pretty touchy subject in the area. It stems from a feud between the Adani and the Abutu families. A few years ago, an Adani chief was murdered, resulting in a conflict situation. The municipality has come a long way since then, with a strong push from exterior sources partnered with the Municipal Assembly. Today, you would not know that the area had this history. The real effects of this conflict are now seen in the form of apathy. For reasons that I will be exploring through my work, residents of Yendi are engaging at a minimal level with the Municipal Assembly.

The Yendi Municipality is currently in an optimal position. It is equipped with high capacity staff, and has achieved excellent scores for the Functional Organisational Assesment Tool (FOAT), resulting in relatively high funding. Yendi actually expects to exceed its revenue target for 2012, leading to a massive infrastructure push throughout the district.

Today, I sat in on a presentation that was being given by the Planning Unit for a M.Sc. class visiting from the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi. Near the end of the slideshow, in the “Lessons Learnt” section, were two points:

“Community participation is key to success and sustainability of development projects” and

“Participation of stakeholders is key in the development planning process”.

Underlying these points is once again one of the big current challenges for the Assembly; apathy. Community engagement is the foundation behind effective government function, and is one of the main factors keeping Yendi from reaching its higher potential.

A great few words that Binnu told me over the phone on Tuesday night keep ringing in my head. She said “You will never end up having enough information to feel comfortable starting something, so you just need to do it” – something along those lines. So here I am, finding myself diving into an idea that was outlined as a possibility in my Terms of Reference, and held in high interest by the Coordinating Director: the creation of a Client Service Unit (CSU) as the Assembly.

This unit can have multiple functions; none of them are officially stated anywhere, so I am exploring what some of these options could be.  Currently, my ideas for the CSU are the following:

– A full time reception service, where constituents can call at any time with questions, concerns or comments about what is happening at the Assembly;

– An official complaint process, so that constituents have the power to place a complaint about anyone working within the Assembly if they feel any disrespect, ignorance, etc. on their part;

– A public relations unit that focuses on assistance in the planning and implementation of public events, as well as producing public outreach items such with pamphlets, poster boards, newsletters, etc.

This coming Tuesday, I will be presenting my ideas to the Assembly, and looking for input and feedback on their part. From there, I will be establishing a work plan with my partner and the Director.

I must admit, there is somewhat some irony with the fact that I am working in community engagement. There are certainly times where I have been very apathetic about what was happening in Canada, particularly within government. So working here, seeing the very reasons why fighting apathy is so important for the advancement of service delivery, accountability and general good governance is coming as a deeper lesson to myself as well. It’s silly that it took me a trip across the world to really let this sink in!

Much love!!

What about Yendi?

I have been in Yendi for almost two weeks now, so I figure it’s time for a location profile. Let’s start with some facts and history. Yendi is a really interesting place – I keep learning new things every day. Here is the some of my learnings on the place!

Yendi is a district, with a population of about 125,000. Because of the size, Yendi is known as a municipality, which is a step above the district. I am living in the capital, which is also called Yendi. The city is part of the eastern corridor, a main yam route for Ghana. So the fufu is fantastic! (side note: despite many North American grocery store beliefs, yams are NOT sweet potatoes.)

The city of Yendi is the traditional capital of the Dagbon Kingdom, which comprises the Dagomba people. It seats the Ya-Na, who is the overlord, or top chief, of the Dagomba. And you guessed it -the Dagomba speak Dagbani, that language that I am learning, biela biela (gradually).The district of Yendi is also home to many other ethnic groups: the Konkombas, Akans, Ewes, Basares, Chokosis, Hausas and Moshies.

There are some interesting attractions in the Yendi area: one of them is the site of the Abido Dale, where the battle of the Germans and the Dagombas took place in 1897 as a resistance to slave raiding. It is said that the great warrior Kambona-Kpema rode his horse up the side of a baobab tree, and you can still see the hoof prints today. The Greenwich Meridian also passes straight through Yendi!

For most of last week, I was living in a guesthouse on the main road. As I walked out, I would suddenly find myself the middle of the action; in front of me, a group of young men with their tros parked in the yard, waiting for them to fill. Just to my right, the lady who makes wicked banku and jolaf rice, under the shade of the building. Further ahead, my friend John, who runs a vodaphone credit stand and is dedicated to teaching me Dagbani as the summer rolls on. The street is always exploding – market ladies with sweet bread and pears (aka avocadoes) in baskets on their heads; children screaming “pure wata, pure wata!”; motos and cars weaving in and out with each other and constant horn honking; gaggles of goats running around, expertly dodging cars (those animals are seriously skilled); the smell of meat over a fire, propane stoves and humid air. The best part is that this commotion starts at the healthy hour of approximately 4:30 to 5:00 AM. Truthfully, I don’t know just how early, because I have yet to actually get up at that hour. Although I have heard from a few people now that they wake up at 3:00 in the morning, latest 4:00. No joke.

I just moved in with my family Friday night after work. The compound is situated right on the outskirts of Yendi, off the road to Saboba district. In my family is my host brother, who is in senior high, his mother, and two younger siblings, who are still toddlers. My brother’s friend from school is also living in our compound, as his family lives in Tamale but he is attending school in Yendi. The father works for an electrical company in Tamale and comes home when he gets a chance. I have really been enjoying my stay so far! 🙂