It has only been a week since I last wrote, and so much has happened since then. The past week has been packed with learning, insta-constant sweat and loads of incredibly friendly people. Before I dive into the details of the very brief village stay, here is a quick recap of the week’s events:
Monday: Arrival in Accra, the capital of Ghana, after almost 24 hours of travel. We stayed in a guest house and made our first attempt at setting up bednets – the key is to not let it touch your skin while you sleep, or else you will be itchy the next day from the high concentration of bug-repelling DEET!
Tuedsay: Travel to Tamale, which amounted to a pretty well worry-free 13 hour bus ride. The weird divide between the comfort of the bus and the bustling world outside was definitely unsettling.
Wednesday: First day of in-country training in Tamale, which included a scavenger hunt on the town! This activity was meant to throw us into the Tamale experience head first, all the while checking off important must-buy items like mobile phones and malaria treatment, and performing fun tasks like bargaining for cloth, learning some Dagbani proverbs and eating some Fanyogo (yum.). My favorite part of the experience was walking through the inner market, which was a great maze full of stalls, people and interesting smells.
Thursday: Last day of in-country training.
Friday: Team meeting with the GaRI APS, where we collectively created a system map of the Government of Ghana (GoG) and discussed among others the Theory of Change (see my first post), as well as a meeting with my placement coach, Binnu.
And now, for the village stay! For past two days, the GaRI JFs lived in separate rural villages. The purpose of this very brief village stay was to get a sense of what it means to live in a rural Ghanaian village before we begin our work, mine being at the District Assembly level. The hope was that this may allow us to see the perspective of the people we meet with regards to government, as well as what needs are being truly addressed and which ones are not.
The name of the community in which I stayed is Yulinayuli. This village is about a 20 minute shared taxi ride outside of Tamale, but seems like a world away. The village itself is agglomerated with another 2 villages, and all together make up about 200 residents. I stayed in a compound with a local farmer, his two wives, 5 children and dozen goats. The entire experience resulted in more learning than I think I have ever done in two days. The list below contains a few highlights of my experience of village life, but I would be glad to go into details over a phone call (!!! –I have a phone, see below).
-Learning Dagbani dances, including the very popular Azonto “Wash and Wear”, which children found hilarious when I danced to it
– Taking my first bucket bath, washing my first set of clothes by hand, being proposed to jokingly for the first time (and many times after that!)
– Walking around the village with my new friend Yvane, visiting every singly compound to talk with the residents, seeing and learning about the processing of shea butter, rice, cowpeas, soya, and groundnut paste
-Greeting everyone I meet with a “Desiba”, “Antire” or “Aniwula” (good morning, good afternoon or good evening), followed by many repeated “Naaaa”’s, and a possible “Alafee” (I am fine) when I am not certain what to answer, followed by some hearty laughs at my misunderstanding
– Walking slowly in the late afternoon light, watching smallboys play soccer and just enjoying the total lack of that constant rushed for time feeling
-Learning how to carry a pot of dirt on my head – I was “no hands” for a few seconds! This dirt was collected by the community women to plaster the floor of the compound next to mine. Later I participated in the process of pounding the floor, where all the women were rhythmically pounding the ground and singing to the sound of drums. It was an incredible, muddy experience! (look up “Ghanaian Floor Pounding” on Youtube)
– Walking to the neighboring village through a wide field with Sia and Mariane, talking about dreams, how silly it is that I cannot catch a Guinea Fowl, and how strange it is that my skin burns in the sun
– Meeting the 3 chiefs in their respective huts, speaking through a translator and laughing about all my silly outsider girl mistakes
I had the opportunity to talk to people about the communication mechanisms that exist between their village and their District Assembly. Assembly Members are located around the district in assigned jurisdictions; they are meant to serve as the two-way information link between constituents and their local government. As my placement will be revolving around this information loop, I focused on getting an understanding on how information is currently shared to and from the 3 agglomerated villages.
The current setup in Yulinayuli revolves mostly around the traditional authority. When the Assembly man wants to hold a forum to address the village, he must ask permission of the chief, who then calls on the village to meet up either that night or the next day. Likewise, the chief holds a meeting every Monday and Friday morning, where community members are welcome to join in on discussions about local concerns. These concerns are then passed to the Assembly man through the chief. Traditional Authorities are regarded with high respect in Yulinayuli, and therefore have a very important role to play in community development. My current assumption is that this is a common pattern in many villages of the Northern Region – it will definitely be a point to explore throughout my work at the DA.
Speaking of which: tomorrow, I will be heading out to Yendi, where my placement journey really takes off! I will be arriving on time for a public forum concerning the relocation of residents for a lorry park. It will be a first dive into the dynamic of public forums, which is one of the aspects I wish to explore over the next few weeks. I am excited to jump into the functions of the District Assembly and learn how I can align my placement alongside my partners, who specifically are the Planning Officer and the Community Development Officer.
I look forward to sharing what I learn about the dynamics at the Yendi DA – I will be using the next two weeks or so to get a better understanding of how to best pursue my placement. It is now pretty late here in Tamale, and I still have some packing, research and showering (again) to do before I go to bed. Tomorrow is a big day! On a final note, here are my two phone numbers:
233 57 320 0544
233 54 683 8273
If the first one doesn’t work, just try the second one. An easy and cheap way to call international is through Skype, and calling cards work as well too. Send me a message if you want more details!!
Good night 🙂