Thursday, May 23, 2013

Borehole, Part 2

No, this soap opera is not over yet.

After the drilling failed, the supervisor said he'd call whoever his boss was and tell them they have to come out and survey before he will drill anymore (they had about six jobs all over the Upper East).  Why he didn't demand that he get the survey data before he started drilling two boreholes is beyond me.  I still don't know who messed up, who did not do their job, but I think if you go in a drill without the surveying been done, you are at least partially to blame.
After meeting with the elders, explaining that they didn't hit water, he said that they'd get some surveyors out and then come back and drill.  I thought he was totally BSing us.  But two Saturdays later, Christopher called me to say that a surveryor had called him and they'd be out the next day to take data.  (Best part is that I am not the contact person, I'm not dealing with meeting people.  What a relief.)  This man and his team surveyed for about two hours, then he said it'd take a few days to analyze and then we'd see what to do.  The rains were starting to come, so I was skeptical as to whether drilling would happen again this year.
(While this is happening, I was in contact with Mary about the expenses that Christopher and I incurred when the drillers were here that we weren't forewarned about.  Like I mentioned in Part 1, the supervisor demanded lodging and food, but little did Christopher and know that they were not going to pay for anything.  Dinner, breakfast and lodging for a night for seven people is not cheap.  I smelled a rat.  Well, or I just smelled a Ghanaian who was trying to take advantage of villagers' generosity.  They had already rubbed me the wrong way when they first arrived in Kongo, so I had to clear up this issue.  Mary emailed me back right away and said she was not aware that the workers were not paying for their expenses.  She asked me how much we spent, and she would reimburse me as soon as possible.  So not only did they no do their job correctly, they took advantage of the community's vulnerability.  Christopher told me not to ask for reimbursement, he just wanted them to come drill again.  I told him, No.  No amount of dashing is going to get you water.  Not to mention they are getting paid for their work, its not like their volunteering their time, and they work in Accra with white people, they should know this is not appropriate and very unprofessional.  And the villagers already showed their appreciation with two guinea fowls and a bunch of pito, so no extra bribing was necessary by any means.  About a week later, I got the reimbursement from Mary.)
A few weeks after the survey team came, the same drilling team came out again.  I was shocked.  They arrived late from Bawku one night again, then drilled the next morning.  I was not informed of the progress of their work, but I frankly didn't care too much.  I had already see the drilling process once, and all you can do is sit and watch for four hours as pipe after pipe goes into the ground.  Not too exciting.
So I found out the bad news the other way.  I happened to call Esther about something else, and then I asked how the drilling went (Christopher's phone was off anyways, not like I need to keep reiterating that) and she told me they had already left Kongo.  The drilling failed again.  This time around I didn't feel so connected or involved or invested with the outcome.  My heart already broke the first time, and I'm glad I didn't have to go through that feeling again.
A very brief glimmer of hope was seen after the first drilling failed and a survey team came out...but still in the end, nothing.  But now this is no longer my deal, its no longer my project.  I tried, did what I could, but it failed.  I have no idea what the next step is now- try again next year in a completely different spot? Continue to deal with this as is?  I don't know.  Now its Christopher's turn to figure out the problem with his community.  I have many contacts for him to use, so now he needs to step up and work with the experts to handle the problem. 
I'd like to say it wasn't a waste of my time and effort and energy to try to get a borehole.  I don't know what I feel.  But I worked with Ghanaians, I worked with an NGO, I held meetings, I was a contact person and advocate for Go-nseung, I learned a lot along the way about development projects, and at least I can say that I did all that I could to try to make this project happen, at least I didn't just sit on the sideline and hope someone else would do the work, I didn't give up even though I thought about doing that a lot. 
Most importantly I remembered a very simple, poignant saying:  Shit happens.

Borehole, Part 1

WARNING:  This story does not have a happy, successful ending.

What a long time coming this has been.  When I first came to Kongo on my site visit in November 2011, I met with Go-nseung for the first time.  From that point on, I knew that getting a borehole was their number one priority.  Throughout 2012 I persisted in finding contacts that could do the work.  I ended up talking with three different organizations in the Upper East and Northern Regions.  Two of them gave me very high quotes (10,500 to 13,500 cedis), and were not willing to budge much; the other one didn't get back to me enough for me to find out what their deal was.  In order for me to get funding through Peace Corps, the community would need to contribute 25% of the cost of the project.  That just didn't seem feasible for the community, and it would have taken me a long time to fill a grant of that size.
(Theoretically, the assemblyman is supposed to help the community with projects like this.  Why mine, who is also my so-called counterpart, did not follow through with his duties in this respect is beyond me.  I have asked many neighboring communities how they have gotten their boreholes, and every time they say the assemblyman helped.  It is true our district was just split up, so all the government offices are being relocated and it'll take a long time to get it all settled, but why he put no effort whatsoever into helping me I still can't figure out.  My good friend Cletus, who lives in Kongo most of the time, but who is Ran's counterpart in Yakoti just a few kilometers away, was able to get a borehole put in right outside his family compound, and he is in the same district as Kongo.  It is amazing- there's a solar panel to pump the water into a big Polytank, and then you can fetch water from a pipe.  And how did he get this?  His assemblyman.)
Getting towards the end of 2012, I was just about ready to give it up, and let a potential next volunteer take it up.  Then I went to Thanksgiving in Accra; my homestay family knew of a woman at an NGO that drills boreholes and does other projects in the Upper East and Northern regions.  So I was put into contact with her. 
In one of my last blogs ("The New Year") I mentioned the first meeting I had with Mary, from the NGO, in Go-nseung with the elders.  Mid-February I had a second meeting, this time with the Ghanaian pastor who stays in Bolga who represents the NGO up here.  He just came to see the area and talk with me, he didn't need to meet with the elders.  Luckily Esther was at the house, she came and met with us, and she was able to give the pastor a local's perspective on the potential project.  Again, Christopher was nowhere to be found, his phone was off and he'd apparently gone to Bolga for a workshop, who knows.  I made the meeting earlier so that he could attend, but was still a no-show.
Then the beginning of March I got a big surprise- a big bus full of white people from the church in America.  That was weird.  I was told by Mary that she'd be "bringing some of her friends" to see the area, but I didn't know this would be the day.  So I get a call from the pastor in Bolga to come out the road to meet their car so we can drive over to Go-nseung...I walk out in my traditional smock and was stunned to see the Yutong bus of white people, about 15 of them in all.  But it wasn't too terrible- there was A/C and they gave me a paper bag full of American snacks! 
The group was on a one-week trip to Ghana to see the projects their church was funding.  I guess they come once a year to see the area and meet the villages their helping and see where their money is going.  Go-nseung knew people were coming to meet, so the elders were around, but no one had a clue that so many white people were coming, so they all got a bigger surprise than me!  Everyone, especially the kids, were thrilled.  Every plastic chair that was owned in the immediate area was brought out for all of them to sit in.
I have never felt less like a foreigner and more like a Fra Fra, one of the villagers, than I did when this group showed up.  I in no way had anything in common with them, I barely even knew how to start a conversation, not to mention how to answer the questions they asked me.  I had an awkward moment as all the small kids were setting up the chairs for the white people and the elders- where do I sit?  So I asked Esther and she said to sit with the elders, so I did.  We talked for about 30 mintues, then they were on their way to the next project site.  Mary told me the next step would be to have surveyors come out to look at the area at the end of March.
Well, the end of March comes around and I haven't heard anything.  When I call, she says they'll be in the Upper East the first week in April.  Ok.  First week in April comes around, no word.  I guess she was up here going around to sites, but I never saw her or any surveyors.  I call again and she says that the drillers will be there soon and that I should have a borehole in 2-3 weeks.  Cool.
We had our All-Volunteer Conference at this point, so I gave Mary Christopher's contact information so that the drillers could be in contact with him.  At first I was upset that I had to give up control, since he has been nonexistent with this project the whole time, and I just didn't trust him to be around to take care of this.  But then I remembered that this really should not be my responsibility, this really should not be my project, it really should be Christopher's.  So I reliquished all control and responsibility of this project to Christopher, and it felt so good, a huge weight off my shoulders. 
The drillers did not end up coming when I was at the conference, they came the end of the week that I was back.  Apparently, their project in Bawku got delayed, they were originally supposed to come to Kongo on Thursday, but got in late Friday instead.
They rubbed me the wrong way from the start. They didn't inform Christopher of their arrival until an hour before they got here, which was when I was going to bed, and they needed rooms to stay at the mission, which Christopher did arrange ahead of time, but then they were also demanding that we feed all seven of them.  First they said Christoper's wife should cook for them; then, they said, why doesn't the white lady cook for us.  EXCUSE ME???  That is just a ridiculous demand anyways, but especially at 9:30 at night, and this supervisor has not even bothered to call me to introduce himself.  Who the hell are you?  So.  I let Christopher deal with that one.  I went back to sleep.
Saturday morning I was just waiting for a call to see what was going on.  At 9, Cletus' son Andrew comes to my house to tell me Esther wants to see me near the market square.  She tells me that the drilling has started and I should go over to the area.  Christopher's phone was off, so he couldn't call to tell me himself.  SHOCK.  As I bike over to Go-nseung, I see a huge machine and trucks and I hear lots of noise- THEY ARE DRILLING!  I go greet all the elders who are sitting in a row of plastic chairs under a big tree just near the drilling site, but out of the way of the clouds of dust that are billowing out of the drilled hole.  I was ecstatic.  I couldn't keep myself from smiling. 
It was a big operation- one big, long truck that had the tall drill on it and all the machinery, and then another truck with the pipes.  Christopher comes back from running into town to get pito for the workers; he fills me in on what happened the previous night and in the morning.  Then he takes me over the introduce me to the supevisor and workers.  He told me it wasn't looking good, the gravel was comin out too dry. 
That's when my heart started to sink.  I knew that no one came to survey, so early that morning, Christopher told me the workers just asked where the elders wanted the borehole, and then started to drill.  Even I know that's not how you go about drilling.  Come noon, its looking like a failed effort.  They stop drilling, take out the each pipe.  The supervisor then tells me the same thing happened at their previous job in Bawku- they drilled, no waer.  And again, they did no surveying there either.    They were contracted to drill six boreholes in the area, and no surveying has been done at any of the sites.  What?! Seems like they enjoy blowing thousands of dollars for nothing (I was told its 4,000-5,000 Ghana cedis per failed drilling, about $2,000-2,500).  None of it made a bit of sense.  (Martin told me later that there are surveyors all over Bolga, so finding one is not a problem; and Cletus told me that surveyors came out THREE times to survey his area for not only water, but also hazardous chemicals.)  I still want to know who dropped the ball on this one, who didn't do their job.
Within three hours that morning, I couldn't have felt more happiness and elation and then so much disappointment.  One year of work came crashing down.  I wanted to see this through, have one single tangible project to point to and say, "I made that happen."


The Kong-Gorug Library

Aftermore than a year of talking and brainstorming and planning and coordinating, the Kong-Gorug Library is now in existence!
It all started early last year.  Esther took me to Kong-Gorug Primary to show me the school and introduce me to the headmaster, Martin.  He mentioned at one point that the school didn't have a library and they wanted to get books.  I said I'd see what I could do to help.  And that's how a project was born. 
Last summer I got an email from some Northern Region volunteers saying they wanted to get a grant going for a shipment of books from America.  I jumped on that opportunity right away.  Getting the grant filled took maybe a month or two, which then brought us to the end of last year. Around that time, Martin got the PTA together to raise funds to buy wood and build bookshelves, and at the beginning of this year, the shelves were built!  Then all we had to do was wait for the books to be shipped and for them to arrive up in Bolga.  Early this year the container was shipped, and at the beginning of April the container finally made it to its destination in Kumbosco, just outside Bolga.
After our All-Volunteer Conference, I scouted out the location of the book container with Martin.  It was about a five minute taxi ride outside of Bolga, and a short walk off the main road.  So one Wednesday, all the volunteers who were involved and available came up to Bolga to sort and distribute books.  There were about 15 total volunteers who wanted books; about 10 came up to help sort.  Our share of the container was 2,500 books, so everybody got roughly 250 books, some more, some less.  I ended up with five big boxes that totaled 280 books- primary level sceince, geography, history and reference books, and junior high level science, math and literature textbooks.  I also got a box of 50 junior high math and science textbooks for Stephanie who was on vacation.  That Friday, with the remaining funds from the grant, Linda rented a big truck to come transport the boxes to PCV's sites or to the Tamale sub-office where volunteers could then come pick up.  This saved us all a lot of hassle with taxis and tros, and saved us a lot of money.  I helped load the truck full of book boxes, and then got them to deliver my six boxes right to my compound door, lucky for me. 
By this point, the schools were on break.  So the six boxes sat around my room for a few weeks until mid-May when the schools started the final term of this school year.  Monday, May 13, the headmaster and I took the three boxes of primary-level books to Kong-Gorug (the other two boxes were for the junior high).  Over a couple of hours, we sorted the books into reference, biography, history, storybook, and science categories and then I made an inventory of each section.  And then we celebrated with a Guinness.  I felt I deserved it after a year of working on the project.
We also discussed rules of the library and how books should be tracked and students held accountable.  There will be a library period during the school day, and they will have access to it at nighttime (since they now have a solar panel!) with teacher supervision.  A booklet will keep track of books checked out and who checks it out.  We will also stamp each book with the name of the school and number each book. 
I'm still waiting for school to be fully back in session; it usually takes a few weeks for students to all be back in school after a break.  And its also the beginning of rainy season, so everyone has been busy sowing seeds for the new planting season.  Once the kids are back, I'm goin to have them write thank-you notes to the grant donors.  Martin is also trying to organize a PTA meeting to officially introduce the community's new library.  But with everyone at farm now, we'll see how long it takes to happen!
Once I take care of those two things at the school, all I have left to do is wait for my mom to come visit next month and deliver the books that she has already sent to Accra, and then I'm DONE.  So one out of my two main projects at site has worked- a 50% success rate isn't bad, right?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


In a recent letter to my mom I mentioned how I get around in Ghana because she had asked me how I make travel plans.  Its a good question- how the heck do you get around this country?  I think I briefly talked about traveling here when I first got to Accra, but I don't think I've described it much since then, so I will try to do the subject justice.  We just had our All-Volunteer Conference, so its the perfect opportunity to describe the traveling experience here.
Traveling is the most dreaded activity here, next to hand washing our clothes and dishes.  Ghana is about the size of Oregon, but with how long it takes to get anywhere, you would think it was as big as the entire West Coast.  Really, all you can do is "hope for the best, prepare for the very worst." 
Our All-Vol Conference started on a Thursday, so I left my house that Tuesday to get to the Tamale sub-office.  To leave Kongo, I walk to the market square and either pick a tro-tro that's driving through Kongo to Bolga, or I hop on a Kongo car that's waiting in the market to fill.  On days that I'm lucky, I catch a car as soon as I get to the road; on bad days, I can wait up to an hour for a tro to drive by with a spot open, or for the Kongo car to fill.  Once in Bolga, I go get on a Tamale car.  Usually when I want to get to Tamale, I leave my house as early as I can so I can get to Tamale by noon.  I just hate making that 3-hour drive to Tamale after the middle of the day.  Since a lot of Upper East volunteers were heading down to the sub-office before the conference also, I lucked out and got on the same tro as Lauren and Ran.  Traveling with people is so much better than being alone- you have someone to talk to on the painfuly long drives, and you have other white people support once at your destination.  Usually when I catch the Tamale car, I miss the first car out and I have to wait about an hour for the next one to fill.  Only a lucky few times have I gotten one of the last seats available.  Once in Tamale, you take a taxi to a place called Vittin Estates, which is just east of the main Tamale town off the Salaga road.  You drop at the junction where there's a convenient corner provisions store, then walk a few hundred meters to the office.
Just like last year, All-Vol was held at Bunso Cocoa College, which is in the Eastern Region, about an hour west of Koforidua.  So all of us staying at the Tamale sub-office had a long trek to make on Thursday.  About 20 of the PCVs hired a private car to take them directly from the office to the college, but I didn't get on it in time, so I had to travel the normal way.  But it worked out fine, I ended up traveling with Ryan, Lauren and Mary- an awesome group to make the trip with! 
So there's several ways you can get from Tamale to Bunso: 1) take a Tamale-Kumasi car, then in Kumasi get a Koforidua car and drop early at the college (the car will drive right by the college on its way to Kof, so its pretty convenient); 2) take the Tamale-Accra bus, either early morning day bus or afternoon night bus, and drop early at the college (cars going to the south will pass by the college, so you just drop early).  I decided to stick with what I know- take the Tamale-Kumasi car, then in Kumasi go to the Kof station to get a car.  From Tamale to Kumasi, its about 6 hours, then Kumasi to Kof is about 4 hours, but dropping at the college makes it about 3 hours.  So 9 hours of driving, but that doesn't include waiting for cars to fill, and the exchange in Kumasi.  This all adds up to us getting a really early start.
Thursday morning we were up by 4:30 AM, out of the office by 5, got a taxi right away, and were at the station a few minutes later.  We arrived at the station just in time to get on the first bus to Kumasi, we got the last 4 of 5 seats.  I've never been able to catch that first car to Kumasi, I always am on the second small car to leave, so I was pretty excited!  We took up most of the back row of the bus.  Usually in big tro-tros, the last row of seats is the WORST, but this was a nice big bus, so the back was very roomy!  For various reasons (people not on the bus, a big truck in our way) we don't leave the station until 6 AM.  At this point the sun was just over the horizon- time to nap!
Cars going from Tamale to Kumasi (or anything in general going between the north and south) make one definite stop, for about 10-15 minutes, depending on the driver- at Kintampo.  All other small stops are just for people to go pee on the side of the road; so essentially, this stop at Kintampo is the only one I get.  This is the approximate halfway point between Tamale and Kumasi.  There are decent restrooms, a few sit-down places to eat, and lots of bread, yams, fruit, fried yam and meat being sold.  Sometimes I'll buy some bread to snack on, sometimes I'll buy some fried yams, because the hot pepe sauce that comes with it is so good!
We end up beating the private PCV bus to the Kintampo stop by about 10 minutes, so we crossed pathes for a few minutes.  Then it was back on the road for the four of us, no stopping until Kumasi.  We got to Kumasi about 12:30, and we dropped at Race Course to grab a taxi to the Kof station.  (Race Course used to be a big, bustling station before I got to country, but it was torn down to build a hotel, so I've been told.)  Again, we lucked out and got the very last seats on the car that was filling up to go to Koforidua.  That also meant only 3 of 4 of us got to use the urinal at the station (which was by far the nicest urinal I've seen in Ghana, and in Kumasi no less).  As far as exchanges in Kumasi go, this one was pretty painless.  We were in Kumasi for well under an hour- success!
Back on the road, heading southeast towards Koforidua.  It was a fairly uneventful few hours, except we passed  the private PCV bus on the way!  They didn't see us, but we were pretty thrilled we were making better time than their private car!
Right before Bunso College, there's a rest stop that tros usually stop at for a minute, called Linda Dor.  As we were stoppped there, the PCV bus caught up to us, so we hopped out of our car and onto theirs, so we could get a ride all the way through the college campus to where we needed to be.  It all worked out well, the timing couldn't have been more perfect.  We arrived at Bunso before 4 PM- not bad!  So from the start at TSO to the finish at Bunso, 11 hours.
On the way back, I knew the travel back up from the college to TSO would be painful, so I got a very early start that Monday after the conference was finished.  I skipped breakfast and head out at 6:45 alone, since everyone's plans were scattered, made the decent trek out of the college to the main road to catch a car.  I got a on a tro right when I got the to the road; at first I thought he was only going to the Linda Dor stop, and then from there I would pick an Nkawkaw or Kumasi car, but he ended up going all the way to Nkawkaw, so I stayed on the same tro for that 45 minute ride.  I remembered from last year that I went from the college to the Linda Dor junction to get a car to Nkawkaw and then there got a car to Kumasi, so I just followed my steps again.  Once in Nkawkaw, I got on a Kumasi car, waited about 20 minutes for it to fill, then we were on the road again.
About 1 1/2 hours later, we arrived in Kejetia- a huge mess of stations and vendors and buildings and tons of people everywhere.  We arrived in Kumasi mid-morning which was perfect- rigt in-between the crazy, shitshow traffic jams of the morning and noon times.  The car stopped at the other side of Kejetia than where I needed to be to catch the Tamale car, so I hauled myself to the other side of the station, which took about 10 minutes with the thousands of people everywhere.  After what seemed like a much, much longer walk than what it should have been, I reached the Tamale cars.  And somehow, again, I get the very last seat on the car that was filling, and as a bonus, Ran and Diana were already on the same car!  I guess they had left the college a few minutes before me and somehow I caught up to them.  I was very thankful to get this last seat on the car.  I've waited up to two hours for this Kumasi-Tamale car to fill several times before, and that's not fun.  I got crammed in the back row with the other PCVs, which was meant for three people, not the four they packed back part of me was on the seat, part was in the empty spot between the seat and side of the car.  But it was not the worst seat I've ever gotten, and I didn't have to wait at all for the car to leave, so that was fine by me.  It was actually the most pleasant (if that word can even be used to describe anything about Kumasi) exchanges I've had in Kejetia ever.  Normally everyone is yelling OBRONI and men reach out a grab your arm to get your attention (I'm just waiting for the one who grabs something other than my arm, I'm afraid of what will happen to him)...but this time I got none of that.  I can only describe it as a miracle.  Finally, people understood my "Don't f--- with me" face.
We left the station right away, at 10 AM; again, I was in Kumasi for as little time as possible, which is exactly how you should approach that shithole of a city that you just can't avoid when you're traveling between the north and south.
We stopped again at Kintampo, around one, and got into Tamale just before 4 PM.  Total time under six hours- pretty good (longer rides I've had can take up to 7 hours, but its not nearly as bad as the 9 hours it used to be when the roads were much worse).  Other PCVs also went from Bunso to Tamale that day but didn't come in until a few hours after the three of us.  After a long day of travel, I crashed hard, then got up early again the next morning to get back to Bolga (again I got the last seat on the Tamale-Bolga car- pretty unusual luck for me to get on nearly-full cars; I usually get there right when the tro has filled and I end up being the first one on the second car that's leaving going to Bolga).  I was back in Bolga around 10.  Got food, did some shopping, post office, internet cafe...then back on the Kongo tro to home, never to make that trip south again for a very, very, very long time!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Momma Hen, My Best Friend

The momma hen that lives in the small room off my kitchen may just be the best friend I have in Kongo.  She certainly knows a lot more intimate details about me and my daily life than anyone else here.  And she's a great companion, so much character and personality.
I first met Momma early last year.  I was still in the first three months at site, so I was still doing a lot of adjusting and adapting and learning everyday.  We became instant besties. 
I began to see her, this average sized black and white hen with brown on her neck, come in and out of my compound a lot everyday, and when in my compound she would spend a good deal of time in her little room by my kitchen.  When I looked in there one day, I realized, Duh, she needs a place to lay her eggs.  Her owner is my landlord, Francis, who's house is directly behind mine, where I go to fetch my water.  That household is constantly noisy- they have a small boy (with a slight developmental disability) who just turned 4, and they have another boy and girl, about 10 and 9; the mom and dad who are usually yelling at one of the kids; plus a whole bunch of animals running about.  So its never quiet.  I'm sure little ol' me hanging out by myself in my big compound all to myself looked pretty inviting to her!
So she came to have her babies in my compound.  Last year, she started out with maybe eight chicks in her first round of babies, but lost about half, probably from the hawks.  By the time the babies were hatched, Momma had become part of my daily routine.  By the time I was up in the morning, she had already gone out to forage for food, then mid-morning she'd be back to go sit on her eggs.  But not before she'd ask me for food!
I told my landlord that his hen was in my house.  He was totally fine with that, and I would always come over to give him updates on how may eggs she had.  He said that if I could feed her somes grains every once in a while that would be nice.  So I started to throw her a handful of rice in the morning, and she came to expect it everyday.  Silly girl!
After she raised two sets of babies last dry season, she went back to my landlord's house for the wet season.  They have a little mud hut for their fowls, and I'm sure he probably feeds them more regularly.  I would see her sometimes in the mornings and say hi when I would go fetch water. 
Come January this year, she came back! I was so happy to see her duck under my compound door again to come greet me (and of course to get some food).
Her first batch this year had 10 chicks, and I think she only lost one or two to hawks.  And just like last year, Momma and her babies made up my morning entertainment.  Watching 10 little babies running around frantically, following their mom- cutest thing EVER.  And them being so darn cute, when they all crowd around me while I eat my breakfast, I throw them a few handfuls of rice.  One day I had made myself too much oats for breakfast, so I tossed them some.  Turns out they like oats!  They also like to come around my veranda and lap up the water from my leaking water filter.  But I try to keep a small tin tomato can filled with water for them in their little room, so they don't poop all over my veranda.  That gets hard though because Momma seems to like to have them all come into my veranda occasionally so she can keep them protected from hawks. 
Now her first 10 babies of the year have been "kicked out" of the house.  Time for her to have her second batch!  The other day I counted about 15 eggs in her little room.  Some days she doesn't bother me much since she's sitting on her eggs, but the past few mornings, she refuses to leave my side if I don't feed her!
I'm definitely glad that I decided not to get a pet while here.  It was very tempting at first to have a companion, but I would not be able to part with a cat or dog, knowing it would be eaten.  (Cletus kept telling me to get a dog since I love them so much, and he said he would take care of it when I left.  I told him he would just eat it.  He said he wouldn't.  Well, Cletus, then you would just sell it and then someone else would eat it.  He just laughed.  Not too hard to see through his plan.  Oh Cletus, always the jokester.)  But Momma has become like a pet to me, a woman's best friend.  She's there to talk to, she's see me at the lowest of the lows.  She's been there to remind my life ain't so bad; its like she says, "What are you complaining about?  I'm raising 20 babies in three months in 100-110+ degree weather with no guaranteed food and water supply.  And I have this crazy hot coat of feathers.  So what's your problem?"  Oh, Momma, she brings me down to earth, she raises my spirits when I wake up pissed off after listening to blasting music all night, she makes me laugh. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The New Year

This new year has started out busy and strong.  The last few months of 2012 were tough: had the stalker neighbor incident, was tired in general of the behavior of men in my community, projects weren't going anywhere, so many doubts and confusion and life questions bothering me, and I absolutely hit the one-year wall.
But I looked to the new year to start over, change my attitude and outlook.  New Year's has always  been one of my favorite holidays.  I like being able to look at the past year, and use that to move forward, move on, start a clean slate.  And probably this year more than in years past was one in which I needed to move on.  Let go of the troubles of 2012, hit the restart button.  I'm sure for lots of people the new year is more about what you say you'll do more than what you actually do, but this year I knew I couldn't be one of those people.  This new year couldn't just be an excuse to make goals and resolutions to make me feel better, and then not follow through.  I knew I had to take responsibility for my own actions, do what I know I need to do and remember to not worry about the things I can't change.  No matter how hard I try, I can't change other people, anywhere in the world.
So I've taken the new year to put the focus back on me.  Sounds selfish, but it was necessary for me to to it for my mental, emotional and physical health.  I created an intense workout schedule (all due to the help and inspiration from the Women's Health magazines Marissa sent me) so that I would not cheat myself on exercising.  Last year I was too easily able to get into long, no-motivation, no-exercise slumps, and frankly, that's just not me.  I need exercise, I need to feel in-shape, I need to sweat, I need to push myself physically.
I have also cut out beer-drinking in my community.  The last few months of 2012 I finally came to terms with the frequency and quantity of drinking in my community, and how often I was a part of it, just to be social and to get out of the house.  And it took me going down south around Thanksgiving to realize how much I drink in my town compared to (some) other volunteers.  I've always drinken, and justified my drinking, because its just what people do (and by people, I mean only the men).  If I didn't go out and drink pito or beer, I wouldn't leave the house much.  But that's exactly the problem: that's all they know how to do, and I shouldn't have to do that just to be out in the community.  So I finally put my foot down.  And not only do I feel a lot better physically, I've saved a ton of money.  But that shouldn't come as a shock.  I already knew how much of a money sink the drinking was based on how quickly the men run out of money each month.  I was able to tell what day of the month it was purely based on whether the men would go out and drink.  On pay day, its like everyone just won the lottery and the alcohol flows freely.  By the end of the month, everyone is telling me they have to go hide in their house because they don't have anymore money to spend on alcohol.  Yeah, it got real old, real fast.  I will admit that I still drink pito, but only on occasion.  Its the local drink, and its a much more open, social thing to do compared to going to beer bars and sitting in little closed off rooms at the beer bars.  I like the outdoor atmosphere, sitting on a bench under a straw roof, watching the cars pass by, talking with anyone and everyone that comes by.  But since I've stopped drinking beer, I've also cut down on hanging out with the men I would normally drink with, which also means that I haven't drinken much pito in this new year.  Its a win-win.  I will say I miss Christohper's auntie and that whole family, at the pito base I always go to, but she still always asks about me and I try to see her when I can!

Its been a fairly busy first two months of the year.  Lots of projects and events I've helped with, lots going on in Kongo.  I went to Navrongo at the end of January to help Ethan and Stephanie with an HIV/AIDS testing event at the clinic there.  Navrongo is about 30 km northwest of Bolga, so it wasn't a long trip.  I arrived at the clinic at about 9 AM as things were being set up.  Things got going at 10.  Liv, Stephanie and I manned the welcome/information table out in front of the testing room.  Most of the day we got big crowds of the local junior high kids coming through.  The three of us played educational games about sex and HIV/AIDS, did condom demos and answered questions.  Ethan said they tested 193 people and had one confirmed case.  This was the first such event I've done here and it was a very good experience.  I think the adults, students and small kids that came throughout the day got good, correct, valuable information, which they may or may not have gotten before.
Also at the end of January, I got a meeting set up in Kongo about a potential borehole.  I got a contact from my homestay in Accra at Thanksgiving of a woman from an NGO that does boreholes and other projects in the Upper East and Northern regions.  She came midday one weekday to meet with the elders in Go-nseung and survey the area.  The assemblyman, aka my counterpart, was supposed to be there as well to answer questions and translate, and just in general be a community leader.  He knew of the meeting several days in advance, and a few hours before the woman showed up, the day of the meeting, I called him so he knew exactly when the meeting was going to be.  Well, come noon, Mary shows up with her driver near the mission, so I walk from my house to meet her there.  On the way I try to call Christopher...and his phone was off.  Great.  So when I meet up with them, I tell Mary we can go see if he's at the junior high, where he teaches.  We are greeted by my good friend Mr. Roja, who is sitting outside.  When I ask where Christopher is, he tells he had left to go to Bolga.  Perfect.  The elected assemblyman, the representative for Kongo West, decides that he can't even be in Kongo, let alone keep his phone on, to attend a meeting to get water for HIS village, not to mention the exact section his family lives in.  Hm.  Needless to say, a lot of expletives were running through my head as I was coming to this realization.
So, this meeting still needed to happen.  Mary drove back and forth from Tamale that day for this meeting, and she normally lives in Accra, so this couldn't just happen another time.  Mr. Roja suggested that he get one of the students to come translate, and I said I knew Eastwood (the boy I took to the food security camp in October) so he got permission from his teacher to take him out of class.  So Eastwood hopped in the car with us to go to Go-nseung.
We first went to look at the borehole they have near Christopher's family house to get GPS coordinates, which is one of two boreholes in the Go-nseung area of Kongo.  Then we walked over to the sub-chief's house.  Luckily, the sub-chief was just coming back from the market.  We introduced Mary and the reason for this meeting, and then he sent someone to go fetch the other elders in a near-by compound, since all the elders needed to be present to discuss this issue.  The half hour or so meeting dealt with questions like the area of this sub-section of Kongo, population of the sub-section, the furthest walking distance to the borehole, potential location for a pump and access to the land to drill.  I thought the meeting went well; Eastwood did a great job translating, he really saved me.
At the end of the meeting, the chief got some pito from the house to share, and he presented Mary with a fowl and six eggs.  We then drove to the primary school, because that's one far edge of         Go-nseung, and we needed GPS coordinates for the other borehole there.  Martin, the headmaster, was around, so he answered some questions that Mary had.  By then, Mary had to get back to Tamale, so we drove Eastwood back to the junior high and they took me to my house.  I was so very thankful for his help I gave him five cedis to buy food or school supplies.  I've never given out money ever to anyone here, but this was definitely an exceptional case.  He was taken out of school to do me this huge favor, and he's such a nice, good kid.  And I knew he could use the money.
I didn't see Christopher, let alone hear anything from him, until two days later when he called.  No apology.  No reason for his absence (not like I would have believed a word of it anyway).  But I made that meeting happen despite him.  Regardless of his actions, Kongo saw with their own eyes what I did.  I brought in another white lady in a truck and drove around Kongo in it and had this meeting.  People talk.  Although the project is not a done deal yet (I did not get a yes or no answer, more reps will need to come out to survey the area before I know), now everyone knows that I've done work to find an organization that could bring them water.  This NGO has a lot of other projects going on close by and some other communities are higher on the priorities list than Kongo, so it'll come down to funding.  But now I have done what Kongo asked me to do, they cannot say I didn't try my best.
For a few days at the end of January I helped out with my third world map project.  A nearby volunteer, Melissa, got funding to paint maps at her JHS in Pelungu (about a 40 minute bike ride from me).  The day I biked over we painted a white background to draw the grid and map on the second and third days; then we got to painting on the fourth day before I left.  The other two map projects I helped with, the volunteers had access to electricity so they could set up a projector to quickly trace the map.  Melissa's school doesn't have electricity, so we did it all by free hand.  It took a whole morning to just make the 2"x2" grid, then another whole morning to draw in the map.  (By noon, the sun would be hitting the wall full on, and so it was just too darn hot to do anything except between 8 and 11 AM or so).  I couldn't stay to finish the map, but I'm sure I'll come around again to help with the other maps she has planned.  I must admit painting maps is a very satisfying experience.  You literally start with a blank wall and by then end you have this beautiful, colorful world map.  Just about the coolest thing.  And its just fun to draw and paint!
January and February were packed with sporting events.  The African Cup in South African went on for a few weeks at the end of January and beginning of February.  Just like last year, everyone got so into it!  I will say that Ghana did not play well at all.  Somehow they made it to the semifinals (then lost to Mali in the 3rd place game, 3-1), but how they managed that I have no clue.  In the quarterfinals they played Cape Verde, who was in their first AFCON ever, so they were the kind of Cinderella story of the tournament.  I'd say Ghana just got lucky (although the keeper did have some fantastic saves- he kept Ghana in the tournament) and won 2-0.  In the semifinals they finally succumbed to Burkina Faso in a penalty shootout.  I was glad Ghana kept winning just because it kept everyone here happy, but I wish that I thought they deserved their victories.  They played careless, uninspired, boring football.  Not fun to watch, or force myself to cheer for.
But much more importantly, I got to watch the NINERS in the SUPER BOWL!!  I waited all year for this game, and the fact the Niners played made it that much more important.  I couldn't watch the Super Bowl last year since I was still on site probation, but I was not going to miss it this year!  I reserved the TV at a bar here that has DSTV, and therefore can get ESPN International, called Hands of Love.  Yes, there really is a bar here with that name.  We had the place to ourselves; then again we were there from 10 PM-4 AM on a Sunday night, so there wasn't any competition.  The game didn't start until 11:30 PM our time, so we had all day to party before.  We did all Super Bowl parties around the U.S. proud!  But what an epic, heartbreaker of a game!  Although I was the only Bay Area volunteer watching, the only die hard fan among our group, I still had a lot of supporters from other parts of the U.S.  But in the end, I had no one to console me!  We weren't shown the Super Bowl commercials, but we did get to see the halftime show.  And, somehow, we did not experience any power outtages, yet they did at the stadium.  Weird, its suppose to be the other way around New Orleans!  But we just had to laugh a little here (although we also just wanted the game to keep going because by that time it was already about 2 AM).  At 4 AM, we left, exhausted, and luckily found the few taxis driving around Tamale to take us back to the suboffice.  I can't wait to watch next year's Super Bowl at a normal hour!

And last, but certianly not least, the bookshelves have been built at Kong-Gorug Primary for the library!  So exciting!  I took a first delivery of books over the other week; I've been collecting books sent from family since a year ago, so it was nice to get that pile out of my room.  Once the big shipment of books comes in, I'll sit down with the headmaster to discuss library rules, handling of the books and the starting of a reading period and a reading club.  The headmaster, in concert with an Estonian volunteer that was in the area from September-January, has gotten funding to put in solar panels at the school since they do not have electricity.  So hopefully soon the students will be able to study at school and enjoy the library in the evenings!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Dry Season, Take 2 (Revised)

I arrived at site a year ago now, right as harmattan was picking up.  A year sure changes perspective. 
Last year during site visit at the beginning of November, everything was already dead and dried out.  This year, the rain continued on much long than last year (my landlord's wife said it rained up until the day before I cam back from my trip to Accra).  Normally, I think the rain ends October or early November.  Every time it would rain, I would always ask people, "Is the rain going to come more?" and they would say no.  But then the next day or next week it would rain again.  It really messed up households because they needed to dry out there corn and sorghum and millet.  The transition between rainy season and hot season was pretty painful, and I didn't really know what to expect since I wasn't at site for that transition last year.  It was very hot all day and night, nearly as bad as hot season, no relief at any point in the day or night.
So now we're in harmattan- the time when the winds blow down from the Sahara.  Which means its getting COOL.  Well, at least in the mornings, evenings and nights.  And the middle of the days aren't that bad even with the piercing sun- the wind keeps it kind of cool and I am NOT sweating endlessly from every pore 24/7.  People here are so cold that they wear full-on snow suits- its fantastic. 
The cold nights are the best part I think, such a huge relief.  (And all the bugs are GONE, so that and the cool nights compete for the best part of harmattan.)  Hot days instantly become not so bad when you have a cold night to look forward to.  I remember the first month or so at site last year- needing two layers of sheets at night, and having to where a long sleeve shirt and/or sweatshirt on my morning runs.  We're almost there this year.  But with dry season comes the mass burnings of fields, of every inch of land that doesn't have a house sitting on it.  All the burning, combined with the wind, means that is it constantly, raining ash, literally.  I will sit outside eating breakfast or dinner and I'll see these huge pieces of burnt grass flying all around me.  And the winds kick up all the dirt, so everything is caked with layers of dust, not to be be washed away until the first rains come next year.
Dry season can also be confusing.  Many days, the sky is just grey all day long.  So the first thing that pops into my head is "Oh, how nice! Its foggy!"  And then half a second later, I remember, Nope, its just the dust and ash.  This confusion was worse last year since I hadn't experienced harmattan yet and I desperately wanted to see something I recognized.  At home, a sky like this would just be foggy, and harmattan could definitely be just normal foggy San Francisco skies.  This year I'm no tricked as much, but I still catch myself looking at a sky that is always reminding me that is is not the west coast.

In other news:
John Mahama is now president.  He was the incumbent, in the NDC party, who took over the presidency when the late John Evans Atta Mills died in July.  (He actually died the day I left for my trip home to the U.S., but I didn't hear about it until I got home.)  The main opposition party was NPP, lead by Nana.  And then there are way too many smaller parties to list (NDP, PNC, PPP, CPP....)  The election day was actually very quiet, which surprised me.  I did hear that the polling places were very calm and orderly, but I chose to stay away.  There was a very heavy military presence in the area, all over Ghana, and at the polling stations, so this probably contributed to the calmness.  The military guys in the Kongo area stayed at the Mission guesthouses right behind my house; I kept passing them on my morning runs.
Mahama is the first northern president in Ghana.  Most northerners seemed to be NDC supporters, but of course that were very excited to have a northerner running for president.  Now the John Mahama fabric has come out- I need to get me some!

We also celebrated Obama's re-election here in Ghana.  I found out at 4 AM here that he had won, and a few hours later I got several calls from friends in town congratulating me and saying how happy they were.  Everyone loves Obama here, so of course they were happy about his win, but I'm sure my friends in Kongo were even more happy because I told then I would them beer if he won.  At first it sounded like a great idea, but of course word spread that I would buy these "Obama beers" for people, so I ended up getting a lot.  But hey, it was worth it, I was happy and the celebration was nice.  Now, if only I could get those six beers and goat I was promised....
(A few months ago, I happened to meet this announcer at the local radio station at a spot in Bolga with Christopher.  The discussion got into politics.  I avoid politics like the plague, here and at home, but he would not let it go.  Funny enough, he was a Romney supporter.  I didn't think it was possible for an African to NOT like Obama until I met this guy.  Anyways, he insisted I vote for Romney.  I basically said, fat chance.  So then I told him, If Romney wins, I will buy you a beer.  Then he countered that by saying, If Obama wins, I'll buy you a goat and six beers.  Christopher was our witness, and we shook on it.  Hey, I really wanted this goat and six beers, I wanted it to be official.  And I told everyone in Kongo about it, I wanted people to get pumped!  But in my head I knew that he would never follow through, as much as I wanted to believe it.  So the day after Obama won, Christopher called him to remind him about our deal.  Turns out, he would buy be two beers and give me the goat when I go back to America.  Bummer.  Should have seen that coming.  Still have yet to run into this guy again, but now he'll just do best to avoid me.) 

I gave out four guinea fowls for the holiday season to thank people for welcoming to Kongo and for being so hospitable.  The first went to my landlord, who lets me fetch water from his house and doesn't make me pay.  And his wife and kids are the cutest and they are so nice to me.  The second went to Christopher's auntie who runs the pito bar.  She always gives me free pito, and she and her husband and kids are just so sweet.  The third went to Christopher's uncle who has given me lots of guinea fowl eggs and was very concerned about me getting guinea fowl eggs to my family when I went home in July . (Needless to say, the eggs didn't make it out of Kongo, but it was the gesture that I appreciated.)  He makes a lot of dirty jokes, but hey, he's an old man, I'll let him, and only him, have his fun.  The last went to the chief of Go-seung.  He has given me plenty of guinea fowl eggs and several guinea fowl, so I wanted to thank him for the holidays. 

Christmas at our Tamale suboffice was great!  It was very festive- we even had a little decorated tree and a couple stockings hanging around.  All the volunteers contributed delicious food, we had a two-yard fabric white elephant, wrangled a goat, and watched Christmas movies.  We had a full house, which was entertaining, and getting into the bathroom to shower or use the toilet was fun!  It definitely beat spending Christmas alone like I did last year.  But I couldn't stop thinking that for the holidays next year I'll be HOME!!