Sarah’s Gone to Ghana: Fact vs. Fiction

Note: This article is hosted here for archival purposes only. It does not necessarily represent the values of the Iron Warrior or Waterloo Engineering Society in the present day.

Disclaimer:  Please keep in mind that my “facts” are actually not facts, but rather discoveries that I’ve made during one week in Kpandai, Northern Region, Ghana.  These discoveries are realities for a 22 year old white Canadian, and may not be applicable to Ghanaians.  So please keep an open mind and don’t just accept what I write to be true!  Also, I’m sorry this is so long.  My internet is non-existent.  And I tried to add pics but even when they were compressed it wouldn’t happen…I’ll keep trying!

Idea:  Africa is not safe.

Before I came here, many people were concerned for my safety, and this includes health concerns as well as concerns that arise from knowing the war torn history in African countries that began after colonization.

“Truth”:  During my week in Kpandai (pronounded Pan-Dye), I’ve discovered that it will be very difficult for anyone to cause me harm.  Last night, I awoke in the middle of the night.  You know when you’re half asleep and disoriented and you think shadows are moving?  I thought my door was moving, and therefore I thought my door was a person.  I screamed loudly, and when I discovered it was just my door, I tried to turn my scream into a rooster call.  I was unsuccessful, and several members of my host family came to my rescue.  It took some time to explain that I thought my door was a person and therefore screamed like a rooster.  Moral of the story: people will look out for you.  In addition to that, I’m NEVER alone.  Even if I wanted to be, which I often do, it’s impossible.  I’ll leave my home to go to the market, and find a little Ghanaian hand in each of mine – my host sisters like to come with me everywhere.  Not that 5 year olds would be great at defense but you get the idea.

That’s not to say there aren’t parts of the entire continent of Africa, or even parts of Ghana that are unsafe.  There are many countries that are in political unrest that may not be safe to travel to.  But Kpandai, Ghana is not one of them!  I actually saw a few children with sticks tied together to make rifles, and they were pretending to shoot things.  I was pretty worried, and when I approached them, I heard them talking about Blood Diamond!  They’d gotten the idea of child soldiers from the Hollywood story set during the civil war in Sierra Leone, just as any child in Canada would.  I also watched their mothers scold them afterwards, just as many mothers in Canada would.

As for the health – well I’m not really a model for that.  The food and water and hot weather haven’t been agreeing with me for the past few days.  I went to church with my host family on Sunday morning, and about 2 hours in I had to leave…I couldn’t pay attention anyway because the entire time I was praying that I would not throw up or poop in the church.

The health care is stellar here.  There are a few practices I’m unsure of… I had a pretty high fever last night and one of my host mothers, Mama Delfina, told me that in some households, if you have a fever, they crush ginger and pepe and stick it up your bum, then make you jog with it.  I thought she was joking and trying to scare me (which she partly was – she thought it was hilarious)…but when I asked the doctor at the clinic he said that it was true!  Luckily it’s not common in clinics or hospitals…

Idea:  There are no flush toilets, no electricity, no vehicles, etc. in Ghana.

Truth:  This is true for most of the rural villages I’ve seen thus far, but it isn’t true for the towns, especially the major ones.  Cars, but more likely motos, whiz by.  Kpandai gained electricity in 2000, although “lights out” is very common and usually happens about once a day for an hour or more.  I’ve seen 2 flush toilets in Kpandai – I’m sure there are more.  Where I’m living, there’s a really nice latrine.  I invented a game called shoes vs. stones for the children in my host family to play at night.  Half the kids get stones and half get shoes, and whichever team can kill the most cockroaches in the latrine wins!  They seem to really enjoy it.

Idea:  Poor Ghanaians/Africans need and will benefit from our (westerners) help.

“Truth”:  Ahhhhh.  I’m struggling huge with this one.  There are different forms of “help”.  Let me share a story with you that will identify a few different kinds:

This Saturday morning, after I finished with my laundry and swept my room, I hopped on the back of my coworker’s moto and we headed to Onyumbo Village, a short distance from Kpandai.  The DDA (District Director of Agriculture, the head honcho of MoFA in Kpandai and the one I report to), a few AEAs (Agriculture Extension Agents – experts in agriculture, and the ones who meet with farmer groups and provide them with inputs and knowledge), and a Ghanaian researcher from Tamale were already at the village.

The purpose of the visit was to conduct a community participation approach called Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) with the farmers to determine challenges and best practices for improving yam yields.  The researcher had a list of about 50 questions, and the hope was that men and women alike would contribute freely.

I was very excited.  I had my Birkenstocks on and my Moleskin notebook ready, and I was eager to hear what the farmers had to say!  There were over 100 farmers gathered under the mango trees with us, about 15 of which were females.  Whenever the researcher would ask the females directly (and this would be necessary, otherwise they wouldn’t speak), he would look at me and smile, as if to show me proudly that the females are also being involved.  I can only hope that when I’m not there, they’re still asked, especially since there were a few instances when their answers were completely different from the males’!  When asked if the women were involved in any planting decisions the response was laughter, so I was very happy when the Ghanaian researcher stated “Before I plant, although I am the head of the household, I sit down with my wife and we decide together, because two heads are better than one, and she understands the market”.  I wonder how he was viewed upon saying this.

After several hours of occupying the valuable time of these farmers (and after about half the farmers left when they realized we didn’t have anything to give out), we had a slightly better understanding of what the issues were for this village.  Three main points included:

1)       No access to good seeds

2)      Infertile lands

3)      No education therefore no planning prior to planting (this is somewhat my role within MoFA! Check out the tab “About the Author” above for a full explanation coming soon)

Apparently the researcher was going to write a paper for the government (not sure which level but my understanding was regional).  I can’t help but wonder if it will ever get there, and if it does, will the government respond?  And if they do respond, how much of what the farmers were really trying to say will be understood?

A MoFA employee explained that one barrier that makes the government hold back spending for training for these farmers is that farmers often aren’t following best practices as provided by MoFA anyway.  This makes me wonder how the government knows that, and what is MoFA doing wrong?

ANYWAY, that’s not the meat of my story.  After the questions were finished, I noticed a big white pick up pull up to the village.  In the back there were tons of minerals (soda pop), and crackers to be handed out to all that attended.  Suddenly, everyone in the village appeared, and I heard a colleague of mine within MoFA grumble about how every time he returns to the village, they will expect something from him.  As a white person, I knew how he felt.  When I arrived, I was asked to fund a church in the village by the chairperson of the meeting.  Only after I gave an impromptu speech about “Agriculture As A Business” (my work) was I left alone (Warning to all future JFs:  There will be times when you will be asked, in front of over a hundred people who can’t speak English and have rarely, if ever seen a white person, to give a 10 minute speech on why you’re in Ghana, so be prepared).

My director gave me a few packages of biscuits to eat.  I only ate one, and haphazardly tossed a package to a guy sitting by a tree – he had been at the meeting and looked about my age.  After about an hour of people arguing over who would get the minerals and crackers, a man came up to me.  He had two young children by his side, and he handed me a giant yam.  I was super confused until I realized it was the same man by the tree.  He was so grateful for the package of biscuits that he showed me his family and presented me with a yam!  (No, I couldn’t accept the yam)

It is so easy to stay motivated when you receive instant gratification.  You know, in the short term, you’re doing something, whether it’s sending clothes off or funding a church.  My biscuits filled that man’s belly for about 45 minutes.  But in the long run, is that really what “development” looks like?  I can only hope that what I’m doing will be sustainable, and not just fade away as soon as I’m gone.  I hope that it’ll touch that young farmer, without him even realizing that I had a part to play in it.

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