Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I just can't stay in one place!

Hey friends!
This summer is flying by… Midsummer retreat is over already! We are officially half way through our internships, and although I’m having some challenges at the workplace, my cultural experience, sense of adventure, and relationships with Ghanaians are getting more exciting every day. At FoN, I am continuing to learn about NGO operation and coastal issues. As I alluded, I have been facing some trying occurrences as well. FoN is mostly funded by USAID, (United States Agency for International Development), and as is common amongst any NGO funding is sometimes unstable. The funding assigned for the Hen Mpoano Initiative has been shifted in focus from biodiversity to food security, meaning the original project I was assigned has been cancelled. That, in addition to a high number of interns  (ten!) admittedly mistakenly taken on by FoN, means that finding enough work to keep busy can be challenging. Although I sometimes feel discouraged by this, it is an important lesson in Development and NGO work- money is tight and things don’t always go as planned. I have, however, found some holes in the Ngyeresia project, and in organization and communication in the office, and am writing proposals to help fill these gaps and improve some of the organization situations in the office.  Although this means I do a lot less of the hands-on fisheries work than I had previously planned, I am adding a dimension to my resume on workplace organization, writing, and initiative that I previously lacked.
Sara and I have been growing closer to our host family. We play football with the boys and Hilda Jr. (the younger of the two girls), cook with Mo (the older of the two girls) and the adults, spend a lot of time with George, who is our age, and are often invited to watch TV with the whole family.  Our relationships with our neighbours are growing as well, and as we learn more of the social norms we more easily interact with everyone we meet.
Playing football with the fam
This weekend we chatted about a lot of these challenges and enjoyments at our Midsummer Retreat. All of Team Ghana met in Cape Coast for a long weekend of interesting conversation, adventure, and fun. We stayed at Oasis Beach Resort, a hostel style resort with many other foreigners. We met some really cool people. Cape Coast has many more obrunis than anywhere else I’ve been so far. It’s the hub of tourism in Ghana. The location of the resort was perfect, we were right on the beach, within a two minute walk to the Cape Coast Castle, which was practically next door when lying on the beach.
On Friday Sara, Davina, and I met with the director of an NGO called Hoops Care International for Project ID. Project ID is how QPID meets with other organizations to find new partnerships for future summers. Since FoN can be slow I'll be taking on more Project ID as the summer continues. I was greatly intrigued by the work Hoops Care does interfaith work through sports, specifically, basketball. They believe interfaith hostilities among kids can be improved through sport. They also teach, have after school clubs, and provide mosquito nets to families and schools, as well as do other Malaria prevention work.  Ghana is about 70% Christian, 27% Muslim, and 3% traditionalists, though almost everyone in the south is Christian.
On Friday we also did a tour of Cape Coast Castle. Cape Coast Castle is one of the castles along the Coast of Ghana, or “slave coast,” where Europeans enslaved Ghanaians before putting them on the ship to be sent to the Americas. On one hand we experienced a beautiful and historic building with stunning ocean scenery, on the other, we were explained the torture, disease, and injustices Ghanaians faced before boarding the ships, which were many more weeks of these brutalities. The tour was interesting, and the tour guide spoke of the gruesome details which I think was good to help us understand as much as possible something so outside our realm of imagination. He showed us the dungeons, which are about half the size of typical elementary North American classroom, where about 300 were squeezed. The slaves were left in pitch dark, and the tour guide showed us with chalk on the wall how the human waste they lived in grew about a metre high in their 3 month stay in the dungeon. Of course, many people died while in captivity and males and female were separated.  Then he showed us a “cell” which was an even smaller room where people who fought the Europeans were kept. Men and women were left in here, in shackles and chains, again in the dark, with no food and water, to die.  He showed us the marks from people who scratched at the walls with their shackles and chains. He also showed us where women who were incompliant to men’s sexual wishes were kept and raped as an example to the other women to obey. They were often then put in the dungeon pregnant. I felt very lucky, as a white person, to be allowed to visit the castle and learn about its history.  I also found the experience very thought provoking.

Cape Coast Castle
On Saturday we got up early to beat the crowd at Kakum National Park and do the canopy walk! We arrived had an excellent tour guide who gave us an informative walk around the rainforest, explaining the medicinal uses of different plants and pointed out unique trees. The canopy walk is 40 m high and 300 m long, making for a frightening walk.  It’s a little shaky, but there is tall mesh on either side, making it impossible to fall off. Luckily, the 300 m are separated into 7 different lengths with lookouts in between to look at the rainforest beneath you. After a while you get used to it and it becomes easy to walk along the bridge.
Canopy walk at Kakum
We also checked out the markets at Cape Coast. Many artists were selling their painting, sculptures, masks, jewellery, beads, dishware, and other products. It is very typical in Ghanaian market places for people to make these bracelets that can be personalized with your name out of the Ghanaian colours, red, yellow and green. I had one done that says ‘Caro,’ since that’s what everyone, even the rest of Team Ghana, calls me now. I made a few other purchases, including a gift for parental type people I bet are reading this!  I enjoyed chatting to the artists who were genuine and not forceful in their sales.
A chatty artist who makes dish ware out of coconut shells, making a coffee jug
This week I'm in Half-Assini doing some research on a project I will write for FoN on community participation in the Medium Term Development Planning in this district. Today I started by interviewing different stakeholders in Development Planning and I am learning a lot from the different perspectives I hear. I'm looking forward to getting back out tomorrow and I'll update at the end of the week how my research went! So far I've heard some intriguing opinions, sad stories, and am looking forward to compiling the information. 
Until next time,

P.S. If you're a facebooker and want to see more photos, I upload regularly on my facebook page!

Monday, July 11, 2011

We whip our hair!

I’ve been in Ghana for a month now, and I can hardly believe it’s going by so quickly! Last week at work I was allowed to follow around some of my colleagues to see the different meetings they take part in. I’m finding the operations of FoN very democratic: they invite representatives from religious groups, women groups, business groups, the district assembly, chieftaincies, and NGOs to the forums, and they are almost always open to the public, unless productive decisions must be made. The community is always consulted or surveyed as well. Although these processes make the workings of FoN more tedious perhaps then just an executive decision, I am appreciating the bottom-up grassroots approach FoN takes with all of their projects and learning a lot about community participation and consensus building.

Welcome to FoN!

FoN shares property with Parks and Gardens, so we are surrounded by beautiful gardens

The laneway

Ivy, our favourite shopkeeper and friend in Adiembra (the community FoN is in). We visit and buy from her  daily!

On Saturday Sara and I hopped on a trotro and went downtown to go fabric shopping. Many women wear beautiful dresses made by seamstresses, especially to church and special events. Market circle is covered in fabric stores, so we oohed and aahed over fabrics and though out ideas for our new dresses and skirts that Georgina, our seamstress, will hopefully make us. The market circle is a chaotic and wonderful place. The inside shops sell fabric, mattresses, electronics, etc., and seamstresses and salons are also common. On the street is fast food, bread, fruit, heaps of clothing that people pick through, shoes, little stands for getting nails done, etc. The streets are busy and exciting, especially the whirring of taxis and trotros.
How will I ever choose?
Juliette, the secretary at work, met us downtown to take us to a salon to get our hair done. Many women here wear meshes- sometimes with long flowing loose hair, but usually with braids, cornrows, or short dreads. With the heat and sweat, Sara and I decided braided hair would be easiest to take care of. It doesn’t need to be washed and it lasts about a month. So braids we got! It took five hours, usually with two or three women braiding and adding in the extensions. It was a little painful at times, and I found myself quite bored and antsy from sitting in the chair for so long. I even had a nap! (Those of you who know me well, yes, typical of me to fall asleep). The end result is fantastic though, and I am so thrilled that I got it done. Sara and I are playing with different styles and hair accessories. This morning at church we practically blended in with our Ghanaian style dresses and braided hair.
Look at all those extensions! 

Our team of hairdressers and us with our new hair!

Lady Star on the Sea Catholic Church. The steeple is so high, I couldn't get it in the photo.
Today we relaxed and watched some TV with the family, got ice cream, and tried some new Ghanaian food. The ice cream here is called FanIce. They come in plastic bags, and you bite the corner off and suck the ice cream out. FanYogo and FanMilk are also available. Milo is also a delicious chocolately-energy drink of sorts. You can buy it cold, or like Nesquik crystals to add to hot water. Many of the popular TV shows are very dramatic. The relations between men and women in the shows I have seen offend Sara and I but we try to remember that cultural norms are much different than at home. That said, the frequency in which men force themselves on women and women act passive is disturbing.

This one is good, but Vanilla FanIce is the best.

We often eat fish for dinner, and it’s delicious. Today for the first time, we got the whole fish, head, eyes, fins, everything. Sara and I knew this would be coming and knew we were being pampered with our fish nicely chopped before. I think we handled it quite well. Despite being a past veggie, I am easily peeling meat and skin off bones now. We’ve noticed that many Ghanaians just eat the whole fish- the bones and everything! They just bite it, like a chocolate bar, and eat it. Many Ghanaians also eat chicken bones. Emmanuel, our host brother, says it’s because they provide calcium. I think their teeth must be very strong!  I think my teeth would chip if I ever tried to chew a chicken bone. For dinner we had a dish similar to Fufu, except the ball was made of rice, not cassava. I am addicted to the palm nut soup Fufu and rice ball is served with. So tasty! We also tried crab this week which was surprisingly delicious. 

Yum! Fufu!
I’m really getting into the Ghanaian groove of things.  The culture of time, music, dress, hair, food… my craving for maple syrup and pancakes or Tim Hortons coffee is becoming all the more distant the more I learn about life here.
We are excited for next weekend. We’re meeting up with the rest of the team and going to Cape Coast, where we’re checking out Elmina Castle and the Canopy walk and Kakum National Park. I’ll be writing about that soon! Also, I have some wonderful eco-touristy plans coming up involving canoes and sea turtles. 
Last thing, I saw this sign on a building this week and it reminded me of my blog. :)

Until next time,

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Photos from the weekend

As promised...

The crowd at umbrella rock (look sideways!)

That's a crazy hike!

Us with our bikes

The scenery on the bike ride


Team Ghana

My delicious cake

In other news, Yesterday Sara and I followed the team to three fishing communities in the area: Shama, New Takoradi, and Azueri. At each community a crowd was gathered to watch the chief fishermen make oaths to stop all illegal fishing practices. They gathered on the beach and poured a bottle of white wine onto the sand while making their vows- a traditional technique of making oaths. Friends of the Nation organized the event and took photos and interviews, while a local priestess brought some traditional religious aspects to the ceremony, acknowledging the presence of a sea god. It was cool to see a combination of NGOs, traditional chieftaincy, current governance, religious leaders, and local people all contributing to one goal. 
Until next time,

Monday, July 4, 2011

A fantastic birthday weekend!

Hi friends!
It is now Monday, and I had a fantastic long weekend in Accra with Team Ghana. I am so pleased I got to spent so much time with the rest of the team. Friday July 1st was not only Canada Day but also Ghana Republic Day which is a national holiday here, so there was much celebrating to be had. Sara and I left for Accra on Thursday, after I returned from Half Assini. Davina met us at the hustle and bustle of Kaneshi market, one of the larger markets in Accra, which also serves as a tro tro station. A tro tro is a mini van that has been customized to fit many people, and people hop in and out both in and between the cities.  We stayed with Davina over the weekend, who has an apartment in Haatcho. We loved becoming familiar with her neighbourhood, cooking for ourselves, and taking tro tros around the city. On Thursday evening, the Canadian Embassy in Accra was hosting all Canadians in Ghana for a barbeque. It was very strange to see so many “obrunis” (white people) in one place! They served burgers, poutine, local beer, and even gave out Tim Hortons coffee as door prizes. I met many Canadians doing interesting things in Ghana- from volunteering, to working, to dancing. I even met a girl from Clinton, a town about 15 minutes from my hometown, and we knew some of the same people.

On Friday all of Team Ghana rose early in the morning a boarded a trotro to Boti falls, which are famous for being the tallest waterfalls in West Africa. It is also the site of umbrella rock and the three headed palm tree, as well as a very very large Ghana Republic Day celebration. To say it was crowded is an understatement. The words mosh pit, mob, and trampling come to mind. We went on a challenging hike to see umbrella work and the three headed palm tree. The landscape was challenging enough, but the real difficulty was that thousands of other Ghanaians were trying to do it as well. We were more pushing than climbing, and it was easily the most chaotic situation I’ve ever been in. That said, the landscapes and views were beautiful, amongst hills and mountains, lush and green. To heighten to challenge, Team Ghana and myself were the only obrunis there, and for the first time, we dealt with significant racism. I’m glad we went to Boti Falls, because we experienced the festivities of Republic Day, but we faced many of the difficulties of being a minority, and learned some important lessons about our own tolerance. In the end, we were unable to see the falls, it was too busy and we were feeling overwhelmed from our hike.  In the busy city life, especially as obrunis, it is always easy to catch a taxi or trotro. Not on Republic Day! We were lucky that a school bus took pity on us, not knowing we should have booked a driver back, and we caught a ride back to the city and enjoyed a relaxing evening.
On Saturday, we again rose early to attend a yoga class, but it was cancelled—a blessing in disguise—as we instead spent our morning buying fruits down the street and making our selves a delicious birthday brunch. Davina’s roommate made us her famous delicious French toast  (the secret ingredient is rum) which we topped with fruit and syrup. We then met up with Robin, Heather, and our new friend from France, Chloe, to go to Aburi, a town about an hour from Accra. On a side note, one of my favourite things about tros tros, and driving in general, is the array of products available for sale from women selling things in the station and on the road. They walk right up to the vehicle, products on a tray, basket, or crate on their head, and pass them through the windows. I commonly purchase water, plantain chips, gum, and snacks this way, though you can easily get minutes to top up a phone, toothbrushes, soap, razors, toys, bread, fruit- anything really! Sara was very amused by the inflatable beach toys being sold one day. Once in Aburi we went to a bicycle rental place and made went on a guided tour to a waterfall- we were thrilled that was an option and that we got to see one waterfall on our weekend. I enjoyed the mountain biking the best, but we also had some easier sections through fields and villages. We then parked our bikes and hiked the rest of the way to the falls. Once at the waterfall, we jumped right in and went swimming! We spent an hour or two taking photos, swimming, chatting, and relaxing in the beautiful area. A bike and trotro ride later, we were back in Accra finding the ingredients for Davina’s delicious avocado alfredo at the vendors in Haatcho. I even got birthday cake! We finished our day in  Osu, a trendy part of Accra, having some drinks. It was a wonderful birthday, and I am so thankful to Davina and the rest of the team for preparing it for me!

On Sunday we slept in and took a very long trip back to Takoradi (Back to the Tak! As Sara and I say!) due to long weekend traffic.
I have several photos I'd like to share, and I'll add them as soon as I can, but my internet connection is not the best right now. Stay tuned!
I am hopefully pairing up with some othe interns at Friends of the Nation this week and surveying the ecology of Esei Lagoon. I’ll keep you updated!
I hope all my Canadian friends had a wonderful Canada Day and long weekend.