Monday, 14 December 2015

It's Christmas!! How do I know? Because in the internet cafe I'm writing this blog, jingle bells is playing. I'm not sure if Ghana has ever seen a one horse open sleigh, let alone anything dashing in the snow, but they don't care. (Western/commercial) Christmas is just as loved here as it is in the UK. Tinsel and Christmas trees are everywhere. Christmas dinner will be fufu and soup, and I have to admit I'm now becoming quite a fan of it.

Our first three months in Ghana has come to an end! It's flown by. It was very hard to say bye to our Ghanaian 'family', especially Patrick, Joel and Scott, as we'll be back here in January without them. It's good that we'll be returning to lots of familiar faces in January though. We've been having breakfast, lunch and dinner with these guys every day for three months. It's been a blast.

Last Sunday we headed down to Gboloo Kofi (where VbyV was first based) for the first ever girl's football match between Abenta and Gboloo. The football team in Gboloo has been running for several years, but the girls' team in Abenta is only a two months old, with Scott coaching them. Emmanuel will take over now that Scott's gone back to Australia. The girls don't get to play much sport in the village so Scott's done a great job at getting them prepared. The game was played in good spirits and the final score was a respectable Gboloo 2 - 1 Abenta. A special mention needs to go to one of the linesmen, who got all his decisions right and kept a close eye on any foul play. That person was none other than me. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the other linesman, Patrick, who provoked the ire of the entire community for raising the offside flag before Gboloo scored. When the ball hit the back of the net, the whole village, it seemed, descended onto the pitch to celebrate with the girls. Abenta girls did well to hold it together. But then when it became clear that the offside flag had been raised the community turned on Patrick. Accusations of cheating, corruption even (we are from Abenta after all) and even the referee, Joel, was told by Ernestina (Aikins wife) that he was a bad referee in light of the decision. Ghanaians are passionate about the beautiful game. So much so, when Liz and I entered a taxi today, I noticed a big Arsenal sticker on the drivers window. He asked if I was an Arsenal fan. I said no. He said, "Oh, but if you were I would have taken you for free". I considered lying and pretending I hadn't heard him, but I couldn't do that to my family, who are ardent Spurs fans (well, apart from Stephen who's kept the faith the mighty (and resurgent) U's).

So, it's time to go back the UK for Christmas. We're very excited to catch up with family and friends but can't deny it's tinged with sadness as our Ghanaian 'family' wont be quite the same when we get back on the 9th January. The last three months have been a great experience and I'm sure the next three will also be so. Over and out until then.

But first, here's some photos:

 The girls' on the way to the match. The spent the whole journey singing at the top of their voices.

They may have lost but they went down fighting.

 Despite the unfortunate timing of this photo, I can assure you that Kobby (aka Rastaman) and Laud (aka King Yobo) were singing too and found the whole experience very enjoyable. Photos do lie. Kobby is the charity's driver and Yobo is the ICT teacher at the primary school.
 A visit to Kobby's house to meet the family. from left to right: Liz (with Kobby and Beatrice's daughter, Vanessa), Kobby, Beatrice, Joel, Emmanuel, Patrick, Aikins.

Us saying goodbye to our host family, Ayesi and Margaret with their two children Akua and Abena.
Us dressed up for a posh meal out in Accra at a restaurant called Coco Lounge. We misjudged the dress code. Accratonians (if that's the word) prefer to wear western clothes. We stuck out like a bit of an Obroni sore thumb.

We've spent the weekend with friends of Village By Village, Kwabena and Joyce, who live in Accra. Kwabena and I have in common that we've both lived in Kilburn, London. They are a great couple who have always been very welcoming to us when we've stayed at theirs in Accra. Yesterday, we had the pleasure of sharing a typical Ghanaian Sunday with them, going to church in the morning followed by a Sunday lunch of fufu and palm nut soup (last photo). Very tasty! In the evening, we visited friends of theirs who were celebrating their daughters 19th birthday. They have family in London, some in Russell Square and others in Enfield and Joyce visits them every so often.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Not long until we are home for Christmas - mixed feelings.

Maaha (Good morning)

The last week has been very eventful. As you probably have noticed from our blog so has every other week of this trip - I am loving being so busy yet so relaxed at the same time.

Last week Friday we experienced our first funeral (due to lots of mentions in previous posts on funerals you probably thought we had been to one before but we hadn't). The music from about 7pm to 10:30pm was very slow and soulful, not what we were expecting at all from the stories we had been told. Lodz and I were way too tired so we went to bed, gutted to miss out though. At about midnight there was a knock on our hut door which scared the crap out of me (we had been warned to be extra cautious with security due to many people attending the funeral not from the village). It was Aikins coming to get us from the funeral as the 'others' said we wouldn't want to miss out. I didn't know who he was talking about and Martin was in such a deep sleep he was semi unconscious so I passed. At 1:30am we are woken up by our fello volunteer Patrick, who was a little drunk, shouting 'Come on Amigos, can you feel this?' He was spraying water at us. We heard the music, it was very lively so we both were intrigued and got up. The atmosphere was awesome. My fello married friends, Akua and Maabena, were there dancing away so I joined in. It took a while to ignore the attention (outsiders to the village not used to having obronis [white people] around) but I soon got into it, as did the others, and was looked after by my friends from any unwanted attention. It was a great night. Finally had to call it a night after 4am. Good times.

The following day all the volunteers and our coordinator Aikins, who was off duty, went on a weekend trip to Lake Volta. We said goodbye to Steve, what a legend, and took several tro tros to get to the Volta hotel. We were not staying there (waaaaaaaaay too expensive) but had lunch and took a shuttle bus to a boating place. We all chose to go kayaking. Aikins and I went together as we hadn't done it before but the others went in there own one. Beautiful views, so peaceful. The quiet must've been too much for Aikins as after a while he put some music on his phone. lol. We then went for a swim in the lake - so refreshing. Off to Peki.
That night we stayed at a vegan rastafarian place called Roots. We had our own little house for us 6 which was very cosy. The food, smoothies and service was excellent. Such lovely people - Bob and Jacqueline with there two children Solomon and Marcus. The next day we decided to take it easy and go straight to our next hotel near Fume and Mountain Gemi, Mountain Paradise Hotel. There we had a lovely talk with the hotel owner Tony about tribes from an Ewe perspective (one of the tribes in our village, Abenta), ate great food with good service and played monopoly. It was Aikins' first time, we all loved teaching it to him.
Most of us slept in tents so woke up to a stunning view. We got up at 5:30am to make the most of the day. Martin, Scott and Aikins went cycling around the mountain whilst Joel, Pat and I went on a hike to several waterfalls. Everyone had a lot of fun. I loved swimming and exploring the encaves. Our guide Wisdom was lovely. After having breakfast, showering and spending an hour sorting out the bill (not an exaggeration) we made our way home. The hotel were offering a shuttle service for a very expensive price so we walked to the main road. An unhelpful tro tro driver said the only way down was motorbike taxis, which we were not up for - we proved him wrong as a lovely catholic in a pick up truck allowed us in to his trailer part for free, so much fun. Then a quick tro tro to Ho (the capital of Volta region). This is when it got slow. We waited for a good hour and a half for a tro tro to Koforidua and then that was a very long journey. We got back around 9pm and then found out a local dog had been locked in the office the whole time. Poor thing. The office was a mess, as you could imagine.
It was an incredible trip. Such great company. What a pleasure to be able to spend such quality time with Aikins as well. One of the main highlights of my trip here so far.

View from the Volta hotel of the dam

Us ready to get in our kayaks

7 people in a taxi, it works...kinda

The house we stayed in at Peki

Tro tro selfie :)

The view we woke up to on the last day

Hiking from the waterfall back to the hotel

Beautiful second waterfall

The boys ready to cycle

On the go

It was not easy - but so worth it

Us on the back of the pick up truck

Scott had the back seat

This week has been focused mainly on the growth of our project. We are working in conjunction with Novan Education ( which has given us opportunities in the next three months to work in many more schools rolling out the Phonics training - all very exciting. We also met with some of the teachers in the next school we are working with, Gboloo Kofi, and were able to carry out the reading tests ready for January. This is all whilst still teaching phonics in Abenta and next week training the teachers so they can take over from us. Busy busy busy but great :)

Lodz doing phonics with the children from the village

Yesterday we had the pleasure of spending more time with our friend Solomon. He made us a gorgeous meal of kontomire [cocoyam leaves] stew with boiled yam, plantain and cassava (my fave). It was so tasty. The stew had salmon in it - yum. He then made us brodata (mashed plantain with onions, chilli peppers and groundnuts) for us to take away. So kind. We have local beer which I surprisingly liked. We always have such a great time. Conversation is flowing - hugely mixed between Ghana and Britain.
We then left and went to the pub in the local town to us, Adawso, for maybe the last time with these volunteers. Intense convos about faith and politics.

Local beer drunk in the traditional way

A yam shaped like a foot

Gorgeous kontomire stew

Pub action

The time before we leave is rushing away from us, we will be gone before we know it :( It is going to be so hard to leave everyone here over christmas but I am really looking forward to seeing friends and family. The hardest thing for me won't be leaving the village, as we are coming back, but leaving our Canadian and Aussie friends who we may never see again (I really hope we do). We have spent such a long time together and feel like a family. I love communal living - we defo need to keep it when we move back to Britain.

Harmattan has obscured our view

Playing buckaroo with a very tired Patrick

The beautiful children of our hosts, Abena and Akua - this is what I woke up to this morning.

Ye bishia bio (We shall meet again)

Liz (& Martin)

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Christmas is coming Ghana style!! How do I know? It's not the Christmas songs playing in the shops, it's not the soppy supermarket adverts, it's not the christmas trees, it's not the advent calendars (of course, none of these exist our rural village). No! It's the massive explosions happening in our village that wake us up at 5:30 in the morning. Merry Christmas!

So, around this time of year people start making big explosions using 'bamboo guns', I still don't really understand it, but it's very loud and makes it sound like Abenta is under attack. It's like the firecrackers we get in the UK, the difference being that it could happen at any time, any where. The closer we get to Christmas, the more it happens.

We're coming towards the end of our first three months in Ghana. It's flown by! We'll be back in the UK for Christmas and then back in mid-January. We're becoming more and more Ghanaian in the way we say things, if you see us over christmas you may notice the way we say certain words (thank you (thennnnk you), at all (at tall)) sound a bit different.

Ghana is a very peaceful place. There are many examples I could give to back up that statement but the best illustration is when, last weekend, we passed a military police van which consisted of two unarmed soldiers and a goat. The goat could well have been loaded up with explosives but from outside appearances it looked pretty safe to me.

Liz and I are now firmly established in teaching phonics and creating a programme to introduce it into the schools we work in. We now obsess about how words sound. This is a bit different to teaching maths and sociology respectively. Other volunteers hear us making random noises, trying to work out when 'uh' is 'ah' in a word or just saying 'd' 'd' 'd' over and over again. We haven't gone mad.

So now Neil, the CEO of Village By Village, has left us and is on his way back to England. We're now back to the 'core 5' volunteers: Patrick, Joel, Scott, Liz and I. It will remain that way up until Christmas now. We're all off to Lake Volta (north east of us) at the weekend for some kayaking, hiking, mountain biking and monkey sanctuary-ing'. We'll be going with Aitkins, the volunteer co-ordinator. Can't wait!

The last week or so has been busy. Last Thursday we popped around to visit our teacher friend, Solomon, who is a teacher at a Junior High School in Adawso (the equivalent of years 9, 10 and 11 in the UK). He cooked us an awesome meal of fufu with a fish and goat sauce. It was great food and great company. On the weekend we went to Accra to a fundraising event led by the Indian community in Accra. The fundraising event last year paid for the kindergarten building in Abenta and then we headed into a trendy part of Accra around Oxford Street afterwards (I tend to gravitate to trendy parts of town. naturally..)

Random things:

- Red Red is now my favourite food. Fried plantain with beans. Lovely stuff.
- Poor Liz is getting bitten loads by sun flies which come out to feed on human blood in the mornings and evenings. On the flip side, it acts as a kind of insect repellent for me as they are much more interested in her blood than mine when they have a choice. She's a kind of mosquito net for me. I told her that and it didn't go down well.
- The Mmoatia are small dwarves that live in forests. Their feet face backwards and they try to beckon you by mimicking the voice of someone you know. Ask a Ghanaian about them. I've not seen them, but I imagine they look like Peterborough fans.
- We had a use a blanket the other night, it was THAT cold! The harmattan is coming, which means it's hotter in the day and colder in the night. But I'm sure it's going to be a shock to the system coming back to the UK having worn shorts and t-shirt everday for the last two and a half months.

And some photos:

 Liz with Aitkin's sisters - Bernice and Emmanuela
Me trying and failing to carry stuff on my head. 5 year olds can do this.

No-one comes out well in this picture.
Ghana's Indian community hosting a fundraising event in Accra. Great dancing (unlike the photo above) accompanied by chicken biryani.
Us in our Ghanaian clothing, made by Dora, a fashion designer who is the wife of Mr Gyampoh, one of the teachers at Abenta and an employee of Village By Village.
Liz grounding fufu with Solomon and Stephen. She only lasted 2 minutes. It's very tiring. Still that's 2 minutes longer than me.
Us eating our fufu meal with Solomon at his house in Koforidua. Great food and great chats!
This is Steve. He's from Barnsley. If you'd like to donate, please visit the Village By Village website. Steve is legend but has only been with us for two weeks and is off this weekend. He's been busy working with the local team of construction workers building gutters and toilets.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Two months into our time in Ghana. Liz and I are in danger (in a good way!) of becoming Ghanaian ourselves. There are a few reasons why this might be happening:

- I spent 20 minutes at Kaneshie station yesterday seeking out the roadside goat-kebab seller. I can't explain how good it tastes.
- I will go to great lengths to find the fan-ice sellers in any town. Fan-ice is Ghanaian ice-cream.
- Ghanaian phrases and sounds are creeping into our speech. If someone is walking past when we are eating we will say 'you are invited' (a common invitation for anyone to come and join you for food). When we talk (perhaps me more than Liz) and are in agreement with someone we will often say 'e-heh' which Ghanaians commonly use when in agreement with what's been said.
- We now have our own Ghanaian clothes – Liz has two dresses, a bag and is getting another dress, bag and purse made. I have a couple of shirts. Ghanaian's have amazing dress sense. Ghanaian women will wear the most incredible dresses for even the most mundane activities, like collecting water or shopping.
- We really want to go to a funeral.... I will explain later.

So, the last week has been a bit different, especially as Liz and I were apart for most of it. In November every year, for one week, all the schools (primary and secondary) in the area surrounding Adawso (the nearest town) come together for a week long sports tournament, played on a giant sports ground in Adawso. It includes athletics, football and netball. Our school, Abenta, is through to the next round (get in!) and will take part in the district finals. What's great about the sports tournament is that it brings the whole community together – parents, friends, ex-students, sellers from the town and just random people from the surrounding villages come out in support. So, Liz popped down for a couple of days to support our students, and made the most of the food being sold – having some waakye (pronounced waa-chee) – on one of the days.

I've been back to Cape Coast for most of the week. This time for a three-day teacher training conference by an organisation called Phonics Ghana – here's their website: They work in association with another teacher training organisation called Sabre. Phonics Ghana work predominately in the northern region and Sabre in the Central and Western Regions. Both are focused on teacher training for English language, which is the official language of Ghana. (when I've spoken to Ghanaians about this, they say it's a good thing that English is the official language as it prevents any tribalism and feelings of favouritism of one tribe by the government. There are over 50 languages spoken in Ghana and many more dialects).

So, equipped with three days of training, we will be using the programme in our school and possibly other schools in the area. Such a programme doesn't exist on a national level, although the organisation and it's parent organisation, Phonics International, hope that the results from its pilot projects will lead the government to adopting the phonics approach to improving literacy rates in Ghana.

Starting next week, Liz and I are going to start a huge literacy drive in our school, with the backing of, and co-ordination from, the headteacher. Organising the following, we hope the following initiatives be taken on and adopted by the teachers of the school and charity more generally:

1) phonics lessons – 100 lessons, 1-3 per day, each 20 minutes long, each planned and resourced electronically by Phonics Ghana.
2) a library loan system, where students can take books home for set periods
3) an assisted reading programme either one-to-one or in small groups
4) purchasing of children's books by West African authors with money set aside by the charity. We do have about 100+ books here already but all written for a Western audience. Children's books on Biff's attempt at building a rocket ship to take him to the moon don't really mean much here. It's a bit of an unintended negative to come from book donations from the West.

So, it's all go-go-go here. We have the CEO, Neil, here for the next couple of weeks as well as a couple more volunteers. Only four weeks left until we fly back to the UK for Christmas. Time flies here.

A few more random things:

- We killed a chicken last week. We ate it too. Sorry vegetarians.
- Ghana is loud! They love their music turned up to 11.
- The harmattan has arrived. This will mean cooler nights. Which is nice. Because the climate here varies from hot to very hot.
- We have a camera again! We still have a long-drop and (in the style of Alan Patridge) 'never the twine shall meet'.
- Yesterday I experienced an air-conditioned trotro. What a treat.
- Ghanaian's LOVE talking about politics (well, maybe it's because I do too...). When being shown to my hotel room last Monday the hotel receptionist spent about 30 minutes giving me a very impassioned lecture about Ghanaian politics. Turns out we had some things in common, he doesn't like privatisation either.
- Funerals. Possibly the biggest culture shock so far. Ghanaians love funerals. They are THE big social gathering. Hundreds turn up, even if they don't know the deceased individual. They start on Friday and end on Sunday. The family dress in a black and red outfit and you will see multiple funerals taking place in cities at the weekend. Music plays throughout the night on Friday and Saturday. A lot of money is spent on a funeral. Aikins, our volunteer coordinator, said 'nothing costs as much as a Ghanaian funeral', there's definitely some truth in that. Other locals have explained that funerals serve various functions: to try and solve disputes between people, to dance through the night, to meet your future husband or wife!

Here are some photos:

Athletics taking place at the Adawso pitch.

 Liz with Aikins and Emmanuel at the sports tournament. Emmanuel is one of the builders / carpenters for the charity.

 Our students getting ready for the football with Rejoice, the basic 2 teacher. Small Samuel at the front doing his best to look angry.

The photos above: teacher training workshop at Philip Quaque School in Cape Coast. The teachers were great and made the Obroni feel very welcome.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Photos to go with last week's blog

Here are the missing photos :)

This is our gorgeous resort in Elmina.
Me doing a bit of horse riding :) beautiful setting!
Excellent photography by my hubby :) Runs in the family.
Stunning sunset at Coconut Grove
London Bridge...a very underwhelming sight in Cape Coast.
Cape Coast castle
Elmina castle
Swimming in the sea was a great laugh. The current was soooooooo strong.
Our fellow volunteers joined us for the weekend.
Crocodile pond at the resort.
Refugee camp in Cape Coast - the Ivorians telling us their stories.
The beautiful meal we shared there.
The view from Elmina castle - that bridge is how you get between the shared taxis and you are bombarded, like no other place, by sellers.
The tree house we stayed in - Kakum National Park.
Canopy walk - up to 40 metres in the air. We were swinging more than I expected. Martin faced his fears :)
Me putting my hand in a bee hive...they are stingless :)

Me da se for reading :)

Liz (and Martin)