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)

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Our week in Elmina and the next step of our project

Me ma wo aha (Good Afternoon)

Since our last post one of the volunteers Hermione went home :( and we gained a volunteer called Dot who is lovely. She reminds me of my mum - she is from Bristol, similar age, similar build and loves walking. We have a funder coming out with the CEO Neil mid November (with our new camera) and two more volunteers before Christmas. The last two weeks have been very different from each other, both great though.

19th-25th Oct
My role changed with the charity for the time being as we needed to prepare the next stage of what we are going to do whilst we are here (focus on literacy etc - see previous blog). Martin continued to go into school to do some teaching of phonics with Basic 2 (ages range from 7 to 13) and comprehension with Basic 6 (ages range from 12 to 16+). I was also enjoying doing admin tasks for the charity (the organiser in me was coming out) with Hermione such as 'workers wall' (pictures and info of V by V employees) and updating the fact sheets that get sent home to new volunteers.
On the Wednesday Hermione and Dot helped out with baby weighing and general nurse assisting (not my cup of tea - hats off to nurses). This took place in the last village V by V worked with - Gboloo Kofi (where Aikins' family lives).
On the Thursday we all went to Koforidua (local city) to check out the bead and craft market (where christmas presents are coming from this year ;-) ) and Linda Dor for a triple birthday celebration for Martin (24th Oct), Hermione (24th Oct) and Scott (28th Oct). Martin made several attempts at making himself some birthday cookies/cakes - fortunately the mixture tastes amazing liquidy :)
The weekend was chocka with meetings about our project - we are so fortunate to be able to meet and work with such inspirational people. NGOs are doing great things out here.

26th Oct - 1st Nov
Last week we went away to Elmina and Cape Coast. We have been told by people here and back home that we must visit here and now I know why. The place we stayed was stunning and there is so much to do - we did our best. The first few days were spent travelling (7 hours door to door) and celebrating our 3 year wedding anniversary. We were relaxing by the pool, eating great food, checking out crocodiles, swimming in the sea (so strong it was knocking me off my feet) and visiting Cape Coast castle. The castle was so emotional as we were learning about the slave trade. It is unbelievable what took place. The castle is still so intact that you are standing in the dungeons that they kept the slaves and you can go upstairs to the governor's room that was twice the size of each dungeon. Made us feel so sick. I have never had an experience like it.
On the Friday our friends Dot and Pat joined us for the weekend. On the Saturday Martin had a meeting with a lady who set up a language program called 'Phonics Ghana' and the rest of went off to visit a refugee camp. These people fled from Cote Ivore in 2010. It was a pleasure to meet them, they treated us so well. They were so giving and all they want is for us to know their story. They feel trapped - not safe to go back home but not able to be fully a part of Ghana (due to language barriers etc). We are hoping to set up some sort of a link with them and future volunteers of V by V. Later that day we went to Elmina Castle (just as harrowing) and then on to Kakum National Park. There we stayed in a tree house, went on a early morning nature walk in the dark and a canopy walk (so high up - Martin fought his fears).

After our long journey home it was nice to be back in Abenta. Waking up to Abena (our hosts' daughter) saying good morning, Margaret (our host) saying Madam in that beautiful way she does and hearing Akua's (our other hosts' daughter) giggle :):):):):):)

This week we are getting ready to do base line reading tests, set up a library system and I am doing netball training whilst Martin is teaching phonics. Loving it!!!!!!

Me da se pa (Thank you very much) for reading, sorry it is a long one. Pictures will follow when we have a connector for the computer.

Akosua [Liz] and Kwadwo [Martin] x

P.S. Ghanaian soul names are given based on the day of the week on which you are born. Here is how to find your Ghanaian name based on what day you were born.