Sunday, June 3, 2007

I was going to try to figure out how to change the date that I post this to reflect when Jessica actually wrote this, but it seems impossible. The following is exactly what she sent to me (she did this to avoid messing with the internet as much since it's extremely slow and costly for her to use). She also sent me a couple of pictures, but I don't know who they're of, so I'll post them once I can get decent titles for them.

May 30, 2007

Hey y’all,

Sorry for not posting as much as I hoped to. There is no internet in my community, Buipe, so I must travel to Tamale and pay to use it. This trip takes about 2 hours each way and costs quite a bit, especially compared to how cheap it is to live in Ghana. When I get there it is not that uncommon that there will be no power for the entire weekend and I wont be able to send anything anyway.

I am having a wonderful time here. For the most part people are super friendly and excited to see me. When I arrived in Ghana everything was as I imagined it to be, but at the same time it was everything I could never even begin to grasp. Because I haven’t sent anything since I have arrived I have a lot of info to share, so I will give you as much as I possible can here in my elementary essay:

My Village – Buipe, Central Gonja District, Northern Region, Ghana

I am living in a small community about 1 ½ to 2 hrs south of Tamale, the largest city in the Northern Region of Ghana, on the main road. Many big trucks pass through everyday as this single lane route acts as a major port route for Ghana, Burkina Faso, and possibly others. It was evident to me on my way to Tamale from Accra, the capital city of Ghana, that the north got a lot less attention that the south and consequently much less money as well. The road became much narrower, there were no more repairs taking place, and in some sections only a single car could pass. Not far from Buipe we saw 3 trucks just freshly tipped over into the ditch, people still crawling out of them.

Because Buipe is on this main route the traffic volume is high, collisions are frequent and night activity is regular. Although no bread is made in my village or a variety of fruit grown some is brought in from Tamale to be sold to the uncomfortable riders who cannot wait to get to their destination, and those villagers wanting a quick snack. Vendors become plenty in the evening when most busses will come though.

Like most cities or towns in Canada, Buipe has sub-communities. I live in Impala, or new town, which is in the most northern part of Buipe with the exception of a few ritzy homes surrounded by tall walls, but still just short enough that I may see the beautiful orchards that flourish within. Most people in Impala live in concrete or mud-brick homes or compounds. I will try to send a picture.

By the way, Buipe means to hold tight. The village was named after this when many years ago a Gonja warrior by the name of Jakpa died in battle and was carried down to the river, the Black Volta, by a group of women. One of the women was urging the others “buipe, buipe.” Hence our village name. The Gonja tribe is the biggest tribe in the Northern Region, occupying about half of the land.

The Market

The market is huge part of everyone’s life. It comes every Monday and lasts all day. I say that it comes because traders literally come by boat down the Black Volta each week with everything they have to try to make money. For many local and nearby farmers this is the only way they can sell there crops and livestock. Many people also sell cooked foods, cloth, cosmetics and other provisions. Because it is only once a week everyone must go to stock up, making it very busy and crowded. Also because so little is made directly in Buipe, this is my only chance for fruit, eggs and meat other than fish. My sister takes Monday afternoons off early so that we can buy our food for the week together. I also forgot to mention that the market is right next to my office, near the river.

My Family

My royal family actually. My father was a chief until he passed away 2 years ago at a very old age. He had 2 wives and 15 children. Although polygamy is common in Ghana he actually only had one wife at a time, as the first one passed away and a new one was wed to have many children with and to care for his current children. This is a fairly common family working in Ghana. One of my brothers from my father’s first wife lives in our compound with his wife and four kids, as well as two of my other brothers, also with their families. My grandmother, a few of my cousins, children from sisters living outside of our compound and my mother’s still young children live with me at our compound. I think there are about 21 or 22 permanent residents within the 6 small rooms of our compound, but it is not crowded as they usually sleep outside.

Most importantly I must tell you about my sister, Azara. She is 22 and works for the National Health Insurance Scheme of Ghana and speaks quite fluent English, making it very easy for me to communicate when I cannot say what I want in Gonja (the most common local language); most importantly she translates what others are saying to me. She is helping me learn the language, but it is going very slow as the left side of my brain functions at a much slower rate them my right. The children here (about 10 younger then me) are also helping me learn Gonja and I am helping them with their English.

Oh, and sometimes we listen to the oldies country music station from Accra. And if you really know me, you will know that this is actually exciting for me.

My Health

I have not yet been very sick, which I am very thankful for. Everyday I walk to work 2 miles each way. You would not believe the number of people that still stop to offer me a ride or insist that I take a taxi. They all say it is too far for me to walk and that I will be very tired. They ask why I do not take a taxi or ride a bike; I tell them it is too expensive. One man today (May 30) even offered to buy me a bike, but I told him that was too big of a gift. It is also amazing the number of people that will offer to carry something as small as a loaf of bread for me as they think I am unable. I tell them all that I walk much further with a big load on my back for fun, or I just say that I have two feet that work just fine and that I have not yet needed there help. My colleagues say I walk because I want to exercise my body, but really it is so I get to work on time (they are always late and they have motorbikes). So, why do I walk? Because I want to and I can.

I exercise my body on the weekends with the All Male Teachers’ 4pm Volleyball Club (not actually there name). It is lots of fun, and given our red-dirt court I get very dirty very fast, it is funny that I am the only one that shows it. Our ball is in very rough shape and the net has seen better days, but it works (sometimes).

My Work

I am working for the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) in the Central Gonja District where I live. This is new district, created in 2004, so things are not very organized or set in stone yet as it seems. We are currently working on 5 projects: Food Crops Development Project (FCDP), Livestock Development Project (LDP), Cashew Development Project (CDP), FARMER (a joint project sponsored in part by the Canadian International Development Agency - CIDA), and Women in Agriculture Development (WIAD). As these projects may indicate we focus on crops, livestock, engineering (post-harvest structures), fisheries, and gender.

So far I have gone to 5 different villages and met many people with a few of my colleagues. Soon I return to the first village, LingBing Kura, and plant groundnuts in one of the fields. We will be doing this to demonstrate to the farmers the benefits of planting crops in rows as opposed to just scattering seeds. If all goes as planned crop yields will increase significantly, and weeding and harvesting will be much simpler for the farmer.

Because I am a westerner my colleagues all think I am a computer wiz. They were surprised to find out that I don’t have a computer, I have never used Access, CorelDraw is a complete blur to me and that I only have ‘small-small’ skills in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Still they want me to teach them everything I know in the next three months and still get other work done. Looks like I will be busy.

The Food

It is great. There is only one place that I have been that I didn’t like the food, rather it didn’t like me, this is the restaurant at the oil refinery depot in Buipe. It wasn’t that the food was bad (it was something I had typically eaten before), just maybe the way it was prepared two of the days I ate there that didn’t agree with me. Because Buipe is surrounded by both the White and the Black Volta we eat a lot of fish. Most meals consist of yams (not yellow, but white and barky), maize (corn), or cassava (a root) and a stew or soup containing lots of oil, pepe (pepper sauce), fish and sometimes beef. My family is Muslim so we do not eat pork. For breakfast we take tea and bread, or koko (thin porridge made of maize or millet and spices) and koche (fried bean paste with onions), or sometimes a fried egg sandwich with onions and tomatoes.

The Water

There are many water source options available in my community. There is the river, which before a few years ago was the only water source, which I would definitely suggest not using for anything, not really even sure if the fish I eat from it are okay. Next there is the rain, which for this season is a great source, but like rain anywhere it is not always consistent or at least if you don’t have enough buckets to hold all the water you will need for the next few days. Next is the well, it is not covered and a bucket is used to extract the water. This is a common water venue for many people around the world, but here it is easily polluted and has very high particulate concentration (i.e. it is so clouded with dirt and everything else that I cannot see though it). I will bath and brush with it, but my family will not drink or cook with it. Next is a covered bore hole with a hand pump. This water is crystal clear, but tastes a bit like gasoline, or maybe that is just the jugs we use, but I will use it for everything. I even finally convinced my sister to let me help carry it, I don’t have a photo, but if you can imagine a large washing basin big enough to hold a child that is what we use. Lastly there is tap that we only use occasionally, I am not sure if that is because it only works occasionally or that the water is of inconsistent quality. When I saw it it was clear, but I don’t think I have ever drank it so I have no more comments. Typically I drink sachet water, water lapelled ‘hygienically filtered water’ with a government approved seal. It costs 500 cedis or about 6 ¼ cents for 500 mL, this is extremely cheap and tastes much better then most fancy bottled waters you will find in Canada. (If Brenda is reading this, I am laughing right now about some fancy expensive water she bought one time in Calgary. I had lots of fun that night.)

The Weather

The Northern Region of Ghana, where I am, is said to have one of the harshest climates, but I will let you be the judge of that…





Average rainfall (mm)





Average number of rain days





Most rain in 24 hours (mm)





Average mean temperature (deg Celsius)





The north is considerably hotter then the south, as it is closer to the desert, but it is really not as bad when you look at the numbers. (I could have written all this information, but I enjoy the engineer in meJ) According to Ghana’s meteorology records, the most extreme temperatures recorded were 12.8*C (Dec. 3 1952) and 42.2*C (Mar. 26 1983). It may look like a lot of rain, but keep in mind, I am here for the rainy season and the peak doesn’t even happen until September!

So my colleague at work tells me that the weather here is very extreme, but when I bring it to his attention that Ghana has a 30*C temperature gap, at the absolute extremes, and that Canada’s gap is much closer, or even higher than an 80*C gap he is surprised.

The Rain

An entire section must be devoted to this phenomenon because it is the most controlling factor I have seen so far in Ghana. If it rains in Buipe you have a legitimate excuse why you cannot get to work; why you have to stay inside all day. If you are a farmer, which most people are, you can only plant after the rain, because your land will be too hard and dry to do anything with if the rain has not yet come. The rain is a reason to go to the spot, the bar, on your way to or from work to avoid getting wet. After all, the rain will make you sick if you go outside. You may be confused, and at first I was, but the rain does make many people sick. Because it cools down significantly when it rains many people get a cough or get pneumonia. Because I am used to the cold, from rainy or snowy days, it is a blessing for the coolness of the rains to come, and I will likely not get sick.

When the rain falls in Ghana, it really hurts. Since I have been here it has rained 4 ½ times, I say a ½ because it was a short, light rain. The rain comes with a warning call, but is often too brief to prepare for. The clouds will roll in, all the animals will start running for cover, the winds will pick up, often so fierce that it will blow things over, and then, the rain. Typically accompanied by a magical presentation by Mother Nature, featuring the finest orchestra the stratosphere can afford and the most brilliant display of electricity. I like the rain, but most people just say that I am crazy and invite me into their homes to hide from it.


There are many stereotypes that exist about Canadians and Ghanaians that I hope to bust for as many people I possible can while I am here and when I return home. Consider this a goal. One that I will mention today is one that many Ghanaians have of Canadians. I don’t want to generalize, and you can say I am wrong, but this is my account:

Every Ghanaian I have talked to says that they did not know that there was poverty in Canada. Generally, all that they know about Canada is what they have seen on the TV or read in magazines. One of the men I was talking to from MoFA thought that all of our parents kicked us out when we were 18 years old. He and others also thought that Canadians do not know any of their cousins and other external family members and that we all live just with our nuclear families (i.e. parents and siblings). Although this may be true for some Canadians it is definitely not the case for every Canadian, and Ghana is the same; there is variety within the family structures. Everyone I have spoken to so far also thought that everyone in Canada has power all the time and safe drinking water. I explained to them that all major cities and towns have power most of the time, unless there is a storm, but that there are many small communities, especially in the north, that don’t and likely never will.

Most people do not understand the size and diversity of Canada until I show them a map or explain to them how my province alone is about 5 times as big as Ghana. One of my colleagues this week kept referring to my European lifestyle and I kept telling him that I didn’t know much about that. I soon realized that he thought Canada was a country in Europe. This is one of those minor misunderstandings many Ghanaians have. Most also thought that political corruption and propaganda only exists in Ghana and other African nations. These are just a few examples I have enjoyed disproving. When I explain things to people I am definitely not trying to make Canada look bad or Ghana look perfect, but just trying to exemplify the similar and different situations that exist.

June 2, 2007

So a few things have changed since May 30 when I finalized my last post. Don’t be alarmed I am already feeling much better, but I had Malaria and was very sick for a few days. I will be honest, I thought I was going to die… and when I didn’t, I felt so horrible that I wanted to. Today I am alive and well and made the trip to Tamale where I will soon send this posting home to Stephen to get displayed for the world.

It rained Tuesday (½), Wednesday and Saturday (today) making it 7 rainy days since I arrived, and despite the Malaria and ridiculous heat I still planted groundnuts on Thursday morning. The plan was to plant a quarter acre (1000 m2), but due to insufficient seed we only did 740 m2. I also burnt my hand pretty bad. If you remember, I had a rather severe burn on the back of my right hand, and after a day in the sun it was covered in blusters and extremely painful, but today it is okay. I want to sleep now; goodnight.

I would be glad to hear from you, so call me if you can. From Canada you can try to get me at 011-233-24-968-4072. It may be difficult to get through so try a lot. Remember I am 6 hours ahead of MST. If it is too costly for you to call me, you can flash me (call and hang up before I get it) or send me a text and I will happily call you back.

Hope everyone at home is being happy, safe and healthy. I am doing my best to do that here.

Lots of Love from Ghana,


(My Ghanaian name meaning Patience)

1 comment:

Andrea said...

Patience, (???)
So you had malaria, hey?
Welcome to the tropical-disease survivors group :)
We are on a unofficial coffe break from work (we usually fall asleep around 3 pm so we need to recharge batteries)
we're glad you're doing ok and can't wait to hear more from you!
Alma and Andrea