Goodbye Ghana

1 07 2009

Ada Foah sunsetI didn’t actually cry, but I was close to it saying goodbye to people who’ve become close friends. And now I’m sitting in my mother’s dining room listening to a couple of Ghanaian hip-life tracks and thinking fondly about the noise, heat, colour and chaos that is Ghana. I’m also trying to avoid thinking about the next phase of my life looming ahead.

For years I was nervous about visiting Africa, partly because almost everyone I knew who had visited came back claiming to have “fallen in love” with the continent. I was a bit dubious about how one could fall in love with an entire continent, especially when they had usually only visited a single country. But, generally averse to forming strong emotional connections, I wasn’t going to take any risks. My initial impressions of Ghana lulled me into a false sense of security; the litter everywhere, the low, nondescript houses and the lack of impressive scenery left me cold. However Ghana (and I’d never dream of speaking for Africa) is a subtle seductress, wiling her way into your affections through subtle charms. Her flaws are so glaring that after a while you stop noticing them and the humour and good nature of the people, the vibrancy of colours and crowds as well as the heat that engulfs you like a comfort blanket all start to wear down your resistance. Add to that the companionship of a network of fellow volunteers who are kind, witty, clever and engaging as well as sharing most of my values (and some of my interests) and I will admit I was beguiled. I’ll miss Ghana, but I’ll miss my friends more.

Xmas DancingSome great memories will include travelling through the rural Upper East Region on the back of Agnieszka’s motorbike, dancing at the Navrongo St Patrick’s party, spending time in Salaga and with the old Salaga crew, possibly my best Christmas ever on the coast, dinner parties at the Peace Corps house with Kim, Fred and random Peace Corps vols, visiting schools in Bongo, helping with the distribution in Walewale, travelling up and down between Tamale and Bolga by tro-tro (including one dramatic breakdown), interminable Nigerian movies on interminable STC bus trips to and from Accra, learning to be patient while explaining what seems to me to be the obvious, teaching a class of 24 about Word and Excel with only 8 computers (some of which had Danish keyboards to confuse things), smiling children shouting “hello” and waving, discussing random things for hours with Fred and sitting in a spot with a book and a beer. The best aspect has been the other volunteers, perhaps the worse not having enough to do. I’ve learnt to cope with not having flowing water, dodgy electricity and having to burn my garbage (nearly killing Fred in the process).

Ghana hosted the Cup of African Nations and held an election while I was here. Both were spectacles and both went well (although Ghana coming 3rd in CAN was a bit of disappointment). I also attended VSO’s bi-annual volunteers’ conference which was a good chance to meet and discuss with other volunteers, plus a chance to Scottish dance and generally enjoy myself.

In my final trip around Ghana she revealed what a beauty she actually is. In four weeks of fairly constant travel we still missed whole regions, but were able to enjoy scenery and wildlife as well as history and architecture. We missed the beaches of the Western Region, the hippo sanctuary in the Upper East and I never got to set foot in the Volta Region, rumoured to be the prettiest in Ghana. I won’t talk about what we did see as I’ve done that in previous posts.

If you’re interested please read the blog (perhaps starting from from here) or look at my photos here


Twenty Five Things

20 02 2009

I’ve been tagged in one of those Facebook meme things where I’m supposed to write 25 random things about myself and nominate 25 people to do the same. I thought I’d copy my 25 facts here.

1. I’ve had birthdays in 6 countries on 5 continents (UK, Australia, Outer Mongolia, USA, Mali and China)
2. I’ve lived in 4 countries, each on a different continent (UK, Australia, Hong Kong and Ghana)
3. I’ve never visited South America but would love to. It’s the only (inhabited) continent I haven’t visited
4. I’ve been to both Timbuktu and Outer Mongolia. In fact I’ve had birthdays in both places (40th and 31st respectively)
5. Sometimes when I’m in some strange country I secretly wish I was in my home in England, curled up with a good book. Sometimes when I’m at home in England curled up with a good book I’m secretly really satisfied
6. I never intended to travel much and don’t consider myself a good or natural traveller
7. My parents were (are) very religious, I grew up attending a charismatic (happy clappy) church
8. Food, drink and books are my weaknesses. Sitting in a restaurant alone with a tasty meal, good bottle of wine or beer and a cracker of a book is my idea of paradise
9. Melbourne was my favourite place to live
10. I may be the world’s worst romantic. I like the idea of being in a relationship but totally panic if it looks like I might stumble in to one.
11. According to Meyers Briggs my personality type is INTJ
12. I spent a lot of my childhood on my own, exploring the countryside/Brighton or reading
13. I was the 3rd of 4 children and get on well with all my siblings (as far as I’m aware).
14. I grew up by the sea and miss it. I love the impersonal power and immensity of the sea.
15. I love traditional English stodgy food – sausages, bacon, shepherd’s pie, steak and kidney pudding, treacle pudding, apple crumble etc.
16. If I were in a condemned cell my last meal would be Fray Bentos steak and kidney pie, oven chips and baked beans, with treacle sponge to follow
17. I like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and the brassica family generally.
18. Bitter (warm, dark traditional English real ale) or gin and tonic are my tipples of choice
19. I didn’t fail a public exam until I was 23. Then I failed my driving test 4 times.
20. I’m pleased when I can make people laugh
21. I like the abstract idea of other people. I’m less fond of the concrete reality sometimes
22. I’ve studied Spanish in Madrid, Seville and Mexico but am still rubbish at it.
23. I love to dance, but wish I could dance properly (waltz, tango, salsa etc)
24. I hope I’m kind, but I think I can be pompous, clumsy and opinionated and I know that I’m still overweight, despite losing 15kg while in Ghana.
25. I feel uncomfortable with people or in situations I don’t know

Touring England

18 12 2008

Brighton PierI’m spending most of my first fortnight home visiting friends, with apologies to my abandoned family. Whilst this has included a short trip to Brighton (with a visit to the pier at night, in winter) and will mean a trip to nearby Lewes the bulk of my travels have been to London, with a side serving of Bristol. Actually, travelling in England seems a pleasure now, although it ought to be at the prices charged. The trains leave and arrive close to the scheduled times and there’s loads of space – I’m even able to type a blog post while thundering through south London (using my Christmas present to myself, a new “ultra-portable” ASUS laptop). I did manage to mostly avoid rush hour tube – the only thing England has to compete with the horror of a trotro.

It’s been wonderful to see people again, although the sheer number of my friends who’ve taken the opportunity of my absence to produce babies is staggering. One of my friends has even had twins, bringing the count of babies born this year to 5 plus at least one more on the way (yes, I realise a lot more than 5 babies have been born this year, but I meant to people I know). Quite why my friends thought it safest to wait for me to leave the country I’ve no idea. However I’ve so far been fortunate enough to meet Toby and Martha Lampard and Briony’s new daughter. Hopefully I’ll meet the newest Hart and Eraut additions in the next few weeks. I’m very fond of babies and I must say that those I’ve seen so far seem happy and healthy.

In addition to cooing at babies I’ve had the opportunity to strip the willow at a ceilidh, visit the British museum, explore the SS Great Britain and see a musical. The musical was a little odd, good but odd. Someone decided to set a musical in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1941. Not exactly promising material for a song and dance show, but it worked reasonably well and (I think) it was done with dignity. And to be honest it’s always good to see a live show. Oddly the last show I saw was “Fiddler on the Roof”, so I’m sticking with the Jewish theme. The cultural overload is probably reaching its end, sadly, but it was a wonderful oasis in the wilderness, and thank you to everyone (especially Rhona) for organising things.

Another thing I’ve been enjoying is the food, both in restaurants and people’s homes. I’ve had two wonderful roasts cooked for me (duck and beef) with all the trimmings, a fried breakfast and lots of other great home cooked meals as well as being able to eat out. I’ve had the Thai meal with friends, various burgers and a proper greasy spoon cafe heart attack on a plate breakfast. The pigs of England may be a little safer once I’ve gone again. And, of course, I’ve drunk a proper pint in a proper pub. Possibly more than the one proper pint.

After ten days back a few things are striking me. Most obviously is the sun, or lack of it. It seems to struggle to get barely over the horizon and can only manage that for a few hours. I had wondered whether I’d keep to my Ghana sleep patterns, but at 6am in Ghana the sun is already brighter than it will ever get in England and the street noise has started. The combination of darkness, quiet and double glazing (as well as chilly houses with warm beds) means I sleep on through till unimaginably late hours (almost 9am some mornings). Actually it feels like Europe should have been called the dark continent; not only is it never properly light but the petulant sky conspires with the the lazy sun and everyone is wearing the same drab clothes in the same drab colours. Despite that the English countryside is wonderful, with rolling green hills overlooking a grey sea.
Seven Sisters with Moon


9 11 2008

Last night I hosted my first party here in Ghana, or at least Fred and I did. Parties seem to be a fairly big thing at the moment, last weekend I was at a Halloween partying Bolga and next weekend it’s Tony’s birthday (again in Bolga). Typically the Ghanaian’s were bang on time but the VSO volunteers turned up 2 hours late.
My party included a big shared meal with dishes from various countries, apple bobbing, musical chairs, sparklers and various other party games as well as popcorn and prawn crackers courtesy of the Filipinos. Most attendees don’t drink alcohol so the atmosphere was a little different to the previous week’s affair (where most did, but also included apple bobbing as well carved melon jack-o-lanterns) but both were great fun. I’ve put photos of both on flickr and a few are here.
Musical Chairs
Apple bobbing
Melon carving

Ten things I’m looking forward to at Christmas

30 10 2008

On of my friends responded to this post saying she wished she could think of 10 reasons why I should look forward to visiting at Christmas. This is my list.

Ten things I’m looking forward to:
1. Family
2. Friends
3. Ceilidh
4. Bacon sarnies* with lashings of ketchup
5. Shaving and showering in hot water. In fact just reliably running water would be good
6. A proper pint** in a proper pub***
7. Theatre/cinema/museum or something else cultural
8. Duchy original pork sausages with cheesy mash and peas
9. Roast turkey with stuffing, gravy, roast potatoes, parsnips, sprouts, cabbage and all the trimmings (and those silly little sausages wrapped in bacon) eaten while wearing a paper hat from a cracker with family
10. A meal in a good Thai restaurant with friends


** i.e. warm, dark and flat. Hopefully Harveys of Lewes
*** No plastic, TV or loud music, brass footrail at the bar etc


The Gang

A proper pint:
And don’t forget the Ceilidh in Hammersmith on the 12th

An international week

20 10 2008

I’m now officially sharing my house. After a year of living alone VSO have moved another volunteer into one of my spare bedrooms. While it’s going to be odd Fred arrived at the same time as me and has become a good friend, so it’s better than having a complete stranger move in.

To celebrate Fred’s arrival, as well a visit by out friend Didika, we decided to have a Kenyan meal on Friday night. Didika has travelled extensively in East Africa and missed the food so with the help of another Kenyan volunteer who lives close by we had a meal of Kenyan chapattis with various delicious stews. Photos in the previous blog

But that meal was just part of what turned out to be a very international week. It started last Sunday with my Canadian friends cooking Fred and I a meal that included Canadian pancakes and Pakistani pakooras (Saira is originally from Pakistan). The next night Fred and I celebrated the US holiday of Columbus day with Peace Corp Kim and on Tuesday our Israeli VSO friend Didika arrived. To cap it off we went to Bolga Saturday to celebrate a Karen’s (a Dutch VSO) birthday. Fred went also took the opportunity to go to the leaving lunch of another Kenyan VSO and an American VSO’s wedding while in Bolga.

Overall it was a reminder of just how international the volunteering community here is, especially VSO.

[This was meant to have gone with the photos in the last post – sorry]

Being in Bolga

27 08 2008

I spent last week in Bolgatanga. Partly this was because it was my friend Sarah’s last week in Ghana and I wanted to say goodbye, and partly because I’ve got work to do there. Actually I’ve got work I could be doing in Tamale but I find it hard to motivate myself to do work without a deadline that receives little feedback. I guess always working in environments where people expected results makes the shift to a volunteer’s role quite hard.

When I go to Bolga I usually stay in a spare room in the VSO house shared by Katie and Sarah who both arrived in Ghana with the same group of volunteers as me.  This time there were an additional two occupants in the house, both recent volunteers, one only arriving last Sunday a few hours before I got there, so I was relegated to a mattress on the floor of what is usually a storeroom.

I prefer working in Bolga, partly because that is where the database work I’m doing is for, partly because my three ISODEC colleagues in Bolga seem more interested in learning and partly because there are a lot more volunteers in Bolga to socialise with, and I did quite a lot of socialising last week.

The Access database I’m building for the AGSP project is going fairly well, I’ve put it on a computer in the Bolga office and talked Jonathon and Francisca through how to use it. They seem fairly pleased and excited, and I think Jonathon wants to give it to the other organisations that administer AGSP elsewhere in Ghana so I may get an excuse to visit Sunyani and Accra. I’ve been fairly impressed with Access, although the fact that I know VB and hence VBA makes life a lot easier (for me anyway, whoever picks it up after me may struggle). I’ve created some useful forms and pretty reports and it seems acceptably robust so far and quite suitable for the volume of data. I probably need to add a bit more maintenance stuff but I have written a couple of documents with lots of pictures to explain how it works, how to get information into the database and how to get it out again. I also got to show how to do some PowerPoint stuff and a bit of Excel so, overall, a fairly successful week.

In addition to this breakneck pace at work (some days I did almost 3 hours work) I managed to get out and meet other VSO vols most nights. In fact I felt a little guilty since one of my purposes of visiting was to say goodbye to Sarah, but I guess we’d spent quite a lot of time together in Mali and Burkina Faso. The new volunteers were eager to meet up with other volunteers, there were several Peace-Corp visiting (Katie’s boyfriend is Peace-Corp) plus I wanted to meet up with some people I’d not seen for a while so I ended up out most nights. For various reasons I don’t meet up that often with the VSO vols in Tamale. In a city about five times the size of Bolga there are about one third the number of VSO volunteers. I tend to end up meeting with Fred, volunteers from Peace-Corps or CUSO and VSOs who are passing through Tamale.

Saturday night was Sarah’s leaving party. Sarah has had to define her own role in the year she’s been here; working with the Ghana Education Service to help train and improve school management in the Upper East Region. The turnout at her leaving party was a tribute to the number of connections she’s made to the local community; it was a real mix of people which had the usual Ghanaian feature of half the attendees standing up to make a speech about the host. I was nominated to speak on behalf of VSO and mumbled a few words, but about half a dozen Ghanaian’s spoke eloquently of their gratitude to Sarah. This time next week she’ll have traded Bolga for Bristol.

Sarah’s departure is part of a general exodus of volunteers I’ve met over the last year. About half of the group I arrived with have left as well as several vols I met here. I hadn’t really prepared myself for this turnover over of friends and I’ll miss (indeed already miss) many of them. It seems unlikely I’ll visit Salaga again now Marco, Helen and Vicky have all gone and Navrongo is empty at the moment. Trips to Bolga will be different, and without Steve, Dean or Jason Accra will seem empty. I guess it’s also an opportunity to get to know the new bunch of volunteers arriving in September. If any are reading this you are very welcome, and good luck with the final preparations.

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