Tuesday, October 30, 2012


We've had two more satisfying days.  On Monday we met with a 
Presbyterian development organization that took us to a community where
they are working.  As usual, we sat under the best village shade tree and most 
of the men and women came.  
In the afternoon we visited the Yaakoro Youth Development Center,
a local organization helping young women learn worthwhile trade skills.

Yesterday we traveled to Bolgatanga (wouldn't it be great to come 
from a town with that name? - almost as good as Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso).
We were hosted by Doris, a fast moving dynamo - wonderful!
We visited a school, a team of  women making Shea Butter, a group
of women making Pito (more on that below), and a craft center.
Walking around in the hot midday sun takes its toll.  We were very pleased
when God sent us a thunderstorm at the end of the day.

In the farming community, this man is telling us about their
community, its history, what they grow, and what changes
they have made in the last few years.  We heard a lot about climate
change.  It is becoming increasingly difficult to know when to plant,
because the rains are all different than they used to be.

It's typical for the men to sit together, for the women to sit together
as well, and for the children to sit together too.  Here the woman
in the back was telling us what the women have been doing.  They too
are farmers and are concerned about their crops.  But the crops they
grow and the crops the men grow are different.

The kids, always orderly and well-behaved!!!! join the meeting as well.
One part of the Yaakoro Youth Development Center.  The women we
see here are apprentices and still learning to sew.  Until they learn well,
the sew dresses made of paper from cement bags.  Can't waste good
cloth on novices.

When we looked around, we noticed that we had an audience.

Here is Doris the Dynamo.  Everywhere we went, she rode her motorcycle,
and she took one of our group to ride with her.  What you don't see is
beautiful two-year old daughter riding in between Doris and Krista.

The kindergarten class in the local school.  68 kids!  They come knowing
no English, but they start to learn at school.  The recited two poems
for us and also sang a version of "I'm a teapot."  We reciprocated by
singing our own version of "I'm a teapot."  When we poured ourselves
out, they broke out in gleeful laughter.  We also visited elementary
classrooms and junior high classes.  This was actually a fine school.
Some good learning was taking place here and the mood was upbeat.

Off to see the Shea Butter operation.  We walked through the rolling
fields for about a kilometer.  That's sorghum in the background.

Here we are again, under a tree.  And this  is where the shea butter
operation unfolded.  Notice all the pots and pans in between the legs
of the students.  They'll all be used.

You start by smashing the nuts, which come from a tree about the size
of an apple tree.

They let us smash some too.  A big rock below, the nut on the rock,
and a small rock brought down hard on the nut does the job.

Here's Paola working the resulting paste in one of those big bowls.
Notice how hunched over she is.  That's the normal stance for working
on this.  I imagine it's hard on the back.  The call is "butter," because
after kneading and mixing it like this for a long time, the butter
separates from the water, just like when you make real butter from cream.
Shea butter is used mostly for skin care.  Look on skin lotion products
and you'll often see shea butter as one of the ingredients.  Here's where
it comes from.

The people in these communities were not Muslim, and there were some
indications of Christianity, but there is a lot of traditional religion too.
This is a shrine to the ancestors. I'm not sure of the meaning of all the
parts of the shrine.  

We went to another community where they make pito (peetoh), a drink
processed from sorghum.  You take the sorghum seeds, soak them, let them
germinate, then dry them, and finally smash them, before mixing it again
with water, boiling it and straining it.  It's a long process.  Once the pito
is made, you can drink it, oooorrrrr, you can let it sit and ferment, and then
drink it.
We drank it both ways.  Of course you drink from calabashes.

Always some well-behaved kids around.  Notice how
they found the shade.

After sitting around for a while drinking pito, the group broke into a
dancing game.  One at a time, a person from their group would do some very
hot stepping, slapping the ground with their feet so hard they sounded
like tap dancers making their own rhythms.  And then they would
run up to one of our group, who had to do some hot stepping of her
own.  Lots of  fun.  This is a younger girl, but many of the older women
joined in too.

We had such a nice time at the pito place, talking, drinking, and dancing,
that it felt natural to give gifts to each other.  We gave them about
$20, and they gave us this  guinea fowl.  

And when we got home, a glorious thunderstorm.  The students
took advantage of it, playing ninja and cooling off at the same time.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Turns out I have internet access here in Tamale, and since I have some time
tonight, I'll post a few pics.  We departed Accra at 7:30 a.m. on Friday morning, intent 
on visiting three "craft villages."  These are creations from the early 1960s when
President Nkrumah, as part of an attempt to manage the economy, set up 
communities that would each focus on one special craft, which would then be
exported to the rest of the country and to the world.
These villages still exist and make their living largely off these very same crafts.
The three we were going to visit were 
Abompe - bead making (but a different kind than cedi beads from Oct. 4 blog)
Bonwire - Kente cloth
Ntonso - where they make a black dye in the traditional way and  stamp
traditional "adinkra" symbols on locally made cloth.
Unfortunately, we missed Abompe.  We were a mile past the turnoff when the 
driver realized we had missed it, so we continued on to Bonwire.  We'll try to 
hit Abompe on our return trip.

Saturday was a travel day, all the way up to Tamale.

And today, Sunday, we visited a witch camp in Yendi, enjoyed some traditional music,
and made a good-hearted attempt at dancing.

Can't deny that we will spend a lot of time on the bus.  Here's what
it looks like when I turn around and look back.

Having missed Abompe, our first stop was where they make kente cloth.
You can see it displayed on the back wall.  The looms and weavers
are in front.

Here's Hayley trying her hand at it.  Not surprisingly,the students
found it much harder than they thought it would be.
Here's kind of a random shot.  Upon coming out the kente factory,
I looked over and saw this young girl getting her hair fired.
What won't women do to get the hair they want?

Next stop, Ntonso and their dye making, print stamping operation.
It starts with the bark of a tree that is smithereened in this mortar by a
woman I would not care to tangle with.

But I gave smashing the bark a try.  Notice how impressed Krista is
with my efforts.
If you do it like the woman was doing it, the bark eventually looks like this.

After soaking it in water for a day you start to boil down the water,
much like we do with maple syrup, in a series of steps...

until it looks like this.

You then take one of these meaningful adinkra symbols, dip it in the dye and...

stamp it on the cloth, as Cassie is doing here.  If you do a really good job...

You get a great symbolic strip of cloth, like this.  Notice the other stamped
cloth in the background.  I'll hang this in our classroom.

Here we are in the witch camp.  You might wonder what that is.  In Africa
there is a strong belief in spirits.  Sometimes, when a person dies, they look
for the person who cast a curse or a spell on the deceased.  Usually, that
happens to be an older (though not always) woman who might coincidentally
have some property others are interested in.  The accusations cause fear
and the result is often that the woman must leave the village.
Where do they go?
Well, how about a village where other accused witches reside?
  They often bring some grandchildren with them to help with the chores.
It is not a good situation!

Here we are meeting with the village under the community tree.  Yes,
there are a few men here too, also accused.  But it's 90% women.

Upon leaving the witch camp, we visited some friends of Calvin back
in Yendi.  The men performed traditional music while both
men and women danced.  This woman is showing us how to do it.

We tried, but didn't quite measure up to the original.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


This week has been a pretty normal one, so I'm going to post some fotos that
give you an idea of how our week normally goes.
Tomorrow (Friday) we start on our ten day trip to the northern region of Ghana.
If all goes well, I'll have plenty of cool fotos to share when we get back.
For now, however, take a look at some of what we do and see in a normal week.
(note: two of these have been posted before.
If you've seen earlier posts, can you tell which ones?)

Let's start off the week in church.  This is a congregation on campus.
It is one of the churches we attend with frequency, but we check out
many other churches in the city as well.  A short church service in Ghana
is 2 1/2 hours.  It's not unusual for them to go between 3 and 4 hours.
Everyone, even the children, just see this as normal.
Much of the week is spent in the dorm, or what in the British
tradition are called halls.  This is our hall, home to
18 obrunis (that's us - white foreigners) and hundreds of Africans.
A shop under the stairs.  Our students have made good friends
with the women and girls who sell here.
Now you are starting to see why I said hundreds of Africans live here.
this is the front of a huge square, four story hall.  BTW, I'm sure you
notice that it looks quite nice.  It is.  But it's not perfect.  Students
rarely have running water in their rooms.  They have to walk down
the hall to the common room and fill buckets to take back to their rooms.
Sometimes that have haul water up 3 flights of stairs.
Here's the inner courtyard, taken from a student's room.
Yes, it's pretty nice, but again, not perfect. There are no nets for tennis
and no rims on the backboards.  Notice the little kiosk in the
far right corner. That's "Tickles," a little restaurant that
our students patronize with some regularity.

Monday thru Wednesday we spend a lot of time in in this
classroom.  Students take African Literature, People and
Culture of Ghana, African Politics, Culture and Ethnography, and
a class in Twi, one of the local languages.

On Tuesday nights we have a group supper in my flat.  Rotating groups
of three make the supper every week.  To make the food we're used to,
and that we know how to cook,we often have to be creative,
because many of the standard ingredients are either not available
or way too expensive.  I did OK flour taco shells
for one dinner.  They were $10 for a pack of 8.  We each got one tortilla.

And this is where students buy much of their weekly supply of food.
It's called the night market, I suppose because they are open and most
active once the sun goes down.  You can get pretty much anything
here, except those ingredients for our own homestyle cooking.

Inside the night market, the evening line is beginning to form for supper.
Rice, a piece of chicken and a little salad costs around $2.

On Wednesday late afternoon and early evening, it's time for
drumming and dancing.  We have learned that African music is often
poly-rhythmic, which means there are multiple rhythms going on
in the same song.  For example, one person plays in a four beat,
another plays in a three beat, but you never hit a note at the
same moment.  For us it's very hard. Africans, on the other hand,
grow up with it, so it's quite natural for them.

After an hour of drumming, it's two hours of dancing.  Again,
different movements and different rhythms.  When we get it, it's
a lot of fun. It's also some pretty major exercise in a hot room.
The skin is glistening in short order.

On Thursday and Friday, students leave the campus to engage in
service learning activities at some Ghanaian
NGOs (service organizations).  Three of our women work at ABAN,
which is dedicated to helping at-risk teenage girls develop
skills (social, emotional, spiritual, and vocational) that will give them
a better chance at a decent life.  Many of the girls already have
children, some of whom you can see here.
Here's Anna talking with one of the girls. Anna is learning
about the girl's story, what she's like as a person
 and what her hopes and dreams are.

This is Lea.  She works at Challenging Heights, an organization
that rescues child slaves and helps them toward a better start in life.
With children, much of the work is about education, and Lea is helping
the children with their schoolwork.
 Finally, we get to Saturday, which is unscheduled, unless of course
we have an excursion planned, which we do about half the time.

Come back and visit the blog around November 10.
I bet you'll find some great images and stories from our trip up north.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


So the title may be a bit cryptic, but I trust it will make sense
as you scroll through the images.  Another option would have been to
change the order of the words and put in some commas.
Too easy!
It all has to do with the excursion we took this weekend to the Volta Region, 
several hours northeast of Accra.
We started by visiting the big Akosombo dam.  See the other things we did
and the places we visited in the pictures below.

We start with a tour of Akosombo Dam.  We learned such memorable
facts as that the dam was finished in 1962, that the human-made Volta
Lake is the largest such lake in the world, that the dam produces 1020
megawatts of power, which is 60% of Ghana's need, and that the depth
right below where we are standing is 140 meters.

The part of the dam where the work is done!

A lone fisherman below the dam.

Dam building in developing countries brings the benefits of flood control
and electricity, which are definitely good for some.  But as is so often true,
poor people usually bear the brunt of the downsides.  Below the dam there
used to be a community of people who lived off the fish and clams in the river.
But the dam destroyed both those means of livelihood.  The people had little
political power, so no compensation was made.  After some years,
they migrated up top, on the shore of the new lake.
 But the fishing there is not as good, and competition was stiffer,
so life is hard.  We toured the new town, called Djemeni (Gemenee).
The fellow in front (Peter) did his PhD Thesis on this town.
He had a lot to teach us.

My right hand man, Charles walking with Peter.  Charles is wearing the shirt
made with the batik cloth I printed in blog post #1.

Part of what happens when communities are ripped apart and impoverished is
that social systems and norms are undermined and destroyed.
It is a common saying in Ghana that here there are no orphans.  Why?
Because the extended families have been so strong that the kids are
always surrounded by family and by people who love them.
Sadly, that is changing.  Down by the water's edge we found these
youngsters mending nets.  They do not go to school.  In fact,
they are slaves -- modern day slaves.  Oftentimes they are
sold to boat owners by desperate parents.  The kids can't
leave; they'd have no place to go anyway.  So they work, mending nets,
diving to the bottom of the lake to free snags, and otherwise working
morning to night.  It is dangerous and death is not uncommon.
The children are given enough to eat, but little else.  The girls slaves generally
make the food for the boys on the boats.
Some of our students work with organizations that are trying to
rescue the child slaves and end this practice in Ghana.
The next day we head to the highest waterfall in West Africa, Wli Falls

Here it is.  I could not fit it all into a camera frame.  There's a lot of water
crashing down there, creating clouds of cool mist,

which apparently creates a perfect environment for a certain type of fruit bat.
There were thousands of them.

Here are some of them, clinging to the walls.
We found them at what is called a monkey sanctuary.  The name of the place is 
Tafi Atome.  Villagers used to kill and eat these Mona Monkeys, 
but then realized they could do better by protecting the monkeys and 
letting tourists like us come and see them....and also feed them.

We didn't have any bananas yet, but this one thought he'd give Josh
a little unsolicited backscratching.  

Get hold of a banana in this area and it won't last long.  You'll have a "friend"
in short order, but the friendship will last only about as long as the banana.

This guy's enjoying one he got away with.

Shannon has a friend.

And so does Josh.  These little monkey hands were highly experienced
at peeling these bananas.  
 So there you have it...  
AND SOME RAVENOUS MONKEYS, reordered and with commas.

All in all, some good learning and some good times!