Des mangues, des ananas, la malaria et un Rasta!

What’s the common thread between these four things?  Well I had a direct interaction with all of them during my last week in Tamale!

Let’s start with mangoes and pineapples. 

These two fruits are del-iiiii-cious in Ghana!  Imagine this. You are walking on the side of a busy street.  Motos and taxis are whirling by, the red dirt from the ground is sticking to your legs, you are saying good afternoon (or Antarre, pronounced Ant, like the bug – Array, like the data structure) to people everywhere, and the sun is hot.  Then you walk a few steps and there are about five women selling delicious mangoes and pineapples.  Trust me, it rocks.

Don't they look great?

Why are there five women selling the same pineapples and mangoes at the same spot you ask?  I had the same question.  I talked about this with Umair, the other JF from Waterloo, and we realized that the answer might simply be, why not?  Even though they are all competing for the same customers, it does not matter if there are at the same spot or not.  The truth is, if I had continued another few steps, I would have probably met another stand with four or five women selling more delicious fruits.  This again rocks for me, since the fruits (as mentioned before) are delicious, but plainly shows how oversaturated the informal sector is here.  From my limited experience, the market is full of people who want to sell the same things, and probably not enough people to buy them.  A taxi driver once told Umair that there were three things you could do in Ghana, if you weren’t a farmer: “you can drive a taxi for someone, sell small things at the market, or if you’re lucky, work in government or for an NGO”.

Next, we can chat about malaria.

Turns out I’m somewhat of a trailblazer.  This summer, I’m officially the first JF to test positive for malaria!  There’s nothing to worry about though.  I’ve already finished a three-day medication treatment, continued taking my anti-malarial medication, and had access to great food, care, and a place to rest at Ben and Erin’s house, two Engineers Without Borders African Program Staff in Ghana.  I felt better in a few days and now I’m 100% in shape!  It basically just felt like a cold, with muscle pain, puking, stomach aches and the rest.  More annoying than painful, ya know?  Also, probably due to my anti-malarial medication, I only had one ‘+’ on a scale of one to three ‘+’ for the strength of malaria.

Bustling Tamale, street view

If I was able to feel better from malaria in a couple of days due to a test and a treatment that cost 10 Ghana Cedis in total (less than 7 C$ each), why do thousands of people die of malaria in Ghana each year?  I don’t know.  It sucks and I don’t know.  I really don’t know, but it might have something to do with everyone selling mangoes and pineapples at the market…

Finally, let’s talk about my friend the Rasta!

I have the worst sense of orientation.  Ask my friends.  Ask my family.  Actually, ask anyone who’s ever been in a car with me.  I’ve lived in Sudbury, a pretty small Northern Ontario town for about 18 years, and I still use my GPS to find places when I’m back.   So in Tamale, I tend to ask people directions when I’m trying to get somewhere.

When I was looking for the clinic to get my malaria test done, I had all of my bags, since I was going to move from the guesthouse I used to live in when all the JFs were in Tamale for In-Country training before heading off to our placements, to Ben and Erin’s house.  I looked like a tourist.

This ended up being a pretty great opportunity though.  Apparently Umair’s taxi driver was wrong.  There is a fourth thing you can do in Tamale if you speak good English and dress-well.  You can be a Rasta.

These people tend to make friends with (white) tourists, show them around town, act very pleasantly, craft you a story that you want to hear, and then ask for money at the end of the day.  Even if you tell them, politely, that they can leave, they tell you that they’ll stay with you.  Together, we ended up on the roof of a restaurant, writing songs about girls in far-away cities.  When I told him my girlfriend was in Berlin for the summer, he told me about his girlfriend in Holland.  I blame my small malaria fever for my adventure.

Splendid Tamale, from the rooftop

I’m not sure what the conclusion of the story is here other than the fact that Tamale is a city full of dimensions and resourceful, brilliant people.  Even though my friend the Rasta made me feel pretty weird and slightly uncomfortable, his directions were useful, his company pleasant, and his way to make money cunning.  Plus, he probably would have money for anti-malarials…

Why so many posts lately?

Because I finally got internet via a wonderful modem that uses a mobile network called Vodafone. The mobile industry, as it is called here, is pretty intense and my mobile even has two SIM cards to take advantage of the leading rates between two phones of the same provider.  Houses are painted with MTN, Tigo, or Vodafone logos and colors.  I’ll try to snap (here people say snapping a picture or taking a snap, not taking a picture… I will keep this in mind my friends) a picture of one of them tomorrow.

Now I’ll go sleep under my bug net, bonne nuit tout le monde!

Marc-André

Dans le resto, la musique joue fort.

The bus is 7 hours late.

Imagine being in a Greyhound station in Sudbury, Toronto, Ottawa, or Kitchener.  The bus is late.  Very late.  People are  fidgety.  Most are standing in line and nervously glance at their watch.  All the time.   Time passes some more. Some people chat, some are angry, and others read.  Overall though, the mood is not especially happy.

Having spent the last 7 hours waiting for a bus in Accra, direction Tamale (a city about 300 kms or 12 hours from Accra), I have to say that a good way to try to capture my initial reaction to Ghana is to contrast what I felt during these few hours (which, I have to admit, is also equal to about half of the time I’ve spent in Ghana, so my experience is limited) with my past experiences with Greyhound back home.

Superficial Differences:

Greyhound  vs.  TSN  (the bus company in Ghana that will transport us today)

GH: Buses are often a little late
GH:  Baggage cost is based on #
GH: Seats are chosen on a first come, first serve basis
GH: Your name is not on your ticket
TSN: This bus was really, really late
TSN: Baggage cost is based on weight
TSN: Seats are assigned on ticket
TSN: Any name is added to your ticket, but this does not matter (ex. another Junior Fellow, Kaitlynn had a ticket that said Mark)
STC station in Accra - photo cred: Spencer Bain

STC station in Accra - photo cred: Spencer Bain

More importantly though, the reaction of the people was the most interesting to me.  This 7 hours gave me the opportunity to talk to many Ghanaians , who seemed very understanding of the situation.  Even though buses are usually not this late, people where enjoying sitting in the shade, talking to each other, and possibly even enjoying groundnuts boiled in salty water (delicious!) transported by a lady with a platter on her head.  An outdoors shop owner also showed me a few words. When I asked her about which language these where in, she said that “everybody in Ghana understands”. Akwaaba– meaning welcome was the first word she decided to show me.  This genuine welcoming attitude is something that I felt throughout the day in the bus station in Accra.

Beautiful Accra, from the guest house on the first night.

I’m writing this post from a small restaurant that is part of the bus station.  Here I chatted with Kofi the bricklayer with whom I exchanged a few words and a few Ghanaian handshakes (basically your typical traditional Western handshake, with an added twist: fingers are snapped against each other before disengaging contact.  I highly recommend trying this.  A few times during a conversation.  It’s fun.)

Another Junior Fellow, Tania, has just grabbed Spencer and I from the restaurant since our bus is here.  I’ll reread this post on the bus, and then upload it to the blog as soon as I have access to internet. (Note: Which ended up being about a week later…)

À la prochaine!

Marc-André

J’ai la tête dans les nuages…

And I’m over the Atlantic. Thanks to a pretty cool option on my personal mini-tv screen , I can see a mini-map, with a mini-plane that confirms this fact. I can also read that we’re going at about 975 km per hour. We’re going fast.

Even though I haven’t actually spent the last two weeks at Mach 0.8, sitting on my rainbow coloured airplane seat and chewing on a bite size pretzel I realize that time did indeed fly…

First there was shopping for a motorcycle helmet, sunscreen, and bug spray. There was also a lot of reading about Ghana, the Northern Region, and my district Bole. (Edit: When I go to Tamale, I learnt that I was going to a different district, Karaga, instead.)  There were goodbyes to friends and family in Sudbury, and then a ride to Toronto with my sister and my mother. Merci encore pour le tour!

Karaga is in the Northern Region, about two hours North-East of Tamale.

Then I had the opportunity to be in Toronto with all of the other Junior Fellow with Engineers Without Borders that are going to be in Ghana for the summer. It was really nice to get the opportunity to get to know these pretty amazing people. I’d suggest clicking on the links at the bottom of this blog to learn more about what they are posting, it sure is interesting! We had a busy week, acquiring new knowledge about rural livelihoods and farming in Ghana, about health and safety, about coaching, goal-setting, and emotions, and also… about my placement!

A few details:

Partner Organization: Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA)
Employment Period: May 9th  to August 25rd
Main Project: Understanding and Evaluating Technology Adoption of Farmers
Sub- Project: Supporting the District Director of Agriculture in the Implementation of a Change Project

From my understanding, there are offices of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in every district. Each of these offices provides services to the surrounding farmers, including extension work. This is carried out (by appropriately named) Agricultural Extension Agents (AEA). These people are trained agricultural college graduates who provide expertise to farmers, hence extending services to the field. My main project will be to assess the current barriers to technology adoption of farmers and the relationship between this adoption and the work done by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture.
My actual placement might end up being quite different than my current understanding of it. I’ll be learning more about it later this week during in-country training in Ghana and then I’ll jump right into it!
Thanks for reading, I’ll keep you updated, and comments about what I’m writing about or stories about you would are always appreciated!
À la prochaine mes amis!

Marc-André