The thoughts, sights, and sounds of my summer as an EWB Junior Fellow


When bucket bathing under the stars is normal

“Alanna………wa so quon”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By now, I have heard my host mother tell me this over sixty times. In Waalii, it means “Come and bath”. Every time she says it I “prepare” and walk out to the bath house in my “slippers” (which in Canada I would call flip flops). As often as possible, I try to take the bucket to the nearby pump and pump the water which is a milky brownish-red colour (perfect for bathing…not so perfect for cooking and drinking). But if I am not on the ball, my host mother fills a bucket half-full with the pure clean borehole water which must be carried a long distance on her or another women’s head to the water barrel in the house.

Throughout my placement, it has been during my morning bath that I think about how much I am going to miss Ghana. Even just after mid-placement retreat, it was the time I was asking myself “What am I doing here? Am I just having fun in the village but not producing anything of value? (after waking up from a dream in which I was back in Toronto and had absolutely nothing to show for my time in Ghana…scary)” In the evening, if I have been busy washing dishes using two basins, a scrubbie, and a solid bar of soap, I bath under the stars. The feeling of standing up after finishing and just reveling in the fact that there is nothing between me and the universe…just raw human life with charcoal fires, tea with way too much sugar (but it actually tastes good), and grinding peppe on a large, flat stone using another smooth stone is somehow comforting and humbling.

Things like riding on the back of a moto on a rough, red dirt road past shea treas, mango trees, maize fields, cassava fields, and gigantic rocks….greeting everyone we pass with “Morning, morning!” “Oh, fine!”, and having to slow down to avoid the speed bumps in villages (which still seem to cause me to get at least six inches of “air” between me and the seat every time we cross one) make me almost tear up when I think about returning to a treeless, commercially farmed landscape where people drive one-ton trucks. Even hearing “Nasalla, how are you? We are fine, Thaaank Youu” and being so happy and comfortable in the town of Wa that I can smile genuinely at them and say “I am fine. How are you too?” or say “Ka dio ja?” (asking them “How is your house”) and being answered with a meek “Abiesong” (meaning “everything is fine”) is something I will be longing for.

And now, with just seven days left in the Upper West, with many exciting deliverables to finish for the market actors I am working with, I am trying to find the best ways to capture these feelings and sharing them with all who have invested so much in me in order to bring me to this place today. I recently woke up from a dream in which I was back on the farm in Canada, but had forgotten to bring back “Maggie” (wrapped cubes of special food seasoning [my host mother usually buys Shrimp flavour] that is used in absolutely every Ghanaian soup ever made in order to get the right taste. Cooking Ghanaian food in Canada just won’t be the same if I don’t bring back Maggie.

Visiting my plot of maize and soyabeans, I am realizing that the chemical I sprayed on the maize did not in fact work well despite paying the unreachably high price for actual smallholder farmers of thirty Ghana Cedis per liter. This means that I somehow need to weed the entire plot, with the hoe I bought two days ago, before I leave (…maybe an all-nighter weeding?). I have a lot of things to do to finish my placement deliverables, but I cannot deny that I committed to farming that half-acre. The hybrid maize is also in desperate need of fertilizer, since it seems not enough was applied in most places during the time of planting. My plot is a harsh demonstration of what happens when hybrid maize is not given enough fertilizer…with a stark contrast between those rows where women were applying a lot of fertilizer (tall, beautiful dark green maize) and where the women were not applying a lot (short, lime green maize). I am still thinking about how I can best use my plot to demonstrate the critical importance of correct fertilization, particularly of hybrid maize, to farmers. In my case, fertilizer simply was not available through the nucleus farmer I was working with until yesterday. In this way, I was bitten by the same harsh reality that many other farmers are experiencing this year.

In 17 days I will be back on my farm in Saskatchewan helping to harvest durum, peas, lentils, and barley with combines, cooking with raw vegetables for the farm crew, driving half-ton trucks around, playing with my dog, and most of all being part of my true true true family again. It is wonderful to know that Ghana will always be in my heart, but that I am returning to the home that has made me most of who I am.

The Power of Thinking Backwards

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One of the major challenges I have found throughout my placement with Engineers Without Borders Canada in Ghana thus far is managing my mental space for what I am going to achieve, how I am going to achieve it, and when. My placement has had lots of freedom in terms of the type of change I can create. I am working with multiple market actors in the Ghana agriculture production system, which means there are a multitude of ways I can act in terms of supporting them. It is an exciting place to be, but sometimes it can be difficult to navigate.

 During the last session of our Junior Fellow pre-departure training in Toronto at the beginning of May, each of us wrote down on a card what we would do to make the most of our JF placements, what we will have learned about ourself, or what we will tell our grandchildren about the summer of 2012. I chose to write down what I will do to make the most of my JF placement, but I chose to frame it in the past, as if I had already done it. That way, everything I do will seem like a logical step on the way to something I have already achieved. This is what I wrote:

“I will have allowed my true warm character to shine through the challenges and differences I face despite natural feelings of inadequacy, doubt, and fear. I will have leaped into new realms of possibility for my impact in Africa, and discovered an entirely new level of what my potential can be.”

When I read this, I feel like I am filled with sunshine and energy. It rings true to my soul, and provides a grounding reality check that ties me back to the person I was back in pre-dep, filled with hopes, fears, and a huge feeling of not knowing at all what I was getting into.

The idea of working backwards from impacts and outcomes to activities and inputs has lately become very relevant to my work. A few days ago, I decided to write down (as if I was back in Canada at the end of the summer) the things I had achieved during my time in Ghana. The list includes:

  • I have worked through the application questionnaire for the AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa) seed production grant with the nucleus farmer
  • I have made use of the Business Model Canvas to create a business model with the nucleus farmer that is practical and hopefully win-win for him, small scale farmers, and buyers
  • I have communicated with a large grain processor some insights from the nucleus farmer based on their first year of working with nucleus farmers, making use of market facilitation experience from our team
  •  I have followed up on the record keeping workshop that I helped to facilitate with the nucleus farmer’s outgrowers, then have shared any insights regarding Return on Investment with the AVC team and SARI (Savanna Agricultural Research Institute)
  • I have run a workshop at Antika to formulate Results Chains for the business’s seed growing operations, then worked with the staff to develop a monitoring plan based on the Results Chain
  • I have effectively managed my ½ acre of maize and ½ acre of soyabeans in Loggu, and put up a laminated sign indicating that it is my plot of hybrid maize supported by Antika
  •  I have held a mid-placement meeting with ADVANCE (Agriculture Development and Value Chain Enhancement, a USAID project) to share insights and get feedback
  • I have communicated effectively with the people at my chapter, friends and family about the work I am doing, and built enthusiasm about the year ahead with EWB at Usask
  • I have taken lots of pictures and video footage, + brought back some Ghanaian cloth
  • I have built strong relationships with my family, colleagues, and friends in Ghana

Most of these things, in reality, I have not yet finished yet. But knowing that this is what I will in fact say in one month’s time helps it to come together small small.

The Results Chain is a method often used by development organizations to ensure that activities undertaken actually contribute to the desired impact. Also known as a Logic Model, it can be used for things as routine as planning a family trip to things as complex as protecting an endangered species. For the remainder of placement, I hope to make extensive use of Results Chains to develop solutions for both the nucleus farmer and Antika that actually lead to the desired impact, by effectively thinking backwards.

Interested in learning more? Check out

Life as a (Pseudo) Small-Scale Farmer

When I was discussing with members of the women’s farming group in Loggu upon my arrival in the village, I asked the question “What can I do to best understand what it is like to be an outgrower farmer for the nucleus farmer I am working with?”. I was excited and pleased by their response. They said that they would support me in growing one acre of crops. After a couple of seconds of considering what this would mean, I said that I would gladly take on the challenge. My intention was to have this undertaking be a valuable supplement to my learning and understanding of the system I am working in, hopefully allowing me to gain credibility and build trust with multiple actors.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After some discussion with my host brother and the nucleus farmer, I decided that I would grow ½ an acre of maize and ½ an acre of soyabeans, in order to gain an understanding of what is required to grow these two common crops in the Upper West. After mentioning “my farm” often in conversations to show that I was in fact committed, it was decided that I would sow the acre on Monday, June 25, before I left for the Mid-Placement Retreat in Mole National Park.

The Saturday before, I travelled to Antika [the inputs dealer] in Wa to pick the hybrid maize seed I would need to sow ½ an acre. I had decided that I would plant the only hybrid maize variety sold by Antika, which would hopefully allow my plot to act as a “proof of concept” for hybrid maize seed in Loggu. I also picked inoculant (rhizobium bacteria to support early development of nitrogen-fixing nodules in the roots of legumous crops) since my intention was to have my plot be a demonstration of Good Agricultural Practices, as well as an outlet for me to push my paradigm of how farming should be done with the available resources. I was taking my knowledge of how my family plants legumous crops in Canada, and applying it to the new scale I was working in.

When Monday came, I felt tired to begin with. I had stayed up late the night before soaking half of the maize and soyabean seeds in a Latvian peat fertilizer supplement solution and the other half of the seeds in water as a control. I was mixing integration and science and advertising for Antika  all together, and it was getting complicated. I had decided to apply insecticide/fungicide powder to the seeds before planting, and I went to the nucleus farmer’s inputs dealer shop to collect two packages. I read the label of the insecticide/fungicide, and soon became skeptical if I even wanted to use it. The product was extremely toxic. It should not be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin. People using the product should wear gloves at least, and any containers used to mix the product with seed should be disposed of. It is strictly forbidden to use the product in the presence of children. I mentioned these things to those around me at the time, and they laughed at me. They said, “But not in Africa.” This made me extremely upset and frustrated. The fact that scientific knowledge is so low causes people to completely disregard any procedures for safety. At the field, the product was mixed with the seed with bare hands in a basin that would be used for hauling water and grinding maize after being rinsed out later, and women ate shea nuts from nearby trees as they were sowing the treated seed. They thought I was so silly for worrying about this. I felt responsible for making the decision to apply the insecticide, yet any steps I took to improve the safe handling of the product would be regarded as unnecessary.

According to my direction, maize seed was placed in a hole on one side of a rope stretched across the field, and on the other side of the rope compound fertilizer was placed in a hole, resulting in about 5 cm space between the seed and fertilizer. In Canada, all fertilizer is applied with the seed straight into the ground at the time of planting, yet in Ghana fertilizer is generally spread on top of the soil near the plants. The latter approach allows for volatilization of the fertilizer, as well as allowing it to be washed away by heavy rains. After talking to Agricultural Extension Agents and others, I had learned that it is actually preferable to bury the fertilizer, but people do not do it because they perceive it to take too much time.

The reason I say that I am a “pseudo” small-scale farmer in Loggu is that I have so many opportunities that the other members of the women’s farming group do not have. For the sowing, I actually ended up planting very little seed myself. I found myself in a managerial/monitoring role, and also I did not want to cause confusion regarding where had been planted and where had not. My plot was ploughed first of any of the outgrowers, and the hybrid seed and inoculant were donated by Antika despite my insistence that I can pay. I did not have to get a fertilizer subsidy passbook because the nucleus farmer arranged to have the fertilizer put under another farmer’s name (not being a Ghanaian citizen I do not have the appropriate ID card). I have the ability to read the labels of inputs and have comparatively extensive knowledge of Good Agricultural Practices, including “innovative” technologies such as inoculant. For keeping records, I can read and write without a problem, and I know the importance of cost-profit analysis. The fact that I knew exactly where to get all of the required inputs and had access to them when I needed them allowed me to apply fertilizer, seed treatment, inoculant (soyabeans), fertilizer additive (for half of the crops), and a pre-emergent glyphosate chemical burnoff all on the desired day. The current plan with my plot, as I will be leaving before it is harvested, is to have the profit from the plot go towards buying tarpaulins for the women on which to thresh the soyabeans by hand without mixing in dirt and stones. My entire livelihood does not depend on the success of the farm, even though I am trying to do everything to make the farm successful.

It is easy for me to become disconnected from understanding the true challenges of a small-scale farmer in Upper West Ghana, because I am not working with the same situation at all. It will take a different empathetic approach to understand what it truly is like to not be able to buy fertilizer for your farm without the support of a nucleus farmer or NGO, or to be waiting for weeks or forever for a tractor to come plow so that you can plant. The nucleus farmer I am working with had to tell approximately 300 farmers that he cannot support them this year as expected, as he was unable to receive the requested loan from the bank. What will they do? Will they really just sit down and put their hands in the air like the nucleus farmer says?

MPR, TGR, and what am I doing?

Right now, I am sitting in the Vitting Presbyterian Lay Training Centre bungalow with six of my fellow Jfs. Many of the Jfs have already gone home, and I will be taking a taxi to catch the metro mass bus to Wa at 4 am tomorrow morning. I made the decision to take this extra day to catch up with my thoughts so that I can go back to Wa and the village with a prepared mind and heart.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To be honest, I was not initially extremely excited to come to the Junior Fellow Mid-Placement Retreat (MPR) in Mole National Park , and Team Ghana Retreat (TGR) in Tamale. For me, the upcoming retreats signalled that the summer was about to be half over, and that has resulted in me realizing that I will actually have to leave Ghana in about seven weeks.

I had just finished a week of enjoying the village of Loggu where I live in Wa East (see Where Am I page), which included successfully supervising (and helping where I could) the planting of almost half an acre of hybrid maize and almost half an acre of soyabeans on the land that is called “nasalla por yor” (meaning “white woman’s farm” [rhymes so much better in Waalii, I’ve decided to just go with it]). This is my farm, and so far I have had a part in clearing bushes with a cutlass (think machete), sowing, and spraying glyphosate (called “condemn” here because it non-selectively kills all weeds). I received a text from my host brother that the seeds had germinated on Thursday (after only four days!). The day before I came to the retreat in Mole, I spent the entire day clearing with a cutlass, which involved a 15 km bike ride over really fun challenging road there and back.

Arriving in Mole National Park, the land of toilet paper in bathrooms, burgers on the menu, and a swimming pool (what?) was a bit of a shock for me. I had arrived at Mole about two hours early since I was the only one coming from the Upper West Region (I’m the only EWBer there). I was in such integration-take-every-opportunity-you-can mode that by the time the other Jfs arrived in a huge tro, waving with their shocking white arms and smiles, I had already eaten fufu and groundnut soup at the less-expensive chop bar, walked to Mole school with someone who offered to show me around, introduced myself to many of the teachers and headmaster, walked into the classrooms and greeted the students of almost every grade, and was riding on the back of a bicycle back to the hotel. Soon I was hugging people (which seemed very strange – Ghanaians don’t hug), speaking Canadian English only, and organizing for a group meeting. Oh, right, I am a white Canadian university student volunteer. Right.

Soon we were sharing with the group where we were regarding our head space, heart space, body space, and I loved to have the opportunity to express some of what I was feeling. As I had to articulate how I felt, I began to identify how my experience so far had been different from that of other Jfs. I had almost become lost in integration, and in doing so perhaps had not taken enough opportunity to move towards producing tangible deliverables with the work in my placement.

As for the work in my placement, I fully realize that I have completely failed to explain what I have actually been doing in the Upper West over the past month+. Why is it easier to share my heart and soul with everyone than to put into words the reason I have been trying to tactfully talk to two very busy men, purchasing 30 small notebooks from a store called Foca in Wa, and staying up late to soak seed in a Latvian peat moss liquid fertilizer solution?

I am working with a large and progressive agricultural inputs dealer called Antika Company Ltd. in Wa, having shadowed the business for two weeks to determine how the business runs and any opportunities or threats the business faces. I am living primarily in a village called Loggu, which is 23 km SE of Wa and has no electricity, in a one-room house with a nucleus farmer’s first wife. I work with the nucleus farmer to understand his business which includes managing about 100 farmers in farmer groups, running an agric-inputs shop stocked by Antika, growing certified seed to be sold through Antika, and farming other crops. I can see an example of how four agriculture value chain roles are being filled by working with and observing one person. In order to understand the realities of smallholder farmers part of a nucleus farming scheme, I have officially become the 24th member of the woman’s farming group, and will be making visits to surrounding villages to meet with other farmer groups working with the nucleus farmer.

My work thus far has very much consisted of experiential and immersion learning. I have mapped out systems, but I feel like I should be using more tools, writing more notes, and producing more reports like some of my fellow Jfs. These two retreats have given me time to take a step back and strategize, but I feel like I could always do more to make my learning useful to others. Now is the time to begin focusing on one leverage point in the system, and produce some tangibles. And I can honestly say that I think I am in a really unique and great position to be a part of creating some meaningful change.

Today is malaria appreciation day.

Malaria. Transmitted by the Plasmodium parasites that are spread to people through the bites of infected mosquitos, it claims the life of an estimated 885,000 people each year. Half of the world’s population live in areas where malaria is present, which each year leads to an estimated 216 million malaria cases. (WHO)

In my senior year of high school, I was the “leader” of a group called “Take Action” which carried out campaigns to promote social and environmental sustainability. One of our most notable undertakings was raising of $2000 CAD for Rick Mercer’s Spread the Net campaign, which for every $10 CAD raised a mosquito net would be supplied to an at-risk child in Sub-Saharan Africa. The grand prize for the highest fundraising school would be a visit from Rick Mercer (a Canadian TV personality) himself. We did not win, but in our efforts, I could be seen putting up posters quoting facts such as above, trying to stress the importance of anti-malaria bed nets in saving lives. Back then I was aware that I really hadn’t taken the time to understand exactly what malaria was or how it acts and is spread.

Yesterday I tested positive for malaria at a clinic in Wa. For the entire week leading up I had been suffering from nasal congestion, a runny nose, and almost lost my voice. Yesterday morning I felt nauseous, and I could not even think about eating lunch. Around 1:45 pm, I checked my temperature and it read 38.2º C, significantly higher than my regular 36.7º C. I was quite sure at that point that I had malaria. I have since learned from a colleague at work that this is all part of a common cycle called “Kuttun”.

The reason I say that it is malaria appreciation day is that I have made the choice to appreciate not only the seriousness of malaria, but everything that my having malaria at this time can contribute to my development as a person and my placement. It would be easy to think about how I am not able to be working hard in the office, traveling to the farm, or learning Azunto dance this evening, but that is not constructive. The following are ten positive things about me having malaria right now:

1. I am in Wa, where the clinic to get tested for malaria is literally just down the street.

2. I already had the treatment handy because I bought it as a precautionary measure when I in Tamale.

3. I am currently living with the family of the agric-inputs dealer in the house which is on-site, so if I feel like I have energy I can walk 20 steps to the office and do work for my placement.

4. My family feeds me fatty food (fried eggs and bread, fatty meat soup with TZ) which is exactly what you are supposed to eat right before taking a course of the malaria treatment.

5. I can drink the Wa municipal water after adding aquatabs so I don’t have to rely on bottled water or satchets.

6. There is a ceiling fan in my room which I can adjust the speed to keep me cool when the fever gets high (up to 38.9º C).

7. Imodium,Pepto Bismol, my regular malaria prophylaxis medication (Doxycycline), and the malaria treatment (Lumartem) have no drug interactions (I checked) so I can take them all at the same time.

8. It turns out Sunday is the only day that almost no one comes to work at the agric inputs dealership, so I am not missing out much on the action anyway.

9. It gives me time to take a step back in my mind about my placement, and think about how I want to spend my last week working with the inputs dealer before heading back to the village. I was feeling a bit scattered because there are so many questions and things to investigate that I was finding it difficult to focus.

10. It provides a wake-up call for me that I am in fact not invincible and that there are consequences for actions (ie. not wearing much mosquito repellent in the evenings, not sleeping under my mosquito net 100% of the time), even though I have taken my malaria prophylaxis (Doxycycline) religiously and have not missed a single dose. * Also, hopefully if other JFs have gotten careless about applying mosquito repellant in the evenings or sleeping under their bed net, it can be a wake up call for them too.

Busa, I love you too much.

M’bworro. What? I don’t understand what you are saying.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A week and a half ago, I set off from Wa (the large city in Upper West Region of Ghana) to a “village” only a fifteen minute tro ride away. As I was getting into the tro, someone said “Busa, now that is barely a village. They have lights.” I had been told by my coach to call a guy named Mahmouda as soon as I was on the tro as I would be spending about five days with his family. As I was crammed into the tro I made the call, heard “You’re coming to Busa! and I said something about him meeting me but then realized he had already hung up.” I actually kind of appreciate it when people respect the fact that it is annoying to have to buy cell phone credit and that small talk is expensive. Soon I saw signs that had “Busa” in the title, and got out of the tro behind a nurse I had met during the short ride. Her name was Sarah, and I would become friends with her during my time in Busa. Then I saw a guy who must  be Mahmouda walking towards me wearing a bright yellow Manchester United jersey, then he was helping me carry my bags (which were about three times as many as they should be) towards the village center. At first it was a little awkward. We had never met before, yet I would be staying with his family for five days. I emphasized that I wanted to live just like his family does, and don’t need anything special. While he was finding the key to a “house” in his compound (which I found was basically a room adjoined to the other “houses” in the compound), I tried to connect with some women sitting under a tree on a structure of logs made explicitly for just sitting around together in a group, but soon found that they do not speak a word of English. So far, my Wali vocabulary consisted of “ansuma” (Good morning) and I probably would have had to look it up from my day-minder which has taken on the role of language learning book. I decided to just sit there and smile, and enjoy the fact that they were talking about me and laughing at me and I had no way of knowing what they were saying. They tried sign language, and I tried English, but we weren’t making much progress. This is something I would soon get used to.

I went to meet the Assemblyman of the village under a canopy hut shortly after, and just after I was introduced, a bus full of students from the University of Development Studies in Wa drove up and they filed out. They would be starting their four month village stay and development research projects that day, and they were there to meet the Assemblyman as well. I was told to follow them back on to the bus, so I did. I got chatting with a couple of them and was struck by how similar their situation was to mine, except that they had grown up in Ghana. They were talking about how unreasonable it was for their university to expect them to eat the same food as the villagers, and how sanitation was unacceptable here. It almost made me laugh. I seemed to be better prepared to integrate then they were! I was looking forward to talking about development with these students who have strong opinions about the state of Ghana.

I soon found that I had one quick in, one source of credibility with the big shots in town, including Mahmouda. I was a friend of David, the EWB JF who had spent last summer in Busa. In almost every conversation they would talk about David, how he would do this and that and go to farm and could speak the language very well. It made the fact that I wanted to live exactly as the family does a non-issue, and allowed me to make the most of my time in Busa.

That evening involved a lot of firsts. The first time watching my host sister make TZ (maize flour boiled to a dough that you eat with your fingers with soup) and trying and failing at stirring it myself. Having Mahmouda say, “Will you bath?” knowing this means “You should really go and bath now”, having him re-say “Go and undress and bath, the girl will fetch you water.” then taking a deep breath as I opened the door of my room wearing only a two-yard piece of cloth tied around me like you would tie a towel which is exactly what is expected, walking across the compound area with everyone looking at my white shoulders, and having my sister set the bucket down in the shower area which is at the back of the  goat room. The goat droppings had been swept away in the shower area, which was nice.That evening, I ate from the same bowl as my host sister and host mother. Nice! I was able to completely skip the stage of being served with a separate bowl from that of the family. It was an important and exciting development, which also meant that I could stop eating whenever I liked. It was insisted, however, that I eat the meat in the soup. I suspiciously picked at the meat until Mahmouda said “The meat is from the poultry farm”. Even though I suspected I was eating the head, it was chicken, so I was slightly relieved. I was watching out for my first mouse, but was determined to give it a try when it came.

The next morning I tried carrying water for the first time, with a small basin. I could tell the women didn’t think I could do it, but when I returned after my first trip I was met with clapping and laughing. I went a few more times, and then for the next day or so heard from almost everyone that they had seen me fetching water. Honestly, if you have to carry any amount of water at all, on your head is absolutely the best way (just wrap up a piece of cloth in a circular fashion and put it on your head first). When I was going for a walk with my host sister Adaie, a woman was speaking to me in Wali and I didn’t understand. I asked Adaie what she had been saying and I learned that she had asked if I would help weed her garden. Absolutely! I turned around and Adaie and I followed her to her dry-season garden in the valley. We were weeding Okru (which I now know is called “mani” in Wali) with short hoes. I kept checking with the woman about which plants were the right ones to weed out, and I think she may have gotten nervous because she soon indicated that it was getting hot and we should go.

I was able to attend the “passing out” of the oldest daughter in my host family in Wa. At first, I was a little confused, but as soon as I arrived, it became clear. Graduation, for the Ghana National Tailors and Dressmakers Association, Wa Branch. At first I was having a great time dancing in my seat to the Ghana pop on the loudspeaker system, but as the ceremony stretched on for more than six hours I became less engaged. Also, to be absolutely the only white person in a crowd of about 1000, having people come up to you and just laugh and walk away or asking “Who invited you?” all day was a little wearing. But I can’t expect a whole country to change for me, and I am learning to embrace the attention, privilege and respect I get as a white lady in Ghana.

On the second last day I was in Busa, my host mother sent me to go meet my host sister Adaie at school. I thought that I would just be meeting her at the end of the school day to walk her home, but when I got there she came out and said “Come in, we are just about to start English class!” I was a little (well maybe a lot) hesitant to enter that room, but I sat down in an empty desk and tried to not draw attention to myself (which did not work as I was the only white blonde haired person not wearing a uniform). The students laughed there was minimal whispering before the teacher entered the room wearing a Ghana batik dye shirt and said “I see we have a new student.” I just played along, and we began learning about the difference between compound and complex sentences using student provided sentence examples. Order was very well maintained, and students stood up when they were to contribute to the lesson. The class was JHS 2, which would be grade 7 in Canada, and I could remember taking this lesson in English A10 in Saskatchewan. It was a good review for me, and I was happy to be able to help my host sister with the assignment to construct four compound sentences and four complex sentences.

My time in Busa was very rich with building relationships, trying new things and liking them, and beginning my learning about what it means to integrate. I plan to find a way to bike/ride on someone’s moto/take the trotro back there soon to deliver pictures that I get developed and see my friends/family. Minutes before I left on the trotro for Loggu via Wa I was measured for my first Ghanaian dress (I left on the trotro my tailor came on), which is made from fabric I bought in the Busa market.  I just received it tonight, and it is very nice!

M’bworro = I love you (Wali)

Welcome to Ghana. Expect Surprises.

I am writing this as I sit on the floor of the fanciest room I have been in since I arrived in Accra that rainy night a week and a half ago. In the room there are two single beds, a fan, two plug-ins, a desk, a sink and shower, and a closet. Hmm, isn’t that exactly opposite to the progression a JF should be making in terms of integration?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I am in the city of Wa, located in the Upper West region of Ghana, at the In-Service Training Centre hotel. I originally thought I would be spending the summer working in the Upper East, but found out during in-country training that I would be working in Upper West with an inputs dealer in Wa, a nucleus farmer and his outgrowers in a nearby village to Wa called Loggu , and a local agricultural development program office. A nucleus farmer is a wealthier farmer in a village who provides tractor services, inputs, and agricultural expertise to hundreds of farmers. As far as I currently understand it, the goal of my placement is to understand the ways in which the services of the inputs dealer, the nucleus farmer’s model, the programs run by the agriculture development organization, and the realities for the nucleus farmer’s outgrowers all relate. I get to be the eyes and ears that no one else has time to be, and in so doing can share insights with various market actors and suggest areas for innovation.

Getting to Wa was interesting. The plan was for Tom (blog on sidebar), Louise (my coach), and I to leave Tamale on the metro mass (non-fancy [not like STC Ghana]) transit bus for Wa on Monday, however tickets were sold out when Louise (my coach) went to purchase them on Sunday. We thought we would just go early the next morning to buy tickets for Tuesday’s bus, and find a way to contribute to our placements on our extra day in Tamale. Monday morning, however, when Ben (AVC Ghana APS, blog on sidebar) went to purchase the tickets at 7 am, he found that the tickets were again sold out for Tuesday. The reason was found to be that students attending university in Wa need to be present and registered by Wednesday, or face penalties. The decision was made to take the tro tro (see picture in previous post) to Bolgatanga in the extreme Upper East in the early afternoon on Monday, stay overnight in Bolgatanga, then catch the 6 am bus to Wa and get there before noon so that I could meet with the inputs dealer and nucleus farmer that afternoon as scheduled. Taking the tro to Bolga went well, and we enjoyed a nice relaxed supper with Don (AgEx APS who is the Usask ChAPSter Buddy!) and Jimmy (blog on sidebar) at a restaurant. I tried banku, which is a fermented maize dough, for the first time, and I think that taste will definitely grow on me.

We took a taxi at 4 am to the bus station in Bolga, and waited for an hour and a half in line to get tickets to ride the metro mass to Wa. Eventually we were told that we could only buy two tickets, not three, as the line was overflowing with university students needing to get to Wa. It was decided that Tom and I just go on to Wa without Louise, meaning that I would have to meet with all of the market actors myself without the support of Louise who set up the placement. I was feeling a little nervous at the thought of this, but then I just remembered Comfort Zone vs. Learning Zone and the great growth opportunity this presented. Finally Tom and I got on the bus, waited around all ready to go for a long time, and then were eventually told that we had to switch all our luggage and ourselves to another bus due to equipment problems with the bus we were seated in.

In the new bus, all of the seats were filled and large pieces of luggage were stored under the seats. Then passengers kept filing onto the bus until the entire aisle was crammed full with people standing and sitting for the entire journey. People were animated and raucous, and I couldn’t help laughing when I compared it in my head to an intercity bus I had been on in Saskatchewan, where half of the seats were empty, no one talked to each other, and no stop was longer than about a minute.

Tom and I amused ourselves by having me learn some new knots so I could tie up my mosquito net in any situation. The bus stopped every hour or so, allowing women and children to thrust “pure atah” (which is how I have finally assimilated to say pure water) through the window in exchange for ten pesawas. At one stop, people on the bus cried out “something’s burning!” and sure enough the tire right under our window was smoking considerably due to a combination of the scorching heat of the day and the friction of travel. The fix was to wait about ten minutes and continue on, having to stop every so often after that to allow it time to cool down.

Finally, at 4:30 pm, the bus finally rolled in to Wa. As I was too late for the meetings that had been scheduled, I took a taxi to a guest house that Louise recommended, and checked in. At this point, I was becoming uncomfortably aware of how I seemed to be met with reactions of intimidation, nervousness, fascination, enrapture, spectacle, and expectation as a young white woman in the Upper West. I decided to explore the community and walked up one of the main streets, trying to learn how to say “good evening” in Wali, and eventually met three outgoing little girls who showed me to their house and let me meet their family. They asked if I had a camera, and I realized I had forgotten it in the guest house. They escorted me back there and I was able to get some pictures with them with help of the guest house manager and friend (who also sneakily took pictures of me with his own camera despite me saying I was shy).

The next morning, I called the agricultural development organization and was eventually picked up. I was pleased to find that they were going straight to a farmer training session about application of inoculants on soyabean. Inoculant consists of rhizobium bacteria that encourages nitrogen-fixing bacteria to populate the plant roots even before the natural bacteria nodules develop. It greatly increases plant vigour and yields, and we use it on all of our peas and lentils on the farm in Saskatchewan. I found the workshop extremely engaging. It was very participatory, and involved a live demonstration of how to properly apply inoculant to a 1 kg batch of seed. Farmers asked many questions, and contributed experience as testimony to the value of inoculant use. I was impressed. Most of the workshop was translated to/from Wali/English. All the farmers spoke Wali but the main presenter (from the South) spoke Twi natively and did not understand Wali at all. Of the few people I had talked to that morning, a good number of them could not speak Wali because they were originally from a different city in Ghana, and were just as lost with the local language as I was. I was not expecting this, but it illustrates a fundamental challenge throughout Ghana which further incentivizes going to school and speaking English.

In the afternoon, I was taken to meet the nucleus farmer in the village of Loggu. Through a miscommunication/misunderstanding of the goals of my placement/misalignment of values between myself and the agricultural development office, I did not stay in the village as had been planned. I sat in the back of the fancy SUV feeling like some privileged white person (which, yeah, I guess I am) travelling back to the office, and then was dropped off at the hotel. I had to insist that a 30 Cedis per night room with a shared toilet was more than fine for me, rather than a 50 or 85 Cedi self-contained room. So here I am.

As staying in a village and understanding village life is integral to this stage of my placement, tomorrow I will be taking the tro-tro to another nearby village called Busa to spend five days with a new nucleus farmer and hopefully meet the friends of last year’s JF in the Upper West. A definite change of plans, but I have made a commitment to welcoming adventure. It is only fitting, in this land of surprises.

P.S. Another surprise….many Ghanaians love country music! Every once in a while I feel like I am back in Saskatchewan.

First Impressions of Ghana

I am writing this as I sit underneath my mosquito net in the room Gaelan (JF on the G&RI team, blog to come soon!) and I share in the guest house at Vitting village. Today we saw the conclusion of our two days of in-country training in Tamale as an entire Team Ghana JF group. I have enjoyed the relaxed pace of in-country training. It has allowed time to begin to adjust to the entirely different way of life here that is far from what I have grown up with in Canada. Let me share a few of my first impressions of what is different from Canada:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  1. It is hot and humid here. I have spent my entire life thus far living in Southwest Saskatchewan in Canada, where the the wind whips through the dry prairie landscape in the summer, and the where the wind chill in the depths of winter can make temperatures feel as low as -40 degrees Celsius. When I stepped off the plane, I was struck by how heavy and tropical the air feels. I like the climate, and it feels good to sweat. My skin has never felt so hydrated!
  1. There are goats, chickens, guinea fowl, dogs, and sheep everywhere! Surrounding our compound there are many animals who are free to roam around. It is common to hear a rooster calling at 3 am, and to hear the bleeting of sheep throughout the day. It was quite jolting and sad when our fancy STC bus from Accra to Tamale hit a goat which was crossing the road.
  1. When people smile, they are truly smiling. The people here are so genuine, and I can’t help but to be filled with joy when I say “Desiba” in the morning and am greeted with “Naa” and a smile. I still don’t exactly know what to say in Dagbani after that, so I just smile back. Biela biela (literally small small, meaning gradually) I will learn.
  1. The market is thrilling. The market is full of many vendors selling a great assortment of things ranging from Ghanaian wax print cloth to giant slabs of raw meat to cell phones and internet credit. As a foreigner, it takes some attention to make sure I am not going to be in the path of an oncoming moto or taxi, and I am still trying to figure out which things are good to try and barter on (which I am really not used to) and which I just take the stated price.
  1. Food is good and our water is from satchets. Food is tasty and filling here, and I am completely surprising myself with how I so far have eaten almost every bit of meat, eggs, and fish that I have been given. You may remember from a previous post how I was talking about how I have eaten a vegan diet until this week, and couldn’t possibly imagine eating meat. Well, somehow it doesn’t seem like a big deal here and I am tying into chicken, guinea fowl, and fish like nobody’s business! I have a sneaking suspicion that we are being fed more meat than anyone else right now as we stay at the guesthouse, so our meat intake will likely decrease when we are living with families. For ten Ghanaian pesawas (about 6 cents Canadian) I can buy 500 mL of “pure watah” in a bag that I bite the corner off of and either empty into my water bottle or drink straight from the bag. It tastes great and is very necessary to avoid heat exhaustion.

These are a few of my first impressions of Ghana. I feel like we are still quite sheltered living at the guesthouse, so my impressions of Ghana are likely to change as I experience life with a family in a smaller village. The next couple of days will be filled with AVC team meetings, and then I will be heading up to my village on Monday (more details on my actual placement when I find them out in the next couple of days!)

Ghana Love!


A Glimpse of Life on a (Larger-Scale) SW Saskatchewan Grain Farm

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Perhaps one of the things about myself which I hold most dear is my upbringing as part of my family’s grain farming operation. I believe I am in an extremely lucky and unique situation, to have been given the grounding perspective of being a member of a true family farm, yet given the opportunity to study engineering and spend an entire summer away as an Engineers Without Borders Junior Fellow. I recognize that my focusing on school and taking this summer away from the farm impacts my family significantly. It places an additional strain on my mom Laurel and dad Allan, older brother Sean, younger sister Angela, and younger brother Ian. They continue to plunge into another growing season with all drive, hope, and determination that is mustered every year, despite many mental, emotional, and physical strains. It is by their sacrifice that I am able to make these lifelong friends, be a part of the almost surreal atmosphere of intensity that is pre-dep, try to integrate into a completely new Ghanaian culture, connect with Ghanaian farmers, and potentially have impact in the agriculture sector in Ghana. For every thing I experience and learn, I ask you to understand that it is only made possible by the hard work, support, and selflessness of my family back home.

I would like to share with you a few glimpses of what I experienced when I was home the week before I came to pre-dep on Sunday. I hope this can provide a jumping off point for all of the insights I am soon to gain about what agriculture in Ghana can entail.

Amidst my preparations for leaving for the summer, I tried my best to help with the seeding preparations. The task I was set to was washing the windows, inside and out, on as many key farm implements as possible. I know. Washing windows? Is that really farm work? This struck me as ironic. In Ghana, my prediction is that this job is not likely to exist, due to absence of closed cabs on farm machinery, or rather due to the relative absence of self-propelled farm machinery.

Another day I got the chance to help my older brother move BIG rocks from a strip of land we are breaking for the first time this year. That job would be considerably more difficult without access to a front-end loader tractor.

Rather than packing the night before I had to leave for Saskatoon, I enjoyed a beautiful evening in the field with my family. The sheer size and technology of our implements allow us to farm over 9,000 acres spread over 120 miles. Concepts such as economies of scale greatly influence farm investment decisions. Larger, newer equipment is needed to be able to seed and harvest on time with unpredictable weather, but then an increase in land farmed is needed to be able to justify the new equipment investment. Large farms expand in this way, and smaller, less progressive farmers retire, often selling their land to investors or large local farms.

This is the reality that is a part of me back home. I am hoping to draw on my agricultural background over the summer, but also to not allow it to get in the way of being open to new ideas and appreciating the many nuances of agriculture in Ghana

“Oh no, I was way too intentional”

This is what I want to say on August 28th, 2012.

Perhaps the greatest thing I can take away from today is the need for me to more mindfully bring intention to everything I do for the next four months, if not for the rest of my life. Yesterday I arrived at EWB house in Toronto, and today was our first full day of pre-departure learning. George Roter, CEO of Engineers Without Borders Canada and an all-around fantastic guy (look him up on YouTube if you want to be inspired), briefly mentioned the importance of intention in shaping our JF placements. He posed three key questions which will define my entire summer, and which will serve as guidance when things get rough. Tonight I will share the second question with you.

“What am I doing to own my own learning?”

In a typical university class, the syllabus is handed out on the first day, and from that moment I know the books that I will need to read and understand, even the pages that I need to specifically focus on, the assignments which I will need to complete, and the date of critical exams. The road to success is quite clear, if I only put in enough time and energy.

The JF program and my placement, however, is not quite like that. There is a syllabus of sorts, but we are advised to not allow the syllabus to get in the way. Instead, we are advised to treat it like an open research project in which we use the African Program Staff (APS) we are working with, our chapters and support networks back in Canada, a plethora of print resources, previous Junior Fellows, and co-workers in Ghana like a library. The outcome of the project is ambiguous and the path is ambiguous. As George said, we will be joining our teams in doing some of the hardest work in the world, at least as far as having the ability to produce a “successful” or “complete” end product.

So where does that put me now? Today was full of so many new connections, thought-provoking conversations, and questioning of who I am as a person and how I am in relationship with others. What I thought I knew about poverty and development is suddenly a miniscule part of something almost impossible to define and measure. My plan for influence at the USask chapter during and after my placement now has a rough timeline and a strategy for accountability (if you are from USask, expect it in your mailboxes soon!) and I continue to be more conscious of the ways in which my learning can be transformed from something offered by another into something vitally important to my being.

It is my intention to push myself this week.