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

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?

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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.

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5 responses

  1. Tessa Lennox

    Country music! Really? I vote you show your friends there how to line dance and two-step then take a video of it for me. Please please please?

    I love that you’re focused on pushing yourself to stay out of that “Comfort Zone”! Very proud. Keep on writing Alanna! I’ll be encouraging the kids we do school outreach in the next couple of days to follow your adventures.

    Love from Saskatchewan

    May 24, 2012 at 9:58 pm

  2. Stephanie Laing

    Seconded on teaching people how to line dance and two-step!

    That sounds surprisingly like my first experiences on my own in Zambia. Coach unable to travel to my placement with me, feeling like a privileged white person while stopping at a commercial farm along the way, and changing the family I was staying with right before my village stay!

    I can’t wait to hear more about the Nucleus farmer system. Since everyone in Zambia sells their crops to the government I’d like to hear about what sort of struggles farmers have finding markets. Also what are the relationship is like between the Nucleus farmer and the small scale farmer? Is the relationship beneficial for both parties or neither? When you find answers to these questions (either now or in 2 months) let me know!

    Even though you’re staying in a guest house congrats with the integration wins! You can’t always control where you’re staying or how you’re treated but it seems like you’re pushing yourself whenever you have the chance to… especially with meat!? We didn’t see that one coming at the Usask chapter. Also the first time traveling alone is always nerve-racking but it soon becomes second nature. Keep in touch and keep up with the blogs!

    Steph

    May 30, 2012 at 10:56 pm

  3. Zac Young

    Hey Alanna! You certainly have been experiencing your fair share of surprises from the sounds of things – way to keep up the positive energy through all of it. I couldn’t quite tell from what you wrote, but were you and Tom having to stand the whole ride? Certainly a typical tro ride if pre-dep stories were any indication.

    I’m looking forward to hearing about how the visit with the second nucleus farmer goes. All of you posts have been a pleasure to read 🙂

    June 1, 2012 at 12:36 pm

  4. Steve Chui

    Hey Alanna! Sound like an awesome adventure in Ghana. Hope your ride wasn’t too uncomfortable.

    Good luck learning the traditions of farming. I’m not sure if it’s similar to Saskatchewan’s farming life. Haha, I still need to travel to the prairies 😛 It is always inspiring to hear about what’s going in the overseas program.

    Wish you good luck and don’t get sick from the Ryerson Chapter!

    June 6, 2012 at 1:42 am

    • alannahowell

      Thank you Steve! I actually just got over a cold that gave me a really stuffy nose for the last three days, which was really annoying and unexpected in Ghana, but better now. It has been really interesting to see how my farm background compares to agriculture in Ghana. In terms of mechanization, government support, landscape, and farming attitude it seems to be quite different. However, I find myself doing and talking about many of the same things relating to agric inputs that I would in Canada and in school. Nonetheless, having a grounding in agric in Canada is proving invaluable.

      I hope everything is well with you too!

      June 7, 2012 at 3:36 pm

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