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

Posts tagged “maize

When bucket bathing under the stars is normal

“Alanna………wa so quon”

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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

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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.

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