Friday, May 19, 2006

Accra to Tamale to Tolon

Accra is the capital city, located in the Southern Region and where we spent literally one night. From there we took a state bus up to Tamale - a ride that takes on average 12 hours. So just to give you a taste of Ghanaian time, it took us about 14.5 hours (not to mention leaving 3 hours late, although that was due to some maintenance issues). The ride was quite enjoyable, with A/C and entertainment in the form of Nigerian movies - which are hilarious! Somewhat overly dramatic, but with very vibrant colours!

We also made a few pit stops along the way, most having booths set up with women selling everything including fried yams, meat pies, an assortment of fruit, kabobs (although I don't think that's what they're called here), and bread. There are quite a few kinds of bread: butter bread (which is so delicious!), sugar bread, tea bread, brown bread, bagel bread.....etc. That's been one of the strangest things to have to adjust to! There is so much starch in the diet here, in the forms of bread, rice, cassava...and I need to make a concious effort to ensure that I'm getting enough protein and leafy greens.

The landscape we drove by was absolutely stunning! While some of it was farmland, where we could see fields upon fields of maize, much of the view was of a lush, thriving tropical rainforest. I had been under the misconception that most of Ghana was a fairly barren desert type of climate. Even though it is much hotter in the north, there is still a lot of growth and the land is much greener than I'd initially anticipated. However, I have arrived at the beginning of the rainy season, so I cannot say what it is like at the peak of the dry season. On route, we also bought some fresh maize from women passing by the bus - it tasted a lot different to the corn we get back home (much starchier, of course!).

Tamale is the capital of the Northern Region, with a population of approx. 100 000 people. During the day there is a constant flow of people, either on the sideway areas that are partitioned off from the road or just the mass amounts of cabs, tro-tros, motorbikes. And everywhere on the side of the road are vendors selling food, water, units for mobile phones. My overall impression was that that city is perpetually bustling - but not at the rapid pace that is so common in North America. Everyone finds the time to greet each other. It is such a refreshing change from the feeling I would get walking downtown Toronto or Montreal, of everyone being in a rush, racing to make a meeting or appt.

In the morning, we met with the RADU (Regional Agricutural Development Unit), who collaborates the efforts of the various district offices in the Northern Region. It was interesting seeing how the RADU operates, their projects, their mission statement and objectives, and especially to hear what they thought of our placements. It is extremely encouraging to know that we are welcomed here and that our efforts are invited; I hate to think of how much more difficult it would be trying to work with people who are unreceptive - not that I've met a single unreceptive individual so far! I also got the feeling that everyone would be extremely open to sharing their knowledge with us, since there is still so much to be learned, about MoFA and agriculture in this region.

Walking around the town afterwards, I met some newfound friendst that I very much hope to keep in touch with - apparently when you ask for directions, someone will go out of their way to escort you to where you need to be (no matter how long it takes). But asking how to find the tro-tro station, I accidentally picked up a guide for the afternoon! Seidu was kind enough to show me around - we passed the Central Mosque in the middle of the town. I've heard from other volunteers that if you ever get lost, just to find the central mosque and you can get your bearings. It's beautiful! Three storeys high, pink with green turrets topped with onion-domes and a large central white onion-dome, supporting the muslim moon and star. We also perused some of the market areas, took a walk through the tro-tro station and visited the centre of national culture.

The tro-tro station, called Abaobu station, is packed with tro-tros leaving for various destinations. Throughout are men, women and children selling food, weaved mats, and cloth ("chin chini") to make clothing. And the centre for national culture is comprised of a large building that can be rented out for plays, celebrations, weddings, etc.; it is surrounded by a variety of shops selling local paintings, jewelry, cards. The paintings were absolutely gorgeous, capturing various aspects of Ghanaian life, from farming and processing, to celebrations and dancing. There were some other beautiful depictions of the Baobab tree - which can be extremely old an grow to a size such that 30 people could link arms around it.

After spending the night in the Christian Guest house, the 12 MoFA volunteers that I'd travelled up to Tamale with dispersed to their respective districts, in order to meet their families and co-workers. I hopped on a tro-tro heading to Tolon, for the 40 or so minute drive. The ride costs 5000 cedis (approximately $0.70 CA) - it's strange paying for anything in the thousands, but here the smallest coin is 50 cedis, and the conversion rateis 7000 cedis to $1.00.

It was interesting to see the urban giving way to the rural landscape (which coincided with the road going from paved to unpaved). Finally, we were passing small villages and fields. We arrived at the Tolon "station", somewhat like a market area in the village. When I asked for directions to the Agric. office, I was taken to the home of the family I would be living with (I originally thought that everyone in the village knew where I'd be staying; but I later found out from Alhaji Asumah, the head of the household, that his home is sometimes referred to as the Agric. house. Next time I'll have to remember to be more clear about my destination!). However, everything worked out for the best and the District Director (Dr. Edmund Sallah) came to meet me at the house.

I spent my first day at work with the Director. I briefly met the office staff, before being whisked away to accompany Director Sallah to Kumbungu (the other largest village in the district- hence the name Tolon/Kumbungu District). There we met with a number of the Agricultural Extension Agents who were experiencing difficulties accessing loans for the farmer groups - it's part of one of the programs, called FABS (Food and Agriculture Budgetary Support), where the AEA's help organize these farmer groups, establish an executive and constitution, arrange for them to get credit from the bank, and then monitor the progress to ensure that the loans can be repaid. It was extremely educating to speak with the AEA's about their opinions on the major challenges facing the farmers in their communities and the projects that they've been working on. I'm really looking forward to spending more time with them on an individual basis and getting a chance to see the work they do in the field!

The evening I had my first opportunity to meet with my family!

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