Flip-flop Farming: Saturdays in New Ebu

As you may know, a few weeks ago I moved out of the Queen Mother’s house and into a compound with my host father Amafi (more on this wonderful character here).

The view of the compound from my bedroom.

Making the move this late in my placement was an unusual decision, but getting to know Amafi’s mother, sister, niece, and great-nephew has been amazing so far, so I’m really happy I made the move! Moving also meant that I’m more inclined to spend weekends disconnecting from Canada (by virtue of no water or electricity in the compound) and learning a bit about village life. To paint a picture of the small slice of rural Ghana I’ve been able to see, I present to you a detailed account of my Saturday in New Ebu.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

5:53 a.m.: No longer able to ignore the singing, sporadic music, and yelling blasting through the village from the announcement center, I root through my mangled sheets and mosquito net to find my cell phone and when I do, I check the time. It’s earlier than I’d usually wake up, but I remember that I’m supposed to be heading to the farm at 7, so I reluctantly and haphazardly stumble out of my bed, slip on my trusty new 2-cedi flip-flops, and head to my Auntie Juliana’s compound (3 compounds over) to use the latrine.

The view from my bed.

6:15 a.m.: After a short walk there, a few minutes spent visiting with one of my very favorite Ghanaians, and of course a quick stop at the toilet, I’m on my way back home. As I arrive, I see Amafi’s 21-year-old niece, Rhoda, with a few buckets in her arms. “Let’s go,” she says. I nod and take a bucket, and turn around to accompany her to the tap just outside of Auntie Juliana’s compound. There’s a crowd of ladies and an assortment of buckets crowded around the tap, chatting and laughing (the ladies not the buckets). They greet Rhoda and I and are clearly amused by the obrunyi wielding a small green bucket. “Sistah Abena, memoakye,” they say to me to bid me good morning. “Ahinowa,” I respond, which is one of the common responses to greetings but, coming from me, results in laughter. “Wapomeh,” they enquire. “Eye, wosuwe” I respond again, resulting in responses saying that they are well, even more laughter, and a few congratulatory handshakes. I note that anyone wanting to learn another language should go to a village where everyone will praise your every attempt to speak the language. Serious self-esteem booster! When our buckets are full, Rhoda and I each hoist one above our heads to take back to the compound. I inevitably have a few “pre-showers” on our three trips from the tap to the compound, despite Rhoda giving me the smaller and less-full bucket.

6:35 a.m.: We’re supposed to be leaving in 25 minutes, but given that we still haven’t eaten and there are clothes being washed, I’m thinking that we’ll more likely be leaving in 25 Ghanaian minutes. I grab my toothbrush and sit on the ledge outside my room beside Rhoda’s baby, Jeff, as his mom is scrubbing some of his cute little shirts clean and hanging them on the line.

Awww, Jeff Jeff!

I sit with Jeff and play my favorite game with him, which consists of me looking at him and saying “Jeff Jeff!”, and then him giving me the cutest smile and laugh in the world and looking away, and then repeating this many, many times.

7:15 a.m.: Mom is finished with Jeff’s clothes so we head down the road to buy some beans with garri (cassava flakes) and fried plantains for breakfast. Yum! This is one of my favorite meals in Ghana, and should sustain me for the day’s work.

8:00 a.m.: We are finally geared up to go. Rhoda has a bucket, a machete, and a few rags in a large silver pan on her head, Auntie Kate (Rhoda’s mom) has Jeff strapped to her back, and I am carrying… nothing. It’s always a struggle trying to do work as a guest obrunyi! After we get to the end of the road in New Ebu, the path to the farm is clear for most of the way, but a few times we have to slip off our flip-flops and hold up our trousers to cross through knee-deep water. Fifteen minutes in, I step in some sticky mud and pry my slipper free, accidentally and mysteriously spraying my entire backside up to my neck with mud. Oops! I laugh it off and revel in my freedom to get completely wet and dirty today. I didn’t bring my cell-phone or i-pod, and I don’t have to look good for anyone. Bring it on!

8:25 a.m.: We arrive at the farm and I realize that I had been here before about two months ago to plant groundnuts. Coincidentally, our task today is to uproot groundnuts! This makes me smile. Rhoda shows me the process: gather up the branches of the groundnut plant, pull to uproot carefully, snap off the groundnuts that are mature enough, toss them in the bucket and discard the rest of the plant. Repeat! The task is simple enough and isn’t very strenuous, so I feel like our goal of filling two buckets before leaving should be a piece of cake.

9:30 a.m.: Half a bucket. Wow, this takes a long time. It starts to rain lightly.

10:45 a.m.: The rain lets up as we fill up one full bucket. Half-way there! The work is incredibly repetitive and I’m glad I don’t have to do it every day, but the tedious task is mindless so I’m able to relax and reflect, and occasionally look up around me and enjoy the sight of rolling hills covered in lush green foliage. Southern Ghana is beautiful!

Just some lush green foliage.

1:10 p.m.: We finally fill up the second bucket. I feel proud of the mounds of groundnuts we’ve managed to accumulate and have a new-found appreciation for roasted peanuts! The next time I shove a handful in my mouth I’ll definitely be thinking of the farmer who must have spent many hours planting, tending, and weeding his field, until he could uproot and gather the nuts before sending them off to be roasted and shelled! Boy that’s a lot of work for a salty snack. We head back on the trail home with Jeff on Rhoda’s back, leaving Auntie Kate to finish up some weeding. I manage to convince Rhoda to let me carry the bucket of groundnuts, corn, and cocoyam leaves that we’ve gathered on my head. On the journey back, we have to take off our flip-flops to trek through the water that the rain has made slightly deeper, and I leave them off while the path is smooth. I feel more connected to the earth than ever before as I walk barefoot down a solid-dirt path with a bucket of freshly picked root vegetables balanced atop my head.

1:40 p.m.: We arrive back at the house dirty, hungry, and sweaty. The perfect time for a bath! I grab my little bathing bucket and a larger bucket full of water and take them to the bathing area, which is a small enclosed area with walls of clay and tin that covers you up to your rib-cage if you’re standing. I crouch and throw water on myself and can’t help but jump a little when the cold water hits me. I’m still warm from the walk home, so the cold water feels nice after the first shocking splashes.

2:00 p.m.: I’m bathed and squeaky clean now, so I sit with Jeff while his mom bathes before I make my “village rounds”. Living in three different places in New Ebu means having obligations! When Rhoda is out of the bath, I leave the house to greet Auntie Nanama and the Queen Mother. I eat a small bit of soup and socialize at Nanama’s house, and drink a mini bottle of Coke while I chat with the Queen Mother at her provision shop.

The Queen Mother of New Ebu standing in front of her provision shop.

3:05 p.m.: I come back to the house to see that Rhoda has just finished boiling some groundnuts and maize in salt water. Yummy! I sit with her and Jeff, and we snack on our labors of the day.

3:30 p.m.: It’s time to start cooking! I’m tasked with grounding up the vegetables to make enkatse-conto, or groundnut and cocoyam leaf soup. This is one of my favorites so I grind with vigor!

4:10 p.m.: Amafi arrives home from a funeral and mock-harasses Rhoda and I for not starting dinner earlier. Oops! We offer him the maize and groundnuts as a consolation.

4:15 p.m.: Auntie Mary arrives home from a different funeral. She is Amafi and Kate’s mother, Rhoda’s grandmother, and Jeff’s great-grandmother, which I find really cool. I live with four generations! Auntie Mary is my best friend over 80 for sure; she loves laughing at me and repeatedly asking me what our neighbor’s sheep are named just to hear me say the names. Although she doesn’t speak much English, she has a really cute response of “Hello!” every time anyone says “Auntie Mary.”

Auntie Mary drivinng fufu whilst holding Jeff. She's a talented lady!

4:30 p.m.: The soup is on the charcoals warming up and the cassava and plantain are on the clay stove. I go to my room to read for a bit as I wait for the cassava to boil.

5:05 p.m.: Thump. Thump. Thump. The sound of mortar on pestle signals the end of my reading time and I step out of my room to help pound fufu. Auntie Kate lets me pound as she drives, which means that I get to use my full weight to crush boiled cassava and plantain with a long scepter as her nimble hands work it into a malleable lump. Every time I drive the pestle down I am terrified of crushing her hand, but she is a fufu-master and in twenty minutes we have three large lumps of fufu.

Southern fufu. Delicious!

5:30 p.m.: The soup smells excellent and is ready, so we plunk a lump of fufu in each of three bowls and pour scalding hot soup over it. I’m given an unthinkably large portion of fufu and I object as I do every day, but to no avail. I manage to eat way more than I thought possible.

6:10 p.m.: I am stuffed full, but am still craving for something… dessert! I let my family know I’m going and coming (meroko maba!) and leisurely stroll over to Nanama’s house to eat oranges that she picked for me from her farm yesterday. I sit on the bench outside the front entrance to eat it, chatting with her and Sister Ama (a.k.a. Meeneenee, a neighbor who owns my favorite sheep) and greeting people as the sun sets.

The bench outside of Auntie Juliana's house.

7:15 p.m.: It’s getting dark and I’m getting sleepy, so I venture back home. Auntie Mary, Auntie Kate, and Rhoda are sitting on the step outside of Auntie Mary’s room, so I squeeze between Auntie Mary and Auntie Kate. They mostly speak in Mfantse, so I don’t understand much of it, but I enjoy their company and the bright stars. I can’t find any of the constellations I usually see so I start to make up my own. “Manko,” Auntie Mary says to me suddenly. I look at her. “Manko Canada.” I laugh since I’ve heard this many times over the last few days and as my time in Ghana dwindles. Don’t go to Canada. I smile a smile that’s happy and sad. Happy to be here, sad to have to leave soon. As much as I want to go home and see everyone and everything I’ve been missing from Canada, I know the day I have to leave will be a very sad day. I say I have to go back to school, and Auntie Mary suggests that I stay and go to Abass high school instead. We laugh at the prospect, and I feel genuinely happy at being able to connect with these amazing people, despite the limited timeframe.

8:10 p.m.: I’m tired, and so is the rest of the family. “Ma bre, merekada,“–I’m tired, I’m going to sleep– I tell them, hating to have to end our conversation, but needing to on account of drooping eyelids. “Dεyε,” they respond, bidding me goodnight.

8:15 p.m.: I’m tucked into my mosquito-free fortress with my headlamp on, but lack the energy to pick up a book, so I turn it off. I quickly fall into a deep sleep, forgetting momentarily about what lies ahead and embracing the warm feelings from my good day and amazing family here in Ghana. Dεyε world!


Posted by on August 1, 2011 in In Ghana


Ghana on the Flip-Side: Malls, Nice Cars, and Boulevards

Update: for those of you alarmed by my last post, my host mother is alive and well! In fact, she “feels strong.” No need to panic, and sorry if I made you worry. I was very worried myself when I wrote that post, and it definitely showed! But I repeat, my Ghana Mama is a-okay and she thanks you for your concern. Now on to more frivolous topics…

This weekend I took a trip to Accra with a co-worker for a wedding, and noticed the same funny feeling I got a few weeks ago at a concert in Tamale, the third largest city in Ghana: I felt like a small-village girl overwhelmed by the big city. Now, this is a strange sensation for me because, although I don’t pretend Edmonton is a gigantic and booming metropolis, it definitely isn’t rural and I’ve been a city-girl all of my life. Being knocked off my feet by glitzy and impressive city slick was a new and uncomfortable feeling!

Peering over my shoulder and leaving New Ebu in the red dust on my way to the big city!

To start the day off, the two hour journey from Cape Coast to Accra turned into a nearly four hour journey. Why, you ask? Was it because of too many goats on the street (GPM > 100)? No. Perhaps a flood had washed away the dirt road. Nope! Okay then, it must have been the bus breaking down in a remote area. Oh ho ho, not even close! The reason the journey nearly doubled in length was simple: traffic. Absolutely packed streets, cars lined up for kilometers in eight lanes, straight-up gridlock at 9 a.m. on a Saturday. It was at this point I began saying “boy, we’re sure a long ways from New Ebu!” to myself, which made me feel especially like a bumpkin yet I still couldn’t help but repeat it many times that day.

After we arrived at the church and other attendees started to filter in, I noticed that all of the girls were impeccably dressed and groomed. Their hair and makeup was immaculate, their dresses matching, and their shoes shiny and heeled. I looked down at my own three cedi (two dollar) sandals which I thought were fancy when I bought them and felt glad that I was wearing a full-length skirt.

I liked her dress so much I asked to take a picture of it. How embarrassing!

After vows, singing, a long and thorough education on how the devil can enter and ruin a marriage, and consuming an unholy amount of sugary beverages, baked snacks, and ice cream, we headed to Accra Mall as it was still early in the afternoon. Before reaching our destination, in the cab ride over I had already snapped about 20 pictures and said “boy, this ain’t nothing like New Ebu” to myself about 50 times. The cars on the smooth, paved roads were mostly new, shiny, and not European write-offs. There were several-story buildings on every street. There was strange and impressive architecture prevalent in buildings that were national theaters and condominiums. There were boulevards separating the roads and traffic controls at every intersection!

Wait, where are we again?

Arriving at the mall, I knew I should brace myself for impact: if you’ve ever heard of reverse culture shock, you’ll know that it should happen when you leave the place you’ve traveled to. However, from what I knew about this mall, I had a suspicion that this could be a small oasis of reverse culture shock packed into 200,000 square-feet of unabashed consumerism. Now, I don’t want you to think I’m a sissy, but walking into the mall’s largest store, “Shop-rite”, I felt my pulse and breath quicken. Too much signage, too many choices, too many people. Luckily, I remembered my training at handling reverse culture shock (even of the pseudo variety) and, with this, was able to relax my breathing and recall faint memories of myself calmly and casually shopping in a center like this oh-so-long ago (well, not that long ago).

Shop-rite! Look here! Lowest Prices! Guaranteed! You're being watched! Take a trolly!! Yum food!

We explored the rest of the mall to discover an abundance of overpriced clothing and accessories, a disproportionate number of lingerie stores, and a movie theatre airing the final installment of Harry Potter, which regrettably, we didn’t see.

After seeing enough of Canada–I mean, Accra Mall, we headed to a relative and lecturer’s house on the University of Ghana campus for dinner before journeying back. The neighbourhood was groomed and surprisingly green, a big change from the red dirt covering the grounds of New Ebu, but hey, we sure weren’t in New Ebu anymore! Pulling up at the house, I felt like I was on the set of an American college comedy, one where the all of the houses are huge and castle-like and white. The lecturer`s house was huge and castle-like and white. Thankfully, the family had prepared fufu and groundnut soup with fried fish, all of which I was able to eat with my hands (actually just my right hand). This reminder of village living helped to stave of the pseudo-reverse-culture-shock that the decor and setup of the interior could have otherwise induced.

The entertainment center in the drawing room... whatever a drawing room is.

After that comforting meal, I was on the long tro-tro ride back home to the village and was able to think about the things I’d seen in the context of the average Ghanaian. Surely, the average Ghanaian lives in a place like New Ebu, right? Nope! By a slim margin, a majority of Ghana’s population now lives in urban centers (although I’m not sure what an “urban center” is defined as, however I am sure New Ebu is not one). This means that even though the average Ghanaian may not be able to afford luxuries such as high-end weddings, artsy condominiums, and one-stop shopping, these things are still a very visible part of their reality. I assume that the average poor Ghanaian would feel worse in a place where the glamorous life was within sight but so far out of reach, and that the poor farmer in Ebu that I’m trying to help through working with Pinora is actually much happier than many Ghanaian city-dwellers. If this is true, was does that say about development? If urban populations theoretically have much more opportunities to change and improve their lives, then does that necessarily mean they are happier? Is happiness a factor to be considered when doing development work? It sure is for me, and hopefully the contrasting experiences of village and city living will give me the wisdom I need to go about pursuing development in a way that’s conducive to its central driver: human happiness.


Posted by on July 17, 2011 in In Ghana


Sickness: A Short Story

As I come back to New Ebu on a high from the buzzing energy of the retreat I’ve just returned from and greet my host mother, I notice that something is different. She welcomes me back in the usual way, but her eyes are tired and she’s a little quieter than usual.

“My waist, it hurts.” Her expression is strange, but the message is clear: she’s sick. I ask her if she’s gone to the clinic. She hasn’t but she shows me some pills she bought from somewhere (it’s not clear where) that she’s been taking. I contest their necessity and insist that she goes to the clinic in the morning if she’s not feeling well.

I head to my room and am able to quell my worries easily enough before falling into a deep sleep. I awake the next morning feeling slightly off-kilter myself and, preoccupied by my own issues, I only quickly assess my host mother’s health. Superficially she seems fine, so I’m on my way to work. Half way through the day, I go home sick and sleep through the rest of the day and night. The following day I have to rush to work so I just quickly greet my host mother and am on my way. After a productive day, I head home once more, when I finally take notice that she still isn’t well. On top of that, my host sister had had a small accident and injured her leg. I assure them that we will go to the next village over to see a doctor tomorrow. She says that she doesn’t have insurance and that she’ll just wait it out, as “only God knows what’s wrong with us.” I tell her not to worry, and that we’ll head to the clinic in the morning.

The same feeling of discomfort and unease is around me as I try to make conversation and go about our daily routines. Nothing is to be done though. My host mother insists that we will just have tea and bread for dinner so no cooking needs to be done, and conversation is one-sided and absent of her usual laughter. I try to make myself useful by insisting on making dinner, but find myself incapable of finding any of the required tools or ingredients, and she ends up having to accompany me to a neighbouring compound to take some burning charcoals. As I walk up to the ladies sitting in the compound yard, they are quiet, and the skies are grey. There is no laughter, no hilarity at the white girl who can’t do anything. My host mother takes the charcoals in silence and I smile and greet the women. They are kind enough and greet me back. Today is probably like any other day for them. Not exciting, not new, not different, as I had seen it weeks ago. This was life in New Ebu. People got sick. People who couldn’t afford to get sick got sick.

Under that gloomy sky, I thought about how I neglected to think of my host mother in my own moment of sickness. I thought about the many cedis I had spent on my hospital visits. I thought about the many cedis I had spent on things much more frivolous than doctor’s visits. I felt sickened by my selfishness. I thought about how, in the week I was gone, three people from New Ebu were buried and that when I asked why, the response from my host family was “only God knows” since they couldn’t afford to see a doctor.

Today I’ve seen a side of rural Ghana that is a sad reality for so many people here. Tomorrow I will take just one of these people to a hospital so I hopefully don’t have to see the sadder reality faced by most rural Ghanaians.


Posted by on July 7, 2011 in In Ghana


I’m working for WHO in Ghana?!

If you’ve been keeping up with this blog, you may have noticed that it’s devoid of any work-related content, which is strange considering I’ve come to Ghana because of the work I’m doing here! (And actually, for the last month it’s been devoid of any content whatsoever on account of a silly 10-day bout of illness.) However, now is the time, my faithful readers, to uncover the mystery of the entire reason I’m here in Ghana! Beginning with the mystery posed in the title of this blog post…

The outside of the Pinora office in Abakrampa

My Placement: Working with Pinora to help Pinora… and farmers!

I should start by saying that I’m part of EWB’s Agricultural Value Chains (AVC) team here in Ghana, which is the team that works with private-sector agriculture. The team has placed me with a fruit processing firm named Pinora, which buys mostly organic oranges from many (approximately 2000!) farmers in Ghana, transports the fruit to factories in Ghana for processing into orange juice, and then exports the juice to Belgium.

You may be wondering, “what the heck can my friend Tanya possibly be doing with this huge juice op?” Good question friend! With the ever-increasing demand for juice, Pinora is looking to expand its operations to include more orange farmers and (recently) lime farmers, but there are a few issues that exist with current procedures of purchasing fruits that Pinora wishes to address before they expand. My job is this: examine Pinora’s model for supporting farmers and purchasing fruit from the perspectives of high-level management, small-holder producers, and everyone in-between, and suggest improvements that will ease transactions between farmers and Pinora.

But here’s the kicker: typically EWB works with other NGOs, local governments, or local businesses. Pinora is none of these. Pinora is a German-owned and operated company. Therefore, any work I do to benefit the company will benefit its German owners! Wait, that doesn’t seem right… I came to Ghana to work for wealthy Germans? For the first weeks of receiving my placement information, this kept me up at night. Images of evil-transnational companies haunted my dreams and it made me feel uneasy just thinking about my placement! In my first week of work, however, I threw the question out to my good chapter-mates back in Edmonton, and they sent me a reassuring blend of responses that have helped me come to terms with my placement here.

No, it’s not simple. I’m not simply working to increase profits in a company. But yes, I can help rural Ghanaians. By improving Pinora’s methods of fruit purchasing, I will be making a large and stable market more accessible to more farmers. In order to do this, I may be contributing to the wealth of foreign owners, but hey, these are foreign investors who are investing in Africa, something we advocate for wholeheartedly in EWB! Who knows, maybe by increasing Pinora’s profits, I’ll inspire a few other Germans to invest in Ghana!

So there you have the justification for my work, but I won’t be surprised if you are still wondering “but Tanya, what the heck are you tangibly doing???” Ahh, another good question friend! For the last few weeks I have been interviewing and accompanying office staff, field staff, farmers, and management of Pinora in their daily jobs to understand how Pinora buys fruit and provides services to farmers. For example, this week I have been meeting with farmers and asking them what problems they have had in the past with Pinora and otherwise. Their answers to my questions have triggered a few ideas for me to suggest to Pinora, which I am in the process of writing proposals for and presenting to management.

Inside the Pinora office

The ideas will hopefully help Pinora become a more reliable buyer and easier for farmers to work with. When I make suggestions I have to make them keeping in mind that my end goal is helping farmers, but in order for the company to adopt them they have to be beneficial to the company. I believe that I can make changes for farmers this way, and I’m also willing to bet that these changes from a self-motivated company are a heck of a lot more sustainable than changes coming from a donor-motivated NGO project!

Although it was a rocky road to see where I fit, I now feel confident that what I’m doing can make a difference. I’m excited for the future of Pinora, and the potential further investment it’s making into Ghanaian small-holder farmers. I can’t wait to see where the company is at the end of the summer with my suggestions, and beyond into many seasons and years providing a reliable market for Ghanaian farmers!


Posted by on June 23, 2011 in In Ghana


Meet The Family

Memoadwe friends! I am writing to you from my new home in the AAK district of the Central Region of Ghana, which is house that belongs to the Queen Mother or Nanahima of New Ebu (see: Abakrampa, a short 2-km run from New Ebu with the added benefit of being recognized by google!).

The Queen Mother’s house in New Ebu

However, for the last week I have not been in this house, but have rather been doing a village stay in a compound in New Ebu. In this post I will be describing to you the four family members I stayed with for my village stay. They are funny and amazing people, and I hope I can share a part of their shiny personalities with you through this blog post! (I asked their permission to do so before writing about them.)

A brief aside on “village stays”: Engineers Without Borders encourages Junior Fellows to spend a week or so in a remote village and live life as a farmer would for that week, so as to get a better understanding of what life is like for the people we are trying to help. 

Meet Joshua Amafi

Joshua was the very first person I met from New Ebu. Introduced by my office manager simply as Amafi (without any context, besides the fact he was from New Ebu), I didn’t imagine at the time that I would be spending the majority of the following week with him! Amafi introduced me to a many residents of New Ebu the night I settled into my new house, and I was happy that I would finally be able to stay in one place for a while after almost 3 weeks of transience. This was a short-lived dream though, since after a discussion with my Engineers Without Borders coach, we decided it would be best to start my village stay as soon as possible. In other words, another week of transience! On my second day in New Ebu, I told Amafi that I needed to find a place to stay where I could farm and do as farmers do. He had just a place a mind, and within an hour I was set up for the week with a place to live! Throughout the week Amafi accompanied me when I roamed about New Ebu, greeting community members (including the King of New Ebu!), buying household goods and fun foods (mmm Fanta!), and helping me learn Mfantse.

A brief aside on Amafi’s teaching style: After telling me the translation of a word a few times, Amafi will decide not to help me when someone says it. However, when I am fumbling for the meaning of a word I should know, instead of saying “I will not remind you,” he says “I will not remember you.” Although the two phrases are technically very similar, the latter sounds much more harsh than he intends (he will forget about me if I can’t remember the word!).

Also very helpful in my Mfantse learning in the last week was my host mother at the compound:

Auntie Juliana/Nanama

My host mother, Auntie Juliana

With just a moment’s notice, this woman took me into her house with few questions, and even gave up her bed for me. (She had another bed to sleep in, and I insisted again and again to sleep in the other bed, but she wouldn’t allow it and you just can’t argue with a Ghana mama!)

The compound (the view from outside of my bedroom)

During my week at her house, I incessantly asked to do small jobs to help with the cooking and cleaning, and she was very willing to allow me to embarrass myself by showcasing just how useless I was at these household task. For the first few days I learned a great deal about cooking in southern Ghana, but after that, Auntie Juliana was unable to suppress her good-hostess mannerisms and now insists on doing all of the cooking and cleaning herself. I sneak around to wash a few dishes or grind up veggies when I can! Also impeding my learning is the incredibly industrious 10-year-old grandchild of Auntie Juliana:



This chicky is amazing, and is often put to work by Auntie Juliana to do the things I want to learn. She can cook, wash dishes, and wash clothes way more efficiently than I can do any of the above, and can also speak Mfantse fluently, speak English decently, gets good grades and is just a really sweet kid.

You may have noticed her name is the same as her grandmother’s, and this is not because of any lack of originality in the family, but rather because of a cultural norm here in Ghana: people are named after the day of the week they are born on. Auntie Juliana (Juliana being her Christian name) and Nanama were both born on Saturday or Memenda, so they were both given the name for girls that are Saturday born. I can’t say I have the whole scheme figured out, but based on what I know, I think that there are a grand-total of 14 first names among the Mfanste people in southern Ghana.

A brief aside on my name here in Ghana: “Tanya” is unheard of in Ghana, and when I try telling Ghanaians my name they usually assume it is the second half of the name “Nathaniel”. Instead of having to repeat my name several times and having my new friends think my name is “Thaniel”, I have been going by “Abena” and “Alaba”, both of which mean Tuesday born.



This guy is a hilarious little rebel who is giving my host mother new gray hairs daily. He is especially cute in his school uniform and especially stubborn when he wants something.

And that’s the family! I hope you have gotten the impression that they are hilarious and intelligent peeps, because I sure have. In the next few weeks I’m sure I will share more stories about these awesome people, but until then, my friends, keep it very real!


Posted by on June 5, 2011 in In Ghana


First Week WTFs

I’m typing this post from a “guest house” in Abakrampa, Central Region, Ghana, which is approximately where I’ll be settled for the next 3 months. In attempt to get you, my faithful readers, caught up on my first week in Ghana in a way that isn’t a rote description of events (which I tend to do), I will instead share with you a series of ten WTF moments I had in my first week here.

WTF #1: It’s hot, but I can totally manage!

When I stepped off the plane it was hot and humid, but I wasn’t too uncomfortable. This was a huge relief, because my number one fear before getting here was being incredibly uncomfortably hot all the time! As we left the airport and crammed into taxis, I thought that the heat might become unbearable in a small car, but with wide open windows and indubitably lawless taxi drivers, the temperature was fine!

WTF #2: Everything-in-a-bag!

As we pulled up to Kokomlemle Guest House last Tuesday, we were briefed on a few things we needed to know to survive the next few days. I was blown away by the fact that the most popular source of clean drinking water (for those who can afford it) are “sachets”, which are 500 mL bags of water! I’ve come to notice that mostly everything comes in a bag or sometimes two bags (like my spaghetti for lunch this afternoon!).

Early morning in Kokomlemle (Chris is drinking a sachet of water on the right).

WTF #3: Buses can be 8 hours late and no one seems to mind.

On Wednesday morning, we woke up bright and early, got our things together, arranged for breakfast (yup, in a bag!), and arrived at the STC bus station at 7 a.m. to catch the 8 a.m. bus. As the time slowly crept further and further past 8 a.m., I was increasingly impressed by the patience and nonchalance of the Ghanaians waiting for the bus. I couldn’t help but imagine what a Greyhound station in Canada would look like if a bus were 1 hour late, let alone 8!

Chilling at the bus station... for 8 hours.

WTF #4: Ghanaian movies. Nuff said.

On the 15 hour bus ride to Tamale, there was a special viewing of a Ghanaian movie called “Under My Pillow” with an incredibly complicated storyline, extremely quiet and muffled voices, and unnecessarily loud sound effects. For the full experience, go to your local eclectic video rental store and pick out a Ghollywood film for you enjoyment. A full 2 hours of WTF guaranteed!

WTF #5: 19 people in a van.

The miraculous capacity of the tro-tro (a.k.a. sketchy old van) we took from the Tamale bus station to the Presbyterian Lay Training Center on Thursday morning was mind-blowing. Situated in the first row, I could shoulder-tap the driver and two friends, could high five three friends cozily snuggled up beside me, and could turn around  to see twelve friends crammed in three rows of seats behind me. If there ever was a time when I felt like a sardine, that was the time I felt like a sardine.

WTF #6: Goats. Everywhere.

This was less noticeable in Accra, but on the bus ride to Tamale and driving through Tamale in the tro-tro made me notice the obscene number of goats in Ghana. It has introduced a new metric into my life called goats-per-minute or GPM. I’d put my GPM over the last week at approximately 30.

Presby Lay Training Center (the goats are behind me)

WTF #7: We’re so hardcore.

After a full night’s bus ride and thus bringing our days-in-transit total to four (Sunday morning leaving Toronto to Thursday morning arrival in Tamale), we began a full day of training at the Lay Center. To be honest it actually wasn’t all that intense, more just fun and interesting, but I did feel hardcore for diving right into a new day instead of having a night’s sleep as we had planned.

WTF #8: Tamale market(!).

A less busy tailor corridor of the market

My first experience with a Ghanaian market was overwhelming but amazing as we were tasked with finding cell phones, malaria treatments, “FanMilk” (which we discovered to be iced cream in a bag), Ghanaian cloth, and other assorted goods on Thursday afternoon. I was paired with a fellow Junior Fellow and good friend Spencer for this challenge, and that day we were given a crash course introduction to the hustling and bustling Tamale market. The heart of the market was dirty and loud, and extremely crowded. Raw slabs of meat and bones and guts were on display at every corner with swarms of flies buzzing about and the smell of blood and salted fish permeating the air. There was less than 2 feet between aisles of vendors and a constant flow of women and children with various heavy objects balanced on their heads passing by us in both directions. In the market we were able to buy the things we needed and more (I had my measurements taken for two tailored dresses!).

Sweet Ghanaian cloth + Hamida the tailor = WIN!

WTF #9: Accra to Tamale to Accra

After three days of sessions about Ghanaian culture, the development sector, agriculture, and team strategy, on Sunday morning I had to head back to Accra with fellow Junior Fellow Adam and our coach Mark. That’s right, just three days after the day-long bus ride to Tamale, we had to make the exact same journey back. Thankfully this bus only left one hour late and the journey itself only took twelve hours, so we were back in Accra by Sunday evening.

WTF #10: I get sick now?

After checking out an office in Accra on Monday, we finally headed to my final destination of Abakrampa, Central Region. On the “ford car” (air conditioned, not-so-bad quality van) ride there, I started to feel a little sick but attributed it to motion sickness. We arrived at the office as the work day was ending and I met the people I’ll be working with this summer, and then headed to Cape Coast for birthday dinner and drinks. (I turned 22 on Monday!) When I got back to the guest house in Abakrampa later that evening, I headed to bed feeling a little bit nauseous, but attributed that to my nervousness for starting work the next day, since I already had grand plans to go with the office manager to visit a citrus farm at 6:30 in the morning. At 4 a.m., I woke up feeling very ill and spilled my guts. I ended up staying awake and sick all morning and had to call off the early farm visit. I eventually made it to the office when I was feeling stable enough to be more than 10 meters away from a bathroom, and had a few great talks with some field staff and office workers. Later that day, the manager came back from the farm visit and said he was going to a farmer group meeting, which I happily agreed to attend. The meeting was excellent, but on the bumpy road back I was forced to ask our driver to halt the vehicle and proceeded to open the door and throw up on the road side in front of the manager, driver, and a field staff. How embarassing! My co-workers seemed to understand though, and by the time we got back to Abakrampa it was 5 p.m., so I slowly and shakily made the 3 minute walk back from the office to the guest house to wallow in sickness by my computer.

Bonus WTF: Ghanaian co-workers are amazing!

Feeling miserably sick, I was extremely pleasantly surprised when the manager and the office administrator showed up at the door of the guest house with a container full of rice, another container with onion and tomato sauce, and a big bottle of Voltic water. I was speechless and couldn’t thank them enough! The food was fantastic and reminded me of my Grandma’s cooking at home, and since eating it I have recovered to full health. Ghanaian kindness has cured me!

And that concludes my first week in Ghana! I am just settling into work and life in and around Abakrampa now. Tomorrow will be my official second day of work (since today was a holiday for African Liberation Day) and I will also be moving into a house in a village called New Ebu. I will post again about my work and home when I’ve had a few more days on the job and in my new village, but until then, keep it real y’all!


Posted by on May 25, 2011 in In Ghana


Toronto to Accra: A Graphic Novel

Day 1: On a dreary Sunday morning in Toronto, 18 scared and severely under-slept youth haphazardly threw (most of) their belongings into oversized backpacks and left the cramped quarters they nested in and learned to love over the past week. Their first steps out of the house marked the beginning of what was supposed to be a 1 day journey to Accra, Ghana…

Although public transit to the airport was awkward for 18 people plus 18 people-sized-bags, the first few hours of our journey went quite smoothly. However, things began to go wrong when we were informed by the airline that one of our party-members could not fly through the U.S., and alas, our party-size decreased by one as she was forced to take another route to Ghana. We were very sad to be separated! Nonetheless, we ventured forth, and from Toronto we flew via tiny aircraft complete with sassy flight attendant, pictured below, to Newark, New Jersey.

We had a few hours to kill in this airport, and the only notable things about it were that the food was expensive and it smelled like lard. We were feeling fairly relaxed, but as we enjoyed each other’s company and the airport’s overpriced food, we realized our flight was delayed… by more time than was allotted between our next connecting flight to Accra. This was a huge wrench in our journey, and after many phone calls, chats with customer service, a tense flight, and a long and dramatic sprint through the Washington-Dulles airport, we found out that we had missed our flight to Accra and instead had to spend the night in some city called Herndon, Virginia.

We consoled ourselves with flat renditions of Wonderwall and spinning poi in the airport and ended up gaining a few positive things from the unexpected delay: a fantastic shower and sleep at the Sheraton hotel, a free and delicious breakfast, and the realization of how much we actually wanted to go to Ghana!

Day 2: With a few hours to kill before our flight the next day, a few of us took a bonus trip to the National Air and Space Museum, which was rad!

The old planes and the spaceships were amazing! I really fell in love with a reconnaissance aircraft from the 60s called the Blackbird, which had a top speed of 3.3 mach or over 3600 km/h!

There were definitely cool sights to be seen (even in Herndon!), but we couldn’t wait to finally get back on track to Accra. Our group was split into three subgroups, and we all took flights to Frankfurt at different times in the evening. My flight was with four awesome friends and at 5 p.m., and after a fun 7 hour flight and a 5 hour time change, time and space morphed into one mysterious entity and we wound up in Germany the next day.

Day 3: We end up in Germany at 7 a.m. local time with grand plans to tour Frankfurt for the 7-hour layover. However, our available energy, motivation, and Marc-Andre’s missing Ipod worked together to keep us confined to the airport.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun though! Throughout our 7 long and tired hours in Frankfurt, we were highly amused by the airport smoking lounges (pictured above), mysterious signs (run left! run right! run anywhere as long as you’re running! pictured below), and sarcastic border-crossing guards who told us our passports weren’t valid. We also had great success and found Marc-Andre’s missing Ipod!

Finally, at 2:35 p.m., we boarded the plane to Accra. The flight was wildly luxurious, with unlimited free drinks, amazing food, and almost eerily nice flight attendants.

(Here is Bill double fisting some free alcohol at the request of one of the flight attendants.) The flight was long but exciting, we all knew that in a few hours our surroundings would drastically change, and the journey of our summer in Ghana would begin.

Finally, our plane touched down in Accra at 8 p.m. local time. When I stepped off, it was hot, humid, and very dark. We were hustled off the plane, down some stairs to the asphalt runway, hopped on a bus for a few seconds and made our way into the border crossing office.

It was then I realized where I was, and that our labors of transit over the last 3 days had finally come to fruition. I am in West Africa! True to the title of the blog, Tanya is in Ghana!

And that, my friends, is the story of my journey to this amazing and beautiful country. Unfortunately, time and electricity are not on my side, so I must end here for now and withhold all details of this great place. But stay tuned, I am settling into my new work and home today, so I will be posting soon about my first crazy week and my new digs soon!


Posted by on May 23, 2011 in In Ghana, Pre-departure


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.