Sunday, May 25, 2008


The numbering has no relevance for preference. Simply the order I wrote the post in.

Solidarity among rural communities. Communal labour is an initiative that I admire about Buagbaln village. Communal labour is the reinforcement call when you have too much work to do on your own. If a farmer is ploughing their field and cannot complete it on their own, they can call for communal labour. “Children” aged 15-24 will answer the call and report to whatever the task is after they get back from school at 2pm. My host brother Philip (23) is always reporting to communal labour.

Apart form the example I gave of tilling your field, others could be construction of a house. As most huts here are made from mud bricks and mud mortar, it involves an immense amount work. Mixing dry mud with water to make mortar is extremely tiring (I’ve tried), which needs to be done to mould bricks, and for the mortar for the hut. A common call for communal labour is exactly this task, mixing of mortar and constructing the walls.

One that my family recently used was that they were re-flooring their entire compound courtyard. This involved breaking up the old concrete with pick ax, followed by laying new gravel, and concrete, and ending with compacting. For a family to do this entire task on their own would take too long for one day, which is the time frame it needs to be done in.

Another communal initiative are grain banks which I have seen in certain communities. Essentially a large community food storage is built by all members of the community, and upon harvest everyone donates a portion of their crops to this bank. It serves as a safety net for the community when shocks occur to individuals or the entire community. Should someone lose their entire harvest to pests, or perhaps fire, the grain bank would serve to pick that person up. It is also used to supplement the community food intake during the lean season (see blog post Back to the Field)

I don’t quite understand how, but it works on the honour system, and apparently nobody abuses it. The reason why I love these initiatives is because all the farmers are in the same situation and recognize the need for cooperation. There are conditions about their lives that make certain tasks too great for an individual to do on their own. Seeing this type of communal solidarity in overcoming the difficulties surviving off the land can throw at you, makes me wonder if something was lost when civilizations progressed to big cities and lost their connection with the land they depend on for survival. Nonetheless, I admire the sense of brotherhood that joins this community together.


The numbering has no relevance for preference. Simply the order I wrote the post in.

Shopping for clothes. Yes I know it doesn’t sound like me, a long time beneficiary of hand-me-downs. Due to a well fashioned two older brothers, ever since grade 9 I’ve been benefiting from an at-home shopping mall (sorry Sean and Barry).

Here the textile industry is fantastic. In the market there are textile vendors. You’ll go and buy material from local tie & die, to elaborate linen with embroidery (very popular among the Muslims). Then you take it to a tailor in town who will size you up and allow you to chose the style of whatever article clothing fits your fancy. Four days later you return to pick up your custom made clothing.

The great thing about this system is that here the consumer has the choice, and there is way more personal interaction. Speaking to textile vendors, they guide me on what will look good with my skin tone, lol, and what I should buy (mostly they just steer me away from the female fabric because I have trouble distinguishing). Since arriving in Saboba, I have become particular yclose with one tailor and he prepares all of my clothes. I’ve gotten to know his wife and child, and visit him regularly.

What I love about all this is the personal interaction. What is one industry in Canada, has been segregated into two in Ghana, where the consumer makes the choice. In Canada, retailers produce the finish product from beginning to end. In Ghana almost all of the “finished product” articles of clothing you can buy are simply donated clothing from developed countries. The task of going to the market, choosing a fabric I’m uncertain of, and then working with my tailor to make a shirt for me is definitely something I’m going to miss.


The numbering has no relevance for preference. Simply the order I wrote the post in.

Food comes to you. As I sit in my office the time is nearing 10 o’clock. I look forward to this time because I know that soon one of two ladies will be at my office. It is around this time that they usually make their rounds. I don’t know where these ladies walk from, maybe from town, maybe the market; but they always come to the offices around ten o’clock. They carry either: bananas, avocados, groundnuts, or now that mango season is in, huge ripe mangos.

I guess they come to the offices from wherever they are coming from because the business is better, but regardless it is a service that I never saw in Canada. At work in Canada, I would either have to pack my snacks or go out and get them on a break. Inconvenient for the vendor but a service no consumer could turn away.

From the raised seat of a greyhound-like bus, I reach down to give a young girl some money for some of the food she is selling. Holding the platter as high as she can with her arms stretched above her head, I lean out the window and reach down to .grab some food off the platter. In other transactions that aren’t as smooth, the bus starts off before you can finish getting your food. A chase sets in as a small girl runs after the moving bus to give me my bundle of bananas.

Buses travel regularly from city to city, and they make the regular stops. Vendors stakeout these stops, that way as soon as the bus stops to drop off a passenger women spring from their perch and rush the bus. Windows are crowded with all sorts of tasty treats: fried yams, roasted chicken, pure water, fried cheese, bananas. Passengers stock up for the next stretch of the trip with whatever fills their heart content.

Back to the Fields

To my saving grace, the rains have come. At least three times a week Saboba has a thunder and lightning storm with high winds and heavy rains. Though these random showers almost always seem to coincidentally occur just hours after I have done laundry and left my clothes out to dry, it is a blessing none the less.

Living in my host community has really allowed me to observe, and participate, in farmer’s livelihoods. Now that the rains have come a lot is changing in Saboba and my village. In Saboba the tractor traffic has increased five fold, and diesel sales have soared. As for my village, men have sprung into action. Every morning at 6am, men and boys leave for the fields to farm yams, maize, and many other crops I can’t remember. The days of sitting in the shade weaving grass or playing Oware are finished for men. Now backbreaking labour has become the focus of everyday.

But to the men of this community, they’re happy to be at work. The longer the rains delay, the higher the likelihood the lean season will extend. The rainy season is sometimes called the lean season because it is this season that is furthest away from their last harvest. It’s around this time that food stocks start to deplete and rations decrease in size. So the faster farmers can get the crops in the ground the better, because it means an earlier harvest.

The reason why I call it backbreaking labour is because that is exactly what it is. For those that can afford it, tractors are used plough fields. Sitting in my room at night I can hear the roar of the tractors as they pass right by my compound to return to town after a day in the field.

But for the majority of farmers, hand tilling is still the way to prepare the field. What a tractor does in 10seconds would take an individual farmer 1 hour. Some of you may have wondered why farmers would delay in preparing their fields if the rains didn’t come. The reason why is because after the long dry season, the earth becomes similar to concrete and hand tilling is extremely difficult. Thus farmers wait until the first rains have come and soften the ground, to till. Also, I’m not sure why, but you only sow seeds after the first rains. Anyone who has that answer, please help out.

The only thing we now have to watch out for, is that the rains don’t continue too long. For the mean time the rains are a great blessing, but too much rain means huge consequences for farmers. Seeing as Ghana suffered flooding last year, a second year in a row would be really sad.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Down For The Count

Well I don’t know if I am glad to say that I got malaria two weekends ago, but now that I’ve experienced it I don’t need to go through that again. Some of you that know me better than others may be thinking that I got what was coming to me seeing as I refuse to take anti-malaria pills, and to that argument, another volunteer that came over with me has gotten malaria twice while being on anti-malaria pills.

It started on Friday. I was going to a workshop, had a blistering headache and was starting to heat up. I had lost my appetite and did not eat much lunch, and later that night went to bed early, exhausted and skipping dinner.

Oddly enough the next morning I didn’t feel that bad. I woke up and decided to take it easy and read a bit of my book. 30 min later I was down for the count lying on my thin foamy in my room. Running a fever I decided not to chance it and took my malaria treatment, before being diagnosed. For the rest of the day I was inside, sleeping, skipping meals, chugging water.

Around 2 o’clock the fever got worst. I was extremely hot to the touch and not sweating a bit, which made me think back to the good old NLS days and learning about heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Fond memories of that not so long ago Saturday, lying in my room pouring water on my head for it to run off and cool me down for only seconds.

At the time of the peak of my fever, my host siblings were watching a movie on my laptop that I had put on to take my mind off the fever, though to no avail because I just passed out and resulted to my futile drizzling of water.

Around 3 o’clock my host brother said, Nick you need to go to the hospital. I agreed completely, though only to take a test and confirm that I had malaria. I would have gone earlier in the morning, but in my state of exhaustion I wanted my co-worker to pick me up on his motorbike to take me. Thanks to the unreliable service that MTN provides its clients with, I could not communicate by phone with anyone.

Conjuring up all of my remaining energy, I waited until 5:00pm for the sun to start its approach to the horizon. Soaking my tee-shirt and hat, I geared up for one of the most exhausting rides into town ever. Stopping for a Fanta Orange, the high sugar content provided me with a shot of adrenaline.

Took a test at the hospital to confirm that it was malaria I was suffering from, and returned home to pass out. The next day was less dramatic, though still entirely unproductive. Water, rest, juice, and Ocean’s Thirteen got me through the day.

The morale of this story, is at night wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants if you are going to be hanging out outside. To the more cautious, maybe anti-malaria pills might help. I am feeling 100% now. Though I have to give it to malaria, it knocked me on my ass.