Friday, 27 August 2010

More exploration of Kumasi

21 August 2010
After the end of the volunteer conference we had some more time in the next day as we had booked our return tickets for the bus departing in the evening. We visited Manhiya Palace. It is the former palace of the Asante King and it has been now converted into a museum. Again like our previous good experiences with the museums in Ghana, this was not an exception. Near the entry of the museum there is a shop. A guide at the museum told us to wait for some time as a very big group of school children had started their tour. We were mistaken feeling that he was just some person trying to lure us because he came forward for help uninvited and smiling too much. But we realised afterwards that he was really an authorised person.
The museum is small and charges very high fees to the foreigners but thanks to our volunteer identity cards and we have been getting some discounts on the tickets though paying more than the Ghanaians. I can now understand how the foreign tourists to India must be feeling when they are visiting places in India and paying higher fees than Indians for visiting the same place. The museum has collection of artefacts from various periods of Asante Kingdom.
After finishing the visit as we came out, some vendors came near us. One was preparing some custom made wrist bands. He had a very good skill of preparing it. He made it with the threads of different colours which were wrapped around a plastic band and created letter on the band with the threads. When we were busy getting this done many vendors most of them youths approached us trying to sell a number of things such as paintings, hats, bags etc. Most of them identified us as Indians and we had fun interacting with them. When asked about nationality, I answered one of them that I was a Pakistani. He was insistent on going to Pakistan with me. I told him that the country is not safe these days and it is always attacked by terrorists, but he was telling me that he was ready to go there and fight out his way with the terrorists. The bunch of vendors was very friendly and though we did not buy anything from them, they taught us the Asante way of hand shake.
Today twice in the day we came across prisoners walking on the road. Once it was on the road and the second time it was in the palace grounds. They were walking freely and the policeman was just present observing them at a distance. After seeing us they approached us and begged for money which we did not give it to them while the policeman did little to control them. I wonder how the whole system operates. They must be having very good time living in the Ghanaian prison it seems.
In Kumasi, being the centre of Asante culture, unlike any other cities in the south, one can find many people in the traditional Asante clothes. Men wear a cloth which is draped around their body and the style of wearing is like Buddhist monks. The colours of their cloths are very bright. As it started raining heavily we had to drop our plans to visit national centre for culture in Kumasi and visit a museum over there. We had to return to the hotel where we had kept our luggage and said bye to the members of our group sadly. Then we made our way to the bus station for the return journey to Bolgatanga while making ourselves mentally prepared for the late arrival of the bus and watching of Ghanaian and Nigerian witchcraft movies for the entire journey.
Manhiya Palace

Volunteer Conference- Day II & III

19-20 August 2010
I did the full use of swimming pool while I was in the hotel. Being based at Bongo, opportunities for swimming for me are very less and I had to make use of this opportunity to its fullest. I always went to the pool very early in the morning so that there was nobody in the pool and it was entirely for me. On the second day, the sector meetings continued up to the first half of the day and then volunteer conference started. There were explanation about the sessions planned and then there was speed dating where one was supposed to get introduced to the people of as many nationalities as they could in an hour. In the VSO community there are people of following nationalities; Ghana, UK, Netherlands, Ireland, Portugal, Gibraltar, India, Philippines, Japan, Australia, Canada, US, Uganda, and Kenya.
The theme of the conference was uniting for change. The first day involved session on working in a multicultural environment and volunteers were grouped in such a way that each group would have members of various nationalities. They were given task to present a theme involving background of various cultures and people presented dances, festivals, games of various cultures. Our group presented four small acts presenting educational issues in four countries viz. UK, India, Uganda and Philippines. As in India, we have always been taught the concept of Unity in Diversity in schools so it was not difficult to understand the multi cultural concept but still it was fun because here the canvas was that of the world and not of the country.
At this point I shall like to write about our discussions on racial differences and discrimination. It is a very delicate issue to discuss but this was being done at a number of times. I have to mention here that the volunteers here are from two different worlds, one is developed and the other is not very developed or so called developing. Developed countries of course include those of Europe, Australia and Canada and majority of the volunteers from these countries are white skinned. Remaining nationalities i.e. Africans, Indians and Filipinos are not whites and come from developing countries. Personally speaking I did not find any racial discrimination in the whole conference and logically speaking most of the volunteers have come here to get experience and contribute to the process of development so ideally any kind of discrimination on the base of race should not be there.
But yes, one major difference between volunteers from developing world and developed world was there in terms of articulation and initiative. Most of the volunteers from developing world were falling behind on those fronts. I think this has more to do with the education and the inferiority complex which is the result of remnants of memories of colonial era which we are still carrying within us. There is also another factor of money. As the developmental funds are coming from these nations it is natural for them for being proud and vocal for putting it to the right use.
Personally I felt that it has also relation with the cultural differences. Majority of the volunteers were from European culture so in a group when so few non European people are sitting, a non European can feel left out. I experience that as I came from a non western culture and further I have to take some efforts to understand the accents which are so different from Indian English, I am bound to remain silent and just hear the things till the time I understand the context properly and get used to it. It will take certain amount of time to start expressing myself. The important thing is being very much proactive on this front rather than complaining about it as being discriminated on the basis of race. I have to make special mention here that many of the volunteers from developed world were very sensitive and made special efforts that everybody gets to contribute to the conference equally. But some were not so sensitive about it and just pushed themselves. I think I have written about this issue in detail but I had to do it as I heard about it and engaged myself on this issue during the conference for great length of time.
The third day involved the sessions conducted with Open Space Technology. The volunteers were told to work on issues or problems which they felt important and anybody could join anybody to discuss on those problems and issues. They were supposed to come up with the solutions and recommendations for them as well. It was an interesting methodology of learning and working together voluntarily with responsibility and respect for freedom is its essence.
The night was again fun with the programme of Ashanti Dance Troupe. They presented a number of folk dances from Ashanti and Volta region of Ghana. The dances were really graceful. They also gave some lessons in dancing but there were too many people on the floor and only four people teaching so I felt that there was just chaos and nobody could really learn the dance steps. The steps of the dance are very complex and the movements of the hands also have some meanings. The drum beats were so powerful that I think nobody in the whole of hall would have left without at least moving his feet in their rhythms.
After the dance troupe was gone, it was our turn. We tried some Ugandan dance and then we taught the game Indian game of Phugadi to some people. But after seeing the condition of some people after playing it very few people came forward for it.
After their performance there was musical night of the volunteers. Anthony had brought his guitar with him and they sung many English songs. Of course all the songs and the way of singing them was new for me as I had never heard neither the songs nor the way they were sung. On the public demand I had to sing my Marathi song again and everybody enjoyed it. Some people went to the night club late in the night after finishing this musical gathering. I wanted to go with them to see what does night club has and some were inviting me to join them. As I had woke up very early in the morning and with exercises, swimming and all the activities through out day and dancing and singing in the tail end of the day had made me very tired. I had to say no to them and just went to bed.
Group Discussion, besides the pool. Really Cool!

Opening Ceremony of the Volunteer Conference

Graceful Asante Dance

Maharashtrian Phugadi, Ghanaian Land, Australian Player. It's truly global.

Volunteer Conference- Day I

18 August 2010
The plan of volunteer conference included actual conference for one and half day and one and half day of sector meetings of the volunteers. The first day consisted of sector meetings. The VSO volunteers are working in a number of thematic goal areas. In Ghana, VSO volunteers are working on thematic areas of Education, Secured Livelihoods, Participation and Governance. There are some cross cutting themes such as Inclusion (Gender and Disability) and HIV/ AIDS which are to be covered as part of the each of goal area but there are some volunteers working exclusively in this theme as well. The volunteers were divided as per their thematic area and individual review meetings were conducted for each sector. I am a part of the secured livelihood group.
The sector meetings proved useful for cross learning and for discussion of issues related to placements. There were some discussion on Programme Area Planning and Country Strategic Planning for VSO as well. It helped to understand the overall working of VSO and relation between work of an individual volunteer and organisational level thematic area planning of VSO.
The food was very good and the menu had high continental influence as majority of the volunteers were Europeans. But they always served some Ghanaian dishes as well.
The night consisted of cultural programmes by the volunteers. Our Indian group presented the song "We shall overcome" in three different languages i.e. Hindi, Bengali and English. I individually sung a Marathi song "Hee Chal Turuturu". Though none of the audience understood any word of it, they could clap on the rhythm and many people gave feedback to me that they liked the song. There was representation of various countries such as Dutch style TV comedy show, Ugandan dance, small skits by the Australian and Filipino groups. There were some individual performances as well. It was more to do with the fun and less to do with the talent. Everybody enjoyed the show.
Then there was this trivia quiz where people were grouped and they were asked about some funny questions. Most of them had origins in the volunteer gossips. My friend Jillian had done the best job of identifying the questions and designing quiz. I was also part of the question. The question was, Which tool did Sachin use to break open a coconut? The answer is Pick axe. Once I was at Jillian's house and she had bought a coconut. But nobody knew how to break it open. I told them that I shall do it. The only thing very hard thing with which I could break it open without wasting the water inside it was a pick axe. I broke open the coconut with it. I don't know how did it look but it must have been a great comical show where I held coconut in my one hand and hit it with a pick axe in the another hand. So now the whole incidence has become a part of the gossip of Bolgatanga VSO volunteers.

Southern Ghana Tour- Day IV

17 August 2010
The fourth day of our tour was spent moving around the city of Kumasi, ancient capital of Asante Kingdom. It is the centre of Ghana's culture and also transportation. The city is spread on the gently sloping terrain and the atmosphere is cool and lively. I liked the city and found it to be better than Accra. We had came to the city because it was the place where our national volunteer conference was going to take place for the remaining three days. The venue of the conference was at Hotel Miklin which had very good facilities for accommodation, food and of course conference. We arrived in Kumasi in the afternoon and started for roaming around the city immediately after lunch.
Our first stop was Armed Forces Museum at Kumasi Fort. In the early 1800's Asante King decided to build a fort at the current location after seeing the Cape Coast castle. The Asantes did not have technical know how to build the fort but they sent men to see the castle at Cape Coast and brought all the construction material on head loads from the coastal town. British attacked Asantes after coming to know about the construction of the fort. The Asantes had very little artillery and fought with primitive weapons with the British for quite a long time but had to loose the fort to British. The queen mother of the Asantes after hearing the defeat took charge of the Asante army and again fought with the British. As they did not have any advanced technique with which they could fight British they used the strategy, "let the thousand die, thousand new will come." They used this strategy to fight with the British for continuous 7 months. Of course it did not prove successful and they lost the battle to the British but it did prove the spirit of freedom in the Asantes. So no wonder Ghana was the first country in colonial Africa to gain freedom from colonial powers.
Nowadays the fort houses Armed Forces Museum and they gave an excellent guided tour of this small museum. The guide was again a very knowledgeable person and even took great efforts to customise the experience as per the nationality of the tourists. The museum has collection of weapons used for warfare since ancient times. There are weapons which were used in the World War I and II; those used by the guerrillas in various civil war stricken countries like Liberia, Congo and Rwanda. Ghanaian army is a major peace keeping army in some of the countries and they are collaborating with Indian army in those countries. They have a small navy and air force commands. Ghana's first air force chief was an Indian with surname Singh. During 1960's when country became independent there was no knowledge about air force in the country. The Indian military helped Ghana to build their air force
After visit to the museum we went to the small cathedral which is near the Prempreh Circle in the city. This is a small but beautiful structure in the city centre. The city centre has a statue of King of Asantes King Prempreh II where he is standing on the lion. The next small walk took us to the Central Market of Kumasi. This is very exciting place and its spread is huge. One can get a variety of clothing, food stuffs, jewellery and almost all the things of daily and special needs. Everybody bought something at this place.
This was the official end of our planned tour as we are not sure about how much we shall get to explore afterwards because tomorrow onwards our volunteer conference starts. It will not be possible to get out of the hotel easily as we shall be busy. After conference we have planned for return to our respective places and start with work. We did not like the idea of ending the tour but we are equally excited about the volunteer conference and meeting all the VSO volunteers working in Ghana at once.

Prempreh Circle, Kumasi

Inside Cathedral

Southern Ghana Tour- Day III

16 August 2010
We were tired a bit and started bit late i.e. 9:00 am from Rahul's house in Agona Swedru and caught a bus for Accra. We got down at the Kokrobite junction which is on the outskirts of the Accra city. Kokrobite is a famous beach town near Accra and unfortunately it is becoming infamous for the robberies. No, we did not go to Kokrobite but instead we went to Bojo beach resort. It is a tip of the Kokrobite where a small river separates beach and the mainland. There is an entry fee to enter this part of the beach made secure by the Bojo Beach Resort. One has to cross the river first by the small boat and then enter on the beach. The beach is safe for swimming and one can keep his belongings safely near the bar and just chill out without any worries. We did just that.
While going to Cape Coast, we had noticed one Hindu temple before getting out of Accra city. We decided to stop at the temple before going back to our place of stay to see how Hindu temples in Accra are. But we were in for a surprise because it was not a traditional Indian Hindu temple but it was an African Hindu temple. It was all started when Swami Ghananand who is a native Ghanaian got something to read on Hinduism. He made his way to India and spent some time in Rishikesh where he found his spiritual master Swami Krishnanand. He returned to Ghana by determination to spread the message of Hinduism to Ghana and started the first ever African Hindu Monastery. Today it has five branches in West Africa in Tema, Kumasi, Takoradi, Lomé (Togo) in addition to the one which we had visited in Accra.
When we reached there was one religious discourse going on. The swami was explaining some stories from Mahabharata (Ashwatthama to be specific) to his disciples. We had close interaction with one of the disciples named Vichara. His mother was the follower of Swami so he was brought up with Hindu way of life. After finishing his college, he decided to dedicate his life for the spread of the Hindu thought and there were very few people around to take up the responsibilities in Ashram. He is a Brahmacharin (i.e. Leading ascetic way of life).
We attended evening Aarati at the Ashram. I am not a religious person but still I liked the spiritual atmosphere and their disciplined way making prayers. They sang some Hindi bhajans and Sanskrit chants. Their distinct Ghanaian accent, the disciplined way of making rituals such as lighting the lamp and moving it around the idols and taking it to the devotees, the way they bowed to each other, everything was just amazing. They were using Harmonium and an African instrument during Aarati. Unlike the Indian Hindu temples, one woman was leading the group while singing the prayers and the others, all men included, were following it.
Many Indians in Accra visit this temple during some festivities. Ghana is a very tolerant country when it comes to the matter of religion but the major hurdle which the people of monastery face is when it comes to explanation of idol worship in Hinduism and the two major religions of Ghana, Christianity and Islam do not allow idol worship. Still many of the worshippers who come to the monastery live with more than one religions being practised in their families. e.g. Husband is a Christian, Wife is a Muslim but the son is following Hinduism. We met some children in the monastery and boys were named Ram, Krishna, Hari and the girl was named Sundar (beautiful).
We took a tro tro back to Accra and got down at Circle. From there we had decided to walk up to Adabraka where we were staying. It was already dark as the street lights were dim. While we were getting down a tro tro, a man on the bicycle came near to us from the wrong side. As Rose was closing the door of the tro tro he came near and lost his balance and bumped on a standing car. He was lucky enough not to get himself or his bicycle hurt. But then there was lot of distance between us and him and after that scene many people came on the scene. We decided to walk our way back when he came running after Rose and started to demand an apology from her as if having intention of quarrelling with her. She apologised for whatever happened and said sorry to him but he was talking loudly. We were lucky enough as people gathered around us and told us to go and told us that they will see what is to be done with him. We felt relieved and I felt as if I was in Mumbai where people just come for help when such instances happen on the street.
When we started walking, we found that the overall scene around circle was not as friendly as we had observed during the evenings. Some people were drunk, there were some quarrels between some people on the street, some people were running stray. We had to rush our way through to our place of stay. But still we managed to stop at one street side stall and take packs of omelets with bread and had a hot refreshing cup of Milo. Milo is a health drink made with malt and chocolate and it is similar to Bournvita sold in India.

@ Bojo Beach

Chilling Out

Outside African Hindu Monastery

With Brahmacharin Vichara

Evening Arati (Prayers)

Southern Ghana Tour- Day II

15 August 2010
The second day of the tour was special because it was the Independence Day of India and we were celebrating it while away from the country.
Mani, an Indian VSO volunteer had found one good taxi driver for us for the second day of the tour. He introduced himself as Mr. K. We had to ask him again and again what K means because he was reluctant to tell it thinking that we shall not be able to pronounce it properly. But Rahul knows a lot of Twi so he told us after getting assurance that we know the language. In Ghana, they name a person with the day on he or she is born. So his name was Koeko Richard. Here Koeko means Wednesday. I being born on Saturday, my name will be Kwame, same as the first president of Ghana. Rahul is Yaw, which means Thursday. The first name, of famous UN secretary general from Ghana, Kofi Annan means Friday.
In the morning we went to the house of High Commissioner of India. Mrs. Ruchi Ghanashyam is the current high commissioner. The programme for flag hoisting started as per the schedule at 9:00 am. There were more than 200 people at the venue. They distributed the Indian flags and a magazine published by Ministry of External Affairs. The atmosphere was lively and they were playing Hindi patriotic songs. But somehow after getting used to friendly and smiling atmosphere of Ghana, I was uneasy with so many Indians putting their serious faces on. Most of them knew some people around and they were chatting amongst each other. We interacted with very few people. After flag hoisting and reading of very long message by the President of India, they served some snacks and soft drinks. I met two Maharashtrian families from Pune who have been living in Accra for about more than an year. But we could not remain at the venue for long as we had plans for moving further to Kakum and Cape Coast.
We had some time before the flag hoisting ceremony which we utilised for roaming around. The place of residence of Indian High commissioner is located just near the presidential palace on the Jawaharlal Nehru Road. Jawaharlal Nehru and first President of Ghana Dr. Kwame Nkrumah were quite close to each other. Nkrumah was pan Africanist i.e. He wanted to bring together all the sub Saharan African nations whereas Nehru was promoting Non Alliance Movement. The high rise building of presidential palace looks more like a commercial building than a palace. Though president no longer lives there, it is an impressive structure. Photography near the palace is not allowed so I had to take the snap from far away. As our driver told us later on that the palace has been designed by an Indian architect and built by an Indian company.
Our journey up to Kakum National Park did not take long time, as the road was very good and there was not much of traffic on the road being Sunday. The scenery outside was also very good and it was green every where. We sang songs on the way and journey of two and half hours was spent without any feeling of getting bored.
Kakum was one of the great experience because of its canopy walk way. There are very few such walk ways in the world. They say that the one at Kakum is the highest canopy walk way in the world. These are the network of bridges constructed in the forest by taking support of tall trees. The bridges are constructed of rope, metal wires and wooden slabs and they swing a lot when a person walks on them. A person is hanging almost at the height of 60-70 m at certain points. It is a thrilling experience. As there are lot of people who are taken at a time for canopy walk way tour one can not stop for long and appreciate the surrounding nature. But we could get a real feel of evergreen rain forest while on the canopy walk way. We could appreciate the real height of the trees. The forest full of tall evergreen trees and the climbers growing on them had made the grounds very damp and dark. Many people get scared on this walkway and start making lot of noise. It drives all the birds and animals away and the purpose for appreciating the wildlife on the canopies is not by being on that walkway is just not fulfilled. Nonetheless it is good and worth replicating in Indian National Parks.
While coming back, we tasted Palm Wine which is similar to toddy in India. It is extracted from a local palm which looks like an oil palm. While returning from the walk we came across an other group of tourist there were some Indians families. Two families were Maharashtrians from Mumbai. There was one old lady in the group. When we gave our best wishes for the experience, she asked me "do we really need it". Seeing her condition I had to answer, "Take them anyway, and recall them if you feel that they are needed". Then they went hurriedly as they wanted to join their group. Due to constraint of time we could not make the nature walk available in the forest. There is also availability of tents, so one can stay in the forest during night.
We had to rush to Cape Coast castle in spite of feeling hungry, because we had to reach there before its closure so that we could have enough time to see it. It was another great experience. It is a fort constructed by British and it was used for exporting slaves from Ghana to distant lands in the Americas. The history of slavery becomes alive in this fort and the museum inside it. The sight of dungeons used for keeping slaves before exporting them makes oneself sad about this dark part of the history of humans. The fort is far more well kept than the forts in Maharashtra.
I have to make special mention here about the guided tours at both the places i.e. Kakum and Cape Coast. They charged very high fees compared to those charged at such places in India. As we were foreigners we were charged double fees than those applicable to Ghanaians. The fees include guided tours and I have to say that it was worth it. At both the places guides were very good and gave a lot of information. They were very knowledgeable and very enthusiastic. I felt that they should raise the entry tickets to such places in India as well and maintain them as clean as they are here in Ghana and provide some good knowledgeable guides. I strongly felt that in India they instead of providing free access to any hooligan on the street to such important sites of national heritage; they should restrict the entry to the interested few by raising the entry fees.
Cape Coast, with its relaxed atmosphere, European styled buildings and gently sloping terrain gives, one a feel of being in Goa. I liked the city very much. After seeing the castle we were hungry since we had not taken any lunch. Our driver showed us a very good sea side restaurant just outside the castle though not visible from the main road. The food was as good as the atmosphere. It was located on high ground just near the beach so we could view of the walls of the castle along with the sands, tides and expanse of the sea. I tried squid Jollof rice there, which did not disappoint me at all.
After our lunch, which we finished almost at 17:00, we spent some time on the beach. One small buy selling oranges came near us and greeted us, "Namaste" and requested to buy some oranges. We did not want to buy it and we told him so. He did not insist but it seemed he wanted to talk to us. He told that he liked to watch Hindi movies and his favourite movie was Krish. He told the story of the film and how Krish fought etc. He was very bold and it was enough to make us buy oranges from him and they were not highly priced at all. He managed to take our photograph by balancing his big plate full of oranges on his head.
We made a mistake of combining the two major sites i.e. Kakum and Cape Coast with the celebrations of Independence Day where we lost on our majority of time which we could have spent on the visit and we could have done nature walk and Elmina castle near Cape Coast. But there was no way we could recover it as we had planned it that way.
Instead of returning to Accra, we stayed at Rahul's place at Agona Swedru. Agona Swedru is a district place in Central Region of Ghana. The town is located on the banks of a river and on the gently sloping hills surrounding it. Though a district place it is very big compared to my place Bongo. He has a nice house there although sometimes he gets irritated by the children of his landlord constantly coming to his house and disturbing him. We made Khichadi which we had to eat for dinner as well as breakfast on the next day as we cooked a lot of it.
Jai Hind in Accra

Starting Canopy Walkway

Hanging Bridge, scaring heights

Hi there!

Squid Jollof Rice

Cape Coast Castle

Guide at Cape Coast Castle

The Orange Seller boy who took our picture while balancing his orange plate on head

Southern Ghana Tour- Day I

13-14 August 2010
All of us Indian VSO volunteers, decided to meet on the occasion of independence day. All of us are located at different locations and I think that it was one of the reason we had a great time meeting and spending time together. One more good thing was we knew each other very well while we were in India as we were together for the trainings and we were of same age group.
We three, Rose, Raj and me arrived in Accra early in the morning and almost at the same time. I and Rose travelled together from Bolgatanga whereas Raj came from Tamale. Journey was quite good as we had got seats of our choice by booked the tickets well in advance. The only problem we had on the bus were three loudly played movies showed on the television one after the other. Two were Ghanaian and one was Nigerian and all of them had the similar plots. Some ghost or evil spirit taking the form of woman and disturbing lives of some men by seducing them and then a pastor of some church solving this problem by destroying these spirits or making them leave the earthly world. We became free of these movies only when we reached Accra.
In Accra we stayed at the house of two Filipino volunteers, Rosario and Weng. These two very hospitable ladies made our first day easy by providing us a big breakfast.
We had decided to visit some places in Accra city. We first went to National Centre for Culture. Though its name includes the word Culture, it is actually a hub of small shops selling clothes and handicrafts from all over Ghana. The goods in the shops are expensive if one compares it with the prices at the source. e.g. Bolgatanga baskets which sell for approximately GHc 20.00 at Bolgatanga were being sold at GHc 35.00. But the traders were very friendly and very much open for bargaining. Of course we did not buy anything as all of us had lot of time to spend in the country before we return to our homes but we got a very good glimpse of traditional art and crafts of Ghana. We had a great fun while moving around the market as we interacted with sellers who could immediately recognise the Indian race in us. It was something which we enjoyed being identified correctly as at our respective places we are called as whites. I am saying Indian race and not Indians because people were calling us not only Indians but also as Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Malaysians. Following are some of the dialogues which I had with the sellers,
Dialogue 1
S: Hey India, Namaste, Bhai sahab.
Me: Namaste. Kaise hai?
S: Bahut achchha!
Dialogue 2
S: Are you from Malaysia?
Me: No I am from Sri Lanka.
S: Hey you have given me a shot.
Dialogue 3
S: Salaam Valekum
Me: Valekum Salaam
S: are you from Pakistan?
Me: No I am from India.
S: That is the same thing because India and Pakistan were one before British separated them. Akwaaba, Welcome to Ghana.
Me: Midaase, (thank you in the Twi language spoken in Accra.)
Dialogue 4
S: Namaste, I come from Delhi.
Me: I come from Islamabad so let's have a fight.
Dialogue 5.
S: Are you an army person?
Me: Do I look like a one?
S: Yes.
Me: Why do you think so? Do I have a very strong physique?
S: Yes.
Me: Thanks, I am taking it as a complement. Now let me go and join my friends.
One seller came after me after seeing my copper bracelet and started showing his collection of bracelets and explain me how Indians like copper and how wearing them is good for health. I told him that the one I was wearing is not from India but from Togo as I have been coming from that country as part of my Western Africa tour and I shall be buying it again only after the bracelet gets corroded so it would take a lot of time to come to him again. He got irritated because I certainly looked like anybody but a typical backpacker. He had to go away from me.
We then visited Nkrumah Mausoleum. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was the first president of Ghana and a pan Africanist. His burial grounds are surrounded by a memorial structure and a park. There is a small museum inside the park displaying his belongings and his photographs. There is one photograph of his visit to India and he is with our first prime minister Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru. When we visited the mausoleum, the queen of Swaziland (it is small African country near South Africa) and her official delegation were visiting the place and there were some folk dances performed for them.
Our next point of visit was Independence square and a stadium near it. There are two stadiums opposite to each other at the independence square. One is actually used for the sport and the another which is at the side of the beach is used for official programmes and processions. It has one impressive arc from which leaders of the nation give their speeches. I had a feeling of being in a communist country while moving around that stadium. The entire ground is paved and it seems sometimes people who want to learn driving enter into that ground by taking permission of the guard. The independence square monument is also an impressive structure but I could not neglect a pile of rubbish in the garden surrounding it.
Then we started for an Indian shop called Neha and had a hard time finding it as it is very obscure. We bought some stuff which we needed. From that place we went to a famous travel hub called Nkrumah Circle which is called as Circle for short and when you hear tro tro mates shouting for it, one hears only Circ Circ Circ or see a sign made by them showing a round. I could find the place where I could get the shorts and swimming trunk.
Afterwards we visited Nandhini and Mani's house. They come from Chennai and make a VSO couple. Mani first volunteered with VSO and Nandhini was his accompanying partner. Mani is a physiotherapist who now works with the local hospital. Nandhini is now volunteering with VSO and working for an organisation of the disabled. Mani told some hilarious stories about his experiences living in Rajasthan, Punjab and of course Ghana. Nandhini had prepared delicious Batatavada and Chai (Tea- Indian style) and it was a nice evening with lots of laughter.
In the evening we were returning to our place of stay in Adabraka area when one fat woman sitting near a shop started calling us, "hey foreigners, show me your passports. I am from police." It was dark and it was better not to wear the caps of spontaneity but those of caution so we just smiled at her but I would have liked following dialogue where her sentences are real but mine are the unexpressed ones.
W: Hey you look like foreigners, show me your passports.
M: If you are policewoman then you should also show us your ID card.
W: You are not Obruni. You look like Fulani. (Obruni is word used for white man in the southern part of Ghana. Fulani is a comparatively fair skinned nomadic tribe in Western Africa and their features have similarity with the Indian race. In Accra Fulani people are infamous for begging, pick pocketing and petty thefts.)
M: You can consider us as English speaking Fulanis. As we are Fulanis, we do not need to show you our passports because we are Ghanaians.

Stadium converted into parade ground near Independance square

National Centre for Culture or to be real Accra Handicraft shopping centre

Nkrumah Mausoleum
Independance Square
Sumptuous breakfast at Weng and Rosario's place

Chai and Batatawada at Nandhini and Mani's

A Busy Day

12 August 2010
Today I got two opportunities in one day.
First was related to the work. When my colleague asked for a help for photographing various district assembly constructions for a report, I could have said no because it was something which was not at all related to my job. But I said yes because I was getting the opportunity of getting to see entire district within one day. We started late and finished late. Agriculture in the district is poorly developed, there is little green cover on the land. There is severe problem of soil erosion. Road network in the district is poorly developed. I can say these things very confidently now because I have seen them with my eyes.
The second opportunity was for a task I had not done before alone and that was cooking something for a group of people. The group of people was not those of Indians so I was not sure whether they will like what ever I would cook for them. Actually it was Damien who had invited us for dinner. I suggested him that I would cook something Indian at that time, to which he had agreed. I prepared Pachadi, a Maharashtrian salad dish, to which I had to give some local twists as per the availability of ingredients. I consulted my wife before making it so half the credit of this successful preparation goes to her. Damien, a volunteer from UK had prepared rice and stew with vegetables and goat meat. His style of preparation was western and there was one distinctness in his cooking which I observed and which is different from Indian. We Indians use spices a lot and they sometimes suppress the original taste of the other ingredients. End result was good as everybody liked the food which was prepared.

Friday, 13 August 2010

About Work

10 August 2010
Many of the friends are interested to know what kind of work I am involved in here. After coming to Bongo, I found that lot of the things on which I am supposed to work were not very clear. My last four weeks had been spent in concretising of work plan, getting to know the people and detailed planning for the visits. It involved calling and meeting people, explaining them what I want to do and how it will help their departments and fixing some dates for field visits. I did my first field visit yesterday and thought that it is now proper to write about it.
Since it is volunteering and not a proper job one should not expect any crystal clear job description. There was this placement description after reading which I had applied for this placement and was selected as well for the same by my employer i.e. Bongo District Assembly. But it does not mean that my skill sets match exactly with their requirements and my interests match the kind of job which I am doing. But they are some where near to each other. As it is very difficult to find the correct match in these cases because one is supposed to work in remote areas where professionals are not willing to go and live there for longer period and people who want the help are not clear about what they exactly want. What I have found that if one is looking at the whole stint as a some job with an intention to enhance his career then one is likely to get into problems. One should take the volunteering as an experience and it will certainly help an individual qualitatively.
I am working here in the planning unit of district assembly. District here is something which is equivalent to a taluka or block in India. There are many small communities in a district which are divided in area councils (equivalent to Group Grampanchayats). Now my job is to assist District Assembly to develop strategies and plans for the promotion of some livelihood activities important to the majority of the population in the district. District Planning Unit co-ordinates a committee called Local Economic Development Platform. Now I am closely working with it. They have identified three major livelihood interventions which can take the district ahead. These are Guinea fowl rearing, Shea butter production and Basket weaving. I shall write something about them later.
The focus of my work is going to be small enterprise development though my education is in Agriculture. My overall work plan involves studying those interventions, gaps in good and locally followed common practices, study of value chains, developing strategies for promoting those activities in the district. Further plan would be work with the district assembly and other agencies in the district to integrate those activities in the existing plans or development new plans for the same. I am working with a number of development agencies in the district and I am reporting to District Planning Officer. Though there have been some initial hiccups, I am getting along with most of the people finely and have found many good, sincere and dedicated persons to work with. But I have to mention here that the case is not same with all the volunteers and some are facing big problems with their placements.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Bongo Rocks

7 August 2010
We climbed Bongo Rock last Saturday. It is one of the two hillocks in the Bongo village. As the name suggests it is full of rocks and various formations of it. We were four people in all. Two kids who were tending goats nearby joined us during the climb. The climb was easy. The hillock must be approximately 100 m high. We enjoyed the climb and getting down as well.
The hillock is considered as holy by the local Christians especially Catholics and they make annual pilgrimage to the hill. There are 16 stages along the path that goes to summit and they stop at each stage and pray. At each stage they have erected a cross. This is very similar to many of the Hindu holy places in India where one climbs the hill by praying God on the way and one reaches to the summit where there is some temple or shrine.
It is a small hillock after all and they are very scarce in this area of flat terrain. Something is always better than nothing.
rocky landscape
A wild but edible fruit, no it is not litchi
Baobab on Rocks
Unusual rock formation
Crosses to mark the stages
The hillock called Bongo Rock
Don't believe him, he has not reached the summit.
Yes he is on the summit now.
The group

Missing the Homeland

03-05 August 2010
I had decided that I would adjust to the local conditions as fast as I could and start with the routine. I have been successful to do it to a great extent. As I have passed through the initial excitement of new people and new culture, I found that I am not successful in getting over the feeling of "I am missing my country so much." And I have spent one complete month in this country.
It starts with the smallest pleasure of having a small cup of tea at any time of the day at a nearby street side tea stall. More important than tea are the informal discussions and being friends with each other. Nobody offers tea or coffee to the guests over here and still they continue with long talks (friendly or official.) I am still finding it very strange. The other day it was raining heavily and air was very cool. In India, such situation leads to eating of piping hot freshly fried onion fritters. I had no onions or chick pea flour to make them and moreover I was alone in the house so there was no one with whom they could be shared over a chat by sitting near the window and enjoying watching the rain.
I wanted to buy some thick sheet of cloth, which can be used for spreading on the floor at the time of physical and yogic exercises. I have been struggling to find some thing similar to it for two weeks but I have not been able to find it till date.
Daily newspapers, for which we eagerly wait early in the morning even in this age of internet and television, do not reach this district place easily. In this country of 20 million people, there are only 5-6 daily newspapers. All of them are printed in the small tabloid size and the content and the printing both are not good in quality. International news coverage is minimal.
These are all material things but there are some of the things which are emotional and social as well.
I know it is a challenge, but what I found common here is if somebody says to you, "yes, I shall meet you in the office tomorrow," one should be open for the situation where the next day you might hear, "no he is not here, I can't say when he will be back," or what you find is only the locked door and it is still the working hour of the working day. I miss the professional working environment which I used to have earlier though it was bit stressful.
In India, the major plus point we have is the personal relations we develop easily. We keep many things understated, unexpressed or implicit. We do not say “thank you” easily. We know that we shall need to help somebody at some time and we want to keep those things a fair exchange. Back home, I know that such behaviour creates tensions but we keep on doing that. What I find here that there is a clutter of greetings and “thank you” but lack of personal expressions which we do easily in India without any fuss over it.
There is one thing which I am missing the most from my homeland and that is my home. The realisation of this fact occurred to me when yesterday everybody at my home celebrated my son's second birthday and over the phone he was trying to explain me how the balloon burst but was not unable to do it over the phone. Had I been present there he could have explained it easily and directly to me.

I'll go and come

1-2 August 2010
Today I'll write something about Ghanaian English which I have heard till date. In India, English is not a natural language for us as we grow up speaking our mother tongues and the English language which we learn is the one taught in schools. When I first started speaking and writing the language, it was an exercise of memorising grammar and words,. There was no influence of English films or music on me as well so most of the cultural background while speaking the language has always been a major part of learning for me. English is a major language of trade and governance in India but a person can still live in India without having to use it at all.
After coming to Ghana, I was surprised to see the spread of the language and the way many illiterate people could use the language very well. After analysis of the situation it seems that there are two major factors which have helped the spread of the language. One, there are many languages spoken in the country so there has always been a need of common language and two, none of the local language is developed enough so that it can be used as a medium for learning and governance. In India, the local languages are strong enough to handle both and also have developed literature since ancient times.
So this means there is local version of English in Ghana which is spoken all across the country in addition to the local languages. The local version of English is only spoken one. One advantage of English being so common is that it is spoken naturally by the people and they speak it very fast that too with a local Ghanaian accent and number of expressions which have been developed due to the influence of local languages.
Now coming to the practical, here are some samples of Ghanaian English which I have experienced.
When one is travelling by a shared taxi or tro tro (small minibuses or jeeps), one has to pay the fare in advance. The collector comes and asks, "Gimmi larufe". When I heard it first time I thought he was speaking in the local language. I told him that I didn't understand him. He was looking at me as if I was a weird white person who can't speak English well. I asked the neighbour what does he mean. He told me to give the person my money. I gave the fare. Here they meant to say "give me lorry fare".
When some body says, "I'll flash you", it means "I'll give you a missed call on mobile phone".
"Indian women are so bee" is an adoption from Nigerian English and it means "Indian women are so beautiful". This is because of popularity of Bollywood movies full of songs and dance. By the way I have been asked by a number of Ghanaian men to find Indian wives for them. They see in those films how the actresses are obedient towards their husbands and can dance with sexy movements as well, a big plus :)!
"I am tired small" means "I am a bit tired". So one can use the word 'small' for anything which is less. So when somebody starts talking with me in Gurune with the intention of teaching me the language and uses complicated long sentences, I tell them, "teach me small."
One day a man with whom I am working asked me, "Did you foot here?". I looked at him expressing that I could not understand him. He asked the question repeatedly for three times. He wanted to ask me whether I walked to his place.
If somebody is eating and you go there they will say "you're invited." This is the direct translation of the phrase 'tidi' from the Gurune language. Most of the time it is said as a customary greeting and you should not expect sharing of the food. Once a lady in the office was eating something and after seeing me she said, "You’re invited". I had not seen what she was eating, and as in India, the way we easily share our peanuts, I thought it must be something like that and asked her loudly, "what is that?” The lady was taken aback as if I was going to go there and start eating from her plate. She was eating her rice and fish. Then she told me explaining Ghanaian manners that I was supposed to reply, "Thank you.". Yes but what I have observed is that they do share their peanuts easily and like in India, if your relations are really friendly you can just go and start eating them from other's plate without asking any permission.
One expression which most of the westerners here find strange but I don't is, "I'll go and come." When anybody goes away and wants to say bye, they'll say this phrase "Kengewana" which translates into English as "I'll go and come" and sometimes the English translation is used as it is while speaking with the people who can't speak Gurune. (One can believe that they are going but one can't trust that they will be returning again to meet you.) It is logical to feel that it is strange because one is going but still saying that I'll come as well. I think that it is a feeling of not separating permanently but meeting again sometime in the future which is expressed through this phrase. In Marathi in fact we are more advanced sometimes in the usage of such expression and one says directly ''I'll come (मी येतो)" when actually one wants to say is "I am going". In fact, due to influence of English, when somebody says these days "I am going", the elders in the house will always remind, "don't say I am going, say I'll come." On the day when I was going to depart for Ghana, my two year old son (of course with the help of prompting from his mother) started to tell me, "Daddy, don't go", I had replied, "I'll go and come."

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Solemiya Zaare!!!

28-31 July 2010
Since coming to Bongo one word I have been commonly hearing in reference to me is Solemiya. In the local language of this region, Gurune, it means a white person, be it a man or a woman. So any man or woman who has lighter skin than a typical Ghanaian and has a straight hair is called Solemiya. There are different words for these in different dialects of Ghana and the one most commonly used is Obruni. Though it denotes a racial difference it is interesting that it is not used in a racist way. When I am walking on the road many children greet me by saying "Solemiya Zaare (or sometimes using English word for Zaare i.e. Welcome". It is used by older people as well because they do not know English. But one thing for sure is the special attention given to the person while saying this.
The habit of greeting everybody whether you know him or not means that one may end up in unwanted encounters. When a Solemiya walks on the road, then he or she needs to be very careful with the people who are approaching or coming near. I have experienced three kinds of unwanted people till date and I shall explain them one by one.
The first kind of people run after you and make a show of trying to help you and try to earn something by the way of tips. One day when I was waiting for the shared taxi to get full, a person greeted me and started telling me that he was very sorry that I was having to wait. He told me that he will see if he can find some passengers so that taxi will get full as early as possible and leave. I told him that I was not in hurry and I would wait. He started calling loudly for passengers and when taxi became full started asking me some money as a tip. I was so confused by this that when the real person who collects the fair in advance came I could not trust him immediately and paid him only when I saw that other passengers were also paying him.
The other kind is mentally disturbed people who keep on moving around the village but know for sure that Solemiyas can have some pity on them very easily and give some money to them in order to be just free of them. So when they come to know that some Solemiya is walking on the road and sat with his friends at a restaurant then they will go there and start making a show of themselves. One old man in Bongo when he sees a Solemiya, follows them where ever they are going and at some time just stands on his knees and start begging. When I first came across him, he persistently followed me throughout my round of Bongo. When I entered a compound of a house he also entered inside. I had to give him some money just in order to be free of him.
The third type is little children who might come towards you offering some help (of course with an intention of getting something in return) and you by feeling pity on them just pay them something or give them chocolate etc. I think that it is the most dangerous practice because one is promoting them to become beggars even if they are not. There is a large number of cases where foreigners have done sexual abuse of children in Africa just because of the ease in getting them.
All of these three behavioural patterns are due to the deep rooted belief in the thought that white people are rich and are a great nuisance while walking on the road. There are also many positive welcomes however.
The one which I appreciate here more is the welcoming of a guest and it is more open hearted. Many people greet and say "Zaare", while just passing by with no intentions to become close to you but just in good faith.
I found that even if people know your name, while speaking about you to some other person, they will speak about you as a Solemiya. I found this being frequently done in the office. As I work with District Assembly, a large number of visitors keep on coming to the office. The day before there was one football match organised between District Assembly Staff and National Social Personnel (it is local government promoted young volunteers organisation) and I was going there with my colleague. I heard him telling his boss that he was taking the Solemiya to the football match. I found it strange but then it was obvious his boss did not know my name (and didn't know how to pronounce it as well. Double difficulty!) but knew that a foreigner is working with him so it was natural for them to use the word "Solemiya".
But what I like the most is the way small children say loudly "Solemiya Zaare!!!". It is out of pure curiosity and their natural tendency to attract attention. Once I was standing in the Bolgatanga market and trying to search an address which my friend had texted me on my mobile phone (here sending an SMS on mobile phone is texting), when a little girl came near me and called loudly "Solemiya Zaare" trying to attract my attention. I looked at her and she was really very sweet and cute with her curly hairs neatly braided and decorated with ribbons. I said "oh, thank you, my little princess!". Her parents apologised as she disturbed me but I told them that she was a really very beautiful child and I did not mind that. The family walked away smiling proudly.