Category Archives: Uncategorized

Dis Ma Hood

Ah, the joys of technology. WordPress has a great feature where you can write a blog post when you have time and internet access, but have it post at a specified date and time. I’m a big fan of this feature, but this morning it led to a blank post! Sorry about that. I had intended on introducing you to my ‘hood, Sagnarigu, but I ran out of internet credit and there was rain this morning, so I couldn’t buy any. As a result, I couldn’t postpone the post or write the one I wanted to before it was posted.

Anyway, take a look at the wonderful village in which I’ve been living for the past couple of months:

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Less than three weeks remain until I’ll be back in Canada and man, I’m going to miss this place.

-C

Advertisements

Hope for Ghana

This weekend I realized just how much potential Ghana has. And believe me—there’s a lot.

The realization struck me as I walked with Ahmed to his football match. We were walking through the campus of a high school in the area in the hot afternoon sun. As we passed dorms where music was playing and people were dancing, some of the team members started to dance. After all, a three o’ clock match start time in Ghana is very flexible, so why not stop to enjoy yourself with a little grooving? I tried some Ghanaian moves and we laughed together at how ridiculous I looked. Still, I felt the beat of the red dirt and it was good.

Then, this song came on:

Everyone in Ghana knows this song. It’s played non-stop in most public places and usually I find it annoying. But not this time.

The guys got really into the song (it’s a hit for a reason) and they started to dance and laugh even more. I stopped and looked out across the football pitch. Some of the boys had started kicking the ball around skillfully. They were framed by two large cell phone towers in the distance and a herd of goats crossing the field nervously.

This is epiphany-making material.

It was then, as I stood in the shade of a tree with the footballers dancing around me and this song playing in the background that it struck me. I’m sure you know the feeling; it has a certain bigness to it. It’s like this overwhelming lightness that brings with it a certain almost-contentedness that’s more like feeling at peace than being overwhelmingly happy, but really not like either of those things. You know what I’m talking about, I’m sure.

This place is good. Amazing, even, I thought to myself.

Ghana has so many things right. The people that I’ve met so far are so inspiring, because they truly care about their country. They know what’s wrong and why and they know what could be done about it. Because they care, they educate themselves on what’s going on and they vote. They’re enterprising and funny and the most welcoming people I’ve ever met. I think that’s where this feeling starts–with the people.

Beyond that, though, Ghana is working to develop itself. Right around the corner from where I was standing I saw this sign:

More epiphany-making material.

The University for Development Studies (UDS) was created in 1992 by the Ghanaian government to train students so that they can have a positive impact on developing their own country. Here, a UDS project is promoting safe sex on a high school campus. This would be considered progressive in some “developed” countries (like the USA). But in Ghana, a far more religious land, the root of the issue is central to solving the problem.

It’s the little things and the big things like this all the time that inspire me on a daily basis. From chats with Yaku about his dreams to be a teacher to Alhassan’s huge plans for revolutionizing the way education administration goes in the Northern Region; I’m continually motivated by these happy, concerned, funny, and challenged people who’ve been handed a context that they didn’t have the opportunity to create, but with which they’ve got to deal. Ghanaians are working hard and I really believe that poverty has a lifespan here because of it.

So, the question is: what does Ghana need to get to get to the end of that lifespan now? I don’t think I’ve been here long enough to answer that accurately, to be honest. If I had to guess, I’d say that Ghana needs someone who is willing to really question the status quo in a serious way and to courageously commit to making the changes that s/he wants to see in this country of red dust and bright people.

And, like most things, I think Ghana needs time. Development seems like a slow walk some days, but it has to end at some point.

-C

Is This a Blog Post About Leading Questions?

Yes. Yes it is.

More specifically, it’s about the dangers of leading questions in doing research, something that I was lucky enough to experience firsthand this week. Leading questions are those which either have a specific answer, or a limited number of answers to choose from (i.e. yes or no). That much is obvious. However, the significance of limiting someone’s answers when you’re trying to do research into their livelihood or other activities in which they are engaged is not immediately obvious. For example, if you asked me if I was a race car driver, I’d probably say no and follow it with an explanation of my actual occupation. The same is not true of everyone; you might get a simple no, or some explanation, or even a yes if you asked this question of a Ghanaian.

Why? It has little to do with Ghanaians not understanding the concept of a race car driver, and a lot to do with cultural barriers. First, the word used to describe the concept of a race car driver might not be understood during conversation. Sometimes if you can ask the same thing in the local language, you’ll get a different answer than if you were to ask it in English. Unfortunately, my Dagbani isn’t quite at that level just yet. Second, maybe it is generally understood that if you’re asking a yes or no question, you want a yes or no answer. I’ve noticed that with people I don’t know very well, this is true; low trust means that they are reticent to go into further detail aside from what I specifically ask. Finally, you might get a yes to the race car driver question, even though the individual is definitely not a race car driver. This is likely because yes is the answer that that person thinks you want and that they might get some benefit from giving it to you. Many times this is due to interactions with donors who are, in fact, looking for a particular answer so that they can decide whether or not to give support.

On the first day at my office, I was very conscious of the leading questions I was asking of my colleagues; in practice, it is very difficult to talk in open questions 100% of the time. The result: at least three different descriptions of the role of my office within the Ghanaian government, two of which came from the same person. Instead of asking “What is the role of the Regional Education Office?” I attached my assumptions about the office’s role and asked questions specifically about those assumptions. Herein lies another danger of leading questions: they are unlikely to garner information that you don’t already think you know. Thankfully, I was able to come in on day two and phrase my questions more effectively to get a more complete picture of things. I’m going to have to continue to be conscious and active in my question-asking in order to make sure I keep that up as I gather more information.

-C

The Unwritten Rules of Tamale Taxis

Where most cities have a public transit system, Tamale has a highly organized system of taxis. Similar to public transit, there is a series of unwritten rules that should be followed when taking a Tamale Taxi.

  1.  There are two types of taxi rides: droppings and shared.
  2. Droppings involve being taken directly to a particular point of interest and thus have a variable cost that depends on distance travelled.
  3. Shared taxis drive back and forth on approximately the same route and to go any distance along this route is the same price.
  4. Soulemingas will get ripped off for both types of taxi ride.
  5. Shared taxis are just that: shared. Before getting into one, make sure you’re comfortable with up to 6 passengers in one small car.
  6. Upon entering a shared taxi, it is customary to greet all other passengers-usually in Dagbani-and to invite them to share any food you might have.
  7. When sitting in the back of a shared taxi, it is customary to move to the left so that others can enter the taxi safely, from the right side.
  8. Similarly, if someone on the left is alighting, it is polite for everyone right of that person to get out on the right to let the person out.
  9. The taxi driver is not likely to know the place where you want to alight.
  10. Therefore, you must repeat the desired location of alighting at least three times clearly.
  11. You will still not likely get off at exactly the right location. I’ve discovered that this is a luxury we take for granted in Canada.
  12. If you do not specify your desired drop-off location specifically, you are more likely to have to pay for a dropping.
  13. Droppings can become shared taxis very quickly.
  14. Most shared routes cost around 50 pesewas. Droppings, even if they are the same distance, are often much more expensive.
  15. Dropping prices may be “negotiated”.
  16. Some streets don’t have taxi routes, or only have taxis available at the beginning of the road.
  17. Regardless of where you are going, the driver will attempt to get you into his car.
  18. The car itself could be in any state of repair between nearly junk and nearly certifiable by Canadian standards. Learn to appreciate control over the window and ability to open the door from the inside—these are luxuries.
  19. Alighting in the middle of intersections, while blocking traffic, is perfectly okay.
  20. You are likely to get the best customer service in Tamale from a taxi driver. They are generally efficient, polite, and friendly.

Stick to these rules when in Tamale, and you should have no problem getting around.

Hopefully.

-C

Scavengers

Our first task in Tamale was to pair up with someone of the opposite gender (why? A culture post with that answer is coming soon) for a scavenger hunt in the market. We were instructed to pick up:
1. A phone and two SIM cards (the networks are patchy sometimes)
2. Cloth for either a shirt or dress
3. Fanmilk (an explanation follows)
4. Directions to BIL laboratories for malaria and other tests
5. Lonart malaria treatment pills
6. A wireless internet modem
7. Cashmoney
8. Other things that I can’t remember
It seemed easy enough, but Alex and I were sceptical about the so-called fanmilk after hearing JF horror stories about weird scavenger hunt items. We figured we’d grab it last, if there was time after all the essential items had been purchased.

The market was, in a word, overwhelming. It was very crowded, with stalls enclosing narrow walkways that were full of people buying and selling vegetables, fruit, cloths, meat, flours, clothing, shoes, and a host of other items. The meat was particularly overwhelming because the scent was very strong and it was definitely a new experience for me to see a cow’s head placed somewhat cavalierly on a table for purchase. In general, the scents and sights were awesome.

The cell phone was the easiest item to find. You can purchase cell phones from every second vendor on the street here in Tamale. I got a sweet knock-off Nokia for a very low price that holds both my SIM cards AND has a flashlight. It’s pretty sick. While we were buying credit for our new phones, we ran into another group and decided to try and find BIL together, so we asked the credit vendor in our best (but still awful) Ghanaian accents where we should be headed. Her brother jumped forth and offered to take us there.

Latif Adam is a 17-year old student at secondary school (SS) in Tamale. He speaks the local language of Dagbani, enjoys football, rides a sweet motorcycle (moto), and won’t stop calling me! Ghanaians are known for their friendly and welcoming demeanour and Latif was a perfect example of that. He showed us where to get everything on our list, and even bartered for us when he knew we’d get ripped off. I thought it would be a good idea to get his number, since I’ll be living in Tamale this summer and I can always use a friend in the area. It became immediately clear, though, that he was calling me with ulterior motives: after inquiring about my state of being, he always asks for my “sisters’” phone numbers! (My sisters being the two female JFs with which I spent time at the market). What a cheeky guy.

Latif wasn’t the only friendly one. Practically every shop we went to welcomed us generously, offered up a seat, or even offered to stay open longer for us. I’ve learned already that such warm gestures are the Ghanaian way. Of course, not all Ghanaians are super nice; we did get called souleminga (a general negative term for foreigners) a few times in the thick of the market. We were told during pre-dep that if we act like we fit in, we will. I’m fairly certain that on that first day in the market, our nervousness was generally apparent, and that’s what elicited the jeers. I can’t wait for the day that I feel completely comfortable making purchases and communicating with the vendors in the market.

At the end of the long, hot afternoon, Alex and I found a fanmilk vendor on the street. We each paid him 60 pesewas (100 pesewas = 1 Ghana cedi) and he reached into the white cooler attached to the front of his bike. The anticipation was actually pretty high for me, because I was expecting a very strange item to be pulled out. Instead, the vendor passed us two sachets of ice cream! It was an excellent way to cool off as we headed back to the training centre after a long, hot afternoon.

-C

The Celebrated Return of My Ankles

After some fairly ridiculous travel adventures I am finally in Tamale, the greatest city in Ghana (or so I’ve been told). We arrived in Accra in the evening on Tuesday (May 17) and were greeted by Robin Stratas, the Ghana JF manager, at the airport. She led us to the taxi stand and quickly commandeered a fleet of cars to fit us all. She showed us to our car, handed me some unfamiliar currency, gave the driver our destination, and told us to try not to be afraid. Her warning was welcomed; the speedometer of the taxi was definitely non-functional, but I’m fairly certain that our driver was attempting to beat the current land speed record (while honking his horn at every opportunity).

We arrived at Kokomlemle guest house pretty quickly and hopped out for a quick meeting. The plan: team leaders were responsible for coordinating everyone to be up on time, while other volunteers were responsible for getting breakfast and taxis for all. We were exhausted after two days of travel and so everyone fell asleep pretty quickly. I was worried about waking up early enough (5:30) to get everyone else up, so it was a welcome relief (and a completely new experience) when a real-live rooster crowed the next morning. Too bad it was only one in the morning. That rooster crowed every hour, on the hour, until six. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much.

Everything went smoothly the next morning; we arrived at the STC station at seven to check in for our 8:00 bus to Tamale with egg and bread in hand (Ghanaian breakfast—more on food soon). The bus did not show up at eight, but Robin assured us that departure times in Ghana are of relative importance and reliability and thus that it would be there soon. Seven hours later, the bus pulled into the station, ready to take us north. At some point in that seven hour period, the J in me broke and I burst into random, maniacal (or at least more maniacal than usual) laughter in the middle of the bus station. They told me that Ghana time would destroy my J-ness, but I didn’t think its demise would be so swift.

A 12 hour bus ride quickly (er, slowly, I guess) turned into 20 hours. Overnight. In rural Ghana. I was glad to have the rest of the team there with me. We stopped about a hundred times for food, bathroom, and security breaks. At the first stop, the brother of a young woman tried to get my number for her. “She will text you,” he told me with a grin. Thankfully I didn’t yet have a phone; awkward situation avoided. At about 3:30 we stopped at a market that was turbo bustling. At 3:30! It was kind of crazy when the vendors swarmed the bus and started accepting cash through the open windows. Spencer asked for 1 cedi (Ghanaian currency—more on that later) of mangoes from one of the vendors and was promptly handed a bag of about 20 pieces of fruit. That’s about 0.63 CAD for over a kilo of fruit! We’re livin’ the dream here, I tell ya.

We finally arrived in Tamale at about 7:00 on Thursday (May 19). As we pulled in to the periurban area, I watched the sunrise over the very flat horizon. Despite all of my exhaustion and frustration, it was a beautiful and calming sight that generated a lot of excitement in me; after all, I was finally in the city which I hope to call home. We arrived in the city proper a few minutes later and caught a tro tro (a very crowded bus, often with people/chickens/goats/a combination on the roof) to our destination: a guest house and training centre at the outskirts of the city. We showered, changed and jumped into sessions for the rest of the day. That’s right; after four days of straight travel, we immediately continued with our learning process.

If that experience doesn’t demonstrate the hardcore experience that is EWB, then I don’t know what does.

-C

Welcome

Hello and welcome to my African Adventure!

And by “African Adventure”, I mean my experience in Ghana, one country (of a diverse set!) in West Africa. I will be spending 3.5 months there from May-August as a part of the Junior Fellowship (JF) in International Development program with Engineers Without Borders (EWB). I will be working in EWB’s Governance and Rural Infrastructure (GaRI, G&RI) sector to facilitate the development and implementation of evidence-based decision-making processes within the decentralized Ghanain government. That sounds complicated right now, but I promise I’ll break it down in a later post and it will all make sense

Okay, so as expected, we’re getting a little acronym-heavy here. EWB loves acronyms. That’s why I have included a nifty little widget on the right of this page which includes acronyms that I come across throughout my experience. I’ll try to keep that list updated and complete for your viewing pleasure.

A little about me:

My name is Christian Karl Euler and I’m 21 years young. Development is one of my passions, but more generally I am excited about the problem-solving and innovation processes in which EWB allows me to participate. I’m a systems thinker and abstractor of concepts and my Myers Briggs Type Indicator is ENFJ (more on that later). I’m studying Chemical Engineering and Biochemistry at the University of Ottawa and I’ve been involved with the EWB chapter for the last three years in various roles.

A little about this blog:

The major goal of this blog is to share, as entirely as possible, my JF experience with you, the reader. It is a tool which I will use to connect with members of my chapter, family members, friends, and other viewers. A secondary, though still very important, goal of this blog is to chart my development and learning over the course of the internship. Updates will likely include content including my work, wider-scope issues, my daily life, and the rural realities faced by Ghanains. I promise that there will be something for everyone.

A little about you:

Let me know! I’m open to feedback and would really love to hear from you. My contact information is on the right (near the acronym widget), so feel free (encouraged, even) to give me a shout.

Alright. More posts to come soon.

-C