Thursday, 15 June 2017

The only way is Tolon

Now on week eight of our journey in Ghana, it is safe to say we have well and truly settled in and adopted this new lifestyle very well. Each day that passes brings it challenges but also successes.
I hope this post will answer some of the questions from family and friends or future volunteers as to how life is as an International Service volunteer in Tolon, Ghana.

Most mornings around 6am you are woken by the call to prayer, drums at the cheif’s palace or the sound of what you would expect to hear at a farm! In reality it isn’t far from it, outside your room there are goats, cockerels, sheep and guinnea foul to name just a few, but at least no alarm is needed for these early mornings. Ready to start the day you will scramble out of your mosquito net to walk to the family long drop (toilet) to ‘free yourself’ as the Ghanaians call it, then you will go to the compound and fetch water for a refreshing bucket shower. When passing through the compound you will be greeted by your host family who will have been up for hours already and started their daily chores. After showering in the cubical in your room, breakfast will be served which is usually bread and tea or Milo (hot chocolate).

After breakfast, on the weekends, washing is usually done either by yourself or your generous in country conterpart who can see the struggle when you do it alone. Scrubbing  your clothes can become tiring fast for those not used to hand washing, but instead using a washing machine. Once the clothes have been hung on the washing line, they will be dry in no time, pretty handy when you are in urgent need of clean clothes. 

On a week day when you have work, you will cycle to the office after breakfast. The Cycle to work is one which can be enjoyable but also deadly depending on the condition of your bike that day. If all is working well then on you go, while being greeted by people you pass and becoming the entertainment for the children on their way to school. The kids will shout “Silminga (white person) what is your name?” everyday, you would think after 8 weeks they would remember your name! If your bike has been besieged upon by the kids then you may have a flat tyre or something else wrong with it which makes the journey a dreaded one. However a positive is that the heat from your body as you struggle to make it to the office works as a good iron for your clothing, as your shrits will be wrinkle free by the time you arrive at your destination.

Work begins at 9am and finishes at 4pm everyda. The first thing we do everyday is our roses and thorns (one good and one bad feeling or experience that you’ve had the previous day). This is a good way to start the day because it really makes you take the time to reflect on your experiences and how you feel, it also makes you aware of how the others on your team are feeling. Next a plan will be made for the days activities and the work will be  handed out between the group so that everything can be completed before 4pm.

Lunch is at 12 everyday, and after being here for a while you will have sussed out the good places to get food but also the places to avoid. The popular lunch meal at the begining of the trip was fried rice from our favourite roadside stall but after a couple of team members got themselves dodgy stomachs after one day we decided to give it a miss! Our new favourite lunch meal is fried soya which seems to agree with everyones stomach.

The work we do varies every week, however the 6 communities we work with in the tolon district are what our activities usually circulate around. An example of this work may involve contacting Masloc (our motor king supplier) or meeting with them in order to move forward with arranging the purchase of another motor king for the other communities. However not all week days are spent at the office as we also facilitate events such as financial and rice training for the women, which is very enjoyable because it also gives you the chance to bond with the woman in your community.

Once the work day has finished we either go straight to the tailors, as we always have material to get new garments made, or we will go to an area where we can relax and play music until it is time to go home for dinner. When you go home the kids will be playing outside the front of your house and will run over and insist on taking your bike and carrying your bag to your room. Once inside the compound, you will be greeted by mainly the host women who will be cooking dinner which is nearly always TZ and peanut soup and ask about your day at work.

If you are really getting into the Ghanaian lifestlfe (as a woman) you will get changed into a top and wrap a beautifully coloured cloth round your waist, when you get home and then begin cooking. Some host families cook for their volunteers but others cook for themsleves which is great because you get to learn how to cook traditional Ghanaian meals which is food such as Jollof rice, TZ or YAM which is everybodies favourite! The UK volunteers better prepare their families for a Ghanaian cook up when they arrive home!

There are too many things that go on in one day here in Tolon to be able to sqeeze them all into one blog, but I have covered the basic day to day routine of us volunteers. I hope this has given some insight into how we are living here in Ghana.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

10 ways to have fun in Tolon

Its not all work and no play in Tolon. If you ever find yourself in this area of the world, here are a few ideas of things to keep you busy...

1) Cycling

Cycling around has been a highlight for a lot of our volunteers. In the heat, it’s so lovely to have a breeze as you pedal along the road. Many of the volunteers don’t cycle at home, so it’s a refreshing change that I’m sure some of us would like to keep up after the 3 months. Having said that, it’s easier here because of the lack of hills. We cycle everywhere – from getting to the office, to early morning trips exploring, our bikes have proven invaluable.

2) Katinga market

Every six days is the Katinga market day and from Tolon to Katinga its about 15-20 minutes in the bus. Every market day we close the office at 12:00pm. We go market to buy a lot of things that will make us more comfortable or happy. These things include fabric, pears (known in the UK as avocadoes), yam and other things. We are always happy because its lots of fun seeing all the colour as well as the chaos of the stalls.

3) Cooking

We’ve all been pushed to the limits of our imagination when it comes to making food. The real challenge is making varied dishes with the limited ingredients that we can pick up from the market. It’s always fun to cook together at the weekends and have what we call a feast. Our personal favourite is avocado on fried bread. Hunting for ingredients is all part of the fun. Next week we want to try make pancakes for Roses birthday so we’re on the lookout for flour, milk and baking powder.

4) Spending time in our host homes.

Generally, everyone spends the evenings with their host families. The UKVs have been struck by the importance of family in Ghana, so evenings sitting in the home have become an important part of the day. All of us have a multitude of children in our homes, so evenings can often be spent being lovingly attacked by kids who love to have their picture taken and being picked up.

5) Owari
We have discovered a local game, called owari, and have spent hours trying to figure out how on earth it works. Slowly we’re picking it up, moving small beads at the right time to the right place, and we have even planned a tournament soon. The UKVs are still baffled by the concept of the game and continue to the get thrashed by the ICVs. But they certainly try hard and in Tolon there’s always plenty of time to practise and pick up the patterns of the game.

6) Getting clothes made

One of the things the UKVs are amazed by is the multitude of colour that you see in the clothes. We feel so bland when we look around at the uniqueness that comes with the clothing in Ghana. We decided that we needed to change this and the only way was to get some clothes made for ourselves. We chose fabrics at the market and have all had outfits made. Now no one can accuse Joel of being boring in his new dungarees and Sara & Salma could be spotted from a mile away.

7) Card games

It’s amazing how many hours you can spend going around in a circle collecting and discarding bits of paper. We’ve spent many an afternoon playing games by the school, under the shade of a Shea nut tree. In fact, we’ve just started a league for one of our favourite games and Joe is miles ahead in the lead.

8) Community events

Although we can’t boast a lot of community event experience so far, there’s certainly one that we all remember and loved. Last Sunday afternoon we all went to a dance competition at the chief’s palace. On our arrival, we were not disappointed as we saw over 300 people crowded in a circle, cheering on whoever was brave enough to dance for the chief. Our very own Joel took the challenge and got up to show us his moves. The crowd could not contain themselves as he shuffled up to the chief’s chair to accept his blessing to dance. We were all incredibly impressed by the drummers, who played their hardest in the heat for over 2 hours. The dancers often throw money at them to show their appreciation.

9) Reading and films

When the evening comes in, but it’s still too early to go to bed, we use the opportunity to catch up on reading and films. We could almost open a library with the amount of book swapping that’s gone on. You can be sure that they’ll be a lot of discussion in the office about our various books and films. Veganism has been a topic of interest for the UKVs. Not a day goes by when we don’t discuss animal welfare with our resident vegan, Joel, having already persuaded 2 of us to become veggie.

10) Playing football
Playing football is one the games we play in Tolon. We often go beside dam underneath the mango trees to play after work. But alas, one day Dan, Samantha and Rose were playing in front of their office during a break. Unfortunately for some and fortunately for others Rose kicked the ball a little too hard and it is now firmly lodged upon the roof. Bye Bye football…

Friday, 21 April 2017

Sun, Spice and Suspicious Parents

Grace, Joe and Sarah smiling through the sunburn.

Dazed and confused we awoke in Tolon.

Week one in rural Tolon in northern Ghana has been hot and sweaty with arms like spaghetti. Did I need that alarm clock my grandma pressed softly into my hand? No, I did not. The local wildlife has given us numerous photo opportunities, along with free wake-up calls. No need to call the concierge, the goats have got this on lock (not that we have a concierge). The town we find ourselves in (Tolon) has embraced us, whole heartedly into their community helping, us to settle into our new way of life and making sure Joe can find his way to and from work/anywhere.

In week one we have faced some treacherous moments. Such as: Sarah falling off her bike backwards, Sarah going full tomato and Sarah crashing into a wall and falling into a sewer.  Whilst we are on the topic, let’s introduce the team of NFED’s 7th cohort from International Service. We have of course Sarah, who is doing well to provide the team with comical relief every time she falls off of something. She doesn’t want this blog to be about her, but at the same time she insists that I write about her twin brother and the city in which she will start studying her masters next year. Next up we have her In-country counterpart, Salamata without whom we would not know a word of Dagbani (the local language) and wouldn’t get that acute sense of failure every time she laughs as we attempt to say ‘Dasiba’ (good-morning). 

Now we come to Grace (UK) who gave me a list of her favourite foods, when I only asked for one and yearns to taste that sweet, sweet nectar that is garlic bread, once more.  On a serious note though she is excited to learn about a new culture, away from her cake shop in Haslemere. This brings us to Rose, Grace’s Ghanaian counterpart. Rose describes herself as keen to learn and wants to use that newfound knowledge to teach others. With her passion being making people happy, we are sure to all get along swell.

Team Tolon, attempting to play a ball game.

Now to Grace from Northern Ghana (although when I asked she claimed to also be from London). When I asked about her experience so far she said ‘nice’ with a long pause, thanks Grace. She hopes to improve her public speaking skills as well as learn more about the culture in Northern Ghana.  Grace’s UK counterpart is the wonderful Samantha who brought games galore and comes all the way from Somer[h]set. So far Samantha’s loving the heat (which makes a change), but (alas) is being tortured by her Doxy dreams of food, she would trample us all for a slice of pizza if given the chance.

Now we come to the true bromance of cohort 7, Dan and Joel. A friendship so strong they shall be written about together (also the word count). Joel is our resident vegan who is successfully converting us to the dark side (do it Luke) and has brought almost anything and everything you could possibly imagine, except soymilk. No tea for you baby cakes.

Our Welsh Vegan Joel, probably searching for some soymilk

Dan, whose mother is a host home mum in Sandema, is one of the most open-minded and laid back guys you could ever hope to meet. From day one he has helped the UKVs learn more about Ghanaian culture and is successfully keeping our welsh vegan suitably fed. Finally this brings us to Joe and Bonaventure, a bromance on the brew (?).  Unfortunately Bona has only been able to be with us for a day so far, but our team looks forward to getting to know him some more.  As you already know Joe seemingly has no internal (nor moral) compass, as he reliant upon hoards of friendly, all be it bemused neighbours to guide him home (picture pinball). Only moments ago he attempted to apply insect repellent whilst in front of a fan and couldn’t quite work out why it was all in his eyes (10 out of 10 would not recommend) rather than on his arms, which speaks for itself really. The make up of our team means that all ICVs and UKVs alike are learning from one another. With a plethora of cultures at our disposal, there is certainly a lot to talk about.

Samantha and our trusty steads.

All jokes aside our team is feeling incredibly lucky, we are thankful for landing ourselves amongst a group of like-minded individuals, in a town with a sense of welcoming that you’d be hard stretched to beat and of course for Turkish airline’s and their free pillow.
  We also count ourselves lucky to have such amazing team leaders who we wouldn’t change for the world (they insisted), Edd and Caleb. But it is our host families in Tolon who deserve the largest chunk of credit, as they have welcomed us into their lives with open arms. Ensuring we feel part of the family, despite only having been here for such a short amount of time.

As a team of individuals we look forward to our time here in Tolon. Blog One. Done.

 [Since the time of writing Sarah has been weed on by a young child]