Latest Entries »

Finally More Photos!

I’ve literally tried to upload these photos more than 5 times causing plenty of frustration (and some cursing) and wasting too much time, but thankfully I’ve finally been able to succeed. I hope you enjoy, and if you have any questions feel free to comment, you can comment as anonymous, or send an email: brianvenne@ewb.ca

all the best!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Overdue Work Update

Here’s a breakdown of what I’ve been up to at work last week:

 
 

Monday

I was in Tamale, the capital of the Northern Region 4 hours south of Navrongo where I stay, for our DDA (District Director of Agric) Fellowship. It was the last of 5 workshops where we bring the directors together from different districts to share ideas, problem solve together, learn about specific issues they’re interested in (like value chains), work on some leadership development such as different leadership styles and reflecting on their strengths and weaknesses. At this session they presented on their change projects that they came up with and held each other accountable for – they basically shared progress and what happened. One director’s project was around Performance Based Incentives where he and his staff established a criteria and team to assess field staff on how well they’ve done and rewarding them (incentive) with either material or non-material things such as extra fuel money, a certificate and public recognition, work materials like rubber boots, being allowed to attend a workshop, etc. Another director’s project was to keep detailed records of fertilizer transactions and numbers and analyze this data – for a clearer description have a look at my colleague Erin’s comments: http://perspectives.ewb.ca/static/erinperspective.html

 
 

And on top of all that, for me it was a fun time because they all joke around a lot and have lots of laughs – which is one of the things I love about some people here – and it just made the day more enjoyable. On the other hand, they also gave each other feedback (positive and constructive) which is not a common practice among civil servants or anyone as far as I’ve heard and seen here.

 
 

Tuesday

Megan, an EWB staff from a neighbouring district, came to my district and met with 2 AEA field staff Greg and Clement and I in the field on an AEA field exchange, which is something Megan has been piloting. It’s basically scheduling and encouraging field staff to think about what they want to learn from other field staff. So we don’t chose for them or dictate and they get to decide based on what they want to know, this could be how to measure a yield plot, or how to do a business plan with a group, or some composting methods or whatever they feel is important to learn from each other. We just play the ‘middle-man’ and organize things so that it happens. We’re aware that it’s not sustainable but it’s an interesting experiment to see how peer to peer learning can happen and if it’s useful or not.

 
 

Wednesday

I helped run the Agriculture as a Business (AAB) workshop for field staff at the district, and to my surprise just about all the AEAs showed up which I found incredible since everyone knew the director was out of town. I think it went pretty well, even though I never know how good workshops are because I’ve seen a bunch of them that people are used to attending and the engagement level is never that high. But I was happy that Greg and Clement facilitated the majority of it so it wasn’t just me, I played a smaller role which is how it should be, while the two of them gained some experience facilitating rather than the usual being on the receiving end, and I think it was good that they were promoting the AAB tool as a way to help build strong farmer groups. I’m also unsure about if people will actually use it or not but the director is mandating the use of the AAB tool to strengthen farmer groups so I’m optimistic. EWB is planning on doing an evaluation of the AAB tool to try and measure the results, not to get donor funding but to know how beneficial it is based on some evidence rather than just our personal experience and gut feelings. So I’m hoping to be a part of this evaluation work in the near.

 
 

Thursday

I went to the regional office and had a transition meeting with Megan before we departed for the EWB West African Retreat – where our Ghana and Burkina Faso staff come together to share information and ideas while holding workshops and presentations – and have some fun too. Megan is leaving Ghana next week so I’ll be the only EWB person in the Upper East Region, which means I’ll be working at the regional office in Bolga part time, maybe only once a week. I’m still learning about what this work will entail and what it will look like, but part of it will be attending monthly meetings that the regional director holds with all the district directors, working with the monitoring and evaluation department a bit on district reporting systems, and also being the face/mouth of EWB here and trying to build relationships with the regional director and regional officers to include them in our work and see how we can work together. I think another aspect of my role might entail visiting districts that we’ve previously worked in to see what’s happening, where they are at, are they even using AAB, what changes have they made and so on.

 
 

So that’s what has been happening with work lately, in a nutshell it’s mostly learn as you go which means plan and strategize but you have to be flexible and take action when an opportunity presents itself and react and make changes when things don’t go as planned; basically working in uncertainty.

 
 

 
 

It’s been about a month or two since I finished up my traveling work and I’ve been settling into Navrongo ever since: finding a family to live with, running a workshop for supervisors, going to the field and learning about development projects and MoFA in the district, attending staff and management meetings, working on Agric as a Business sustainability with the director, supervisors and field staff, completing EWB work like report writing, planning/scheduling, communicating with EWB chapters in Canada, and the list goes on.

 
 

Here’s something I wrote but have yet to post on my work in the Northern Region:

 
 

Traveling around to 6 different districts in the Northern Region and interviewing and having discussions with 27 people working for the Ministry of Food and Agriculture was both discouraging and inspiring. First, it was discouraging because I heard first hand about all the large problems affecting people across the North of the country. Mainly, structural issues like fuel allowances that ministry staff depend on and need which were 3 or more months late. Can you imagine having to travel to rural communities as a core part of your job but not receiving any money to do so for 3 months or more? It seemed to affect everyone’s job and therefore small scale farmers, many who are living hand to mouth. Another issue that people talked about was mobility, some staff members who are supposed to go to rural communities to visit and interact with farmers don’t even have means of transportation and have to either ride bicycles long distances or borrow motorcycles from different people and fill up their tanks (of which they may only use a fraction then give the moto back). So field staff and supervisors appear to be underpaid, overworked, under resourced, and districts are even under-staffed leaving people to do the work of 2 people, and no matter how hard a person works and how quality of a job they do, they are paid the same as someone who is lazy and does very little work. And if the hard worker wants to get promoted the criteria she/he will be judged on is based on years of experience and education level, not necessarily the quality or quantity of work they do. So no systematic/structural incentives exist for hard workers and no systemic/structural sanctions exist for lazy/corrupt workers (apparently the worst that will happen is you will be transferred to a different district). So Directors can’t fire or hire or promote anyone because all the decisions are being made at the regional or mainly the national level.

 
 

After hearing about these SAME problems in every district with every field staff and almost every supervisor I talked with, I was feeling pretty de-motivated and disheartened, like what difference can I or EWB make in this environment? Then I met people who brought me right back up and instilled hope in me that Ghanaians will solve the problems facing Ghana. People who recognize the problems but still work hard to overcome them or work around them, who don’t just complain and let barriers prevent them from moving forward. A met one man named Prince in the rural district of Nanumba South. You could feel the sincerity in his words and see the passion he has to help his country, while his understanding of the issues facing his district amazed me. But what really stuck with me was how motivated he seemed among all the problems and challenged faced by the district. He’s driven to go back to school and get his degree (he’s currently working on a diploma) and in the past before joining the ministry he volunteered as a teacher for some years while farming on the side in order to make ends meet. It’s young passionate people like Prince who will bring about development and solve the problems of poverty, and I’m just fortunate enough to meet and work with some of them.

 
 

This is what the Director told me while sat and conversed over a beer in a rural and arguably neglected district called Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo. His argument intrigued me; he gave the example of a bank here in Ghana with nice shiny tiled floors, glass doors, garbage containers, and a clean and professional look – what you would expect from a bank in Canada. Now the way one would act or behave in such a place will likely be different from the way one would act in a place with dirt floor, poor uneven unpaved road, trash spread on the ground and in the gutter, and so on. It is simple and pretty convincing: your surroundings affect your actions, and your actions and attitude (how you think and how you act) are interconnected.

 
 

In a place such as Bunkpurugu with horrible unpaved and un-graveled/graded roads it’s understandable that one would make such an argument. Traveling around the Northern Region I experienced first hand the lack of transportation infrastructure on some of the worst roads in the country. To be honest, as much I enjoyed the company of Ministry staff in Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo I would be hesitant to ever visit again unless there was a significant reason – the trip was pretty uncomfortable and long. So from my foreigner perspective, I can understand why NGOs and government projects may neglect this district. If I were a Minister or held a prestigious position within the government I would likely try and minimize the amount of travel on this stretch of roads. However, I’m not trying to justify why this district may be neglected from much needed assistance, but rather trying to understand the situation from my observations, experiences, and discussions with some educated civil servants. I don’t know what it will take for the government to invest in rural districts such as the one I visited, but I hope it happens sooner than later.

There’s a range of photos here from where I stay in Navrongo, where I stayed in Paga last summer, and from my travels around the Northern Region. I have some half written posts that I’ll try to get up this week, but for now here’s just some visuals. If you have any questions please don’t be afraid to ask.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Integrating too far?

In the past month as I traveled the Northern Region I spent lots of my time waiting for the bus and sitting on the bus, and during this time my mind would roam and I would also meet new people and have interesting discussions.

 
 

“Is that what you do in your country?” is what I heard from the seat behind me when I threw my banana peels out the window. I turned around and said that I would because the banana peels would decompose. I was being defensive and trying to use logic to justify my actions. When I think of it now, if I were on a bus that was driving through the city I wouldn’t throw my banana peels out the window, so why did I do it in this city in Ghana? He joked with me and his following sentence was, “Or have you picked up our bad habits?” He was right, I was just doing what I observe others doing, in my quest for integration I seemed to left some of my own values back in Canada. This struck me as pretty significant because I immediately remembered my thoughts and actions regarding litter from last summer http://brian-ghanaforthesummer.blogspot.com/2009/06/litter.html that’s why I think there’s a point where outsiders may be “integrating too far”.

 
 

I spoke with the guy for a bit and gave him my case, again using logic along the lines of: there’s no garbage in the bus; regardless of where I put my trash, whether it is organic or plastic, it will be lit on fire; in my country there’s waste infrastructure where the trash would be buried, and there are trash cans everywhere; throwing banana peels isn’t a big deal because they will decompose; I threw the plastic bag out the window onto a pile of plastic at the bus stop where it will be burnt. He thankfully pointed out that it is the act of littering that is important. And further, he said it is how people perceive white people such as me. He said that people know that your place (the West) is different, that we do things different, maybe even that it’s relatively cleaner, and that when people see me litter they may think that their acts of littering are just fine because even white people do it. I don’t know if I entirely agree with his line of thought, but I agree with his point. At times I don’t want to accept that people may view me in such a way, that my actions as a white male have some influence on the way people think and behave here. I don’t want to see myself as anything but an equal but the reality is that I come from a relatively rich power place and with that comes undeserved status, what some people refer to as white privilege. It’s uncomfortable to think as yourself as being on a higher playing field, or having some sort of power or status, it bothers me even to write about this. But one thing I learned from a professor in university is that succumbing to guilt will paralyze you and nothing good will come from it. It’s better to acknowledge it, however uncomfortable it is, and try to be more self-aware and aware of your social surroundings and how you fit or don’t fit into it all.

 
 

It was a wakeup call that I needed and appreciated, and whether I like it or not, notice it or not, or believe it or not, people watch what I do because I’m a foreigner so it’s best that I clean up my act and stay true to my values.

This is a common response I get when I talk to people in Canada about my time/work in Ghana . While I was on the bus during my month of traveling in the Northern Region, I was reflecting on this.

 
 

Here’s a few maps to give an image to the names I’ll be mentioning (but if you look it up on google you can see the road lines):

 
 


 
 

In the Northern Region, pariculalry in the eastern districts like Nanumba North (Bimbila) and South, East Mamprusi, Bunkprugu-Yunyoo, Saboba Cherepone, and East Gonja their some roads that you wouldn’t even consider roads back home. There is no way I can represent them in a positive light, they are down right horrible roads, some of the very worst in Ghana. My EWB friend Mina, who lives in Saboba, even says that the government should be ashamed of themselves (http://zikomoafrica.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/the-road-to-tanamo/) and I agree. As I was traveling them I would stop and think about how I could describe them to someone in Canada, someone who may complain about how the city should re-pave a road with a few minor pot-holes. The best I could come up with was these few examples: think of the worst old wood rail road tracks you’ve ever driven over and had to slow right down, now picture having to drive over 4 or more of these back to back with no space in between and then imagine having these large sets of tracks every 10m or so; OR imagine being on a 4wheeler or 4×4 up in northern Ontario in the bush, on a trail, with rocks and unven terrain, going up and down hills having to crawl over some parts because they are so rough. Now imagine riding on either of these 2 paths I just described for 100-200km, in a very crowded and dirty/dusty bus, in the heat of summer. And when the bus finally arrives after you’ve been waiting for maybe 2-4 hours because it is late, you have to run up to as it stops and assert yourself among the crowd of people shoulder to shoulder so that you will hopefully secure a ticket for the driver before it fills up.

 
 

Now I was riding the bus at night on my way from Walewale (West Mamprusi) to Bunkprugu-Yunyoo, and luckily I got a seat, or rather luckily I was white and therefore received undeserving privilege and status: when the bus arrived a man with some prominence informed the bus driver where I was going then the driver gave me a ticket as I was in the crowd of people trying to get on. Thankfully everyone was able to board but a number of them had to stand, needless to say I wasn’t one of them. In the isle of the bus where people stood, there was also people’s belongings and luggage. So as the paved road was left behind we continued on some very rough roads. At times I thought the bus would tip over when it shook from side to side passing through dips in the road carved out from the rains, and as the bus shook from side to side people standing would temporarily lose their balance half fall onto the person sitting next to them, that person being me on several occasions. Physical personal space is a luxury and cultural construct that we have back home, like most people don’t feel very comfortable being pressed up against or too close to people, for instance I always find it amusing sitting on the bus or train and the uncomfortable look on peoples’ faces when they notice there are no more 2-seat spots available and they are forced to sit beside someone. But as I was on the bus I thought how crazy this bus ride seems, how bad the road is, how crowded and chaotic this bus ride is, and then I thought again about the “life changing experience”, the “eye opening experience”.

 
 

That is one way to view my experience on the buses and road of Northern Ghana, but I would often remind myself that I chose to be here, and on those buses I was sure that I was the only person who made that choice and who would describe it as a “life changing experience”. I’m sure that some if not most people on the bus would refer to it as a Wednesday. I kept thinking that most people on those buses don’t have a choice, if they want to travel from point A to point B this is the only means of transport on the only main road in whatever shape it is in. This isn’t an interesting, eye opening, life changing experience – this is peoples’ daily lived realities. This is life in the Northern Region of Ghana. And it’s not easy.


 

Some Photos

So here’s some more visuals of people and places here in northern Ghana!

Northern Region MoFA office in Tamale

I woman and her child waiting at the bus station

Little kitten in Gushiegu at the compound where I stayed

Eat Ghana Rice campaign sign - a past EWB MoFA intiative

napping in the bus station

Mr. Bawa and Mr. Zak - on my visit to Gushiegu

Mr. Ali, myself, and the Director Dr. Dicksen - on my visit to Bunkpurungu

Safia and her son reading the letter that Nadia (past volunteer) sent with me to give to Safia

My friend Kofi and I near his place in Navrongo

The place I've been staying at in Navrongo (I'm planning on moving)

hope you enjoy the visuals, I’m still on the road and I’ll try to put up a post about my work, that is, what I’m doing traveling to different districts and how it’s been going.

cheers,

Brian

Working Man

I’ve been in Navrongo for the past few weeks trying to get settled into work at the district agric office. So this has involved attending meetings, assisting coworkers with proposal and report writing, getting to know the staff, trying to get myself organized and better understand where I fit into things within our EWB strategy and in the district, and preparing myself for the next month of work on the road.

I’m leaving Navrongo on Monday for roughly a month of traveling, not tourist type traveling so no crocodiles or elephants this time, but as part of my work. I’m to visit 7 different districts in the Northern Region (south of the Upper East where I’m at) and talk with agric staff (MoFA) in each district in order to get a snapshot of how management and supervision works (or doesn’t work) in each district then we’ll see if we kind find any trends. EWB has worked in all the districts at one point or another, some recently with 4 month volunteers, some years ago, some part time, etc. So I’ll be interviewing/sitting and chatting with district directors, supervisors and field staff trying to find out more about what management looks like within MoFA. This may be regarding the management systems like reporting, meetings, fuel allowances, feedback, how supervisors monitor their field staff, and so on. The other side of management I’ll be looking into is the leadership of particular staff, primarily directors and supervisors, so I’ll look into things like people’s perceptions of management, what an ideal management environment should like in different people’s opinion, what makes a good manager, what are some qualities, characteristics of leadership that are useful in a district, and so forth.

Basically we (EWB) want to learn about the link between good management and good performing districts, where good performing districts are effectively assisting and supporting small scale farmers. We’re looking into what we think good management is, what MoFA thinks it is, and of course what good management actually is. Why we’re looking into this aspect of agriculture here is because we’ve found out throughout our work here with MoFA that management is a bottleneck. For instance, the Agriculture as a Business program (http://brian-ghanaforthesummer.blogspot.com/2009/06/agriculture-as-business.html) (http://brian-ghanaforthesummer.blogspot.com/2009/06/agriculture-as-business-part-2.html) I worked on last summer heavily depends on the director and supervisors in order to be sustainable and more generally for things to get done. If you are a MoFA staff member and your director is bought into an idea or approach or project he (never heard of a female director of agric here) will push for things to get done. Or the opposite happens where the director doesn’t push for things to get done, isn’t enthusiastic about things, people don’t respect him because of X, Y, or Z and then MoFA doesn’t support farmers very well. A strong management team consisting of a director and about 4-6 supervisors leads to well supported motivated field staff and ultimately better support for farmers.

Hopefully that is clear enough, if I’m missing some background context please leave me a comment and I’ll try and fill in the blanks.

here’s a few pics of some of my new coworkers at MoFA in Navrongo

Lauren's going away luncheon with MoFA staff

Having a drink with the staff

(this post was inspired by my friend/former class mate Ken)

When I look at photographs in my Ghana travel book, they look so intriguing, like women smiling carrying baskets on their heads wearing multicoloured clothing. Representations of women as “culture” is a whole other blog post that maybe I’ll work another time. Another photograph in this book (and I’m sure other travel books) is taken from the second or higher story overlooking the outdoor market. While I was waiting at the Bolga station for my bag to arrive I was standing on a second floor balcony and had a nice vantage point and took a photo.

I stood there as the sun set and clouds moved in and thought about the photo in my travel book. Having navigated my way around the Bolga station several times I thought about the differences between the balcony view and on the ground during a market day when people flock from the surrounding areas to buy, sell, and trade all kinds of things. Looking at the photo I took reflects only minimal realities occurring in this station, in other words the photo is devoid of context. It’s the story behind the photograph that is hidden from sight unless you are wandering around the station. And to add to this, being a foreigner who can’t speak the local language, I’m only seeing the tip of the iceberg while the majority lye underneath the water, so to speak. I’ve received plenty of feedback from people about how they liked my Ghana pictures, and although I appreciate the feedback, I’m thinking about how people can interpret photos in so many different ways. For instance, Duncan, another EWB staff in Malawi is working on a photographic project by taking 2 pictures of his friends, co-workers and fellow community members, the first photo is of them in their work or home clothes that may be dirty at the time (like from farming in the field) or ripped from wear and tear, and the other photo of them in their Sunday best suites and dresses. This side project is interesting to me because it showcases how little of the story a photo can tell you.

But let’s go back to the Bolga station photo. Missing here is the smells, sounds, and intricacies found on the ground. I’ll share some observations with the hope of bringing you there with me. I don’t see myself as much of a creative writer, especially after 4 years of writing academic papers, so we’ll see how this experiment goes:

You step out from the back of the crowded taxi you shared with 5 others and are met with the hot equatorial sun, the smell of exhaust and diesel fuel from the tro-tros and other taxis surrounding you, and the sound of men yelling out the locations where their vehicles are traveling “Navrongo! Navrongo! Navrongo! Accra last one! Accra last one! (meaning one seat left before leaving)”. It takes you a minute to orient yourself because you can’t see very far because tro-tro’s and busses are parked all over the place in an organized manner. Some tro-tros will be parked for up to 4 or 5 days until it is there turn leave, meaning that drivers sleep in their tros at night and essentially live at the station until the other tros that are in line before them leave for their destination. You’ve never been in this station before you have no bearings to gain; instead you begin to wander in whatever direction that seems less hectic. As you walk motorcycles, bicycles, trucks and cars drive by you nearly brushing your shirt as they navigate around women, men, girls and boys walking in every which direction. Some girls and women are selling things that they carry on top of their heads, like water, bananas, different prepared food stuffs, toothpaste, gum, cloth and clothing, eggs, and so on. Like the drivers they are calling out the name of what they are saying, “Ice pure water!” Some are fairly young girls, maybe 10-13, they have a tired look in their eyes, and you think it’s a pity they are not in school, but you’re not really sure. You don’t realize that it’s summer vacation and maybe they are helping their mother out while not in school. Maybe they don’t have a mother and are living with an abusive Auntie; maybe they are from the village and walked 8km leaving very early in the morning to catch the first busses and tro-tros that arrived. You’re fairly certain, in your head, that they would rather be doing something else other than walking around all say in the sun selling items from atop their heads.

As you’re looking and pondering you just about get run over by a younger guy driving too fast on a motorcycle. Then a herd of goats pour in from around the corner and you laugh because it is so foreign, different, and seems so out of place for small ruminants to roam around an urban center such as this. During your laughter you don’t even notice the small boy in tattered clothes herding the animals, but even if you did you would probably make assumptions that may or may not be true because again, you don’t really know. By now you’ve only walked about 20m and the sounds, sights and smells only intensify. You turn the corner and see more people, more vehicles, more animals, more trash on the ground, and more stalls that are selling different things. You here someone hissing, “sssssst, ssssst” and look over your shoulder and see younger guy opening and closing his hand which is directed at you. Since you don’t understand the culture which you are hoping to immerse yourself in, you take offense to the hissing and ignore the person. You don’t know that the hissing is common cultural norm and means no disrespect, if they had known your name they would probably have called it, or if they had yelled “hey!” it would be a public sign of great disrespect. The hand gesture is the same as waving someone over back in your home country. The guy may simply wanted to talk with you and hear about what it is like in your country for he doesn’t have access to world wide information like you do, or maybe he was trying to sell you something for an inflated price because he thinks you have more money than him seeing as you are white and all.

You continue to walk and begin to notice that most people are looking at you, not with contempt or malice but with observant eyes like you have a big tall red hat on your head. This realization makes you feel very uncomfortable, but then you are confronted by an old man begging for money, he can’t speak English but makes a gesture with his hand towards his mouth as if to signify the act of eating. You’re not sure what to do and awkwardly stand there looking at him. On the one hand you know you can spare a dollar or two or at least the change in your pocket, but on the other is your understanding of aid dependency within developing countries that you learned of through books. Specifically, you are concerned about your role as a development worker being viewed as the white man/woman who is rich and will give the “poor Africans” money. You are concerned with everyone around you watching if you will give away money, you are concerned with people’s perceptions of white people although you have no idea what those perceptions might be aside from the generalized knowledge you gained from books. As you’re standing there awkwardly you notice some people looking at you in this situation giggling and speaking in a language you can’t understand, so you walk away feeling guilty that you didn’t give money to an old man who you assumed to be poor needy.

It’s the middle of the afternoon and you’re getting pretty thirsty under the hot sun so you decide to buy some water. You flag down a girl with water on head, and you ask her how much it costs for one bag of water because water comes in little 500ml sealed sachets. She replies “Five tousand”. 5000?!?! Maybe she made a mistake or something but when you ask her to repeat herself you get the same response. But then, as if wanting to put an end to your discomfort and lack of understanding she says “5 pesowas”. You didn’t know there was an old currency before the new Ghana Cedi currency was introduced. It’s now time to quench your thirst and you’ve seen others bite a hole in the sachet and drink from it so that is what you do. Unfortunately as you’re biting off the corner water squirts all over your face and group of kids burst out in laughter! By this point all you can do is laugh at yourself and continue on.

From a few of the shops your ears cannot escape the loud music blaring from the speakers. You enjoy the beats but can’t seem to figure out why the radio DJ keeps interrupting the music to say a few words every 5 seconds. Anyway, you keep walking and are then approached by a man who greets you and asks you where you are from. You’ve heard about how friendly Ghanaians are so you reciprocate and tell him where you are from. He says he wants to be your friend and walks along side you asking you questions. But you’re starting to get a weird feeling in your stomach about this man, he seems a little, well, off. You try saying that you are going here or need to do this, and other polite tactics so he gets the hint that you have to go. However, you aren’t sure exactly what to say as you don’t want to offend him. By now you’ve become fairly uncomfortable and worried. You try going into an store to loose him but when you exit he’s there waiting for you and inquiring about what you bought in a non-threatening way. You keep walking and as does he. Then your phone rings. “Yes! Maybe he’ll leave me alone if I chat on the phone for a while” you think to yourself. It’s another volunteer on the line and your plan works as the man loses interest and walks away as you chat on your cell. Later you learn that the man is “mad”, which is slang for mentally ill. You learn that people wouldn’t stand by and watch if he tried to harm you or steal from you, rather, if he made such a move a group of guys watching would most likely attack him with their fists – from stories you’ve heard about punishment for thieves. At least you have now learned that talking on the phone is way to avoid eye contact and communication with people who may be harassing you or who may be mentally ill.

You’ve left the station while trying to shake the weird guy, and spot an internet café with air conditioning with a sigh of relief. You and enter and ask to browse but are told the network is down. No internet. By this point your spirits are getting pretty low and you just want to relax but can’t because everything is new, different, and foreign and you honestly are not sure what to do next. You decide to walk back to the station wanting to head back to your host community. Instead of wandering around like a lost sheep, this time you ask someone as soon as you enter the station, “I’m trying to get to Navrongo, where can I find a taxi?” The young lady instructs you to follow her and she leads you directly to the taxi you need, speaks something to the driver in a language you don’t understand and points to a taxi telling you to take this one. You thank her and she smiles and leaves. As you approach the guys hanging around all the taxis lined up they ask you were you are going, you reply Navrongo, then one asks you if you want a drop in. “Drop in???” You have no clue that he’s asking you if you want to charter the taxi and be the only passenger and leave immediately instead of a shared taxi where you have to wait until there is enough people to fill the seats. By this point in time, you just say “No, I want to go to Navrongo, not because you know what he’s asking but because you’re tired and losing patience (not a good thing in a place where plenty of things move slow). So you stand by a taxi with a few other people that has a small removable sign on the roof that reads “Navrongo – already going”. Another person arrives and you all climb into the taxi off to Navrongo. The driver gets in and grabs a few wires under the steering wheel to start the car, you automatically feel unsure about the driver because in your country this would indicate a stolen car, but you still don’t understand the harsh punishment thieves receive if they’re caught.

A Bob Marley cassette is playing in the car which thankfully calms your nerves sooths your soul. Your lost in the passing sights of so many new things, the phone company advertisements that you see everywhere, the women carrying things on their heads, the green fields of crops, the small run down shops, the mud huts with and without power lines connected to them, cattle, goats and sheep grazing, children playing soccer and with worn out bicycle tires, groups of men sitting and playing cards, large transport trucks that are stacking with goods probably twice as high as they should, men, women, and even children working in their fields weeding, half built concrete block homes scattered here and there, large mango shading like large umbrellas, baobab trees that look about 10m in diameter at the trunk, dogs scavenging, chickens roaming free scratching up the earth pecking away, pre-adolescent boys sitting on the side of the road selling bowls full of fresh eggs to whomever will pull over, signs with village and town names that you can’t pronounce, and thankfully the fresh air consuming your face as it pours through the half open window. Your mind races around trying to comprehend and understand, asking itself questions but no answers follow, your emotions flutter at difficult sights that you and other westerns call poverty, as well as calm cool sights like the sun setting over green fields. You take a deap breath. You exhale. You just, be.