Scottish Charity Number: SCO36069
 

20th September 2010

THREE Reports in One by Grace and Jason

Home | Footprinter Reports | THREE Reports in One by Grace and Jason

NOVEMBER

We made it to Dodowa! The past two months have been amazing! Weve had the most brilliant time (and abandoned vegetarianism at least temporarily) and now were here; it doesnt seem real. Its quite a shock to have arrived somewhere, having slept in so many beds/tents/hammocks along the way, and know this is where we will settle. To quote from my diary:

Basically were both shitting it a bit. Jase is worried I dont/wont like it even though he knows Ill love it really. Were both on a bit of a downer since leaving Francophone West Africa. Its odd having no private conversations with each other (as everyone around us now understands English too) and the bread here is rank, processed, sugary white stuff in comparision with the ex-French colony baguettes we got used to.

When breakfast and/or lunch at least revolve around bread and eggs (the culinary genius that is an omlette sandwich) thats 50% of your diet gone squeue wiffy!

One week in and weve learned to wow the locals with Muchowme thank you in the local dialect, Dangbe at the market and George and his family have made us feel incredibly welcome. Joyce literally jumped for joy when we arrived. We were smothered with cheers and hugs and shrieks of Akwaaba you are welcome in Twi, the most common tribal language in Ghana. George greeted us with a smattering of paint on his shorts evidencing the refurbishment hes made of our room. We expected clean sheets but got freshly plastered and painted walls, new curtains and lino and a huge (very welcome) ceiling fan they say Ghanaian hospitality is second to none!

The journey overland on the truck was awesome the highlight was definitely driving across the Mauritanian desert. We saw no one for 36 hours and at night, in the light of the full moon, the desert sand looked frosted for as far as you could see in every direction. From the top of the nearest dune the expanse around us was so desolate you could see the curvature of the Earth: breathtaking!

From Dakar we left the organized truck tour group and took public transport the rest of the way. A 30-hour bus trip got us from Dakar, Senegal to Bamako in Mali. We rode 4th class on a river-boat up the Niger to Mopti. We trekked through traditional villages along the escarpment of the Dogon Country before catching more buses further south to Burkina Faso. We loved Burkina Faso! We hired mopeds to ride to waterfalls in the countryside and again to weave our way authentically through the rush hour traffic of Ouguadougou. Finally we embarked on yet another ancient coach for too many hours to Ghana.

Its been an incredible journey and now the excitement keeps coming as we settle down and embark on a different kind of adventure. Weve seen some of the bikes in town which must have arrived in Dodowa with the shipment we sent in 2007. Two worlds colliding, its quite surreal! The remaining scrap spare parts have been kept for Jason to sort through in the spare room of the family home.

Thank you very much Hazels Footprints Trust for your generous contribution towards the cost of our staying here for the next 12 months.

DECEMBER

Very almost Happy New Year 2010!

The past nearly two months have been slow going but progress is being made as we define the project and our roles in it.

Jason contracted malaria pretty badly two weeks into our stay in Ghana. We were in the capital when he deteriorated most quickly so the emergency trip to hospital wasnt too logistically traumatic at least. Two injections in his bum later and he was thankfully back to tip top so much so that we treated ourselves to takeaway sushi from a fancy ex-pat hangout in Accra!

At the end of November we were given permission from the landlord open the bicycle workshop temporarily operating out of the garage attached to the house that our host family rents. The family owns land directly behind the rented property, which theyre yet to build on. Its part of this plot that will be used for our permanent workshop premises and eventually, according to the Ezetela NGOs ambitious plans, training facilities for other vocations too. In the meanwhile were concerned with raising funds to receive another shipment from the UK to get this project off the ground.

So Jase has opened the Ezetela Bicycle Workshop, with tools donated from the UK, and has set to work accepting repairs on many of the Royal Mail pashleys we sent over. No one else in the area has the tools or expertise to tackle the rear hub with internal gears and brake systems on these and so one huge aspect of our being here will be to equip mechanics locally with the knowledge required to make good use of the donated bikes. On 6th December we made our first money, one cedi, about 42p, on scrap metal!

I’ve been library lady at a local school mostly recently. I catalogued all the books into different reading abilities and then colour coded them according to the rainbow with red being easiest and violet more advanced… the school is tiny (only about 45 kids) and pretty poor. Its a private, church sponsored school, the Agape Christian Academy. In Ghana it seems private schools are classed A-D with A standard institutes having excellent facilities funded through huge fees ranging down to D standard where the school is exceptionally cheap (although not free like the state schools) and often less well-equipped than a state school but operates in a place where there is no government facility. Agape is D standard. Its in a village about ten minutes cycle from Dodowa town. All the classrooms are open air since the land is only rented they can’t build any permanent structures. We had a Christmas party on the last day of term last Thurs. All the kids wore their best clothes and brought rice and stew from home to eat. We laid out tables and chairs for everyone and the school gave everyone a bottle of pop, some biscuits, a pencil and a library book to borrow for the holiday, for Christmas.

In other news, at GHp5 (2p), Ghanas 500ml water bags succeeded in making clean, safe drinking water accessible to all, but also inadvertently, it made a rubbish dump of paradise.

Jason says: Grace has taken to collecting them, of course.

I would argue that its:

a) fascinating that so many companies would all set up to produce identical products save for the logo on the front, I want to see how many different brands I can get,

b) fascinating to see how much rubbish one person produces in consuming water this way, theres no wonder the bags line every roadside, and

c) a great source of free craft materials.

I have a sewing machine here that belongs to the charity which I can use – it’s new and electric, which electricity supply dependent, means Im set up to sew, so far, recycled bags, purses and mechanics aprons. I was shocked at how much people have loved them actually. I presumed that sort of thing would just appeal to Guardian-reading-recycling-organic-veg-growing folks at home but actually everyone in this Ghanaian town who’s seen what I’ve made thinks they’re really cool. I was really chuffed they didn’t think it was the stupidest thing to be sewing rubbish!

We had to shut the bike shop last week after a second outburst of malaria put chief mechanic off sick… It wasnt quite so bad, not such a quick deterioration this time, just massive fatigue and cramps and aches and fever. None the less he’s been prescribed some pretty hardcore drugs – valium for sleeping! Bedridden on Christmas Day certainly put a downer on things.

I spoke to my brother who he said he’s been stuck in the house for two days as the snow is too deep to drive, he had the fire on and was eating soup next to the Christmas tree: I wanted to be home sooo much! Jase might have malaria but Im suffering festive homesickness! A Christmas card from home addressed to us with photos of Geri Haliwell and Harry Potter cut out and stuck on the front definitely cheered us up!

We did have a lovely Christmas morning with the family and then at church. I helped Joyce bake for all the Sunday school children for a feast in the afternoon. They don’t actually do presents for each other so we didn’t want to impose or set a precedent for the kids that they won’t be able to continue. But we thought it would be nice to them each (George, Joyce and the kids, Ezekiel and Baby George, and Grandma and their little cousin Ezekiella) something; mostly little chocolately treats. On Christmas Eve I hung tree decorations from their living room ceiling and piled the gifts underneath it. Big success! With the adults as much as the kids! Auntie Joyce (as we call her) head-loaded her parcel for a few laps round the house before opening!

Were spending New Years Eve at home in Dodowa, the family will go to church in the evening so weve got a pack of cards and a couple of beers.

Finally, from Jasons end of year diary entry:

Ghana didnt seem to shut down for the festive lounge-about as I was anticipating. Id even taken a workshop enquiry at the back door in the morning as the family were opening their presents. I dragged myself to the front door. I had been sleeping still a little lazy from the malaria.

Its Christmas George, Im having a day off, I said, making no effort to disguise my irritation at being called.

Jase, I know, I told him, but he said he wanted to make quick and then leave.

Yo George, yo. Where is he? <yo is OK in Dangme>

My visitor had arrived on bicycle. It wasnt a bike I recognised from town, and it wasnt one of ours, but it did have one of our 3-speed Sturmey wheels.

Its owner was sat in the porch chair. He stands to take my hand. Hes quite a bit shorter than me, in his early forties maybe, and he ends every sentence with Sir. His name is Godwin. He is a mechanic of all machines. I take another look at the bike hes arrived on. Godwins AB hub is expertly setup. Hes retrofitted another shifter and managed to index it to the three irregular shift-stops common on the older Sturmey hubs. Theres a working dynamo and its seat-stay clamp acts as the cable-stop for the rear hub. Theres no drum-brake anchor on the frame, and so one has been cut and filed, folded and bolted. And the hole was drilled, not punched. I maybe stating the norm here, but its workmanship I havent seen on a bicycle since I arrived.

He leaves saying hell come again in a couple of days when Im stronger, and I make him promise hell return.

George holds the front door open for me and he gives me a look as if to say I knew youd want to see him, as I duck under his arm.

A few days later as planned, Godwin returned. Hed brought an old high-bar RM frame and wanted to know if he could swap it for a low-bar to suite his height. No problem. Ive two in the garage he can take his pick.

He checks both frames meticulously both bottom brackets for play and both headsets for noise. He finally identifies a slight deformation in one of the seat tubes which I hardly noticed, and incidentally selects the frame with the poorer paint job.

Before he leaves, he asks for a job. Funny, I was thinking the same thing

And so we cant wait for the New Year. With Godwin potentially on board Jase might be able to leave behind the day to day workshop tasks and concentrate on the logistical, behind the scenes, international networking for the advancement of the Ezetela Bicycle Workshop. Heres to a happy, healthy and productive New Year!

APRIL

I love Ghana! I sat on our back doorstep this evening and was in tears because I love it and I wont be here forever. Ill try to describe our life here.

Home:

The house is quite big by local standards, albeit unfinished so theres no plaster, fixed electrics or plumbed water in place. George and Joyce are extremely house-proud though so the whole place is immaculately clean and well presented with nice furnishings and family photos filling their main reception room. There are water pipes just outside of the house which flow once a fortnight so we have a reservoir out the front which we fetch from each day for bathing (bucket baths are the perfect end to an always sweaty day, ice cold water splashing down your back its the only way to achieve a shiver!), and huge containers inside in the kitchen to fill up for cooking and drinking tap water is OK to drink here although we tend to survive on the super cheap, filtered pure water, the stuff that comes in the sachets I started collecting.

Family:

We stay in the rented house with George (the Director of the NGO) and Joyce and their sons, Ezekiel, now 9 and Baby George, at 2 ½ not such a baby. Grandma (Joyces mother) owns the house behind this one and lives there with Ezekiella, Joyces 4 year old niece and quite often one or more of her older grandchildren too, Ezekiellas grown up sisters. We use the long drop round the back at Grandmas and live our lives out the front between the reservoir and the mango tree where Auntie Joyce does her washing, the bike shop displays its wares and the neighboring kids play together.

Grandma is phenomenally fit and able for a Grandma! She bends easily to the floor to sweep the paths around her house each day and is forever busy preening the garden, cooking on her coal pot or commissioning errands ensuring no one lays idle in her company! Shes quite traditional and is accordingly confused by our lack of religious conviction and shocked at our marital status. George laughs her off accrediting most personality traits to the fact that shes an old lady!

Shes easy enough to get along with providing youre hardworking and keep busy. Or so I thought. It actually turns out I should only be busy if my busyness revolves around looking after Jason who is busy with important man jobs 6 months in and shes still pretty bamboozalled when I go off to Accra on my own and dont do Jasons washing for him!

I joke and we joke here but gender inequality is such a problem here. Things are changing, women are professionals in the workplace now, but all household labours are in the sole domain of women. Its upsetting and frustrating. I dont feel disrespected or undermined but thats partly because Im a surprise, Im a white woman, and thats not quite the same.

George and Joyce are more relaxed and seem to accept us, crazy Western ways and all.

Jase will go to the kitchen and do a thing. And then Grace will go to the kitchen and do another thing. Its just the way they are.

Matilda and Mariam are a mother and daughter duo supported in part by George and Joyce and so theyre often around and very much part of the family. Matilda is our age and Mariam is her one year old loveable rogue.

Food:

We shop twice a week on market days in Dodowa. Cheese and other such dairy treats are few and far between due to the hiked up exclusive ex-pat prices in Accra and the detrimental sweaty journey back with any such goods on a tro tro! We do pretty well for vegetables and spices and Joyce loves getting us to try new things. My favourite Ghanaian dishes are Red Red and palaver sauce. Red Red is ripe plantain fried in red palm old with a spicy tomatoey bean stew. Palaver sauce is a spinach type leaf, contomerie, cooked with ginger, tomatoes, chilli, onion and egg and served with boiled yam. Jason has spicy vegetable jollof rice for lunch every day in town. We both love bissap its a fruity, spicy, sweet and gingery, a herbal Ribena-esque drink made from hibiscus leaves and Jasons got a pretty bad FanIce habit super sweet vanilla ice cream sold from bicycle ice cream trucks in every town/village/hamlet in Ghana! We cook on a gas hob unless it runs out, in which case the coal pot gets an outing and the neighbours get a good laugh at the obrunis (thats us white folk) trying to light their charcoal.

Transport:

In Dodowa we get around by bike RM post bikes from the shop so to get to the school and down to the market, Im mobile with two wheels. Ive only seen one other woman out and about cycling so Im taking the ambassadorship quite seriously and wont walk now for even the shortest of journeys. To get further afield, Accra for visa extensions for example, we use tro tros, the informal, nationwide mini bus service.

Work:

In January Godwin was employed for a two-week free trial and then a full-time paid position. We traveled to the Western Region to shadow a mechanics training course outreach project organized by a partner bicycle recipient project. In was very good to see how they accompany their bicycle distribution with basic maintenance advice and lovely for us to get chance to see a new part of Ghana. We received our first new bike stocks from the UK as part of a shipment which was received by a partner project in Accra in early Feb. This came with a shipping container, donated to us to build into a permanent workshop premises and training facility. In the New Year work began on foundations for two such containers and by March, after a lot of verbal and physical persuasion, they were both in place.

The shop has been inundated with repair jobs, what we thought was essential to raise funds for building has actually turned out to be an essential service for cyclists in town and beyond who seem to be really making the most of a professional maintenance service for their vehicles. More detailed, technical, bicycle information and the individual trials and tribulations of the building process please have a look at Jasons blog: blog.jfin.ch.

We held cycling lessons with Joyces Sunday school class which deteriorated/upgraded into races round the church in Jasons post bike carrier. And some more for the womens fellowship, some of whom had never been on a bike before in their lives. Its been a running family joke that Joyce cannot cycle despite having a bike shop attached to her home so it was a really nice event to be invited to, professionally for bike promotion and personally for the small step towards a bigger womens empowerment projects the bikes and our presence here might make.

In the new school term Ive formalized my remedial reading sessions, Im now at Agape two days a week for one to one literacy lessons and library lending. The school can be difficult. As a private school it cannot employ government trained qualified teachers, so all teaching staff are therefore unqualified, with a retired from state school headmaster. Caning is prevalent and everything seems taught by rote so I dont find the quality of teaching to reflect the opportunities for effective teaching which the small class sizes should enable. Many of the library books have been donated from America and so are littered with inappropriate colloquialisms, prohibiting comprehension and driving me mad! Still the children seem to love the personal attention Im able to give them and are really beginning to enjoy reading. To borrow from Hazel and Otjikondo: The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – the literature might not be my perfect choice but at least theyre getting excited about reading.

The gender imbalances in Ghana have been one of the most frustrating aspects of our time here. Were trying to be all Gandhi about it being the change you want to see but boycotting Jasons laundry doesnt seem quite enough! It has also meant that while Jason is stressed and working six days a week, theres not much expectation or direction about how I should fill my time. The Ezetela NGO itself isnt established enough to offer day to day organizational activites and I think its enough for them that Im here to support and take care of Jase! I do support and advise, Im at Agape two or three days and Ive organized the extra-curricular bike-centred projects Ive mentioned above. I help Auntie Joyce with the kids, in the house, to try to ensure its a help not a hindrance having us here but the presumption that Im here as an accompaniment to Jasons commitment frustrates me so Im loathe to fill my time with domesticity, womens work, and thus fulfill the stereotype Id rather change! So in February I contacted an NGO in Accra called Theatre for a Change to see if I could volunteer for them part time too.

TfaC offer education programs on HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health issues through Interactive Theatre Performances and behaviour change participatory workshops. Lots of the methodologies they employ are the kinds of techniques I studied at University in my modules on theatre in education and development its exciting to see it in action! Ive been working with them since the end of Feb contributing logistically in the office with typing skills and English language corrections alongside my main task which has been supporting field officers on project placements and monitoring participants, collating contributions for the newsletter. Its been a fantastic opportunity to see more of Ghana as the field work happens in communities in three regions across Ghana. The ethos of the project is incredibly progressive in terms of processes these use to advocate for the right to primary health and promote gender equality. Im in charge of interviewing participants and writing up their experiences for the website and quarterly publication.

Visitors:

Rob Forbes has cycled from the UK, swimming the Gibralter Straight, headed for the World Cup in South Africa, to raise money for Re-Cycle, our bicycle donor in the UK. He stayed with us in January to see for himself the kinds of project his money can pay for. He gave a speech at Sunday School including a tent demo which proved extremely popular. We bought in potatoes and cooked him up a mash and gravy dinner.

We met Jonathan in Senegal hes also cycling from Europe to South Africa! and he made it to Ghana in February with another cyclist Miles -, from America, doing a similar route. Im not sure if theyre raising the profile of cycling in Africa or raising doubt in the sanity of white men world wide but we enjoyed having them to stay and they enjoyed Auntie Joyces cooking!

From CoCo, a funding charity in the UK, we received Lucy Phillipson to meet the bicycle project and advise on development for Ezetela in the coming months and years.

At the end of March my Mum came out bringing delicious reminders of the UK and a welcome excuse for a two week tour of Ghanaian craft activities. We visited bead markets, the national arts centre in Kumasi, the home of Kente weaving for a weaving workshop with master craftsmen and a beautiful Bauxite mining village, also coincidently home to a Bamboo bicycle project.

For the past week weve been frantically clearing out the spare room ready for the arrival of two new volunteers from the UK. Jonny will be on hand to offer free labour to Jase to sand, strip and paint the containers before putting a roof on and finally moving in to the bigger and better workshop training facility. Faye has expertise in charity fundraising and logistics so will help to advise Ezetela on transparent ways of documenting expenditure and sponsorship from the bicycle workshop profits in future as the project grows.

Time:

Ghanaians joke that theyre on GMT but that it stands for Ghana Maybe Time at times the pace and punctuality can certainly test your patience! For us, were approaching the half-way mark on our placement in Dodowa, and we can feel the ticking speeding up

Love Grace and Jase

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