Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Xylophone makers and musicians of Lawra District

Lawra District is renowned for its xylophone makers and players; one such musician and xylophone maker lives just a few hundred metres from our house and we can hear him ‘tuning-up’ and practising most evenings. On our way back from our Burkina Faso border cycle trip we met this gentleman and his band who had been accompanying George’s 90 yr old mum’s funeral celebration the previous evening and into the following day!The xylophones have wooden ‘keys’ with carefully selected and shaped gourds fixed underneath providing the resonance chambers; the overall timbre is a very soft, mellow and round, xylophone type of sound which is better heard than described!

A Father’s Day bike ride to the Burkina Faso border – Sunday June 17th

It’s hard to believe that we have been in Ghana for 5 weeks and that this was our first real ‘leisure’ day out. Last night we experienced a huge tropical thunderstorm with lots of thunder, lightning and rain so the air was clear and fresh and the day relatively cool. We set off on our bikes with a picnic comprising a bottle of water and a packet of Crawford’s shortbread biscuits. 5km of dirt track later we arrived at the Black Volta River which forms the colonial era imposed border between Ghana and Burkina Faso. We just missed the ‘ferry’ across the 30 m wide river to the French speaking ex-colony of Burkina Faso on the other side. Whilst at the ferry crossing we received a Skype call to our mobile from Safi and the Horrockses in Cornwall; it was such a good thing to happen, the mobile reception was excellent and we exchanged ‘Father’s day greetings etc – it was really quite surreal. Ghana is rapidly developing its mobile communications networks; telephone lines hardly exist in the Upper West Region where we live; we hope that it won’t be too long before we are able to get Internet access here in Lawra, maybe within 12 months?We returned home after a plethora of conversations with many Dagaaba (the local residents): working in the fields, relaxing by their villages, travelling to and from church, and with a group just winding down after a ‘funeral’ in Dykpe (just 1 km from the river); the deceased was the 90 yr old mother of George, a Guidance Counsellor at the local secondary school where we live. We were invited to meet George and the local ‘band’ gave us an impromptu performance on their Xylophones and drums, a very special privilege which we captured on camera. So, a very good ‘first day out’ rounded off with Guinness and Coke in the Evergreen Garden Bar, an avocado and orange lunch at home and a good home made beef curry for supper!

Our Journey to Market (Ngaree Daa)

The local market is about 20 minutes away on foot and about 10 on the bike, subject to distractions en route. On this occasion we stopped to sample the equivalent of a savoury pancake; it was made from ground bean flour, fried in a ‘buttery’ substance similar to ghee, which is derived from the fruit of one of the local trees (a Shea tree). It was served topped with local peppery style spices and was very acceptable; with those we ate at home it was especially tasty with fresh chopped tomatoes as filler!

Our local Internet Cafe – 3 hours away!

Our local Internet Cafe is here in Wa, a 3 hour nightmare ‘tro tro’ journey away. Tro tro = 20 people in a 12 seater minibus with bikes, chickens, maize, market produce etc bulging out from everywhere as well as piled high on the roof, not for the faint hearted! The big snag is that Ghana is experiencing huge power cuts meaning that we sometimes get to Wa and find that we cannot use the Internet because the power is off, usually 12 hours at a time. This is as a result of Burkina Faso building a new hydroelectric dam, which is taking away the water that Ghana needs for its huge Volta dam hydroelectricity scheme, built 25 years ago; the Volta dam is 4 ft below the level needed to operate all its generators and is running at just 50% capacity, a huge economic problem for the Ghanaian economy and thus for wee internet users like us!

Ordering furniture from the local IKEA.

Our house has very little furniture so we have been negotiating with a local carpenter to supply us with a suitable bed, some dining chairs, and possibly a dining table. The furniture is being made to order by Augustine, a local carpenter, at quite competitive prices e.g. £30 for the bed! The furniture arrived by DHL (Damned Heavy Load!) express two wheel delivery, made to order, within the week – and very good it is too!

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Evergreen Garden Bar is our nearest Local

The bar is half-way between home and work and serves a number of functions. It is a pleasant shady courtyard with a well and a mango tree at its centre; we along with many others, including, hens and goats, have already passed many a relaxing hour under the ‘local networking mango tree’. We share the courtyard with a steady flow of colleagues and local residents who park their bikes, motorcycles and bottoms, like us, to seek a shady spot during the heat of the day, accompanied by the occasional ‘tonic’ or Gulder beer as refreshment. A few roasted peanuts, grown 100 metres away, from the stall nearby and a few mangoes from the tree above us serve to make this a most agreeable meeting place. The short walk home, we are learning to navigate our way under the starlit Ghanaian sky, helps us to recover our senses in preparation for the long Ghanaian night. We have a feeling that a few tales could revolve around this bar over the next couple of years.

We have a Garden!!

5.30pm Sunday 3rd June 2007-Well, not exactly a garden but a fenced in piece of land which we intend to develop as a vegetable plot. It was not what we intended so early on in our stay but it just happened. We had been discussing the possibility between ourselves and then mentioned it to Fatou, a senior student at the school who has been helping us out with water collection and a bit of housework/cleaning etc. At lunchtime, he and Nigel were just outside looking around for what might be a suitable spot. Around the house, the land is owned by the school but the local farmers use if to grow yams and graze their goats, cattle, hens and pigs. There seemed to be a patch of land fairly close to our house that was not being used. The next thing we knew was that Fatou had been across the fields to the local village and found out who used the land, asked if it was OK for us to use it, and within minutes there were the farmer and about 7 village men all raring to go putting up a fence (to keep out the goats and the headmaster’s pigs! Money was exchanged for fencing materials but no sum fixed for the, construction (There was a certain reluctance to put a cost on the work, but we decided to adopt the Ghanaian attitude of haggling later and go with the enthusiasm!) They had a job on tomorrow, so they insisted that they could do it today. Digging and pole collecting began, the area was measured out by stride and width between poles. With a degree of apprehension we watched as one man shinned up the trees just outside the house to cut down branches, but unlike Malawi, where the whole tree would have been cut down, only what was necessary was “pruned” so that the tree would continue to provide shade and vital wood for fuel etc.
Within 5 hours, our fence was built and a small patch of land duly designated as our “Garden”. Payment time came and the negotiation began. There was somewhat of a language barrier as the men only spoke Dagaare, Fatou spoke Waala, and we spoke neither. However, Madame Kubino a nurse at the local hospital, who lives in the house adjoining ours and who speaks both Dagaare and good English, and who had taken a great deal of interest in the proceedings, helped out with the negotiations and a price was settled; half of what they had first suggested but amicably agreed upon.
Our next task is to decide what is to be planted!

The Road to Wa – our Regional Capital

Internet trials and tribulations
Having had one unsuccessful trip to Wa to the Internet cafe last Saturday and finding it was “Lights Out” – local term for a scheduled power cut – our hearts sank when we arrived this Saturday to the same situation. Fortunately, however, it was merely a fault and by 12.30pm all was working and we could at last make our first blog update and send emails home since our arrival in Lawra.
Nansara (white person) Shopping
Whilst waiting for the electricity to come back on we sat in “Mummy’s Kitchen”- a local cafe, having a drink when the skies turned black, the wind began to gust and it looked as if it was going to be a real downpour. Street Vendors quickly removed fabrics from their stalls and secured their goods. Sadly, for the local farmers, there was scant rain and all was back to normal as the clouds passed by. The temperature dropped significantly though which made for very pleasant conditions. We have found the Princess Store, a small lock-up shop which sells green beans, green peppers and carrots, so we can supplement our diet with these treats for a short while. I am sure that once the rains begin and things begin to grow we will eventually see them in the local markets. With our rucsack packed with fresh pineapple, avocado and CHEDDAR CHEESE! We headed off for the bus station to find the tro tro to take us back to Lawra. Just get-by taxis on a shoe string (tro tros)We were not impressed with the look of the vehicle, but what could we do, it was the only one going our way. We duly paid and then came the long wait for it to set off. Tro tros will only go when they have a full passenger list i.e. 17 passengers. It took 1 ½ hrs for the bus to fill! Once loaded we were then told we had to change to a different vehicle (fortunately the one we were transferring to looked in much better condition. So, All Change. Then, the engine wouldn’t start so we had to be pushed out of the bus station – backwards, to bump start the engine. Within 2 mins of setting off, the side-door of the minibus fell off!! With the driver’s lackey holding the door in place we set off for Lawra, making a quick stop at the Welders to have the door fixed and at last, after about 2½ hrs delay we were on our way back. No more incidents until about 10 kms from home when we ran out of diesel. There was a loud groan from all the passengers as we all thought we might have to walk!! However, the day was saved by the driver’s assistant who leapt on a borrowed bike, with a plastic jerry can and rode off to find some, further down the road. Miraculously, and to everyone’s delight he was back in about 10 mins complete with full jerry can. We arrived back in Lawra just as the sun was going down feeling that all in all, we had had quite a good day. It is amazing how quickly you adapt to the pace of life out here. Frustration counts for little, patience, a lot.

We have bikes.

We are awaiting our “call back” to Tamale when we will receive our in-country motorbike training and hopefully our licences. In the meantime we have been offered push bikes from G E S. We took possession of these on Friday morning. VICTORY – nothing to do with success. That is the name of the Chinese -made 18 gear bikes. We tried them out around the GES compound and admit there was a cheer as I managed to get my leg over the cross bar (I really could have done with a Ladies bike at my age! ) and pedalled in a large circle without falling off. I haven’t ridden a bike for years, but you never forget, even if you are a bit wobbly at first.
We set off to town to explore but by the time we got there – only 5 mins away – both the back tyres on our bikes were flat. We found one of the many puncture repair guys who had set up shop under a tree in the middle of the day market. Both of the inner tubes had split, so we had to buy new inner tubes for them. Whilst the guys were repairing them, the parcel carrier on the back of Nigel’s had come apart, so we were taken off to the local welders to get that fixed. On the way there the chain on Nigel’s bike fell apart so he had to push the bike there and then back to the repair man who fixed the chain, sorted out my back brake which was catching, lowered the saddle, and raised Nigel’s saddle. OK, we thought we were sorted. We managed to cycle home but found that we weren’t able to change gear!! So Nigel did a bit of tinkering about in the afternoon to see if he could sort them. Well, it is fairly flat round here – who needs to change gear anyway!!! . As the evening approached and the weather got a little cooler we decided we would go out for a little explore. We had only gone 100 yds when the chain snapped on Nigel’s bike. Mission aborted.......
Perhaps we can exchange these super looking bikes for a local Phoenix non geared bike!! These bikes, as the name suggests rise from the dead again and again. Nothing sophisticated but purely basic, simple and repairable.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Journey's End-New Beginning

Hi all, from Lawra in Ghana Upper West Region.
We left Accra in the VSO Landrover on Tuesday to stay overnight in Wa, the Upper West's Regional Capital and then to Lawra; on the way up here it definitely seemed as though there was no easy way back without your own 4WD - which we won't have! So we are on our own now and it will be local 'minibuses' complete with produce and commodities for the market that will be our means of transportation henceforth, so a certain amount of adapting is going to be necessary over the next 2 years; this is going to be quite different to the African experiences with which we are familiar!
On arrival our house was a 'bit' of a mess; really really thick dust everywhere and remnants from previous occupants that had laid untouched since December, not a pretty sight. Thus we are currently staying in the Lawra District Assembly Guest House until the house is habitable. It's bread and cheese and jam (from Accra) at the moment as we have no catering facilities in the Guest House, not too much of a problem for me as I am recovering from my first bout of stomach upset!

So it's little by little at the moment, we know that this is going to be quite some challenge, once we can get in to a place that we can call and set up as home we'll take stock and begin to figure out how we handle the next stage.

It would be useful to have mobile phone numbers of friends and acquaintances who wish to keep in touch (definiteley no obligation and we'll fully understand if you do not want yet more unsolicited texts); texting is our best means of communication as the nearest e mail is 3 hours away and last time we travelled to e mail we got there and the power was off for 12 hours so we came back rather miffed.

We have now moved and are gradually settling in to our rather large but basic house, water is carried from the borehole, no tel line- just mobiles (which work very well), Very green, lots of trees including Baobabs but no wildlife in Lawra. Due to get pushbikes soon until we get our motorbikes in 6 weeks time. Local people are brilliant ,as are our work colleagues to be - not started yet!