Waste Not Want Not

Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
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Trip End Mar 09, 2008


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Thursday, November 8, 2007

The missionaries would be proud!

Ghana is an extremely religious country.  Northern Ghana also has a Muslim population but about 90% of the Ghanaian population is Christian. [There is also a small percentage of Traditionalists].  When I say Christian, I mean really Christian.  Spend all day at Church on Sunday Christian; say "God bless you" rather than "thank you" when given a gift Christian; name your shop Blessed Internet Cafe, I Can Do All Through Christ Strengthened Me Fashions, My God Is Able Plumbing Works Christian.  These are real shop names.  I have some photos which I will post when I am virus free.  Even most of the cars on the road have something like "Follower" or "God Makes Me Strong" printed in large letters across the back.     

This extreme religiousness is ubiquitous to every thing and every person.  Almost every song you hear is about God, even if it sounds like a hard core, doof doof dance track.  I found it quite entertaining, rather than trying, as it didn't take much searching to uncover something weird and wacky everywhere I looked.  My absolute favourite song from Ghana, which happens to be the current #2 track on the Ghana Charts, is "Jehovah You Are The Most High God" by Pastor Lenny Akpadie. [I would love to have this as an mp3 so I can post it to travelpod and share the joy - if anyone with limewire can help me please?]  This song played absolutely everywhere: on the radio, in the trotros, in the chop bars (restaurants), you would hear the soulful sounds crooning out of the Church on Sundays and it was even sung at school during Worship (by request).     

I also had the fortunate experience of being invited to a Traditionalist Festival. [As a Blefono, you are invited to everything.  I think this is because we are so gosh darn weird to look at].  Now this was different.  I actually felt like I was in the TV series Tribe.  This ceremony continued all day and all night for a number of days.  There was drumming, dancing, gunpowder was fired at random intervals during the night (this was fun to sleep through) and there was some strange rituals where female dancers became posessed by spirits and needed to be restrained and then derobed.  Nobody could quite explain to me what was happening so I am still a little unsure.  It was definitely another unique Ghanaian experience.     

Drumming and dancing are so inbuilt into this culture that all you have to do is clap and kids will start to dance.  Little kids rummage through the garbage piles for old rusty cans so they can do what little kids all over the world do: bang on them with sticks.  But over here another little kid will turn a jerry can on its side and bang on that whilst a third kid tips over his mother's wash bucket to create a banging harmony.  Meanwhile all the neighbouring kids will wander over and start jumping up and down to dance to the beats.  These impromptu drum and dance sessions happened quite a lot.     

Speaking of garbage piles.  Sega does not have garbage collection.  Nor does it have garbage bins.  So garbage is thrown on the ground in vague piles all over the village and when the piles become big enough, they are burned.  This was the hardest thing for me to adjust to as I was so reluctant to just throw my water packets into the grass.  In the beginning I would fold them up and take them home with me so I could put them into my plastic bag bin in my room.  However, when I filled this bag to the top and had to go and tip the whole thing in the bushes, I realised the futility of the situation and from then on just "littered" like everyone else.  I think I would have preferred it if there were large dumpsters located around the village so even though I knew the garbage would be burned it would still concentrate to one place.  Be that as it may, I suppose when kids don't have any shoes, then dumpster bins are an unnecessary luxury.     

Having said this, the level of garbage didn't really rise as quickly as it would have had I been anywhere else in the world.  Food scraps/leftovers are eaten by the neighbouring kids, vegetable peelings are eaten by all manner of animals which graze on the garbage piles, nobody has tissues, bottles, excess packaging, etc.  Even the old, used sardine and baked bean cans are used by children to play with or even better: turned into excellent "condensed milk cars".  5 kilogram rice sacks are turned into school bags, concrete paper bags are reused to wrap children's exercise books, little bits of rubber from who knows where are turned into erasers.  Nothing is wasted.      

One day after Jess and Sasha had found avocado in a nearby town, we decided to make guacamole.  I scraped out the flesh from the avocado skins and left them in a heap on the table.  A neighbouring child wandered by and asked whether she could chew the skin.  Of course she could.  All the food which we didn't eat was piled onto one plate which fed any of the kids that wandered by during the evening.  Another time we made popcorn and had burned some of the unpopped kernels.  We threw them into the yard and the next day some of the kids had collected them and were eating them out of the dirt.  Nothing is wasted.     

It is amazing how little water you end up using when you see it all being hand collected by little kids.  Suddenly every single drop is precious and if you can reuse a cup here or there you will.  During my stay we had two gigantic downpours. [Apparently this happens every couple of weeks].  Watching people go crazily running into the torrent to put as many buckets outside and under gutters (if they are lucky enough to have them) to collect as much rainwater as possible was a real eye opener.  I mean rather than carrying 20L in a bucket on your head for 15 minutes (this kills by the way), here it all is just coming out of the sky for free.     

Which brings me to the school kids.  Children work extremely hard over here.  They set off in little contingents to go and collect water in the morning before school and then again after school.  As many times as they need to fill the urns in the houses.  I really now wonder why we don't learn to carry things on our heads in the West.  These kids have perfect posture and very strong necks and backs.  I tried to carry 15L of water on my head for about 800m and it was so traumatising that I shifted it to my arms and by the time I got home my back was incredibly sore.  In fact as I approached the house some kids came running out of nowhere to save me from my load.  It is an extraordinary circumstance, when you hand over the 15L to a child, who is probably 9yrs old, who then balances it on her head and canters off without so much as a break in her stride.  I mean how much easier would life be if we could put all our groceries in a box on our heads and then still have our hands free to rummage in our handbag for our car keys.  We're missing out!     

The kids are very hard workers.  They will go to school during the week, work on the family farms on the weekend (and sometimes before school), they will often prepare meals for themselves and their families, fetch water, collect firewood, sweep the family home and then do other miscellaneous work.  Some of them also had after-school jobs such as walking around the village selling ice blocks from a bucket or selling fish they had just caught or some other item that the family might have prepared during the day.  In fact, on Tuesdays and Fridays (market days) many of the boys in my class were absent as they would skip school to push a barrow around the market to earn some money.  The unfortunate thing was this was often encouraged by their parents.  

Jess and I were talking to Julius, a boy who was in her JSS class who had been absent from school that day.  She asked why he was not in school today as he obviously wasn't sick.  "I was weaving  mats to sell at the market to pay my feeding fees".  It turned out that his USD$8 dollar per term school fees were funded by his parents but his daily feeding fee (of 30 cents) needed to come from his own pocket.  We asked why he hadn't done his weaving on the weekend and he explained that all day Saturday he was working on his family farm (usually this is a laborious 12hr day), then Sunday he was at Church (the service goes for a long, long time on Sunday) and then on Sunday evening he was laundering his school uniform.  His feeding fees were due, so he had no choice but to skip school, weave his mats so he would be able to pay for feeding for the next 2 weeks.  I was lost for words.  "OK then".  It is difficult to discourage truancy when the kids are spending every moment of their spare time working hard for the family.     

Upon establishing his private school, Mr Godwin found that many of the children were not eating any meal during the day.  This obviously lead to behavioural, motivation and concentration issues with his students.  He introduced the concept of mandatory feeding at school; educated parents that this meal was essential for the children's development; hired hard-working kitchen staff who would be able to cook for 280 children and launched a small, affordable fee (collected daily) of 20c for primary students and 30c for JSS. [To provide some context: the average teacher's salary is USD$35-50 per month.  Many parents earned a lot less than this].

Whilst daily fee collection (and management) is a difficult and time consuming task, the behavioural improvement is enormous. [We discussed rolling this fee into a weekly or monthly sum to reduce administration but this would be financially crippling to many parents and could lead to students/parents withdrawing from the school.  For this reason, he will not amend the fee collection system]. The school feeding concept was something which was established by Mr Godwin at Amnchara and due to its success, it is currently in the process of being introduced to some of the local government schools.

To be continued again.....
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