Many goodbyes, and a few hellos: changing the pace in Ghana

First off, I’m sorry for not being able to post for a little bit. The last few days have been hectic, with major traveling and quick changes in hotels and cities taking up all of our time. But that will just make this post teeming with the latest.

So where to begin? Well, on Saturday morning, me and my mom said goodbye to the VEG (Village Exchange Ghana) house and office for the last time. My dad had a Saturday night flight to Accra, so we had to be there by that afternoon to pick him up. We had a nice barbeque on Friday night to celebrate, so I was once more filled up with delicious food. It’s hard to beat the cooking at the VEG house anywhere else in Ghana.

Ghana - August 6-8 037

The spread at dinner.

It was sad to leave Ho. The city became a place of comfort and relaxation, the one place in Ghana where we actually knew where we were going and could navigate with ease. The people were amazingly friendly and used to volunteers, so we were never hassled and always welcomed with open arms. As we venture into the more tourist-y parts of Ghana, that feeling will be sorely missed. Goodbye to Kofi, Felix, Emily, Shoko, Albert, Jennette, and the rest of the great people who work at VEG. It couldn’t have been a better volunteer experience.

Ghana - August 6-8 026

Kofi, me, and Felix

Christiane, the founder of VEG, graciously offered to drive us to Accra to pick up my dad, so we piled into the VEG pickup truck one last time for the three hour journey from Ho. Two other volunteers, David and Ferran (chill), decided to go to a beach resort outside of Accra for the weekend, so they tagged along. My dad wasn’t arriving until 9:15 pm, so we decided it would be perfect to have lunch with the guys at their resort before heading back to the city. However, the quoted 30 minute drive from Accra to Big Milly’s Beach Resort was a farce. Caught up in the infamous Accra traffic (a single two lane highway leading into a city of millions), it took two hours to go 20 kilometers (about 12 mph average).

Ghana - August 6-8 097

Enterprising sellers taking advantage of the deadlock

Ghana - August 6-8 093

Cows didn’t help the traffic either.

We finally weeded through the traffic and a bumpy dirt road. A relaxing lunch right on the beach awaited, much appreciated after five hours in the car. Our nice jaunt to the coast at an end, we said some more goodbyes to Ferran and David and Christiane drove us back to Accra. We helped deliver some cloth products created by the Ghanaian women at VEG to Global Mamas, an organization that resells beads and batik to stores and wholesalers in the West.

And then it was time to head to the airport. We waited, and waited, and waited, and waited, but finally my dad emerged into the arrivals hall. He looked exhausted from 24 hours of traveling (house in New York to Accra airport), but excited to be on vacation in an exotic country. Christiane drove us to our Accra hotel, and then it was time for our last goodbye to VEG. We handed over the many donations my dad had brought from home (two bags of children’s books, breast health booklets, and other supplies) and waved off our amazing host.

Sunday morning was an early one. We hit the ground running, finding our way to Accra’s Kaneshie Market to catch a tro-tro (public transport van) to Cape Coast. The city and its neighbor Elmina are home to two “castles” (more like forts) that played key roles in the slave and gold trades with Europeans. The ride to Cape Coast took less than two hours on the best road I’ve seen yet in Ghana. Due to our early start, we were able to see both castles and explore the historic town of Elmina a little bit. Then we retreated to a basic beach resort hotel (this time with floors) for some rest and relaxation by the roaring waters of the Atlantic.

Ghana - August 6-8 175Ghana - August 6-8 179

The room of no return and the confinement cells for misbehaving slaves. Nobody ever came back from either.

On Monday (this) morning, there were fishermen casting their nets and groups of men pulling in their catches. It’s hard work to pull in the fish, but the result is tremendous, and everyone who helps pull gets a little piece of the catch.

Ghana - August 6-8 115Ghana - August 6-8 106

But we didn’t have time to waste. We were just as quickly out of Cape Coast and up north to Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti region. A three hour tro-tro and 20 minute taxi ride later and we were at the Four Village Inn just outside of the city center. The Ashanti region is the cultural center of Ghana and Kumasi is the perfect base for day trips out to the sights. For the afternoon, we stopped by the Ashanti National Cultural Center, visited a small museum about the Ashanti kingdom (which still exists, but only exerts ceremonial and economic power), and got lost trying to find a magical Ashanti sword (who knew they put major tourist landmarks in the middle of hospital grounds?).

Unfortunately, Kumasi is better known as a base to travel to other places and not as center of things to see. So we headed back to the hotel for some R&R. We are staying in a tiny, four room bed and breakfast that the Ghanaian-Canadian owners converted from its former role as their Kumasi home. It is quaint, clean, and the Canadian man who runs it gave helped us book tours for the rest of our week in Kumasi. Plus, we were promised hot showers, our first in over three weeks.

The plan for the rest of the week is as follows:

  • Tuesday: guided tour of Kejetia market, the biggest open-air market in West Africa; a visit to a brass workshop; and we might swing by the old  Ashantihene (Ashanti king) palace if we have time
  • Wednesday: taking a car around to a few of the surrounding craft villages where items like kente weaved cloth and handmade pottery are made
  • Thursday: possibly a gold mine tour (we’ll see about that one)

It should be another packed few days, but we’ll be sure to see a ton before we have to fly back home on Friday night.

Everything has to change sometime. Hopefully the Ashanti region can live up to the fun times we had in Volta.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under During

21 hours in Helekpe

It takes a village to do a lot of things. I think I can add “give a whole other dimension to your trip to Ghana” to that list now.

I just returned from Adaklu Helekpe where my mom, our fellow volunteer Harriet, and I spent the night. Helekpe is located just a 20 minute drive outside of Ho. We planned to arrive Thursday afternoon and leave the following/this morning, so first I was able to go around with Kofi and Felix (the social mission and credit officers) to collect loan repayments from the three villages.

I experienced the terrific power of Ghanaian rain when it almost canceled our meeting in Adaklu Ahunda (about an hour from Helekpe, but in the same tribal area). Our usual outdoor meeting place was soaked, so everyone quickly moved to a small porch outside someone’s home.

Ghana - August 1-5 070

Kofi with the microfinance partners from Adaklu Ahunda.

It was cramped, but the show must go on. Everyone back at the office would not be pleased if we weren’t able to collect repayments just because of a little bit of rain.

But we finished up our repayments with time to spare, so I headed back to Helekpe where we had earlier dropped off my mom and Harriet. Before Kofi and Felix left, I had Kofi help me with another interview with a Helekpe microfinance partner (borrower) named Etonam Darkey. I’ll be posting that one up soon, so stay tuned.

When I arrived, I was excited to find out that Worlanyo, the leader for the microfinance group in Helekpe, would be taking us around. Throughout our visit, he had amazing insights about village life and showed us examples in real life when he could. We were able to see a woman making fufu, a doughy mixture of smashed cassava and corn, as well as a man and a girl grinding dried corn kernels into corn meal.

Ghana - August 1-5 099

Making fufu, the traditional way.

After touring the village a little bit, it was time for soccer (well, football in Ghana) practice. Worlanyo helps coach the under 14 and under 17 teams from the village, so we tagged along and watched them play. Even at a young age, these kids were amazing sportsmen, precisely cutting the lines of the defense, deftly scoring on the small blocks of concrete that marked the goals.

They played non-stop for an hour and a half, but we got a little bit bored of watching after an hour and went to grab some drinks and settle down at the guesthouse. I wanted to support one of the microfinance partners’ businesses with our drink order, so we stopped by Etonam Darkey’s little drink store affectionately called “Peace and Love Spot.” Definitely my favorite shop name in Ghana so far.

Ghana - July 30-31 114

While we had our drinks, a bunch of the neighborhood kids came by to meet us. They knew a limited amount of English, but they were able to ask us our names. They also kept saying the word “dawing,” which we didn’t quite understand at first. We finally realized that they meant “drawing,” so we got out a notepad and a few pens. The chance to draw on paper enthralled them and kept them entertained for a while. We even had them trace their hands with the pens to make chickens (kids in Ghana don’t know what turkeys are, but I guess kids anywhere love the idea of making animals from their fingers).

Ghana - August 1-5 114

 

 

 

Ghana - August 1-5 116

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love that Stanford shirt!

Ghana - August 1-5 124

A hand-traced chicken (and a banana? Didn’t teach them that one)

Once the kids went back home, the rest of the night was pretty quiet. We had a nice dinner of banku (corn meal dough) with fish, okra, and mushroom out on what seemed to be the only porch with a light (the villagers treated us well). There was supposed to be a little drumming demonstration, but the skies opened up into a light drizzle, so that activity was unfortunately canceled.

The village is eerily quiet at night, unlike Ho with the loud music and preaching from local churches that we regularly hear every night. Just to sleep in silence was a welcome change.

Ghana - August 1-5 122

Our guesthouse room.

Not that the silence lasts very long. Everyone in the village awakes at the crack of dawn. As soon as the sun comes up over the horizon, the women are carrying water back and forth and the kids are screaming and running around. Even though we got up at the relatively early hour (for me, at least) of 7:45am, the children we had played with the previous night were waiting right outside our door, ready for more “dawing.”

After an abbreviated breakfast, we said so long to the village, wanting to do a little work in the office before summer camp started in the afternoon. The tro-tro ride back was an experience for sure. The picture explains it all. Twelve people smushed together in the back of a car, goods for the market sitting on top, and a bumpy road. It just made the ride that much more fun.

Ghana - August 1-5 151

I have to be honest. I was a little nervous coming into our village visit. It was hard to know what to expect, and I didn’t want to feel like I was intruding into someone’s daily life. But once we arrived, Worlanyo and the other people in the village made us feel at home. Ghanaian people are so welcoming in that way. They put you at ease, feed you well, and make sure you’re comfortable in their home.

Ho, sorry you’re great, but Helekpe just stole a little piece of my heart.

Leave a comment

Filed under During

A not so traditional summer camp

002

One of the things that I was disappointed me this summer was that I was going to miss a lot of the typical teenage things. I would have to skip over activities like going to the beach with friends, meeting new people, or going to camp.

Well, I’ve been able to prove that assumption completely false. Actually, I’ve managed to do all of those things, but maybe just in a little bit different form. I went on a beach adventure with a some new volunteer friends from around the world, met more than 100 new people, both Ghanaians and fellow foreigners, and now I’m going to camp, the Ghanaian way.

Let’s get down to what this post is really about. Most teenagers in Ghana have nothing productive to do in the summer. Summer vacation only lasts for the month of August, so there is not much time to organize something complex.There are not enough jobs available in Ghana for the adults, so most teens don’t have a chance at getting traditional employment. Some parents pay to send their children to school during the summer for a month-long enrichment program, but often the teachers simply don’t show up and the kids don’t learn anything. There are a few kids who will help out with their parents’ businesses, but that hardly takes up all of their time.

So what’s a bored Ghanaian teenager to do?

That’s what our group of volunteers asked. And so we decided to create a month-long summer camp program. VEG has been trying to project itself as a safe place for kids to come and hang out. The organization has a whole program dedicated to sexual and reproductive health, but if kids don’t trust or know about VEG, then it is hard to educate them.

The idea for the summer camp was to get kids comfortable coming to VEG so that during the school year, they will be more likely to come for health classes and to check out books from the VEG Library.

Right before the school year ended in late July, we sent out sign up sheets to various local schools around the area. We had an overwhelming response, with over 50 kids from ages 12-18 signed up to come. Over two weeks, I helped design how the program would run. Because of the large number of kids and the limited number of volunteers, everyone would need to be split up into groups. Since three volunteers (including myself) are away on Thursdays collecting repayments for the microfinance project, we decided to split the children up in four groups, one each for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Each group comes only once a week on their specified day from 2pm to 4:30pm. This allows kids in summer school programs to attend in addition to those without any summer activities at all (and lets us get some work done in the morning; I’m not volunteering just for the summer camp after all).

The first thing we do is bring everyone out to a nearby field for some exercise. Before playing the sport of the week, we have everyone pick up garbage from the field to teach the kids to respect their environment and keep the earth clean. Everyone picks up a shopping bag worth of garbage, even the volunteers. Then it’s off to playtime.

This week is our first week of camp and we are playing frisbee. Most Ghanaians have never heard of the sport or seen a frisbee disc, so we were expecting to have a hard time teaching the basic skills. We were totally wrong.

027048

These kids, none who had ever touched a frisbee in their life, were able to throw and catch easily within 20 seconds. Every single one of them. It was amazing to see how naturally athletic these kids were, able to pick up a new sport so quickly. All it took was one demonstration of the technique for throwing a frisbee and they were tossing it back and forth like pros.077114121

Even more amazing was the fact that we were able to teach them how to play Ultimate Frisbee and get a successful game going. It took a little translation from one of our Ewe speaking helpers, but once they understood the rules, everyone really got into the game. They were picking apart the defense and throwing between opponents, knocking and intercepting frisbees, and scoring plenty. At one point on Tuesday, an Australian volunteer with another organization walked by the field and came over to talk to us, flabbergasted to see a game of Ultimate Frisbee being played in Ghana. He’s supposed to come down and play with us on Friday now. Making friends through frisbee in Ghana: not the typical story, but I’ll take it.

Once we run them around for about an hour, we return to the VEG office where a snack and an indoor activity awaits. This week, we are making homemade Play-doh out of flour, salt, oil, corn starch, and a little bit of food dye. The kids are delighted to squish their fingers in the bowl as they mix the ingredients into a shapeable clay.

140145154157

After making the dough, they have some time to make something out of the clay. The kids are impressive artists, making a bunch of great snails, fires, houses, and everything in between. At the end, they get to take home a small bit of each color so they can play with it at home. It’s exciting to see them all carrying around zip-loc bags with a little bit each of red, yellow, and blue Play-doh165

Tuesday’s group with their Play-doh

This summer camp has been the most fun activity I have done since coming to Ghana. The smiles on these kids faces is priceless and makes it impossible not to enjoy yourself. The energy they bring everyday is making my last week here at VEG pass extremely quickly. I’m going to miss those kids, but I can’t wait to hear how the rest of the camp goes.

One more session on Friday. If the past three days are a marker, I know Friday will be amazing.

Tomorrow I’ll be going to collect repayments for the microfinance project, and then I’ll have the opportunity to stay overnight in the village of Adaklu Helekpe, one of the places where we give out loans.

Excitement, smiles, and Ghanaian kids is one of the best recipes for happiness.

Leave a comment

Filed under During

Weekend Take Two: Adaklu Mountain, monkeying around, and hiking to waterfalls

Culture smulture. Travelling isn’t about museums and tour guides; it’s about getting outside and breaking a little sweat.

This past weekend, I did just that. Joined by three fellow volunteers (one each from Spain, Denmark, and the U.K.), one Ghanaian girl who works at VEG, and of course, my mom, I climbed the second tallest mountain in Ghana, fed monkeys some bananas and had them jump on top of me, and hiked to the base of the tallest waterfall in West Africa. You know, the normal stuff.

On Saturday, we climbed Adaklu Mountain, which at 2,700 feet is the second tallest mountain in all of Ghana. The climb starts from a little village about a 20 minute “tro-tro” ride outside of the city of Ho. July 21-24 072

Inside a tr0-tro.

Tro-tro’s are the public transportation for Ghana. They are 12 person vans (in theory, but often more people squeeze in) without a set departure schedule. They just leave for their destination whenever the van fills up (it’s key to get in a almost full one if you don’t want to be stuck at the station for 45 minutes). The station is a crazy mass of vans, each one seeming to try to leave the parking lot in at the same time, all going in a different direction. It’s traffic mayhem at its worst. As soon as a “yevu” (white person) walks into the station, they are immediately attacked with calls of “Where you go!? Where you want go!?” With a little slick bargaining (and the help of Wyram, our Ghanaian, Ewe speaking friend), we finally found a tro-tro for one Ghana cedi per person (about $0.66 for a 20 minute ride, a deal for sure).

The starting point is the village of Adaklu Helekpe (all of the surrounding villages are named after the mountain), which also happens to be one of the villages that we work with on our microfinance project. Edith Worwornyo, one of the borrowers I wrote about previously, used to be a mountain guide, so the first thing we did was find her. She graciously helped us negotiate a fair deal with some other tour guides, and then we were off!

Ghana - July 30-31 011
In front of the mountain before the hike.

At first glance, our two local guides looked pretty mature, but we soon found out that they were 13 and 14, respectively. Even more impressive was their lack of gear. They both wore baggy shorts with their underwear hanging out (not just an American thing) and simple flip-flops. And they could still run up and down the mountain faster than you could imagine.

The mountain hike took about 2 and half hours to ascend at our very relaxed pace. We made sure to take pictures at every opportunity and try to fully enjoy ourselves despite the tough terrain. The climb involved several sections lined with ropes to help counteract the slippery mud and rocks that line the trail. There was also a cave halfway up,  which provided a nice rest area for snacking and rehydrating.

Ghana - July 30-31 055    Ghana - July 30-31 059

The view at the top was astounding. It was easy to see for miles in every direction. We were even able to see across the border into Togo, towering mountains lining the divide between nations.

Ghana - July 30-31 077

My mom and me at the top.

The descent was much easier, giving us ample time to find a tro-tro and head back to Ho and the VEG house, and all in time for dinner. After a few games of Uno, Egyptian Rat War, and Poker, it was time for bed. It was easy to sleep after the long day, but the next was even longer.

On Sunday, we all woke up to another day of lengthy travel. We had previously arranged for a driver and car to meet us at 8am and drive us around for the day. Everyone, minus a busy Wyram, piled into the mini-van, the most spacious car ride I had since arriving in Ghana (four people in the back of a taxi is a common practice).

George, our fearless and knowledgeable driver, and also a friend of Wyram’s mother, quickly got us on the road, and again we were off for more adventure.

The first stop was the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary. With the popularization of Christianity in Ghana in the mid-1900s, animistic beliefs were thrown aside, allowing the killing of monkeys and destruction of monkey habitat to begin. At Tafi Atome, a rare species of monkey called the “Mona” monkeys was tettering on extinction. Luckily, a Peace Corp volunteer intervened in the late 1980’s. He established the sanctuary that we know today, a place where hunting and foresting is outlawed and the monkeys are free to live in peace.

After picking up some bananas on the road, we headed into the sanctuary. There we picked up a local guide who led us into the forest. It only took a few monkey calls from our guide for five monkeys to descend from the treetops, ready to meet us (well….. they were probably more interested in the bananas we were holding).  With bananas held tight, we started to hold out our bananas to the monkeys. The monkeys have become very tame after countless tourist visits, so it is easy to feed them. They reach out from their perches in the trees, carefully peel the banana in your hand, and take a bite. Some even jumped onto our arms and fed from there.

Ghana - July 31 025
See, I wasn’t kidding.

The monkeys were obviously hungry because we ran out of bananas within ten minutes. It was hard to leave the monkey sanctuary after the great fun we had, but the waterfalls were awaiting us. George hurried us along, and we were back in the van for the hour and half drive to the falls.

The Wli (pronounced “vlee”) Waterfalls contain the highest drop of water in West Africa. The pounding falls can be seen from miles away, but to truly experience their beauty, you have to get right up close and personal.

After a quick lunch within view of the falls, we headed down to the “Visitor’s Center” (a term I use extremely loosely). The first activity was meeting with the 26 year old local chief, who conveniently happens to double as the fee collector for all those looking to visit the falls. There are two different falls that are available to visit, the lower and upper falls. The upper one is much taller, but involves a quoted “3 to 4 hour hike.” The chief didn’t want us to go up to the upper falls because he said we arrived too late to get back before dark, but we were confident in our ability to beat the estimated time, and took off regardless.

With the help of our tour guide (mandatory for every foreigner), we hiked up to the upper falls at triple-speed. After 45 minutes, we were at the bottom of the upper falls, nice and sweaty; perfect conditions for a swim. And swim we did.

The immense amount of water from the falls creates a perpetual gust of wind that blows you backwards. Fighting the wind and the current, we waded into the pool, eventually finding a seat on a couple of rocks right under the shower of the water. The water fell so hard that it almost felt like mini hailstones, a welcome massage from mother nature. I’ll post an update with more pictures later. My camera isn’t waterproof, but my Danish friend David’s is, so I’ll be sure to steal some of his pictures.

Ghana - July 31 090Ghana - July 31 103

The upper falls (left) and the lower falls (right).

With our sojourn into the falls complete, we hiked (more like ran) back down to the entrance. Elapsed time: 40 minutes back, 1 hour 25 minutes total hiking time (3 to 4 hours?? yeah right).

And with that, our weekend adventures were over. Only a three hour nighttime car ride with George, and we were back in Ho, ready for another work week.

Though the weekend tired me out more than a regular work day, it was great to see more of this beautiful nation. With less than two weeks before I leave Ghana for good, this past weekend reminded me of how lucky I am to be able to have an adventure like this. Ghana is truly one of a kind.

1 Comment

Filed under During

Hope in a terrible situation: Anita Amenuveve

“I really didn’t want it to be this way. I just feel lost now, and I’m really confused about what to do.”

— Anita Amenuveve

(This is the second in a serious of interviews I am doing with some of the microfinance borrowers I am working with here in Ghana. This story is particularly mindblowing for me because she is only two years younger than me. The fact that she attacks life with so much drive and passion despite her hardship shows the true spirit of a Ghanaian. One of my fellow volunteers commented, “She’s just a little girl.” That may be true, but she shows the heart of someone much more mature).

July 28 051

Barely a teenager adult, Anita Amenuveve was stuck with the hardest crossroads of her short life. Having come from a family of eight children supported by peasant farmer parents, Anita was in a situation where food and money was already scarce. But now there was another mouth to feed.

During junior high school at the age of 13, Anita got pregnant. With not enough provisions for eight, adding a ninth child  to feed, clothe, and house was not an option for Anita’s parents. So they made her leave the house and live with her uncle in the neighboring village where the father of her child also lived. In Ghana, if a young man gets a young woman pregnant, as a social formality the two must marry. Anita eventually moved in with the 24 year old father, a peasant farmer barely able to support himself, let alone a wife and an infant.

Anita gave birth to Caleb in February 2011. Caring for the baby took up too much time, so she had to drop out of school. Anita knew that in order to support her son, she could not rely on the meager provisions her husband could provide. Anita started to work for a peanut seller in the village, earning a commission on every small bag of peanuts that she sold.

When VEG came to her village, she attended some of the initial prospective borrower meetings. Encouraged by other women who were taking out loans, Anita applied and was accepted for a loan of 50 cedis (about $33 or €50). She is using the money bit by bit, making sure every piece of it is invested properly. Anita has been able to start her own business selling raw peanuts door to door in the village, using the money from the loan to buy a large supply of peanuts. Each day, Anita is able to sell about 30 small bags for 0.20 cedis each. She plans to roast many of the excess peanuts, storing them until peanut season is over. At that time, the price of peanuts will rise considerably, netting her a much better profit than she can earn right now (lack of schooling does not mean lack of a sharp mind).

Anita goes hungry many nights. She eats at her uncle’s house when she can, but he has many children so he cannot always provide for her. Meals from her husband are few and far between, but sometimes his parents give them a little help. With the new money she is making from her peanut business, Anita hopes to create a more stable eating situation for Caleb and herself.

Anita desperately wants to return to school, but she has no money to pay for it (only primary education is free in Ghana). She must save the profits from her peanut business in order to have enough money for tuition once Caleb is old enough to leave her side. She talks of “being somebody” when she is older, and she says an education is the only way to achieve that goal. Her dream is to work in a Ghanaian bank and be able to provide her son with a great lifestyle. At age 15, she is working hard to support herself, and doing an amazing job of it.

Even though she is in a horrible situation, Anita has been able to use her microloan to start herself on a path towards success and a better life. Just another case of microfinance giving unfortunate situations a little bit of hope.

Leave a comment

Filed under During, Interviews

The first interview: Edith Worwornyo

(Note: I am working on a series of interviews with the people I meet in Ghana. Women like Edith have used microfinance to enhance their quality of life, even if it has been in the smallest way. I’ll be posting a few of the stories as I get the chance to interview more people. Here’s Edith Worwornyo’s story.)

Edith Worwornyo was born in the village of Adaklu Helkape. DSC01688
Her parents sent her to junior high school in Accra, where she successfully graduated. With ambitions of a higher level of education, Edith enrolled in secondary (or high) school. After a year, however, Edith got pregnant and had to drop out of school. Her parents were not willing to support both Edith and the child, so Edith was forced to start trying to make a living. She moved back to her The father of the child to give more than occasional money for child support, so Edith had to find a way to make enough money to feed both herself and her daughter.

It was a rough time for Edith and her daughter Ester. Their first “home” was a badly made wooden shed. Any time that it rained, water would come streaming into the house, making conditions very unpleasant.

To make some money, Edith first started working at her sister’s food stand. But Edith had big plans for herself, so she eventually started her own business making meat pies on the side of the street. She sold to schoolchildren passing by in the morning before school and in the evening time after school. After buying meat, flour, and oil from local sources, she fried up the flour in little balls with meat inside. Business was good enough that she was soon able to move out of the shed and into a better made structure on the other side of the street. The roof of the new house does not leak even in the harshest of storms.

DSC01690

When Village Exchange Ghana (VEG) came to her village and talked about microfinance opportunities for local entrepreneurs, Edith was excited for the chance to expand her street side food business. Her application was quickly approved by VEG, and after four weeks of consistent savings, Edith was given a loan of 150 Ghana cedis (about $100 USD or €75). She used the loan to start a new element to her business: selling cooked rice and beans. Edith bought the beans, rice, and oil that she needed in bulk in order to create a larger profit margin. Many people do not like meat pies, so by diversifying her products, she can attract new customers. Without the loan, she would not have been to expand her business.

The future looks bright for Edith. The Ghanaian Transportation Authority will soon pave the road that passes through her village. This path will become a major route from Ho to Accra (two main Ghanaian cities), so there will be a large increase of traffic flowing through the village. Edith plans to capitalize on this flow of new potential customers, marketing her food to travelers.

With this increase in customers, Edith hopes to be able to expand even further. She plans to take out a second loan with VEG once the first is repaid. She wants to eventually start buying supplies to make banku and fufu, Ghanaian food staples made out of corn, yam, and cassava. Edith learned how to make these foods from a short time she spent working in her sister’s business. These foods are very popular with Ghanaians, so she hopes she will be able to offer some kind of food to even the pickiest eaters.

In the long term, Edith wants to be able to hire a few employees to help her make all of the food. As long as the volume of customers is high, Edith should be able to achieve her goal. She works hard, but it all would not be possible without continued financial support through microfinance loans.

1 Comment

Filed under During, Interviews

Ada-who? (adventure at the beach: Ghana style)

Don’t worry, it’s not all work and no play here in Ghana. As with any other job, you are free to do whatever you would like during the weekends. And since I happen to be in Ghana, that free time will of course involve exploring this beautiful country.

Our destination this past weekend was the small port town of Ada-foah. Ghana has a huge coastline, so if you were looking just to sit on a beach, there are plenty of options to choose from. But Ada-foah was special because of its amazing location: it overlooks the spot where the Volta River empties out in the Atlantic Ocean.

  July 21-24 079July 21-24 093

July 21-24 084

The meeting of these two tremendous bodies of water makes for an entertaining water show. Currents clash from each side, making the water twist and tumble, creating wave shapes I have never seen in my life.

Our hotel (if you would even call it that) was located on the small sliver of land that separates the final stretches of the Volta River from the Atlantic Ocean. You could literally walk from riverside to the ocean in less than two minutes.

July 21-24 107July 21-24 110

The “hotel” was just a few reed huts spread out on the beach. The floors are no different than the outside: it’s all sand. And the rooms themselves weren’t much to gawk at. A bedframe, a mattress, a mosquito bed net, and nothing else. There weren’t even any sheets for the bed, and continued pestering of the staff for some led absolutely nowhere. But we only paid $8 per night per head, so I guess we can’t expect too much. We didn’t spend too much time in the hut, so we just ignored it.

July 21-24 134July 21-24 132

The beach was wonderful, well both of them. It was fun to go read a book by the ocean, and then walk over to the river to jump in the water. The ocean is too rough to swim in because of its super strong riptides, but the Volta makes for some great “swimming.” Take the word swimming lightly, because the water is so shallow along the coast that it hardly reaches your knees.

The guidebooks give plenty of warning about parasites that live in fresh water. The main one to watch out for is the particularly nasty bilharzia. The microscopic parasites live primarily in snail shells in fresh water. When you wade past them, the parasites can dissolve into your skin. They then make their way to your liver, where they reproduce endlessly for the rest of their lives. It is easy to treat, but unfortunately you don’t usually feel any symptoms until six weeks after exposure.

The local Ghanaian guys at the hotel told us that the water was “bilharzia-free” because the parasites can’t live in places where fresh river water is mixed with salt water from the ocean. It is hard to know how true their information is, but we saw plenty of both Ghanaians and foreigners enjoying the water, so we weren’t too stressed about getting infected. The water was too nice to resist anyway.

On Saturday evening, we took a walk down to the very edge where the water meets the ocean. There we ran into a school group from Accra celebrating their end of exams. They had come to enjoy the beach, and as one girl told us, “We are required to have fun.”

July 21-24 106July 21-24 087

A few of the girls from the group started to talk to us as we walked to the hotel. I was pleased to find that one of the girls planned to go to college and eventually become a doctor. So many Ghanaian girls do not develop the self-esteem or confidence to try to make it to the top of their chosen field. Most Ghanaian girls would just want to become nurses, but this girl had her mind set on the top. I love that the new generation is starting to break the pattern of gender segregated workplaces.

I think that was my longest post yet. If you skipped to the end and just want the summary: the whole weekend was extremely relaxing and interesting. Just chilling Ghana style.

1 Comment

Filed under During