Tamale Bound

Being in Ghana for two weeks has begun to change my perception of Africa and development. I have been staying in the biggest city in the northern region – Tamale – for the past week. Since it is the most central place where we work several EWB volunteers live here and have been guiding me around, knowing when to help and when to push me to search. I am grateful for having been settled this week and feel like I know what I am doing a bit more than a week ago.

Tamale is about 433.15 km away from Accra and a 13+ hour drive north due to road conditions. It is as crowded and loud as the capital city, with a bustling marketplace and tro-tro (mini-bus) station, but with twice as many animals roaming free.  Thankfully, there are walkways next to the open sewers by the road so people can more safely get around. It is amazing how much more is learned when looking up and paying attention, as opposed to staring at the ground, carefully watching your step. The main road is Bolga road and it runs straight through, directing you anywhere in and out of the city. Instead of intimidating tro-tros, shared taxis are used to travel short distances. Men drive along the road picking up anyone who needs a ride until the car is full, only costing 50 pesuas per person (about 40 cents). Affordable, efficient and safer transportation, shared taxis are there within minutes and often result in interesting conversations with total strangers. People live away from the main road in compounds and take shared taxis, a personal bicycle or motto to work.

The main language spoken is called Dagbani and fewer people speak English here than in the capital city. I have picked up the greetings fairly quickly considering they are more elaborate than other languages I have been exposed to. There are several ways to greet someone depending on the time of day:

Good morning, how are you = Desba
Good afternoon, how are you = Antere
Good evening, how are you = Anula
Responses to these = naaaaaa

Another common greeting I have learnt is:
How was your sleep?: Agbirre?
Response: Gombienne

I am not really sure how to say goodbye, but people are always exclaiming Ami ami ami which is amen, and thanks to be God, after our conversations.

Since the majority of northerners are Muslim the lifestyle, clothing and culture is different than the south, despite people being just as friendly, loud, and free. August has been the month of Ramadan, an important Muslim practice where people fast from sun up to sun down (no water, food practiced during daylight). Fewer shops are open, making it more difficult to find anyone cooking food for lunch and people really take the time to rest or pray in the afternoon, even if it is in the middle of a bustling, muddy marketplace. Differently than in Toronto, people speak freely about fasting without the usual negative sentiments that normally accompany it. There are no exclamations of breaking fast or scowls when I drink my water and eat lunch. People acknowledge and embrace the fact that Christians do not fast. The man making my Egg and Bread for breakfast is fasting, while the staff at the office pass me water. Christians and Muslims live in agreement here, often celebrating both religious holidays and ceremonies. Every meeting opens with and closes with prayer either from the Muslim or Christian faith depending on who is leading. No one feels the need for two prayers from each faith and instead switches from time to time without argument. No animosity, discrimination or pretentiousness, religion is important and God is God – no matter how you choose to worship.

I have begun the learning for my job and enjoying it way more than I thought was possible. Monday I had a coaching session with MoFA team lead Erin, scheduling a plan for the week and next month. This past week I spent job shadowing a short term EWB volunteer / JF named Tania Sanchez who has been working at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) Tamale Metro office on the Agriculture as a Business program. Working with her has been useful because our personalities, values and learning styles are well-suited. I could make the claim that the office has welcomed me more than any other office has, making me feel more comfortable in five days than I usually do at two months in any Toronto office. The office is shaped in a square with an outside garden in the middle and individual offices along the insides. A few staff members have taken the time to get to know me and direct me around the normative practices, such as locking your office door even just to use the bathroom. I am in Tania’s office with my own desk and a big ceiling fan.

View from my desk at the office looking out onto the garden. Across is a group of farmers being trained on how to use a type of fertilizer

Although everyday is slightly different, waking up at 6:30AM, doing laundry, packing my bag, and taking a 10 minute shared taxi ride to meet Tania for breakfast has been fairly standard. I then spend the day at the office, going out for lunch, picking up errands from the market and heading back to the office to work until 6pm. By the time I get back to the guesthouse, eat dinner, and shower I am so tired that I look forward to starting a good night’s rest at 9:00PM.

I have also had the opportunity to go into the field with two exceptional agricultural extension agents (AEAs). Tahiru is a 58 year old Ghanaian man who has been working as an AEA with MoFA for over 30 years. He drives a 12 year old moto and knows his community more than any other AEAS. Going into the field with him was the perfect experience. We met with the leader of a women’s rice processing group that has successfully paid back all their loans. We were meeting to schedule a session to better understand why they were so successful and what about Tahiru’s services were working. Most AEAs would not have taken the time to coordinate specifics, like who would be invited to speak, prepping the leader on what information needed to be discussed for a normal meeting without any guests. This was my first time going into the field and I will never forget it! Riding on the back of a moto, watching through my helmet everyone smile and wave from their compounds (a circle of round huts) as we wiz by this beautiful grassland… It reminded me a lot of the Canadian landscape, except without all the pine trees. It hit me more that I was actually in Ghana / Africa, since rural living reflects more the vision I had. A few days later I went into the field with an AEA named Zibrilla to do a fertilizer demonstration for growing maize. Working with the farmers on three week old plants, meeting the chief of Wamale and seeing people process the maize was incredible and a nice aside from all the reading I have been doing about the Ministry’s extension services and farmer technology adoption rates.


Despite this, I feel I have spent a lot of time with Westerners. Going out for dinner with EWB volunteers, playing Frisbee with expats and chatting at the guesthouse with white people has been part of the easing into working in Ghana process. Next week I leave for a huge team meeting in Kumasi (6 hour drive south) where the short term volunteers conduct their final presentations and begin their journey back to Canada. I then come back to Tamale to possibly coordinate a village stay – no electricity, no running water and defiantly no white people.

It still has not hit me that I am here, in Africa and working in development. Chatting with the women who made my dress, working with the farmers in the field and discussing policy issues with directors is all too surreal. Development is way more interesting when you see the problems and solutions reflected in the eyes of the individuals you interact with everyday. I often forget that I am rich here – when beggars on the street come up to me for money, I instinctively shy away, and then remember they are just asking for 10 cents. I am not yet as jaded about government as my counterparts and recognize that although we would like to avoid government to develop a country’s economy, they are not going anywhere. In the end, Ghana really is not that different from any other country. People are people, work is work and government is government.

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2 thoughts on “Tamale Bound

  1. Siera, thanks for a excellent updates! I’m really glad to hear you’re doing well, and stoked for you and for MoFA! Keep it rockin’ ;). Amir

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