It has been exactly two months since I have arrived in Ghana and my personal and professional learning has far surpassed any experience I have encountered thus far. As part of my growth as a development worker in Ghana, the Public Sector Agriculture team required that I complete a two month Immersion Period. A time in which I would travel around the Northern Region to work with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture district level staff and the farmers they effect to gain a better understanding of the extension services provided.
Below is a map outlining the travels I have completed. I would estimate that I have probably done more travelling around Ghana than most other EWB staff who have recently arrived, providing me with a unique experience, various challenges and strong personal growth.
The Immersion Period is meant to provide me the opportunity to better understand northern Ghana’s diverse culture and socio-economic context that has been heavily shaped by history. Being aware of this context and how it effects agricultural development is necessary to incorporate into our team’s strategy for the generation and testing of best practice. Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie talks about the “danger of the single story” how relating only one aspect of a story flattens reality, robs people of dignity, and makes equality impossible. She explains that the narrative created by a single story is not necessarily untrue, but is incomplete. Taking the time to travel around northern Ghana, witnessing the diversity in languages spoken, appearance and customs practiced, provides evidence towards this. Adichie also refers to Chinua Achebe, another Nigeria novelist who calls for a “balance of stories” to round out the full experience of existence rather than leveling out life with a single narrative. Through analyzing the development experience in northern Ghana both within its historical and socio political context and through the lived experiences of people, my understanding will become fuller and more complete.
Adjusting how I conduct my research to more completely fit the context so my findings accurately represent the situation and its people has been invaluable. I have been able to reaffirm hypotheses, while continuing to dismantle certain assumptions is proving to be more responsible research. In analyzing my unique immersion experience in agricultural development I will begin to recognize the context in which I operate while working in the sector. I have to ensure to keep this diversity of stories incorporated in our strategy to develop the agriculture sector.
I feel as if I understand Ghana a bit better. The culture shock has worn off and I find myself independently arguing my way onto a Metromass or tro-tro much more easily, while sifting through markets for the things I need more efficiently.
The conversations I am having are a lot more interesting and I am getting this whole notion of greeting and speaking to strangers as it is probably the most critical thing I have picked up on to gain respect and prove appreciation for the communities I stay in. Hitching rides from people you just met, putting in trust and depending on them is critical to the work culture in Ghana – and the only way I can fully accomplish anything here.
My faith in humanity has been restored through the generosity and compassion Ghanaians have for guests. Recently I stayed with the most incredible farmer out west in a place called Gindabou (refer to map). Not only did Pastor John refuse to let me pay for anything during my stay (despite him being a farmer and me a NGO employee) but he also went way out of his way to ensure my safety and comfort: The only bus leaving straight for Tamale was coming from Wa, but because there is only one bus that leaves in the morning, tickets are very difficult to purchase or reserve. So John sent a man from the community to purchase a ticket for me, sit in my seat to save it, and then switch with me when the bus arrived off the main road in the community.
When the man could not get a ticket at 6AM the day before, John’s alternate route would be for me to take a minibus to Techima and then switch there for another bus to Tamale. Since I had never been to Techima, he insisted that he accompany me five hours south, help me get on the bus to Tamale and then go all the way back north five hours to Gindabou.
Fortunately, as luck was on my side, I was able to hitch the original bus driving by, get the best seat and catch up on sleep the whole rest of the way. Seems like the bread, minerals and soap I brought the family in the village when I arrived, cannot even compare to what he taught me – generosity, compassion, patience and humility.
My faith in humanity has also been restored from my relationships with EWB colleagues. I am really shocked by how nice and patient EWBers are. It is evident that they have inherited the Ghanaian free, and welcoming culture. It is just impossible for me to explain the help I have had over the past two months and cannot really even compare it to any experience I have had in the past. Not with my own travels, work, or study – it really is the only kind of help you see in from a family.
The type of family that picks you up and drives you when you have a big bag to carry or are out late at night and do not want to walk for three minutes in the dark. The kind of family that brings you tea, food and oral re hydration salts when you are not feeling well, calls you to make sure you have travelled successfully, and argues with you about some difficult strategy we are working towards, pushing your limits of learning. This development sector work we do is inconceivably complicated and we all support each other to make sure we keep our motivation and responsibilities on track.
Nonetheless, I am still having a few difficulties with my life here and it is seemingly stemming from the same source: food. I am not exactly sure what it is that will not allow me to get over the food. It could be the textures, ingredients, overcooking – I just don’t like it. I have tried to eat everything, but just cannot seem to get most of it down.
Moreover, roughly every two weeks I have a badly upset stomach caused by something I ate, disrupting my whole metabolism and desiring the food even less. The upset stomach is not because of the content of the food, but as a result of poor sanitation. Traveling a lot also affects my eating habits, so there is no surprise that I have ‘reduced’ by about seven pounds (assuming the scale at the clinic was correct). Considering all the disruptive travel and eating at ‘chop’ shops on the side of the road, I have been very fortunate to not have picked up the common parasites, worms or malaria that many of my colleagues have suffered from since arrival.
Now that I have nearly completed my Immersion Period, the next step is to pick a district to live in for around five months (until February depending). Moving to and working in a place without the comfort of your ‘obruni’ (white) colleagues, attempting to create change and develop relationships is a whole different ball game. I am not sure where I will settle at the moment, but it will likely be somewhere in the Northern Region. Working independently out of a district office, depending on MOFA colleagues and my motorbike to experiment with solutions to the problems I am seeing will probably lead me to the realization of even deeper problems. It is going to be a professionally enriching experience, but also a difficult one. That is when the real development work starts.
Overall, I am loving Ghana! I would say my favourite thing to do is hop on the back of a farmer’s moto and drive out to his farm, to discuss his techniques, problems and ambitions – they are my ‘Dorothy’s’ of the world.
Picture Tour of Ghana – My experience so far