A Day in the Life of a District Dweller

I wake up 6 AM, shake my vivid dreams away and recognize the now common sight of my mosquito net and remember that somehow, someway I have ended up in West Africa. I unlock my room and even in the hall feel the seemingly cold breeze from the Harmattan weather – cool, dusty winds in the mornings with a temperature of around 15 degrees Celsius.

My Backyard

I immediately put on my exercise clothes and sweater for fear of catching the cataah (spelling uncertain) or common cold, which everyone seems to get around this time of year – not too unlike December in Canada. 15-20 degrees is actually too cold for me so I have to make sure I cover myself. I open all the windows, unlock the doors and head outside to greet my neighbours goods morning:

“Desba” – Good morning or how is the morning?
“naaaa” – response or fine
“Agbirre” – how was your sleep?
“Gombienne” – fine
“To” – ok

They have already begun sweeping the animal droppings, dust and other debris away that has wound itself around their house during the night. I walk down the path to the public latrines across from the Primary and Junior High School and unlock the one that belongs to me – yes, I get my own latrine.

There is a goat pen behind my backyard. The people take very good care of the animals and let them roam free in the day

I then run around the football pitch located behind the school until I am satisfied and greet all the school children staring at the white girl with the Manchester United shorts who is exercising like a footballer before they begin class. Walking back to my house I continue to greet people good morning and discuss their children and work. When I arrive I finish sweeping up and prepare breakfast. By this time my roommate Moses has waken. I know because he is either chatting loudly on the phone or listening to the morning news via his mobile – some new political pitch or scandal. Moses is a National Service Volunteer who works at the Agriculture Vetnary College laboratory down the road from the building I work at. He is interested in pharmaceutical biotechnology and hopes to attend a graduate program in ‘my part of the world’ someday.

I wash my clothes by hand at least once a week

For breakfast I use my gas cooker to fry two eggs with onions and some bread with raspberry jelly that I bought from the ‘white people’ store in the ‘city’ of Tamale. Sometimes I will settle for extremely, special pasteurised yogurt and cream cheese not found in the village. If I had not made lunch the night before (leftovers from dinner) I will prepare a tuna or egg sandwich with some type of vegetable (tomato, carrot, green pepe, garden eggs or apple). I do not have a fridge so all the goods I buy have to survive in the heat of the kitchen, although the mornings are cool now so life is good.

My kitchen

I also have a French press coffee maker and coffee grinds from Cost Rica, courtesy of Father Dom who donated it to me before leaving for Canada a week ago (miss you!). I get to have actual coffee with some sugar most mornings until I run out of coffee as they do not sell it here or in the city.

Where I bathe every morning, my bucket, cup and soap

I then go back inside to the hall where my desk is, turn on my computer and begin to follow the News stories of the day. What I feel like is my only real connection to anything outside the Northern Region of Ghana. Finishing up breakfast, I take two biggish bowls, fill them up with water from the Polytank in my backyard and wash the dishes. I then fill my bucket with some small water, bathe and brush my teeth in an empty concrete room outside in the backyard. What I wear to work is dependent on what I have to do that day, be it go to the field or fulfill administrative duties behind the desk. I can also choose to walk 10 minutes to work or take the motorcycle sitting in my living room that my roommate so graciously puts back in the house every night since I cannot lift it up the two steps.

View from the front door of the hallway

I am first to arrive at the office at 9:30AM, and I spend time chatting with the Watchmen and cleaners who have begun their day much earlier than mine. They unlock my office, which happens to be the ‘Extension office’ where I share a room with the Deputy – Supervisor of Extension of crops and also the Director’s right hand man. I begin to fulfill the plan of the day, which could be to prepare to go into the field, prepare for a workshop I will host, write reports and other administrative duties or visit a few farmers. As I do this, it is necessary to greet the staff who arrive and ask about their evening away from the office. How was your sleep? How is the family? How is your body? Are you feeling healthy? Is the 40 degree Celsius heat in the middle of the afternoon paining you? Then we complain about the dryness of our skin and scratchy throats from the extreme range in temperatures of the Harmattan weather. One of the staff will usually follow me or I follow them to a room to chit chat and I also try and spend time speaking to the Director, who I get along with well.

One of the Watchmen holding my favourite type of meat – Guinea Fowel

There are a few things I am pursuing at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture District office in Savelugu-Nanton district.

1.Implement the Agriculture as a Business (AAB) Program jointly created by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) and EWB. AAB is a farmer group strengthening tool that encourages rural groups to take on small projects in agribusiness. It also builds the advisory capacity of Agriculture Extension Agents (AEA) to progress their skills in teaching and providing information to farmers. Working towards developing the knowledge, skills, attitudes and approaches to help staff perform better in the field whether on time management, innovation, facilitation, or market-oriented approaches is what I more generally work on. I am adjusting the tool so we can market and prepare it for private based extension services who have expressed interest in it. The program is heavily reliant on farmer meetings, which means I am in the field significantly more to do one-on-one coaching with the AEAs and evaluation of program effectiveness with farmers.

Rice piled up at the office

2.This one-on-one interaction with staff and farmers also provides me with a unique opportunity to pursue the favourite part of my job – testing innovations. I am working with AEAs, their Supervisors and the Director to identify existing technologies that could be further or newly invested in. More importantly, how we can prototype one or many of the identified ideas related to increasing the technology adoption rates of farmers. Some of those ideas include, peer-peer learning for farmer behaviour change, coordination, radio program on extension and a few others.

This is the time for harvesting – they are shelling maize

3.Lastly, and what I think most importantly, I am working towards utilizing district level knowledge (farmer perspectives), challenges, and needs to develop policy reports for advocacy to national level government. District level realities are often missed out in the design of projects and procedures and because decision making is extremely top-down, lobbying those district realties to regional and national level MOFA, other NGOs and projects is important influence work.

My work day normally ends between 4:00pm and 6:00pm where I either decide to walk to the taxi round where there are women selling small items: phone credit, bread, tomatoes, sugar or drive to the district capitol, Savelugu (about 15 minute drive on a paved road) to buy more complicated things.

Back home Moses is preparing food and I am greeted by all the neighbourhood children who take pride in helping with my bags and telling me about their day. I prepare for dinner that evening, either pasta or rice with vegetables to ensure a balanced diet. Multi vitamins, probiotics and anti-malarial drugs have saved me a bit. By 6:00pm the world is dark and Moses and I will share some tea and chat about the day: Canada-Ghana relations, the news or whatever else happens to be bothering us. Sometimes friends from work like Felicity or other people from different communities like Jaamal and Ganiwu will drop by and visit.

At 8:30PM I am exhausted from the day and decide to clean the kitchen, and prepare my bathwater. Fill the bucket half with water and heat small water in the kettle. It is just too cold for cold bucket bathes in the evening these days. Settle in my bed, under the net again to have a phone conversation with a fellow EWBer, family member in Canada or the boyfriend.

My bedroom

That is an average day in my life here in Ghana and I am so pleased that it is mine!


6 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of a District Dweller

  1. Siera thank you for letting us in to share in your apparent joy. We miss you and wish you a very Blessed and Peace filled Christmas.

    Best Wishes from the D’Orazios

  2. Siera! Thanks for the great, detailed walk-through of your day. I loved your descriptions!

    On the work side: Is the PSA team hoping to continue expanding AAB across MoFA, or will private organizations be a new focus? Are we seeing the fruits of past AAB implementations? (I’d love to hear about the follow-ups on past years’ AAB graduated groups)

    Great to hear from you, and take good care!

  3. Thank you so much for all of the greeting and kind words. Life here is pretty good, my job is even better!
    Leaving messages here is very inspiring and motivating me to continue writing so thank-you.

    Loulwa Kalache – it is really nice to meet you, thank-you. I hope we have a chance to speak a bit more about some of the technologies you are working on as I am working on increasing technology adoption rates for food security with the Ministry.

    Amir, as you will at Conference coming up, our team has officially evolved to Agricultural Extension (AgEx) as a point of focus. We are not going to limit ourselves to one partner anymore – MoFA – and are going to respond better to the considerable attention we have received from the private sector. There are many stakeholders involved in agricultural sector extension and as a team we feel we need to be aware of others more. As AAB stands, I will be working to evolve and suit it up for those who are interested in paying for it. As for the results of the testing from the graduated groups, the same challenges exists which really boils down to incentives under resource stricken circumstances. Our testing of the program has concluded that in order for it to be successful we need three things a) leadership or a push from Director b) resources to support the work c) and an enabling environment -higher capacity and knowledge of implementation. MOFA tends to have a) and c) but like most government services lacks b) the resources (fuels, time ect.)

    Private extension services whether business oriented or NGO tend to have all three if they are requesting it. I am testing the program in a district level MOFA office we have never worked in before with higher capacity staff and resources, however I am doing it really because they have requested it and because I need to learn the program myself in order to provide it to others. To answer your questions simply – yes I am going to start marketing it as it is proven to be a useful extension tool for farmer group and advisory service development.

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