Archive for January, 2008

As I account for my students in Kongo Senior Secondary what some of the differences are between here in north Ghana and life in the states, specifically, Portland in my fine state of Oregon, I reflect on how it is here, for us as we lead our daily lives.

We discover all too often that our mighty moto needs  more service. The kickstand has now been repaired two times. But is done ‘while you wait’ and how very low cost. It is nearly embarrassing how little some things cost. Internet is something we take for granted in the states. Here, we drove our moto to Bolga three times intending to spend a couple of hours on internet, email, web site …… it is not a ‘ take for granted’ thing here. Along with everyone else we breath deeply and just carry on with our lives.

I suppose the mini-challenge that is most notable for me is maybe not so ‘mini’ but many. That is …… waiting. People wait for buses to fill before leaving ( more than one hour), they wait for class to start ( the teacher’s moto ran out of petrol), they wait for pay ( one health worker has not been paid for last month) and we wait for meetings to start. It is hard for me to break the attitude to arrive  somewhat on time for a 2:00 meeting ( maybe 2:05) . I should just relax! That meeting will be starting at 3:30, maybe 4! But because we are , to some degree, in charge of organizing these meetings for assisting the communities, we feel the need to be there, should by chance it start on time. So we while away the time with the other 10 people who are there …….waiting . Maybe this is a good time to pause for reflection.        –David Stone

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Scenes from Bolga

Scenes from a day in Bolgatanga.

A weekly malfunction of the moto is becoming all to predictable. Recently the stand cracked and would not hold the moto upright when parked, in addition the stand hit on the road at the smallest bump. Today the rear brakes suddenly ceased to unction. They have gotten to know us well at the repair shop, which is also the same shop where we purchased the moto, used, a month ago. The repair shop is at the bottom of a steep road embankment about 15 feet long and cannot easily be ridden up or down, I guess this helps to prevent theft of the twenty motorcycles under repair that lay in the dirt, under a tree, at the bottom of the embankment. The owner of the shop comes up to the road to see what is wrong and then drives the moto down to the shop himself. The ground at the shop is covered with oil and discarded parts, the same goes for the men working there. A tree limb is ringed with a dozen tires. A nearby “stream” is a thick, mucky gray-green. Fortunately repairs are cheap, $3 and forty minutes later the stand is welded back on and we are off to get fruit in the market. The cost to replace the rear brake shoe was a mere $2.50.

The market is truly a shopping experience, Crowded with open air market shops, customers of all ages are on foot, motorcycle, and bicycle. Wandering livestock, from fowl to full grown cows. add interest and obstacles. You do need to watch where you step! The noise, crowds and seeming chaos are intimidating to the novice, but for those of us who enjoy grocery shopping, it is an experience to look forward to. On this day I was hoping to find raisins, known simply as “dried fruits” in the market. I started in a shop where I bought them 2 years ago. This shop is now selling little individual packets, about enough for a bowl of oatmeal, hand wrapped in plastic at a price equivalent to 50 cents. Much as I like raisins on my oatmeal, the thought of contaminated hands, think typhoid/cholera/hepatitis, is enough send me looking elsewhere. Fortunately a little girl at the shop says she knows of a shop nearby where they have large packages of raisins. Indeed, the shop has factory sealed, imported raisins for $4/half pound. Exorbitantly expensive, but probably the only packaged raisins for many, many miles. The purchase is made and the little girl given “dash” (a tip).

After a purchase of local bananas, which are absolutely delicious and dirt cheap, we slowly weave our way out of the market past women selling beans, rice, and millet from large basins. As we stroll by, a sheep takes a bite of millet flour from one of the basins, prompting the market woman to leap to her feet brandishing a large stick. The sheep and the woman lunge through the crowd, and after a minute she manages to get close enough to give the sheep several hefty whacks. Such good entertainment causes the shoppers to stop and watch, with both laughter and cheering as the chase concludes.

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mrs-rosers-level-6-class.jpgTime  TIme has passed indeed since a great group of 6th graders form MS Roser’s class put on a very successful fundraising drive to earn money for pocket dictionaries for high school students in northern most Ghana (don’t let the word ‘north’ throw you – we are not too far from the equator). In fact those 6th graders are now very able 7th graders. My wife, Lisa has successfully put the bove picture of these esteemed students. Kudos to both her and the aforementioned!

It has been a continuous but totally unproductive effort on my part just make an order of books take place here in Bolgatanga. In fact, I have been to probably every bookstore in town. There is always something that has prevented any action from taking place ( boss not there, no phone minutes available to call order, bookstore closed all day, to name a few).

But Eureka! I successfully ordered 25 dictionaries at a reduced price! There is the promise of 25 more by Friday! This means that I strap the box of 25 to my moto and deliver them to my class on Wednesday! I only wish I could somehow share how much this gift means to kids learning English as a second language. You see, most speak Frafra, an unwritten language of the area. The level of English understanding can not help but improve with a personal dictionary available at all times. Since many have never had opportunity to use a dictionary I will be spending time teaching them how to use it. These kids are bright; they only lack the chance to prove themselves. Ms. Roser’s class has helped these student ages 17 -19 take a small step in the right direction.  May they walk proudly and prudently, both the student here in far away at Jackson. David Stone

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An Unexpected Marriage

We had a big surprise today!  Richard Alorum, a young man of 25 yrs,That is Richard, now a newlywed, shaking DJs hand has acted as our Fra Fra language teacher for both of our visits to Kongo.  Richard is the oldest male in his house, both his father and an older brother have died  within the last 5 years.  This is usually a position of great responsibility in a Ghanaian household, only Richard has managed to excape mucThat is Richard, now a newlywed, shaking DJs handh of that burden due to a disability.  He apparently had polio as a child and has no use of his left arm/hand and some weakness in his legs.  Though he was forced to quit high school after the deaths due to lack of money, his life has been far more carefree than other young men in the area.  He could not farm and spent a lot of time hanging out in the market.  He was quite hospitable to DJ during his visit, showing him around the village and inviting DJ to visit his house.

Once DJ left, Richard invited David and I to visit as well.  We scheduled to go last Saturday in the morning.  In the meantime, we have seen him at market or at our house nearly every day.  We last had a language lesson on Wednesday and nothing seemed out of the ordinary at that time.  Upon arrival at his house Saturday, what should happen but he introduces us to his wife!!  That’s right, as it turns out he began the process of getting married according to local tradition 3 days prior.  The marriage customs are very complex, but we learned a lot talking to Richard today.  A short time ago, his “father” (actually his dead father’s brother)  told him that as the eldest brother, it was time he married and assume his responsibility as head of the household.  Richard agreed to do so, but by his demeanor and interaction with us Saturday it seems he is less that enthusiastic.  Shortly thereafter (3 days ago) the young lady, who is quite beautiful, moved into Richard’s family house.   Over the next week, Richard’s family will take cola nuts, tobacco, guinea fowl, alcohol, a few goats, and finally some cows to the bride’s family.  If all goes well, the deal will be sealed with a cock delivered to the bride’s family as the final gesture.  His family just married off several of his sisters so that they now have the cows to then transfer onto his bride’s family.  It is all pretty incredible!  Richard is obviously overwhelmed by the responsibility he is expected to assume.  As you can imagine, his family struggles to find money to purchase the numerous dowry items, to help out we have now paid in advance for a lifetime of language lessons.  Last week he was still a kid hanging out in the market and with the white folks, now he has to worry about providing food, shelter, and clothing for is mother, grandmother, younger siblings, and wife. 

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Motorcycle stories

Interesting motorcycle (“moto” in the local jargon) days Incident #1:  David and Lisa are returning from a visit to discuss farming at the Kongo Assemblyman’s house, located about 3 miles off the main road via winding bush path.  The motorcycle ride to get there has been varying degres of uphill on a rocky path.  Thanks to David’s excellent driving ability, the trip was challenging but uneventful.  Kudos to David, the Klamath Falls farm boy who grew up driving motorcycles!   Things are more interesting on the way down.  Unbeknown to Lisa and David, a farmer and his cow are having a struggle regarding whether to cross the path or not.  The farmer has managed to tie a rope around one of the cow’s legs and is pulling the cow across the path and towards his farm.   The farmer is slowly making headway, but things are not going smoothly.  The cow seems stubbornly determined to go in the opposite direction.  With the rope stretched between the cow on one side of the path and the farmer on the other, David and Lisa come down the path and around a corner.  In an instant, they notice the startled face of the farmer, the stubborn cow, and the taught rope stretched across the path directly in front of the moto and approximately 10 inches off the ground.  Lisa thinks the rope will surely become tangled in the moto, resulting in a strong possibility of close bodily contact with the cow’s horns or sharp rocks on the trail.  Somehow, the rope goes under the tires without hesitation.  With a relieved glance at each other and a shrug of the shoulders, David and Lisa continue down the hill, thankful that they will be making it safely back for lunch at their quarters.  The ride down the hill proceeds uninterrupted UNTIL….. Incident #2 David and Lisa have experienced a peaceful five minute ride since the interesting cow incident.  They enjoy the cooling breeze as they proceed down the path on this 90  degree day.  Suddenly, David applies the moto brakes HARD, coming to a jolting, forceful stop.  A local boy riding on a bike behind them has to run off the path into a field on the right to avoid crashing into them.  Fortunately for the biker, the very large snake in front of the moto is crossing to the left side of the path. Everyone, including the snake, emerge unscathed.  Nearly all snakes in the area are venomous. To end the story, David and Lisa make it back to their quarters shortly thereafter.   They have what is becoming rather repetitive lunch of bread and Laughing Cow processed cheese.  It seems a good afternoon to take it easy and avoid further risks to life and limb. 

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dj-teaching-resized.jpgDec 31, 2007


The year is ending with a light day of work at the clinic. New Years is primarily a religious occasion in Ghana, with Catholic mass both this evening and in the morning. People seem to accept our explanation that as mere Presbyterians we are not accustomed to attending church quite that often and will, thus, be staying “in the house” (staying home).

A bit of information about health insurance in Ghana

I happened to be in Ghana as a National Health Insurance Plan was instituted in March 2006. It is now functioning quite well for about 1/3 of the farmers in this area, an adult can get insurance for themselves and their children for the incredibly low cost of $10/year. The other 2/3 cannot afford the insurance even at that cost. It does take 3-6 months to become insured, one of the few negative things one could say about the insurance. The plan covers valuation and treatment, including drugs, for most of the common health problems seen at the Kongo Clinic and some minor surgeries, but not HIV/AIDS treatment or major surgeries. Things that are fairly routine in the US, for example cataract surgery and heart surgery, are not covered. It seems to me the clinic is seeing fewer urgent problems, I speculate that is because insured patients seek care earlier instead of waiting to see how bad the illness will get in an effort to save money. I don’t know the details, but the central government must be substantially subsidizing the health coverage. Though health workers are paid a very low wage (nurses with three years of nurses training start out making $300/month), individual payments for coverage could not even come close to covering the government’s costs to provide health services and drugs to the insured. Looking at the very poor country of Ghana and the government’s efforts to provide affordable health insurance makes me wonder why the richest country in the world (as in the USA) cannot do more to make health insurance affordable and accessible for its citizens.

If you saw our website from 2 years ago, you read of Kologbil, an 18 year old Kongo farm boy/shepherd boy that David and I have been helping out by paying school fees. He has no relatives to help him with school fees but a strong desire to go to school. We are so happy for him in regards to the progress he has made in school. He is currently enrolled in Primary 6 (6th grade), and now converses with us fluently in English, where as communication without an interpreter was nearly impossible during our last visit. Students do not begin learning English until Primary 3 and for most it takes four or five years before they are able to hesitantly converse and read in English. I am astounded at Kolobil’s progress, especially in light of the fact that he is learning English in a classroom of 100 students! It is my theory that every bit of basic academic knowledge and familiarity with English is of great help in being capable of taking take care of oneself as an adult in West Africa. Due to the large amount of heavy work he must do on the farm, Kologbil now needs surgery for an inguinal hernia. We have started the process of getting him on the health insurance plan so that hernia repair surgery can happen this spring. I am so glad we have been able to help this determined, quiet, intelligent boy. kolobil.jpg

We have been regularly working on obtaining resources for farmers. Two days ago we attended a large meeting of the dry season farmers from the area, I would guess 100 farmers attended from a 7 square mile area that includes 12 or so villages. David and I have a meeting on Thursday with a non-governmental organization (NGO) called Technoserve that funds farming projects. It will be great when we get past the information gathering stage and are actually able to spring into action on the farming front.

As for now, I will be having a Fra Fra lesson with one of the unemployed local youth at a rate of $2/hour, a very generous rate of pay for these parts. Progress is slow but steady on the language front. Fra Fra is not a written language, and I swear my teacher changes some of the pronunciations and even the actual words weekly!

January 8, 2008

We have returned from a refreshing three day trip to Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. We ate, shopped, took hot showers, sent DJ back to the US in time for Monday classes at PSU, and dodged persistent purveyors of belts, phone cards, foreign magazines, and craft items. It is with a mixture of sympathy and annoyance that we began to dodge people on the street who are merely trying to feed themselves. These are not violent or dishonest people, but people desperate to make a little money for food and shelter. Unfortunately, there seem to be a dozen mildly desperate people selling items for each tourist on the street. And, a tourist has to say “No” repeatedly before they cease in their efforts.

The eighty degree evenings evenings in West Africa at this time of year are perfect for dining on the broad sidewalk of a bistro. During our dinners in Ouaga, a group of street sellers would quietly stand 10-20 feet away to keep an eye on us for an hour or more as we ate, but not interfering with our dinner. During dinner, David, DJ, and I would make a plan for the most rapid and least obstructed path back to the hotel or the internet. Our greatest success occurred when we all headed for the same spot at the edge of restaurant seating, and then abruptly headed in 3 different directions before crossing the street. The moment of confusion was enough to allow our unhampered escape.

Back in Kongo, we cook at home on a 2 burner propane stove, very similar to a camping stove. We are having guinea fowl and rice for dinner tonight, eating one of the six guinea fowl that have been given to us since arriving. And a papaya for dessert, given to us by an impressive dry season farmer. This particular farmer has water not far below ground level, only 5 feet in some spots. He has a small commercial fish pond, papaya and banana trees; all unusual for this area.

It was wonderful to share our experiences in Ghana with DJ. He was enthusiastic and uncomplaining about everything, even the cold showers and the less than comfortable developing world travel adventures. He did a fantastic job teaching computer classes to the local kids, an opportunity they would not have had if it were not for his presence. His students hated to see him leave as much as we did.

A memorable “DJ moment” for me occurred when we stopped by to say hello during a computer class. We had just purchased a used motorcycle and there was a definite “this is weird” look on DJ’s face as he watched his parents ride off. And of course he offered some sage advice. I believe the exact quote was, “Don’t crash.” As was to be expected, DJ eagerly learned to ride the motorcycle himself in record time and took off on some independent trips to neighboring villages.

Since our return from Ouaga, the weather has been unusually cold for this part of the world, sometimes dipping below 70 degrees at night. The Ghanaians are even wimpier than Portlanders when it comes to “cold” weather. People are too cold leave their house if it is below 75 degrees, having the same effect on daily routines as ½ inch of snow in Portland. Teachers can expect that students will come 2 hours late. The clinic will be deserted. When people arrive they will be wearing multiple layers of clothing and be shaking with the cold, their hands will be icy. As for us white folks from the Northwest, it still seems like shorts weather.

And now for an update in regards to our work in the community. We have now been here nearly four weeks, during which time we have attended numerous meetings and spoken with many struggling people. We have defined four ways in which we might assist Nabdam, the impoverished farming district in which Kongo is located. Some projects relate to immediate needs for survival and some relate to long term economic development. Several projects are appropriate for funding by NGOs or grants:

<!–[if !supportLists]–>1. <!–[endif]–>Recruit volunteers similar to ourselves to work for periods of time in this very welcoming community. We currently spend most of our time providing medical and chiropractic care in the clinic (Lisa) and teaching English in the schools (David).

<!–[if !supportLists]–>2. <!–[endif]–>Work with Nabdam farmers to improve food security. We are cautiously optimistic that the community can work in collaboration with the NGO Technoserve to improve yields. Farming practices promoted and financed by this organization include donkeys or bullocks for tilling, improved seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, storage of crops for the dry season, better poultry farming techniques, and other improvements to animal husbandry. This is the most extensive and financially ambitious of our undertakings and, if successful, will be of the greatest long term benefit. Technoserve is largely funded by USAID, an aid organization of the US government. 

<!–[if !supportLists]–>3. <!–[endif]–>Formulation of a committee with representation from each Nabdam village. The purpose of this committee is to mobilize resources for needs and development that have bearing on the entire Nabdam district. David’s brother-in-law, Tom Coleman, has already been asked to look for grants to fund the committee’s first urgent project – school feeding. Severe flooding in the midst of the 2007 growing season resulted in loss of over half of the staple food crops this year. Food will be scarce in homes until the next harvest. The committee hopes that providing millet or rice for students at mid-day will prevent large scale malnutrition whilst maintaining, or even boosting, school attendance. Parents will volunteer to cook and serve the food, each student will be expected to bring firewood for cooking, as well as small amounts of beans to add to the grains. This is a substantial project in that there are 10,000 pre-kindergarten through senior high students in Nabdam schools. The lunch cost is $1/student/week to provide a daily serving of grain. We hope to assist the committee in providing meals for the 10 weeks when food shortages are most severe – mid March, April, and May. Total cost: $100,000. Interestingly, Ghana received far more food aid, such as bags of corn, before the ethanol boom. The US and Canada reportedly now use much of their excess grain production for fuel.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>4. <!–[endif]–>Donating “small, small” (in the local vernacular) for immediate needs relating to food and school fees for families that live in or near Kongo, the village where we live. We do this through the local St Vincent De Paul Society who collects letters from students requesting help and keeps a small storage room with millet and rice. A committee of three evaluates the requests and allocates the resources. Our role is to provide some funds, we are able to donate $600 during our visit, and insure that the committee distributes the resources equitably.

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Yesterday we spent a good share of the day traveling the route from Bolgatanga to Ouagadougou, using taxi, a truly comfortable old Renault,  an old Landcruiser and finally a sort of taxi to Hotel Yibi, where we have stayed several times now. The purpose of this trip is to deliver David Revell to the international airport here, bound for home and back to class. He is currenly writing his blog. I will be interested in hearing his ‘take’ on all that he has done and seen. We are very pleased to have had his company. He has earned the freindship of some good people here. Since my minutes are up at this internet in Ouagadougou, I am forced to be brief and tell you WE SAW A HERD OF ELEPHANTS ON THE WAY HERE! It was truly excitng as this is no wildlife reserve. The herd of 8 to 10 were migrating. I was the first to point it out to all as we traveled the route. They were very close to the road amongst the trees. A farmer may npt be as pleqsed as us to see them as they are capable of ruining everything upon which they trod.

I close in saying we love it here as the food is much more diverse. The French influence. David Stone

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