Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa


In December, I have to attend 2 days of EWB “debriefing” before going back home.  Or, as I like to call it, “reintegration training,” because I can be snarky and ungrateful sometimes.

I thought to myself, Why would we need reintegration training?  None of us were living in villages.  Tamale isn’t that big, but it’s that different either.

Last weekend, however, EWB had their Ghana Fall training session at Lake Bosumtwi an hour outside of Kumasi, which is the second largest city in Ghana.  As my fancy air-conditioned bus rolled into Kumasi around 11pm, I was shocked at all the multi-story structures.  “The buildings here are huge!” I exclaimed.  I felt like a little country bumpkin being in the big city for the first time.

So maybe I will need some help to “reintegrate” into Canadian society.


Christmas Carols

My coworker started playing Christmas carols in the office today.  It’s hard to believe that it’s only a month away.

This year, please don’t support the new Band Aid 30 version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas.”  Phone your local radio stations and tell them not to play it.  It’s patronizing, racist, and factually wrong.  Read more about how stupid it is here and here.

If you want to fight Ebola, donate to Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) instead.

Sirigu Paintings

Some paintings from the women’s art centre in Sirigu.

Guinea fowl

Guinea fowl

Cow with bird

Cow with bird

More cows?  With lizards?

More cows? With lizards?

More EWB-UBC Questions

Here are some more questions from my awesome UBC Chapter back home.

In your blog post, Fight Patriarchy, you mentioned that many charities are aimed at helping men. In what ways do NGO programs benefit men more than women?

To begin, my apologies.  I often make sweeping generalizations in my blog posts that I don’t back up.  To answer this question, I’m going to narrow my scope and focus on Tamale.

In this city, there are a lot of different NGO projects with different agendas.  There are a lot of different NGO projects with different agendas.  Many of them specifically target women as recipients of aid or education.  Unfortunately, however, it is extremely difficult for foreigners to understand the local cultural implications of their work

For example, I’m currently working with a group that is educating women on obstetric fistula.  Since this a medical problem that occurs from prolonged childbirth, it first appeared to be a “woman’s issue.”  Consequently, they started their project by focusing on women.

They soon discovered, however, that the problems surround obstetric fistula are much more complex.  Early marriages, teen pregnancies, malnutrition, and poverty all contribute to the high rates of obstetric fistula.  Moreover, it often doesn’t matter how educated a woman is on the subject because ultimately she needs permission from her husband to go to the hospital – either to give birth or get treated afterwards.

We exist in a patriarchal society, so all these small patch-up solutions ultimately help to uphold patriarchy.

Here’s another example.  For the GIFTS project, Amplify hired Ghanaians to work as field workers.  They record housing information, GPS coordinates, and paint numbers on the houses.  Out of 10 data collectors, only one is a woman.

This isn’t because Amplify is biased: they actually aimed to hire more women.  But many women can’t work a full-time job here.  Instead, they need something that they can organize around household chores and childcare responsibilities.  For instance, my seamstress’ 1-year-old son usually hangs out in her stall with her.

As a Canadian, I view my job life and home life as separate entities.  Women here, however, often don’t have that luxury.

Does that make sense?  Have I answered your question?  I wanted to delve into counterrevolutionary theory, but that would have started a long “end patriarchy!!!!!” rant so I tried to give examples instead.  Let me know if I haven’t been clear.

If people are using pay-as-you-go cards, then would they be paying to answer the surveys you’ve sent out?

With pay-as-you-go, you only pay when you make the outgoing call.  Receiving calls doesn’t cost anything.

In what other ways can we/NGOs help if we don’t build infrastructure directly? How do we help improve infrastructure indirectly?

By helping countries improve their government’s accountability, which leads to your next question:

You suggested improving the tax system, however, how could developed countries help developing countries improve their governments as whole?

I wish I had concise answers for you.  Honestly you’re asking me things way outside my depth of knowledge, so please take everything here with a grain of salt.  Actually, take it with a mountain of salt.

I think we need to focus on our own governments and lead by example.

In South Africa, I got to meet the Governor General because my friend’s boss was receiving an award.  As a fellow Canadian, I was invited to the party.  We went to the Canadian Diplomat’s house in Pretoria, which was huge.  I met Craig Kielburger, the guy who started Feed the Children.  A large group of important Canadians were traveling around southern Africa to meet state leaders and see the countries for themselves.

It was outrageous.  Besides the lavish food spread, they had also brought in Canadian beer and maple cookies.

Most African governments are disgustingly corrupt, but we’re not shining ideals either.  As Canadians, I think we need to demand more from our politicians.  Advocacy is key.

I know that’s not a great answer.  I’m basically saying that we can help African governments by ignoring them and letting them fend for themselves.

More than that, though, we also need to recognize that many of our actions in Canada undermine sovereignty in African states – like our electronics that often contain minerals from conflict zones.  We need to consume less stuff.  If oil, gold, diamonds, and other resources weren’t so precious, then people wouldn’t fight over it.

These are tough issues.  It’s so complicated that I have no idea how to tackle them.

That being said, things change quickly.  Look at how quickly China and India created a new middle class!  Nothing is hopeless.

If anyone else has more ideas, you’re invited to share.


After reading yesterday’s post, you can probably guess that I haven’t made very many Ghanaian friends here.  I chat with my coworkers and host-family, but that’s it.

Is this a failure on my part?  I could be more outgoing and tolerant of the cultural differences, but it’s especially difficult in Tamale because women don’t go out at night.

I don’t only mean to bars and clubs, but just out.  They’re expected to stay home.  One of my host-sisters often doesn’t come home at night or arrives after 9pm and her father yells about it to the rest of the family.

After work, I always try to be home by 6pm before it gets dark.  After that, my choices are to hang out with my host-family or hang out with other expats.  Not only is it dangerous to travel in the dark, but women live with their families so they have responsibilities in the evening besides hosting their new friends.

This sounds horrible, but I don’t want to be too friendly with Ghanaian men.  The culture is so different here: if I “hang out” with a man, it’s basically seen as “courting.”

Other EWBers in different cities have been more successful at making friends.  Southern Ghana is much more liberal than northern Ghana.

Princess Leia

Street harassment is probably my biggest issue with Ghana.  I just want to walk around without men yelling at me.  The constant onslaught is exhausting.

Luckily Hollaback Street Harassment recently made a great video to illustrate what a huge problem this is, even in North America.

Even luckier, a fantastic parody was made!  This video is excellent.

Sometimes, you just have to laugh.

Moreover, it makes sense that so many men here have no idea how to relate to me.  They probably get most of their information from TV.  Can you imagine if you judged women from beer ads?  No matter they think I’m going to have sex with them just because they say hello.

Compared to here, Canadians are way more sexually active.  Ghana is relatively conservative, especially in Tamale with its high proportion of Muslim population.  Most people probably have a friend of a friend who dated an expat and they had sex without any thoughts of marriage.  So weird!

So I try to be more understanding.  Look at how Canadians view Africa, after all.  We generalize “Africa” as if it’s one big country.  We listen to songs like the new Band Aid 30 version of “Do they know it’s Christmas,” which is full of lies, racism, and bad rhymes.  We see Africans as lazy, dependent, and vulnerable.

Which is wrong.

Sometimes I feel like an alien from a galaxy far, far away – but I’m not.  I’m not going to say something stupid like “we’re all human so we should be able to empathize” because I don’t think that we can.  More and more during conversations, I realize “I have absolutely no idea where this guy is coming from.”  I can’t dig down deep to his fears, desires, and motivations.  Our cultures are too different to understand each other.

But I think that’s ok.  I think it’s ok to accept our differences as long as I realize that it’s not a black/white thing or men/women thing.


I’ve been told that if you only do one thing in Ghana, you need to visit Mole (pronounced “mōl-ay”).  Although I haven’t gone to any of the other tourist attractions (like Cape Coast), I agree.

Last weekend, a group of us finally went to Mole National Park.  It’s best to go in the dry season because then the elephants have to come out from the forest to visit the water sources.

From Tamale, it’s worth hiring a taxi driver.  We hired two cars and drivers for ₡380 each.  One car took 4 people and one took 5 people (luckily it was a hatchback so one person sat in the trunk instead of 4 people squishing in the back).  ₡380 includes the drivers’ food and accommodation fees as well.  Public transit, however, costs ₡30 each way and only leaves at inconvenient times, like 4am.

Once we arrived at Mole, we had to pay to get into the park.  It’s ₡30 for a normal expat, ₡15 for students (unfortunately I didn’t have my student card so had to pay full price), ₡15 for Ghanaians (like our 2 taxi drivers), and ₡5 cedi at car.

This means that our private taxis actually cost ₡400 each, plus a ₡5 bribe we paid to the police on the way to Mole.

The restaurant in Mole has Ghanaian food and some western food.  Most meals are under ₡20 each.  There’s also a gift store and snack store.  We should have brought our own crackers and cookies because they were overpriced, but that’s to be expected.

Behind the Information building, there’s another small restaurant with cheap Ghanaian food.  It’s open 6am-2pm.   When I checked it out, though, they only had wakye (rice and beans).

All rooms include breakfast of a small tomato omelet and toast, which comes with Blue Band spread (sort of like margarine, except gross) and jam.  The jam was super exciting.

One of my friends can’t eat gluten so the restaurant gave her beans instead of toast.  I asked if I could have the beans replacement as well and the server told me no, so make sure you’re the first to ask!

Every day, my friend asked for fruit but the restaurant was out.  If you bring your own, though, they’ll cut it up for you.  Considering that watermelon are in season and only ₡2 cedi, we should have brought a couple.

The hotel has a beautiful swimming pool.  We spent hours paddling around and lounging on the beach chairs.  Warning: African sun is stronger than Canadian sun.   Always wear sunscreen!  I saw many lobsters walking around.  There were lots of lobsters walking around.

It was weird to see tourists walking around in bathing suits.  In Tamale, I feel self-conscious if I show too much knee!  My bikini felt almost a little scandalous.

A Ghanaian high school class visited the park on Saturday and seemed more interested in us tourists than the elephants.  When they first arrived at the hotel, they gathered around my chair and asked if they could take my picture.


“Because of the way you’re sitting with your book.”

I guess I did look like the typical tourist: reclining beach chair, bright orange bikini, book in my hand, one leg up.  If only I had sunglasses.  It felt weird, though, to be such a fascination.  I told them that I didn’t want to pose for photos.

“Why not?”

“Because, you know, I’m not part of the park.  I’m not a tourist attraction.”


But I think they still took photos from a distance anyways.

We stayed in the dorm rooms, which were clean but nothing special.  You have to make sure to shut the door tightly, otherwise baboons get in and destroy everything in their search for food.  The beds didn’t have mozzie nets, which disappointed me.  I don’t think many places in Ghana include bed nets, though.

The best part, of course, was the elephants!  We went on a walking safari Saturday morning for 2 hours, which cost ₡20 each.  We saw elephants, but they were in the water most of the time.



We did a driving safari on Saturday evening for ₡40 cedi each for 2 hours.  It was fun to drive around gossip, but we didn’t seen much.



On Sunday morning, we talked to one of the guides and asked if he would bring us directly to the elephants for a “donation.”  For ₡5 each, we got up close and personal with some elephants hanging out in the forest!  It was super cool.

Key points from our adventure:

  • Hire a car and driver
  • Bring your student card
  • Bring your own snacks and fruit and pure water sachets
  • Ask a guide to take you around outside of the official tour times
Up close and personal

Up close and personal

Beads of Hope – PLEASE DONATE

“Nafisa Rafiatu Adams is a social entrepreneur. Her business, Beads of Hope, started with ten women and girls in the community and now has nearly 50 women, who consist of rescued child brides, teenage mothers and girls engaged in child prostitution. She is proud of the fact that she have been able to provide an alternative source of income to these women through beaded jewelry and they are in turn able to cater for their children.”

Please donate to Nafisa so she can come to Canada as part of EWB’s Kumvana’s Program.

More information can be found here.

This is exactly what I was talking about in #1 from my Ways to Help from Home list: Support overseas education.  C’mon, do it.  You know you want to!


Months ago, two coworkers and I went to Kintempo for the weekend to see the Kintempo Waterfalls and visit the monkey sanctuary.  If anyone in Ghana is reading this and wants to do the same thing, here’s my advice.

First, the waterfalls are pretty but not spectacular.  They’re a short walk from the road, not a hike.  The first two were small, but the third was large.  It was super muddy, like the chocolate waterfall from Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.  My coworker said that last time she visited in March it was smaller and you could sit under a ledge inside the falls.  In September, though, at the end of the rainy season it was much bigger.  We splashed around and slid down the rocks, but there was so much gushing water that I could barely stand.

Kintempo Waterfall #3

Kintempo Waterfall #3

In Kintempo, we stayed at the Yakam Guesthouse.  It was nice and came with breakfast (an omelette, toast, and hot drink).  Only one breakfast was included per room, though, and an extra was 7 Cedis so it’s not worth buying a second.  Yakam also served Ghanaian food for dinner, but at 20 Cedis a meal we decided to search the town instead.

Kintempo is small and there aren’t many restaurants.  Most of the food can be found in food stands near the bus station.  The first night we had fufu and soup in a small restaurant.  The second night we got Indomie fried noodles and brought it back to our hotel room.

On Sunday we went to the Monkey Sanctuary, which is about a 45 minute drive from Kintempo.  We first went to the bus station to get a tro to Nkoraniza.  A taxi driver offered to drive us and wait and bring us home for 100 Cedis.  We said no because his price was outrageous, but actually we should have hired him.  We should have argued him down to 60-80 Cedis instead of walking away.

We waited an hour for our tro-tro to fill before driving to Nkoraniza.  Then we got out in a small town and waited another hour for so for a taxi to take us to the Monkey Sanctuary.  It felt like the whole town (all 30 people) watched us wait for the taxi.  When a driver appeared, another man stepped forward to do the bargaining.

“300 Cedis,” he declared.  “100 each.”

“No,” argued my colleague.  “That’s too much.  3 Cedis each.”

“Fuck you!” the man yelled.

I was shocked.  I’d never heard a Ghanaian swear like that.  Ghanaians often yell, but the man’s sudden anger still surprised me.

My coworker wasn’t daunted, however. “5 Cedis each,” she persisted.

“Ok,” suddenly the man was all smiles again.  Weird.

We crawled into the taxi and went to the Monkey Sanctuary.

At the Sanctuary, we met a young German girl who was volunteering there for 4 months.  Our guide walked us through the forest and told us stories about the monkeys.  They have two types there: brown and black.  We only saw the brown ones, though.  Our guide was excellent and the monkeys were super cute.  We fed them bananas out of our hands and didn’t get Ebola.

Contracting Ebola

Contracting Ebola

We ended the tour at another small town around 3pm.  We caught a taxi to the closest bus station.  We had hoped to get tro straight back to Kintempo, but instead we had to go in the opposite direction to Techiman.  Once in Techiman, we went back to Kintempo.  After arriving around 6pm, we decided to stay another night instead of traveling through the dark back to Tamale.

All in all, it was a lot of driving and unnecessary waiting for tro-tros to fill, but we saw some beautiful Ghanaian landscapes and got to play with monkeys.  A success!



Little surprises

This morning I bought an orange for breakfast.  As I fought to open its tough peel, I realized it was pink inside.

“Oh nooooo,” I thought.  “A grapefruit!  How sneaky.”

But, surprise surprise, it tasted like an orange after all.  It was juicy and sweet, much better than the other oranges I’ve eaten here.  Usually they’re dry and tasteless.

A small victory to start the day.

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