Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Their huge forms lumber in the dust, pacing idly. The ground murmurs and softly trembles beneath their incredible mass. Monoliths, they dominate the landscape.

Suddenly excited and impatient, one pulls forward from the herd and bellows a shrill blast. Ears ringing, the ground seems to whimper in response. Growling like thunder, the bus begins to lumber through the station.

Speakers scream like monkeys and horns howl with territorial lust. Outside, a jungle of steel, rubber and exhaust refuses to be tamed.

Rolling through the station, tents and tarpaulins appear in huddled hegemony; foliage amidst a concrete savanna. Weary vans and beaten busses collapse beside, as if in an attempt to rest in the modest shade. But, in this challenging environment, the sun is as relentless as the constant demand to find one’s next meal. The wheezing herd is already beginning to weep under new loads – soon they will be beaten mercilessly back onto the roads.

Stomping farther through the station still, bicycles bound and dirtbikes dart like gazelles and waterbuck. Street traders are lizards: their mouths opening and closing as if to taste the air for their next potential customer. Their products perched on their heads, pacing, they search for the passengers droning away like flies – their next meal. And yet although their cries are pitched and penetrating, the shouting is lost as a mere note buried deep in the cacophony.

In Bawku, the landscapes are changing. The forests are being cut and sold, and the fear of desertification is substantial. Initiatives to plant trees do exist and are being implemented, but face a difficult struggle against the increasing population density in the Upper East Region of Ghana.

In Bawku, farmers should be harvesting their hunger-fighting crop, early millet, so named because it yields an early harvest and boosts local food supplies. Because of poor rains, however, the first millet crop has had very poor yields. As I am writing this, the rains seem to have finally begun their return to Bawku – but not without re-enforcing the vulnerability of food supply. If the rains stay consistent for the rest of the season, the farmers will be able to still have a good harvest of corn, peanuts, soyabean and other crops that are planted later in the season.

As my bus lumbers out of the Bolgatanga bus station and grumbles back towards Bawku, I am reminded of the elephants at Ghana’s Mole National Park, and how the landscapes in Ghana seem to be changing so quickly. What can farmers do to find security in their livelihoods, when the threat of desertification seems to be so real?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Day Trippin’

Preface: My day is not this artfully structured, but for sake of readability I have tried to generalize some of my typical routines.


Roused by the gentle rays of sunshine smeared on my face, I open my eyes to blue skies and a warm West African sun. I cast off a thin piece of cloth that poses as a blanket, and stretch deeply – nothing like a solid night’s rest under the stars!

I part the mosquito net and jump out from my breezy shelter. Quickly untying the net and storing it away in my room for the following night, I roll up the prayer mat and cloth that serve as my bed. It’s time to start the day.

A new day in Gerold Room and God Room


After a brief bout of chin scratching, I decide on a plan for the morning. This time, until I roll out on the bicycle in around 2 hours, is critical because there is little other time for me to take part in many of the important household activities. During the weekdays I will often return from work at dusk or after the sun has set. All that will be left to do is to try and burn myself while cooking by firelight, herd the goats and cows, or sit and chat small small with some of the people in my 28 member compound.

Grinding sorghum

Gladys prepares TZ

Usually, I’ll pick one of three things to do in the morning:

  • Go for a run with Simon, the 14 year-old uber-athelete. Often, we’ll cruise to the base of a hill or to a nearby forest. This lasts, at best, 30 min in total since he has to go to school and I have the speed and agility of a yam.
  • Fetch some termites. We use these to feed the guinea fowl chicks. Moses, a 27 year-old father of three, and I head out with a bucket and some hoes to try and find some wild nests. Sometimes, though, it can be tricky to find the 2-3 nests required and so we also have a modest rearing operation consisting of a few overturned clay pots with cow dung in them.
  • Help weed. This involves grabbing a small hoe and scraping the ground around all of your plants until your plot is free of weeds. The weeds will grow faster and more ferociously than the crops so it is important to destroy the enemy at all costs.

Gathering termites with Moses


At this point I look at my watch and realize that I should have started to get ready for work between 15 to 20 minutes ago. After a quick bucket shower outside, I throw on my clothes that have been steamrolled by the beast of a charcoal iron (no electricity in my home) that I still need help to tame. With that, I head off to work at the district office of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Can’t forget to pick up some delicious cocoa and bowl fruit (fried doughnut) on the way though! Cocoa has a similar appearance and consistency as gravy, but improves considerably in the area of deliciousness by being essentially a starchy drink spiced heavily with ginger and sugar. Cost of breakfast: around 20 cents.

Greeting a neighbour on the way to work


Work time.

Since many of the people I work with will show up closer to 9:00am, I usually take the first hour or so to plan out what I need to do that day, quickly reflect, take some notes on whatever trouble I have gotten myself into, and tackle some independent work.

The Watchman wearing his rain hat


By this time it can often read 38 degrees on the thermometer outside my office door. During my first month or so, I would take that as an opportunity to work on my sun tan by accompanying the "Agricultural Extension Agents" or "AEAs" (those which disseminate good agricultural practices to the farmers in the district) on the motorcycle for a field visit. The visits can vary in number, length, nature and other properties so there is no real fixed time in which I would generally return. Most often, though, in the early afternoon.


About a 5 minute walk from my work reveals a popular "chop-bar." Chop bars are basically to Ghanaian restaurants (there are two in Bawku) what MacDonald’s is to Swiss Chalet. The furnishings are more basic, prices less expensive, with the notable exception of chop bars not actually being anything like an experience at MacDonald’s. Fufu, a fairly renowned West African dish, is not too common in the north of Ghana since the cassava cannot be grown here. But, this place pulls some strings and makes a pretty wicked Fufu so that is what I typically get. Fufu is sort of like mashed potatoes, but mashed beyond any reasonable degree of sanity. That is to say, until they are almost like a gooey, sticky ball of starchy deliciousness far better than any potato product. It is usually served in "Light Soup", which is like a spicy tomato and onion soup. Usually you also buy goat meat for around 15 cents for a portion the size of half of a hockey puck. People generally get 2-4 pieces. Total cost of Fufu-and-Light-Soup-with-Meat-two-thousand: $1.20


The afternoon is the time between lunchtime and the end of my work day. Work is pretty awesome so I will reserve discussion of my work for a forthcoming post entirely devoted to my MoFA (Ministry of Food and Agriculture) activites.

Closing Time (5pm-6,7,8pm)

Previously, I would head out at around 5pm with the rest of the crowd and make it home for dinner before nightfall. But, since the computers are in use by office staff during the day, I have found that I need some computer time to log in and write some reports, answer emails, ensure my trained monkies are writing these blog posts, write stories and parse through whatever other things I may have lying around on my usb drive. I’ll then, usually once a week, head on down to the internet cafe to download and upload things to my usb drive.


Click. My bicycle light spring-snaps to my tire and with the gift of motion, obediently converts some of my kinetic energy into a more useful luminous form. I head back down the dirt road to my village by the light of my bicycle and my good friend the Moon, while humming away the various pop songs I have entrenched in my mind from the office radio, providing a soundtrack for me to contemplate my role in international development.

Upon arrival at the compound, I park my bike and proceed to greet as many of the 27 other people as I can. In true Ghanaian style I take my second bath of the day and then chow down on some TZ, which is served with a variety of soups and stews.

TZ is like a very thick starchy paste served piping hot. It is millet, sorghum or maize flour that is artfully (no joke it’s a tremendously difficult process!) boiled in water until it becomes of a firmness comparable to refrigerated mashed potatoes. You then scoop a golf-ball of TZ, like you would with Fufu, dip it in the stew, and send it down the hatch. Delightful!


I usually take this time to do whatever chores I can before alternately chatting with the women and girls on one night, and the men and boys the following night. The women sit inside the compound, while the men generally hang out outside, and greet others as they pass by or come to join the conversation. People in my family (and I have found Ghanaians in general) are extremely friendly and open to talk about anything, from religion, to education, to continually chastising me for not yet having a wife.

There is a neighbour, one of the uncles of the family, who owns a generator and a television. Quite often people from the surrounding houses will head over there to watch a film on anything from the re-denomination of the Ghanaian Cedi (the currency here which just re-valued this week), to a low-budget Nigerian production, to Rambo. Yes, Rambo.

I also use this time to learn a few more words and phrases of Kusaal, the language spoken in most of the rural areas in the Bawku district.


Goodnight, Ghana. Goodnight, Ryan.

Concluding Remarks

That about sums up a day in the life over here in West Africa at the moment – though surprises are always afoot and adventure lurking around every corner - one day is certainly never too much like the next. Stay tuned for more detailed descriptions of my work and, of course, life in the village!

Time to make like a baby and head-out,


(my Kusaal name)