International Day of the Disabled events were being held in Wa (Upper West) on 6th December. We travelled up on Sunday 4th December. The day began at 2.30am when my alarm went off (!!!). Up at 3.30am, due to be picked up at 4am. Timing wasn't too bad actually – car arrived at 4.15am, although standing outside in the early hours of the morning with the guard dog woofing his head off, drawing attention to the Obruni lurking around in the dark isn't ideal.... I was so relieved when the car arrived! Headed to pick up a colleague who lived 10 minutes away. We didn't leave his house until 5.30am!!!! (He slept in apparently). This would have been fine if I wasn't completely on edge because I was a white person sitting in a dark street in a car with the doors open – sitting target perhaps? When my colleague finally arrived I thought I'd be able to get some sleep – I should be so lucky. He decided to start testing me on my knowledge of Twi at this point. I think he took the hint when I started grunting back as opposed to answering... :-)
The trip was a long one – we arrived in Wa around 5pm which was relatively good timing apparently. Some key highlights:
- Many of the roads are dreadful. Apparently there is a project supported by the Chinese to develop a lot of the roads. This means that many of them have been dug up and are now just random tracks of red mud – the potholes are crazy, the dust is crazy and the driving is crazy!!!
- I managed to dose for a large part of the journey which was fine. Although the scenery that I did see was gorgeous! It was quite like Scotland but on a really really hot day – lots of green/mountains. There were also lots of mud huts, people getting water from wells, drying clothes by the side of the road etc – the stereotypical Africa. This made me realise just how different Accra is to the rest of the country. Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of this as there's no way I could have taken a steady one on those roads!
- We picked up another passenger in Kumasi (after touring around completing various errands, including dropping in at a local boys' school to sign a form for the son of my colleague). At this point I got my food of the day – popcorn! And a small bar of Ghanaian chocolate – somehow I managed to melt this, which everybody seriously thought was impossible!
- Further on in the journey I had a girly moment... I spotted a spider in the car. This was a zebra spider, relatively small but fast. I kept my eye on it and was pretty calm – until it jumped!!! That's right, spiders can jump in Ghana!!! Here's me in the car with 3 Ghanaian men who have no idea what I'm freaking out about, but bless them, they let me have my moment and one of them even squished it for me and threw it out the window – and let the moment pass without saying a word! Hehe...
- This was around the time that somebody pointed at us to pull over. The driver got out, had a look at the front of the car and then reached out to pull a bird out of the grill. He looked at the bird, and then handed it to a small child – who then handed it to his older brother, who took it round the back of his house. Dinner!! Pure comedy genius. (Could have been worse, our colleagues' bus hit a goat...)
The next day I attended a meeting with the Regional House of Chiefs. I'm still a little unsure as to how this works, but each Region has a Chief and a Queen Mother who essentially control the community. If you want to make changes in the community, you approach them. Our meeting was about the acceptance of people with disabilities – very interesting discussion, followed by a dance by the Wa School of the Deaf. Long day however – did not get fed until 4pm. Big lunch, headed back to my room to chill – only to get a knock on my door 20 minutes later to tell me we're going for dinner!! Big dinner – and I felt obligated to eat it all after being told by somebody at my table about the eating culture in Ghana, how many people eat what is put in front of them because they don't know when their next meal will appear from. I felt so guilty when I couldn't finish my meal....
Next day saw the International Day of the Disabled celebrations. This started with a range of people with disabilities, friends, relatives and some other VSO volunteers coming together at the Wa School of the Blind. The 'float' followed – this turned out to be a 3 hour walk around the town armed with a band and placards. If I'd known it would be 3 hours I'd have left the rucksack complete with laptop in the hotel.... It was really good though – the temperature was perfect to the point that we didn't even sweat! (Again, luxury!!) The atmosphere was once again amazing – the band played continuously for 3 hours, people were dancing and singing, it was just great. The walk ended with a public forum where various key players in Ghana made speeches; there was also a donation of wheelchairs by an American company. (Apparently the company specialises in expensive wine and every time a bottle is sold, they donate a wheelchair to somewhere in the world).
We were pretty exhausted after all this excitement, but still up for fun. We headed back out for dinner and this time I got to try pito, the local wine. Very nice and very lethal! It was at this point that we discovered that we would be leaving at 3.30am the next morning to travel back to Accra. My fellow volunteer and I had a little panic because we're not allowed to travel during the night. After checking with VSO, it was agreed that we could travel as long as there was a police escort until dawn. Turns out the organisations were planning to arrange this anyway.
So 3.30am arrives, we're all bundled into our respective vehicles and we head to the police station to meet the escort. Naieve me thinks police escort/convoy means there will be the bus and 3 cars headed/followed by police cars with flashing lights. How wrong was I. Police escort means a police man with a huge machine gun joining us in the car! I still managed to sleep though... :-D
I was a bit disappointed to arrive back in Accra because I had had such good fun on the trip. However, I was excited by the fact that I only had one night back in Accra before travelling again on the Thursday to Takoradi with my organisation for 2 big meetings. However, that night turned out to be pretty poor – no water, broken fan followed by no electricity, and a loud church service resulting in no sleep. I was so glad to be heading to another hotel the next morning – the first hotel was fantastic, it was bound to be as good second time round right?
Wrong! The hotel was awful!!! It was a school and the only disability friendly accommodation in Takoradi apparently. I had to move rooms 3 times – the first 2 rooms had toilet paper stuck in the holes in the window mosquito nets.... One had a tap falling off, sewage problems and the dustiest bed I've ever seen. The third room was an internal room therefore mosquitoes weren't as much of a problem. I was sharing with a colleague and we had to share a toilet down the hall, but that was fine (even when the water went off and we had to lug buckets of water down the hall to flush it).
It got to the point where everybody thought the hotel was so bad that it just got funny! Thankfully the food was great, and we ended up having a really good time (despite the lack of sleep).
I'm limited in what I can say about my work meetings, but let's just say they were long, there was lots of energy/passion and so lots of shouting, lots of interruptions due to mobile phones, people, sleeping, snacks etc etc – typical Ghanaian meetings. But really productive and I'm quite proud to be working with this organisation. The people were all so welcoming and friendly and open to the idea of organisational development.
Some key points from this meeting:
- Quote of the week: “Rachel, you gave a very good presentation there. But you missed out some important information. You told us your name and where you are from, but you did not tell us your marital status” !!!
- Lots of politics surrounding the election of the Board, resulting in the police sitting outside. I can't go into detail about this – if you're interested, email me.
- There is a tradition in Ghana that after an election, the newly appointed leaders are covered in talcom powder...
- Fish heads! I keep getting laughed at because I cannot bring myself to eat a fish head. They have teeth and eyes and brains!! Apparently this is the best bit of a fish though, and people cannot understand why I won't eat it. There are actually market stalls specialising in fish heads....
- There were only 2 plug sockets in the whole place – that's a new one! The queue for the socket for charging mobile phones was pretty big... :-)
- Few drinks had at a local harbour bar, good fun. Usual night out with loads of people trying their luck, including colleagues (awkward!) But nice to get out after a hard week's work. Headed back to hotel to discover that T&T (time and travel) had not been paid to attendees therefore I worked with a colleague until 2.30am trying to figure this out, waking people up to pay them, etc, etc. This is something we'll be looking at....!
- Had to laugh at one point when I was sitting in the main foyer and one of the guys who works in the hotel comes up to me and asks if I'd been on TV. Turns out I've been on TV quite a lot now, and that's me being recognised in neighbouring regions – respect! Between being recognised for being on telly, waving to kids from car windows and being mobbed from the moment I step out the door, I'm starting to feel like a minor celebrity!
- I get up at 7am on the last morning and start to pack. At that point my colleague comes running in to the room: Rachel, Rachel, hurry, hurry, the car is leaving – pack pack pack. Oh wait, no it isn't – it doesn't leave until after 10am!! Grr...
Our newly elected Board (covered in talc):