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Saturday, 20 April 2013

Wedding, Ghana Style

I attended the wedding of a work colleague a couple of weeks ago. It was interesting to see the Ghanaian take on Western traditions. There are some things I can't discuss here as, shall I say, they were not necessarily appropriate for a wedding in my opinion! However there were some good and bad bits to the day.

The bride looked a million dollars. Honestly, the effort that goes into making up a bride for her big day is incredible - not that she needs it; Ghanaian women are known for their natural beauty. 

The turnout was great with a whole range of friends and colleagues around - I was surprised at how many people I knew actually. 

It was held in a Church - my first proper Ghanaian Church experience. For those of you who know my views on Church/religion, you'll understand why everyone thought it was hilarious that I went along. I did survive, but am not keen to repeat the experience. 

There were some points that the Pastor made during his sermon that made me equally laugh and cringe:
1. a marriage is between a man and a woman, not a man and a man or a woman and a woman;
2. if you do not invite god into your marriage, satan will destroy it; and 
3 there was a whole conversation about a woman's role in the marriage and how if she does not satisfy, the man will look elsewhere. Not a conversation I can repeat here.

What was most interesting to me is that the whole wedding was treated like a regular work programme, to the point there was even an MC (yes weddings have pastors, and MCs). I was less than impressed with this guy after he singled me out in front of everyone and lectured me about not understanding the language. I was mortified and furious! It was one of those moments where I was reading something and gradually realised that the place had fallen silent. I looked up to see everyone staring at me. I turned to my colleague and she was giggling away to herself. She said 'he's talking to you'. He asked if I was happy - then repeated it in Twi. When I said I didn't understand, he went nuts! There was a lot I felt like saying to him, but I just smiled and carried on reading. I felt embarrassed that my being there was taking attention away from the bride, but apparently having a white person at your wedding is a huge honour so they were thrilled.

I was double-teamed this time when it came to unwanted attention. One of the guys was the same one as last time. I was so glad when somebody called me away to get my picture taken! At least it wasn't the pastor this time though! 

All in all, an interesting experience that I'm glad I was invited to be part of. The bride has sadly left our office (she was on a temporary contract) but I really hope we keep in contact. She's an angel and had a huge amount of patience when it came to teaching me sign language. It's not the same at work without her!!

 The Beautiful Bride

The Bride and Groom with my work colleagues

Just thought I'd throw this one in - our new addition to the office!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

30 Days, 30 Websites, 30 Empowered NGOs

I have recently become involved in a project with a friend who is trying to raise money for tuition fees. Rather than just asking for money, he has decided to offer out his web development services: for every £1000 raised towards tuition, he will develop a website for an NGO/non-profit organisation free of charge. The goal is to raise enough money in 30 days to allow him to develop 30 websites, and in turn empower 30 NGOs. 

Research has shown that many NGO websites are of low quality because organisations do not have the resources available to pay for professional development. This is true of the NGO I am currently working with - they have a website, but it was developed using a free template and is restricted to a small number of pages. My organisation would like to have a professionally developed site, but cannot afford it at this time. The result is that people become bored with it as they are unable to use the website in the way they would like to and as such, content becomes outdated very quickly.

In this day and age, websites can provide huge benefits to NGOs. They can help to promote the work they do to communities, policy makers, donors, volunteers and all other stakeholders. Websites are often the first point of call for people looking for information, and for interested donors when considering whether to partner with an organisation. They give NGOs a louder voice - to shout about the achievements they have made to date, and to highlight the challenges they are facing as well as the support they need to continue to achieve. As global internet usage grows, so does the importance of websites for organisations to stand a chance of being noticed.

30 days is not a long time to try to achieve the funding target, however it is hoped by keeping it short and sweet we can build momentum quickly.

I encourage you to visit the donation site for further information. Any support you can give would be much appreciated and would be going towards two very valuable causes (NGO empowerment and individual education).

If you have an interest in NGOs and know of an organisation that could benefit from having a professionally developed website, please visit the Facebook page for further information on how to apply.

Thank you for your support.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Tourist Round 2

Another friend of mine came to visit for 10 days, giving me another opportunity to be a tourist in Ghana. It was his first time travelling outside the UK in over 10 years and so there was pressure on me to make this trip a good’un. Apart from feeling the heat, as we all are at the moment as it’s crazy hot, he did really well and loved his time here. Key highlights:

Shai Hills Reserve
A great introduction into natural Africa. We took a day trip to the Reserve and were delighted to see baboons freely wandering about the entrance. After studying the board with details of the tours on offer, we decided to hire a taxi to take us to baboon rock and the ‘bat cave’. In 2 hours we saw baboons, ostrich, antelope and bats; rope climbed baboon rock; entered the ‘bat cave’; and enjoyed some of the most wonderful scenery available in Ghana. It was an incredibly hot day and, due to timing, we ended up doing this in the middle of the day when Ghana is at its hottest. But we did well and it was fabulous!

Pub Quiz
We picked the right night to do the pub quiz – 90s night!!! Scary to think questions about what seems like yesterday are now considered ‘historical’ in a pub quiz. However our knowledge rocked. Our team won 2 out of 3 prizes – bottle of vodka for the Macarena competition (I won that one, oh the shame); and 100 cedis off the bar/food bill for winning the whole quiz (we were miles ahead everybody else, result!!!). Good laugh and we didn’t spend a penny other than transport!

My friend now agrees that Eddys pizza is good competition for the pizza joints back home – see, I wasn’t lying!!!

Kakum National Park
Ok, this is a mixed review in that my friend had a great time here whereas I hated every second! We decided to take the Kakum trip to another level and stay overnight in the Treehouse in a bid to experience jungle life and to take a night walk to try to spot some of the wildlife. Key points:

  • We were the only ones in the park for almost 3 hours as we waited on our tour guide showing up.
  • Our tour guide was called George. I kid you not. Cue lots of whistling to ‘George of the Jungle’.
  • We had a night walk through the forest to find the Treehouse – imagine us carrying our luggage, bottles of water and pizzas(!)  through some pretty steep/rough tracks. The humidity was incredible and we were literally soaked through by the time we arrived (20-30 minutes later).
  • The treehouse was impressive – up 4 flights of stairs to a treehouse wrapped around a massive tree. It slept up to 22 people – there were just the 3 of us so plenty of room.
  • This is where things started to go a bit wrong…… I dropped my pizza, resulting in an increase in the number of bugs on the treehouse floor. My friend started looking around the centre tree only to discover a giant spider, millipede and snake. George kindly pointed out that the hair on the spider is poisonous. I at this point freak out – I have a serious fear of spiders and did not relish the idea of sleeping mere feet away from a poisonous one!!! Even if there was mosquito netting in between us. (My friend helped out by saying ah well, if it can get through 2 layers of mosquito netting then it’s earned a bite of us). ARG!
  • There were bugs everywhere, even with a mozzie net covering the mattresses. I was eaten alive during the night by who knows what – I still have the bites one week later.
  • Although there was a forest toilet, I wasn’t looking forward to using it so held on as long as I could. Eventually I had to go and dragged my friend with me, only to discover a giant spider on top of it which neither of us was touching. Cue much freaking out and eventually having to give in and go in the forest. We were surrounded by fire flies though which was pretty cool, I hadn’t seen them in reality before.
  • Sleepless night followed due to plenty of bugs and the most unusual animal noises, some of which seemed really close!!! We decided not to do the night walk for various reasons, but we heard enough to keep us going.
  • Up at 6.30am to find that the clothes we had hung on the line the previous night were still soaking! Also the spider, snake and millipede had disappeared and I wasn’t particularly surprised to find that the mozzie nets weren’t all that secure…
  • We then had a hike to the canopy walk – we hadn’t realised quite how steep the walk was the night before, so try doing that first thing in the morning after no sleep and with crazy humidity (I’m definitely not a morning person).
  • Lots of monkeys were spotted on the canopy walk though so that seemed to make up for things.

It was an adventure, I’ll say that. But not for the faint hearted and not one I will be repeating!! However, my friend turned into an 8 year old kid again and had a fantastic time so I can’t complain as I’m glad he enjoyed it.

Other trips included Cape Coast Castle (as fascinating as ever), the beach and a couple of nights out for various things. All in all, a good 10 day introduction to Africa.

I went back to work the day after my friend left to find out my work colleague was having an engagement the next day. To explain, an ‘engagement’ is the Ghanaian version of a wedding. However Ghanaians have also adopted the typical ‘western’ wedding as well, which follows a matter of days/weeks/months after the engagement and is done in the eyes of God.

It was an interesting experience as it is completely different to the way things are done back home. I travelled with some work colleagues and we were seated outside in the parents’ compound. A representative from both the bride and groom’s families stood up to lead ‘negotiations’. This involved the groom’s representatives providing a series of gifts to the bride’s family. This included money, fabric and other gifts which were given to various relatives to show that the groom was serious about marrying the daughter. Once these were handed over, the groom was brought in to answer whether he is serious about marrying the daughter. Once he said yes, the bride was brought in and the ‘engagement’ began. My work colleague looked a million dollars, honestly she was so beautiful it brought a tear to my eye (and others actually did cry). After the blessing, pictures were taken (and I was called upon as the only white person there to be in a special one with the family). Snacks, drinks and presents were then given out to all the guests and the music began. Conversations after the service were quite funny as some people took an interest in what I thought. We talked about how it compares to back home – I had to laugh at the complete confusion when I joked that my dad would pay somebody to take me, as opposed to expecting gifts for me! It then got a bit weird when the Pastor asked me how old I am as he wants me to marry his son before I leave; and then another guy got annoyed when I wouldn’t give him my number! Ah well, nothing like being up front!!

I look forward to attending the wedding in a couple of weeks and will hopefully get some pictures this time. 

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Birthday Treats

I celebrated the big 3-0 this week - not as scary as everybody leads you to think it is.... although I definitely do not feel like a grown up!

I had a great week. A friend from home came over for a week and I got to spend some time as a tourist which was nice. He must have brought some Scottish spirit with him because we managed a whole week with electricity (apart from the odd 'light off' but never at night) and full water supply! (touch wood it continues...)

I clearly forgot how draining the heat can be when people first arrive in Ghana as well as the effect it can have on appetite. I may have been slightly over-ambitious in my plans for my friend, but he coped well (and certainly slept well haha).

My birthday week consisted of a people-watching trip to the beach, complete with terrible rasta singers/drummers (cue hysterical laughter at one point as I watched a couple trying to eat their dinner with  this dreadful rasta man singing to them - the poor guy kept catching my eye and laughing. He coped well - for a whole 15 minutes or so!!!); this was followed by an infamous Adabraka party (although it was more of a talking session than a party, man we're getting old) - however my friend did bring over the cheesiest collection of 90s music so that sort of set the tone... We then travelled to Central Region for a few days where we visited both Elmina and Cape Coast Castles as well as Kakum National Park. There are not many people who can say they spent their 30th birthday suspended 40 metres over an African Rainforest. A bit scary but seriously impressive.

We also visited my office at one point where they presented my friend with a Ghana shirt as a thank you to him for donating a laptop. Very very kind of them.

It was really nice to welcome someone from home, and I look forward to doing it again in another 3 weeks or so. It's nice to be able to give people an insight into life here and to know that they will understand my stories, frustrations and pleasures - something that people cannot really do unless they experience Ghana for themselves.

I look forward to seeing what round 2 brings!!

Rachel x

Birthday cakes!!!

Kakum National Park
(Dad, you've traumatised me for life by jumping on the wooden bridges we used to go on when we were kids! The Guide had to take my camera as there was no way I was taking pictures, all my concentration was on walking across these bridges in one piece!)

Beach resort in Central Region

Thursday, 13 December 2012

And the drama continues...


It's been a while since my last  post - partly down to poor internet connection, and partly laziness. A lot has happened since the last time I wrote. From what I can remember, the key highlights include:

The death of the President a few months ago came as a real shock to most people in Ghana, but was handled with a great amount of dignity and respect. It was interesting to see the country's response to something like this - it bordered on the level of public outpouring that we in the UK saw for Princess Diana. Except for a politician - not something I expect we would see back home. There were a few days of mourning where not much happened in the land of work, and then the build up to the funeral which saw various world leaders/delegates attend. It was really great to see Ghana make headlines as being one of the few, if only, countries in Africa that handled something this serious so calmly and peacefully, with a very smooth handover to the Vice President.

This has since been followed by the Presidential election which took place on 7th December. Yet another interesting experience in terms of the build up to the election, the constant calls for peace, the excitement of just about everybody you meet and the political party related memorabilia which is everywhere! The vote took place last Friday and seemed to have been very peaceful (all VSO volunteers were 'grounded' for the weekend so we didn't get to experience any of this first-hand) and when the results came out on Sunday, there were celebrations in the streets of Accra (including randoms stripping off and running down my street!) Since then it hasn't been as peaceful, with the opposition party contesting the result (it was incredibly close) and trying to take it to court. While some of the response to this has been funny - cars blasting music driving around and stopping in the middle of the street to dance with random people - there have been serious incidents which have now resulted in the riot police/soldiers driving around the city in convoy, sirens blaring, to remind people of their presence. While we have not felt any threat as a result of all of this, it is a case of being careful - another reason to look forward to my beach break next week!

Medical Emergencies
I'm not sure what it is with the Adabraka flat but we are starting to think we have been cursed by a witchdoctor! Following my thumb emergency (which is almost back to normal now, with the exception of a small bit of outstanding nerve damage and a fading scar), we have witnessed minor bumps, scrapes and illnesses, culminating in the emergency run to hospital for my neighbour who fell in the shower and broke her wrist. 9 hours, 3 hospitals, 2 days and some horrific procedures (I won't erase those images anytime soon, so can't imagine what my neighbour felt) we returned home with her in a cast wondering how on earth she is going to do anything. After a few days of successfully converting to the land of left-handedness, she has unfortunately had to return to the UK for surgery and it is unclear if she will be coming back (fingers crossed!)

In the meantime, we have gone from 5 this time last year to just me in this huge flat.... "All by myself......" Not to worry, I have people passing through from up north on their way to airports, beaches, etc. I will find out in January if my neighbour is coming back; and there's the potential in February for somebody else to be moving in - so I'm sure it will all work out fine!

UK Trip
I had another trip home in October, this time for my friend's wedding which went very well! General comments - Scotland is cold, grey and I missed the vibrancy, heat and general randomness of Ghana! Whereas the first time I was home I was nervous about coming back, this time I couldn't wait. Of course I miss everybody back home - and I definitely miss my bed!!!! - but Ghana feels like 'home' for now.

I can't say too much about this for obvious reasons but there have been many many dramas of late and it has been more challenging than expected. I have one last workshop to facilitate this weekend and then I will finish up for a couple of weeks - well earned I think.

So it is Christmas once again, and it definitely does not feel like it!! My family were very sweet when I was home and put on a full Christmas day/dinner for me (amazing in October, especially when randoms turn up at the door wondering why on earth there is a Christmas tree in the hallway and a wreath on the door!) I realised at that point that I do in fact miss Christmas, but only when I'm home. Here, I just cannot get into the spirit of it - life is so different. I did make the effort to put Christmas decorations up today but it's not quite the same when the sweat is pouring off you in 35+ degree heat! So while I wish everybody a great holiday back home, I am looking forward to my 'summer holiday' at the beach.... :-D

As for next year, well I have the "joys" of turning 30 to look forward to; but I will also have the opportunity to welcome 2 friends to Ghana which I am very excited about! It will be great to share my life out here with people back home and to see what they think!!!

Have a great Christmas and New Year!

Rachel x

Scottish Dancing once again!

 Saying Goodbye to my lovely housemate Rose - she's missed!!

ICT week - the new round of volunteers (I'm an oldie now!) 
  Saying Goodbye to the lovely Vincent, also missed

Leaving party for Samina and Vincent (and also Kathy, who has ended up staying!!)
- the final four

The Bridesmaids!

The Wedding Party

Thursday, 23 August 2012

A very trying 2 weeks...

It all started 2 weeks ago when I cut my finger. As many of you know, I should be banned from the kitchen - 2 Sundays ago explained why.... In a deluded moment of wisdom, I decided to use a drinking glass as a rolling pin as part of my chapati making saga (I should point out that I have done this successfully many times before). 2 chapatis in, said drinking glass shatters in my hands, sending a large shard into my thumb. I didn't even feel it, just saw mess all around me - and then blood dripping everywhere. I quickly rushed to the sink and it was at this point, with the water coming in bursts rather than flowing, that I realised it was serious. Thankfully my phone was in the kitchen with me and I managed to call my neighbour who came through, then ran away to find a first aid box. Next thing I know, she's coming at me with cotton wool doused in spirit. I started screaming hysterically telling her not to come anywhere near me with it - she's used it on me before and it was agony on the tiniest of cuts, never mind a deep slash. So she runs next door to wake my other neighbour who goes into nurse mode. To cut a long story short, I ended up with 3 stitches and the world's biggest dressing, followed by a struggle to find enough cash to pay the hospital bill leaving us no money to get home - we were saved by a Doctor who drove us to the Mall where we were met by VSO staff who dropped us at the nearest pizza joint.


It's not until you lose the ability to use a thumb (and neighbouring fingers) that you realise just quite how much you use it. Especially in a volunteering setting. There are so many things that I just can't do right now - cooking, washing my hair, washing my clothes etc etc. Since that first visit I've been to the hospital four more times and have what I hope will be my last visit tomorrow. My stitches were taken out on Monday but there seemed to be some sort of infection. This looks to be clearing up (thanks to the 9 tablets a day I am taking, as well as my anti-malarials) and it is hoped I'll get the all clear tomorrow. What this means, however, is that I'll be left to dress my thumb myself - I still won't be able to use it for another couple of weeks. And I'm seriously hoping the scar is going to fade because it's not the prettiest.... I should mention that the staff at the hospital and VSO have been great, as have my neighbours and friends without whom I'd be a dirty, skinny wreck by now!

Ok, so since this incident and all the dramas that went with it, it culminated in what has to be my most unforgettable public holiday EVER! The following all took place on Monday...(imagine the "24" beeps...)

Incident No 1
Head to airport with a friend to book a flight ticket. Get there at 8am to discover office doesn't open until 9am (website was wrong!). So we decide to head to hospital and come back (I'm due to get stitches out). Heading out of hospital grounds, taxi stops to pick us up. All fine, until about 50 yards down the road we see a guy running towards us with a spiked club. Taxi starts reversing at breakneck speed. We have no idea what's going on - find out, it's an airport security guard trying to catch the taxi because he's not an airport taxi and so shouldn't be picking people in airport grounds. So i start freaking out, telling the guy to stop. He keeps reversing and is an inch away from running a guy over. I force him to stop and we get out and cross over to the other side of the road. Only for the (laughing!) security man to throw the spiked club under the car which obviously sets the tyres off, sending the car spinning out of control and heading straight for us. We have nowhere to run because of a giant fence lining the pavement. Taxi man thankfully got control and sped off, only to hit an SUV and get clamped by police. Scariest thing I have ever encountered - think I went into shock a little bit as started crying and then shouting about what a ridiculous system that was, just put a barrier in place!!! Was all set to find head of security and complain then realised it would only frustrate me as nobody would listen. 

Incident No 2
I won't go into too much detail about this one, but let's just say I saw red at the second taxi driver who, 10 minutes after incident 1, ripped us off - really wasn't the time for him to be doing that, and I lost it.... Didn't get the money back, but did manage to confuse the hospital security guards who heard the taxi driver's version (no doubt painting me as evil while lady) as I smiled and said Good Morning as I was leaving the hospital. Quite funny.

Incident No 3
Hospital - get stitches out (awful). Realise thumb is swollen and possibly infected and nerves through my hand and up my arm are affected. Also have this weird little bubble coming out the scar. Not a pretty sight.... Had to get blood test and was given loads of anti-biotics/painkillers. (As per above, it looks to be ok now but I was worried at this point).

Incident No 4
While I was waiting on blood results, my friend had their own drama about the flight ticket, resulting in a race against the clock to get to another office, home for more cash, then back to the office. All fine in the end.

Incident No 5
So after an incredibly stressful morning (it's only 1pm by this point) we get back to the flat and decide to chill with a movie before heading out for late lunch. Engrossed in the movie, all of a sudden this almighty "boom" happens. If we had glass windows, I guarantee the glass would have blown in - the whole building shook, it was totally crazy!!!! Turns out there was a gas explosion in the neighbouring street. Scared the living daylights out of both of us!!!! Watched the last 5 mins of the movie then decided we needed beer. The latest update according to the newspapers is that 6 people were injured in the explosion, and the flying thing that we saw hurtling through the air at the time of the explosion was part of the gas cylinder that landed in the grounds behind the flat - scarily close.

Incident No 6
Got to restaurant to find the world's most rubbish service, the wrong food served and a kid being sick all over her dad at the next table.

Rather than that being the end of the drama, there's been more of a sliding scale comedown rather than an outright end to the madness. Yesterday after yet another hospital visit, I spent an hour standing by the dusty roadside for a vehicle that was never coming. I gave in and forked out for a taxi only to sit in 45 mins of traffic. Long long morning. 

Then this morning I received a seriously racist email in response to my laptop appeal (I had put a message on a recycling website only the day before). That shocked me and I'm now waiting to find out what action the website is going to take.

I can only hope that this is the end of it!!! I'm going out for a VSO dinner tonight and then hopefully to the beach on Saturday for what I desperately want to be a fun and relaxing day!

Only 6 more weeks until my trip home. I can honestly say I think I've earned it just in these two weeks alone!!

Saturday, 4 August 2012


There is an Irn Bru stockist in Accra - you cannot begin to understand my delight at this discovery!!

In addition to that, we have found semi-skimmed cow's milk. I'm in heaven right now (yes I'm easily pleased - who'd have thought these two things would ever be such luxury items).