Every now and again I escape the bubble that is Tumu and head out into the big bad world! Two examples of this over the past few months have been for fun parties but under the guise of doing some work!!!!
The first was heading over to Jirapa/Nadowli for a meeting for all the volunteers in the Upper West District in Ghana (there are around 15 of us). Knowing this meeting was going to take place led to us deciding to combine this with a slightly late Jubilee party!!!! (I might have been a strong advocator of this as it was a good excuse to use my amazing Jubilee pack my mum had sent!).
Again I decided that heading over on my motorbike was the best way of getting over there (it cuts around 4 hours off my journey) although I was not confident as during my previous three journeys my knee had encountered the road very hard after a slight mishap with my brake, a patch of sand and some rather inappropriately positioned rocks, I had broken down twice in the middle of nowhere and on my third journey the rubber straps that I had tied my bag to the back of my bike with snapped and my bag, a bag of nuts and a flip-flop went for spin through my back wheel.
With all this in mind I cautiously set off for the party. Despite having to drive over a river filled with rocks and a near topple into a massive puddle I made it without too much drama! Once we had arrived we quickly changed into our Union Jack themed costumes, put up the bunting, had a quick communal haircut with the clippers and put out our tasty English/Jubilee style treats and got ready for our Regional Meeting (our excuse for all getting together and having a jolly good knees up!). Once the meeting was over we tucked into our cucumber sandwiches, Victoria sponge, scones with jam extravaganza, took photos of ourselves in very realistic Royal masks and had a Jubilee themed quiz. Despite being on the only team with two Brits on it we can a close third (out of three teams, who on earth new that Zara Phillips had an older brother!!!) but it was the taking part that counts.
All in all it was a perfect way to spend a weekend and gave us all a small feel for what the euphoria must have been like back in England.
After heading back to Tumu for a few weeks it was off to Bolga for a week of VSO related fun!
It could not have been any more different to life in Tumu and I loved it! After a short adjustment period (people everywhere, taxis, Fandangos! (Ghanaian calypsos) and living in a house with other volunteers) I settled into a different lifestyle of parties, dance lessons, pizzas with real cheese and movies on projectors!
One thing about VSO volunteers is considering the lack of medical services in Ghana are remarkably blasé (thank you spell-check for that!) about health and safety. Not only that I am quite often in the thick of it (I have realised that I normally give the starting idea and then let others expand on it and while I will register my worries about health and safety I will definitely be massively involved once it gets going, see party in Zabilla and the 'teddy bear roll' incident for previous). Hence we found ourselves doing some Strictly style, round the back dance moves, a failed attempt at the 'dirty dancing' lift and one person (not me!) slicing open a finger by doing a very energetic impression of Michael Jackson and forgetting that he was very tall and the fans are quite low in Ghana.
It was not just at parties late at night that our lack of H and S took a bit of a nosedive. I wondered 'out loud' if we thought we could make a human pyramid at one of the VSO meetings. 4 minutes later a three level one was completed. 10 minutes later (with a few VSO staff members with their heads in their hands) we had completed a 4 level one. How I look at it is that we: shared skills, used teamwork and supported each other, all cornerstones of VSO. (However if someone had ended up in hospital with concussion I might have a slightly different view on this).
The week was an interesting one. The first two days were meant to be an Education meeting but turned into a Cluster discussion (our new approach. In theory you work as a group and support each other utilising the individual skill sets each person has, in practice it has not quite turned out like that!). This lead to some very heated discussions which I quite enjoyed as I have not been involved in a proper debate for sometime but left me drained. We had a small rest/preparation day in the middle where I went and picked up my official driving licence! (I can officially drive motorcycles in Ghana till 2018!!!!) and we went and ate pizza (cost more than my allowance for a day but was soo worth it!) and took part in my first Ghanaian dance lesson!
During the lesson we were shown how to dance Azunto (the local Ghanaian dance craze that is sweeping the nation! Apparently its made it to clubs in London!). Azunto is a bizarre mix of dance moves that seem to have originated from either the 'Pracilla, Queen of the Desert' Musical and what a 14 year old would look like having intercourse with an imaginary, invisible woman (lots of very energetic thrusting, spanking and cheering!!!!). While very amusing to watch it is surprisingly difficult to do. Co-ordinating your hips, arms, head and legs to all go in different directions to a beat that seems to change speed did not go well despite our young, athletic dance coach giving use very enthusiastic demonstrations. After an hour of this we left a giggling, sweaty mess but feeling much more invigorated.
The next two days were taken up with creating an INSET booklet with some Ghanaians using TENI funding (Comic relief) which was very enjoyable, especially as I was in charge of the icebreaker part. So for one and a half hours I facilitated 25 people playing a huge range of 5 minute games and activities which ranged from interesting ways to remember the first 20 elements, knee slapping (don't ask!), the bean game and of course finishing off with riding the pony.
One thing I have missed while being in Tumu is a good sexual innuendo. Ghanaians just don't get them/use them (unless they use them inadvertently, see previous blogs about loving to eat 'cock' or fingering fu fu).And everyone knows that as soon as the children leave school, primary school teachers have filthy mouths (it's all a release after spending all day trying not to say naughty things) So being around other likeminded people and having behaved for so long lead to some rather deprived conversations. Helen (another volunteer) and I, being spurred on by finding out another volunteer had very sensitive ears, spent a lot of the week having very inappropriate conversations within her earshot. This culminated on the final day with a casual chat about the sexual prowess of my computer and its ability to take memory sticks and deal with the viruses using some acronyms that wouldn't have made it into a 50 shades novel for being too rude. Ellie promptly told that we should have a break from each other to give her ears a rest. (We have overcome this barrier by occasionally texting offensive words to each other).
So on Saturday we waved goodbye to Bolga (At 3.45 in the morning) and got on the bus to take us back to the Upper West. We stood as we could not get a sitting ticket to Tumu and 5 hours later we made it. Two volunteers stayed in Tumu for a night and after being greeted for the fifth time walking home one of them asked me if I had missed Tumu. And despite the dance classes, pizza, parties and constant fan ices I realised that while having the odd week away to recharge your batteries was great, it just does not beat being home where, quoting Cheers, 'Everybody knows your name!'.
It was good to be back.
Normally that would be where I would have ended my blog on that uplifting final line but while I might put a slightly more positive spin on what happens I do try and give a balanced view of what life is like out here. It is sometimes easy to forget how dangerous life as a volunteer can be. Last week two Peace Corps volunteers were returning late from a wedding in Wa where they were held up by two men with machetes. Details of what happened next are vague but it ended up with one of the Ghanaians going for the girl, the other Peace Corps drawing a knife and in the resulting struggle one of the Ghanaians ended up dead. This has led to the entire PC being pulled out of the Upper West and VSO pulling the volunteers out of Wa and all of the rest of us put on alert in case of retaliation (Ghanaians are unable to differentiate between people with fair skin as I am occasionally mistaken for Erasmus, a blond, clean shaven Dane so being mistaken for an American would not be too far a stretch!). It was a sobering reminder that even though Ghana is one of the safest countries in Africa you can never be too careful. It has left us all quite shaken and even worse is that I know the girl involved very well. Although we have been put on alert I still believe Tumu is one of the safest places in Africa and I still plan to go for the occasional drink in the local spot with the herd of goats/pigs/bush meat!
Useful bit of information: As you may have realised by now, blog writing and picture posting is a little sporadic and unless you keep an eye on facebook you do not know when I have updated. I have just discovered that you can subscribe to updates! It's not easy to find but if you click on the 'blogs' tab a new page comes up and in the top right, underneath the tab 'messages' and the title (To me, Tumu) there is a little box which says subscribe. If you click it you can put in your email address and you get convenient updates!
Hope you enjoyed these last two blogs! Comments always welcome.
PS its my birthday on the 16th which means if you want to send me a card/present you have to get your arse down to the post office pronto!
Address for anyone who has forgotten is:
PO Box 18,
Upper West Region,