A quick catch up from December 2012 - Sept 2013!
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
I have just checked and I have not written a blog in almost a year. I have also checked my 'blog' folder and there are no less than 6 unfinished blogs sitting there gathering dust (not literally, there in a computer folder) and so here goes attempt number 7.
I have to admit, I don't have high hopes for this one, I feel like I am trying to get out that troublesome softmore (I think that is American for 2nd…) album that is all right but nowhere as good as the first set.
Anyway, catching you up with a year's worth of stuff in a short period of time is going to be difficult. Especially as I have a tendency to wander/wonder off in completely unrelated directions and to fit everything in would take a short novel so going to do it speed dating style (I have never actually gone speed dating so bare/bear with me.) I remember some backhanded praise from my mum on my blogs over a year ago saying my spelling had improved but needed work on my homophones, to combat that, I plan to write/right at least 2 versions of some homophones to rectify this! Self high five for creating another coping strategy for my dyslexia!
That is a perfect example of me wondering/wandering off on a tangent. So I am going to go through the year picking out various events and give myself one song to write about it.
(Little talks by Of Monsters and Men)
My family came out for Christmas!!!!! Yeah! Fun times. I had a quick stop off in Bolga for Christmas where we did secret Santa. I swapped some
This was a horrible idea! I crumbled under the pressure of writing one event to every song so after a week's break I am starting up this blog again with less pressure with the view to just write until I have finished it!
So after meeting my family straight off a 15 hour bus and a quick family reunion (they had brought/bought 6 litre bottles of spirits and mixers from duty free…..) we opened my Christmas presents which varied from the practical (a weekend travel bag to replace the one that went through my bike wheel) to the unexpected but amazing joint winnie the pooh and baby tiger suit (see some of the pictures that I have put up a while ago for photographic evidence).
The next day we headed off down the coast to spend a week and a half sampling the best the Ghanaian coast had to offer.
After we had waved goodbye to the younger members of the Heale clan who had to get back to England for work I headed up north with Capt. Cat and Big Daddy Si. (The younger Heales discovered a few years ago that we had reached the depressing age where both our parents out party us during the week and on holidays. This was first realised when Agi and I left my dad in a Chinese restaurant at 11 on a Tuesday to continue drinking with a random group of old friends he had bumped into because he did not have to get up for work the next day… This seems to still be the case as not only did they find time to visit Tumu but seem constantly to be on holiday at the moment!).
While I don't have time to share all the shenanigans that we got up to while up north (the meal I cooked my parents was, according to my mum, the best meal she had ever had. This was slightly negated by the fact that three days earlier we had eaten 'the best pizza' she had ever had in Accra, followed by the revel from my dad that since my parents have been married my mother has declared foods going into triple digits as 'the best she has ever had' but will take compliments when they come and can only applaud this very positive outlook), will just give a few tit-bits.
Firstly, my parents arriving was almost on par with a Royal wedding or the second coming of Christ in terms of excitement in Tumu. Our end of year office party was quickly re-arranged to be a welcome James' parent's party. Official meetings were had. Professional photos were taken. Talks of longstanding relationships and bonds between everything from us to England and Ghana. Promises to find me a Ghanaian wife came up often to help cement this bond. Confusion over why my father was wearing shorts also featured (surely you are too/two cold to be wearing that? Are your legs ok? It was around the 32 degree mark in blazing sunshine when that was uttered more then/than once).
During the party we sat on the high table and both my parents were presented with smocks (traditional Ghanaian dress that is like a thick poncho). To put this in context I have been in Ghana for nearly two years and have never been given a smock, my parents were in Tumu for three days and now own 5 and a traditional Muslim hat to go with it.
Following the smock presentation it was time for the speeches. The first few were very formal and complementary. Then the opportunity to give a speech was opened to the floor and these were anything but. Two stick in the mind. Both started with proverbs and ended with asking for my mother's hand in marriage and if not marriage that she visit without my father next time. When this was politely rejected they asked her to keep them in mind if my father ever died off much to the great amusement to the rest of the crowd. Remember that my father was also present during these speeches! Anyway fun was had by all and after a too/to/two short a period of time my parents were heading back to Tamale after putting their hands on my wall.
Even by trying to be quick and concise I seem to have racked up over 1000 words and have only got through one episode of excitement so I am going to call it a day at this point. I will add to this blog intermittently over the next few weeks to try and catch up to modern day times!
During the next month the most exciting thing I can remember is that I went to spend three days with a PC couple that I had become friends with. Quick background. Sarah and Jordan are Peace Corps (PC) who live in a small village 35 km outside of Tumu. They have no power, have had to learn the local language and live in a small compound with an outside loo and bucket showers. Sarah was a teacher at the local school and Jordan was an Agriculture volunteer who had mainly set up a dry season garden out there. They were my age and if they ever came to Tumu would set up camp in my spare room. Quite often we would have spectacular cooking competitions. They were not competitive but we would show off our best recipes to share with each other. They also come from Minnesota where apparently there are lots of nice lakes.
Anyway I wrangled it so I could do some work down their way by doing a couple of INSETs in a local school and work with the KG teacher at Sarah's school for a bit. It was a fascinating view into the Aid world one step down from us. At the top you have people who work for the massive organisations with the private cars with drivers, walled houses which occasionally have a swimming pool and earn, relatively, a very decent salary. Next down you have the small NGOs that pay a proper local wage and have a communal car with a diver and normally work on a smaller scale across Ghana. Next you have the locally situated charities that bomb around on motorbikes. Finally you get to VSO whose volunteers get accommodation, transport and a living allowance but work in towns and occasionally regional capitals in a region (I am probably the most remote VSO volunteer) then there is PC and Gap year programmes that work in small villages (Travis the PC lived in Tumu and was probably one of the least remote (I can't seem to think of a better word here!) volunteers). This is an incredibly simplistic overview of the Aid system in Ghana.
I am no way trying to state a which is better, how should Aid money be spent and despite the amount of b****ing that goes on between and within the levels (almost everyone seems to want to be one level higher than they are) you actually need volunteers in each sector. Without the big charities/organisations quite a few of the lower tiers would not be able to function at all.
Anyway, I was heading down one rung and absolutely loved it! Don't get me wrong I missed my fan, electricity, fridge and running water but it was so much fun! (After this I completely got why the Southern VSO volunteers took time to adjust to coming north where there are no taxis and just because a menu has twelve pages actually means that apart from rice or banku, everything else if available once in a blue moon!).
I got to make Moraga soap from scratch (you would probably pay a fiver for a piece of it in Body shop in the Uk. I got 3 pieces for 30p!). Spent proper time in a school trying to teach 120 KG kids in one go. This was hard but also very interesting. I will never forget watching in amazement as we let 120 children out at once to go pee during a lesson (easier and quicker then/than letting them go in one go) and watching then walk 5 meters/metres out the back in an orderly rabble and all pee in unison. There were so many of them I had about a 6 foot by 2 foot space at the front of the class by the board and every other available space in the class was taken.
I saw a dry season garden in action. Learnt how to splice different types of mango trees together using different types of grafting. Went fishing in the dam/damn and ate enough fufu to burst (photos should be up) that we helped (badly) to prepare. During this process I also saw a rather fascinating transaction. Most people in the world work by exchanging money/credit for items or services but in local village life while this was still possible there was much more of a burning man type system going on. For our fufu meal there were three different compoments. We brought the yams from the garden to the house, there they were boiled and the soup prepared by the family we were going to dinner with. When they were boiled we took the yams to the local pounder (a woman with the most impressive guns I have ever seen) where she would pound the yam for us. Instead of taking money for this she took whatever portion she thought was far of our fufu when it was done to pay other people for services rendered and exchange for other things. Everyone gets fed, the food is all prepared separately by specialists and no money is needed.
The next big event started with a surprise email from a friend called Simon. The reason this was a little bit of a surprise was at this point in time Simon was currently 5 months into a rotation in Afghanistan. The email asked if it would be possible to take some time off in a month or so (I think he was overestimating just how 'hectic' my work schedule in Ghana was/is!) as he got compulsory leave at the end of the tour and everyone else was working. So off we pottered for 10 days around southern Ghana.
Being a military man it took a bit of time getting used to Simons boundless energy but I have to admit it was fun barrelling into the sea 4 times a day with scant regard for health and safety with the vague mantra of the bigger the better and if you don't leave the water without a rash/cut of some sort you must be doing something wrong! The fun was also compounded by Simons, indestructible waterproof camera. This lead to rather amusing and arty shots of us trying to body surf. The only drawback to this was to get a good shot you had to take be prepared for a hit from a wave. Also to make sure the camera was not lost you spent more time while being tossed around trying to protect the camera and not your head. This was not ideal. (I will try and get some of these shots off Simon to upload on the blog).
All this boundless energy led to the inevitable mid-holiday flu. Fortunately while I slept this off in a hammock 6 America Abroad students took up the mantle of keeping Simon amused. This started with tequila shots for breakfast and from the sounds of it, only went downhill from there!
Next was up to see monkeys and swim in waterfalls before waving goodbye and getting back to the grind.
The next little adventure was a long weekend trip to Ouagadougou in Bakino Faso. We had got year long multiple visas and apart from the odd jaunt across the border to visit the pool I had not really made the most of it. So rather bullishly Ellie B decided that we were going to try do it in a weekend for her birthday. So on Friday we popped over the border to spend an afternoon in the pool and have proper wine. One of my mother's favourite pictures happened that night when we went for a night-time swim and my rather poor attempts at synchronised swimming were photographed.
The following morning we got up early and were on a bus by 7ish and in Waga by 11. We headed out for pizza for lunch and then met up with Ellie Fro and Helen who had come from Bolga. The next 24 hours was a perfect example of living an unsustainable decadent lifestyle! First off was a wine and cheese bar which (obviously) only served wine and cheese where we discussed highbrow subjects like what should be done about the crisis in Syria to lowbrow conundrums like how many people do you need to be involved for it to be technically be classed as an orgy (5 was our final decision, my innocent observation that there were 5 of us there was met with the unbridled scorn that comment probably deserved!).
Next we headed to a nunnery which had an outdoor restaurant in the garden which served steak topped with Rockford cheese, red wine and chips and finished with us being serenaded by the nuns with a variety of French hymns. Following that we headed out and finally with a few bottles of wine returned to an after party at our hostel.
The next morning we topped up with a range of pastries, coffee and ice-cream before making a mad dash for Tumu with probably the closest I have ever come to missing a bus. Not surprisingly most of us were horrendously sick for about 3 days after as our bodies tried to process the huge quantities of diary that we had taken on but boy was it worth it.
A few months later I had another visitor from home. Out came Will. There had been some initial confusion as he had 'forgotten' to book his flight and so was delayed by a few months but this turned out to be a cunning ploy as when I went to pick him up at the airport he had another friend called Tom in tow whose unexpected arrival led to some slightly embarrassing high-pitched hysteria on my part.
The following day after racing over most of Accra we found a place showing the final Lions test and celebrated with Savannas for breakfast before heading down the coast for more beachy goodness. The highlight being the discovery of a friendly Rasta with his own vegetarian restaurant who we booked a feast in for the following night and was treated to an impromptu bonfire and bongo drumming session. Other highlights also featured a surf lesson. Some of us were more successful than others (Will was up almost straight away, Tom was solid from about half way through and I stood up for all of 3 seconds before face planting off the side!).
Again it was so nice to spend a week or so away from the daily grind of Tumu and let loose a bit.
This takes me up to around September where I think my blogs have restated. Although this blog might seem like I was permanently on holiday I promise that was not the case! See some of my other blogs to find out more about work related fun!