Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Home... Finally!

Yesterday, I made my first landlord-renter transaction ever – 180,000 cedis… roughly $20 Canadian! It’s hard to believe that I’ve paid more for a CD or a single fancy dinner than I’m paying to live and eat with a lovely family for 3.5 months.

Mr. and Mrs. Zarkari

My host parents seem to be quite prominent members of the community with their various endeavours and activities – more on that later. Mr. Z speaks English and we’ve eaten quite a few breakfasts and dinners together so we’ve had the chance to chat a bit. He’s a sweet man with great hopes for his children, who are all currently in school or waiting on results. Mrs. Zarkari runs a provisions store and normally doesn’t come home until 9 p.m., about the time I’m tucking in the bed net, so we’ve haven’t spent very much time together. Coupled with the fact that she doesn’t speak English, the few times we’ve breakfasted together have been relatively quiet affairs. They’re a lovely couple with six children, five of which live in the compound with us.


Born just over two months after me, Ayisheia is the oldest daughter. She just finished Junior Secondary School and is waiting on her final results to see where she’ll be attending Senior Secondary School. With their mother at the store from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Ayisheia does the majority of the cooking, but shares most duties with the other older siblings. She’s quite intent to treat me like a first-class guest for the duration of my stay, something I hope to sway throughout the summer. With no school or work on Friday, African Union Day, we decided to do some laundry. Watching my poor technique, she rewashed every article of clothing I threw in the bucket!


Turning 17 in a few days, Ussif is the oldest son of this couple, although Mr. Zarkari has a 23 year old son (who doesn’t live here) with another woman no longer a part of their lives (I think… didn’t really want to pry). Ussif has been the most helpful in my quest to learn Gonja and also about their family and the way they live. He has promised to take me to see the family’s farm and their cattle, something I’m quite excited about. Like Ayisheia, he just finished JSS and wants to go to Tamale for SSS, but that will depend on his test results (which I’ll be here to celebrate in August).


At 14 years old, Tahira speaks the best English of anyone in the household and, with Ussif, has been my closest friend thus far. She’s a fairly quiet girl but when she smiles, the room lights up. She enjoys school (currently in her sixth and final year of primary school) and math is her favourite subject – brownie points from me! She took me on a bicycle tour around Salaga and I hope to spend much more time with her.


When told that Suleman wants to be my husband, I replied that 7 years old is too young for me! He is also in primary school but hasn’t been around the compound that much so I don’t have any fond memories of him yet.


Like any two year old boy, Muzachir loves to play with bugs, dead or alive, and eats more than I ever thought possible for a small infant to ingest. My favourite memory of Muzachir thus far is him chasing Ayisheia around the compound with a butter knife, presumably because she wouldn’t give him any more bread to eat.

You may notice that I’ve only mentioned five children while I said there are six. There is a 10 year old daughter, Ramatu, who is currently attending primary school in Kumasi, the city where their mother is originally from. And while I’ve “profiled” the five children who born to this couple, it often feels like there are at least 15 children running around the place and I think there may be one or two who actually live here... still a bit confused about that one. People talk about a sense of community and I never really understood what that meant until coming here. While we were washing clothes, some neighbours walked into the compound and just dove in and start washing with us. The same thing happens during meal preparations and definitely the consumption of the meals as well!

I also mentioned that my host family is involved in a number of income generating activities, summarizing: the provisions store (which they plan to expand); the farm (used for both subsistence and commission) where they grow yams, cassava, maize, and rice; the cattle farm; two large trucks that get rented out to people who need to transport goods between cities/towns; and an 8-bedroom compound (being built) that will be rented out. With all these different activities, the family is relatively well off. The children attend private schools, though this doesn’t carry nearly the same meaning as it does in Canada. Tahira showed me their schools on our mini tour and it definitely doesn’t look like the students are paying to attend, but she says the curriculum is much better at the private schools than the public schools.

The compound, located near the new market (which is currently just a block of wooden stalls but become a bustling market every six days), is in excellent condition. There are six rooms, two of which are split into a living room and bedroom (one for each of the parents). Of the other four, I occupy one room, one is used for storage, the girls are in one, and the boys are in the fourth. There is a “kitchen” type area, two stalls for bucket showers, and a household latrine, a relative luxury since the majority around these parts practise “free range” – basically relieving yourself in a field or behind a nice bush.

On my second night here, Ayisheia knocked on my door and told me to come see myself on tv! I threw on my flip flops, rushed to the tv room (the living room part of Mr. Z’s quarters), and found Ussif and some other neighbourhood kids gathered around a super corny 1980’s kung fu movie. It was in English, though the accent really threw me off (sounded Australian mixed with American), and there were both Caucasians and Asians running around the screen transforming into “Nin-jas” (according to the label on their headbands). What?! I’m not sure if there was an actual plot but there seemed to be different stories being told with varying degrees of seriousness. One involved the search for a sacred ninja manual while another showed a girl being chased down and beaten (thankfully, they didn’t show the rape, though that was implied). The latter concluded with the rapists being captured and sent to jail while the former ended with the lead moustached ninja taking a sword to the chest. After this one, we enjoyed a Japanese ninja movie (I think they were disappointed that it wasn’t “my people”) and a Nigerian film called “Women in Power” (though I almost fell asleep several times during this one and didn’t stay till the end). I’ve been told that many Ghanaians enjoy Harry Potter when they see it because they can relate to the magic thing (juju is still heavily ingrained in Ghanaian beliefs) so maybe I’ll try to find a copy in the market. Last night we watched "Banlieu 13," a movie from France dubbed in English. I have to say, it was actually quite a good film with some excellent plot twists and sweet action packed fight scenes - a good break from the other dumbed-down ninja films!

I think I’ve taken enough of your time today, so I’ll just end off with a few photos...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

E-mail Updates

Hi everyone!

I set up a Google group that will send you an e-mail whenever I update my blog - sweet!

For my mom (and anyone else not sure how to do this):
  1. Go to
  2. Click "Join this group" on the right.
  3. Sign in to your Google account and you're set!
If you don't have a Google account... get one. It'll change your life. Seriously.

If you really don't want to get a google account, send me an e-mail and I'll 1) share tales about the joys of using gmail, Google Calendar, Google Documents, Picasa, Google Maps, Blogger, and 2) add you to another list to get the notifications.

I'll be moving into my new place today so more stories to share about that soon!


Note: This post was an unpaid advertisement for Google and all affiliated services. Honestly, what are you waiting for?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A First Taste...

I’ll be honest with all of you – this first blog entry has been procrastinated and delayed several times. Overloaded with lots of “new”, my thoughts have been all over the board and nowhere near straightforward enough to add up to an insightful blog entry. But I know some people (i.e., my parents) are curious to hear about what’s been happening since I left Orleans three weeks ago. Without any clear objective or message, I’ve jotted down a few experiences linked to different foods since, being a Winchiu, food is life. I apologize in advance for the inconsistency in tense, feeling, writing style, and thought pattern. Hopefully this little snack will tide you over until I can come up with something a little meatier.

Gelato in Milan

Between Toronto and Accra, we had a long lay-over in Italy so a trip into Milan was in order. The city is seeped in history and the architecture is really beautiful. With 16 JFs travelling together, we broke up into little groups to explore the town - I spent the day with Jad, Sean, Dan, and Shawn. We stumbled upon a little pizzeria with a friendly owner and were quite excited to try some genuine (jen-you-win, Luke :) Italian pizza – but, alas, we stumbled too soon. Fairly early in the morning, we were told that restaurants wouldn’t be open for several hours. Luckily, we found a little gelato store that was open and had our fill of sweet, sweet frozen dairy product. Though I didn’t get any gelato shots, the tourist-with-camera-in-hand mode was in full swing in Milan:

Fried Egg Sandwiches

We stop in a town near Kintampo Falls and Sean and I venture off to get some food. Reaching into my pocket for money to pay for the food, a giant gust of wind pulls me out of my seat. I hear Kristy’s voice ring out: “Run! Get back to the bus!” As we dash for the bus, fried egg sandwiches in hand, the heavens open up and give us sweet relief from the sticky heat. Soaked, we climb back into our seats and the bus is off again. It rolls along and the wind rushes in through the open window, cooling my body to pure comfort – nature’s air conditioning at its best! Sitting between Gwen and an ex-military man turned farmer, I look out the window and see a familiar face. Looking much more relaxed than his usual

upright action-ready stance, trusty Orion stares back at me reassuringly – the only constellation I can ever identify with certainty. Such was the highlight of a 14-hour bus ride from Accra to Tamale.

We arrived in Accra, the capital of Ghana, on Monday night (the 7th) and the group split into two – those working/training in the south and the others (the majority) in the north. We traveled to Tamale, the capital of the Northern Region, on Tuesday and spent the rest of the week doing in-country training and getting to know the ins-and-outs of getting about.

Wotche (sp?)

Sitting at a stall eating wotche (rice with sauce) for breakfast in Tamale, I got my first marriage proposal (of what I’ve been told will be many). Dining with fellow JFs Gillian, Laura, and Sean, we were a big group of salamingas (foreigners) being watched with curiosity by the ladies and men around the stall. Even though Tamale is a big NGO town with lots of salamingas, we still attract lots of attention when walking down the street. It’s a bit strange having people stare at you while you eat, but the smile that breaks out when you stare back and greet them in Dagbani is priceless.

But back to the marriage proposal, somethin

g like “China! I want to marry you!” came from a gentleman sitting beside Sean.

“Ah! Why do you want to marry me? I cannot cook. I cannot clean. If you want to marry me, you must cook and clean for me too!” I reply, eliciting laughter from all the ladies and the other JFs.

“That is not in my traditional role. I want to marry you so you can take me to China!”

Sean starts negotiating the number of cows the man will have to pay for my bride price. To my parents’ relief, no agreement is made.

Later on, Sean says he didn’t have the heart to tell the man that I am, in fact, Canadian, born in South Africa, and have never been to China. Telling people I’m from Canada, I sometimes get a look of confusion – “No China? Japan?”. Telling people I was born in South Africa, a look of excitement comes out – “Ah! So you are African too!”

Jollof Rice and Fanta

For three of the six nights we spent in Tamale, we were invited to dinner at Amshaw’s house. Amshaw is a good friend of Kristy, a long-term EWB volunteer and the coach for the NORPREP and CWSA junior fellows. The first night there was just Kristy and the four NORPREP JFs (Sean, Dan, Gillian, and I). Enjoying a delicious dinner of jollof rice sitting under the stars watching Wynham (Amshaw’s 2-year-old son, pictured above) stuff himself silly with Fanta was definitely my favourite meal in Tamale. The amazing food is one reason the evening was so great but, more than that, it was the company and relaxed conversation that made it really fantastic. The other two nights, Amshaw invited all the JFs (at least, the ones still in Tamale) and we had T.Z. and boiled yams. On the third night, my camera got passed around the room, resulting in


Though I don’t have a story to go with T.Z., it’s a good way to link where I am now with some sort of food. T.Z. is the main dish eaten in Salaga, capital of the East Gonja District where I will be for the rest of the summer. Kristy and I hopped in a tro-tro (what can best be described as a very old minibus crammed with as many people as possible) and traveled down here on Monday, a bumpy 2.5 hour journey. We spent the day meeting my new co-workers and Kristy’s friends and crashed at her friend Shamuna’s place. I am now staying at the District Chief Executive’s old house – a massive 5-bedroom bungalow with air conditioning a little ways out of town, definitely not the ideal situation for integrating into the community. We’ve got half the town looking for a room in a family compound where I can live for the rest of the summer. I’m really itching to stop living out of the backpack and start enjoying a steady T.Z. dinner routine with a host family. I took a few pictures of my 5:30 a.m. alarm clock and my shiny, red bicycle:

Whenever someone is enjoying a meal here, they will tell you that “you are invited” to share with them. I hope this has been a tasty read and you are invited to share all the meals (and experiences) to come…