Moving along… many people have been asking “what are you actually doing there?!” and since my days have started taking some semblance of routine, I thought I would do a “day in the life” sort of thing and tie in some explanation of work.
(I’ll also take this chance to apologize to any haters of parentheses. I’m well aware of my overuse and abuse of this amazing grammatical tool, but it’s probably just an indication of my tendency to digress or need to include as much information as possible. If it gets too much for you, feel free to throw in a “stop with the bloody brackets!” in the comments and I’ll consider toning it down…)
At about 5 a.m., the sound of prayer chanting from the small open mosque attached to my compound rouses me out of sleep. I drift in and out of wakefulness until finally rolling out of bed any time between 5 and 6:30 to take my bucket shower (with water from the well just a few feet from the compound). We enjoy a breakfast of tea and bread and are entertained by Muzachir running away from Kitten (Yes, we named the kitten “Kitten”. Yes, it was my idea.) and repeatedly burning his tongue on the hot tea (you would think he’d learn after the first 47 times). By 7:50, I’m ready to hop on the bike and make the short trek to work.
Although it was initially said that my placement is with NORPREP (Northern Region Poverty Reduction Programme), it is actually a placement at the District Assembly that started with Kristy, the long-term volunteer who got involved with the District Assemblies through her partnership with NORPREP. What is a District Assembly, you ask? In 1988, the Government of Ghana started a decentralization process to transfer decision making power from a national level to a regional/district level – the District Assembly (DA). You could compare the DA to city hall, except it manages many communities instead of just one city. (East Gonja is the largest district in the country with over 600 communities!)
This summer, I’m one of four JFs placed at the DAs. We’re working directly with the District Planning and Coordinating Units (DPCUs) and are paired with the District Planning Officers (DPOs). Right now, we’re still in the first phase of the placement during which we’re focusing on learning about the DAs and our particular districts and building trust with our co-workers. This includes asking lots of questions to different people working at the DA and getting a sense of how things are done here (i.e., how projects are implemented, where funds come from, what challenges people face, etc.).
In terms of actual activities I’ve been taking part in, that includes a site visit to some NORREP projects (a school and also two dams being built – a few photos here with one of Kitten for good measure), interviews with different departments in the DA, observing a water and sanitation forum, attending a workshop in Tamale where a new database program was introduced (although I’m quite doubtful of the usefulness of said program), and some small computer training lessons we started last week. We’ll be doing beginner classes (who are starting from a clean slate – “what is a program” and “how to use the mouse”) and intermediate classes. The intermediate participants have some experience computers and use the basic features of Word or Excel on a regular basis. My goal with these ones is to build up their confidence so that they’ll be able to move about without always looking for approval and, eventually, be able to troubleshoot and tackle any problems on their own. This week, I’ll be doing a workshop with the core DPCU to discuss areas of improvement within the DA and figure out if there is any way I can facilitate that process.
One challenge I’ve encountered at the office is the pace of work and lack of structure. It’s strange to go from working in a retail environment where you’re required to be there five minutes before the shift starts to a place where people won’t really notice if you arrive two hours “late”… I used the quotations because late is really a relative term. That said, I’ve come to really appreciate taking a break and just enjoying a conversation instead of worrying about the time or the work that one should be doing. My favourite days at work so far have been centred around spontaneous conversations with Prosper, the DPO. We chat about anything and everything – Ghana, development stuff, education, religion, Canada, rice farming, technology, music, etc. – and I truly believe that if Prosper was Ruler of Earth, the world would be a pretty sweet place to for everyone live in.
As for lunch, I’ve recently started enjoying my friend Rafiat’s delicious cooking. She’s the Budget Officer’s Assistant and lives very close to the office so, when 12 o’clock hits, we hop over to her place for some rice and soup. (By “soup” I mean “assorted sauce/stew topping on the rice with some type of meat ingredient. I think I failed to mention this in the food-themed entry: most meals we enjoy here consist of a staple – T.Z., fufu, rice, kenke, or banku – and a soup or stew – groundnut, okra, tomato-based, etc.)
I usually leave work at around 5:30 and get home as dinner is being prepared. I’m happy to announce that I’ve been promoted from simple Observer of Meal Preparations to Holder of Flashlight (when it’s “lights-off”) or Stirrer of Soup. While this is just a small step, I can say that the special guest treatment has definitely decreased, although I doubt it will ever fully disappear. It’s now possible for me to fetch water from the well without hassle (although the hands trying to grab my bucket still pop up out of nowhere from time to time) and I even did my own laundry from start to finish this weekend! (I’ll admit that everyone was at Arabic classes so no one was around to take over for me, but let’s just let that one slide…)
After the prayers, which vary from 6 to 7 p.m., we chow down on T.Z. or rice or rice balls or fufu with the aforementioned soup/stew.
After dinner, Soma and I head might into town, roam about the main street that’s always lined with people sitting in little clusters, and stop to chat with friends. (Soma is Ussif, the 17 year old brother mentioned in the previous post. I realized that everyone calls him Soma, which was his grandfather’s name, and calling him Ussif started to feel quite strange.) As fun as this roaming can be, the case is usually the old lady in me kicking in after dinner and me crawling into the bed net and hitting the sack as early as 8.
So that’s the average day, but the word “routine” should be used with caution. It’s not uncommon for people around the office to find out upon arrival that they’ll be traveling to Tamale for a random workshop or to pick up some equipment. Another wrench in the gears these days is the rolling blackouts that happen every two days. The country is suffering a bit of an energy crisis – the Aksomobo Dam, Ghana’s main power supplier, is running only one of its six turbines because of the low rains last rainy season. To cope with the power shortage, the entire country is experiencing systematic power outages, what we call “lights-out.” It varies from area to area but, here in Salaga, the power is out every other day for 12-hour chunks, alternating between day and night. For example, the power was out on Sunday 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. so it will be off again on Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., then again on Thursday during the day, etc. These are the scheduled power outages, but it’s not uncommon for the lights to go out unexpectedly for a few hours when they should be on. Knowing when you’ll have power and when you won’t, it’s not so bad - you just have to make it a part of your day and plan around it. That said, when it happens during the work day, people are really thrown off. The fans and lights are off so no one wants to sit inside, computers can’t be used, and productivity just plummets. With the start of the rainy season, routine will break even more. Since most people get around on bicycles and motorbikes, rain equals hiding inside. I’ve found myself stranded at Rafiat’s for a few hours in the middle of the work day because of a crazy rain storm (although the power was out anyways). During the pre-departure training in Toronto, one big message shared was that we would have to learn to be comfortable with ambiguity. It’s definitely been challenging for the kid who checks the Weather Network (daily, long range, and school day forecast) every morning before getting dressed, but this ambiguity thing is becoming more and more comfortable as the days pass.