Saturday, February 24, 2007

A few more pics...

OK, so these photos are a little random I admit, but I just wanted to upload as many as I could while I am at the internet cafe, so consider them as three photos that happened to fall out of the album by chance...

First is the wedding of the daughter of my colleague, Madam Azara. The bride is the one in the huge head gear! Also there were Catherine and our colleague Baraka. It is the only first Muslim wedding I've been to and it seemed kind of casual... loads of guests kept coming and going all day and ate some food, then you go to greet the bride.. some people happen to be dancing.. and that seemed to be it!

Next is Asia sewing some clothes for her nephews and nieces, with Ifatu looking at her (Ifatu is my favourite of our neighbourhood kids!)

Last is a pic of m former colleagues at RAINS dancing... this wasn't something that happened all the time, but it was that sort of office. The only problem was not being dragged up so the can laugh at how bad white people are at dancing!!

Loaning all over the countryside

I'm happy to report that my new placement is great! Micro-finance promises to be a very interesting area to work in and the staff at Simli Pong and at the sister NGOs are lovely and very welcoming.

Simli Pong is part of Ghanaian Danish Community Programme (GDCP) which runs some excellent programmes here, including adult education, a radio station, a school, water and sanitation programmes and more. This week I went out with Ziblim, one of the loans officers, for loan recovery. It was great! The loans officers are legends and they work so hard: they are pretty understaffed, so each has a caseload of about 1,500 clients!! 95% are women, and all are are organised in groups, so every day the loans officers go all over the countryside on their motorbikes to all the villages, some close to town and some in very remote areas. They visit several groups each day, meeting the head of the group to collect the group's total monthly repayment. By the time they have visited all the groups, it's close to the end of the month, so they have a couple of days to sort out paperwork - and then they have to start all over again with the next month's payments!

Because the roads are so bad (very corrugated and frequented by huge trucks that force you to the sand on the side of the road and cover you with dust!) we went along these small winding paths across country, winding around rocks and tree roots and descending into gullies so that I felt like I was in a dirt biking rally! All the women we met were really pleased to meet me, and Ziblim made me greet them and introduce myself in Dagbani, which just cracked them up immediately, so much so that they would call their friends over and then ask me again 'What's your name? Where are you from?' so that i would do my spiel over again. I was also introduced to the chiefs of two of the villages, after Ziblim made sure I knew the protocol (it's always respectful to greet people older than you by bending down, but for the chief you get right down to the ground).

The place where I stay is so lovely: it's a guesthouse for visitors built in the traditional style, so there is a very cute little compound with 3 round huts with thatched roofs, a kitchen and a bathroom. Yet again I have landed on my feet accommodation-wise! Actually the office is pretty remote, so much so that they provide accommodation for the staff to live in during the week unless they happen to be from Dalun. Dalun the town is tiny, you drive through it in about 2 minutes, and it's the kind of place where there are hardly any little shops, there is no market day (they go to the next town, Kumbungu) and if you wanted to buy some takeaway food, the choice would be maybe fried yam chips (which can be pretty amazing if the yams are fresh!) or these little deep-fried bean cakes they make here. Apparently they chose this location because that's one of the few places where you will always have power and running water (it's right next to the dam that supplies Tamale with water).

(Speaking of water, the Jisonayili pipe-line dispute caused more fighting this morning, because people from Kanvili came over to Jisonayili and actually attacked some of the traders who sell by the road, burning their stalls and scaring them away! I went to see my dressmaker to find that she had shut and there were a few charred tables and stalls by the roads, so the whole area is up in arms.)

That's all for now, as I have to get home with my huge box of provisions for the week (including lots of fruit and veg which i can't get in Dalun!). My other reason to get home is drama: I am staying in Tamale for the weekend in my old house and we have all managed to become hooked, in the absence of anything else, to an absolutely ridiculous Venezuelan tele-novela called Secreto de Amor. Actually my subtle research, most of the women and some of the men in Tamale are also addicted. This is interesting because it's amazing that quite traditional Muslim women from northern Ghana really identify with these over-the-top glamorous people living in Miami... but then I also love the show! So if the tv station has no power at 8pm on a Saturday or a Sunday night, women in Tamale experience anguish on a level similar to what the nation felt when Brazil scored their winning goal in the World Cup! (Meanwhile the tv station needs to get a generator, I mean please!) So I must now head off to find out whether Carlos-Raul will actually track down Maria-Clara - his one true love who he has not seen since she was shocked to see him marrying another woman!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Visit to Botongli

A few weeks ago we went to visit the village of Botongli, about an hour away from Tamale. We went to stay with Teacher John who I first worked with at Maltiti Girls Vocational Training Centre (OK, his name is John but I can't stop calling him by his official title, and he always calls me 'Madam B' - my official title at Maltiti). He was the all-faithful teaching assistant who basically kept the place running almost single-handedly in times of chaos and he had always invited me to come and stay at his village. When Mara and Marit came to stay in our house for a month (two lovely Americans doing an amazing student-photo-exchange project) they decided to come with me, and the village gave a warm welcome to the 'three white ladies'.

The first picture is two friends walking along: mates are the same all over the world. Over here, men and women would hardly ever be seen walking along holding hands, but you will often see 2 guys walking along holding hands as a sign of friendship. (Ghana is very anti-gay so it is definitely not a sign of romance.) Men and women kissing in public is completely not done here, and is quite shocking to most people in the north. Some of my colleagues who have been to Denmark for training (the NGO receives funded from Denmark) described how they just did not know where to look when they saw boys and girls kissing in public.
The second picture is the compound house where we stayed. We discovered that the round rooms are for women and the square ones are for men, and on asking why it's that why, we were told that it's because 'women like round things and men like square things'! To the left of the picture in the foreground is the toilet: That's right, just by these green shrubs. I admit it was pretty, shall we say, open and each time I used it I was hoping no one would walk along the road at that moment and wondering how much more visible white people's backsides are on a moonlit night!
Next picture is me and our neighbourhood kids hanging out - I was doing 'Gimme 5' and they love it! Do you remember it from school? Gimme 5, on the side, up high, down low, too slow! (they love 'too slow') We were actually racking our brains for games and songs to entertain them, cause we were kind of a main attraction when we arrived so thought we should try and keep the audience interested. As a result a whole lot of our childhood games got dragged out!

Then we have the Little Water Carriers who also wanted to be 'snapped', then Teacher John me and Mara and our little gang. Below that is our groovy mosquito-net-covered bed in the compound (goats kept galloping around the compound during the night - quite a hilarious sound to fall asleep to!) and also a photo of Gafaru and Rebecca (with Gafaru looking ridiculously serious - he was usually laughing and clowning about the rest of the time.

Moving out of town..

Last week was the last week of my time at RAINS, so tomorrow morning I will be heading off to my new placement with Simli Pong, a micro-credit organisation based in Dalun out in the bush! Well, it's not really the bush, but that is how everyone I talk to is reacting: as if I am leaving the big city to go and live in a village. I'm looking forward to the change! The time with RAINS has been fantastic and I have learnt so much, especially about how NGOs operate and about girls' access to education and child labour. It also didn't hurt that the staff there are like a big family and were lots of fun to work with. I will really miss them but I know I want to learn some more while I am here, and I have been interested in micro-credit for a while now.

I was meant to leave for Dalun this morning, but my new boss told me that he had travelled, so was too tired to go in to work today. This sounds slack but is actually sensible: over here if you have to travel for a long distance one day you are kind of expected to take the next day off. After months of working like a white person I have realised that when in Ghana, you may as well do as the Ghanaians do, and slow down a bit...

So I took the chance to use my day off to do my washing, cause we had no water most of the weekend. This turned out to be due to protests by the local community that a neighbouring community was trying to join our water pipe line! I could hear lots of drumming on Saturday morning and I saw loads of men with picks and shovels who looked were laying a pipe. I was told that they were from Kanvili (the area next to my area, Jisonayili) where there is no water at all, so you always see them cycling over to our area to buy water. Because of a long-standing dispute over the pipe, the Jisonayili people didn't want them to access the pipe - so dismantled the pipe they had laid! The water came on for a few hours that night but was really dirty. I have yet to hear how the conflict will be resolved...

About my new placement, so far I know that Simli Pong (the name means Friendship Fund) gives small loans to people in the rural areas, mainly women, so that they can either start up a small business or expand their existing one. This is necessary because the banks won't lend such small amounts, and apparently the bank's interest rate is around 30% - too steep for a small business. They get together in groups and are jointly responsible for repayments: this increases the repayment rate and the group members can support each other. The loan is paid back in instalments over 6 to 12 months. It may sound unfair to loan mostly to women, but this is common practice in micro-credit. Experience has shown that women's repayment rate is higher than men and more important, loaning to women means the whole family benefits, whereas sadly the same is not always true of men. (Sorry guys!) If women get more income, a range of things improves for the whole family, for example the family's diet improves, their health improves, when they get sick they can access better treatment, the children's access to education improves, the family has some savings etc.

I'm very curious as to how the whole process works, so hopefully this week my education in micro-credit will begin in earnest..