Tuuma tuuma! This is the traditional greeting in Gurune (the language I’m learning here) for a person that is busy at work, be it farming, carrying a heavy load, etc. I also think that it’s appropriate for my wonderful classmates back home busy with thesis work. For those readers not in BCEP, I am writing from the Peace Corps in Ghana. Our group just finished twelve weeks of training and I’m on my way to site to be let loose as a volunteer. The end of training feels a bit like being done with finals before going home for the summer. I passed my language proficiency interview, passed my technical training test, and gave a presentation on a cultural topic (my group did one on facial scarification), and we were lucky enough to be sworn-in 50 years after the first Peace Corps volunteers arrived in Ghana, so we’ve had quite the celebration. Our swear-in ceremony was held at the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana (Donald Teitelbaum) on the actual 50th anniversary of Peace Corps Ghana; inspiring speeches and drinks all around. We were set and ready to head to site the next day, but as luck would have it, the President of Ghana, John Atta Mills, invited us to lunch at the Osu Castle to commemorate Peace Corps’ anniversary with Ghana! So we stayed in Accra for an extra night and enjoyed an afternoon speech from the president. The President is a well spoken, and surprisingly soft-spoken for a Ghanaian with a microphone, man of stature and his speech solidified the importance of the Peace Corps in partnership. It was the perfect way to be sent off for service.
The site I’ll be at for the next two years is in the Upper East of Ghana, Sirigu, and is about a three day trip from the coast. I will be working with an NGO in the village, the Sigigu Ecological Initiative for Sustainable Development (SEISUD) on starting a tree nursery; training farmers groups in group dynamics, record keeping, tree nursery management and ICT; grant writing; and agroforestry.
Most of our training has been while at homestay. It has been a good introduction to being here in Ghana. My family is welcoming, and I feel safe here. But homestay is far from what I thought it would be before coming here. I thought it would be where we would have clean food and water, a place to practice language, and an introduction to family life. But I’ve been sick the majority of the time I’ve been here, my family doesn’t really speak English (and I’m not even learning the language they do speak because my site is in the north), and it’s less of a family situation as it is a me renting a room in a compound. Don’t get me wrong, I do feel much more prepared than I did when I first got here, but that was more from visiting current sites of volunteers and offsite technical training than from homestay. There’s a lot I still don’t know about life here in Ghana, but I’ll be in a compound at site with other Ghanaians, so I’ll have the opportunity to learn.
Last week during training, we were introduced to committees put together by current volunteers. The committees are meant to give support to current volunteers. It’s incredibly redeeming for the lack of institutional memory of Peace Corps projects. There’s a current committee that is actually working on this, so hopefully I can get involved there. They volunteers leading them here for a year, and maybe it’s because we’re seeing the ones that are trainers or because they’re involved a country-wide project for Peace Corps, but it really is reassuring to see how comfortable and energetic the current volunteers are. We were allowed to visit two committees for the training introduction. I went to the President’s Malaria Initiative committee and the Food Security committee, and there were more that sounded great as well.
Each week of training has almost always shown me a new region of Ghana, a new set of potential projects for site, and most importantly, a new level of comfort being here. In market life, I’m progressing from one foot in front of the other to having the wherewithal to look around. We were away from our homestay communities for five weeks, and our return brought a small sense of comfort. Instead of seeing the market as a place where local children yelled ‘obroni’ and wooden hutches and boxes lined the way with food I couldn’t name, I now see families at work and an array of consumables. Blue cooler means water. Large metal bucket with plastic lining means chop (local term for local food). Sometimes there is consistency between the days, but a lot of times there isn’t. Coming from a world where shopping is a matter of ‘where’ something is bought, a new element of ‘when’ will now take precedence. I guess the idea of it is similar to something being on sale. The year-round supermarket doesn’t exist here.
Getting to site will be a great sense of freedom from training, but a whole new set of challenges are headed my way. A lot of our training has been geared toward how to identify and engage your community in a project. My community already has a lot of capacity that I would have otherwise been trying to create. I’ll be working with an established NGO that has international funding, farmer’s groups with designated facilitators, youth groups, and is building a school to support organic farming. The village has electricity and a clinic. There is also a fairly well known women’s pottery and art center that supports over 400 women in the community to some extent. Kofi Annon visited the site when he was UN-Secretary General. There’s a statue for him at the visitor’s center, and a would-be mango tree, but they haven’t had luck keeping it alive. There’s a lot of direction already there, and it probably puts me in a better situation to create and be a part of sustainable projects, but it also takes me away from doing conventional peace corps community development work. I’m probably wrong about this, but regardless, I’m ready to get started on some projects and excited to get to know the community I’ll be working with.
Miss everyone and hope all is well stateside!