The Ghana Diaries #6

Saturday, 18 December 2010 at 19:17

We are not able to move into the new house before Christmas . .

A big disappointment, but the owner of the current house has been told by the King of Duayaw Nkwanta that she cannot reclaim it, she must wait until the new house is complete. Imoro paid rent in advance which he is not able to get back from her, but at least they know that the roof over their heads is safe for now.

So this time I thought I would just tell you all about some of the things I've missed out, and give you a general update.

Imoro and Layla are at the Site every day supervising, helping, organizing the purchase and delivery of building materials when possible. Theft is a big worry, Imoro and sometimes Layla go there three times during every night to monitor the situation cos some of the roofing sheets were stolen a couple of weeks back! They are exhausted, and as Layla's pregnancy progresses I worry that she is doing far too much, but their desperation is understandable.

The House they live in now is so drastically overcrowded. There is no space at all. It's impossible to keep clothes etc. organized, consequently you can't find anything! The only area the children have to play in is outside at the front of the building, so they are constantly covered in red clay – (washing clothes therefore is difficult to start with so this makes it a nightmare), and volunteers are covered in red clay within a short time of arrival, the kids want to be picked up. I brought clothes to wear that don't matter, just as well cos I don't think they'll make it home.

In the new house there will be 3 – 6 kids to a room, (depending on need), and each child will have their own space and containers/furniture for clothes and belongings. There is not only an office, but a treatment area, play areas inside and out. A bigger kitchen, proper toilets . . . I could go on. To all of them it must seem like a dream come true, but most importantly it is security, as Imoro told me,

“We know when we move it will be ours, no one can take it away from us!"

And every time we visit the site Layla tells me,

“the air is very good up here”

The biggest obstacle is electricity – or lack of it! Social Services won't allow them to move in till they have it, this is the bush and there are snakes etc. so to do so would be dangerous. They have now managed to purchase lights, cables, switches etc., and Imoro will purchase a generator for temporary use so that they can move in January. Meanwhile activity is constant, windows and doors are being fixed, walls plastered, floors concreted and today they have bought paint. They are guaranteed to have 5 rooms ready, and more work is done every time they receive a donation.

And they are rolling in! Of course we'd like them to roll in faster lol, but we are grateful for every penny that helps us get them where they want to be!

Last Saturday a Mining Company came to visit, they gave to the Orphanage last Christmas and returned this year with food and building materials. There was a big presentation and the children put on a display of traditional dance and drums – wonderful to watch – then our visitors, (a bus full and several cars and pick ups), were taken to the new site. Whenever volunteers are around and people visit we are asked to welcome them and thank them. This was good because I had the chance to talk to them and explain the obstacles they have to overcome in order to move in. They were very receptive and I'm hopeful that they will offer more assistance. I was also asked if I would work with them in the New Year to source more funding – I said I'd be glad too! That's my kind of work!

Then yesterday we had a visit from the local Governor. Imoro has tried to attract the attention of politicians and the media before but was told he would have to pay for coverage, whereas yesterday they arrived of their own free will – so I'm on African TV again, three times next week apparently! This is becoming a habit! But if that's what it takes, I'm happy to do it.

Soooo . . what else has been happening?

Politics, interesting developments. We were at the Queen Mothers funeral shortly after our arrival. Funerals are an integral part of social life here. Everyone wears black and red. Seats are set out in rows under canopies in a big square. As you arrive you walk all the way round shaking hands with everybody in the front row, and if you happen to then be seated in the front row, you shake hands with everyone who arrives after you! Believe me that’s a lot of handshaking! There is a DJ, usually Drums and displays of Traditional Dancing. In fact if they come and dance with you you're supposed to give them money. At the first funeral I attended I was told we all had to get up and dance before going, we couldn't just get up and leave – that would be rude! But a Royal Funeral is a big affair. Preparations were thrown into chaos because it rained from early morning till mid afternoon, very unusual at that time of year, it usually is anything from 15 minutes to an hour at most, and the day of the funeral was a public holiday so nobody quite knew what to do with themselves. There were lots of camera men and lots of people. The President of Ghana got as far as Sunyani with every intention of attending . . then it rained cats and dogs!

The Kings sister had been made new Queen Mother for the rest of his lifetime. When we were first introduced to them both, she told us to drop by and see her any time. Then a couple of weeks ago we were told she had been 'de-stooled', relieved of her office! I have heard a couple of versions of why this happened. She lives a lot of the time in USA and has family there. She was to oversee the 'Poverty Rites' in November. This as I understand it is a Ritual whereby young girls have to swallow an egg to determine whether or not they are virgins, if it remains whole they are free to marry! If it does not they must leave their village in disgrace!! Rumour has it that she was making changes, and/or that she was making them without discussing them with the King first.

So there was much speculation about who would be next Queen Mother. My Landlady who lives next door to me is I think officially next in line, but there are concerns about her age . . .

Then last week when I asked for an 'update' I was told that the Kings sister had refused to 'stand down' . . . interesting. I think I will, feigning ignorance of the situation . . go and visit her just to show moral support.

The children are as beautiful and just as much a pleasure to be around as ever. I have hopes of being able to teach them to swim in the New Year, also to teach IT skills and help with English, once we have the time and the space. If we can get piped water to the new house it will save them a tremendous amount of time and effort, and one of the volunteers is buying the Orphanage a washing machine for Christmas and that together with the fact that clothes won't be in the same mess when we move will also make a HUGE difference.

Last week myself and two other Volunteers went to Bui National Park.

You take a taxi from Duayaw Nkwanta to Sunyani, (20 mins), then another taxi from Sunyani to Wenchin, (1 hour), and that’s where you catch the trotro to Bui and its a 3 hour drive over very hard roads! Maximum seating capacity in a trotro is 10-12, but our crazy driver crammed in 25, building materials on the roof, luggage in the back and he broke all the speed limits! This is not unusual here, and I was ok with it if he hadn't crammed so many people in! It's really quite entertaining to see people 'sending' stuff to the next village, food and such items for friends and family members but one of the 19 year old Vols told me later, “I really thought I was going to die today!”

We didn't needless to say, and we were shown to the Guest House on arrival - I use the term loosely . . but I thought it was okish. The girls however were convinced that there were snakes – because of the constant rumbling in the roof space, lots of very active creatures up there – or rats cos they'd seen a tail vanishing down a hole in the floor! It so happened there were hundreds, probably thousands of bats! So then they were afraid of Rabies! Bless them they have just left school and this is a very brave and wonderful thing they are doing, but sometimes we ALL just find some things a little hard to take!

We did the sunset walk up the mountain at dusk – well I went half way cos it was very nearly dark and the path was treacherous, so the Ranger decided to sit and talk to me rather than accompany the girls to the top – absolutely magnificent views. 5 30 next morning we set off for an hour long hard walk through the bush to the Black Volta River. We went first to the fishing village to meet with the fishermen whose expertise is needed to take you out, and you go in their canoes anyway, and then another 15 min walk to the river bank. I was certainly not too proud to accept helpful hands to get down the almost vertical bank to the waters edge and in and out of the canoes safely!

But oh was it worth it!! Up stream in the early morning light with the noise of wild life all around, interrupted only occasionally by the quiet conversation of the fishermen and rangers. It was truly Magical, I've never experienced anything quite like it. We saw the top of a Hippo's head, and a couple blowing bubbles, but not a whole Hippo, wrong season apparently. From January, when it's even drier, it is possible to see 20 or 30 in one trip, that's when they come out – and so do the snakes!!

We set off to walk back and the Ranger from the day before arrived on his motor bike and announced, 'I've come to collect my wife', and bless him he brought me an orange, peeled and ready to eat! (If my son's read this, my apologies – but honestly there was nowhere I could have begged, borrowed or stolen a helmet!). 'Obruni' women attract Ghanian men like magnets. For the younger Vols this can be a real nuiscance at times, they could have all collected at least 10 husbands by now. With me the 1st question is always, 'where is your husband?', and when I say I don't have one, 'WHY'. For a woman to want to remain single is incomprehensible, so long and detailed debates often ensue as to why I SHOULD have one. I have the advantage of not feeling the need to be polite if they don't listen when I refuse them politely 1st time. Other than that they just have difficulty understanding that I want to do anything strenuous – life expectancy in Ghana is sixty so women over forty don't go on adventures!

When we got back, the girls had had enough so at 11 am we were waiting for the trotro again. Back here for 6 and I was covered from head to foot in bites not of the mosquito variety! I was asleep by 9 pm . . but it's an experience I wouldn't have missed for the world!

It still hadn't been decided whether/when we'll go North because things are so hectic. I think now there's not time before Christmas and there's so much to do after, but I've just been told we go on the 4th January! Mb just Imoro and I, one of the girls is spending Christmas with family in Accra before joining another project, and the other sets off to explore Ghana for two weeks with a Volinteer friend from another project on December27th . By mid January there will be just two Volunteers at Mum's Love, unless the organization send some more.

I've no idea what Christmas will be like, but I'm looking forward to just enjoying it with the kids and hopefully establishing a video link with my family Christmas Eve/Day . .

But in any event I'll make sure I post enough so that you can all be part of it!

To be continued . .

Copyright Rosa Montague