We arrived in Accra in the evening and stayed for two nights at the Coconut Grove Regency Hotel, which was pretty swag! The hotel had a pool, fully-stocked bar with espresso and a herd of little white dogs (mostly Maltese mixes). Our rooms each had king-size beds, tv, super-fast wifi, fluffy towels, air conditioning, hot water and decent water pressure, all luxuries we probably didn’t appreciate as much as we should! The next morning we met up with Rob, another MEDA intern we completed our training with in Waterloo and who has been working in Accra since late November. Together we attended a security briefing at the High Commission of Canada to Ghana (colloquially known as the Canadian Embassy). As it turns out, this session didn’t really provide us with any new information because we had been very thoroughly prepared by Scott, MEDA’s Security Director, at our training in Waterloo. The meeting was brief, giving us the rest of the day to spend with Rob. We went out for a drink and had our first taste of local food at lunch (kebabs and rice, so not too exciting), and then to an Italian restaurant for dinner (where we ordered pizza, calamari and swordfish) since we didn’t know what our international food options would be like once leaving from Accra.
The next morning we departed from our luxury accommodations at 5am to head back to the airport and onto our next stop, Tamale, located in Ghana’s Northern Region. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 7am, was delayed to 7:30, and didn’t end up departing until close to 8:30 after an unexpected inspection. Because our flight was so delayed our driver hadn’t yet arrived back to collect us, but a kind taxi driver called him to find out what was up. We hadn’t yet bought SIMs for our phones so we couldn’t call ourselves. Our driver dropped us off at our new guesthouse, which was the basic accommodations we were expecting rather than our luxurious set-up in Accra. We had a quick nap and settled in for about an hour, before heading to the MEDA Ghana office. Here we met Catherine, the Project Manager, for the first time, as well as her staff who run departments in finance, HR, administration, as well as a multitude of other tasks. Catherine gave us an introduction to GROW, the program we are going to be working with, and the Finance Manager, Issahaku, introduced us to the forms MEDA uses for expenses, travelling, cash advances and the like. We went out for dinner with Catherine to Chuck’s, a local ex-pat hangout. We both passed out pretty quickly after our long day of travel and spending time at the office. The remainder of our week included sessions with the HR manager, getting set up with our phones and internet sticks, a driving tour of Tamale and beginning to review some GROW documents so we can hit the ground running once our training is complete.
While the weekdays were dedicated to work-related activities, we did get the chance to be more like tourists on the weekend. On Saturday we had a quiet morning, sleeping in and taking time to recharge. Catherine invited us to her house for lunch and introduced us to a few of her Filipino friends. Ellie works for a company that produces fantastic shea products including lotions, soaps and oils. Meanwhile, Mary is a volunteer with VSO and is set to complete her year-long placement in April. Catherine is a fantastic cook (we ate lunch around 1:30pm and I wasn’t hungry until the next morning) and it was great to hear more about Ghana, GROW and the experiences of these women so early in the trip.
Sunday we had another quiet morning, and went into town around lunctime to have our first experience in a local market. Our coworker, Mahamadu, was kind enough to take us on a walking tour and help us buy some fruit and airtime for our phones. The market is probably what you would expect, kind of like St. Jacobs but all outside, louder, with more people and far more colourful. You can purchase almost anything from fresh produce to clothes, bras, shoes, reusable shopping bags and housewares such as dishes, cutlery, buckets and bowls. Our diets have been very starch-heavy with lots of rice, banku (kind of like a thick mashed potatoes but more starchy) and cooked rather than fresh vegetables (reduces the amount of bacteria we are exposed to). I will admit it was fantastic to have some fresh pineapple, mango and banana! We also found out the small booths with colourful squares hanging up and down that we thought sold lottery tickets, actually sells airtime for cellphones (pay-as-you-go plans are the most cost-effective here, which is good for me because I tend to “accidentally” to way over on my data limits at home!). Once we found this out we purchased airtime to get our talk and data bundles all sorted out. Also at the market we made our first tourist purchases: Janelle bought a really beautiful leather bag handmade by Mahamadu’s brother, while we both bought elephant and drum keychains for our future apartment! In addition to the market, Mahamadu also took the time to show us where two of the region’s chiefs live, as well as the main Central Mosque. He told us the area around Central Mosque is very busy on Fridays (the Muslim Holy Day), especially since many workplaces are closed that afternoon. The population is predominantly Muslim and it is not uncommon to see groups of men praying alongside the road.
One of the highlights of the tour was hearing more about the region’s chiefs. According to Mahamadu, there are three chiefs in the Northern Region of Ghana. Chief number one lives further to the north, while chiefs number two and three live in Tamale. The chiefs take as many wives as they are able, for example, the current number two chief has eight wives, while his predecessor had 32! The chiefs live in a compound on a central corner in town with all of their wives, and apparently we could have visited him if it hadn’t been the weekend when he is sleeping/resting. I also asked about the chief’s power and whether there are ever conflicts with the local government. Apparently, the people are more likely to listen to the chief than the local government, making it in the best interest of the government to have a good relationship with the chief. The position is heritable and a chief can only be deposed by death. In the event of a chief’s death without any sons, another family takes over the position. I asked whether it can be dangerous to be a chief and the answer is yes, sometimes people will kill a chief if he is doing a poor job. I also asked about how the chief chooses his wives, and apparently he can be walking down the street, point at a girl and she is not allowed to say no. I thought that sounded rather terrifying, but traditionally it is a blessing because your son has a chance to inherit the position.
Well, we hope you have enjoyed hearing about our first week as MEDA interns in Ghana. Stay tuned for an update when we arrive in Wa, the town in the Upper West Region where we will be predominantly working and living.
Until next time,
Janelle & Sarah