Where I live

Quite a few people have been interested in not just what I’ve been doing and my opinion but also the facts of where I am and what’s what.

This post is only going to be a short one but I wanted to show you where I live.

So I live in one of 8 buildings owned by the school. These buildings have two ‘bedrooms’, a ‘living room’ and a bathroom and toilet. They are meant to be accommodation for teachers but unfortunately the school is still being built despite being a government funded school for the last 4 years or so. This means there are no currently on buildings for the school administration, rooms for the women boarding students or science laboratory so several of the buildings have been converted into these purposes.

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The front of my house. I have a porch where I wash and dry my clothes by hand. The window on the right is the library, the window on the left is my room.

That means there aren’t enough rooms for the teachers to live so it was decided that no teachers would live there yet. That said, two women called Emelia and Doreen do live here as they are in charge of the women boarding students. There was one building remaining – although the ‘living room’ is actually the school library, I was able to live in one of the two rooms.

My room and building, as you can see, seems to be actually pretty good condition. Unsurprisingly though most of this is just fairly superficial:

  • The wood used for the doors and door frames is incredibly rough and often slightly warped – if you get the angle right you can see between or though them.
  • Several of the tiles are cracked and the grouting has been tunneled through by ants, so I have ants in my room.
  • The shower head doesn’t work so I’m still washing out of a bucket.
  • The toilet now flushes, but there is a leaking pipe somewhere under the tiles so the floor of the toilet is constantly wet.
  • The door handles and keys of my doors sometimes don’t work correctly, making it hard to shut, lock or open them all the time.
  • I have an actual bed, but the foam mattress is quite soft and so most nights I have to shift sides as it compresses and I end up feeling the slats the mattress is supported by.

Anyway, none of these issues are in themselves a problem, and even added together they aren’t really an issue. This is just how things are.

In fact, this is pretty good as far as things could be and are for others. For example, the Junior High School I am teaching ICT at in Yabraso also has some school housing for teachers, but it is no where near the same.

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The equivalent teachers accommodation in Yabraso.

So this is where I live. How interesting.

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ICT in Yabraso

For the last two weeks now, in addition to teaching physics in my main school in Nsawkaw, I’ve also been teaching in a neighbouring community as well.

So this neighbouring community is about 4 miles away, about 10 minutes by motorbike, and is called Yabraso. There are two schools in Yabraso: a Junior High School (my school in Nsawkaw is a Senior High School) and a Primary School.

The primary school has six classrooms and at least 40 students per classroom while the JHS is smaller in both that there are only three classes, and that there are only 20 – 30 students per class.

The reason I’ve found myself teaching here is simply that the headmaster of the JHS, a man called Sylvester, approached me and, basically but uncomfortably (for me), pleaded that I come to his school to teach also. We agreed that I would come and teach ICT to the two final years of both schools in Yabraso twice a week and so here I am.

I admit, I was a bit apprehensive about it at first. One of the things I’m trying to do here is to refuse to do something if it is not making a positive or constructive addition to what is being done. In this case I was worried about who I was going to replace at the school and if they were better for the school and the students than I would be. I feel strongly that even if what I’m doing comes out as a neutral change, I don’t want to do something just because I am a white man in rural Ghana.

Although yes, I think a lot of it is because I am white, having talked to Sylvester I do think can make a positive contribution beyond what they already had. Crazy thought considering how little we learnt about ICT in school!

So teaching ICT out here is very hard it turns out. First of all only the JHS has a working computer. There are two others that don’t work but the single working computer is also old enough that it has no USB slots and a floppy disk drive and the cooling fan has to speed up to run Moral Kombat, 1997 era. The primary school doesn’t even have this!

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My JHS3 Students using our only Computer. We’ve had to put the monitor on top of the tower so that everyone can see it.

This means that ICT has to be taught on a blackboard rather than on a computer, which is the main reason it’s hard when you consider the fact that many of the students, up to an age of 15 or so, have never used a computer in their life or come across the abstract concepts associated we live with on a daily basis.

Imagine trying to explain or understand the concept of changing font colour or size as/to an eleven year old. This is part of the year 6 (P6) syllabus. Another part of the syllabus at age eleven is to learn how to touch type, but with no access to a computer or even a keyboard this is figuratively impossible. My attempt to solve this next term is to use keyboards drawn out on paper to teach them the key layout and correct finger usage. This was the only thing I could think of that might help.

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The school ‘bell’.

Teaching ICT to 15 year olds in JHS3 is easier than this though. First of all they are older and understand me speaking better. Also with access to even a single computer after talking and drawing stuff on a blackboard we can go and see it on a computer. It’s still hard as only one student can use the computer at a time while the rest just have to watch but the concepts are less abstract and more solid like emails and spread sheets.

Other than this, thankfully coming to Yabraso is incredibly rewarding. Not only do I feel like my teaching in Yabraso is more wanted than in Nsawkaw (something that isn’t necessarily true but I was asked to teach here compared to when I arrived in Nsawkaw it took two weeks before I started teaching), but also the students themselves in Yabraso are more fun to be with! They love interacting with me, laugh with and at me, and weirdly, have even brought me loads of fruit to take home a couple of times!

I realise this last bit may sound imperialist of me, but it is more than this. Yes, I’m always going to be a while man in Ghana, but in Yabraso I’m able to forget it easier and have full, real, conversations that aren’t stilted or by-rote like the ones in Nsawkaw feel like.

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Two of my students, Timothy and Itu, tying my box of fruit to the motorbike so I can head home.

Anyway, all this brings me up to a big point. I have also been asked by Sylvester and some other people in Yabraso for some help in raising funds to build an actual computer lab for Yabraso and the surrounding communities.

I admit, this kind of terrifies me. They submitted a breakdown of the projected cost of this project to me when they first asked me, and it’s a lot of money – £10,000 for the building of the computer lab itself, and roughly £6,000 more for the 40 computers they want inside. I’ve never raised money for a cause before beyond Movember, and honestly, when they first suggested it to me I wasn’t convinced that I would be able to raise this massive sum, and even if I did, that it was for the best cause.

Since then though, I’ve been doing some serious thinking.
When I originally came out to Ghana, I brought a book with me called ‘Doing Good Better’, all about effective altruism. Essentially it talked about making sure that what and how you give can and is used to help the most number of people in the most effective way. So I’ve been looking at this as it applies to this project and here is what I’ve worked out and some general numbers.

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The current proposed site for the computer lab.

First of all, how many people would this computer lab benefit?
In the surrounding communities there roughly 2000 school-aged children that would live close enough to be able to access it on a daily basis for school or out of school. As this is a fairly rural and poor area, most of these children won’t have a computer at home. Also at a rough estimate, these 2000 children will have a ‘turnover’ roughly every 10 years. With maintenance and replacement of computers at a significant reduced cost of the initial outlay, I imagine the computer lab will last much more than just 10 years and probably more like 20-30, which would mean 4000-6000 students through their entire school period.

Second, how much will these people benefit?
Well, we’re not exactly directly saving anyone’s life, but luckily there’s another way to think about it. If you start getting into effective altruism or read, as I highly recommend you do, the book ‘Doing Good Better’, you will come across the term QALY, which stands for Quality-Adjusted Life Year. So term can be thought of as if you improve someone’s life by 10% for 10 years, this is one QULY.

Next, let’s look at a period over 10 years. These 2000 students have no computers to use. Unfortunately three times a year they have end of term exams, of which one of their exams (as ICT is on the syllabus) is ICT. If you fail too many exams in a year you will fail the year and have to redo it. At the end of the final year of your current school you will alternatively have an external exam that will affect what school you are able to progress on to. Ie better results lead to going to better schools – so it’s a positive feedback loop.

This is the first way having access to a computer is useful – it will help you learn ICT better, potentially leading to you going to a better school and gaining a better education over all.

The second way is just the pure fact that the Earth is progressively becoming a global community where digital and computer literacy is becoming more and more important. In order to do well or even live properly in the world, computer skills are a necessity. By not learning how to use computers from a young age you are effectively and significantly limiting a person’s potential to do all but the basic types of jobs. This not only reduces that specific person’s opportunities, life-time earnings and quality of life, but it also slows down the growth and health of the country’s economy as a whole if it happens frequently enough.

So what does this mean? Well it’s hard to say exactly, but if I tried to make a conservative estimate here is one set of calculations:

Say that the computer lab is shut after 10 years and only 1000 children gain the benefit from it, and that the benefit they gain is only a 1% increase to their quality of life. This is 1% over their entire lives though, so from the age of 15 to, again, conservative estimate, 55 (as this is around the current average Ghanaian life expectancy but is likely to change as it develops).
So 40 years at 1% per year per person is 0.4 QALYs per person, or 400 QALYs total for the 1000 students for a total cost of £16,000. This works out at 1 QALY per £40.

Now it is internationally considered that 34 QALYs is roughly the equivalent to one life saved in the developing world. For us, this would that we are doing the equivalent of saving a life for £1360, which is pretty damn good when you consider what a western Government is willing to spend to save a life.

Thirdly and finally, Is the area neglected and what would have happened otherwise?
Well, safe to say yes it is neglected. There are no computers or computer labs in the area. To find an internet café you have to travel half an hour each way into a town called Wenchi, which costs a large proportion of a daily wage and then have to pay to use it on top of that. This is not practical or useful for a student at school. Additionally, if I don’t do this, no one else currently will and nothing will happen so if I manage this is it a huge deal for the local area and if I don’t, nothing. It’s an all or nothing type of thing!

So over all, yes, over all I do think this is a good project to work on. I may not have got all my numbers or approximations correct but that doesn’t change the fact that I believe it is a worthy thing and that over the next many months I’m going to be working hard to try and help fully fund it.

I have just created a just giving website and edited this post appropriately. You can find it at https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/ict-in-yabraso
I beg you that when I do to think strongly and consider giving as much as you can. This will truly be life changing for many children in my local area in Ghana and any additional money will not go to waste at it can go towards buying either replacement computers when one eventually breaks, or to starting to raise money for a science laboratory at my school in Nsawkaw, for similar reasons and calculations as this.

World aids day

It was world AIDS day recently. Although in the UK these types of ‘world day’s get a nod off recognition they often don’t get much more than just this minor lip service.

Here in Ghana though world AIDS day is a big thing.

Obviously AIDS is a big thing in Africa in general but because Ghana is one of the richer African nations I think things are better than average here in terms or infection rates and prevalence (when I asked I was told  Nsawkaw doesn’t really have anyone with AIDS) but it is still taken seriously and so world AIDS day is still a big event.

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In my district (Nsawkaw-Tain district) all the schools get the day off and there is a big rally in Nsawkaw that all the students go to regardless of if they live locally or further away and come in a school bus.

At the rally there is a lot of singing and dancing to.music. There are also officials in world AIDS day t-shirts handing out AIDS awareness posters, free condoms and leaflets.

Everyone is pretty free and happy, I bumped into some off my students who I took a photo of and they were quite happy to talk about it.

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I wasn’t able to stick around for long, which was a shame as I had to go to Sunyani to renew my entry stamp but it was a really fun atmosphere.

As I left they had just organised a rally march through town with banners, a big band and so on, dancing and singing the whole way.

Although I had to leave I was told that over the day there would be many talks about AIDS, AIDS prevention, etc and that they would be providing free testing for AIDS and Hep B for everyone.

I didn’t see so many towns people there, but with the march and general atmosphere there is no way they didn’t know about it.

AIDS, Hep B, and sexual health in general are very important things. This may be TMI for some people (but that’s the precise problem) but regardless of necessity, I try to get a sexual health checkup roughly once a year.

In the west sexual health and associated problems are often taboo subjects, as sort of seems with the whole Hollywood actor AIDSgate, so it’s refreshing to see it being taken seriously in a public setting.

Lets let Africa set the trend for the west here – let’s try and see more AIDS and other sexual health diseases awareness, discussion and compassion rather than stigma, lack of knowledge and treatment as a taboo.

Just how different IS life in Ghana?

This topic will be a bit different from some of my other posts, but it is one of a series I want to write gently leading to a specific point. This one though exams about how different living in Ghana is.

So I won’t pretend I know it perfectly, or even close to everything I could to broach this topic, but I have been living on the school grounds for the last 7 weeks, which means I’ve been meeting and talking to the teachers as well whoever else I can for all this time so I know an adequate amount to at least comment enough to make it interesting.

So you are aware; 1 GBP is roughly 5.5 Ghanaian cedis (cd). I don’t know exactly what this is in euros or dollars, but then I also don’t know some of the salaries and prices in Europe or the United States so all my comparisons will be with the UK but I hope this would have been obvious from the start.

So Just how different is life in Ghana? Let’s start with the fact that in Ghana there is little to no welfare, so what you earn is what you get. If you are unemployed you have to beg, get money some other way or starve. There seems to be very little begging (I guess because many Ghanaians don’t have enough for themselves let alone others), so in reality most people find some form of employment for themselves. Most people in rural communities also seem to have some land where after they finish work and on Saturdays, they go to ‘farm’.

Farming here is very different to a western country. It’s all mostly small scale and done by hand, and most of the year consists of clearing weeds. The main crops here are cachou nuts, Yam, Cassava and maize for eating, and cachou nuts and coco beans as money crops. There are others such as tomatoes, chillies, plantains and bananas, but these are less common. Also I do not know what the tax rate is these are salary to salary comparisons and not take away money.

In Ghana, there also doesn’t seem to be a national minimum wage. Instead, for a paid worker, such as a manual labourer or construction worker, your salary will depend on who your employer is and where you are. In a city or simply away from a rural environment I’ve been told you would expect to pay someone 33cd a day to help with the construction of your house but if you come to a small rural community such as the one I’m living in this can go down to as little as 12cd a day. 12cd is just over 2 GBP a day to live on completely. For a pure farmer though, using cachou nuts as an example, the season is January to July and he indicated he earnt enough in that period to be ok for the whole year (although he did also grow other food the rest of the year to eat).

For a manual labourer though there is quite a bit of building work that goes on. A lot of it is done by the people themselves, but if you need to hire someone the salaries above are what you would expect to pay them. This means the maximum monthly salary, minus weekends (as Saturdays are farm and funeral days and Sundays are church days) would be around 12cd x 22 days = 264cd a month.

Before I get on to what this can buy or get with this, I want to talk about the other professions I can comment on, most importantly for me, teachers, but also market sellers.

In Ghana a teacher would expect to earn about 16,000cd a year, possibly a bit less, but also irrespective of how long they’ve been a teacher or what level of qualification they’ve reached. I believe there is a scaling for responsibilities, but I don’t know what it is if there is one. 16,000cd is, depending on how you want to think about it, 2,760 GBP a year, 1333cd (242 GBP) a month, or 60cd (11 GBP) a day.

A market worker in a city would expect to earn sometimes as little as nothing a day, or sometimes as much as 350cd a day. but it will average out at about the same as a teacher over a whole year but in spits and spurts and you would also work more hours and it is more stressful.

I do not (yet) know what other professions expect to earn and I will ignore the being rich here as being rich in a poor country means your style of living is almost entirely dependent on how you choose to live and not limited by what you can and can’t afford.

So what do these salaries: 264cd (or 426cd in a city) and 1333cd a month get you?

Well the first major difference is living arrangements. If you are lucky enough to own a ‘house’, this can mean quite a lot of things ranging from a single room, mud brick hut with a thatched leaf roof, no power and no water nearby (what we in the west would more comfortably call a hut really) – So far all the communities I’ve seen in Ghana do have water pumps luckily. This doesn’t mean you will always live close to a pump, or that there aren’t places that don’t have pumps, just that I’ve not seen these places yet. In comparison, the upper end of a standard ‘house’ would be a three to five room building (living room and bedrooms, rarely including more than one or possibly two of a toilet, bathing room or a kitchen, build from proper bricks and cement with a steel roof and electricity. Usually these won’t have running water actually in the house, but they might be right next to a pump or an external tap for water.

A house like this second one will cost roughly 30-60 thousand cedis to build (around 10,000 GBP or less) so it is expensive especially for Ghanaians and usually would be built slowly over several years as and when the person had the money while they lived in one room or with family or rented.

Renting in Ghana is most common before you get married. It is also very different to the UK. For one thing, although there the cost is as a monthly rent, you pay the full rent for the entire rental period upfront when you move in and so far I’ve not seen or heard of a rental period of less than two years long!

Another thing is that when you rent, you don’t commonly rent a house unless you have a family or wife already (women tend to live with parents until they get married still, this is not a hard and fast rule, just the general attitude of society here, so not very feminist friendly even if it is also not exactly bad either).

Instead you rent just a single room and share bathing and toilet facilities. Last major difference in rents is that the cost of renting is incredibly low compared to the UK. Even if we assume a cedis in Ghana is like a GBP in the UK, which it sort of is but with a bit of a fudge factor, renting a single room here will only cost 30cd a month and renting half a house will cost 80cd a month. I don’t think this includes bills, and I don’t know how much these would be, but I don’t *think* they are too bad.

Compare that to the cost of rent in the UK where it could be about a quarter to half your monthly salary and you can see quite a big difference.

The next absolute necessity you need to buy worth mentioning is food. Again, going by the rough comparison of 1cd to 1GBP, food in Ghana is roughly the same price as the UK but the quality is lower (as is your budget). This is not exactly accurate but is roughly right, there are differences such as fruit is cheaper (1cd for 5-10 bananas or 3/4 oranges, pineapples at 3-6cd each); bread is more expensive (a short, fairly low quality loaf is 1-2cd and an expensive loaf is 6cd); a street meal (ie take away) could be from 2cd to 10cd and a sit down meal like a restaurant could be 5cd to 25cd. There are a lot of prices in between for food as well but this is where most of the money goes I’m pretty sure.

Then there are other important things like clothes, phones accessories etc. Again, as far as I can determine, prices here are roughly the same, price for price, for how much something would cost in the UK but the quality is generally lower as it is with the food. So clothes usually cost 10-50cd depending. A basic casio watch I bought was 12cd, a (secondhand) computer would be 600cd etc. 5cd buys 400mb of data on my phone for a month. You get the idea.

So taking all this, if we try to compare it to a British minimum wage, which is around 1,000 GBP a month, if we assume the buying power of 1cd in Ghana is the same as 1GBP in the UK, wages are MUCH lower in Ghana/ Yes rent is also comparatively much lower, but this is the only thing and is not enough to counter the difference in wages. Everything else is comparable and as there is little to no welfare here it explains why everything is much lower quality than the UK and why you will often see people still wearing ripped, torn and old clothes, or why children are sent to school with no shoes or mismatching clothing – they just can’t afford anything new and culturally people know this so it is more accepted as a fact of life. But hey, at least you probably get at least one square meal a day, right?

OK, so this is the comparison of two minimum wages in Ghana and the UK. What about a teacher?

This additional money a teacher makes means teachers can, in comparison to a minimum wage worker here, afford better clothes all the time, have more standardised (ie better) living conditions, own some additional technology beyond the essential mobile phone that most people have (as I wrote the first draft of this, on a laptop loaned me I might add, two teachers are playing fifa on a laptop next to me) and so on.

What ‘and so on’ is depends on who they are and what they value as they are still not well off enough to have everything they might like or need. Some examples of what else teachers spend their money would be: transport (motorbikes and mopeds that is, not even head teachers earn enough to own and run a car); saving to build a house (far more common than buying a house); supporting family (family members who can’t or don’t have jobs, brothers and sisters going to school or university, or just raising their own family(; more technology (I’ve seen ipads, big TVs etc; better clothes… and so on.

Remember though, if anyone wants a truly western thing, new, and at western quality, then they will still have to pay western prices. Not only that but no teachers are able to do all of these things at once – they have to make choices and trade-offs as anyone does, but what do you chose? Do you choose to help your younger brother go to University or to buy and run a motorbike so you can go to work? Also for most people here there is no safety net of friends or family for emergency funds or help if something goes wrong or happens like in western countries. For me although I have the money I brought with me, I know if something goes drastically bad and I need help I’ve got friends and family back in the UK I can call on. No one here has that.

This is the difference in issues of physiological needs as based upon problems based in money and finance. Actual living conditions and what people consider standard practice or normal are also incredibly different so lets go into some of these differences.

I mentioned that not every house will have its own toilet, bathing room or kitchen. In cities this is different in cities from what I’ve seen, but in my rural community it’s absolutely the case. Each community here has its own bathing area(s). This is usually a walled off area somewhere that you can stand and see out but be adequately cover from prying eyes and thus bathe yourself in. The communal toilet is usually way outside the community for health reasons and although I’ve been told about them I’m yet to see them myself, but I’ve not smelt any wee or feces since I’ve arrived and as I’ve seen the houses that have no toilet I believe this. If there is a public urinal but I may have been confusing these with the bathing places.

Cooking then is almost exclusively done outside as well. Sometimes under a shelter but usually not bothering, most of the cooking is one pot cooking so quite basic, and will be a pot (often, literally, a cauldron!) balanced on three rocks with a wood or charcoal fire for heat. If it’s fancy they’ll have two fires and pots going at once! I’ve only seen a couple of actual gas cookers (one because she was an absolute foody and the food was brilliant, the other as it was student accommodation in a city) – even the deputy headmaster of my school cooks this way (or rather his wife does – see the earlier comment on feminism).

So what other differences are there? Well there are plenty of cultural differences still, but as I’ve talked about them a bit already and I’m still struggling with them, AND I want to talk about them some other time in the future I’ll gloss over them y. But quickly, culturally speaking, I feel like a bull in a china shop – Utterly unable to interact without making mistakes or doing something wrong/oddly/badly. There is no judgment attached with this, but people like interacting with me to see how my Twi (local language) is doing and how I am doing, which is making me feel like I am constantly on show to everyone (if this is what being a celebrity is like thank god I’m not one…)

Then there is the fact that while dealing with both these issues, any talking done in English, I have to be on the watch over as they use English in a very different way to me and so anything they can say can have a different meaning to me and vice versa. As I am the only one having problems (they all use English the same here so I’m the odd one out) it is up to me to understand their meaning and adjust myself, otherwise it is yet one more thing for them to find amusing about me and/or get disappointed over. These things sum up to my feeling exhausted quite quickly in interactions so I am keeping my own company more than I should.

I realize if I interacted more I would get over it quicker but ask any introvert and they will point out it’s not as easy as that. Being here has definitely brought out my inner introvert!

Then there is the difference in religion. I realize the west is far more religious than my small socio-economic circle lets on and that the term ‘religion’ needs to be used carefully, but religion here is pervasive and strong. As an example of the strength and oddness (to my senses) of their way of believing, so far as and when it has come up with Christian-based believers, only one person has said they don’t *necessarily* believe in the literal truth that the Earth is only 6000 years old, and that was because, as he put it, the bible may have only been talking about that one group of people when talking about Adam and Eve and others could have existed elsewhere, and that the seven days to create the Earth could be meant or seen as metaphysical and a ‘day’ could be far longer than an actual day. No one is unfriendly about their beliefs. It is just different. Even the one Atheist I’ve met here was different – his belief was along the lines that no matter what religion it is, religion is inherently evil, and he was incredibly strong in this belief and used it to explain away many of the woes in Ghana and beyond.

In addition to this is an understanding of the political system in Ghana and people’s attitudes to that. First of all, Ghana is going through a recession currently and many people don’t have jobs. Unfortunately the government has not proved themselves capable of long term strategy or planning and so this is a big worry to many Ghanaians. The view is that it’s not that the politicians are corrupt by stealing the money for themselves, but that they are corrupt in that they often miss-spend, miss-use and waste money.

This leads to a constant, innate feeling of frustration aimed at politicians – Money needed for necessary projects only seems to be put into them in an election year to drum up votes. Obvious looming problems such as a growing populations and industry meaning a growing demand for electricity get ignored, leading to chronic power shortages that should have been preventable with earlier investment (something the nation is currently going through); Doing things poorly but not correctly as it costs less money but is only a short term fix so will cost more in the long term, but looks good in the short term; Schools get promised money or are owed money to feed students (there is a government funded food program for poor students) or pay for teachers that turns up months late if at all – These are the types of problems that are a daily thing Ghanaians have to live though and contend with and the feeling is it doesn’t really change no matter who is in power. One person told me they wished the US or the UK again would just come in and take over to solve these problems (I tried to point out why this would be less than ideal, he was having none of it). This is the general feeling.

And on and on, there are just so many little things. These are just some of the differences of living in Ghana to living in the UK. There are many things I’ve not really covered, like Ghanaian time and the general use of time, the traditional chiefs and more modern politician interactions and problems it can cause, the schooling system, Ghanaian food. The list goes on but each of these could be an entire entry by itself so I will leave them for now.

I hope this gives you more of a flavour of what Ghana living is truly like, and some of the major differences. Let me know in the comments if there is anything you’d like to know more about.

Skin of my pants teaching!

Teaching this week has been by the skin of my pants!

Luckily I don’t mean that literally.

Last week saw me finish teaching my science students our module on gravity and satellites. Or so I thought. On the Friday we’d even had a fun lesson splitting up the class in two and having a mini competition answering questions, so on Monday I thought we’d be able to  move swiftly on to a new topic after briefly going over the homework I’d collected on the Friday.

Well, unfortunately a few things came up. First that small homework was not so small after all and had me frantically marking for 4 hours on Monday (they accidentally got locked in the staff room over the weekend). I finished marking them 5 minutes before the class so hands aching I went to teach.

Now unfortunately the second thing turned out to be that there were a few things they were still not *completely* straight on, said with my tongue firmly in cheak. Both on the homework and from the lessons previously it turned out as I haven’t been doing enough worked examples with them in class whenever we learn a new equation (lesson learnt? I certainly hope so!).

So lesson introducing Simple Harmonic Motion cancelled, lesson going over homework and time period of a satellite commenced!

On Tuesday I realised my lesson introducing SHM was too short for the period we had, so I had to quickly come up with something to do for half an hour in about the 10 minutes before classes started at 7am. Lovely.

Luckily I had the great idea to get them all timing pendulum swings at different pendulum lengths! Great idea, right? Well, it turns out we have no stopwatches and only three weights good to be used as pendulums. Lots off string and stands though so we improvised some rubber bungs as pendulums. Next problem was I thought we could use some watches and phones as stopwatch, but phones have been banned and the class only has two watches between them. Queue my phone and watch and just teaming up into 4 groups!

Few!

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Class 2C (year two science) doing an experiment on pendulum swings.

Tomorrow we will graph our times (squared of course) and lengths to find the force of gravity irrespective of pendulum mass or amplitude of swing (for small amplitudes). A far more practical worked example of a physics equation!  🙂

Continue reading Skin of my pants teaching!

Through the night air

This is how my day ended today:
Three-up on a moped careening down a dark and pot-holed road illuminated only by the stars in the midnight blue sky and the flickering light from the failing headlamp.

See me as we dodge insects thrown up in stark relief by the old headlamp against the oncoming road while the wind crackles the highlights and the cicadas chirp the lowlights in your ear.

The wind tugging at your head, hair and collar, anywhere it can reach you as the third man on the bike – strong enough to make your eyes water stightly, but not strong enough to remove the smile creeping onto your face despite the day you’ve just had.

So how did the day start? Well in actual fact the day, while not being specifically bad, has not been a great day and should not really have ended with me grinning fit to split my face.

What was five hours of travel on Wednesday and would have been two in the UK took us instead 11 hours total today including all the waiting.

It started off with a bus. No, it started off with traffic in Kumasi. For some interesting twisting of the laws of physics, the streets of Kumasi city center are incredibly quiet. Quiet that is, in comparison to just how grid locked they are trying to get into Kumasi. Between two people over three days we have averaged trips arriving around an hour later than targeted.

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An example of traffic in Kumasi. Surprisingly some streets are completely empty and other streets are like this. No idea yet of what causes one or the other.

Today was no different. Ready by 10, waiting until 11 I was lucky enough in wasn’t later and that i had company to talk to between Adam, a fellow traveller, and the owner of the guest house and his wife.

Upon Derek’s arrival we set off to catch the bus to Techiman (which would be followed by catching a bus to Nsawkaw). On our arrival on Wednesday this walk was about half an hour. Today it was an hour total, walk and trotro ride, as fairly obvious upon asking, the bus terminal where you catch the  bus is not where you can get dropped off.

Currently this is all fair and, although an extreme version, not anything significantly different from what you could and do find in the UK.

The next part though blows my socks off, sums up Africa and describes a wider potential problem all in one in my mind.

When we bought our ticket at 12pm, we then proceeded to have to wait three hours to leave, and then the actual ‘leaving’ took half an hour to happen.

So what happened? Well, firstly, today is a Sunday and so there was only one bus to Techiman (which importantly, is a three hour drive away). Not only that, but buses and all public transport in general here, do not run on a time table. Instead nothing leaves until it’s full, or it has to for other reasons, like daylight.

So you have to arrive early to ensure the seats don’t fill up, but mostly you will end up waiting around for huge lengths of time. In this case simply either it filling up, or 3pm so it will arrive around dusk.

For us, this ended up meaning we arrived at 12pm and waited for three hours, only for a last minute passenger to arrive with a huge amount of goods he needed transporting on the bus. It got so bad that by the end of it even other Ghanaians were getting annoyed.

So this brings up the point I want to make. In Ghana, in Africa, time is not valued. Or rather keeping time or not wasting time is, like several other things here, not valued highly.

So lets compare that to the UK. What group in the UK has to waste time based on transport? Ignoring those who’ve made it a choice such as living in a commuters belt and commuting in, that leaves us with those who are too poor to be able to afford their own transport and are forced to use buses etc. These people are forced to waste time in all sorts of ways as their time just isn’t as valuable so can be wasted,  right?

Wrong. By devaluing their time because it is cheap and can be wasted like that you/we/they are forcing them to be less productive as so much of their time they could use for other things is wasted. And if someone is poor and unproductive, there is no way they will be able to break out of poverty.

Anyway, this is a small aside and is a fairly basic analysis of a much bigger and wider problem, bet it us something to be aware of.

Upon finally arriving in Techiman it was dark and there were no more buses to take so we had ho get a cab to Wenchi were we’d catch a second cab to Nsawkaw.

Cabs in Ghana aren’t used the same as in the uk. First of all they are used for longer distance much more and second is that people.will always share cabs, and to help this, cab drivers advertise using boards or shouting where they are going. You do still have cabs similar to how they’re used in Europe, but these are called drop cabs and you don’t see as many.

So we found a cab to wenchi. Unfortunately it took a long time to find tween after people who wanted to go also. At one point I was close to buying two fairs just so we could leave but but wasn’t necessary in the end.

Arriving in Wenchi we randomly or luckily bump into two other teachers who also want to head to Nsawkaw so we head off in the same cab.

By this point it is dark and has been since we arrived in Techiman. Driving in the dark in Ghana is not recommended for ones health, as we’re about to discover, and I admit I was fairly worried in both journeys.

So we set off to Nsawkaw, in a cab, going fairly fast. When ever a car comes the other way we struggle to see the road clearly bet mostly keep the speed up. Same is true for pedestrians or cyclists. In fact almost the only thing we slow down for is speed bumps and potholes.

Now speed bumps are signed and always around communities so easy to predict where they will be. Potholes, not so much. See where I’m going with this?

Yes, driving at full speed we hit a pothole. There’s an almighty crash, and the car is listing. If we were in a boat I would think we were about.to sink. As it is, I’m certain we’ve wrecked the suspension.

We manage to limp to the side of the road and all get out to see the state of the car. The suspension is fine, but we’ve blank out both left side wheels. We flag down a car to help. They can’t. Then a motor bike. This time they can so head back to Wenchi to get someone to come with new tires.

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The Taxi driver looking at both of tires blown out. All the passengers can do now is just standing around.

While we’re waiting, ANOTHER teacher driven past on his scooter, sees us and stops. After chatting for a bit he offers to give Derek and me a lift home while the other two teachers have to stay for a bit.

So on we get, us three plus two bags, and on we go andwthe rest, as it’s said, is history.

11 hours, but at the end of it all a smile and a grin. I’m starting to be more alright with Ghana now.

Kumasi’s market and fetish stalls

Kejetia market in Kumasi is huge. It has the reputation of being the biggest market in western Africa, and is, supposedly, 12ha big and contains 10,000 stalls. Having been there now I can see why it’s described so.

Having woken up in Kumasi on the Saturday I expected to find the city much the same as the day before, what I found instead was a city swept clean and empty of stalls and people (by comparison). As I walked to the the market though, I either found where everyone had gone, or I couldn’t imagine what the market must be like on a week day. It was a heaving, throbbing mass of people rubbing shoulders, barging past, shouting and whistling, buying and selling. It was vaguely daunting I admit.

From experience, markets in developing worlds are usually arranged in sections. The fabrics section, the vegetable section, the house hold goods section, the meat section, the clothes section, etc. Everyone selling a type of good will crowd together. Although I don’t know the exact reason why this is, it’s easy enough to.come up with theories.

This market was no different apart from the scale. Loins girdled, as a vague rectangle I was able to walk (slowly) in a single direction for over an hour and then back along a completely different, winding path. Over this first hour, I got called over to buy things, to meet people, and be touched, greeted and called obroni more times than in the whole of the past month

I played along.
Mostly.
Although that said, generally the people I was meeting were completely friendly and harmless, and just wanted to chat, marry me, or get me to take them back to the UK. No big deal right?

It was honestly really interesting and fun.

Let’s see: I met a fat old woman selling frozen chicken and her friends in the clothing section (an aberration to the ordered chaos) and invited her to dance with me after chatting for 5 minutes, much to her friends amusement. I met a spice merchant and bought some pepper from her to make my meals more interesting to eat when I get back to Nsawkaw. I even met numerous butchers in their animal product warehouse (definitely not limited to just meat) who were oddly the friendliest group of people! And all wanted their photo to be taken.

In one direction I walked through the hairdressing, vegetable, meat, fish and fabric sections, and  in the other, the house hold goods, bedding, clothing, spices and the fetish sections.

Yes, the fetish section.
Although not big like in Nigeria as I was told, traditional witch doctors in Ghana will use bits of dried animals to cure, prevent and fix ailments of various kinds for who ever needs it, and they were selling  the bits of dried animal they would use there.

For no reason I could disconcern, whole dried chameleons were the most common item, then whole dried mice, hedgehog-like skins, tortoise shells and bats in order. Much less common but still there were parts of lion (apparently) skin, bits of crocodile including whole heads, various bones, tails, owl heads etc. Some of these things looked seriously old and rotten too!

Now unfortunately when ever I asked if I could take a photo I was told in no uncertain terms that no, I couldn’t. The one photo I did get off a this is on my camera and not on my phone as I write this so I can’t show any photos today, but it was seriously interesting to see and to experience.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, at one point I even saw whole roasted bats for sale to eat. SARS anyone?!