This will be my last blog post (at least written from Ghana, perhaps I’ll write one more once on the ground in Canada to talk about what‘re-integration’ feels like). Thanks to all of you who have read, commented on, questioned, thought, or felt anything from my writing. I leave Kpandai in a few days, and leave Ghana in just over a week. This post will be rather vague, but hopefully some conversation can be sparked face to face if I’m lucky.
I was listening to a song the other day and a lyric rang true with me. Antje Duvekot sang out:
“I gave you my best shot, but you never could tell. Gonna pack my suitcase, sing to myself, goodbye.”
And that’s how I feel.
I gave you my best shot,
There were highs and lows like I’ve never experienced in my life. There were days I was in the office until 9pm, and days I stayed home, lying in my bed/running to the toilet, and watching Battlestar Galactica all day (yeah…I never thought I’d see the day, but I see what Dwight Schrute was all about now). There are so many things here that are out of your hands, and one thing I learned was how to determine what is out of your sphere of influence and how to cope with that and work around it. I remember a return JF saying to me before I left Canada, “Do your best, that’s all you can do, and if you can say you did, you won’t be disappointed with yourself”. Of course there were other things I could have done better, other ways I could have leveraged this experience, days I could have pushed myself harder. I wasn’t that “pro star JF” but what does that even mean?
But you never could tell.
Ghana has not experienced tremendous development since my arrival. I have not ‘boiled the ocean’. I’ve done small-small in Kpandai, one tiny District in the nearly forgotten Northern Ghana. My impact? Impossible to measure. But there have been changes that I’ve catalyzed.
My DAO (Extension), Mr. Issah, ran an interactive training workshop for all the AEAs on understanding group dynamics. He discussed gender issues, good facilitation, group formation, and ‘food for thought’ on how AEAs’ perceptions of farmers and farmers’ perceptions of AEAs affect the relationship. This workshop was the first part of a new way of training AEAs. This was all Mr. Issah, but it was also the result of us sitting down together, sparking a conversation about what good training looks like and what is currently lacking in the AEA skill set.
There are farmer groups out there that are learning business concepts from their AEAs to better manage both their own agriculture ventures and group projects. They’re keeping records, opening bank accounts, analyzing markets, calculating profit, and discussing their alternative options for how they can improve their businesses and ultimately make more money (I hope..!). At this moment, 11 AEAs have been trained on AAB (in Kpandai), 6 of whom I think will actually continue after I leave. Approximately 131 farmers are going through the program.
131 doesn’t even come close to the 90,000 farmers that live in Kpandai. Is it worth the cost of sending me over? Even if AAB is sustainable, and that 131 turns into 13,100, is it worth it? Are the poorest of the poor actually benefitting? What else needs to happen?
I haven’t boiled the ocean, but it’s a drop. And drops create ripples, right?
Gonna pack my suitcase,
Do I want to go home? Mostly, it’s about that time – though I’m sure this would feel different if I didn’t have this departure date set from the start and people I love on a different continent. There are other things that just wear on you, like the complete disregard for timeliness, or the extremely low ICT skills (you can’t save something in ‘Recent Documents!’), or the sometimes passive attitude to domestic violence, or the fact that everyone always has to know where I’m going, or the constant moments you put your life at risk by entering a tro.
I am saying those difficult goodbyes. I am, literally, packing my things into my giant 70L backpack, but it’s not just material things I’m bringing back with me. I’m bringing back 4 months of intense, at times ridiculous, experiences, stories, and learnings. No person is the same from one day to the next. The personal growth, and understanding of myself in these past four months has been unreal. Seriously, I have never, ever, been so challenged, and so rewarded, by any other string of experiences in my life. I have also never felt so confused about so many things. I came to Ghana with millions of questions in my head. I’m leaving Ghana with billions. This continuous questioning, the continuous realization that underneath it all, you still have no idea what’s going on, the pushing yourself to soak up every day, is mentally and physically exhausting.
I hope that I will not forget. I hope I will not sink back into a life that is solely daily routine and habit. I hope I can keep this mindset that each day should be more challenging than the last. It will be a lot tougher in Canada than it has been in Ghana, I’m sure. I hope I can share this experience to anyone who will listen, and I hope I can learn from that person and gain new perspective from their (your) insights.
Sing to myself.
This one is going to be a bit of a stretch, stick with me. Here’s a bit of self-reflection.
When I joined EWB a few years ago, I didn’t really care that much about development, and I definitely didn’t know anything about it. If you told me that in a few years I’d be sitting in northern Ghana typing a blog post about my summer spent there, an ocean away from the world I knew, I’d have snorted in your face and said “shove it” because I used to say that in 2008, which in hindsight is quite rude, sorry.
Even as I learned more and began to understand more about international development, I still wasn’t extremely engaged in the economics and politics of it all. It wasn’t until May 9, 2010, when I was on a bus from Accra to Tamale, that I realized I wanted to be in Ghana, and I actually do care about, and I actually am interested in development. It always has, and always will, come down to the people for me.
That first week and a bit, I saw poverty all around me. I tiptoed through the markets, not wanting to step on fish bones or goat poop, and afraid of the eyes looking, judging, and the foreign tongues that were undoubtedly talking about me. Children with ripped clothes and bare feet were shouting. I saw women sitting on the ground, with blankets spread in front of them, selling 6 poor looking tomatoes or some tiny bags of sugar. I was completely out of my comfort zone as I purchased mango slices, and watched in awe as a woman hacked away at a mango with a machete, always inches from slicing off her hand. I peed in a smelly, public urinal, facing the other female JFs as we laughed about the experience, but inside I was thinking “how do people live like this?”.
I no longer see poverty. I see Northern Ghana. I hear women brag about their daughters’ school marks. I see men walk, hand-in-hand, down the dirt path to their farms. I listen to the pounding of fufu into the night, or the beat of a drum at a funeral, or the singing of a woman dressed in colourful African prints as she sways her hips to the music blaring out of one of the shops. Small children no longer have my pity; most of them are actually quite annoying, just like in Canada. Although mangos are no longer in season, I have no hesitation or thought when I approach a woman, point to a pile of groundnuts sitting on a wooden table, and say “Anoula, 20 pesewas. Enh, nsay cosou.” (Good evening, 20 pesewas. Yep, thank you). The colours of tomatoes have become a richer shade of red. I think “I love life here”.