Unity is Strength

                Hawa, Saadah, and I finished eating our dinner of TZ and meat soup. Saadah rose to start washing dishes, and I offered to help her rinse and dry. We washed in unison, forming an effective assembly line. Hawa soon joined us, taking the start of the line as the pot-scrubber. “We are working communal”, Saadah pointed out, and it made the whole process a lot more enjoyable.

                I remember in my predeparture training in Toronto having a session about mindsets and worldviews. We spoke about how some cultures are individualistic, while others are communal. It was pretty obvious that Canadian and other Western cultures were very individualistic, and we were told to expect to find much more communal ways of thinking during our placements.

                I have seen this community-focused thinking on many different occasions over my time in Ghana. It is evident in the ways families operate and children are raised, the way meals are eaten, and the way people prioritize conversations and people over work and productivity. One obvious example of this mindset in action is the concept of “communal labour”. Around this time of year, everyone has lots of work to get done on their farm – whether weeding, planting, or harvesting. Rather than spending weeks trying to accomplish it on your own, or even hiring others to do it for you, farmers will simply call their “communal labour”. They let their family, friends, and neighbours know which day it is, and dozens of people will set aside that day to come help you with your farm, finishing the entirety of the work in one day. The kicker is that it is free! The farm owner simply provides lunch.

                However, it is expected that when each of those other farmers calls their “communal labour”, you will go to assist them. The result is two to four weeks of back-to-back communal labours, reaching to almost every farmer in town. Everyone’s work gets completed, but in a manner which exemplifies values of generosity, friendship, and community. I think it’s quite the brilliant system.

                The wives and I finished the dishes in no time, and I pointed out how fast it felt. “Unity is strength”, Saadah responded, “isn’t that so?”. “Yes, it is so”, I answered, amazed at this deep mindset of Ghanaians and wishing there was more of it back home.

 

Saadah and I on her wedding day!

 

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My Egg & Bread Friends

I had just arrived back from an amazing three days at Mole National Park. All of us JFs, along with some African Program Staff (APS) had taken a tro-tro to the beautiful site to recharge, have fun, share learnings, reflect, plan, and have some awesome discussions. There were elephants, baboons, and warthogs. There was “white people food”, and I ate plenty of vegetables. There was even a swimming pool. It was strange for all of us, going for deep immersion into Ghanaian culture to a setting where we felt like such tourists, but it was a wonderful visit nonetheless.

We were back in Tamale, where we had gathered with the rest of EWBers in Ghana for the “Team Ghana Retreat”. I jolted awake at 6:15am, not sure why my body would not let me sleep. I decided to take the opportunity to go for a walk and have a nice, slow chance to wake up.

It was nice to be on the familiar roads, using simple greetings as I passed others. I decided to stop at the stall selling Egg & Bread, a Ghanaian breakfast classic.

The women working there greeted me, and we had as much of a conversation as I could offer in my broken Dagbani.  They laughed as I struggled to ask how their work was going, and how their children were, and finally I decided to just sit down and read. Reading my bible and drinking tea is my favourite morning routine in Canada, and it was nice to have the chance to do it in a beautiful Ghanaian context, with these friendly women providing the “tea” (in this case, Milo, which is still called tea so it counts).  I told them I was going for a walk, but that I would “go and come”, saying hello to them as I returned after my lovely walk along Tamale streets.

A few mornings later, I was back at the Egg & Bread, and delighted to see my favourite ladies working there. There were too many of us Canadians to keep track of, so I volunteered to be on “help with orders” duty. This meant getting to stand with my favourite women, helping stir some drinks, remind them of orders, and laugh along with them as they taught me to say “Zayini, Dabai, Dabaata, Dabaanahi, Dabaanu” (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) so that I could communicate “Dabaata Laam” (3 eggs) and “Panu, 30 peswas” (the quantity of bread). After all the time I had had with Canadian friends, it was refreshing to be around such lovely Ghanaians and just appreciate their company.

Working happily together, running to the corner store when they ran out of Nescafe, and patiently serving our large team who was in a rush to pay and return, I just watched and marvelled at these women. The fact that the smiles on their faces could be so large despite such mundane affairs for them gave me so much joy, and I truly consider my experience richer because of meeting them.

We never even exchanged names, but I consider them great friends.

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p.s. A big shout out to my favourite lady of all – my mom! Happy Birthday, mom!

The Tro-Tro Ride

It’s amazing what you get when you put a bunch of EWBers in one place.

The setting was a tro-tro ride – more than five hours on poorly-paved roads, squished into a vehicle that would never hold as many people in Canada. I was still recuperating from a night of two-hours of sleep from a few days prior, and yet I boarded the tro with nervous excitement for our trip ahead.

What an amazing five hours! I would turn to my left and have an amazing discussion with Gaelan about her time learning about traditional authority in villages (chieftancy) compared with Government authority (District Assemblies, etc). I listened as she would passionately recount her plans to initiate a museum in her community to acknowledge and celebrate the region’s rich history. Guillaume would pop his head from behind, and along with Ryan would engage in a conversation about the emotional experience of being a JF so far – the integration, the challenges at work, the thoughts in our minds about EWB’s Vision.

I would pause the sweet conversation to nap, lulled by the vibrant buzz of energetic voices, content knowing I was surrounded by an amazing group of friends.

I later awoke and spoke with Binnu, one of EWB’s long-term volunteers. The conversation started about the idea of comfort zones. Did you have to be outside of your “comfort zone” to be in a “learning zone?” Is it possible to still grow and challenge yourself while not necessarily feeling uncomfortable? In what ways was I being challenged already? How did I see myself growing? To what extent should we push ourselves to grow in areas of weakness, and at what stage ought we to focus on the strengths of our personalities and be content with not being 100% in every area? What rich discussion!

We arrived at our destination hungry for lunch, anxious to see elephants, and buzzing with excitement from the energy of the ride up. 

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