Thursday, August 09, 2007


Last update I believe I talked about a vacation that I went on and left with saying that I would have a crazy hiking story in my next blog. Well, I guess I will tell it now.

I was at my girlfriend’s site, which is located at the point where the Lower Volta/Greater Accra/Eastern Regions meet. There is a mountain there called Mt. Krobo that I have always wanted to climb since I saw it. Kirstin had climbed it a few weeks earlier and really enjoyed it other than having to go through some thick grass. So we had a free day and decided to go out there and try and make it up the mountain. We take a taxi close to the mountain and then walk the rest of the way. We ended up on the complete opposite side that Kirstin had climbed previously and we were thinking of walking around to that side but it was a long walk so we decided to test our luck with the side that we were on. We should have known better because this side was made up of numerous boulders and rock faces that at the time made us think it would be a more exciting hike-it was and a little too exciting. Our climb began going over very large rocks and then around the cliff faces if we had to. We were having a blast climbing and every once in awhile we would even go down into a cave and then climb out to progress up the mountain. As we get around the middle of the mountain we start getting into the elephant grass but keep trekking through it (elephant grass is about 10-12 feet tall and supper thick so when you are in it you can’t really see anything). At about the same point we we’re running into larger rock faces and cliffs that we had to go around walking through this thick grass. After about an hour an a half we make it to about the top, walking around on the rocks we find a good place to have lunch. The plan was to have lunch and then take the journey back down the mountain finishing in another hour or so. Well, what was expected to be just a 3 hour hike total turned into over 8 hours.

When we were finished with lunch we tried to find where we had come up and couldn’t find it. We went down some other ways which made us have to walk down beside cliff faces and through elephant grass where we couldn’t see anything. With each effort we would keep on getting lost or stuck looking down a cliff and not being able to get down, then we’d go back up find a different spot try and go down and get lost again. After a couple hours we were panicking a little bit when were in the middle of a field elephant grass and beside a cliff face. Kirstin yells “JASON…. LOOK” I turn around and see her looking at the ground, following her eyes I see a snake skin that by the looks of it had been shed within the last two days. It was it least nine feet long and very wide.

….So now we are lost, cant see where we are going, and feel like a giant snake is hunting us-watching us while hiding in the thick bush. We decided to just walk straight up the mountain and with the idea that we would walk around the mountain to the side where Kirstin had gone down the first time. After trying to this we realized we would have to go back down through more elephant grass and by more cliffs. We then proceeded up the mountain and realized it is a double peak with a big valley in the middle…great..the grass was much shorter and there were no cliffs so we just keep walking. Now it seems there is somewhat of a path and the grass is about knee to waist level. We just keep going and going-at this point I really thought we were going to be sleeping on the mountain. After walking for hours and hours we finally find a road and about an hour later reach the roadside, as it is getting dark. Once we were at the roadside we had about a two-mile walk and then we were able to catch a tro back to her village. I cannot remember a time, even hiking in the backcountry snowboarding or sky-diving, where I have been that scared.

On another topic I recently I received a letter from my mother’s fried Lyn who had some questions about Ghana. (Thank you for the letter as well as the mosquito repellent you sent a while back.) The questions were about access to schooling, the existence of a government grant that allows all qualified Ghanaians to attend University for free, and whether Americans and ex-pats make a positive contribution to society. Before I answer these questions let me start by saying that as a volunteer working with the local government I can say that Ghana’s government is extremely corrupt. For example in April we received our first storm that tore the roofs off many of the schools in my area as well as many houses. It is now August and the roofs still are not repaired, meanwhile Ghana Educational Service gave new motorcycles to their workers and the government gave all of the District Chief Executives brand new vehicles (to their already one year old vehicles). There is a common perception among the upper class or educated class that once they get the education and are doing well for themselves that they are somehow above the people who are in the village or the less educated, this is a perception that is ever apparent in the government and prevents Ghana from developing as much as it should be. Most people are not this way but it is common enough to be very frustrating working here. A lot of people talk about how they will make a difference and promise to do so many things, but in actuality they do very little. As far as access to schools, most people have access to basic education although they may have to walk several miles to get to school. The government scholarship program for qualified students to attend University probably doesn’t exist, it least I have not heard of it. With ex-pats there are some who are here for profit or other motives but I would say a majority are here trying to make a difference and develop the country. All of the best-run businesses and NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) have been started and are overseen by ex-pats (foreigners).

I do not mean to be overly negative about Ghana; it is a great place with a lot of opportunity. The District Assembly that I am stationed is also probably one of the better run local governments as well. I have really enjoyed my time here, but there are definitely frustration some of those that I wrote in the last paragraph. There are also a lot of people who do a lot and do work to make a difference. For example the church that I attend occasionally has a well digging project and have put over 90 wells across the District giving people better access to water. The people are also very hospitable and generous. If there are any more questions feel free to send me an email.



Saturday, June 23, 2007

long overdue-sorry

Sorry for the long periods between my updates. It is not easy to get out of my site and use internet and when I do I usually only have enough time to reply and send emails. Many people have asked questions about what the culture and daily life is like here so I will try and describe the life here. I am likely to forget many things since I have grown accustomed to the life here and the things that may have struck me as odd at first have become normal to me now. Although I may forget some things I also have a better sense of the culture now that I am in my ninth month of being in Ghana.

In the rural areas it is predominately farming communities and right now we are getting into the farming season. People have been plowing their fields by hand and now after the last rain many people are starting to sow. I am also going to have a garden, but am taking a little while to get my field plowed. There is also a lot of livestock, especially up north where I am at. At any given time of day I can open my front door and see itleast thirty animals-goats, sheep, cows, etc. Often when I am riding to town, which from my house is about two miles, I see several people riding bicycles with three or so goats tied to the back of their bike and maybe carrying chickens in one hand also. I have also grown accustomed to riding my bike with one hand on the handle bars and the other holding two chickens, but I have bought a woven basket and now I put them in their and tie it to the back of my bicyle.

The food was probably the hardest for me to get used to. It is hard to describe since it is unlike anything that I have eaten back home. During training I probably lost about ten or more pounds due to the time that it took me to get used to the food. Since I have been at site I have gained it all back-I think-it is hard to picture what I looked like even when I look at pictures. There was also about a three week period where I got sick at site from eating cow meat from the butcher and lost about 10 pounds. The butcher is someone who kills a cow each morning outside and then chops it up based on how much you want. I think I got sick due to the meat being outside in the heat all day. As far as groceries I can usually get the necessities in town and on market days.

The house that I live in is more of a modern style Ghanaian house but the houses here in the Upper East part of Ghana are predominately mud huts that are built in a round compound with several mud huts built inside. When you go into a compound like this it can be hard to find your way around because it can be like a maze walking through it. My house is pretty nice with running water and electricity about half the time, the only downside is that the roof leaks pretty bad-so I’m trying to get that fixed.

I buy most everything I need at the market which is held every three days at the market square. The vegetables, food, and other goods are either laid out on mats on the ground or on tables. This is where I usually speak the local language the most and sometimes you really have to bargain with them to get a good price-especially being white, although it is not as bad as it is in the south.

Where I live many people dress traditionally but often there is a cross between the traditional clothes and modern styles. The traditional clothes are very bright with many colors and various designs. There is also a traditional type of clothe called Kente which is really nice and amazing to watch being made. There are different types of Kente depending on the region that you are in, but the biggest difference is between the Northern style and the Southern. Kente is probably the best traditional good that you could buy here and it is very unique to Ghana.

As far as entertainment there really isn’t much. The kids love football and play all the time, even though their ball is usually completely flat, or one that is home made. As for myself I usually listen to the BBC in the morning and the radio in the evening and read a lot. My neighbor has a television, but Ghanaian television is really hard to watch.

The people are usually really nice here, especially where I’m stationed. They are very hospitable and will go well out of their way to help you. Down south they can be really aggressive and try and rip you off because your white-especially in Kumasi which is probably my least favorite place in Ghana yet.

The poverty can be pretty extreme, although it you are a tourist coming here it could be hard to see. The government is really corrupt and when the aid comes in it usually goes to the big cities or into their pockets with the rural areas getting left out. The corruption is probably one of the, if not the most frustrating things here.

The transportation is pretty sketchy. When traveling I am usually crammed into a small van with about 15-20 other people. Many of the roads here are dirt and are marked by many potholes that will leave you feeling numb. The transportation options are either a taxi, line or drop, a line is one that is shared with other people and is cheaper than a drop. A drop is one that you charter and will take you right to your destination. Then there is a tro tro, this is a small van or bus that is crammed completely full of people, this is my usual choice because it is cheap and you don’t need to buy a ticket in advance. Then there is STC buses, which are similar to a greyhound, comfortable the downside is you have to usually buy your ticket in advance.

If there is anything else that you want to know just send me an e-mail. As far as my projects and what I have been up to I will give you a brief description of each of my projects.

Moringa Tree Project: Moringa is an extremely nutritious tree that grows very well in tropical and dry areas such as Ghana. Little has been known previously about this tree but it has been gaining popularity lately in Africa for it’s nutritional value and how easy it is to grow. I am planting this tree with a nutritional clinic for malnourished children so they can benefit from the nutritional value and when the tree produces pods they can nurse them and then sell the seedlings. I am also planting the tree with two other NGOs in the area.

Sandema Resource Center: The Sandema Resource Center is a computer center that the previous volunteer set up. My invovlment is with business advice and business/strategic planning.

People with Dissabilities Association: The disabled in Ghana are extremely looked down upon. It is considered very shameful for a person to have a disabled child here and traditionally if a parent had a disabled child they were told to either let it die or to confine it to the families compound. The founder of this organization is a very inspirational and amazing person. He was never allowed to leave his families house until he was 24. He has never even any formal schooling, not even primary one. When he was 24 after fighting for his rights in his family finally was allowed to leave and attended a literacy class where he learned to read and write Buli the local language, after that he went to an English literacy class but dropped out when he realized he could learn faster than the classes pace and he tought himself the rest. He then went to a vocational school at the Bolga Rehabilitation Center where he learned leatherware. While he was there he also met the disabled association in Bolga and when he returned to Sandema started the disabled association in the Builsa district.

With this association I do a variety of things. I help give business and organizational advice to members and the association as a whole as well as planning. The primary focus though has been in trying to develop a proposal to build a vocational school on their property. They want to be able to train their members in the district and have a center where they can stay while in the training. Currently they have been sending members to the Bolga Rehabilitation Center which has been very costly with the school fees, food, transportation and lodging expenses. By having a vocational school on their property they could greatly increase their ability to train the disabled in a trade and become self-sufficient.

Disabled Athletes Association: This is a project that I have started with an NGO Presby CBR and the Disabled Assoication. I wanted to teach the disabled in my district, starting with the children, how to play sports. This is something that most people here never thought possible but I want to show them that they have the ability and try and start a team or teams in my area. Last month I traveled down south to Koforidua and met with Emmanuel who has an NGO called Emmanuel’s Orgainization for Disabled Athletes. He is the same Emmanuel who rode around Ghana with one leg (610 kilometers) in 10 days to advocate disabled rights. There was a documentary that you can rent at any video store called Emmanuel’s Gift narrated by Oprah Winfrey about him. He was extremely nice and gave me some good information on my project and will likely be someone I will go to for advice throughout my two years.

Well, in other news I just got over malaria this last week and am now on vacation. I’m going to Cape Coast and Kakum to celebrate my birthday.

I think that is about it--again let me know if there is something in particular you want to know.


Friday, March 02, 2007

Africa Update

Well it has been a while since my last update and there have been many eventful happenings to tell you all about, some of which I will probably forget to write. I don’t know if I wrote about it in my last entry but the Paramount Chief of my district died just before I got to site-he was the oldest chief in all of West Africa-supposedly 140 years old but closer to his eighties I’m guessing. People here often don’t know their exact age since birth certificates are a new concept. Anyways the chief’s burial happened recently, and it was a pretty cool experience. There were probably over a thousand people there and it was definitely a “you’re in Africa” moment. There was one main area where there were speakers who talked about the chief and also many drumming and dancing performances. After the main celebration the crowd dispersed into many drumming circles where people would be drumming and then others would come into the circle and dance-including many old ladies. It was a lot of fun going to it.

A week or two after that I was riding into town and there were police on every corner of the main road with their guns out. I went to the small crowd that was observing and asked what was going on. Well, turns out they were waiting for seven armed robbers that they had been informed about and they ended up catching them as they came to the main part of town. It was a big story and made the news on television-pretty interesting.

In Feburary the Peace Corps Ghana country director was retiring and had a send off party in Accra so I traveled down south for that. I left a little early and traveled down to the Volta to stay for a little while. So the route that I had to take was to go to Bolga then to Tamale then to Kumasi, stay a night in Kumasi and then go to Koforidua then to the Volta. Well as my tro tro (a small van that is packed with 16-20 people) was getting into Tamale the road was blocked by Police, the driver then pulled into a parking lot nearby and everyone got out and seemed to scurry wherever they were going to. A girl asks me where I am going-I say Kumasi-and she grabs me by the hand and says to follow her. …Ok, I didn’t really know what was going on so we went down the main road where many people were lining the streets and Police in riot gear were waiting when some market ladies where yelling at us to get into their market booth. So we had to get into this market booth, into the corner, duck down and hide our back packs…a minute or two later hundreds of people come running through the streets all waving machetes and saws-literally everyone. So at this point I am thinking “holy shit” what is going on, it looked like a scene from Hotel Rwanda. After a while in the middle of the machete carrying crowd some men carried an old man on a pedestal with an umbrella covering him-the chief of the area. So I was hiding out in this market booth for several minutes when the girl said that we should get out of there. We left the booth walked a short distance and some people were yelling at us to get into their booth. Hiding out in another booth-ducking down in a corner as the crowds run by, everyone in the booth is looking at me smiling probably thinking poor white man getting stuck in this, then we all start laughing at what a crazy situation it is. Eventually the crowd dies down and we leave running across the street to get to the Kumasi station get on the bus just waiting for it to fill when people start running into the station with their shirts or bandanas around their mouths because the police shot tear gas into the crowd. Crazy day!!!

Well, eventually got out of the situation and made it to my destination and had an amazing rest of the trip-definitely my best week in Ghana so far. The Volta was really cool and it was nice to see green again after being up in the desert for a while.

By now you are probably thinking that I am not very safe here-but I feel very safe-even in the middle of the scene in Tamale I didn’t really feel anything bad was going to happen to me. In Tamale there has been some chieftaincy disputes and that was the cause of the commotion. Well I am now on my sixth month of being in Ghana-seems crazy. Next week I leave for In Service Training that is held on the coast at Kokrobitey, so I will be on the beach. On the way down I am going to stop in Koforidua again because I saw an NGO actually Emmanuel’s NGO from the documentary “Emmanuel’s Gift” that works with disabled athletes and I am going to try and bring them to my district and start a disabled athletes association here as a side project along with my business activities. So I am looking forward to going there and seeing what happens. I will keep you posted. Anyways got to run but will try and keep you updated.

Friday, January 12, 2007


I am now in my second month of service and am starting to get an idea of some of the projects I will be working on. There are days or weeks where I will be really busy and other times where I will not have much to do. The last couple of weeks have been fairly slow due to my contact that is connecting me with the women’s shea butter groups going out of town for training. So several days ago I was in my office thinking I would just be sitting there reading for a good part of the day when a person that I had met early on when I moved to Sandema came to my office and brought a great opportunity for a potential project that could last throughout my two years. The man is disabled using a wheelchair to go around town and crutches to walk short distances. He has lived a pretty amazing life and has overcome a lot of barriers.

In Ghana traditionally having a disabled child is very much looked down upon in society and the parents either will allow their child to die or treat them with neglect or prevent them from going to school or leaving their compound. These traditional beliefs are slowly going away but they are still prevalent. Such is the case with this man’s life. His parents were very ashamed to have a child who was disabled and because of this did not allow him to leave their house compound. Until he was twenty-four years old he never left his family’s land not even to attend school. To this day he has not even attended primary one. When he was twenty-four his uncle heard his argument and pleaded with his family that he was right that he should be allowed to leave their compound which he was soon able to do. His first step was to go to a literacy program in Buli-the local language. He found that he could learn very quickly and faster than the pace of the class. Following this he went to a vocational school where he learned leatherwear and how to make things such as shoes and other things. Soon after he attended an English speaking and literacy class which he attended for about three months and found again that he learned quickly and dropped from the class to teach him at a much faster pace. Today he is one of the better English speakers that I have found here in Sandema and is also his family’s breadwinner.

In 2001 he started the People with Disabilities Association in the District, which at that time had 7 members. Their mission is to send disabled person’s to vocational training where they can learn a trade to earn a living and become self sufficient. Due to the prejudice placed on people with disabilities many choose to become beggars because no one will hire them. This is something that he and the association wanted to end. Today there are 255 members and they have built a office and a large room that is used for training, meetings and a place members can store goods to sell in market. Due to the barriers traveling across the district his vision is to build a 6 bedroom and two-office structure that members can stay in as they are traveling to vocational training. He has been advocating his cause persistently trying to raise funds and has improved the lives of numerous persons in the district. This past Sunday I attended one of his women’s trade group meetings and it was really inspiring to see how motivated these women are. At the end of the meeting I had to introduce my self which he translated in Buli and then he asked if I had any advice which I gave some encouragement and that I looked forward to working with them in the future and would help them in business advice or any way that I could. After both of these statements they clapped and cheered and said how grateful and thankful they were. It was really made me happy and motivated me to work with this organization and having him stop by on that day was just what I needed on a day when I wasn’t expecting to have much to do. My role will be to possibly help in some of the business training and give advice-and help with some of the fundraising and events that they host. He also left a newsletter called the Disability Tribune which had a page of poems written by people with disabilities one that was written by the Assistant Programme Officer for the Upper West Region Tihiru Baomuah reads:

Who is disabled?
If you failed to see
The potentials in the person
But see only the person’s disability;
Then who is blind?

Who is disabled?
Every one!
If a brother’s cry
For help and justice
Which the listener woefully
Declines to hear
Then who is deaf?

Who is disabled?
All of us
If you can’t
Stand up for the right
Of all people
Then who is physically

Who is disabled?
If you can’t have the
Patience, the tolerance
And the understanding for
Individual differences,
Then who is mentally disabled?

Your attitude;
Towards person with
Disabilities is the greatest disability
Your behavior towards
Persons with disabilities is the

To get an idea about people with disabilities rent the award winning documentary "Emanuell's Gift"

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Bempale-(Happy New Year)

They tried to fly away with their wings flapping along with their throats that were slit with blood dripping on the ground. They were unable to get more than a couple of feet of the ground before their head would slide sideways and they would fall on their side or onto their back. This would go on for about ten minutes before their life was finally drained from the gash in their neck. After the first two Guinea Fowls (similar to a chicken) that we slaughtered and it least the ten minutes fighting for life and trying to fly away with horrible sounds coming from their beaks and one falling into the gutter their time had come to an end and my neighbor says, “oh oh oh, life is precious oh.” That remark capped of the experience and made me laugh for several minutes. That is how I spent my Christmas with receiving three Guinea Fowls, and a Rooster for gifts. We killed the Guinea Fowls the first day and the rooster I had to keep in the house for a couple of days until I had time to slaughter it. It would start crowing around 4am and go for about three hours. It’s death was the best to watch with it trying to fly with all the life that he had then his head would flop back making him do back-flips repeatedly one after another for about five minutes.

On New Years Eve Day I spent over 7 hours in church-Ghanaians spend New Years Eve morning in church then have an evening service and attend a morning service on New Years Day. This day is a huge event and they are all giving thanks that they made it through another year and pray that they will make it through the next year. New Years evening the down town area is packed with people celebrating. I spent the first part of the day going to market which was much larger than usual and a lot of fun then went to the Chief’s Palace-where every year there is an open celebration that has now schedule but always has the churches coming to give a speech and blessing in the morning then all of the different tribes in the district coming to do a drumming and dancing performance for the chief. The chief’s chair was empty however since the chief has recently past away-he was said to be 140 years old but was probably somewhere in the 90s I am guessing. He was the oldest chief in West Africa and was appointed chief by England when they still occupied Ghana.

Well, I am back to work today and later today I will be building a pull-up and dip bar and the friends house that I exercise at. So that should be fun. Thank you for all your e-mails and support it is always appreciated.

Ku Nye Maga (God gives us tomorrow)


Friday, December 22, 2006

Officially a PCV

I am now sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and am almost done with my first month of service. It is nice to be finally done with training and starting to do some actual work. I may be repeating myself from past posts but as far as what I will be involved in with my job I will be working with the Sandema Resource Center helping out with the overall management and planning of the resource center. The SRC is and IT center that the previous volunteer has created (I am the third volunteer at my site). It is set up as a non-profit organization that gives it’s proceeds to the Horizon Children’s Centre which is another organization that gives a home for children that are orphaned or who come from homes that are unable to provide for them. I have spent some of my free time playing with the children at the center and they are all great kids and a lot of fun to be around. I will also be involved in capacity building of local business owners and women’s groups such as a women’s shea butter group, which I am really excited about.

I really enjoy my placement here in the upper east and have already made a lot of friends. The district is very poor with a very high poverty and illiteracy rate, but it is also a very friendly and nice place. For those that know me well you know that I like to exercise often and after work each day I lift with some friends of mine that have a small makeshift gym with weights that are made out of used car parts that are welded together or cement blocks. I also had a local welder make me a set of dumbbells out of used car parts for my house. In my house I also made a pull-up bar-so my training needs are pretty much satisfied.

I have now spend a little over three months in Africa and have really enjoyed my time here. The people are very genuine and will do anything for you and help you out in any way they can. Ghana is also very religious, and the names of many of the stores are hilarious such as “Blood of Christ Beauty Salon” “Joy to the Lord Auto Supplies” and other really crazy names. Christmas season is happening and while it is sad spending it away from home-it is also nice being somewhere where there is a closer relationship to the true meaning of Christmas. People spend much of the time around Christmas in church and gift giving isn’t really part of the season here-(when there is such a high poverty rate where I am at it is kind of hard to buy presents)-but if they are able to give anything they give it to the church or those in need. I remember being at a get together back home in the States when a person had commented with all sincerity that Africa’s problems were a result of the countries sinfulness and their rebellion against God. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and really had to bite my tongue at the time. This belief is so far off base and ridiculous but just shows how hypocritical many Americans and “Christians” can be. The people here are so nice and genuine and are good examples of how Christians really should be.

I hope that you all have a very merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Feel free to e-mail me anytime-I always enjoy reading your mail although my ability to respond may be infrequent. Thanks for all your prayers and support.

Merry Christmas,


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

recent happenings

Hello all, This past week has been spent travelling to my site in the upper east to a place called Sandema where I will be for the next two years. I will be working with the Builsia District Assembly which is similar to a local government that works in development of the community through various social and economic programs and assistance. I will be working in business advising and micro finance as well as a variety of other things that will come my way. I had a great first impression of Sandema and I am very excited to get back and start my work there. The people are great, probably the nicest that I have met in Ghana. My house is pretty ridiculous by Peace Corps Standards. I have two bedrooms, a living and dining room, a kitchen with a storage room, and a shower and flush I am a little spoiled you could say. My two neighbors are the budget officer of the District Assembly and another who works with the National Board of Small Scale Industries. They are bother great and will help me out alot in my two years. I will write more about Sandema next week after I swear in as an official volunteer....done with training and starting work in Sandema.

Other cool news, this past Sunday my friend Kirstin and I went to a monkey sanctuary where you can walk on trails where monkeys are in the wild. It was alot of fun and I got some good pics. That is about all the news I can think of for now, next week is the end of training and the start of my volunteer experience. If you have any questions feel free to e/mail me. Also happy birthday mom, sorry it is late.