Kevin and Spencer

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

(Kevin) Goodbye Machinga

Three months ago, I arrived in Msamati village in Machinga district. At the time, fish and nsima made my stomach question my intentions, ripping apart sugar cane with my teeth was an impossible task, greeting someone in Chichewa felt unfamiliar, riding in a minibus was intimidating, remembering the names of all of the Traditional Authorities and types of water points made my head hurt, and my host family felt like a group a strangers.
Yesterday was my last day in Msamati, and today will be my last day in Malawi. It would be an understatement to say that this was an amazing, mind expanding, and inspiring experience. To all of those who opened their hearts, lives, and homes to me over the past three months, I send my love and thanks.
Sitting in Peter’s room as my host family prayed for my safe departure, I realize that I’ve grown a lot while being here, and have made connections with wonderful human beings.
I realize now that fish and nsima fill me up like no other food can, eating sugar cane is delicious and easy once you get the hang of it, greeting someone in Chichewa really helps build trust and connections, minibus rides are some of my most favorite adventures, the names of T/As are second nature to me now and seeing water points in the field has helped me conceptualize their designs, and my host family are far from strangers – they’re great friends. I’m going to miss this place.
Be well, and very much love.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

(Kevin) Yao man!

Wow. It’s been an interesting last few weeks! Why?

First, next Thursday will be my last day in my village. The thought of leaving these wonderful people breaks my heart into pieces. 3 months isn’t long enough to embrace all of this – it just isn’t.

Second, the reason that next Thursday will be my last day in Liwone is because of the threat of political protests in Malawi on August 17th. I will still be flying back to Canada on August 27th. If you haven’t been following the news, you can check out a great post written by fellow JF Robyn ( Our time in Malawi has been cut short about 2 weeks, as we will all head to Zambia to stay away from any potential violence or incidents. This was a smart choice by EWB, but that doesn’t make it easy. For myself, I’m here to help and learn from Malawi with everything I’ve got. To leave this country during one of it’s most challenging times feels stale, and hurts. I’ll be hoping and thinking good thoughts for this country in their hopes to resolve these issues.

And third, I was privileged with the opportunity to attend a Yao initiation ceremony last Saturday. “Yao” refers to the tribe that dominates the northern part of the southern region of Malawi. The Yao people are majorly Muslim, and this was reflected greatly in the ceremony.

We started off at 7:30am. Jackson and George (my friends), and myself biked through the hills of Balaka district, until we reached our destination 15km away. Compared to my trip to the mountains of Neno, this distance was a piece of cake. As we arrived, Jackson’s family greeted us – mother, father, brothers, sisters, and cousins – the list goes on and on.

The initiation ceremony, known as “Chinamwali” in Chewchewa, signifies the coming of age for girls and boys into adulthood. In different variations of the tradition, this can include circumcision, spiritual cleansing, and other practices. As we waited for the event, Jackson and I sat on a beautifully woven reed mat, in true Malawian style. An hour passed before Jackson pulled me aside, telling me that it’s time to begin.

Everyone stood, and a group of 20 young men joined together to lead the group. These men, skilled in traditional Yao singing and dance, walked us towards the village chief’s house for the celebration of these 6 girls and boys.

The energy took everyone high, and the song took everyone even higher. As we walked, women would proclaim their excitement by making a wonderful noise. Make an “O” with your mouth, shake your tongue from side to side, and scream as loud as you can. Well done!

As we arrived at the chief’s house, the two boys and four girls were blessed with his honor. The two boys, dressed in handsome suits and polished shoes, and the girls, dressed in beautiful gowns, remained silent and solemn – their mouths covered with cloth. Why the quiet? Respect. Why the cloth? To hide their mouths if they get too silly, and start to laugh.  

After the children received the chief’s blessing, the Yao dancers escorted us back to Jackson’s house. What’s next in the ceremony? Time for the kids to cash in! As the Master of Ceremonies addressed the group, they invited friends and family to give Kwacha to the children. As the Yao dancers kept energy high, the group celebrated the coming of age of these young Malawians.

Last, but not least, a beautiful feast! This was the first time that I’ve eaten nsima and undeywo (relish) in a communal way. Two dishes of nsima and a dish of goat was shared between myself, 2 elders, and Jackson. It was fantastic, delicious, and very grounding.

As requested by Jackson, I brought my camera along. Before we made our departure back to Liwonde, I took pictures of Jackson and his wonderful family to document this happy day. Fortunately, a Canadian is travelling from Winnipeg to Malawi in October to work on this AfDB project, so I’ll have a chance to send these pictures back to my dear friend.

Riding home with Jackson over the hot African savannah, I could see from the look on Jackson’s face that he was happy. I hope I looked half as happy as he did.

I’ll leave you with a beautiful thought. A few months ago, I sat in a local restaurant, eating a dish of nsima as I watched an interview with a man famous for his research in ancient wisdom around the world. What he said sticks with me to this day:

Ancient wisdom is beautiful, and ancient wisdom is valuable. Yes, we’re different, but that doesn’t make any of us more beautiful or more valuable. Every culture is expressing their own response to the meaning of life, and that is what’s really important.

Be well, and take care.


Jackson (L) and myself enjoying nsima and Halal goat.

(Spencer) And Now for Something Completely Different


Yo check it, his first name is Spencer, his last name is Bain,
If you mess with him, you’ll be in pain,
He does crazy shit, but he’s not insane,
This summer, you’ll be in Northern Ghana,
My brother, it’s gonna feel like a sauna,
Be sure to take in all the flora and fauna,
Too bad there’s no weed there, it ain’t Havana!
Seize the moment, seize the day,
I’ll be checking your blog every day, seeing what you gotta say!

All credit goes to the incredible Mr. Danny Liang, ladies pick him up quick before someone else snags his talents =)

Cheers to you EWB Guelph!

I cannot wait to see you all in only a few short weeks. Though at the same the sooner I see you all again, the sooner I will never see those people who I have bonded with over the past months again; a weird dichotomy. Still life must move forward and in the end the memories will really matter.

As I said before, what I look forward to most this coming semester is hanging with all the awesome EWBers at Guelph and living it large with Kevin (I hope his new assertive attitude does not get me in trouble! (I am still an organised mess)).

What are you looking forward to most this coming autumn?


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

(Spencer) More Photomoto

 Hello again!

This is a continuation of the photos Baba has been taking these past weeks. You may ask yourself: why are you posting photos that someone else has taken?

There is an additional level of genuineness to the photographs when they are taken by a local. When I take pictures of someone or of different places there is a slightly different reaction from people, in that they know I am taking those photos back to Canada as a sort of prize. When Baba takes photos he gets people in a more natural condition. In addition it is interesting to see what he thinks is a worthwhile photo compared to what I would snap.

It's a party going on; a baby naming ceremony followed by eating and dancing.A full shot of the area with groups of people sitting under the shade and children just noticing the approaching camera.

A common type of small store, selling small provisions such as; sugar, salt, biscuits, soap, cigerettes, batteries, and many other small useful items. All for a few peswa.

Myself getting my butt kicked in a game of wulli. These guys are seriously good at playing, super fast at the actions, knowing all the right moves, it is African chess. When I play the spectators are in great pain, they see the correct move than I make a very bad one and everyine goes "ohhhh"

A serious speaker set-up blasting out music for everyone in the area to hear and know they are celebrating. The children were dancing like professionals just minutes beforehand, I understand why people in Ghana have such rhythm, it is that dancing and grooving starts from birth,

The computer system running the speakers and pumping out the music. It looks very out of place considering the surrounding buildings and lack of modern electronics.

One of Baba's friends out beside his shop. I think he is selling moto parts.

This is one of Baba's cousins, he wanted to pretend he was in the army. A very respectable profession in Ghana.

This is great handiwork. He made a airplane out of used metal scraps. Trucks and cars are common to see made out of scraps, as they are done in school but this is the first I have seen of any other design. My first thought was to build a model of the Starship USS Enterprise....

Smiling children....that one boy in the corner looks a little more excited than the rest.....

....make that very excited...

....Wahooo! This boy is HAPPY!

After a long day at the farm sometimes one needs a little massage.

So this is the reason people are professional wulli players. Starting from early childhood they are playing and learning to kick my butt at every turn.

Alas, time is running down. 2 weeks left in Karaga and less than 3 in Ghana. What can be expected?
  • A final post with pictures Baba has taken
  • A post about value chains
  • In the next few days a bunch of things about Nyengbalo, right after I finish writing them
  • Ending reflections from working in the District Assembly and data systems
  • Something about shea nuts
  • Hopefully some other things as well...

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Hello Friends

Prepare yourselves....
                For a wave.....
                                 Of photos!

All thanks should be directed to my great friend Baba who took all the photos.

Let us commence..

This is my man, Baba, father to us all. We do a fair amount of chilling out together, roaming the streets, and doing all those things people in Ghana do as well as in Canada. When we are feeling adventurous we go to the market and pick up ingredients to do some cooking at his house, hamburgers anyone?
(he took all photos here as well as the subsequent posts)

The inside of Baba's family compound. They family has two compounds, and this one is where all the aged men stay. He has a room here and spends his time here but sleeps at the other compound.

At the volleyball court by the junior high school, this is Baba's preferred sport over football. For all you Penetanguishene volleyball lovers I got something awesome coming your way.

Just outside the compound in Karaga town. 


Scheming and looking handsome.

Baba's mother in the midst of eating some T-Z

Three guys, Baba's brothers, doing some late night school work. All in their senior high school.

A big bowl of rice prepared in the traditional Dagomba manner; rice cooked in shea nut oil with onions. Its pretty darn good if I do say so myself.

Early morning with the streets empty expect for a lone donkey, just like the office I am current sitting in.....I prefer being known as a stallion.

More to come!


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

(Kevin) The Complexities of WP Rehabilitation

This AfDB project is responsible for rehabilitating 250 BH in the district of Machinga. This is huge! But it sounds straight forward, right? Select 250 broken boreholes, and fix them.

At first, I thought it would be straight forward too. So why is it turning out to be so complicated? There are a few things that I’ve experienced during this phase of the project.

1) Defining “rehabilitation”

An ideal “rehabilitation” involves repairing concrete structures (base, washing block for clothes, etc.), changing large parts of the pump, and blowing out the borehole to remove sediment. A borehole that needs all three of these things is an A+ candidate.
But what happens when a borehole needs only a new washing block and a few spare parts? Is that considered a rehabilitation? Or how about a borehole that simply needs a few pump rods and nothing else? During my analysis of the 250 boreholes surveyed, it was found that this is the case for about 25% of boreholes.
Why is this a concern? Rehabilitating these boreholes means that other boreholes that are in greater need will not get rehabilitated. This is a reason for concern.

2) Assessing a borehole’s problem accurately with limited capacity and knowledge

The assessments of these boreholes was done by field workers. While these men have had training around these types of boreholes, they are very inexperienced, and many only have a high school education. Also, a conversation today with someone in the district informed me that some of these field workers are in the job because of connections they have with relatives in the government.
I have seen first hand that several of these field workers cannot make a proper assessment of what is wrong with a borehole. I know many of them have good intentions, but this is really a job that should be given to someone with technical expertise.

3) The quality of assessment is based on financial inputs

Field workers conduct their work based on a system of allowances. These are ‘stipends’ given to workers based on the quantity (and not necessarily quality) of work they conduct. What I found through my experience  is that some assessments were completed based on geographic convenience in order to obtain these allowances. What this means is that field workers would select boreholes that were closest to them, in order to get the job finished quickly. This can greatly affect the equitable and efficient distribution of these repairs.

4) What about community based management (CBM)?

Community based management is the idea that communities should be responsible for the maintenance and well-being of their water point. This includes the financing of spare parts that need to be replaced in the pump.
Going back to my first point. If you replace a few spare parts in a borehole, you can certainly call it rehabilitated in a report, but what message does this send to a community? Does it say that communities should wait for another rehabilitation the next time their water point breaks down. Malawi has experienced a dependency syndrome when it comes to water point maintenance, and needs support to break free from this mentality.

The resolution of this field exercise left me with a thousand questions, a good amount of happiness, and some worries.

The world of water development is complicated. Community financing of spare parts, spare parts networks, equity of water point distribution, capacity at the district government level, communication between projects and communities – they’re all connected with no easy answers.

The bottom line is that 250 boreholes will be rehabilitated. The final report will say this, and it will speak the truth. The reality is that the practice is a far far more complicated than the declaration.

Take care, and much love.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

(Spencer) Insides Out

Hello my friends,

It is a fine morning here in Karaga with a gentle breeze blowing and a calming heat in the air. I just arrived into the District Assembly office complex and sat down in my very comfortable office…jokes…I don’t have an office and not even a desk, I sit on the couch which is like heaven after sitting on wooden benches all other times. It’s a rush to many blog posts before I catch the afternoon lorie into Tamale. I made a silly mistake of writing 4 blog posts concurrently and in doing so didn’t actually finish any of them. Today I shall correct myself (not like Jack Torrance seeks to “correct: his family in the Shining, but in a wholesome sharing way).

What better way than a good ol’ heart, body and mind?


Where is my mind lying? This morning I woke up from a dream muttering to myself “theres not enough time” in regards to what time is left in Karaga. The reality of the approaching end is slowly dawning on me, of course I have always known I was leaving; however as the end  actually comes the sadness of leaving all those who I have come to love and knowing that my placement could use another six months  so much more vivid in feeling.

I am nervous about the sustainability of the database and the future of the data usage in the Assembly, there is much work to do to wrap up all the loose end but little time. At the same time I am excited at the prospects of with a small change in office functioning or decision made; working the District government hopefully means the trickledown effect could be significant or make some impact.

I am super pumped at my village stay this coming weekend, from Thursday until Monday, five days of solid village life and living with the family. It seems to be the perfect time; building great relationships, gaining a deeper understanding of village life, loving life, diving into a hypothesis or two (why are the CLTS latrines used at wells?), and definitely playing games with children.

The summer is an emotional rollercoaster. One day I may be loving my time in Ghana and don’t want to leave, valuing all the small experiences. Than the next feeling like Ghana is the last place I want to be anywhere, wanting to eat cheese, be with my family and far away. Than the next back to feeling as though Ghana is exactly what I need in my life right now, building confidence, building friendships, learning about rural living, and growing greatly. As the summer has moved on those bad days have become less and less but occasionally still do pop up.

At Kate Middleton’s host father put it last year in regards to her leaving, it is as though she is dying because she would very likely never see the family again.  My death in Karaga is soon approaching and I have come to terms with that death least I handle it in a way that is less than satisfactory.


Overall my body feels great and is on the up and up despite the daily mysteries of what my stool will be like(apologizes for the talk of poop but it really is a cause of daily interest, its different every day!). Im getting great sleep that is filled with dreams all night of which are very vivid and no larium needed, talking to myself or Rigel about dream recall if you are interested!

Due to the bike ride to and from Nyegbolo every morning, I am feeling much stronger and more energetic during the day with a huge appetite for teezet and much coco in the morning.

I am unfortunately not Superman like Mr. Man of Steel Kevin Lees, and have been plagued with many ailments. As a preface, none of these illnesses have affected my happiness in a very large way at all; I took a very positive outlook in every situation as I did not want to poison my mind with negative thoughts. Alas, heres a recap; respiratory tract infection during the third week in Karaga, stomach parasite for the first 7 weeks, and countless cases of diarrhea. Though again, none have been too serious so perhaps I have been lucky?

PLUS!! I am looking quite fine if I do say so myself. Rocking a very nice tan and my teeth are better than ever thanks to the wonders of chewing sticks. My long hair is a huge hit, the ladies are super jealous of it and men find it very interesting.


When I think of the coming school year I think of two things and not one of which is school itself. The first is living with Kevin in our secret forest retreat and the second is chilling out with all you awesome ewb-in Guelphites.  Whenever I think of the either of these two things a super wide smile spreads across my face; in fact one has just spread. “you are laughing” says Barraca has just said to me, “just thinking of very happy times” I reply, she smiles as well.

My host family are awesome, I am drawn to return to them every night and it feels great to do so. The ladies are wonderful and so kind. I am awed by their personal strength; they work from sunup to sunset and always have a joyful attitude about them. The children are hilarious and I am hilarious to them.  There is a feeling of being accepted amongst the family that warms my heart quite deeply. When I spend a night away from the them and the village I am genuinely quite sad, tonight I am spending the night in Tamale which is the last place I want to be but necessary from a living and monetary standpoint. It comes down to what I was muttering in my sleep, “there is not enough time” and I want to spend as much time with them as possible before my departure. They get me excited for when that departure does eventually come to see my own family once again, my mother needs a hug I am sure =)

The entire community of people in Karaga, I don’t exactly know how to articulate the feeling exactly but I will try. This town has become so much more than just a town, it is; where I do all my living, where I have had incredible experiences, pushing my boundaries greatly, meeting wonderful friends, learning things I never expected to learn, a community where everyone knows each other including me, full of playful children, the great kingdom of Dagbon, the same yet new and different every day, the list goes on… The people of Karaga are part of me and I a part of those in Karaga. To bike down the main street and recognize most of the faces is such a comforting feeling, reminds me of the community at Guelph and all the other people I love.

There is a man who needs a shout out. He doesn’t read the blog and likely doesn’t even know of me being in Ghana but has been positive force. Mr. Kyle May and your feedback loop of happiness. If you ever read this message you’ll know what’s up!

I suppose the thing about the heart is that it has a ton of love to give and as I write where my heart is at the moment I realize that my heart is with everyone who I care for. It is tangential as I think about my host family I branch to my family in Canada than to my extended family and thinking of the wonderful times shared and each of those thoughts spreads to another than another and another and they connect with other groups of people I love such as my friends back in Waterloo and those experiences which mirror ones in Guelph and oh my oh my there is lots of love……

I can’t do everyone justice but keep in my mind, my name is Suhuyini and you are in one heart.


(Spencer) Suhuyini Revealed

Hello Friends!

Over the past months you may have noticed that instead of signing off as Spencer, I have been using the name Suhuyini.  What is up with that name?


Just as all names have a meaning a so does this one, and in the culture of the Dagomba people names are a very important part of who you are. Not just being a title that you go by but with a deeper meaning that truly describes who you are. Children are given names are a celebration a week after their birth by religious leaders in the community, complete with the slaughter of a sheep and shaving of the head to make it official. Being an adult did not require a sheep to be slaughtered or my hair to be shaved (dodged a bullet there).

When I first arrived in Karaga I would introduce myself as Spenca (the “r” is not pronounced) but every time I would be asked what my Dagomba name was and I was without one. Two weeks in I was walking with Shurazo out in the fields and we were talking about names, I mentioned I didn’t have a Dagomba name. He looked at me for a few moments, thought to himself, and said, “I know what your name is, you should be called Suhuyini”. I was very greatful to have been given such a beautiful name,  ”What does it mean?” I asked him.

Suhuyini means one heart. That is who I am. It means that I do not hold evil thoughts in my heart for any person. It means that I am open and share my feelings.  It means that I am full of love.

This is who I am in Karaga, I am known to some people as Spenca but for the vast majority of people I am only known as Suhuyini . If I introduce myself as Spenca they ask for my Dagomba name and when I say Suhuyini they smile brightly and forgot any of that Spenca nonsense. It’s a name I really do love, sexy sounding as it rolls off the tongue and therapeutic when I think about the meaning as people call me by it. The feeling to have gone by one name all your life than to be given another is something quite unique, akin to a nickname but one that is not a nickname at all but my true name to those who know me by it.

During my day to day life I strive to live up to being “One Heart”, at times it is easy and at times it can be very hard. On the hard times; taking the time to greet even those who cause me frustrations, not letting in to anger even in the face of lost money, and understanding the realities of the District Assembly officers even when they don’t do at all what I have asked. Today I was called a true northerner as I value greeting people so much, this was a large compliment that definitely had my one heart glowing.

The man the mystery revealed =)

One heart


PS!! An awesome video of serious dance moves at the Ghana independence day celebrations!

Friday, July 15, 2011

(Kevin) Finding Neno

Last weekend, I visited the parents of my neighbor (Peter) in the mountains of Neno district. We hoped on a minibus at 7am in Liwonde, and started our journey. 2 hours later, we arrived at our stop, where we waited for a truck, an SUV, or anything that would take us the last 2 hours of the trip. This wait lasted 6 hours. Finally, we hoped on the back of an Irish potato truck, and drove 2 hours to Neno trading centre. From there, we walked 2 hours, through the dark, with Peter’s baby daughter, a pail of goods, and two backpacks. 

As I’m sure you can see from our 12 hour journey for such a short distance – transportation in Neno is not good. We finally arrived at the house at 7pm, and I realized the pay off of the journey. The property is located on the top of mountain, and consists of 6 living houses, 3 cooking houses, and caral for pigs and goats, and many acres of land. I can truthfully say that this is the most beautiful place that I’ve been to in Malawi. If I had the opportunity to spend years here, I would jump on it. 

The family was very welcoming – and the weekend was spent laughing, sharing stories, taking walks, and eating great food. With the exception of cane sugar and tea (both from Malawi), everything eaten at the house is grown on the property. Over the course of my two days there, I ate maize, lemons, hot peppers, oranges, beans, chicken, sugar cane, tomatoes, and cassava. Absolutely delicious. 

I also spent one morning learning about charcoal production. Trees are cut down, buried in sand, burned, and bagged up for sale in villages and cities across Malawi. Charcoal (along with wood burning) are the main sources of fuel for cooking here. While it can provide heat and bring in revenue, it has it’s drawbacks. As my friend Gift describes, cutting down trees for charcoal “multiplies poverty”. During rainy season, a lack of trees can compromise water quality and increase the risk of flooding. What other option is there? Everyone needs to eat.
On Sunday, we packed our bags, said our goodbyes, and walked 1.5 hours to the trading center to catch some sort of transportation. We waited, and waited, and waited… and waited. Nothing came. So we turned around, and walked 1.5 hours back to the house. 

As I woke up Monday, I took in the beauty of my surroundings as I watched the sunrise over the mountains. This would be my last day in Neno. Again, we said our goodbyes, walked 1.5 hours to the trading center, and an additional 2.5 hours to the city. It was here that we finally caught a ride in the back of an ambulance with 15 other people. After a 30 minute ride down a mountain road, we headed back to Liwonde on a minibus with ease.

Peter’s parents and their neighbors have amazing land, and the crop yields are plentiful, but because of poor roads and transportation systems they have heavy difficulties turning a profit on what they grow. It reminds me of something an extension worker preached to me a few weeks ago – the idea that Malawians get “used to poverty”. What does this phrase mean? In this case, do people get used to poor transportation? How adaptive can you be until transportation becomes too overwhelming and begins threatening challenges? 

Be well, much love. 


Friday, July 8, 2011

(Spencer) Smiles All About

 Hello friend on this fine friday!

Today I would like to share some of the smiling faces of Ghana, and make no mistake even if the picture is solemn they are smiling on the inside. Its very common to become quite straight faced when your picture is being taken as photos are serious business.

This man insists that I stole his name, Suhuyini, what is with that name anyway? Tune in Monday to find out, along with a summary of the summer among other fun.

Baba preparing some cow skin for the market. The raw skins are put on top of a fire and charred, than the burnt bits are scrapped off. After the skins are hydrated in oil and chopped. I'll be honest, I am not at all of a fan of eating cow skin, it tastes like...well like skin.

Baby Sulu, looking questioningly into my eyes "What on earth is this white boy doing?" Thankful the meaning of his name is patients.

Question: Why is this name so happy?

Don't fret, this boy doesn't smoke. He is fetching the previous mans smokes for him (question answered), and thought he would be the epitome of cool in the photo.

A seriously imposing man, the District Chief Executives son, glaring me down but with smiles in his heart....just as he was smiling moments before and after.

This man is a definite character he always requests a photo and sells me honey straight from the bush hives. His friend in the back is in the process of leaping from the camera frame to avoid a photo, despite this mans excitement. 

Yours truly Spencer Suhuyini, carrying Sulu on my back in the traditional fashion. The ladies didn't think I would be able to do it, and they were half right; my lack of breasts presented a unique challenge of wear the wrapping would hold on me.

An expert tire roller.

Those eyes say it all.

People are the only ones with smiles, dogs need love too!! In his favourite spot, right behind his ears =)

Have a great weekend everyone
I hope to see you all and your smiling faces soon..but not too soon there is still much work to be done here. 

Be well and without ailment

Thursday, July 7, 2011

(Kevin) Went to a place, where no cars go.

This week was big! Besides celebrating both Malawian and Canadian independence, I spent 3 days with extension workers, and one big day in the field interviewing communities about their new borehole.

A one-day field visit?! What’s the point of that?

First off, it turns out that 13 litres of fuel and oil (5500MK ~ $35) buys you only one day on a motorcycle in the most remote area of the district (especially when the roads are poorly maintained, and communities are far apart). Ideally, I would have liked to visit the 8 communities that I planned for, but that 13 liters only took me to 4 of them. Was it worth it? Definitely, and here’s why:

1) I was able to continue my relationship building with the extension worker:
Extension workers are people with access to many conversations and a lot of information. By spending 3 days with him, bouncing ideas off of him, and showing him the purpose of my research, I can sense that he’s more comfortable sharing with me. This is great! And exactly what I need – both to feel more human here, and to get a more holistic perspective of the situation on the ground.  

2) II’m able to further understand who puts boreholes where, and how they make those decisions:
I met with the Traditional Authority – a very powerful man who has a lot of decision making power in his area of the district. He explained to me the procedure for boreholes allocations when new projects come to his area. Which communities gets them? What criteria is used to select certain communities over other communities?
The theoretical procedure is great to understand – but is it actually followed step by step? Most likely – the answer is no. Biases exist, and no system is perfect. The challenge is finding the disconnections and loose connections between procedure and practice. Admitting such things makes people in power vulnerable, making this information tough to come by.

3) I was able to create 4 case studies around water access in Ngokwe:
Of the four communities I visited, I heard some really interesting things from communities - particularly around their ability to pay for their new borehole from the African Development Bank*.
*The project requires that communities raise 15000MK (~$100) before they receive their new borehole.*
Some things worth mentioning:

1) One community was dropped from the list to get a new borehole because they weren’t able to raise the funds. Why? The 6 community members I interviewed told me it was because one of the village headman insisted the location for the new borehole be in his compound. The issue was never resolved, community members refused to pay, and they lost their chance for a new borehole.

2) Almost all communities I interviewed reported that low tobacco sales have really inhibited their ability to raise the 15000MK. One conversation informed me that Canadian influence to reduce smoking rates in Malawi has been a big contributing factor. Whoa..

3) A campaigning Member of Parliament provided boreholes and spare parts for 2 of the 4 communities I met. It has been documented by many people that such a practice undermines communities based management, and discourages communities from taking ownership and responsibility for water point maintenance.

4) The ADB database indicates that one community has 0 BHs. When I went to visit that community, it turns out that they actually have 3. Where did this number come from? Was this a miscommunication, or an intentional error?  
Right now, I have the advantageous tools of time and freedom to visit the field and do verifications for my research here. But of course, my information is not 100% accurate, and this WAS only 4 communities, so my glimpse of the picture is small.

The consultant would never have the time or resources to do verification in every community. A lot of trust is put into people to be honest during this project. The district, Traditional Authories, extension workers, communities – half truths or biases anywhere along this chain can have huge impacts on the ground for Malawians.

The water point database used for this project can tell a million stories. How many will I get to hear before I leave?

Much love, and be well.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

(Spencer) Nyegbolo

(Continued from the decision)

Having made the tough decision to move to a new family, this the experiences from the first night in the village along with a few notes added these weeks after the delay in posting.


Nyegbolo is 4km from Karaga town and it takes between 30-40min to bike to the village. The bike ride is gorgeous and worth every extra minute that it takes, time will tell if that is still the opinion after 2 months (after taking it for one week I can say it is still wonderful, and I feel much healthier from the exercise). There are 30 households in the village and population of ~700 people. The very large majority of people are farmers at 93% farming and soon to include myself.

Immediately the feel of the village is vastly different from that of Karaga. No shops, no stores, no food venders, pump action borehole instead of mechanized, healthier animals, not packed with people, all traditional mud-hut compound housing, and beautiful open fields lined with Baobab trees all around. The language spoken is Dagbani as the village is also of the Dagomba tribe. There are very few people in the village who can understand any English at all, which is fitting considering it is I who am a visitor in their homeland.

My new host family is 28 people strong, with 12 children under the age of 12. All the compounds in the village have a name so that people can identify where you are from (it is the same in all of Dagbon, the land of the Dagombas). The name my host families compound is named Ca-Chara I Yeena which means that when there is trouble in the village this house will go and sort out the issue between the two parties, the village police. Think of a compound as a collection of one room mud-huts in a general circle shape connected by walls.

First Night

In thanks of my arrival I presented the old man of the house with cola nuts, a Dagomba tradition when meeting an elder. Next, I was taken to the chief of the village to be formally introduced and welcomed into the community; he was presented with very large cola nuts. In honour of my arrival they presented me with a delicious dinner of T-Z and baby pigeon, freshly slaughtered on my arrival. The most interesting meat I have ever eaten, especially after seeing the bird trash about after its head was removed. The first time I think that I have ever seen an animal slaughtered and prepared, it is remarkable how removed we are from the food system in Canada. The Ghanaians I have talked too cannot quite understand the concept of mass production and the sale of meat in Canada; there is nothing Karaga district beside street venders selling fried goat to make any comparison. After stuffing myself I discovered the chief had sent a meal of T-Z to me as a welcome, the children were very happy for the food, it was impossible to eat that much T-Z.

The evening was sent talking with Mohammed who is the brother of my host father, and the only English speaking man in the village. While he spoke my eyes drifted to the star speckled sky free from any light pollution and back down to the traditional compound, everything was in accord.

The Split Summer

This change in living situation presents a shift in community life in many ways. No longer will evenings be spent roaming the paths and streets of Karaga meeting people and experiencing life in a developing town. Instead spent with the host family engaging in what they do in the evening, this includes going to bed for 9pm and getting up for 5:30am.

From my short time so far in the village what is jarring is the lack of the option to use services which have always been taken for granted. They simply aren’t an option as they don’t exist in the village.
  • No running water; this was quite true in Karaga town as well but in the village the woman walk quite a distance to the borehole, there is an added guilt of taking a bucket shower as it will mean half a trip to the borehole
  • No electricity; perhaps I was spoiled at the DCE’s house…but not having the option to turn on a light, plug something in, or do anything electric is an adjustment. The village is without any mechanized devices or electric work multipliers. Everything is done by hand or with well-designed tools. Battery operated devices such as flashlights and radios are common.
  •  No food venders; don’t enjoy T-Z? Tough love. There are no other options in the community as there was in Karaga town. Put a smile on and eat what is available or don’t eat at all.
  • Sanitation; I’m quite sure the situation in the village is better than Karaga due to the smaller population however there is only one latrine in the village at the small. The very large majority of the village is going “free range”, when the community led total sanitation team arrives in Karaga this month I will keep tabs.
  • Lack of employment; in Karaga there were no jobs available but in the villages there are simply no jobs. Which is why nearly everyone is a farmer but don’t ever underestimate the farmers, they are very intelligent in their field of mastery.

It is an exciting change that hopefully will bring about greater sense of challenges that exist in village life.

Lots of Love

(Spencer) Big Changes

Hello friends!

Yesterday marked the most difficult day so far this summer.  (Opps! actually 2 weeks ago yesterday, sorry friends forgive me I beg)

After careful consideration I came to a decision to move to a new location within the district for the remainder of the summer. For the past month I had been living with the family of the District Chief Executive in the heart of Karaga town (the DCE is like mayor in Canada but more powerful).  The family and compound where I was staying were fantastic, they treated me great and many laughs were shared together. However something had hung in my mind throughout the duration of my stay; this family was quite well off and lived in Karaga town. This presented a barrier between being able to understand rural poverty at a ground level point.

I have split the post into two parts one going through the decision and the other initial village life.

How the Decision Was Made

An important part of the summer learning’s for both; myself and for what I can bring back to Canada for you Guelph EWB, is the realities of rural poverty. I was certainly learning a lot when staying with this family but it was a stunted learning. Being at the ground level with Dorothy is different when you are living with those most vulnerable instead of seeing it through a window. Learning is going to happen in country that is different from your own regardless but in this case there was the opportunity to push those learning goals into overdrive.

This was where the difficulty came; do I continue living at my current location in Karaga and learn as much as I can? Or. Move somewhere much more rural and experience it first hand? However these were not the only issues to consider. How would my family be perceived by the community after the white person had left them? Was there as much to learn in Karaga as there was in a rural setting, a different set of learning but equally valid? How would the family react to me packing up my bags after a month with them? How will I cope with an upheaval half way through? How will this affect my personal happiness which in term affects the quality of my work? My apprehension was very large about the move.

However despite all the apprehension and all the parts of me that wanted to stay at the DCE’s family home; there was an interesting mental reality going on that knew the entire time I was going to move. In fact I think I knew from the first night I slept in the room they had provided. It was a very nice room (read: very nice), concrete walls, comfortable couches and chairs, lights and power, even a television; a westernized living room by all accounts. It was that first night that I thought before sleep swept over, that I was currently staying in the nicest room in all of Karaga. Whether that thought was true or not, it didn’t matter; all I knew was that the majority of Ghanaians did not live like that.

It was that simple thought the first night that stuck with me despite my best attempts to rationalize the situation and be happy with the opportunity presented. For a while I was resolute in staying at the house, to honour the DCE and push my learning about Ghana in a town-type setting. Indeed happiness was rampant within me and I was learning tons about life in Karaga. There were many conflicting feelings about moving out of the family’s house. Following a conversation with Cat and one with Binnu (my couch), perspectives were challenged and I decided to find a rural location.

My friend in Karaga, Shurazo, set me up with his best friend in the village of Nyegbolo. Last night I moved out my host family’s house with the help of my great friend Baba. Baba is awesome; he is 24 years old just having graduated senior high school and speaks English like a king. We share many laughs including watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail together, which he thought was the funniest movie ever…”they keep saying Nee, Nee hahahaa”. He helped explain to the family the reasons for my leaving and that it was nothing they did but a duty to myself and other to experience and learn as much as possible about life in Ghana. They were very understanding but doubtful I would be able to take life in the village (a common sentiment amongst people who know I am now living there). After many parting good-byes we departed.

I have something to admit. I was reluctant to post directly about the family I was staying with previous for the very reason that I was thinking about finding another location that was more rural. In fact the last week with them I was quite uneasy for I needed to tell District Chief Executive (it is his family’s home I am staying) before I told the family I was moving out but he out of the office all week, and in turn I couldn’t tell the family. It ate me up on the inside know I was leaving but couldn’t vocalize it without offending the most powerful man in Karaga.

In the end the move had to be made after phoning the District Chief Executive and briefly explaining the situation to him. This was not the preferred method of interaction to tell the DCE about the move but with mid-placement retreat looming there was not time to dilly.


(Continued in next Post)