Neuqua Valley graduate Jeff Bart chronicles his journey through Ghana with the Peace Corps on his blog The Obroni Files, republished with permission here. Bart graduated from Purdue University before beginning his service as a health, water and sanitation volunteer on Feb. 4, 2013.
What we’re doing
So to start, Peace Corps Ghana has three sectors: health, education and agriculture. Our group of 22 is training in the health mission. We’re all health volunteers and upon completing our 10 weeks of training (we now have 8 weeks remaining), will serve in different parts of Ghana working on malaria prevention, nutrition and maternal health education, HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention and water, sanitation and hygiene (WATSAN) projects. Depending on where we’re placed, each volunteer will take particular focus on one of these projects, but can still work in other areas if needed.
We spent our first five days at Valley View University, which is just north of the capital, Accra. There we learned about the different projects we’ll be doing and basic survival skills, like bathing with a bucket, how to hand wash clothes and how to ride a tro tro – which is something like a taxi, except it’s much cheaper, lots of people travel on one, and they usually have set routes. They’re like really beat up minivans with four rows of seats. And goats and stuff can ride on them too. We also got a crash course on Twi, the language spoken throughout most of southern Ghana, including the village we’re in now, called Masse, which is about two hours north of Accra.
Through our training we’ll be living here in Masse with host families all around the town. My family is a complicated one. I live in a compound with about 10 other people and kids. It’s not a house like we know houses, but a rectangular building with a courtyard in the middle with a well. I have a room and then there’s a public kitchen, “shower” and toilet, but I think I’m the only one that uses the toilet inside. I’m still putting together the pieces of who’s related to who and who’s just visiting or renting. Partly because everyone is a “sister”, a “brother” and a “mother”, but also because it’s hard to tell who even sleeps here because there’s always people coming and going. And it seems like everyone has a kid, even if they’re my age or younger. I just found out that somebody who lives in my compound has a kid living at another volunteer’s house, so families are all over the place.
They seem to push me towards the English speakers that live here, who I’ve gotten to know. A couple of them understand English very well and are almost fluent, but you have to speak slowly and try to speak Ghanaian-English. A lot is lost and mixed up in communication, so I’m sure even the good speakers don’t get everything I say. Their accents are very heavy and much harder to understand than something like Irish or Scottish English, but it doesn’t take long to adjust to. Most people in town know at least the basics of English, but English is a second language everywhere we’ve been so far. Some people know a third language if they’ve lived someplace else in the country because the languages vary from region to region or tribe to tribe.
As for the food, my “sister” makes just about everything — breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’ll try to learn more about what I’m eating and dedicate a post to it. For now I’ll say it’s very different, and I almost never “eat all.” It’s basically the starch diet: rice, yams and plantains that come with a stew. My favorite right now is Indomie noodles which is basically ramen. It’s the closest thing to pasta. They’ll say this is the “obroni” diet because these aren’t the Ghana staple dishes like fufu and banku. They insist on slowly introducing these to my “baby stomach.”
Obroni, by the way, is the general word for white person. It’s not offensive, but just how they address you. I think most of the non-white volunteers get called obroni too.
The obronis go to school Monday through Saturday for training from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. We have about six hours of language and two hours of technical training each day for the next month or so. Language sessions aren’t as bad as it sounds. Our teacher is sometimes on Ghana time and we spend most of class off-topic, but it’s still somewhat considered learning our objectives.
I was assigned to learn Dagbani, which is a language spoken in a section of the Northern Region near the city of Tamale. The class is interesting — my group has it near one of the instructor’s houses either under a palm tree or on somebody’s front porch. Our group also has a resource person who speaks Dagbani in a nearby town, so we meet him sometimes to have a different perspective. We have to be proficient through something like a level two in a few weeks. Dagbani is challenging and a little strange, but do-able. I may come home with an accent.
Ghana is a country in west Africa and is close to the center of the globe. The prime meridian runs directly through the country and meets the equator a few hundred miles south in the ocean. Perhaps the first things you’ll notice after getting off of the plane is that there’s no jetway and how hot it is.
Right now is the dry season, or harmatta, which describes the northerly winds blowing in from the Sahara. I’m not really sure how to identify harmatta winds though because it’s not ever windy. In the north, where I’ll be serving after training, the winds sometimes carry dust from the desert and drop it all over the place, even in your home.
We’re training in a small town called Masse, which is close to the capital of the Eastern Region, Koforidua. Though it’s hot all the time, the highs are usually in the low to mid 90s and the rainy season is a few degrees cooler, but more humid than it is now. It’s actually very hazy and we’ve had a few foggy mornings. The few rains we’ve had so far are nice because they always occur in the afternoon, and the rest of the day is cool into the night. And when it rains, it rains really hard but not for too long.
Yes, there are elephants here, but not where we are. Unfortunately, all the elephants and animals like that are in parks or nature preserves. One of them is Mole National Park in the Northern Region, which I won’t be too far from after training! Around Masse there are chickens, goats, dogs, cats, sheep, turkey and a lot of lizards. The snakes are out in the bush and sometimes come near the farms around town, but not in town. I think people kill all the snakes they see.
There are two rooster crows in the morning: one around 5 a.m. at the crack of dawn and the other around 6 a.m., when the sun starts to rise. You can hear a chorus of roosters all around going off when it’s time to wake up, but thankfully it’s not too loud in my compound.