Thursday, August 13, 2009

It's always sunny in Obodan

Well, it isn't really, considering that it was wet season so on most days it was somewhat overcast if not rainy. But there's something about Obodan - it's either the bright orange soil or the wide open space or the kids or the enthusiasm with which people greet you ("How are you?" "I'm good-" "Fine! Fine-fine-fine.") - that makes it look like the sun's out. Cheesy much? Maybe you just have to see it for yourself.

In retrospect, we probably could have accomplished everything we needed to do in two weeks or less if we had to. Having three weeks though, we were able to go and collect data for things we hadn't on one particular day, fairly easily since we basically lived within 5 minutes of anything we had to do.

Like in the picture- you can see Danny, Suraj and I in the back by the borehole... We were measuring the flowrate of the water artesianing out of some holes in the borehole- water constantly flows out of it because the borehole is built over an artesian well. Saving this water for use instead of letting it flow to waste is something we'll work on.
And in the front are Nicholas and Ismael, who, like all the kids love to pose for the camera. (Oh, but not just pose- they like to take the camera and take photos too. A good two thirds of my pictures are taken not by me but by the kids)

Living in Obodan for three weeks also gave us a sense of the villagers' lives which would have been difficult had we stayed only briefly or if we hadn't stayed in the village. And as the days went by we learned each others' names and faces and I reached that state where pulling into Obodan after a day out in town felt much like it does when you come home from a trip.

We also had time to meet with many people who are related to EWB Ghana, all of whom will be very important and helpful as we undertake our own project: not only the members of EWB Ghana but also people interested in partnering with them to form a stronger and resourceful organization, people we've worked with in the past, and students from other EWB student chapters.

What next?

CU-EWB Ghana meetings, extensive data analysis, constant discussions, neverending fundraising. Project designs. Project implementation!

Very briefly, through our assessment trip we've identified the following as potential projects:

-Water distribution system
-Waste management system
-another KVIP Latrine
-Rainwater harvesting system

(Erosion control we pretty much ruled out, since it would be quite a big complicated project beyond our scope.)

Ah, Obodan.
I already can't wait to go back.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Home time

Before I can do a end-of-the-trip post, here's a recap on the last few days since the last post.

This past week, we placed seven benchmarks throughout Obodan to use for surveying and then spent two days doing the surveying. The surveying was mainly done by a surveyor though (actually, all of it), who works at Engineer Apatu's (Vice Prez of EWB Ghana national) office. We will now have a much better topographical map than we expected we'd have. Yay!

By then we had completed all the tasks we had come to do for our trip, so we spent our last days visiting the Piece It Together guys at the Nsawam high school and having meetings with people.
We met with Winnie, who will be our new professional advisor taking over from Steve, and talked about the growth of EWB Ghana and how it will be a great help for student chapters coming in to work.

On Saturday, our flight was scheduled to leave at 10:20 AM. We arrived at the airport at 9 to find that Delta wouldn't let us check in because we were late, saying that check-in closed at 8:20. Then they changed their mind and we were halfway through the check-in process when they told us the flight was full and so we got our flight pushed to today.
And we thought we were just adhering to GMT... But seriously, we got delayed 24 hours when we were still an hour and twenty minutes ahead of departure.
I had been excited to go back and sad to leave, but being unable to leave and then not being in Obodan when we had stay was just a strange depressing feeling.

Luckily, we spent the night at Todd's grandmothers right off of Accra where the other guys were spending the weekend. And now we are here at the airport, relieved that we are finally going to board a plane soon...

Photos and another post or two to come as soon as I can use internet for free!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

brief update

The Piece It Together guys (Clay, Danny, Chelsey, Todd) have moved into the teachers cottage in Obodan and are living two doors down from us. They'll be here for a month and you can read about them on

The last few days since the last post has been more play than work :)
I can't remember what days we did what anymore, but Suraj and I have sat by the other borehole for a day, and we've all gone and visited Elmina Castle and the rain forest by Cape Coast, and gone to a funeral (imagine a wedding reception, and you've got the right idea).
We've also played some good frisbee and soccer with the kids. The kids are absolutely awesome.

The weather this weekend has been surprisingly chilly.. you'd think that it's August and it's hot sweaty weather, but it's been cold enough to wear a hoodie (if I had brought one).

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

10:00 GMT = 10:00 Ghana Maybe Time = 1PM Greenwich Mean Time, if I decide to show up

Senses of time are different all around the world.
In Tokyo, everything happens on the dot. Trains run on a schedule and a train 5 minutes late is bad enough that you can be excused from being late to school. Show up to a meeting right on time and you're already late.
In New York, the trains don't seem to run on any schedule, but everything is in a rush.

In Ghana...

Last Thursday (the day after last post) was the first day of Steve's workshop in Sakyikrom. It was scheduled for 2 pm I think... but we waited for a good hour and a half or so before people showed up, and then it turned out half of them were from another village who had showed up to the chief's palace to settle a curse somebody had cast on somebody. The entire workshop was scheduled to run Thurs to Sun so we showed up the next two days, but on both days we spent an hour or two waiting around before around three people showed up and we decided to come back the next day. On Sunday, we finally got a good crowd, with the help of Sammy rounding up some people and the workshop went pretty well with a couple people showing a lot of enthusiasm for follow up. So a four-day workshop finally whittled down to two...

During those days when we weren't sitting waiting wishing for people to show up, Suraj and I, with the help of Sammy, went around to households in Obodan to conduct surveys. We mainly asked them their household demographics, education, water usage, and waste and sanitation practices. Here are some key points we found out

1. people don't keep track of how many people live in their house or their ages... haha
2. many people want another KVIP latrine because the current one is overcrowded
3. people want a new water system in the form of taps in their homes, more boreholes or just simply more vantage points (currently most people get their water from either of two boreholes) (population of Obodan is around 1500)
4. the plastic water sachets that cold clean water is sold in is a problem because it litters the village, breeds mosquitoes and when buried in soil makes it impossible to plant plants
5. malaria is widespread (but also, people tend to call general malaise malaria- that's probably because it's so prevalent)

In total we conducted 35 surveys, and now we have to figure out a way to sort all the info.

On Monday, Suraj and I sat by one of the boreholes for an entire day to observe how much it was used. But by whole day, I really mean before the sun came up and a little before it went down. We got to the borehole around 4:50 AM and left at 6:20 PM. In order to figure out how much water they were taking, we'd pump water into our own 14 liter bucket, and then pour it into their container. Then we'd also ask them how old they were and how many minutes away their house was. We did this alllllll day, and the morning rush (6 to 8) and the evening rush (4 to 6) was pretty hectic. But we also got to know a lot of kids because they take so many trips. They'd come fetch water in the morning before school, then come visit during their midday break, and then come hang out after school. After a while they got the hang of it and started asking water fetchers the questions for us. They also provided all sorts of entertainment... playing cards, running around, listening to our ipods... if every 13 hours of straight sitting were that eventful I would really enjoy plane rides.

Yesterday, we picked up Clay, Danny and Chelsey from the airport- they're here for a summer program they're conducting at a high school in Nsawam.

Today, we walked around Obodan with a surveyor who is going to help us do topographical surveying, to get oriented before we actually start the surveying. Then we walked around and found the little stream that some referred to as a river... and then I played frisbee with a bunch of kids....

and now I have to finish checking my email. At this rate the next post you see will probably be a week from now, ha ha

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"You are welcome." ""

That's how people have been greeting us- shaking hands and telling us we are welcome. The first time somebody said that to me I think was Sammy when he picked us up from the airport. I was confused at first, because I hadn't said thank you in the last second and it reminded me of how my dad says "You're welcome." in a sarcastically passive-aggressive way when he passes me something at the dinner table and I don't say thanks. So when Sammy first said "You're welcome" I assumed there was something I hadn't thought of (apart from being awesome and picking us up, hehe) so I said thank you back.

I realize now that it's just part of the super welcoming habits of Ghanaians- welcoming us and offering to help out all the time. They also have a really cool handshake where you hang on with your thumb and third finger after the shake and then snap.. hard to explain.

Though people are really friendly, we also attract attention everywhere we go. I should mention, for those of us that *love diversity* (you know who you are), that the four of us are a sight you don't see here every day: a black man (sammy), a white man (Steve), an Indian boy (Suraj) and an Asian girl (me) . Despite only Steve being white, kids will call out "Obroni!" ("White person!") as we walk by. We turn around and wave and they flash the biggest smiles and wave back and it's so adorable.

Anyways, we've settled into the teachers' cottage in Obodan and spent a small fortune the last few days on housewares and groceries. It's all good though because we're saving overall, and staying in Obodan makes it a lot easier to work. And we're making friends with the kids. Suraj and I went to the borehole to fetch water last night (no running water, so we have a bin full of water for washing) and befriended Stanley who offered to help us fetch water. He said he fetches water 5 times a day. Five times! And water is heavy! But kids put their buckets of water on their heads as they transport them. I'm going to learn to do that some day. Placing things on your head is so much easier than carrying with your arms. And people all around Ghana carry things on their heads, not just water. Women walking around selling things put everything on a tray on their head! Bread, turkey, fish, I even saw one lady with a crate full of jewelry. A crate!

Back to what we're actually doing...
Two days ago we went into Sakyikrom with Steve for his workshop, but it ended up only being an introduction instead of actually starting. It looked like many people showed up but a lot of them were actually from another town coming in to settle a curse somebody had cast on one of theirs... so it will start up for real tomorrow (thursday).

Yesterday we walked around the village and started plotting landmarks on our GPS. We got the boundaries of the village, the schools, churches, boreholes, and some other buildings. To get to the east boundary we walked up a hill and we passed by corn fields and pineapple farms! Obodan harvests good pineapples and we ate one yesterday, it was delicious.

Today we met with the new municipal chief who we'll be coordinating with from now on for projects since Mr. Brobbey, our district engineer is retiring. Later we're going back and starting household surveys and while we do that we'll be plotting the houses on our GPS.
We'll probably spend 2-3 days doing that (though plans are always changing, so I can't be too sure).

Eventually we'll also do:
-topographical surveying
-water quality testing
-sitting by the boreholes all day to record usage
-soil assessment
-checking up on the KVIP we built (we saw it, but going back and taking notes)

That's all for now. Not really. There's more I'd like to say but there's only so much you're willing to read and so much time I have at an internet cafe!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

days 1, 2, 3 and 4: getting settled

Hello from Ghana!! Suraj, Steve (our professional advisor) and I arrived safely in Ghana on Thursday and have spent the last few days settling in.

Here's a brief breakdown of what we've been up to:

Day 1 (7/16/09)

1. Met Sammy, our Ghana EWB man who's worked with us for a few years now and has been great about showing us around and arranging lodging and transporation and meetings with people and well.. everything!

2. Took a nice nap- I fell asleep and when I woke up I felt like I had slept so much that I thought it was the next day

3. Ate dinner

4. Settled in at Unity Lodge in Sakyikrom.
(our assessment trip is going to be focused on the village of Obodan, which is about 20 minutes away from sakyikrom. steve is conducting a community needs assessment workshop in sakyikrom, which we'll be sitting in for a day or two)

Day 2 (7/17/09)

1. Met the chief of sakyikrom (i'm going to stop capitalizing because the shift key is so stiff.), and steve explained plans for his workshop and decided to start it on tuesday.

2. checked out a house we were thinking of renting, which is in nsawam, the city that sakyikrom and obodan are near. living here would be cheaper than staying at unity lodge

3. went to ghana telecom university college in accra (sammy is the president of the EWB chapter there), met with national EWB Ghana members, accra poly ewb members, a guy from princeton who is getting set up before their implementation team comes, and tom powell, who is starting up an affordable homes company here.

Day 3 (7/18/09)

1. went to the edge of sakyikrom where there is construction going on. (you may know that the chinese gov't is involved in building lots of infrastruture in africa; as part of that they are building a highway that will bypass sakyikrom.) the chief and a bunch of other people were doing a libation and we made just the end of it. they had sacrificed a cow and were taking out the organs and cooking some of the meat...
it was very muddy around there too and my right foot completely sunk into the mud as i was walking. my sneaker got caked with mud.
the land here in ghana is all very clay-ey. it's all orange and quite dusty. (preliminary notes for erosion assessment!)
we also walked to the school in sakyikrom where ewb installed a rainwater harvesting system a few years ago. it was so nice to finally see something in real life what i had seen in pictures millions of times!

2. visited obodan. met with the chief, the queen mother (who is sammy's mom) and the family of the chief who passed away recently. we walked around and saw the KVIP (kumasi ventilated improved pit) latrine that EWB built in 2005! we also saw the two boreholes they use, lots of houses, lots of people, and lots of chickens.
(we see lots of goats and chickens. this morning i awoke to roosters crowing right around 6 AM. steve says they do that every morning- i guess the first two mornings i was too tired to hear them)
we found that we'll be able to stay in obodan instead, at the teachers' bungalow at the school there, for free. this'll be good because we'll cut on transportation cost, lodging cost and we'll cook our own food so food cost too. and living in the community will be a great way to get to know them.

3. went to a mall in accra to shop for things we'll need to live in obodan (gas stove, a mattress, utensils...)

now we're on day 4 and we're just going around accra seeing things. i'm running out of time on this computer and still have to check lots of email so i'll wrap it up for now. maybe next time i post i'll have some pictures.

we'll probably start actual work in a day or two and i can't wait! look out for new posts.
next time i'll try to be more comprehensive too.