"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead

Saturday, June 18, 2011

So things work a little differently here...

Sorry it's been a few days since we updated about the happenings of our project. A lot has been happening here in Patriensa--some good and some not so much. The good news is that our 2nd set of technical advisors, Dr. Wood and Dr. White, arrived...eventually. They had a flight delay which put them into Accra at 3:30 AM. There was a mix up between their hotel driver and our driving service, giving us a few hours of concerned panic, wondering where the heck they were. But, don't fret, they are here and have jumped in fully, adding a fresh pair of eyes and hands to the team. Marty departed this morning after doing an incredible amount for us and the community of Patriensa. We could not have done so much without him.

The other good news is that masons have been working still, and another room and a half have been plastered in the building, everything is complete with last year's well and the children at the Presby Primary School have running water again. The electrical and plumbing is finished in the building besides the final fittings and installations of the lights and fans.

Now for the bad news. Our team has found it extremely difficult to work in the business fashion expected of us by UT and not step on the toes of the Ghanaian workers we have been dealing with. Don't get me wrong, they have all been kind and diligent workers, but in America everything has an upfront price and what you see is what you get; in Ghana everything is negotiation. It is not their custom to let you know the cost prior to finishing the work, but rather bargain it afterwards. Unfortunately, because we have a budget we have to fit in and account for, this makes things complicated. The electricians, plumbers, masons, and carpenters we've been working with are not so pleased with our American ways. We've found that our "forcing things on them" has up-ed the price to give us an "Obruenie cost" rather than what it should be. It's been really frustrating and resulted in some really heated conversations, and at this moment, we are behind schedule and over budget. It's been nothing short of a learning lesson and curve for us. With only 5 work days left in Patriensa, we are doing all we can to bring everything into fruition in order to hand off a fully dried in and finished building so that next year the business may be set up and become a thriving enterprise. We are having to squeeze our funds to the bitter drops, and  have some heavy conversations, but the Kontihene has been an invaluable resource, neutralizing some situations and stepping up as the face of Patriensa Pure as of now. We are incredibly thankful for all he has done for us and the beautiful hospitality we have been shown.

Yehn ko! Let's go!

It was an eventful day that detoured a little from the original project as the social work maymester students arrived in Patriensa. We organized for all of the schools in the village to meet us at the Presby Church and quickly divided up into teams. We set out, kids in tow, to scavenge the grounds for empty sachets packages and most definitely found some. It became a competition to see who could find the most and the kids ran crazily full of excitement. The elementary school kids I was with were some of the most precious children ever! They wouldn't let me pick up anything and wanted nothing but to hold my hands or fingers and walk, talking to me in twi and giggling when I attempted to respond. We all congregated together to view the Trashy Bags products to build up hype for the future Trashy Bags extension out of Patriensa Pure Enterprise. It was mad chaos, but full of energy and pretty successful. 

It was a really busy day but fun to get to show off our work to the social work students while they were here. The masons got here today and plastered the entire sachet production room and did an incredible job! The electricity and plumbing ground work are laid, the roof is completely finished, the borehole near the building has been analyzed for the depth and flow rate of the water, and the well that PUC put in last year has been repaired to restart the water flow. it's been crazy to see how much has happened in 6 days but there is still quite a bit to do before we leave. Dayee (good rest) 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Rain and Children Run the Day

Yesterday was Sunday and a surprising gift of a day. We were given the opportunity to sleep in a little and wake to a wonderful breakfast prepared by Tim. We had scrambled eggs with sauteed vegetables and avocado on top, ripe Ghanaian grown pineapple and mango, oatmeal, grits, and bread and jam. It was a feast that settled reminders of America on all of us. After filling our bellies, we got ready and headed to church to attend Pastor Kofi's service at the Presby Church. It was Pentecost Sunday, and even though we couldn't understand much of the service because it was in Twi, it was a glorious event. The entire service was a great celebration; there were women dancing, singing from all directions, and some of the most passionate speaking I've ever heard. It lasted for about 2.5 hours, much longer than any service back home, but this is the way of the people here. Sunday isn't simply a day to attend church for a check list, but a day of complete rest. They put all things aside and don't count down the minutes left until their next chore; they enjoy every moment they experience and delight in all they see. It's been a beautiful refresher to be embraced by such a culture.

Once church ended, we headed home with the intention that we would have lunch then do a little work at the site. But our plans were not needed, because in the process it started to rain. We took the little gift of weather as a chance to nap and rest, expecting it to slow down eventually. It did and we ventured to the building site to see what the progress was, and found a considerable amount done. On the way home though was when the humor really kicked up. It began to pour buckets of rain with no introduction, soaking us to the core. Tim, Mary, and I had to come to the Technology Center at the high school (where yours truly is currently typing) in order to send an update email to the profs. We decided to continue braving the rain and quickly realized if we didn't stand out before, we definitely did now. Soaked obruenes walking in the rain. Pitiful. It provided for some funny conversations though.

When we got home we took full advantage of the patter of the rain and all nestled up in comfy clothes after a warm shower. It was an afternoon and evening of full rest, reading and writing and catching up on tasks put in the shadows of manual labor. The plans that we had were washed away with the rain to leave us with nothing but the Ghanaian lifestyle of a complete restful Sunday.

Today, (and I'll keep this short, sorry readers) we spent time on the site again clearing the dirt from the front of the building to help the plumbers, and let me tell you, I'm going to be soreeee tomorrow! We got a standstill during the day because we became constantly in the way of the carpenters, plumbers, and electricians, so I went into Konogo with Christabelle, Alex, and the Kontihene for some errands. When we got back we detoured to the elementary school to look at last year's well, and this simple task became a funny sight. As we started to walk across the field, I realized I was rapidly attracting followers. Flocks of children were trailing behind me laughing and yelling "Obruene!" I turned around and smiled and waved and a ruckus exploded from the crowd. I started talking to them as best I could with my limited Twi. They laughed and grabbed my hand, dragging me all around. Needless to say, I've never felt so popular. We started taking pictures and it became the ultimate game of who could get in the most. They posed and laughed and grabbed on to me. Sweet little ones were the delight of my day, and the almost full completion of the roof, plumbing, and electrical only added to the reasons to be thankful.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Akwaaba to Patriensa! (Welcome in Twi, the local language in Ghana) It's day 3 here, but it feels so much longer. All of our days have been extremely full. We wake with the sunrise and don't stop until dark, which happens about 6:30 here, but even then we have team meetings at night before bed. Here's a brief update of what we've done:

Day 1: We drove from Accra to Patriensa, which was beautiful! We saw some of the most lush terrain I've ever experienced, and many small villages along the way where people set up huts made of red clay, wood, and aluminum tin, and sometimes cement blocks. They line the roads selling anything you might need. Talk about customer service! When we got to Patriensa, we met Tim and Pastor Kofi and went to the compound where we are staying to drop our stuff off. Then we went to the sachet building site to look at the progress so far, and were slightly shocked to see that not much has been done since construction first began, and it was no where near what we originally agreed on. Because of this we had a serious sit down discussion as a team and agreed that we have to complete the building before we can purchase any of the sachet machinery or implement it. This rearranged our entire schedule and caused a bit or disarray at first. We met with Pastor Kofi and the Kontihene (the 2nd to the chief) and they agreed to do whatever they can to motivate the village to make the project a success.

Day 2: It was an early morning arriving at the site to meet the Kontihene, but an amazing site to view. When we got there there were locals already working. Some were weeding near the entrance, some were discussing the roof construction and others were clearing the floor. From 11 at night until 7 in the morning, simply by word of mouth the Kontihene had led this village to work. We quickly joined in to help remove rocks and weeds from the building dirt floor. We worked for about an hour before Pastor Kofi picked us up to go into Kumasi to buy the building supplies. It was supposed to be a short trip, but everything moves much slower in Ghana, so our short trip took the entire day, but we got the plumbing and electrical supplies. We got home and had dinner and budget meetings.

Day 3 (today): It has been one of the most exhausting days! We woke up at 5:30 this morning to be at the building site at 7 and did hard manual labor all day! We got there to find part of the roof constructed, but unlike yesterday, no workers. We set to work on the floor again and cleared out 2 full rooms with shovels and our hands. We weeded, and scooped rocks and dirt, and removed it to reveal a long forgotten slab foundation. It was an exciting sight to realize leveling the building would be easier than expected. While we were working the local children joined us and made a game of helping us work. They laughed as they taught Mary and I to carry buckets of dirt on our heads like they do and when we attempted to speak Twi to them. We were so thankful for them though because they worked so hard and provided entertainment, or maybe we were the actual comedy? It was crazy hot and humid though so we took a break for lunch around 12. During that time 2 of our friends from KNUST joined us, Kristabelle and Ken, to help us with the project. After a rest break, we headed back to finish clearing the floors. The kids joined us again and we got the floor completely cleared!! The carpenters also worked extremely diligently and by the time we all left the site the structure for the roof was finished as well! It was an exhausting day, but rewarding. We're all really tired right now, but in Twi, Mahoya (which means, my body is fine.)

“Which one is not like the other? I spy, Obruene! (white guy)

So this day was the not what I expected it be but ended up being culturally rich! To inform you about funerals in Ghana, well, let’s just say it’s a big party with people and music and donations and formal greetings. All the makings of a wedding, but for the exit of this world. I told Pastor Kofi today that when I pass along to the greater part of my story I want people to laugh and talk and spend time celebrating who I was and how they all remember me. Now, to preface, I am not getting morbid, I just find this type of celebration incredible. I mean PARTIES for Days. Today there were about eight within a mile period. It was awesome. I was blessed to join Pastor Kofi and his family as they paid their respects. As we entered the funeral area, think of it more as a space where people are gathered for a revival. There are three sections of tents that meet at one end to form a “u” around flowers and pictures of the pastor being honored with the celebration. We approached the edge and one of PK family members motioned me to fall in line behind him. I walked closely to my patriarchal friend dressed in his ritual black garb and I in my t-shirt and Capri shorts. This was a site to see. I didn’t take pictures out of respect of the event but you would have loved to see this image. We waked around the perimeter being announced to the sub-chiefs and then proceeded to shake the hands of everyone on the row of honor under each tent, maybe 100 people. As I was moving past one of the speakers I heard the announcer say, Akwaaba, Obruene (that’s me!). I turn and said Me Daci (Thank you). As we made it to our seats for our stay at the service, I felt as though I was a childhood game of which one does not look like the other or I spy. I never felt uncomfortable. I am being very patient with my learning of Twi. I know I will get it. Today at the meeting with the plumbers and electricians I was able to decipher exactly what they were saying by reading their gestures and understanding some technical words that were spoken in English. I am learning!!!

“Respect your elders…but please put on your seatbelt!”

So my fast friend here in the village has become the chief of all the land of Patriensa. Since my arrival in town he has taken great strides to make me feel welcomed. As we sat and visited on the first day, he called for two Star beers to be delivered, the big size. He continued to refill my cup as I drank. I was the only one there drinking. Needless to say I felt and though I was being a lush. Pastor Kofi called it suffering in silence. He said there may be some time that I would have to entertain the wishes of my new royal friend. He is so kind and reminds me a lot of my Papa Tanner. He is a young man of a mere 90s. He told me stories about his homes in Kumasi, Accra, and Brooklyn, New York. He gave me the address of the New York one and told me how it was seven stories high. I told him that would be plenty of room for me to stay when I go to see New York. He laughed, but I wonder if he knew I was serious? He took me by the hand and led me just beyond the palace to the location of the old post office. It is currently in construction to become the first police station in Patriensa. A group of honorable community members and myself listened as the chief described his plan for the property. He was so proud of this project. When I first arrived he was showing us his new car, a BMW X5. Very snazzy, one of 16 vehicles he owns he told me. And although he is of matured age, he does not let his driver chauffer him down the road, he continues to drive. His first attempt to gain my humor was to offer me the keys to this vehicle to use while in town. Now mind you that would have been simply incredibly cool, the story did not end that way…

He grabbed my hand and we walked over to the car. I helped him into the seat where a pillow nestled nicely to give him a little boost of height. I go to the passenger’s side and get into the vehicle. He is waiting on me to put in the key and start it. Then I am instructed to put it in gear and make sure the parking break is off. After several minutes of trying to decipher the workings of a vehicle I have not driven from view of the passenger’s seat, we feel confident the “D” in the dashboard is saying you may now drive, and away we go, just me and my chief. Cruising through Patriensa in a BMW X5. He laughs so cutely when I ask him would he rather I drive. He said I couldn’t or he would die. Where would he get that from? I am the grandest of drivers. The initial movements of ride were not as bad as when dared to go throughout the village, waving at people, and then hit the main road. Here was the challenge. The chief had something in his mind. The rest of us had something different. Apparently no one communicate each plan to the other. So the chief and I passed the road to the work site and as he kept driving I calmly mentioned that he may want to go where Pastor Kofi and the Kontihene were heading. He said, No, I am going to see your place. OK. So we roll forward to my guesthouse and I get on the phone with PK to let me know they should alter their route accordingly. We arrive at the guesthouse and Prince, my house mate is not there at the moment so he gate is locked to get in. I talked with the chief and said he would be back. Let’s go look at the jobsite for now. Then we began a ten minute dance of drive to reverse to pray we don’t pull out in front of a car on a busy Ghanaian roadway. We continued on a bit further and then were lead by the Kontihene and Pastor Kofi through an obstacle course of dodging buildings and trees in order to make a path. Finally we arrive at our location, the glorious Patriensa Pure Enterprise, LTD site. There were several more moments spent strapped in with the Chief in our pursuits around Patriensa. I like my new friend. I love seatbelts. His fighthing spirit is much like my Nanny DeVaughan. He has come to check on me every morning and asked my presence several times to join him. He has offered me to meet the Chief over the whole Ashanti region and he also introduced me to the Medical Director of Agogo Hospital. I have learned that I am good with him I just MUST remember to buckle up!

Life is so fickle and fun. It is everything you need and nothing you want sometimes. But when it all works out into some comediac and relevant bliss, you just have to think….a divine eye must be pleased we all made it to this point. Gye Name.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

It's finally here!

After a very long plane ride and a five hour time difference, Mary and I made it to Accra. We got in last night along with the the Briquette team from PUC and our technical advisor, Marty,and ventured out to the mall for a late meal. We ate a pretty American meal of broiled chicken wings and fries before returning to the hotel to shower and sleep,both of which felt wonderful!

This morning we got ready and went downstairs to meet the guys from the other team for breakfast. Then our driver came and picked us up and took us to get Kwame, who's served as our excited and informative tour guide all day. We all piled into a van and went to the museum honoring Ghana's first president, Kwame Nkrumah. We learned all about his history and the way he lifted this country into one of drive and service. He did a lot for Ghana and the union of Africa before being overthrown by his people (and supposedly the CIA) out of fear of socialism. We took a group shot but I forgot the chord to upload my camara so it will have to wait.

After that we went to the cultural center, which is actually just a market, and looked at all the crafts designed by the people in Accra. After that we had lunch at a restaurant on the beach. We all got typical Ghanaian dishes and experienced "African time" as we waited for a long time for our food. The culture here isn't concerned with rushing or pressure, but likes to enjoy the time they spend together. We didn't mind sitting and listening to the ocean though since we are all still getting acclimated to the time change.

After that we went to Trash Bags and spoke with Stuart a little before purchasing various bags and touring the facilities. Now, we are back in the hotel for a little break before we meet the social work maymester students for dinner. That's the day so far, but we'll post again when we can.