Surviving the Sun in Accra

My Adventures Living & Working Abroad in Ghana

10. Pictures: Field Research


Supporting Women Has Literally Never Been So Sweet

Well, after months of searching, I FINALLY established a contact with a woman who works for Kuapa Kokoo. For those of you who don’t already know, I spent about four months in 2007 researching fair trade coffee and cocoa… and let’s just say I may have developed into a minor obsession with a particular cocoa farmers’ co-op (*Remember Divine Chocolate in xmas stockings?). Being said, that co-operative is Kuapa Kokoo, which coincidentally happens to be located in the very country I’m currently residing in, Ghana!


When I first found out I was accepted for an internship in Ghana, I made a pledge to myself to track down a Kuapa Kokoo cocoa farm at all cost and I am happy to say, two weekends ago, I accomplished it.


Mabel is a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend… well let’s say for simplicity sake that she is an acquaintance of someone and now a very good friend of mine. I was hesitant after calling her at first because I was not sure that either of us knew what to expect or what we were to do at the cocoa farm, but with a leap of faith and Collin and Theresa in tow, I caught a bus heading north to Kumasi.


In typical Ghanaian fashion, our 11am meeting turned out to be closer to 1pm, but Mabel and her driver picked us up at our hotel and we drove to the village of Bipoa. After a quick history of cocoa farming in Ghana and the formation of Kuapa Kokoo in 1993, we reached the town and met with the local women’s society. Driving up the main drag, the driver honked his horn in three quick blurts, representing the motto ‘Pa, Pa, Paa’ meaning the best of the best of the best. To me, this seemed legitimately as cool as the bat symbol and actually worked to call Kuapa Kokoo members from their homes.


The women’s society all came out to greet us (regardless of our very short notice) and Mabel translated their greetings and explanations about how Kuapa Kokoo has improved their lives. Before we headed to a local cocoa patch, the women all sang and clapped for us. Not only were we able to see the growing process of cocoa that afternoon, but we also fortunate enough to experience first hand the benefits of fair trade social initiatives. The women were so empowered and felt such success through Kuapa Kokoo that it would be hard to ever second guess the achievements of these fair trade farming communities.


Although we only had a short while to visit with the farmers in Bipoa, I was an experience I would never give up and was well worth the two day trip. Kuapa Kokoo has half ownership of the Day Chocolate Company, makers of Divine Chocolate, which is produced with Ghanaian cocoa from these very farmers. Supporting women has literally never been so sweet 🙂





*Side Note: In local dialect, Twi, Kuapa Kokoo means ‘Good Cocoa Farmer’

Weekend Hike in a Semi-Deciduous Tropical Rain Forest

This past weekend was a breath of fresh air (literally) for us here in Ghana. Saturday Collin and I met up with our friend Emma (who we went to Togo & Benin with last weekend) and we caught a tro-tro heading NE. By noon we met up with Theresa in Hohoe, where she had been stationed all week doing workshops with FIDA. After a very generous ride from the FIDA driver, we arrived at the hamlet of Wli (pronounced ‘vlee’). After checking into local accommodations (<$4/each!), we headed out on our first hike of the weekend.


The hike was unfortunately a lot less strenuous than we had all hoped for, but turned out to be beautiful none the less. The trail led through stunning foliage and a plethora of colourful butterflies set in a mountainous background. The main draw to this specific hike was the end destination, an absolutely gorgeous waterfall named Agamatsu Falls (or Wli Falls). We all enjoyed the scenery on the hike up, but the waterfalls absolutely took my breath away. Unfortunately I don’t know the specifics on the fall such as height, water source etc, but I did take some pictures (which really does not do it justice).


Our second day we travelled south to a lodge located near the hamlet of Fumé. Again, after checking into new accommodations, we headed out on another hike. This one was considerably more difficult than the last and actually had ropes in areas where you needed to scale the rock walls. It was well worth it though in the end when we arrived at a second waterfall that was very secluded.  We all took the chance to go for a dip and the water was extremely refreshing in the heat of the day.


Unfortunately for us we didn’t have more time and had to head back to work the next morning, but our time in Volta was definitely revitalising. It was great to have a few days to get some exercise and get out of the ciaos that surrounds our lives living in Accra. Hopefully if all goes as planned, we will be heading north again this weekend to Kumasi to visit some cocoa farms. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!




2 Visas, 9 Times through Customs, 11 Stamps & 3 Countries in 3 Days

This past weekend was hands down one of the best so far on my adventure to West Africa this summer. After packing in the dark on Thursday night (loosing power is no anomaly around here anymore), Collin and Theresa and I headed out first thing Friday morning. We met up with a new friend (Emma) and hitched a tro-tro to the eastern border town of Aflao. Once in Afloa, we went through our first of many rounds of customs and walked across the border into Lomé, Togo.


Lomé is far from Accra in every sense. There are sidewalks without people hawking wares, streetlights (although I’m not sure they are actually used), very few vehicles aside from motorcycles/taxi-motos and GARBAGE CANS — What a revolution! This capital city is located on the ocean, similarly to Accra… however Lomé hasn’t turned its back on the water the way that Accra has. In Accra, the downtown core faces away from the ocean and the beach is filthy with garbage and fecies. In Lomé however, the main street runs the length of the water and the beach is littered instead with incredibly fit people out for runs.


Most of our time in Lomé, aside from riding taxi-motos, I’m a bit ashamed to say, was spent eating! After living in an old English colony for the past two months, travelling into an old French colony was sooo amazing. Three words: ‘French-Bread-Everywhere!’ …enough said. Oh, and though I’m not much of a coffee drinker, the rest of my crew couldn’t get enough of real coffee instead of the instant Nescafe that plagues Ghana. After a supper of homemade pesto gnocchi and dessert crepes, followed by an evening at our hotel listening to live music, we hit the hay early. I was truly disappointed in the morning when we decided to move on to Benin but also interested to see how another old French colony would compare with Togo.


And oh how there was a lot of compare and contract! After only a couple of hours in a bush-taxi, we hit the Togo/Benin border and went through yet again more customs. Arriving in Cotonou, Benin near noon, it was quickly apparent that this city is by far the most chaotic, insane and crammed city I have ever been to. The streets are literally swarming with cars and motorcycles and you really expect to see an accident every 30 seconds. Unfortunately, we had no idea where we were going and were dropped off at a pier beside a fish market. Although it was interested, it was definitely not where we were supposed to be, but we had no idea how to get to an area with taxis. Luckily for us, we met a very nice local who led us, with all of our bags, through the winding alleys of an enormous market to the other side. The market was so organized and structured and can’t be described as anything else than absolute organized chaos. The aisles in this market were twice as wide as those in others, and were even paved. Shops were crammed together in an endless line of umbrellas, scrap wood and sheet metal, but each area of the market was designated for a specific item (example: fabric section, men’s dress shoes etc).


Cotonou is the capital of Benin in every sense but name, and it a relief to escape it as we headed to Ganvie. In Ganvie, we spent the afternoon touring a stilt village which houses more then 17,000 people floating in the middle of a lake. Ganvie is claimed to be “the Venice of West Africa”… and I’ve been to Venice… and other than the whole stilt idea, they couldn’t be more different. The romance and crumbling architecture wasn’t exactly there… instead it was replaced with shacks and fishermen and the most lively funeral procession I have ever seen. It was held as a celebration with loud music and women dancing in bright African fabrics on wooden boats paddled along the canals. There was a floating market area where we bough bread and even a floating mosque. *Oh, and did I mention that there were no pigeons? Venice should take note of this!


After a very arduous trip involving an argument in French with a taxi driver who was trying to take advantage of us because we are foreign, we finally arrived at our hotel in Ouidah (a town 45 minutes away) and thankfully, notably smaller than Cotonou. Sunday morning we went for a walk along “le marche des esclaves” which was one of the dominant slave routes which were used during colonial times. All along the walk towards the beach, the road was dotted with voodoo shrines. Voodoo, in its original sense (not the Hollywood version), is the primary religion in Benin and originates from ancient nationals of the country, later spreading to Columbia and Haiti through the slave trade. The voodoo statues mark different aspects of voodoo life and there are a number of snakes and animals included.


By early morning, we had to begin making our way back home, so we caught a bush-taxi to Lomé and stopped for lunch with a group of travellers we met in Ouidah. After one more delicious French style meal, two scoops of sorbet and a chocolate-filled croissant for the road we caught taxi-motos to the border and walked through customs for the second last time before arriving back in Accra.


All in all, the weekend was amazing but very rushed. It was a great opportunity to experience other countries in West Africa and see the contracts between the different results of English and French colonization. It was refreshing to speak French again, eat pasta and French bread, ride taxi-motos everywhere with the wind in my hair, and take a break from the constant yelling of people hawking goods on the streets of Accra. It was great to see, but I’m happy to be back at home in Accra. It’s hard to believe that in less then five weeks I’ll be boarding a plane to head home to Canada.




Knee Deep in Research & Report Writing

Another two weeks since my last blog post has passed, and reflecting on that time, it’s nearly impossible to sum it up in just one small entry. Regardless, this is my attempt and I figured since most of you have been wondering what I have been working on here for my internship, I figured now was as good as ever to explain it.


As I mentioned earlier in another post, my internship is at the Ghana Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ). CHRAJ was set up independently from the government of Ghana as a resource to enforce the human rights of the population and fight corruption in government organizations. Their funding is provided by the Danish government and their mandate allows them to fight high profile cases against the state where human rights violations or corruption exist, while also defending the rights of the common community.


I spent the first two weeks in the Complaints Unit where all statements concerning violations of human rights or administrative corruption must first be brought. In this unit was able to experience a great deal of the legislature and grasp a preliminary understanding of some of the many social problems faced by the people everyday. I was able to hear first hand encounters of cases ranging from domestic violence to labour rights. The majority of the employees at CHRAJ are lawyers which leaves a geographer like me a bit of a misfit, but I’m really enjoying the opportunity to learn more about Ghanaian law from the people who know it best.


Since then I have established a more formal position at the Commission and during my stay here, I will be working in the Women and Children’s Unit concentrating primarily on children’s rights. Last night I finished my first major project for CHRAJ which was a report written with the intention to influence state policy concerning the incidence of child labour in the country. Although prior to this project I knew about the direct correlation of child labour with poverty and education, it was surprising to learn some of the Ghanaian statistics from the 2003 census.


Rural areas especially lack adequate schools and many village schools are severely under-funded. In areas, particularly in the Northern Region of Ghana, schools are overcrowded with insufficient staffing and supplies, bestowing poor quality education. Most notably, I learnt that the percentage of children aged 6 to 17 years old living in the Northern Region who had never attended school was 44.3 percent, while in the Greater Accra Region, it was only 5.1 percent.


For northern villages such as Larabanga (which I visited a few weekends ago – the village with the old Mosque), who did not have a formal school system until 1992, these situations offer little in terms of improved prospects and overcrowded classrooms leave the community with little expectation for enhanced development. Although there is hope for these rural populations, it is at times no wonder that impoverished parents see sending their kids to school as little more than a waste of time and money.


Aside from boring you with the details of a very long report, I guess I can move on and tell you the rest of the research that I’ll be working on. The report that I will be starting tomorrow focuses on child abuse utilizing case studies from CHRAJ and a collection of newspaper articles from the past two years. Following that report I will be moving on to a personal project outside of CHRAJ centering around the recently discovery of oil and gas deposits in Ghana.


Large deposits have been found along the coast and I’m interested in determining the environmental and human impacts which will be created from the upcoming extraction. In the 60s when developing countries found oil deposits, it spelt a recipe for disaster and has been seen as a curse instead of a blessing. Dictatorships developed as countries were still fighting for their independence from colonial powers and civilians were left in a constant struggle for human rights during civil unrest. While Ghana is one of the best African countries as far as democracy is concerned, it will be interesting to see how the capitalistic system and neo-liberal ideas formulate the outcome of how successful the revenue toward the common population.


The majority of the past two weeks I have been slaving away on my child labour paper, but I also spent a couple days running around getting lost in the ministries and knocking on dozens of doors looking for resources from the ILO, UN and a few different Ghanaian Ministries. After spending half the day yesterday at the Togo embassy desperately trying to obtain a visa for the weekend, I will hand in my report today, go to an ex-pat pub tonight for trivia night and head to Togo Friday morning. The plan is to hit up Togo and Benin this weekend, so I’m anticipating an adventurous trip full of French West-African language, food, culture, stilt villages and voodoo!


I’ll take lots of pictures and keep you posted,
Au revoir!




Kumasi – The Ashanti Kingdom

Well it’s been two weeks since my last blog post, and a lot has happened in such a short time. Since my last post, we spent a weekend relaxing in Accra, which was a wonderful change of pace from our constant travelling. That weekend we met up with a Ghanaian friend for supper, had a poolside brunch at a local hotel, attended a football game and tried our hand at bartering in Makola Market.


After another four day workweek, we headed up to Kumasi on Friday afternoon for a weekend visiting friends and exploring the Ashanti Region. The Ashanti are the dominant tribe in Ghana, and have a very extensive and impressive history, particularly around the Kumasi area. We were fortunate enough to visit the city while our friends from Michigan (who we travelled to Mole with) were still living there.


We spent Saturday morning touring around two villages north of the city, Ntonso and Adanwomase. Ntonso is a very small village which specializes in Adinkra cloth (stamped pattern cloth). The ink mixture they use is created from tree bark and when stamped on cloth appears black. Every stamp has its own meaning and a series of stamps can represent different feelings and stories. I was able to purchase two stamps and watch the locals as they created different patterns.


The second village was Adanwomase which is known for its Kente cloth (woven pattern cloth). This village focuses on eco-tourism and runs daily tours of the kente weaving process. Although we had previously seen a few kente looms at various locations around the country, it was great to see how the whole process unfolds and speak with local weavers first hand. Theresa and I both tried our hands that day at weaving, and if I graduate with no immediate job prospects, I might just pick up a new profession 🙂


The rest of Saturday we spend touring around the city of Kumasi which is only slightly smaller than Accra with a population over 1.5 million. The feel of this city was dramatically different however, as there were many more colonial style homes, bright coloured buildings and hilly topography. We spent the afternoon walking around the National Cultural Centre and touring the Military Museum.


After a Sunday morning tour of the Ashanti King’s Palace, we headed out of town to Lake Bowsumtwi (a local crater lake). The lake was beautiful and we spent part of our afternoon being truly Canadian by practicing our canoeing skills and watching the local fishermen.


Monday morning we were a bit rushed because we were to leave by 2pm, but our friend’s offered to take us to the local teaching hospital where they were doing their internships. After hearing about their experiences working in the maternity ward, we decided to tag along with them that morning and see the hospital first hand. The conditions in the wards were horrendous with comparison to Canadian hospitals, with many pregnant women laying on the floor due to lake of bed space and many more in overcrowded conditions in visible pain. I really appreciated that the girls went out of their way to take us there and show us around the ward, describing the function of each section. The lack of resources, funding and staff, in addition to severe overcrowding, makes you realize how easily many of the deaths which occur there may have easily have been prevented in a hospital in the developed world. I have no doubt that the girls on internship there truly will be making a big impact with their research by the time they head home.


Before we headed home that day, we did a quick tour through the main market (one of the largest in West Africa) and spent more time at the National Cultural Centre watching local artisans make their creations. The past few days I have begun to really clamp down on my research and am anticipating a relaxing weekend in Accra before we head to Togo (country directly East of Ghana) next weekend. Thanks for following my trip and enjoy the pictures from the last few weekends.


4 Dollar Safari

I can’t believe that this Sunday will mark the end of four weeks here in Ghana (almost 1/3 of the way done). While my overall experience in Ghana has been amazing, this week marked the greatest highs and lows for me thus far. I always think that it’s better to begin with the good stuff, so here are my highlights of the week:


Last Saturday morning we woke up early and headed to the STC bus station to catch a bus to Temale (located in the far North-West of Ghana). It truly was a weird drive for me because it took exactly 12 hours… which is the exact same amount of time I should have been spending back in Canada as I would have driven to Portage that very day. On this trip however, the scenery was… different from Saskatchewan… which was a nice change (sorry Carly!).


Overall, we spent most of the short time we had in the north driving (roughly 33 hours), but it was definitely worth the voyage. The landscape up North is beautiful and lush with a fair amount of foliage considering the proximity to the Sahara Desert. Many of the villages still use traditional architectural styles building round family huts with mud walls and thatched roofs.


Our major reason for heading so far north was to experience a safari at Mole National Park (pronounced Mo-lay). We arrived at the park on Sunday evening and spent the night eating and visiting with a group of University of Michigan students who were kind enough to let us tag along on their trip. We woke early the next day and spent the morning checking out the wildlife that Ghana had to offer. Mole is quite a bit smaller than many of the typical ‘safari’ parks such as the ones found in Kenya, Tanzania & South Africa, so the diversity of wildlife wasn’t as extensive (but we also only paid $4 for our safari opposed to the hundreds it would cost in Kenya etc).


Unfortunately we didn’t see any of the big cats, but we did see a herd of Savannah elephants really close up which was AMAZING. They are sooo much larger than forest elephants (the ones you can see in the zoo). We also saw baboons, monkeys, kobe, antelope and warthogs. It rained for most of the safari, but I didn’t burn so I thought it was a perfect day haha.


On our way home from Mole, our group stopped in Larabanga, a small village just a few miles from the park entrance. After asking the village chief for permission, we were able to go see the oldest mosque in Ghana (dating back ~1421AD) and questionably one of the oldest in West Africa. It was absolutely beautiful, and the local entourage of children walked us to the ‘Mystic Stone’ and showed us around the village. There must have been at least 3 dozen children showing our group around and I was wishing I had brought gum or a few soccer balls (which I stupidly left in Accra). Visiting Larabanga was the perfect way to end the trip and I’m really glad we were able to experience the northern culture.


The low point of my time here happened after we arrived home and I went back to work on Wednesday. I have spent the last few days reviewing every newspaper article corresponding to child abuse in the past two years in Ghana… and it’s excruciatingly depressing to stare at all day. I spent the last two nights staring at the wall being dismal and wondering how many cases occur that don’t make the news. The hardest part of my research right now is the style of writing that goes into the cases… most of it would be considered vulgar by Canadian standards and defilement is one of the largest forms of abuse. In Vancouver, people are wondering about feet washing up from the ocean, while in Ghana children are being beheaded with machetes and 9 year old girls are impregnated by 60 year old men. The world has never felt so upside down to me before and experiencing some real-life cases in the complaints unit makes it all the more real. There is so much corruption, blackmail and violence here, its hard to imagine a cure to minimize these occurrences which young children are forced to face everyday.


Thankfully, this was a short work week (wed-fri) and I am readily anticipating the relief of a relaxing weekend before another long week of research starting again on Monday. Thanks again for reading and following my experiences here in Ghana.