Category Archives: Ghana

s n a p s h o t s

[ 13:30 wednesday 8 november – jisonayili , northern ghana ]

new photos from italy , britain and ghana :

http://www.sse.org.uk/temp/2000-09-11
http://www.sse.org.uk/temp/2000-10-11

i reached the limit of my server space some time ago . indeed i shunted quite a lot of old material off the server onto my powerbook to make space , and lost the lot when it was nicked .

if i’m going to continue publishing photos i need more server space . each set is around 1mb in size . so this is a plea for anyone willing to donate 50-100mb to host http://www.charlesarmstrong.net for the next twelve months .

in the meantime i’m using a temporary folder on the sse server . hope that’s ok james !

: cH

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f o r t u n a

[ 21:33 monday 6 november – bafana bayana cafe , jisonayili , northern ghana ]

fate touches me once more …

having finished up in the rains office and dropped the keys back with the watchman (i disturbed his prayers collecting them earlier) i stood by the side of the main road hoping that a taxi might come by . my bicycle lies abandoned at the mandela centre , its front tyre crippled . i intended to get a new tube this afternoon but the impromptu tuition session put paid to such plans .

after a few minutes i saw an unusual constellation of lights approaching from tamale . when it passed it turned out to be a flat-bed van . still no taxi . then i noticed that the van was turning a little way down the road and coming back towards me . it neared me and pulled in . the driver hailed me and asked where i was going . bafana bayana , just down the road , i replied . so he gave me a lift and here i am , waiting for my supper to arrive .

the fellow’s name is iddrisu and he was on his way to his aunt’s funeral in the next village . the lady was over eighty , a very remarkable age round here . in fact i heard the drumming and celebration all the way from jisonayili last night and wondered what was going on . he invited me to join him and i was sorely tempted , but on this occasion my hunger prevailed . i am still not sure if i made the right decision .

but iddrisu turned out to be a master of drumming as well as a delightful fellow and i have arranged to meet him tomorrow evening armed with my ancient saxophone . i came to ghana hoping i might have an opportunity to learn something of the music . it seems that opportunity has now arisen .

[ 02:10 tuesday 7 november – jisonayili , northern ghana ]

hehe ! i am regularly accused of wanting to have my cake and eat it . personally i see nothing wrong with this so long as there is plenty of cake to go round .

after supper i hitched a lift back to the house , ate a couple of bananas , read a bit , but kept thinking about the funeral . i stuck my head out of the door and could make out the faint pulse of drumming . it was too much to bear . i stuck my cameras and a minidisc recorder in my bag , nicked a bike and set off in the direction of the drumming .

several dirt tracks later i wound up by a hut on the outskirts of a neighbouring village called kanvali (my own spelling) . a couple of women were pounding maize and half a dozen drummers were warming up under a tree . i introduced myself and things unfolded from there .

i have only just returned , having had the most enchanting night . i was swiftly taken under the wings of a couple of the daughters of the chief of gushiegu (a town several hours’ drive away along dust roads , which i visited the week before last with tony flower) who made me very welcome as well as flirting outrageously .

the funeral ritual here makes the english one seem positively … er … deathly . for a couple of days huge numbers of family and friends gather , dressed to the nines , with the best drummers they can lay their hands on . benches are laid outside forming two sides of a square perhaps twenty feet wide , on which the most prestigious guests sit . the closest family seem to be an exception , sitting on the ground on one of the open sides , which i suspect is also the side facing the home of the deceased .

in this instance there were seven drummers . two playing deep-voiced instruments slung round their necks , five playing long higher-voiced ones held under the arm . there was also a younger boy with a small drum who kept in the background and was presumably an apprentice . one of the drummers had the role of a chanter .

it happened that the drummers i had found warming up were preparing to play at the old lady’s funeral . i think they said her name was aiya . so i followed them as they processed through the village to the space where everyone was waiting . there was an introductory period as the chanter paid the respects dictated by custom . first the senior male in the bereaved’s family , then any representatives of royal families (like my friends) in order of seniority and so on .

once this was done the pace progressively picked up . the pattern was for the drummers to fix on one person after another from those on the benches and try to lure them to dance through the virtuosity of their playing . once somebody got to their feet it became a kind of theatre between the drummers and the dancer . sometimes the dancer would dart towards the drummers , driving them back . sometimes the dancer would be pursued to the corner of the space before turning and pushing back again . sometimes the dancer would feign boredom and make as if to sit down , only to spur the drummers to greater feats . the drummers would constantly try to inspire the dancer to greater passions , feeding them new rhythms and building the intensity when the dancer responded . the drummers leapt around quite as much as the dancer .

dancers who entertained the crowd were rewarded by people approaching them from the benches and placing coins in their hands or pressing them onto the dancer’s forehead . a young boy was engaged picking up those which fell to the ground . all this money was destined for the drummers , which if you think about it is an excellent form of performance-related remuneration .

i was called upon to dance a couple of times . i was shy about accepting the call , but when i did the crowd was delighted and i loved it .

in fact there were four funerals going on in the village and my friends led me to a second one where i was also required to dance , to be rewarded by a cheer from the crowd and handfuls of coins .

in addition to having had a glorious night i also have about two hours of digital audio which i shall treasure , plus a number of photos .

but now i really must sleep . the celebrations continue but reluctantly i made my excuses and left them to it .

: cH

r e m e m b e r / r e m e m b e r

[ 20:57 monday 6 november – rains office , tamale , northern ghana ]

it was peculiar suddenly to realise yesterday evening that it was guy fawkes’ night . all over britain people will have been trudging half-heartedly across muddy fields to watch fireworks before huddling round a bonfire and complaining about the freakishly bad weather . like they do every year .

: cH

t u t e

[ 18:42 monday 6 november – rains office , tamale , northern ghana ]

it’s almost four weeks since i arrived in ghana , though within a few days of getting here such measurements ceased to have much meaning . my return flights were originally booked for tomorrow but i have decided to remain here a further five weeks . i hope to complete my activity in the digital workshop within three weeks and spend two weeks travelling . the general election is on 7 december so it should be an interesting time to be around .

for the remaining weeks most of my focus will be on tutor recruitment , tutor training and course architecture . since the best tutors will not necessarily be those few people who already possess computer skills i’m using a cascade approach which assumes zero competence to start with . we started putting this into practice last thursday .

the first priority was to get a module up and running providing an introduction to using a computer . this will be one of the most important courses the workshop offers , but by focusing on that at the beginning we can also use it as an induction tool for prospective tutors who have no computer experience .

i designed the module on the principles of action learning and collaborative learning . everything is structured around performing practical tasks and learners work in groups of three to each computer system . this last aspect might seem perverse , surely people will learn better if they have a system to themselves ? but my experience is otherwise . beginners learn more quickly if they are working in groups . three brains are available to grapple with each problem and the process of discussing why something hasn’t worked and suggesting remedies brings thought processes into the open . working this way also helps strengthen collaboration and sharing skills . one tutor is provided for each group of three learners , though it may prove possible to reduce this to one tutor for every two groups .

the module has three sections . for the first of these the whole group of learners is addressed by a single tutor , who welcomes them , explains what they will learn before they leave , gets everyone’s ideas about what a computer can be used for , introduces the hardware and gives everyone the opportunity to ask questions .

the second section begins with the learners moving to the computers in groups of three , with tutors , and starting them up . the rest of it consists of a series of cumulative tasks , each of which is performed by the three learners in turn . along the way they master use of the mouse (pointing , clicking , double-clicking and dragging) and about the basic metaphors (desktop , icon , cursor , folder , window) .

in the third section learners start to use menus . they launch a program , create a new document and learn basic text editing skills . they then have some time to type whatever they want (this is the part people enjoy most , the pay-off for all their hard work) which they save before exiting the program and shutting down the system .

we currently have eleven functioning systems in the workshop . in a period of ninety minutes or so it is therefore possible to introduce a group of 33 learners to all the basic skills and concepts required to use a computer . every one of those learners will leave with the confidence that they are perfectly capable of using a computer , and there is somewhere they can go if they want to learn more .

last thursday i got together with three prospective tutors and took them through the first draft of the module . they took the role of learners and i of the tutor . this is a good approach , as it means every tutor learns to use the computer the same way they teach others . having made some revisions to the module based on their comments , those tutors and i worked with a group of ten more prospective tutors on friday . this is the cascade approach i described .

it was arranged that we would take our first group of “real” learners , 18 girls from tamale girls secondary school , tomorrow afternoon at three . so four of the tutors came into the centre this afternoon to practice on the systems .

however , demonstrating typical ghanaian planning , 25 girls from the school turned up at four this afternoon having been told they were expected . i was a bit horrified but they had walked all the way from the school , a distance of several miles , and i did not have the heart to turn them away . so my fellow tutors and i gritted out teeth and got stuck in , with me shouting guidance to the others as we went along . i was leaping back and forth across the room , responding to the girls’ insistent cries of “mr charles , mr charles” as they mangled their desktop or got locked into some backwater of the atrocious windows operating system .

i finish the day exhausted but confident that the module is going to work .

: cH

a q u a

[ 21:13 sunday 29 october – jisonayili , northern ghana ]

the water supply ceased around two o’clock yesterday afternoon . the electricity failed shortly afterwards , but returned within a couple of hours . not so the water .

this puts a different perspective on the experience of living here . without a shower to wash the omnipresent dust and sweat from one’s body , without a flushing loo , one’s lifestyle moves a step closer to that of the majority . but even the stand-pipes on which most people rely for their water are now dry .

afu hamidu has been kind to share his stock of water , sending over bowls of it with his daughters , but if the situation persists i shall presumably have to turn to the nearby river , to which i see already convoys of people walking with containers upon their heads . having observed the river at close quarters this is not a prospect i particularly relish .

i asked iso what was the longest period such interruptions had lasted in the past . the discouraging reply came : a month .

there is a rumour that the water will flow once more tomorrow evening . i pray it proves correct .

meanwhile there has been a conspicuous increase in the insect activity . the house has mesh screens on all its windows but one night last week it was breached by a veritable plague of little black beetles . the next morning their corpses lay on every inch of floor and table . the ants were busy carrying them away for food as i had my breakfast . the next invaders were big black roachy things , an inch or two long , which spring a couple of feet into the air aided by peculiarly ineffective wings . i have no idea how they are getting in but they are succeeding in considerable numbers . as i write i occasionally hear the tap of another landing on the lino .

it is explained to me that as the weeks pass since the rainy season’s end and the bush dries out , insects are drawn towards the houses where moisture can still be found . so perhaps our unexpected drought will have one positive consequence at least .

[ 23:18 ]

i’ve swept the insect corpses out of my bedroom and bathed myself standing in a bucket with three saucepans of water .

news from distant worlds reaches me . from mum i learn that mr good’s partridges have been stolen (which she is very happy about !) . from my friend james fink in melbourne i learn that his mother has won an opal mine in a competition .

[ 13:25 monday 30 october , rains office , tamale , northern ghana ]

the water spluttered back into life at ten this morning , albeit rank and brownish . we rejoice .

: cH

o p e n i n g

[ 19:59 saturday 28 october – jisonayili , northern ghana ]

a moment to write , my keyboard illuminated by a chinese kerosene lamp i bought in the market this afternoon . kerosene is in short supply at the moment but my friend iso led me to a pump which had secured some , apparantly the only one in tamale . as we arrived there were about a dozen men clustered about it with large oil drums . then some kind of argument broke out and service was terminated . everyone moved away from the pump as the fracas continued .

we asked whether we might have a gallon and were told that the mechanism had broken and no more could be dispensed . but one of the attendents called to a trader the other side of the street , sporting particularly snappy shades , who agreed to sell us a gallon at an acceptable price . he decanted from his drum into a jug and from there into my plastic can .

of course there was nothing wrong with the pump . what had happened was that one of the traders had bribed the attendants to sell him the entire remaining supply , establishing a monopoly which would enable him to charge inflated prices . hence the anger of the other would-be retailers . apparantly this is typical .

ann cotton (www.sse.org.uk/people/ann.cotton) and tony flower arrived from britain nine days ago and departed at lunchtime today . it’s been marvellous seeing ann at work here . she treats everyone as an equal , in contrast to many development professionals from the west who , i regret to observe , are often appallingly patronising towards africans . ann works with passion , vigour and generosity . the results speak for themselves . there are already hundreds of girls here and in zimbabwe who have had an education they would never have had without the support of camfed and its local partners . some of those girls have now set up successful businesses with help from micro-credit schemes . a climate in which families resist sending their girls to school is slowly changing .

dr flower is a writer and researcher , a former apprentice of michael young . he’s worked on all kinds of things over the last couple of decades and is now the london representative for the joseph rowntree reform trust and the chairman of the mutual aid centre amongst other things . he works from 18 victoria square , the queen anne house in bethnal green where the institute of community studies and its progeny , including sse , have lived for the last fifty years (photo at http://www.sse.org.uk/london) . i’ve bumped into him from time to time over the last couple of years but this is the first opportunity we’ve had to get to know one another . i look forward to seeing more him during my six months working in bethnal green .

ann and tony were here for the opening of the mandela development centre , which took place on wednesday . i was flat-out in the lead-up to this trying to track down various consignments of equipment from britain , training people , familiarising myself with the situation in northern ghana , setting up systems in the centre and so on . we managed to get eleven pcs set up and networked in time for the opening , by which time the building was just about complete . the high-power system for media production was frustratingly absent , a situation which persists . but at least we have now established its whereabouts : the customs service at accra airport , who have demanded an extortionate fee for its release .

on the day there were three hours of speeches in a kind of impromptu parade-ground outside , interspersed with dances , music and recitals . i was whizzing about like a dervish , documenting it all and sweating like a pig . the previous weekend i’d helped train four girls from one of the camfed-supported schools to use a digital camera and minidisc recorder , and given them some practice conducting interviews . they spent the day swooping on unsuspecting government officials and local chiefs , taking their photograph and questioning them on the region’s problems , the need for effective vocational education and the opportunities offered by the centre . i felt ever so proud of them , knowing what appalling barriers they’d surmounted to get into education , watching them interrogate the bigwigs with complete assurance , armed with these high-tech tools they’d mastered in a trice . they did a fabulous job . once the big system arrives i plan to work with the girls and their classmates to build a website telling the story of the day .

after the preliminary shenanigans the ribbon was cut and people surged into the building . the computers aroused great interest from a crowd who with few exceptions had never encountered one . i gave about twenty introductory training sessions then and there before i was exhausted . such impromptu sessions over the past weeks have been precious in helping me discover what approaches are helpful to effective .

now the building’s finished we must all turn our attention to structuring courses , recruiting and training tutors and installing management . there’s still a long way to go before my work here is complete .

: cH

r a l l y

[ 13:06 monday 16 october – rains office , tamale , northern ghana ]

i can connect my powerbook here using rains’ phone line and dial-up account . the signal is not very consistent but it will be sufficient .

some background . tamale is not really a town in the modern sense . it still has the sense of a cluster of villages with a market at their centre , the same model indeed as the earliest civilisations which emerged in southern mesopotania five or six millennia ago . a large proportion of the habitation consists of mud huts , though these are slowly being displaced by bungalows of concrete block construction . private phone lines are almost unheard-of . only the largest businesses or (omnipresent) aid organisations can afford them . there is an analogue mobile network , which is rumoured to work on some days . the electricity supply is actually quite reliable . during the time i have been here there has only been one brown-out , lasting perhaps an hour .

in december there is a general election here in ghana and the campaigns are in full swing . yesterday the ruling ndc party held its rally in tamale’s “police park” , a large open area in which a stage had been constructed and a crowd of several thousand had gathered . i arrived with my friend sebastian just as the current vice-president and ndc presidential candidate , john atta mills , was being introduced . his speech consisted largely of attacks on the front-running opposition party (npp) and a party which has split from ncd (reform) .

after mills’ speech came the high point of the rally – an address from jerry rawlings , the president of nearly 20 years , who is standing down at this election . i was eager to see him , as he has been remarkable amongst modern african leaders . he has led two successful coups but each time has returned the country to multi-party democracy . i do not imagine his hands are spotless but he has secured stability , peace and economic development , an achievement which cannot be understated . though the ndc is not universally popular it is clear that people continue to feel affection for rawlings .

shortly after he started speaking there was a commotion beside me , standing in the middle of the crowd with the video camera held above my head (the only white face) . it was the chief of police , inviting me to join the tv crews and photographers on their enclosure in front of the stage . sebastian and i barged through the crowd and were propelled up onto the wooden platform . so i was able to film the rest of the president’s speech from just forty or fifty feet away a, an unexpected boon . one of the news cameramen got bit pissed off when i jogged his tripod and a junior police officer came to enquire what the hell i was doing up there , but the former was touchingly embarassed afterwards and the latter quickly withdrew when he realised that my invitation had come directly from his superior .

rawlings spoke stirringly , the crowd loved it , and there was generally a festive atmosphere . afterwards there was chaos as people who had come from villages all over the region climbed back onto the ndc-sponsored lorries and began the journey home . the air was thick with drumming , shouting , horn-hooting and the fog of tamale’s omnipresent red-brown dust .

in the meantime my work here is taking shape . the centre where i shall be setting up facilities is a splendid construction , hopefully to be completed before the opening festivites on the 25th . i have started training a few people in working with documenting tools and planning with them how we will capture the story of the final preparations and the opening . beyond this i have started structuring ideas for courses and support . the two shipments of computers remain in accra , tied up with customs , but i hope they will be here soon . informally i have been offering introductions to computers for people who have never before encountered one . there is great eagerness to learn .

as i write a discussion is in progress behind me , debating which people in the community can design and print t-shirts for the mandela centre’s opening celebrations .

: cH