Tuesday, April 13, 2010


One of the problems with living an isolated life is that over time it gets progressively harder to express yourself. There's an impossible amount of context to everything I'd like to say about living in Ghana, and so after a while I find myself, on those rare days when a functioning Internet connection presents itself, checking the news, firing off one or two emails, and then jumping back into the Ghana life. Which is an odd, exhausting, and occasionally gratifying life.

I was on a tro-tro (van crammed full of people) a few days ago, it was relatively cool and comfortable and I was talking on the phone with a Muslim friend about some ongoing projects in Asiri. We were expressing some mutual frustration about people not coming through for us, and the conversation closed with laughter and us both repeating the phrase "Inshallah" which means "by God's will" in, I guess, Arabic. All I know is that the Muslims say it all the time. The Christian Twi speakers have a phrase with similar meaning, "Nyame adom" meaning "by God's grace" and I suspect that most of the languages spoken here have some similar equivalent.

(my session was just interrupted by a man, for no apparent reason, replacing the functioning mouse with a broken one, running off, and while waiting for a new one talking to a man in his 50's who has returned to secondary school)

We were saying "Inshallah" to punctuate a discussion of why, after a significant degree of time, trouble and expense on both our parts, the Chiefs in my town have repeatedly failed to plant the seeds that they requested we bring (along with technical training in nursery construction and transplanting). In a nutshell, along with the moringa we are, in theory, planting some indigenous timber species in Asiri as another kind of natural resource management. I'm psyched about it, but I have to hang back and just play the facilitator or else it will become this thing that we're doing because the white guy insists on it. Instead, I'm rolling with their enthusiasm (for timber trees and particular species that are relatively quick to mature), and trying to hook up Ghanaians encouraging tree planting projects like these with the Chiefs in my town (who control the land and also have the power to organize people for communal work projects), and greasing the wheels here and there by paying for transportation, offering the odd reminder that we're running out of goddamn time to nurse the trees before the dry season sets, and other little background jobs.

But I can't step in and do the work. I can help, but they've got to organize themselves to get this going. And, Nyame adom, they will. Planting woodlots in one village isn't going to change the world, but this is a type of natural resource management Ghanaians could very easily do, the way people manage woodlots in Maine for sustainable timber, and so I think it's worthwhile to try and introduce this idea into my community. But it highlights the uncertainty of everything that we're doing here. The story of the timber project is the story of every project; a mix of legitimate achievements, true collaboration with my Ghanaian friends, and hope.

There will be few concrete achievements in my rearview mirror when I leave Ghana. Most of what I do is foster connections between Ghanaians, the people (usually in urban areas) who are introducing new ideas, crops, or techniques and the farmers in my very rural area. The market for moringa, the timber trees, some possible projects with the local cashew crop, none of these things will be "finished" or even "working" when I leave. Because I'm not staying long term these projects are "sustainable" to the extent that the interested people carry them out and meet markets or other incentives to keep doing them. These things are, for the most part, beyond my control. So I just pray (and I mean that word genuinely, a clue to how much Ghana and Ghanaians have changed me) that our work leads to some positive, material benefit for my friends and my people here, Inshallah, to match the benefit to me, and everything I've learned. In all honesty it's not a comfortable feeling.

So, next time a funny post about how we might start raising turkeys, a warning that I'll be hitting you all up for money in the next couple months for either turkeys or a piece of cashew processing machinery, and my pathetic attempts at dating Ghanaian women (even more comical than at home).

Over and out, and I miss you all.

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