update on the community center

Building is now in full swing with the community center.  Like I mentioned a few posts back, the original idea for the community center was to have a common, neutral, indoor place for our women’s group to meet. So, I applied for a Maternal and Child Health SPA grant from Peace Corps.  The grant was approved, and we began preparations to build our 30 ft by 30 ft community center with a small attached office.

I have been calling it community center, partially for lack of a better name, but also because I do want it to be a real community center. Obviously I plan on using for all my health lessons, particularly working with JHS students on top of the regular women’s group. CK and I have also been working with an LNGO to start a support group for people living with HIV in town.  We will hold meetings with them at the community center as well. And I recently talked with another PCV who has started a support group for families with disabled children, which I would also love to start here, again meeting at the community center. But the building will also be available to anyone in the community that wants to hold a meeting or gathering of some sort, so long as its not religious or political in nature.

The JHS gave us some land they were using as a “garden” (it was basically just bush where some teachers were growing cassava for themselves) and the District Assembly lent us the use of the some-large-machine-whose-name-I-forget to clear the land.  Once that was done and the grant money was in my account, we bought cement and started building the cement blocks that will form the walls of the building.  Because building blocks is considered unskilled labor, Peace Corps does not provide grant money to pay for it and it has to be part of the community contribution.  We’re still working on getting the elders to pay for this labor, which was mostly done by CK himself and a friend or two.

The garden before the land was cleared

The garden before the land was cleared

After it was cleared. This is the section we didn't want to build on and used this area to build the blocks instead

After it was cleared. This is the section we didn’t want to build on and used this area to build the blocks instead

CK (on the right) and a friend getting ready to build blocks

CK (on the right) and a friend getting ready to build blocks

They mix sand and cement and pack it into this mold to form the blocks

They mix sand and cement and pack it into this mold to form the blocks

The blocks are now finished and Sunday we started the foundation with the mason and his workers. We laid it out with stakes yesterday and began actually digging yesterday. I say we, but really all I do is watch and “supervise.”  Once I was satisfied everyone was the exact dimensions and placement I wanted, I left to go do my laundry. CK called me after about an hour and said I needed to come back right away because some men were there telling them they cannot build in that place.  When I got there, some man I didn’t know had taken my mason’s tape measure and was making him measure out the dimensions of the center in a completely different place from where we had started building. I asked him what the problem was and he said that the place we chose was not good because it was in the center of the plot and they (the JHS) wanted to conserve space.  I told him the JHS gave me the whole plot to do what I wanted with, and I had agreed with the DCE (District Chief Executive, basically the mayor of the district) on the building site just last week. And what did they want to conserve the plot for anyway?  A parking lot, he said.  I don’t think a lot of my women’s group will be driving to meetings, but I guess this meant that they have big plans in the future for using the community center. I asked why we couldn’t continue building where we are biulding and make this other, less suitable, space the parking lot.  He told me this was absolutely impossible, but couldn’t not give me a good reason why. Frustrated, I called the DCE. He told me he was on his way back to Adabokrom and that we should wait for him.  I told my mason and his workers to take a break and we would come back when the DCE had arrived.

The area we started building. Just beyond the trees in the upper right corner of the picture is where the sand and blocks are (where we don't want to build)

The area we started building. Just below the trees in the upper right corner of the picture is where the sand and blocks are (where we don’t want to build)

Marking the boundaries

Marking the boundaries

Beginning to dig

Beginning to dig

About two hours later I got a call that said I should come back. When I arrived, there were about 12 men standing in a circle around the building plot. I didn’t have a good feeling, but I walked up feigning a confidence that s I was completely in the right and going to win this battle, while I was actually very unsure.  The DCE and I have always been very friendly (definitely somebody you want as a friend, so as soon as he came I’ve been working hard to build a good relationship with him) and we greeted pleasantly, as we usually do.  The first thing he asked me was, “Oh Mam Bea, why is the place so small?”  Normally I try to think of my answers carefully and respond as best I can in the very roundabout, Ghanaian way.  This time, I just blurted out “That’s all I have money for.”  He laughed and said, “Oh, but didn’t we discuss you making it bigger and adding a bedroom and latrine and other things?” And I told him yes, you said I should do those things, but I had already written a grant for this small building and this is all I can afford to do. He said, “Then, we shall help you.” And instead of telling me I need to move the building to the bushy corner of the plot, he told his engineer to redraw the floor plan to make the hall 30 ft by 50 ft, enlarge the office, attach another room that can be a bedroom for the next PCV that will replace me, and add a latrine and bath house. And on top of it all, we will keep the same spot to build it. I was floored. They kept saying things like “It needs more windows for ventilation” and CK and I kept saying “But all the extra costs. . .” and they kept telling us “don’t worry, we will cover it.” So we have a meeting Wednesday with everyone to see the new floorplan and discuss the new budget. I am bringing my mason to determine costs, and our previous budget and will explain that I have exactly 7,060 Ghana Cedi from Peace Corps and I cannot pay a penny more, so any extra costs will be on the Distric Assembly. We are catiously optimistic.

In other news, I’ve been playing mommy for the past couple days. Kofi had a motorcycle accident about a week ago, and was doing OK but Sunday was in worse pain than he had been all week so he and his wife packed up and went to the hospital. Not knowing how long they would be gone, Hawa left a weeks worth of clothes with me. Sandra was so excited for our sleepover the first night. We watch a Disney movie each night, and so far it’s been Hercules and The Jungle Book. In the morning she is very good about getting herself ready for school. Our small boys (teenagers who live in the house and earn their keep by doing chores and running errands) have been very helpful, doing all their normal chores plus what Hawa usually does without being asked. I hope Kofi comes back today, I’m getting slightly worried. I think they forgot to take their chargers to the hospital because their phones have been off. Please send good thoughts their way!

a day at the farm

Cocoa is coming back into season.  I think I mentioned it in my blogs last year, but cocoa is the main crop around here and the vast majority of people in my town are cocoa farmers. They plant cocoa trees in the forest and once or twice a year remove the mature cocoa pods from the tree, split them open with a machete, and remove the cocoa seeds.  Then, they cover the pile of cocoa with banana leaves and let it sit in the forest for three to five days. This lets the cocoa ferment. After it’s fermented, they load into baskets and carry them on their heads to drying racks, where they let it soak up the sun and dry out. Once dry, they bag it up and sell it to the cocoa companies. We have four or five cocoa companies in town with big warehouses to hold the cocoa before loading it on trucks and sending it to Accra, where it is exported to Europe to make chocolate. It’s Ghana’s biggest export, and the area I live in is the biggest producer.

(sorry for the poor quality pictures, only took my iphone. instagram improved them small small)

Sandra demonstrates what ripe cocoa pods look like

Sandra demonstrates what ripe cocoa pods look like

Hacking away at the giant pile of cocoa

Hacking away at the giant pile of cocoa

ready to be covered to ferment

ready to be covered to ferment

Kofi has a cocoa farm and invited me to come with him to check on the work on Saturday.  We went to a nearby village (he called it a village, I guess 10 houses in the forest qualifies as such?) and we stopped and greeted everyone before going into his farm.  We walked back further in the trees for a few minutes before we heard singing and found about 10 men transporting all the cocoa they had just shelled to the place where it would dry for the next few days. A few stayed back while most continued walking. I thought they were going home, but they were just going to the next giant pile of cocoa in another part of the forest.  We followed, pulled up some stools, and joined in. Even though Kofi owns the farm and hired all of these laborers, he still sat with them, picked up a cutlass (machete) and started working right along side them while telling stories to entertain them.  Pretty soon a girl showed up with some jugs of pito and calabashes.  Pito is a homemade beer, and a calabash is a dried out melon rind used as a cup or bowl. They used to be a common utensil here, but are now mostly only used for drinking pito. We stayed about an hour, shared some pito, and had a good time.

pito break

pito break

discarded pods after a pile has been finished

discarded pods after a pile has been finished

On the way home Kofi told me more about how he got his farm.  Kofi is from another town in the Sefwi area and when he was about 13 he came to Adabokrom to stay with his father’s friend and attend Jr. high School. After being here less than a year, his father died, and the man he was staying with became his new father. In fact, there are several elders in town Kofi calls his “real father” because they all pitched in to raise him. Kofi’s actual real father had a cocoa farm that shared a boundary with his adoptive father. When he died, the adoptive father took over both farms. Once Kofi came of age, he asked for his father’s share of the cocoa farm back. The man refused.

The man told him that if he tried to take cocoa from the farm he would put a juju spell on him to kill him.  Kofi argued that the farm was his father’s, and it should be his now that he was old enough to own it.  To prove he was serious, the man went to a juju priest and put a curse on Kofi.  Nothing happened to Kofi, but the man became sick last year. Again, he sought the advice of a spiritual leader. The priest he went to told him that his illness was due to the fact that he wanted to kill another man and had attempted to do so and failed. The only cure, he said, was to forgive Kofi and give him what was rightfully his. This is the second season Kofi has had his cocoa farm.

There could be another side to the story about why his father didn’t let him have the cocoa farm, but regardless, it still amazes me that people resort to juju to solve disputes, to threaten each other, or to provide explanations when there isn’t already a satisfactory explanation available. Regardless, I still enjoy hearing juju stories, and it doesn’t get much better than spending the day in the rainforest.