Day 4: ‘The Durfur at Peki’

Today we finally leave Accra to the Volta Region. This is the part of the journey that is tiresome because we have to re-load out bus with all the suitcases and boxes. It is another hot and humid day and the bus driver is working so hard to tie our boxes to the top of our small bus. We have come to realize that the location of our hotel is not ideal. Accra is a huge city and most of our destinations have been on the opposite side of our hotel. We have traveled 2+ hours each way in the evening and the morning and that only gets us across the city. We travel for miles but often end up sitting at traffic lights trying to not make eye contact with the plethora of street vendors. I would go crazy if I had to deal with this traffic every day.

We are headed to a fairly new orphanage on the way to Peki. It was founded by a woman from Spain who felt compelled to open an orphanage and has been able to leverage some of her connections in Spain and beyond to help support this institution. It is an interesting orphanage that houses special needs children, orphans and children of families that can no longer afford them. It appears to be a well run organization with multiple smaller buildings and nearby mango tree fields that are harvested by villagers to help support the costs of the orphanage. We are met by an assortment of children who are so glad to open our box of clothes, videos, books, beanie babies, toothpaste etc.. We hope to makethree other donations to orphanages in Ghana before we leave to return to the US.

We still have about 2+ more hours to drive to Peki. It is now 3:30 and we have been in the bus for since 10:45. We have had so much traffic today and this waste of time drives us crazy. We stopped for a while at the Kaneshie Market which was the scene oftwo episodes of the Amazing Race. It is a massive intersection with markets on all sides and throngs of people and cars. We idle but the side of the road while we wait for someone who has purchased insecticide treated mosquito nets for our malaria educationprogram tomorrow in Peki.

Our hotel in Peki is very nice. We arrive with the instructions to be ready to leave in 20 minutes. Despite spending all day in a bus we feel very dusty and dirty but there is no time for a shower. Off we go to Peki for our Durbur with the Chiefs. A Durbur is a ceremony that involves drumming, singing, dancing, greetings from the Chief and myself, a blessing with palm wine and lastly the African naming ceremony.

We are surrounded by hundreds of people from the villages of Peki. It seems like there are more children than adults. The kids are thrilled to see the American students and pose quickly for an array of photos. The drums start and the chief processes into the open area and sits in his designated area surrounded by the lesser chiefs.

There is not Queen Mother today but Maura was made an honorary Queen Mother last year so she is recognized and sits on the left side of the chief. I am recognized and after my introductory remarks are made I am asked to sit near my ‘Queen Mother.’ I joke around that I am her ‘lady in waiting’ but she hear the Chief’s comments better than me and she tells me that because I am a teaching at a University I have been given the title of the Queen of Linguistics. I don’t know if that is true but I will confirm that tomorrow.I kind of liked being a lady in waiting!

The Durbur was very surreal and like going back in time. We are surrounded by at least 500 people from the village . I can sense the energy and excitement from the people. They do not do this ceremony very often. The children sing and the young boys are beating on the drum. The music is long and rhythmic. The drums beating heavily and there is some dancing. The dancers are dressed in traditional Ghanaian cloth and dance on the dirt and small rocks. There is a cloud of dust over everything. The people steal glances at us and the children encroach upon our seats so that they can get close to the Americans.

I have to tell the crowd why we are there in their village and it gets interpreted by the chief. We invite them to our programs tomorrow but I am fearful because I have told the students to prepare a program for 50 children and 25 mothers but there are at least 10 times that much in the crowd. We have purchased about 20 mosquito nets and we have another 12 that we brought with us so we can leave over 30 nets with them.

The people are so welcoming and kind. Tonight I have been able to try the pounding of the Fufu. This is a dough that is prepared with kasava root and plantain or yam. The women have to pound these vegetables into a mush and then it becomes a dough like substance when water is added. When complete it resembles a ball of bread dough but they eat it like that with a spicy soup. When we returned at night one of the students, Jason, ordered some banku to try. This is similar to fufu but it is derived from corn powder with some kasava. He did not like the banku but found the soup not so bad until he discovered the whole fish in his bowl, head and all. The next day his stomach is a bit upset. I wonder if that will end his food trials.

It is now Day 6 and I am preparing to leave for the village to observe the student projects. They are excited to do their projects and are happy forfive days of getting to know the people because they had to modify their language in the program to match the phrases here in Ghana. Hot head means fever, waist pain is abdominal or back pain, catarrh is common cold etc. Time is short so I must go now. Thanks for your comments and emails.

“Tears, Smiles and Tears”

By Valerie King

Today we are scheduled to go to the Hohoe Christian
Children’s Home. Before we leave Kpando we have become aware of another acute
public health problem. We drive a very short distance behind the health center
and we are in a small village. We depart
from our Tro Tro (which appears to be held together by not much more than duct
tape and rust). We are visiting a
watering hole. We trek into the woods about ‘ mile along a rutted path and we
meet many people, mostly children, coming out of the woods with various water
containers on their heads. It is amazing that these people have to walk such
lengths to get their water.

Our true
shock comes when we come upon the watering hole. There are actually 3 holes. The first one can
only be described in one word. DISGUSTING.
It is a large hole in the ground filled with putrid green water. We do not see people collecting water from
this hole but we are told that people do use it if the other holes are low. We
come to the second hole. I have to tell
you that the next part is pretty gross.
If any of you have the seen the movie The Ring you will recall that
there was a deep well that a little girl was drowned in. Well this ‘hole’ is exactly like that movie
and the saddest part of all is that over the last year six children have fallen
in and drowned and only one body was recovered.
The other 5 bodies have sunken to the bottom of that well and supposedly
not retrieved. These families have to
continue to draw their water from this well.
Part of me doubts this story but if it is true I can only imagine the
anguish a mother must feel as she has to draw water for the rest of her
children from the very well that took the life of her other child. The third hole is quite active today and
surrounded by about 20 people who are drawing up the water using buckets and
ropes. You can see how a small child
could fall into these wells and if no one was around there is no way to climb
out. It is a pure vertical cylinder of
old stone. The village has been trying to get some funds to dig a bore hole but
the government is not listening to their request. They have asked for our help in this
project. We are unsure what we can do to
help them but we will be visiting them on Saturday for a demonstration about
boiling the water that they are pulling out of the holes before
consumption. We will see what the costs
are for a bore hole. This is a perfect
project for our engineering students at UML and I hope to bring this to their

our walk out of the woods we load back into the Tro Tro. We are like little sardines squeezed into a
small tin can. Hohoe is about a 30 minute drive down bumpy roads. We arrive at the orphanage to be greeted by
the loving arms and hugs of 30+ children. They are all so happy and
affectionate and give freely of their hugs.
One of the Community Projects is implemented today with the

The UML students are presenting
a dental health program today. They have
donated samples of toothbrushes and paste and have developed a whole program
that is flawlessly implemented for the attentive audience of children ages
3-15. It is interesting to note that
even the older children are interested in the coloring pages that are given
out. They do not consider them to be juvenile and my impression is that they are
sweetly na’ve to all the usual American teenage angst. I am joined at the hip by my new ‘son’
Francis. He has stayed with me all day
today and at our previous visit. The
founder, Nicholas is married to an Australian woman who is back in her country for
a Christmas visit. She is a white woman
and I think the children are missing their white mother. I am missing my own children so it is a nice
way for me to give and receive affection.

There is a cute little three year old girl named Lee and she has a very obvious bald spot on one side of her head that appears to be a healed burn. We ask for her story and it is the most tragic story I have heard yet. She is from the region of Tamale and has only been in the orphanage for about a month. She used to live in a village that was very superstitious. Her parents died, of causes unknown to me, but her grandparents believed that this little girl is a witch and she is to blame for her parent’s death. They chained her and starved her and burned her head with some type of hot metal to get rid of the witch. She was found by a census worker who rescued the child and gave her to a Peace Corp volunteer who in turn brought her to the orphanage. You can see the fragile bones of this dear child who appears to be thriving in this caring environment but one wonders about post traumatic stress disorder and what type of psychological issues will arise for her in the future. She is affectionate and loves the clothes and underwear that we have brought with us. This horrific story has me near tears.

The young boys seem to gravitate to Maura and me probably because we are mothers. They want to tell us about themselves and share their colored pages with us. My buddy, Francis is staying close to me and insists on carrying one of my bags. We take multiple pictures and I cannot wait to load them onto the BLOG site. Our Tro Tro arrives and the children hover around us. Francis is holding tight to me and crying into my shirt. It breaks my heart to leave him but I am not in a position to take him with me. I would like to continue to communicate with the director and hopefully Francis will write to me as he has promised he would. There are so many children here who need a home.

My day ends on a bright note. I have been able to use my own laptop in the internet caf’ and the access seems a bit quicker. I have been feeling a bit lost without communication from friends and family and I hope it will improve a bit. It is now about 11:30 pm and tomorrow will start early so I will go to bed now.