Friday, October 24, 2008

Precious Abundant Water

It's the rainy season in Tamale, Ghana, which means that every few days we have a huge downpour, usually accompanied by lightening. The rain is nothing like Vancouver. It's more like a Hollywood studio when the sky flashes continuously in rhythm with the thunder claps and rain pounding over our tin roof. It can last anywhere between 10 minutes to an hour. Last Friday, the storm came right after school and lasted for about an hour, so most teachers (including me) were stuck in our classrooms waiting the rain out. Some of us took naps on the tables. When the rain finally stopped, we were free to go home, dodging huge puddles and avoiding the splash from cars and motorbikes. Most roads are dirt roads with either no or poor drainage, so some who walk have to take off their sandles and tread through the water. Bikes and motorbikes have to be equally careful on the slippery mud roads. Luckily for us, we get a ride home in the pastor's truck.

In spite of this apparant abundance of precipitation and Ghana's management of the world's largest man-made fresh water lake called Lake Volta, most homes (poor and rich alike) experience water shortages. Since arriving in Ghana, we’ve probably only enjoyed a handful of days with water served to our home through the city pipes, then into our tap. It’s a common occurance here, so most wealthier locals know to store their water in 250 gallon drums whenever the water is available. Tamale's water company has just one working pump, and one spare pump that has broken down years ago. The spare pump is too expensive to fix, so if there are any problems with the single working pump, water is cut off to the city. Another company was claimed that they have found a solution to the water shortage. They announced that they would solve all water shortages by August. August and September came and went, and we're nearly ending October still with water shortages.

At the guest house where we and the pastor live, we have 4 drums. Two of the drums are elevated, feeding water into the house's pipes via gravity. The third tank is elevated just high enough to put a bucket under its faucet so we can fetch water. The fourth is a tank from which we fetch with buckets.

The effect is that we have learned to conserve water tremendously. BC Hydro would be proud of us. Between taking showers, cooking, washing dishes, washing clothes, and flushing the toilet, we found that flushing the toilet uses the most most water. Every flush requires a full bucket of water, which we have to fetch from the drum outside, then manually pour into the back of the toilet. To conserve water, our toilet is usually only flushed twice a day (when someone goes #2). A phrase we learned from Caleb, "if it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down", is taken very literally here. We've learned to take bucket showers, which surprisingly uses very little water! A shower usually uses 1/4 a bucket of water, and almost 1/2 if I wash my hair. Washing dishes requires multiple rinses in a very small tub, but only uses about 1/2 bucket of water.
Water usage may be a little inconvenient for us, but it is hardship and even life-threatening for most of the population. On the way to school and on Saturday mornings, we've seen huge groups of women and children washing their clothes by broken water pipes, and walking long distances with tubs of water balanced on their heads. As the fresh water from the broken pipes run out, the only source of water is from dams of stagnant water. The transmition of cholera is not uncommon during these times.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Thanks for all the comments...sorry we can't reply to them all individually, but we do read them all! As a gift for those of you slogging through Tim's long diatribes, here are some photos. We finished posting the kili photos, and also some other photos from Ghana/Africa.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Village Experience

This past Sunday, we had the chance to go to a church service in a village and visit a bit with the people.
The route there started off pretty normal with a mix of concrete and dirt roads, but then we turned off onto a hidden road between guinea corn towering over both sides of the car. We passed many fields of various vegetables like okra, maize and cassava. Finally we arrived to a cozy mud/concrete rectangular building with a tin roof. In fact, most of the modern houses in the city are constructed in this fashion, but for this village, the church building was the best building in the village. There were about 20 people in attendance, half of them chidren either sitting on the benches, lying on the floor or walking about. As expected, Pastor Joshua (our host in Ghana) was called to preach without any warning. Of course, he was prepared, as he has been living in Ghana long enough to expect these kinds of surprises. What caught my attention during worship was this little 4 year old boy drumming and dancing with the most interesting rhythm and he was on beat! It would put any attempt at dancing on my part to shame.
After service, we walked around the village nodding and shaking hands with people (as that was the best we could do to communicate with them). An interesting plant we saw growing was marajuana. Like home, it's illegal to grow them, but also like home, because it's a significant source of income and the police hardly check the villages, they continue to do so. With the money made, they were able to repair a wagon tire.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Islamic life

Today (well, the day I write this, not the day I post) is the last day of Ramadan, the equivalent of Christmas in Islam. For the last few weeks, the Muslims have been fasting during the day, consuming neither food nor drink. They must not even swallow their saliva. Only at dusk are they permitted to eat and drink. At midnight, then again at 4AM they awake to pray. They end this regiment tomorrow morning at the celebration called Sala when they gather at the mosque or open field to pray, followed by a huge feast.

As a result of the fasting and the tiresome sleeping schedules, some of our muslim students have fallen ill, while others come to class with bloodshot eyes.

Update: We enjoyed Tuesday off from school as Sala was declared a holiday for the country. The following day, fewer than half our students came to class as many were still celebrating and feasting.

The price of software

In North America, there really isn't an excuse for most of us to pirate software. Much of the stuff we actually need is within the budget of the working class. And for those of us who can't afford it but are still technologically savvy, linux and other open source/free software is easily downloadable through our broadband connections. With the help of a quick internet, we are afforded ample opporttunity to research the software we are interested in before buying it, or finding a legally free alternative.

In a third world country such as Ghana, software is free like air is free: It can be acquired cheaply or freely,but only long term usage will reveal whether it was healthy or filled with disease. As mentioned in a prior post, just about every computer, if lucky, is infected with only a couple of viruses. If unlucky, it will be crippled by over a dozen. Initially, the student body was suspect for bringing in their own infected USB keys and stacks of bootlegged CDs, but I soon realized our own archive of software was infected. On our Windows XP ISOs were "free tools" such as Partition Magic and license key crackers. A virus scan revealed no fewer than three viruses or trojans hidden away in these tools. Everyone endures these threats willingly, as the cost of going legal is impossible. For example, a teacher's monthly salary equals the cost of a Windows Vista license in Canada. I am not aware of any "third world" discount, nor have I seen any Future Shop or Best Buy where one might acquire the software legally. Not that we'd be able to run any currently selling version of windows on our 256mb of ram that most of our machines at school have anyway.