Another Day in Tamale

Sensory Overload….
April 4, 2007, 2:28 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

It is difficult for me to summarize this last month I’ve spent in Ghana. The input of sensory stimulus has been so large it’s been a bit paralyzing. There have just been too many things to observe, too many people to speak with and not nearly enough hours in the day. For the sake of time and interest, I will include a few brief excerpts of experiences from my week-long stay in Kukpehi, a small rural village outside of Tamale (pronounced Ta-Ma-Lay), and a few pictures of my life in Tamale.

Fetching Water:

As beads of sweat trickled down my face, I did my best to concentrate, keep my head steady and prevent any more of the water contained within the bucket perched on my head from splashing out. With both hands clutched onto the sides of my bucket I became a source of much amusement for the women of the community, to whom fetching water is quite routine. These women were able to lift and place on their heads buckets that weighed around 40 pounds and were then able to carry this water for about 1 km back to their village. The women normally made this trip four times a day. Even after a week of practice, I was barely able to make two consecutive trips to fetch water with a bucket half the size normally used.

Now, while it is true that it is difficult work carrying water, it is certainly not an unpleasant chore. During this time all the women in the community have a chance to greet each other and exchange small pieces of information. I felt a large sense of companionship while I was collecting water, and if I was looking tired or my load was looking unsteady the passing women would offer me food or rearrange my bucket for me. However, most people would agree that walking a kilometre or two four times daily to collect water is not an optimal situation. Water availability is probably one of the biggest challenges facing many rural communities in the Northern part of Ghana. In light of this, there are many organizations and projects looking to provide alternate sources of drinking water. This experience made me wonder if these organizations are considering how they might be changing patterns of social interaction and the flow of information.

‘The Storm’:

One of the evenings that I was in Kukpehi, the rains and the wind came. I’ve never quite experienced anything similar to that brief but extremely intense storm. One minute the rain was flooding down in sheets and the air was thick with dust and the next minute the air was calm and dry. As a result of the storm, many of the houses in the village had their roofs damaged. In some cases, the entire woven grass structure had been removed. To me this was such a clear example of how directly linked people, especially the marginalized, are to their surrounding environment.

After the storm had subsided and I had surveyed the damage that Kukpehi had sustained, I thought it might take weeks for all the structures to be repaired. However, the next day when I wandered around the village I was surprised to see that almost all the houses had been repaired. In less than a day, the men of the village had worked together co-operatively to repair all of the roofs. Clearly, this community had established a highly effective strategy that enabled them to cope in such a harsh environment.

It is times like these when the relevance and importance of asset-based community development asserts itself. There are a multitude of highly effective, locally adapted strategies that communities use and have been using as a means to survive for hundreds of years. These strategies are often ignored or overlooked when a development organization enters a community looking to ‘fix problems’ with short-term projects and ‘magic bullet’ solutions. Instead of being overlooked, established locally adapted systems are just the sorts of assets that communities should be encouraged to mobilize and use a means of solving their own challenges.

My humble abode!

On Saturday I moved into my new place of residence in an area of Tamale called Tishigu. While I have only spent three nights in my new place, it already feels like home. My rent is about $8/month, my room has its own bath and I only have to walk a short distance to use the closest public toilet.


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

hey liz! great to hear about some of your first experiences. that storm sounds fierce!

you should check out ben best’s blog ( to read a bit more about kukpehi and asset-based community development. he did a lot of work with that, and has some pretty interesting posts about it. (you may already know about this blog, but i thought i’d pass it on just in case).

anyway, great to hear from you! stay safe and good luck with your work. and keep that profile comin 😉


Comment by Erin

My amazing little experience:
I just googled “Kukpehi Ghana” to try and learn a little more, maybe see some photos, you know. The only sites that came up were yours and the blog of the previous EWB volunteer in Tamale! In some ways I find that beautiful. It makes it seem like a million worlds a part. So far removed from my reality. The kind of place that could disprove the rule of six degrees of separation. Does any of that hark true at all from your perspective? On the other hand, the world sometimes feels so small, and can remind us of how similar and dissimilar we can all be at the same time.

Good luck with the balance,

Comment by Mael

My dear Liz…
WONDERFUL WRITING! I love it. What’s the “task” you’ve been assigned with EWB? The “job description”? When did you get there? When do you come back? Are you able to travel at all? Send me an email when you get the opportunity, and I’ll be checking up on this blog often.

Kisses and loads and loads of love.
I miss you.
I miss you, but I’m so, so happy for you.


Comment by MC MacD

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