Sunrises, shrines, and sights

Another week and more to tell! A work related post is overdue, but it must wait for now. As last weekend we ventured north to the town of Bolgatanga where we walked to the Tengzug Shrine and Tongo Hills. This was both stunning and fascinating, so I had to share it with you.

On a side note, if you haven’t read my ‘about’ section yet, it is worth knowing that the organisation I’m working with (RAINS) have their own blog here which is run by us 4 volunteers together and is generally based off the work we are doing or cultural matters in Ghana. So keep checking back there for another angle on my life in Ghana!

Anyway, after a 3 hour journey in what is called a ‘tro-tro’ (a cramped and questionable minibus), that unfortunately included a tire bursting 15 minutes in, we arrived in Bolga on Friday evening to meet the other ICS volunteers (where we slept on the roof… just because you can) ready to set off the following morning. What follows are a set of photos to lead you through the journey!

We set out at around 6am for our 11 mile walk, hoping to avoid the midday sun heat. This meant for a rare opportunity to catch the sun rising!

We set out at around 6am (ouch!) for our 11 mile walk, hoping to avoid the midday sun heat. This meant for a rare opportunity to catch the sun rising!

Something just to give you a flavour of what  sort of terrain we were walking in.

Something just to give you a flavour of what sort of terrain we were walking in. The extreme flatness meant it was often easy to see for miles.

Now very close to the Tongo Hills, which you can see in the background.

After 4 or so hours we were now very close to the Tongo Hills, which you can see in the background.

We stopped for a short break on some rocks before heading into the hills. Please excuse the two hooligans...

With the heat now taking it up a gear, we stopped for a short break on some shaded rocks before heading into the hills. Please excuse the two hooligans…

Only after a minute or so of walking into the hills, we stumbled upon a fantastic view!

Only after a minute or so of walking into the hills, we stumbled upon a fantastic view!

The new terrain for the next 30/60 minutes.

The new terrain for the next 30/60 minutes…

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Once we arrived at the visitor centre for the Tongo Hills and Tengzug Shrine, we were first led by our guide to this arrangements of rocks. Believe it or not, this was once the local school! Inside there is a ledge upon which the children would sit and learn.

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We were then introduced to the local chief. He told us a little about himself, such as about the development work he has done in his region to build wells and also the fact he has 19 wives.

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The last leg before reaching the Tengzug shrine!

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Like I said, we stumbled upon some great views. This was the final spot before we had to remove our tops, shoes and socks (if wearing trousers then they had to be rolled up to be like shorts). The guys went first up to the shrine, before heading back down to let the girls go up second. I hadn’t realised quite how hot the rocks got in the sun!

Just outside the topless shrine...

Just outside the Tengzug shrine, where we weren’t allowed to take photos. The shrine itself is slotted between the rocks and is very simple and predominantly spiritual based. It was very peaceful and cool inside, where there was a priest who told us about the shrine and let us ask questions. People come from far around Ghana and surrounding regions to visit the shrine, which dates back to 500 BC, and people who wish to worship there must bring an animal to be sacrificed, eating the meat and leaving behind the rope and fur (which there is a sizable pile of inside the shrine). The reason for the topless requirement is because traditionally Ghanaians would wear only simple rags to cover themselves around the waist; so since that was how people used to visit the shrine, this tradition has been kept to ever since.

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Damba Festival!

On Sunday and Monday we had the great opportunity to experience the Damba Festival, originally an Islamic ceremony dedicated to the birth and naming of Mohammed. We were lucky enough to be invited by Chief Anusa, who we know through the work we are doing with the Dinani cultural performance group, which was originally established by Anusa and RAINS to give underprivileged kids the opportunity to learn traditional dancing and drumming whilst teaching them life skills. We are now working with Dinani to teach kids about contraceptive and sexual health through traditional African performances.Chief Inusa surrounded by drummers. If only you could see the moves Inusa has!

Chief Anusa surrounded by drummers. He seriously knows how to dance.
A dancer wearing a traditional Ghanain smock

A dancer wearing a traditional Ghanain smock

A detailed peak into the passion put into the drumming, along with an example of the unique bent drumstick....

An up-close peak into the passion put into the drumming, along with an example of the unique bent drumstick….

These guns packed a serious punch, hugely adding to the atmosphere but get too close and you'd be left with ringing in your ears. On the second day I was left right in front of one of these, as the kids were sharp and scampered off in front of me, leaving me to be covered in gunpowder dust and partially deaf.

Each chief has “warriors”, who brought along guns that they filled with gunpowder and straw and fired into the air, packing a serious punch and hugely adding to the atmosphere. But get too close and you’d be left with ringing in your ears! On the second day I was left right in front of one of these. The kids in front of me were sharp and scampered off, leaving me to be covered in gunpowder dust and partially deaf for a minute… good fun though.

I thought it was worth showing you a photo of just how incredible a chief's outfit is. Finished off with some sleek sunglasses for good measure.

I had to include a photo displaying how incredible Anusa’s ceremonial outfit  was. Finished off with some sleek sunglasses for good measure.

This was a few seconds after turning to take a photo of all the children crammed on top of the bus trying to get a good view. I cannot stress enough how much (most of) the kids love having their photo taken, practically sprinting to get into the shot and pose.

This was a few seconds after turning to take a photo of all the children crammed on top of the bus trying to get a good view. I cannot stress enough how much (most of) the kids love having their photo taken, practically sprinting to get into the shot and pose.

Chief Inusa and his white homies.

Chief Anusa, his family and us!

This needs some explaining, as the gunshots were really not as intense looking as this (although if you convert that fire into sound than that's a more accurate representation).

This isn’t quite what it was like, as the gunshots were really not intense fireballs like this (although if you imagine transforming that fire into sound and smoke than that’s a more realistic representation of what we experienced).

The only photo from the second half of the Damba Festival. The chiefs made there way through this crowd on horses, surrounded by supporters, towards the chief's palace where they were congregating. The atmosphere was outstanding, but also a tad overwhelming as the crowds were vastly uncontrolled. We managed to escape thanks to the help of some friends who knew their way around.

The only photo from the second half of the Damba Festival. The chiefs fought their way through this crowd on horses, surrounded by supporters, towards the paramount chief’s palace (Dakpema) where they were congregating. The atmosphere was outstanding, but also a tad overwhelming as the crowds were very intense. We managed to escape down a side alley thanks to the help of some members from Dinani who knew their way around.

Less to do with the festival, more just a photo of two children with great expressions.

Less to do with the festival, more just a photo of two children with great expressions.

An eventful first week and a bit

So I have eventually come round to uploading my first post. So much has already happened and I really could go on forever about every detail. Here is the first ‘literal’ snapshot into my life in Ghana so far. This really only scratches the surface and covers the basics of where I work, my house and a little bit more!

The RAINS staff along with all the new volunteers. Our projects are looking very promising based off what we've read from the previous volunteer cohorts.

The RAINS permanent staff along with the new UK volunteers (Me, Jack, Jo and Charlie), the national volunteers (Justice, Festus and Jill) and our team leader (Matt) . Our projects are looking very promising based off what we’ve read from the previous volunteer cohorts. There is huge amounts of detailed research to work from.

Hard at work already in the RAINS office. Our work is mostly office based, where we do research, contact people etc. Here we were most likely gathering details of agricultural NGOs who can help us run best-practice farming workshops for our cooperative, or looking into small scale funding ideas in northern Ghana to raise money for the Dinani cultural group who we use to raise awareness of contraceptives and sexual health.

Hard at work already in the RAINS office. Our work is often office based, where we do research, contact organisations etc. This week we were mainly reading through the previous cohorts reports, and then gathering details of agricultural NGOs who can help us run best-practice farming workshops for our farming cooperative (for the Farming for Futures project), looking into small scale funding ideas in northern Ghana to raise money for the Dinani cultural group (for the Girls project, which uses Dinani to hold performances that aim to raise awareness of contraceptives and remove myths), and lastly we began to sort through the clothes already donated from the privileged schools (for the uniform recycling project) as seen below!

At work sorting through donated clothes for the uniform recycling project, where we aim to get clothes donated from the better off schools (as you can see the previous cohort already made a good start) and then give the uniforms to the less well off schools. All the clothes need sorting through and a lot of them repairing as well, not to mention making them suitable for each individual school - a lot to do then!

At work sorting through donated clothes for the uniform recycling project, in which we aim to get clothes donated from privileged schools (as you can see the previous cohort already made a great start) and then give the uniforms to the less well off schools. All the clothes need sorting through and a lot of them repairing as well, not to mention making them suitable for each individual school – a lot to do then!

As you may have already seen on Facebook, this our home! It's basic but we already have warmed to it and it'd odd characteristics...

Our home! We’ve already warmed to it and its peculiar characteristics…

The view as I immediately step out of my front door, note the family over to the right. They are very friendly and their children, as you'll see, are not shy to come over and say hello!

The view as I immediately step out of my front door, note the family over to the right. They are very friendly and their children, as you’ll see below, are not shy to come over and say hello!

The children from the homes surrounding our house came over one day to say hello. We showed them how to draw with crayons and then showed them photos of themselves - which they found absolutely hilarious!

The children from the homes surrounding our house came over one day to say hello. We showed them how to draw with crayons and then showed them photos of themselves – which they found absolutely hilarious!

Me and Jo with the group of kids from outside our house. They found it amazing seeing photos of themselves, so we of course we couldn't pass up the opportunity for a group photo! Although this was taken by Jack, we in fact had some of the kids taking photos themselves once after this!

Me and Jo with the group of kids from outside our house. Like I said, they found it amazing seeing photos of themselves, so we of course couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a group photo. Although this was taken by Jack, we in fact had some of the kids taking photos after this!

Our plan for what we want done/begun by the end of next week. DOC = Department of cooperatives.

Our plan for what we want done/begun by the end of next week. DOC = Department of Cooperatives. GP = Girls project. There are three regions we hope to carry out a Dinani performance in (Gbimsi, Wulugu & Nayorku). So far, one performance has been done in Gbimsi – the region worst affected by dropout rates and young pregnancy as revealed through previous research,

Heathrow at 1am

Twas the night before Ghana, when all through Heathrow
Not a drink was stirring, not even a cappuccino
No shopping was in sight,
Nor was a flight.

Heathrow at 1am – something that is probably all too familiar for many people (well, maybe more like 4/5am).

I’m finally here – tired, nervous and excited! The trip began from the off with a touch of drama as I discovered that my suitcase’s zip was on the brink of breaking, forcing me to scramble my things into my Dad’s suicase an hour before leaving. A good start.

Excuse me if this post is not the best (I apologise for murdering ’twas the night before christmas’, as it’s now 3am (having wrestled with worpress for an hour or so) and despite my flight being at 7:55am I left my house at 9pm yesterday! Getting the train and tube seemed the best way when planning it …

So as you can hopefully understand, right now I cannot wait to get on the plane and fall asleep.

So for now, wish me luck!

PS That photo of a desolate looking Heathrow on the front page will of course be changed to a lovely photo of Ghana in the coming days, but for now it sums up the journey so far all too well! Hopefully I’ll work out how to have high quality images on wordpress as well.