What I am doing here

I’ve spent a few days at work by now.

Just to make future posts easier to write (for me) and easier to understand (for you), let me first explain what I’m doing here in Ghana.

I am on an internship with a local non-governmental organization (henceforth called NGO). This NGO is about as grassroots as any organization can get — started by a local man from Tamale, staffed by purely people from Tamale.

It’s a microcredit NGO. Basically, it gives small loans to women groups from the villages so that they can start/improve on their businesses. Microcredit is a little controversial as of now; some people think it works, some people think it’s bullshit.

We’ve talked about microcredit in my development classes, but I can’t say I know both sides of the argument: I pretty much know a lot of advantages, very little of the disadvantages. So that’s why I’m here! To learn more.

Actually, frankly, I had wanted to intern with a food security and water sanitation organization, but things didn’t turn out well because the director of that organization wanted to charge me for silly things such as “internet use” and going on the local radio (wtf?), and it ended up being very expensive. My school wouldn’t fund that kind of thing, and I sure as heck wasn’t going to pay out of my own pocket.

So anyway, here I am, in Tamale, working in microcredit.

Quick info about Tamale: It is one of the poorest regions in Ghana. This neighborhood in which I am staying, a lot of the houses do not have their own toilets. Most of them go to a public toilet, and sometimes, the children pee at the side of the house. There are a lot of goats, so naturally, there are goat shit everywhere. While a good number of houses have electricity, there are still some that use candlelight at night. There are no street lamps, so once the sun sets, you need a flashlight to walk around or risk walking into things ya don’t wanna be walkin’ into. And yet, this is considered one of the better neighborhoods around.

Fact: None of the houses have flush toilets. If you’re lucky, you get a hole and a bucket, like the house I’m living in. If you’re like everyone else, you poo at a public toilet. If you’re a child, you poo at (informally) designated poo spots. None of the buildings have flush toilets, either.

If you go to a school, or an office, and you look for the restrooms, what you find is 4 walls, no ceiling, completely open-air (but the walls are a little higher than the average person’s head, so you get a privacy from that); you walk in, you squat at a corner and do your thing, you pull up your pants, and you leave. Just like that.

Some of the children juggle play time with work time after school. Some of them come to the yard to play, before they have to go back to work again.

Another fact about Tamale: There are tons of NGOs here. Like, tons. There are also a good number of white people around town (white being anyone who’s not black), and most of these whites are volunteers here.

I’ve only been here for a few days, but I’m already very impressed by the people in “my” organization. Frankly, I’ve only ever met 4 of them. The director, the leader, the person who decides how the organization is run, Mr. Smith, and the staff.

It’s quite impressive. They do not have a lot themselves, and yet they are spending so much effort helping women who are living in poverty.

Every morning, we go to some villages who have gotten loans from us (I’ll be saying “us” from now on), or who are hoping to get loans from us. You know those “African villages” that we see on TV? The ones where the people live in mud huts, little kids sitting on the dirt ground next to farm animals? This is it. This is that “African village” that I had in my mind all this while.

These are the villages that do not have clean drinking water. Also the ones whose kids forage for food and scrap around the rubbish dump. The people here only speak Dagbani, and not a word of english, because they’ve never been to school.

Every morning, I visit a few of these villages.

The women. This group is still waiting for help from our NGO, because we are still lacking funds.

The first time I was there, I was told to introduce myself. One of the staff from this NGO, whom I shall henceforth very fakely call Isaac, translated for me. After that, he was like, “Do you have any advice for them?”

I thought it was the most ridiculous question ever. I mean, ME? Advise THEM? What the fuck do I know enough about life in general that they don’t know? I am not better than them, just luckier, more privileged. If anything, they should be giving me advice.

Will write more later.

For each working day, I have to write a daily report/journal/fieldnotes that has to be from 1-3 (single-spaced!!) pages. Every day! Not just a report of what happened, but an analysis of events, a reflection, and daily question blah blah blah. This shit takes me forever to write.

Thank goodness I actually have tons of time here. I mean, there aren’t a lot to do here. I spend the most time being at work, and playing with the kids (which is a few hours every day).

I wish I brought a book with me. I was really, really hoping to get my hands on Albert Camus’ L’étranger (The Stranger) in french to read during my time here, but couldn’t manage to. I can actually FEEL my french proficiency level dropping. I try to speak a few sentences of french to myself every day. It would honestly suck if I go back to college and my french professors / friends learning french expect me to speak without sounding shitty, and I disappoint them.

Okay going to go to the internet café to post this now. Bai!

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