a community voice from the zongo on sanitation [August 28, 2014]

The following journal entry about sanitation was composed by a Zongo community member and given to me for the purpose of posting online. He writes, 

"Sanitation is a major problem facing the whole wide world, but serious and dangerous in least developed countries which Ghana is no exception. The increasing population of industries that produces goods to meet human needs has met less measures to put in place for the proper disposal of waste which is the end product. By so doing, people dispose of their waste carelessly and are not concerned about the serious problems it could cause.

Also, the increasing population of the country saw no measures put in place by the government to tackle solid waste which led to people disposing of solid waste anywhere and anyhow. Most of the homes in Ghana have no toilets surprisingly and so there is a heavy burden on public toilets which sometimes in a whole community there would be none. So you can imagine how solid waste is disposed. As I write this journal, there is an outbreak of cholera in the capital town of Ghana which is Accra and about 4,000 are infected and a hundred have died so far.

Choked gutters are common in Ghana which the district, municipal, and the metropolitan assemblies are doing nothing to solve this problem and also residents who live close to these gutters are doing nothing to help themselves. Chocked gutters serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes which accounts for the high number of malaria cases recorded in the country. And, it is also the cause of cholera which is going on in the country’s capital and we are praying with our fingers crossed that it does not spread to other regions of the country.

All of these problems can also be found in a small community called the Kotokuraba Zongo which can be found in Cape Coast which is the former capital town of Ghana. This community is in the center of the town and is the heart of the town. Choked gutters, careless disposal of trash, and solid waste among others are friends of the people living in the Zongo. And, when residents like me who know the consequences of all these see what is going on in the Zongo, it’s like a sharp dagger being driven through our hearts slowly.

That is why I was excited and I beamed with hope when I learned about Emily and her project some years back. It was very good to know that someone cares and feels the same way I feel. I was happy and I said in my heart, “the almighty ALLAH has answered my prayers.”

Last year was a success with the distribution of rainwater collection systems and also a workshop whereby residents learned to make soap. Last year before Emily left, it was not certain whether she would come again or not and so when she told me that she will be coming, I was excited. This year when Emily came, we kicked off with some important meetings and also the opening ceremony which everybody was happy with the number of people present. After that, we went round to ask the beneficiaries of last year’s rainwater collection systems some questions to know what is working, what is not working, and whether there is the need for any form of modification or not.

There was also a workshop where residents learnt about how to make liquid soap and also there was a business workshop where they were taught how to get capital to start a soap business of their own. Last but not least, there was a clean-up exercise where residents came together to clean up the community. And I must say that is made me excited the most. At least, it reduced the amount of trash in the Zongo.

What really excites me the most about Emily’s project is that, she does not only help the community, but also she empowers the community to do something on their own. A great philosopher once said, “don’t give fish to someone, teach them how to fish.” And that is exactly what Emily is doing. Luckily, one of the committee members working with Emily is an assembly man and so after the clean-up exercise the item’s used were given to him and he has promised to organize the community to have a clean-up exercise at least once a month. If things continue this way, I can see a Zongo without trash and disease in the near future. Although a lot needs to be done, I am hopeful with the commitment of the committee members and the community we will achieve what we want in the near future. Thank you Emily and may the almighty ALLAH richly bless you."

liquid soap and business development workshop [August 21, 2014]

Prior to beginning this next entry on the two-day liquid soap and business development workshop, I owe an apology for not having written in the last few days – this has been in part due to very full days working in the Zongo and in part due to my husband’s arrival here from the States. Now, to begin…

After much pacing back and forth the previous evening and multiple nervous calls to the Zongo Water Committee about whether the instructor for the soap-making would actually show up for the workshop, I was relieved when he emerged from a taxi at 7:30 this morning. Astoundingly enough, we arrived at the Chief Wangara’s Palace (the Community Center) early. I spent this extra time scrambling to obtain the remainder of the materials needed for the workshop – water, plastic bowls, and a bench - as well as finalize details with today’s business development lecturer from Ghana Heritage Conservation Trust. Just before settling in to begin the liquid soap-making, I also spoke with the Chief Wangara about further renovations to his Palace beyond the bright blue rainwater collection systems. “You see,” he explained in a soft tone pointing up, “Now that we have this new roofing system, I’m trying to mobilize the funds to do the ceiling and the floor. We have to do that. We have to contribute.”

Though they trickled in slowly at first, by 9am there were nearly 50 eager participants seated in a large circle poised with pencil and notepads in hand. While I had initially thought women would form the majority, there were many men as well including the Chief Wangara himself.

Already wiping his sweaty (and I feared also feverish) brow, the instructor began the workshop with an introduction to the materials – base, salt, thickener, perfume, preservation, color, and foaming. The participants leaned in eagerly to see better and immediately began asking questions: Where in Accra may one purchase these materials? What are the prices and how have they changed over the course of the last year? What kind of perfume do you use for the soap? These questions continued as the instructor began mixing the base and salt together in a slow rhythmic clockwise motion. Once the mixture had become thick and a similar texture to marshmallow Fluff, he began adding water (and the occasional droplet of sweat that escaped from his brow). Many ingredients, instructions and questions later, we completed the first day of the workshop with two large tubs of liquid soap – one a light sea-foam green and the other a rich pink. According to the instructor, these needed to sit overnight in a cool place and by morning they should have changed into the familiar liquid soap color and texture.

Next, the business development officer from Ghana Heritage Conservation Trust, wearing a smart custom-tailored dress-suit and high heels, stood up to give her lecture. She explained how important it was to set money aside for the business and that one must have self-discipline in order to gain the capital needed for soap-making. Other topics covered included mobile banking opportunities, the need to acquire an array of skills to be successful, competitors, advertising, and cooperation with other residents interested in the same business. “You shouldn’t expect a profit right away,” she explained. “You should have at least 100 Ghana Cedis to start and remember, the customer is always right.” After a series of questions, I was surprised at the end of the day when the participants all put down their pencils to give the two instructors a hearty round of applause for usually (at least from my experience) the community has tended to air on the reserved, quiet side when it came to large group gatherings. One young woman even came up to me at the end of the first day and said, “Emily, thank you. I have already learned so many things. I look forward to tomorrow.”

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a community voice from the zongo on sanitation

THURSDAY, AUGUST 28, 2014 AT 03:39PM

 modifyremoveorganizepost follow up 

The following journal entry about sanitation was composed by a Zongo community member and given to me for the purpose of posting online. He writes, 

"Sanitation is a major problem facing the whole wide world, but serious and dangerous in least developed countries which Ghana is no exception. The increasing population of industries that produces goods to meet human needs has met less measures to put in place for the proper disposal of waste which is the end product. By so doing, people dispose of their waste carelessly and are not concerned about the serious problems it could cause.

Also, the increasing population of the country saw no measures put in place by the government to tackle solid waste which led to people disposing of solid waste anywhere and anyhow. Most of the homes in Ghana have no toilets surprisingly and so there is a heavy burden on public toilets which sometimes in a whole community there would be none. So you can imagine how solid waste is disposed. As I write this journal, there is an outbreak of cholera in the capital town of Ghana which is Accra and about 4,000 are infected and a hundred have died so far.

Choked gutters are common in Ghana which the district, municipal, and the metropolitan assemblies are doing nothing to solve this problem and also residents who live close to these gutters are doing nothing to help themselves. Chocked gutters serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes which accounts for the high number of malaria cases recorded in the country. And, it is also the cause of cholera which is going on in the country’s capital and we are praying with our fingers crossed that it does not spread to other regions of the country.

All of these problems can also be found in a small community called the Kotokuraba Zongo which can be found in Cape Coast which is the former capital town of Ghana. This community is in the center of the town and is the heart of the town. Choked gutters, careless disposal of trash, and solid waste among others are friends of the people living in the Zongo. And, when residents like me who know the consequences of all these see what is going on in the Zongo, it’s like a sharp dagger being driven through our hearts slowly.

That is why I was excited and I beamed with hope when I learned about Emily and her project some years back. It was very good to know that someone cares and feels the same way I feel. I was happy and I said in my heart, “the almighty ALLAH has answered my prayers.”

Last year was a success with the distribution of rainwater collection systems and also a workshop whereby residents learned to make soap. Last year before Emily left, it was not certain whether she would come again or not and so when she told me that she will be coming, I was excited. This year when Emily came, we kicked off with some important meetings and also the opening ceremony which everybody was happy with the number of people present. After that, we went round to ask the beneficiaries of last year’s rainwater collection systems some questions to know what is working, what is not working, and whether there is the need for any form of modification or not.

There was also a workshop where residents learnt about how to make liquid soap and also there was a business workshop where they were taught how to get capital to start a soap business of their own. Last but not least, there was a clean-up exercise where residents came together to clean up the community. And I must say that is made me excited the most. At least, it reduced the amount of trash in the Zongo.

What really excites me the most about Emily’s project is that, she does not only help the community, but also she empowers the community to do something on their own. A great philosopher once said, “don’t give fish to someone, teach them how to fish.” And that is exactly what Emily is doing. Luckily, one of the committee members working with Emily is an assembly man and so after the clean-up exercise the item’s used were given to him and he has promised to organize the community to have a clean-up exercise at least once a month. If things continue this way, I can see a Zongo without trash and disease in the near future. Although a lot needs to be done, I am hopeful with the commitment of the committee members and the community we will achieve what we want in the near future. Thank you Emily and may the almighty ALLAH richly bless you."

EMILY WILLIAMSON |  POST A COMMENT |  SHARE ARTICLE 

liquid soap and business development workshop

THURSDAY, AUGUST 21, 2014 AT 01:54PM

 modifyremoveorganizepost follow up 

Prior to beginning this next entry on the two-day liquid soap and business development workshop, I owe an apology for not having written in the last few days – this has been in part due to very full days working in the Zongo and in part due to my husband’s arrival here from the States. Now, to begin…

 

After much pacing back and forth the previous evening and multiple nervous calls to the Zongo Water Committee about whether the instructor for the soap-making would actually show up for the workshop, I was relieved when he emerged from a taxi at 7:30 this morning. Astoundingly enough, we arrived at the Chief Wangara’s Palace (the Community Center) early. I spent this extra time scrambling to obtain the remainder of the materials needed for the workshop – water, plastic bowls, and a bench - as well as finalize details with today’s business development lecturer from Ghana Heritage Conservation Trust. Just before settling in to begin the liquid soap-making, I also spoke with the Chief Wangara about further renovations to his Palace beyond the bright blue rainwater collection systems. “You see,” he explained in a soft tone pointing up, “Now that we have this new roofing system, I’m trying to mobilize the funds to do the ceiling and the floor. We have to do that. We have to contribute.”

 

Though they trickled in slowly at first, by 9am there were nearly 50 eager participants seated in a large circle poised with pencil and notepads in hand. While I had initially thought women would form the majority, there were many men as well including the Chief Wangara himself.

Already wiping his sweaty (and I feared also feverish) brow, the instructor began the workshop with an introduction to the materials – base, salt, thickener, perfume, preservation, color, and foaming. The participants leaned in eagerly to see better and immediately began asking questions: Where in Accra may one purchase these materials? What are the prices and how have they changed over the course of the last year? What kind of perfume do you use for the soap? These questions continued as the instructor began mixing the base and salt together in a slow rhythmic clockwise motion. Once the mixture had become thick and a similar texture to marshmallow Fluff, he began adding water (and the occasional droplet of sweat that escaped from his brow). Many ingredients, instructions and questions later, we completed the first day of the workshop with two large tubs of liquid soap – one a light sea-foam green and the other a rich pink. According to the instructor, these needed to sit overnight in a cool place and by morning they should have changed into the familiar liquid soap color and texture.

 

Next, the business development officer from Ghana Heritage Conservation Trust, wearing a smart custom-tailored dress-suit and high heels, stood up to give her lecture. She explained how important it was to set money aside for the business and that one must have self-discipline in order to gain the capital needed for soap-making. Other topics covered included mobile banking opportunities, the need to acquire an array of skills to be successful, competitors, advertising, and cooperation with other residents interested in the same business. “You shouldn’t expect a profit right away,” she explained. “You should have at least 100 Ghana Cedis to start and remember, the customer is always right.” After a series of questions, I was surprised at the end of the day when the participants all put down their pencils to give the two instructors a hearty round of applause for usually (at least from my experience) the community has tended to air on the reserved, quiet side when it came to large group gatherings. One young woman even came up to me at the end of the first day and said, “Emily, thank you. I have already learned so many things. I look forward to tomorrow.”

 

CLAP-clap-clap-clap-clap-clap-CLAP! “What is the first step in making the liquid soap?” Baba Haruna asked the participants with enthusiasm. The same young woman I had talked with at the end of the day yesterday stood up and explained the first step. “Toh!” Baba affirmed in the local Fante language. The same clapping pattern thundered across the room, CLAP-clap-clap-clap-clap-clap-CLAP! and was followed by another question, “How does one stir the liquid-soap mixture?” he asked. A sea of hands shot up and Baba picked an older woman to answer. Without speaking she used her hands and arms to pull her body in a large circular, clockwise motion. “Good!” Baba responded in Fante. CLAP-clap-clap-clap-clap-clap-CLAP! I peeked down at my watch – 9:15. We were supposed to start at 8am, but luckily Baba’s questions had kept everyone very entertained. Finally, the soap-maker appeared looking only slightly better than yesterday. “I had to take my malaria medicine this morning,” he explained to me as he peered frowning into the large liquid soap tubs. I couldn’t possibly believe that taking a single pill would make him over an hour late, but I soon forgot this minor hiccup when the workshop began on a problematic note. Because he was speaking to the residents in Fante, I couldn’t quite understand what the soap-maker was saying, but I could get the gist. The soap mixture we had made yesterday had not properly changed into the liquid soap and had retained its light color with no opacity. To my surprise, the residents didn’t seem in the least bit annoyed by this. In fact, many of them shrugged their shoulders and nodded in understanding. “You see Emily,” Murtala said, “this one had too many eyes on it. Here in Africa, we say that it has entered the spiritual realm. It is no one’s fault, but sometimes when there are too many eyes, it can spoil.” To rectify the situation, The Chief Wangara suggested that the soap-maker invite three participants, one from each “zone” to another smaller workshop with fewer “eyes”. This way, these trainees could become experts and it would be their duty to teach others in the community. Once the trainees had been decided upon and the date set for next week, we began the second half of the workshop – again focusing on business development. The lecture, graciously given by Murtala, an economist and a member of the Zongo Water Committee, focused on how to raise capital – whether it be in the form of personal savings, from family and relatives, the bank or government. Rather than emphasize personal savings as the GHCT representative has done yesterday, Murtala focused on government-provided programs such as YES (Young Empowerment Synergy program) and EDIF (export development and investment fund). Hammad leaned over and whispered to me, “He is really, really educating them.” Murtala went on to explain that the participants of today’s workshop could form 5-6 groups. Each group could then write a business proposal and provide it (along with a sample of soap) to the Assembly and they in turn will give a small amount of funding from which to begin the business. He translated into English for me, “We don’t want this business to die a natural death. We must be the managers of these funds.”

The workshop ended with reminders about the upcoming sanitation clean-up exercise and the importance of participation. One older and very well-respected man in the community stood up and interjected, “Is it because of Emily that we are doing this?” He pointed at me and continued, “Why does it take her coming here for us to do this exercise? This is something we should be doing on our own.” Many heads nodded vigorously and with that hopeful response, we ended the workshop with closing prayers. Amin.

Still concerned whether the children would be allowed to present the play at the closing ceremony, I hesitantly called Hammad that evening. “I was even going to call you yesterday,” Hammad responded at the end of the line. “We have full approval to go ahead. They (the board of the school) even really liked the idea.” Relieved that the play would work out, I added, “I was also thinking we could distribute dustbins to each of the three schools in the Zongo as a way to reinforce the messages in the play.” Hammad replied, “Oh wow. That would be very nice. I will arrange for the headmasters of the schools to all be there to receive them.”

first impressions by david fenchel [August 19, 2014]

Day 01

While sitting in Boston Logan Airport I had already been transported to a far away place. Corralled into undersized Terminal E, numerous delayed flights were simultaneously queued up to make their departures to Frankfurt, Unites Emirates, London and beyond. Burkas, babies and weary travelers were all pushing their way to board their plane. When I had finally boarded my flight, sitting at the gate ready to push off, I glimpsed out the window to see a familiar sight, one I had long forgot, the Boston skyline.

I arrived in Accra an hour late and after an anxious waiting-game of roulette, my bag popped out from behind the metal curtain and onto the conveyor belt. A quick dash through customs, and the customary gauntlet of peddlers, swindlers and chauffeurs, I saw my wife's smiling face - Phew!

The next morning we left Accra and headed to Cape Coast. Our driver, Kofi, narrated much of the trip pointing out all the roadside wares, "see, see that's grasscutter", or "see, see those are coffins", or "see, see those are giant snails". Every town seems to specialize in something different, and the larger ones have them all.

We arrived at Fairhill Guesthouse and were warmly welcomed. After dropping my bags we headed to town for a quick overview of Cape Coast. Hopping out of the shared taxi at Kotokuruba Market, almost immediately I hear, "Habiba, Habiba!" and two smiling face children waited for the familiar response "Hi!"

The market area was full of life, people browsing, buying, selling, or just hanging out. Cars and motorcycles weaved through the sea of people, using their horn more than their steering wheel to get through the crowd. I learned immediately that it's my responsibility to get out of the way if I want to avoid being struck! The smell of food was everywhere- smoked fish, fried chicken parts, grilled maize, and many brightly colored fruits such as watermelon, pineapples, bananas, tomatoes, and oranges (with green peels). These delicious sights and smells were occasionally interrupted with a shift in wind and a brief reminder of the open sewers not too far away.

We turned a corner and I was suddenly being introduced to Saeed and Baba Haruna, of the Zongo Water Committee, as well as a Yusuf and a local shop owner who was so incredibly welcoming. Saeed and Baba Haruna were quick to discuss business with Emily- they had a big day in front of them with the Zongo Sanitation Exercise the following morning. They assured Emily that everything was in place, but that didn't ease her uncertainty that the people would show up.

We ended the day in a familiar place to the ending of many of these journals, Hammad's shop. It was an incredible place to be and having heard so much about Hammad, a wonderful person to finally meet. Gracious, generous and kind, he welcomed me like a brother.

Day 02

We hit the ground running before dawn. We quickly made our way to the Zongo to commence the Sanitation Clean-Up Exercise. This was my first introduction to the Zongo and the municipal representative in charge of sanitation was watching.

Emily and I swiftly moved through the Zongo, ascending the eroded landscape and straddling the open drains, we arrived at a small gathering of people wielding rakes and shovels and ready to work.

I hesitantly put on a pair of rubber gloves and began collecting trash. I cherry-picked my work, not exactly sure what I was collecting and slightly offended by the disturbed sludge that was being shoveled out I the open drains. We eventually settled into a groove and the mounds of trash were piling up. We worked our way around a corner and much to my surprise there were other residents cleaning up too. It was amazing, at least 2 dozen people had been hard at work and when I turn another corner, another dozen people. By the end, many of the various groups working on different sections of the Zongo had gathered to finish the biggest open area. Without a head count, I'd estimate over 60 people of all ages were working together. It was really an amazing experience to be working side by side with so many wonderful and welcoming people. Plus, I have the honor of being the husband of Emily who has earned much respect from the community over many years. While thinking about my wife in this role and her given Muslim name Habiba, I found myself being introduced to Anatu Mohammed, the elder who gave Emily this name. She smiled and expressed how pleased she was to meet me, gave me a warm welcome to the Zongo, and proclaimed me as Mohammedu!

Exhausted from the clean up exercise, we still spent the afternoon working with the children on their script and rehearsing. Afterwards, Awal, the youngest member of the Water Committee and teacher at the Quranic School, also played the role of tour guide and friend. He led us to Cape Coast Castle where we learned more about the region’s horrific past in human slave trade to the West. In the fading daylight we parted ways until tomorrow.

an educational play [August 12, 2014]

Despite the other teachers’ avid interest in taking the book Gizo Gizo and making it into a series about water, hygiene, and sanitation, I was concerned we wouldn’t have the time to develop as intricate a plot or illustrations. Whereas last year I had nearly five additional weeks in Ghana after the project had officially ended to finalize the illustrations and ultimately give every child their own copy, this time I would be leaving following the closing ceremony. After sharing some of these concerns with others, it was an avid Zongo Water Project supporter who gave me the exciting idea of crafting an educational skit with the children that could be presented to the community at the closing ceremony. I was thrilled with the concept because not only would it build upon last summer’s work, but also that drama is commonly used here in Cape Coast as a way to educate communities. In this way, it would not be a foreign, imported concept. To further make the skit their own, I would work with the students over the last couple of days to choose the setting, develop the plot, incorporate new antagonists, and design masks for each of the characters. When I explained the concepts to the two teachers, they were very enthusiastic and wanted to discuss the details as soon as possible.

Three workshops later, we now have a working script, the actors assigned to their roles, and initial mask designs. In brief, Spider has the gift of communication; Tortoise has the gift of education; and Crab has the gift of empowerment. These three friends leave the Zongo for jobs in Accra, but while they’re gone, bad behavior ensues. Cock litters everywhere, Ram defecates wherever he desires, Cow drinks water without boiling it, and Lizard doesn’t wash his hands. They get sick and it spreads to their families and before long, the entire community is sick. Through the news, Spider, Tortoise, and Crab hear about the outbreak in the Zongo leave with Dove the Doctor to save their community. After the Dove provides prescriptions to every resident, the three friends make a plan to ensure something like this never happens again. Spider uses his gift of communication to bring everyone together, Tortoise uses his gift of education to teach the community members about water, hygiene, and sanitation, and finally, Crab hands over the responsibility of health to the residents themselves. Ruwa Zongo!

At the completion of today’s workshop, I sat on a wood bench putting my things away when the same girl who had confided that she had wanted to become a Muslim sidled up next to me. “Hi!” she grinned. She was clutching the photograph I had taken of her last week close to her chest. “I wish I could be in the play,” she said sadly. “My mother, she told me she will put my name in here so I can join.” I replied, “You would be excellent! I already know you’re a wonderful performer. Maybe we can find a way for you to participate.”

This same day, we had also met with the Chief Executive – I could go into detail here, but the gist of the conversation was similar to what was said at the Municipal Waste meeting – vague and skeptically hopeful. While I had thought this meeting would be the last in the political chain, apparently one last meeting had needed to be arranged during which time the Assembly would officially decide how/if they would help us with sanitation in the Zongo. Though also frustrated with the lengthy process, Hammad explained to me that at least this new Chief Executive “is very open.” He explained, “The other Chief was sacked. He did not even fix his own road! It is just there,” he pointed. “The road is not even full of potholes, but manholes!”

I once again rushed back to the guesthouse to meet with the instructor for the soap-making. I called his phone. “This phone number cannot be reached,” the taunting voice at the other end retorted. I tried again a half an hour later. “This phone is switched off. Please try again later,” the voice rejoined. Frustrated and nervous that this man would not show up for a program we had been advertising for a week, I paced back and forth between continuing to call his number. Three hours later, I tried one more time out of pure desperation. The phone rang…”Hello? Hello Madam,” was the response at the other end of the line. “I was feeling sick this morning and was at the hospital. Let’s make it tomorrow morning.” Through my teeth, I responded heatedly, “We must meet at 7am if this going to work. We have a big program tomorrow and it starts at 8am.” He replied, “I will be there madam. I will meet you at 7am.” I certainly hoped so.

the chief zongo and material distribution [August 12, 2014]

This morning I sat under the shade of a roadside kiosk while waiting for the other members of The Zongo Water Committee to accompany me to the Chief Zongo’s house. Before long, Baba had arrived and without a word, motioned for me to follow him. We weaved in and out of vendors and vehicles for nearly a mile and it was only when we arrived at the lorry station that he looked back at me to explain (as if I didn’t already know), “We are going to the Chief Zongo’s.”

The Chief welcomed us warmly while at the same time trying to discipline his young son who was running around blindly in his father’s maroon taqiyah. Though all of the water committee members were present, Baba did the most talking and briefed the Chief on what we have accomplished so far – from the rainwater collection systems, soap-making, and children’s book, to the business development workshops and sanitation planning with the Municipal Assembly. One of the members added details regarding the criteria by which the committee chose the recipients of the rainwater collection systems. Another explained that we hoped the Assembly would pay for the dustbins and rubbish pick-up. “We don’t know what they will provide us yet, but we’ll know when we talk with the Chief Executive.” With amusement, the Chief Zongo replied, “Well yes, let’s see what we can get. We aren’t going to get free lunch all over. The community will have to contribute.”

The Chief seemed extremely pleased with the project’s progress and, using the same familiar proverb he had employed in 2012, he explained, “You see, a journey of a million miles starts with one step.” This time however he added, “You have already taken many steps. Thank you for all you have done.” Just as we thought the meeting had come to a triumphant close, the Chief Zongo hesitated and added in a reticent tone, “Next time when you come, you must bring kola nuts. It is tradition. At least 2-3 pieces of kola. It is in line with the African tradition, in the line with the Hausa tradition, in the line with the Muslim tradition…” He paused for a moment. The water committee members all fiercely nodded their heads fiercely and one piped up, “All the lines, all the lines.” The Chief Zongo chuckled and made a gesture with his hands extending outwards, “Yes, all the many lines.”

We spent the remainder of the afternoon consisted of the formal presentation of materials for the rainwater collection distribution systems and their distribution to each of the houses. Though I was not present, according to the water committee, the Chief Wangara was so pleased when he learned that all of the roofing would be replaced on his Palace (community building), that he stood up in a profound silence because he was so thankful. Other residents were equally appreciative. Most often, their thanks were expressed through prayer – with their palms up, they would pray to give us strength. “Amin,” we would say in response, “Amin.” That evening I rushed back to the guesthouse to meet with the man who would be running the liquid soap-making. When he was a ½ hour late, I called. “Madam, Madam. I am on my way from Accra. Please, let’s make it tomorrow.”

the power of the map and other reflections [August 8, 2014]

Gingerly, I took a seat on a rickety wood bench in front of the brightly painted blue and yellow madrasa in the Zongo and eagerly awaited Baba. He had called me yesterday with the exciting news that he had discovered a map of the Zongo community – according to him, it had “bounced” from the Zongo to the Municipal Assembly and then “bounced back” to the Zongo. Pulling up a chair next to me now, Baba explained that the Municipal Assembly must have used the map when they tried to sell the Zongo to the Japanese in 2012. He pulled out a weathered piece of paper protecting the map within. As he opened it, and my eyes focused on its contents and I couldn’t help but gasp. My throat felt clogged with a mixture of feelings – dismay and guilt– but at the same time I shouldn’t have expected anything else. The map was ironically my own. Working with the Zongo residents in 2007, we had developed it together as a way for them to feel ownership of their settlement and to aid me in the production of my thesis. Unfortunately, once wielded by the Municipal assembly, the powers of the map were used against the very community I was trying to help. This is just one example of many throughout the years where I have stopped in my tracks and asked myself to what extent my presence is truly benefiting the community. In what ways are their livelihoods threatened and/or enriched by the initiatives I have developed in the Zongo? So far, I don’t have a good answer and just try to listen as carefully as I can to the needs of the community. Though I bring my own skill sets to the table and provide a framework for orchestration, that at the ends of the day, The Zongo Water Project has to satisfy resident needs and inspire their imagination for the future of their community. The less focused the project could be on me, the better.

Perhaps because of the way the day began - with the re-emergence of a map I had created years ago and its ripple effects on the community – that today I became acutely aware of how my long-term engagement combined with a product (whether it be a children’s book, rainwater collection system, or documentary) affects the way the community operates and the way they see themselves. For example, I’ve communicated with residents that I’m keeping an online journal and they are aware that every phase of the project has resulted in a booklet documenting the process complete with photographs and text. More so than the previous phases, I’ve noticed a change in how a select few of the residents respond to my taking their photograph and even to some extent how they answer questions. It is almost as if they see themselves as part of the product and see the project more as a collection of images of a changing physical environment rather than the physical environment itself. This is certainly very concerning and tells me that perhaps the residents need to be more involved in the project’s photography and contributing to the online journal – perhaps with added voices and perspectives this could fragment and complicate what is now becoming too homogeneous of a representation. A “community-based initiative” therefore, needs to include not only collective actions and diverse voices, but also collective representations of those actions and diverse voices.

Though I’m sure I’ll revisit these reflections, I want to touch briefly on the other activities of the day. Working with the soap-maker, we negotiated an appropriate budget and program for the making of liquid soap. It would be a two-day workshop to be held in the community center (aka: Chief Wangara’s Palace) under its new rainwater collection system. To follow the making of the soap, the water committee is also organizing a business development workshop to teach residents how to begin and sustain a soap-making business.

Later that afternoon, I worked with Awal to measure the existing conditions of the Community Center that included not only the building itself, but also the distances to surrounding buildings and drainage systems. The roofing was in such poor condition, that the entire wood paneled ceiling was mouldy and dipped to such an extent that it looked like it could fall in on us at any moment (detail above).  Later that evening, I briefed Hammad on the day’s activities and we discussed the itinerary for tomorrow. First, we would meet with the stakeholders at the Municipal Assembly about sanitation. He responded fervently, “It is wonderful to have Ghana Heritage Conservation Trust and the Assembly to support us. We need their support for the sustainability of the project. I pray that this project will continue and that we have an office within which to do our work.” We then discussed that second on tomorrow’s agenda would be having conversations with this year’s rainwater collection recipients. “Yes,” he confirmed, “Tomorrow, we will go ‘round to all of the houses. We’ll see if they can support with the extra roofing sheets and also the labor. They need to do their part.”

another water committee meeting - envisioning and planning [August 6, 2014]

I spent the following day, still filled with funeral activities, in a similar way – first at the archives and then into town where I would at last meet with the water committee. Already deep into a conversation in Hausa when I arrived, I glanced around the tailoring shop where we were all seated on smooth, wooden benches. The walls were a vivid blue and upon them were pasted advertisements of men wearing gowns with the text, “Men’s Desire” at the top. Awoken from my gaze at the poster, Hammad exclaimed, “Emily, let’s begin. I can see you are lost. You don’t understand what we are saying.” Having switched over to English, the committee proceeded to explain to me that they had begun the process of selecting this year’s ten beneficiaries. When I asked them to elaborate, Murtala said, “ You see, we are looking at a number of factors: those who are in need, those who participate, and those who have spent the time to fill the application. In addition, we have divided the Zongo into four zones.” He cut through the air with his hands and explained, “You see we have the zone close to the central mosque, the one close to Mallam Hammad’s, the one close to the road here, and finally the one on the other side of the road. It is important that every zone benefits from the project.” These discussions continued and surprising, yet promising comments surfaced such as the importance of The Chief Zongo attending the closing ceremony. “After all, we are doing this work for the community and he is the head – he ought to be there, one of them shouted. Another exclaimed, “Yes, and we must keep good records. It is very important. How else are we going to remember what we did the previous year?!” This observation was especially promising to me and could be added to a pile of other similar remarks made by the committee and residents this year. Rather than seeing the project as a “one time wonder” as they called it, they seemed to be solemnly committed to an envisioning of, and planning for, the Zongo’s future. (I’m hoping over the next couple of weeks that voices from those of the committee and other residents will be included in this journal.)

Finally after attending to agenda items such as the soap-making, logos for the rainwater collection containers, and Thursday’s sanitation meeting, I set off for the guesthouse. Later that night I received a phone call from Awal checking in about the day’s progress. Towards the end of our conversation, he asked me mischieviously, “Did you have chicken fingers for dinner tonight?”

archival gospel and chicken fingers [August 6, 2014]

The following two entries will be brief as the last couple of days were filled with the always unexpected, yet always present “life events.” Two residents had passed away and another was just admitted to the hospital. Thus, the entire water committee had dispersed to play their customary and familial roles. Rather than let the anxiety of our rapidly deteriorating schedule take hold of me, I decided to take advantage of this time and visit The Cape Coast Regional archives to see if I could dig up any additional information on the history of Cape Coast and the Zongo. In my approach, little had changed since my last visit in January. The cavernous, modern concrete structure streaked with an oily black film from the pollution stood against what was now a now barren cornfield. The documents inside exhibited a similar appearance to that of their larger container. Stained yellow from age and humidity, as I flipped from one brittle page to the next, the paper left a moist chalky residue on my hands. While waiting for the next set of documents (I was only allowed to take out three at a time), I smiled to myself as I recognized the gospel song blaring from the radio – it was “O’er the Mountain,” the same Christian song the girl in the Zongo had so proudly sung to me yesterday.

DSCN7962.JPG

About thirty documents and one photograph later, I sat uncomfortably in a rather bony group-taxi with tatters of fabric hanging from its decrepit seats headed for downtown. Relieved to be walking again, I spent the remainder of the afternoon in town taking note of what had changed since my last visit. Much of the coastline had remained the same in that its main attraction was the castle around which huddled the familiar tourist traps replete with a cacophony of cries such as “Come into my shop and have a look. Looking is free,” There was however, a single drastic change – a new library was now being erected on what used to be a large open space in front of the castle. How funny, I thought to myself. Why would anyone want to obstruct such a perfect view of the main tourist attraction? The tourist’s view however, was only been a peripheral concern and was more about removing one’s view of the fishermen who used to mend their nets in this place to a view of political power as made manifest in the new library.

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a meeting with the municipal assembly

SATURDAY, AUGUST 9, 2014 AT 01:44PM

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I awoke this morning to my heart already pounding. I couldn’t quite figure out why I was so anxious, but I’m sure it had something to do with the importance of the meeting and concern that the stakeholders would want to reschedule, arrive so late that the meeting would be canceled, or forget about it completely.

Glancing at my watch in front of the peach-colored Municipal Assembly building, it was now 9:57. I recalled Hammad’s assuring words from yesterday afternoon when we had talked about the importance of being on time. “Don’t worry,” he had assured me. “We will meet at 10am American time, not African time.” Thirty-five minutes later, my heart finally returned to its normal pace – we had somehow managed to get all of the major stakeholders (the Zongo water committee, two Assembly members, and a representative from Ghana Heritage Conservation Trust) into a single room.

 

The meeting began with the typical formal exchanges followed by my giving an introduction to the project – how it began, what we have accomplished so far, and our goals for the future. Baba added, “Last week Emily and I came here and talked about the question of sanitation in the Zongo.” The Assembly man nodded his head solemnly and replied, “Thank you for all that. I see that the success of this project relies on sustainability. If we provide dust bins and the like, how is the community going to be prepared to accept it and follow through in the long-term?” He went on to explain, “The Assembly, we are well-equipped. We have door-to-door collection, there are some dust-bins available, and there are also private contractors such as Zoom Lion that collect waste for 15 cedis a month.” Leaning in as if to tell us a secret, he went on, “Waste generation in the Zongos is different though. There is a high generation of waste because you have 20-25 people living in a single household. A typical household generates two times the amount of waste of households outside the Zongo. This is not favorable.”

We then began a discussion about whether a large shared dust-bin could be located between the Municipal Assembly and the Zongo. The Assembly man responded (mostly to me), “This might work. You see, here in Africa we are shy of waste. We do not like to be seen with waste.” Though it was agreed upon that this was the very reason the dust-bin should be placed in that location (because the Municipal Assembly would want its image to be preserved), before long, the conversation degenerated into cacophony of voices tinged with politics. It became about who ought to be providing what services and when and who was doing their job and who was not.  One of the water committee representative members exclaimed shaking his head, “When it comes to development, we don’t have to mingle politics.” I was particularly relieved when the member from the Ghana Heritage Conservation Trust chimed in,  “Let me bring in a wider point of view,” he explained patiently. “The sanitation in the Zongo of Cape Coast could be a case study for all Zongos in Ghana. Everyone would benefit. With a cleaner and healthier environment, more people will want to come visit. The tourism will be booming and everyone will benefit.” He went on to say, “I myself am a Zongo boy and so I understand. The Zongo pays taxes and so they should also benefit from development.” Hammad added quietly, “If I can also come in. We need sanitary inspectors to come around…We need the people to be held responsible for their actions.” From here, the meeting’s conversations sharpened to focus on immediate steps for improving the sanitation. Throwing up his hands as if giving in, The Municipal Assembly member stated sheepishly, “It is your right to be served. There are so many problems that we usually choose to close our eyes. But, you have forced us to open them. When we see the problems, we have to help.” By the end of the meeting, the Assembly agreed to provide a regular, scheduled rubbish pick-up for The Zongo two times a week and suggested we meet the Chief Executive to talk about acquiring smaller dust bins for public spaces, executing the sanitation exercise, installing a large dust-bin to be located between the Zongo and Assembly, and other long-term planning issues. As the meeting came to a close, everyone present expressed the “success” of the meeting, but I left highly skeptical of whether these loud promises would be kept. 

 

We spent the remainder of the afternoon meeting with each of the recipients for this year’s rainwater collection system to explain why they had been selected, what their responsibilities entail, and to inform them about both the soap-making + business development workshops next week.

 

It was late when I returned to the guesthouse that night and we had “lights out” (a black out). I sat in the darkness under a flashlight-lit dinner eating my curried vegetables and rice. Just as I began pondering what I would accomplish that evening without electricity, I heard a buzzing sound and the fluorescent tube above my head flickered on. The woman sitting across from me clapped her hands with delight, “Ahaaaa! It is has come back! You know,” she divulged with a grin, “I like light. I would even like light in my coffin. Other people down there would ask why and I would say wouldn’t you like light too? If you like light, you can connect.” 

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the power of the map and other reflections

FRIDAY, AUGUST 8, 2014 AT 05:43AM

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Gingerly, I took a seat on a rickety wood bench in front of the brightly painted blue and yellow madrasa in the Zongo and eagerly awaited Baba. He had called me yesterday with the exciting news that he had discovered a map of the Zongo community – according to him, it had “bounced” from the Zongo to the Municipal Assembly and then “bounced back” to the Zongo. Pulling up a chair next to me now, Baba explained that the Municipal Assembly must have used the map when they tried to sell the Zongo to the Japanese in 2012. He pulled out a weathered piece of paper protecting the map within. As he opened it, and my eyes focused on its contents and I couldn’t help but gasp. My throat felt clogged with a mixture of feelings – dismay and guilt– but at the same time I shouldn’t have expected anything else. The map was ironically my own. Working with the Zongo residents in 2007, we had developed it together as a way for them to feel ownership of their settlement and to aid me in the production of my thesis. Unfortunately, once wielded by the Municipal assembly, the powers of the map were used against the very community I was trying to help. This is just one example of many throughout the years where I have stopped in my tracks and asked myself to what extent my presence is truly benefiting the community. In what ways are their livelihoods threatened and/or enriched by the initiatives I have developed in the Zongo? So far, I don’t have a good answer and just try to listen as carefully as I can to the needs of the community. Though I bring my own skill sets to the table and provide a framework for orchestration, that at the ends of the day, The Zongo Water Project has to satisfy resident needs and inspire their imagination for the future of their community. The less focused the project could be on me, the better.

Perhaps because of the way the day began - with the re-emergence of a map I had created years ago and its ripple effects on the community – that today I became acutely aware of how my long-term engagement combined with a product (whether it be a children’s book, rainwater collection system, or documentary) affects the way the community operates and the way they see themselves. For example, I’ve communicated with residents that I’m keeping an online journal and they are aware that every phase of the project has resulted in a booklet documenting the process complete with photographs and text. More so than the previous phases, I’ve noticed a change in how a select few of the residents respond to my taking their photograph and even to some extent how they answer questions. It is almost as if they see themselves as part of the product and see the project more as a collection of images of a changing physical environment rather than the physical environment itself. This is certainly very concerning and tells me that perhaps the residents need to be more involved in the project’s photography and contributing to the online journal – perhaps with added voices and perspectives this could fragment and complicate what is now becoming too homogeneous of a representation. A “community-based initiative” therefore, needs to include not only collective actions and diverse voices, but also collective representations of those actions and diverse voices.

Though I’m sure I’ll revisit these reflections, I want to touch briefly on the other activities of the day. Working with the soap-maker, we negotiated an appropriate budget and program for the making of liquid soap. It would be a two-day workshop to be held in the community center (aka: Chief Wangara’s Palace) under its new rainwater collection system. To follow the making of the soap, the water committee is also organizing a business development workshop to teach residents how to begin and sustain a soap-making business.

 

Later that afternoon, I worked with Awal to measure the existing conditions of the Community Center that included not only the building itself, but also the distances to surrounding buildings and drainage systems. The roofing was in such poor condition, that the entire wood paneled ceiling was mouldy and dipped to such an extent that it looked like it could fall in on us at any moment (detail above).  Later that evening, I briefed Hammad on the day’s activities and we discussed the itinerary for tomorrow. First, we would meet with the stakeholders at the Municipal Assembly about sanitation. He responded fervently, “It is wonderful to have Ghana Heritage Conservation Trust and the Assembly to support us. We need their support for the sustainability of the project. I pray that this project will continue and that we have an office within which to do our work.” We then discussed that second on tomorrow’s agenda would be having conversations with this year’s rainwater collection recipients. “Yes,” he confirmed, “Tomorrow, we will go ‘round to all of the houses. We’ll see if they can support with the extra roofing sheets and also the labor. They need to do their part.”

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another water committee meeting - envisioning and planning

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 6, 2014 AT 02:03PM

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I spent the following day, still filled with funeral activities, in a similar way – first at the archives and then into town where I would at last meet with the water committee. Already deep into a conversation in Hausa when I arrived, I glanced around the tailoring shop where we were all seated on smooth, wooden benches. The walls were a vivid blue and upon them were pasted advertisements of men wearing gowns with the text, “Men’s Desire” at the top. Awoken from my gaze at the poster, Hammad exclaimed, “Emily, let’s begin. I can see you are lost. You don’t understand what we are saying.” Having switched over to English, the committee proceeded to explain to me that they had begun the process of selecting this year’s ten beneficiaries. When I asked them to elaborate, Murtala said, “ You see, we are looking at a number of factors: those who are in need, those who participate, and those who have spent the time to fill the application. In addition, we have divided the Zongo into four zones.” He cut through the air with his hands and explained, “You see we have the zone close to the central mosque, the one close to Mallam Hammad’s, the one close to the road here, and finally the one on the other side of the road. It is important that every zone benefits from the project.” These discussions continued and surprising, yet promising comments surfaced such as the importance of The Chief Zongo attending the closing ceremony. “After all, we are doing this work for the community and he is the head – he ought to be there, one of them shouted. Another exclaimed, “Yes, and we must keep good records. It is very important. How else are we going to remember what we did the previous year?!” This observation was especially promising to me and could be added to a pile of other similar remarks made by the committee and residents this year. Rather than seeing the project as a “one time wonder” as they called it, they seemed to be solemnly committed to an envisioning of, and planning for, the Zongo’s future. (I’m hoping over the next couple of weeks that voices from those of the committee and other residents will be included in this journal.)

 

Finally after attending to agenda items such as the soap-making, logos for the rainwater collection containers, and Thursday’s sanitation meeting, I set off for the guesthouse. Later that night I received a phone call from Awal checking in about the day’s progress. Towards the end of our conversation, he asked me mischieviously, “Did you have chicken fingers for dinner tonight?”

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archival gospel and chicken fingers

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 6, 2014 AT 01:57PM

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The following two entries will be brief as the last couple of days were filled with the always unexpected, yet always present “life events.” Two residents had passed away and another was just admitted to the hospital. Thus, the entire water committee had dispersed to play their customary and familial roles. Rather than let the anxiety of our rapidly deteriorating schedule take hold of me, I decided to take advantage of this time and visit The Cape Coast Regional archives to see if I could dig up any additional information on the history of Cape Coast and the Zongo. In my approach, little had changed since my last visit in January. The cavernous, modern concrete structure streaked with an oily black film from the pollution stood against what was now a now barren cornfield. The documents inside exhibited a similar appearance to that of their larger container. Stained yellow from age and humidity, as I flipped from one brittle page to the next, the paper left a moist chalky residue on my hands. While waiting for the next set of documents (I was only allowed to take out three at a time), I smiled to myself as I recognized the gospel song blaring from the radio – it was “O’er the Mountain,” the same Christian song the girl in the Zongo had so proudly sung to me yesterday.

 

About thirty documents and one photograph later, I sat uncomfortably in a rather bony group-taxi with tatters of fabric hanging from its decrepit seats headed for downtown. Relieved to be walking again, I spent the remainder of the afternoon in town taking note of what had changed since my last visit. Much of the coastline had remained the same in that its main attraction was the castle around which huddled the familiar tourist traps replete with a cacophony of cries such as “Come into my shop and have a look. Looking is free,” There was however, a single drastic change – a new library was now being erected on what used to be a large open space in front of the castle. How funny, I thought to myself. Why would anyone want to obstruct such a perfect view of the main tourist attraction? The tourist’s view however, was only been a peripheral concern and was more about removing one’s view of the fishermen who used to mend their nets in this place to a view of political power as made manifest in the new library.

I ended the day by spending a couple of hours in the Zongo visiting with residents and planning the next steps of the Zongo Water Project with Awal. Once our tasks were complete, our conversation diverted to food – American food. “Why do you Americans always eat such junky foods?” he asked with a smirk. I replied, “Well, our foods tend to be much more processed and I guess we like sugar – and cheese!” I added, “I guess we also like to eat too fast – you know, we eat foods on-the-go like hamburgers, hot dogs, and even chicken fingers.” Awal scrunched up his face in disgust and responded credulously pointing to his own hand, “Chicken fingers?! You eat the fingers of a chicken? Americans are strange.” Clearly, he didn’t believe me and had just wanted to give me a hard time.

rubbish revolutions [august 4, 2014]

In between sewing a shirt for a local police officer and managing the construction of a new dressing room in his tailoring shop, Hammad and I reviewed and finalized the budget for the rainwater collection systems. “There is a lot of pressure on me,” he explained while thumbing the blue and white material. “You see, at the same time I need to get the roofing sheets, buckets and finish this dress.” Jokingly, he added, “If I don’t finish it, the man will arrest me!” After completing the budget, I was left to watch over both the shop and the carpenter hammering away at the dressing room while Hammad went to confirm the final prices of the items. Upon his return, Hammad let me know we were lucky that the shop owner was willing to honor the original price. Because, in just one day, the cost of a roofing sheet had escalated by two cedis. Hammad implored sarcastically, “Emily, please, talk to the dollar, have it wait for the cedi.”

Despite grand plans for meeting with the water committee to plan for the following week, a combination of heavy rains and funeral arrangements led to an unexpectedly delightful afternoon with four children in the Zongo. Following a demanding photo-shoot replete with every pose one could imagine, the ringleader of the group stood up proudly and said, “Let me sing you a song. This one is a Christian song. I call it O’er the Mountain.” This first vocal was followed first by a “Muslim Song” and then a second “Fante Song” with back-up from the other three children. “You see,” the lead singer confided, “I am from the north and stay in the Cape Coast Zongo. I am a Christian, but I want to be a Muslim.” Though perhaps directly irrelevant to The Zongo Water Project, this recital and exchange provided invaluable insight into the complex and nuanced social and cultural dynamics at play in the Zongo. At the end of the day, the lessons learned from these types of conversations were some of the most valuable towards the understanding of, and planning with the residents of the community.

Sunday, perhaps even a quieter day than Saturday, consisted of visiting last year’s rainwater collection system recipients to get a better sense of how they use the system, when they use it, and what could be improved for this year. Most of the residents had similar responses. They used the water for a range of activities including drinking, washing, cooking, and praying. They all knew how to boil the water and add chlorine tablets for drinking, but a common complaint was that some of the old roofing sheets (fabricated of mostly iron and not coated aluminum), at times dirtied the water. This year then, it would be a good idea to give more direction to the carpenters to arrange the new roofing sheets and gutter in a way that began at the ridge of the roof and cascaded all of the way down to the gutter. Every recipient was very appreciative of the work thus far and demonstrated their gratitude in different ways – from leading us in prayer and escorting is towards our next interview site, to even giving me a beautifully tailored white dress with pink intricate patterns.

Following the questions about the rainwater collection systems, we decided to also take this opportunity to ask residents about sanitation in the Zongo – where the households dump their rubbish, what the rubbish consists of, who dumps it, and how often. We also asked the biggest challenge the Zongo faces in terms of sanitation and if they had any ideas of how to improve the situation. Again, many of the answers overlapped. The residents all dump their trash at one of two “dumping sites” (consisting of a couple of large dumpsters): either on the hill behind Kotokuraba market or in a neighborhood called Aboom. When we had asked who dumps the rubbish and how often, all replied that it is mostly the children who dump it on their way to school everyday. The rubbish consists of Politan bags, dead leaves, rubbers (plastic bags), rice, stew, other foodstuffs, kenke peels, fish heads and bones, pepper stems and garden eggs. The biggest challenge residents lamented was that there is no place to put the rubbish and that although the compounds are well taken care of, that it is the public areas that are neglected – people just throw the rubbish wherever they wish. One woman complained that she had just finished cleaning the public area in front of her house and the rubbish was enough to fill three large politan bags. Mnay residents echoed that a way to remedy the situation would be to have “community labor days” and “dustbins at strategic points throughout the Zongo.” Awal Muhammad, the resident helping me with the interview translations pointed out that the dustbins should be marked. He said with determination, “The date should definitely be there – so that even a small boy would know the year the revolution took place.”

The day ended in conversations with Yusuf and Awal – two of the Quranic School teachers – to talk about how to engage the children in activities related to the project. Even though I had begun the discussion thinking we would do something other than a children’s book, Yusuf explained that we should definitely continue with “Gizo Gizo” and that it should become an “educational storybook series” about water, sanitation, and erosion. He went on to explain that because the children now know the characters and the water issues they faced in the last story, that this year we could build on that knowledge to develop a story more focused on sanitation in the setting of the Zongo settlement. Yusuf pondered whether we might begin with the individual and hygiene and then work outwards to include the house and finally the community. He explained that this way, “we could have both theory (the themes in the storybook) and the practice (a clean-up exercise in the Zongo)”.

the opening ceremony [august 3, 2014]

*Note: I would like to extend a special thank you to water committee member, Awal Muhammad, for the photographs he took during the ceremony - many of which are included below. I would also like to clarify that I have received permission from the residents whose names are mentioned in this journal.

“Today is Friday. Today is Friday.” Hammad reiterated smiling as we greeted each other in the Zongo this morning.

By 2:30, the eighty plastic chairs we had carefully placed in a U-shape around the exhibition were all occupied – the women sat in the middle and the men flanked either side. We had more participation at this year’s opening ceremony than even last year’s closing ceremony – “This is a good sign,” I had whispered to Hammad and Saied sitting next to me. The program moved smoothly and quickly from “opening prayers” and “the purpose of the gathering”, to the introduction of the chairman and the chairman’s response. After my own speech which reminded the audience of what we had done last year and what we were planning to do this year (10 more rainwater collection systems, an additional system for the community center, soap-making business workshops, and sanitation planning), an energy unlike I had seen yet erupted from the crowd and the members of the water committee as the question and answer session began.

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the opening ceremony

SUNDAY, AUGUST 3, 2014 AT 04:26AM

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*Note: I would like to extend a special thank you to water committee member, Awal Muhammad, for the photographs he took during the ceremony - many of which are included below. I would also like to clarify that I have received permission from the residents whose names are mentioned in this journal.

“Today is Friday. Today is Friday.” Hammad reiterated smiling as we greeted each other in the Zongo this morning.

By 2:30, the eighty plastic chairs we had carefully placed in a U-shape around the exhibition were all occupied – the women sat in the middle and the men flanked either side. We had more participation at this year’s opening ceremony than even last year’s closing ceremony – “This is a good sign,” I had whispered to Hammad and Saied sitting next to me. The program moved smoothly and quickly from “opening prayers” and “the purpose of the gathering”, to the introduction of the chairman and the chairman’s response. After my own speech which reminded the audience of what we had done last year and what we were planning to do this year (10 more rainwater collection systems, an additional system for the community center, soap-making business workshops, and sanitation planning), an energy unlike I had seen yet erupted from the crowd and the members of the water committee as the question and answer session began.

Clasping his coca cola dripping in condensation in one hand and gesturing with the other, one man asked how we would get the initial capital for the soap-making and even more importantly, how would we sustain it. Other concerns also arose such as the need to more effectively inform the community about the activities and events, whether the community might be able to provide a small place for a sanitation office, and where we could do the soap-making in the community so as to not need to travel all of the way to Heritage House. In response to this last question, the Chief Wangara suggested that he would be pleased if the community center could be used for this very purpose and that we as the water committee should talk with the soap-maker to see if it would be suitable. Women also stood up and announced how they had benefited from last year’s soap-making. One resident also added, “Last year we learned the bar soap and the powdered one. Is it possible to learn the third one, the liquid soap this year?” Unlike previous years in which the response had always been somewhat subdued and contained, questions, suggestions, and ideas ricochetted from one side of the tent to another with every member of the water committee eagerly responding. At the end of the day after passing out rainwater collection system applications and photographs with all of the attendees, the committee, still in deep discussion under the collapsing tent, suggested we reconvene tomorrow afternoon to discuss next steps.

A satisfied Hammad turned to me and summed up the afternoon,

“They are all very, very excited. They have even taken the project out of us.”

stakeholder meetings: ghct, water committee, and the municipal assembly [August 3, 2014]

Even though today’s original agenda had been to first meet with my local non-profit partner, Ghana Heritage Conservation Trust, and then to complete evaluations of the rainwater collection systems installed last year, one stakeholder meeting suddenly turned into three. I’ve come to realize that my most productive days are counter-intuitively those when my plans change drastically – when one conversation leads to new ideas and requires unexpected collaboration. This is exactly what happened today.

It all began with my conversation with Mr. Nyaaba at Heritage House. Upon my arrival, I noted that the large colonial building, once the seat of the colonial government, had been freshly painted since January, that a newly crafted seafoam green sign had been inserted into the same sea breeze-rusted frame, and that even the interior office furniture had been re-arranged. When I asked Mr. Nyaaba about the renovations, he smiled and said that GHCT has been doing very well. He further explained that they are currently working on an expansion to Kakum National Park and engaging the local communities in water, sanitation, and environmental tourism initiatives. What is important about sanitation in particular, he explained, is to gather the information from the community and then presenting a convincing case to the stakeholders – why and how all members would benefit from the project (health, economy, and the environment). We continued to talk at length about The Zongo Water Project and how we should collaborate on a similar sanitation effort here in Cape Coast. He expressed great interest in collaborating on the project and we finished our conversation with the beginnings of a plan – for GHCT, a member from the Municipal assembly, Zoom Lion(a privately owned waste management company), and members of the Water Committee to meet next week to see what could be done. “It is important to make a road map,” he explained, “it is so every can understand where to go from here.”

Thus, this first conversation led quickly to the convergence of the Water Committee at Saied’s tailoring shop in the Zongo. After a lively discussion, all of the members agreed that sanitation was extremely important. Baba Haruna explained that currently the Zongo beats “the gong gong” (a set of two metal bells of different sizes) signaling that it is time for “cleaning exercises” to begin. The process does not happen on a regular basis however, and it costs money to hire the gong gong beater, feed the residents who help, and borrow materials such as rakes, shovels, wheelbarrows, gloves, and a noseguard. “We need to bring in the Municipal Assembly, Zoom Lion and Ghana Heritage Conservation Trust. We need to put our heads together to see what can be done,” reiterated one committee member. Another member added, “Another problem is the collection and the dustbins. Right now we have nowhere to put our rubbish.”

Municipal Assembly.jpg

A few calls later, Hammad directed me to follow Baba Haruna to the Muncipal Assembly to meet with Waste Management Services and Director Mr. Frampong. At this point, I knew the day had taken an entirely different turn and that the interviews I had planned would occur on another day. Now in Mr. Frampong’s office, Haruna described the project and our reasons for coming. He finished by adding, “The assembly is higher than us, so we were hoping you could come in.” The Director responded that he was grateful we had come and provided us with two different waste collection options for the Zongo – one in which would be more centralized with two large dust bins (dumpters) on either side of the Zongo and the other which would be more decentralized with every few houses maintaining their own dust bin. Haruna believed the second option would be better because it would require less land in one location and require more ownership of the project among the residents. We continued the discussion by touching on how to potentially cross-subsidize payments, how to effectively educate the residents, and whether we might begin with a small pilot project in which we test the quantity of trash/recycling/compost is collected by each house. Mr. Frampong pondered, “I wonder if the Zongo could even set an example for the rest of Cape Coast!”. With this last hopeful comment, he promised to call me to set up a larger meeting with all of the stakeholders next week.

As opposed to the previous two years, this particular sanitation project has the capacity to engage many more of the Cape Coast stakeholders in The Zongo Water Project – an opportunity I had been waiting for, but had certainly not expected to emerge today…