Archive for November, 2011
Now that we’re together here, we’re settling into a daily routine. Work is interesting, and there’s plenty to do, so we’ve agreed to stay until September 2012, although we shall have a couple of trips back to England during that time.
Ian is working on an assessment system for the ten Omega Schools, in English, mathematics and science, for Primary 1 to Primary 6 (approximately ages 5 to 11). There are a number of issues to be resolved, including the development of the tests, how they are run in schools, how they are marked and the data entered, as well as the analysis of the results and how to feed those results back to the schools so they can help to improve teaching and learning. Sandie has been helping with this work, and one afternoon we both went to a meeting of 70 young teachers to demonstrate some of the ways in which we could give them the test results and help them to help their pupils.
As well as working with Ian on this, Sandie is involved in editing/QAing pupil workbooks, and (in some subjects) accompanying teacher guides. Ensuring accuracy and consistency requires a lot of detailed work. She has been working on the English books for next year, but these have been temporarily shelved as the workbooks for Term 2 (January) are coming in, and need to be turned round urgently in preparation for printing.
Professor James Tooley, the chairman of Omega Schools and the man who arranged this opportunity for us, paid us a flying visit last week, and together with Ken (Omega CEO) joined us for drinks on our balcony. It was good to be able to entertain visitors here for the first time. We also had an evening meal at a local hotel with a young representative of Pearson Education. One of our colleagues invited us for lunch at her home on Saturday: the food was wonderful, but there was so much to eat, it’s just as well we don’t have scales here!
Our home is in West Accra, but it’s quite a long way into the city centre and the traffic is awful, so going there takes time and isn’t cheap. ‘City centre’ is a bit of a misnomer: Accra is large and sprawling, and the few places possibly worth visiting are miles apart. Still, we welcome the opportunity for shopping and eating out, which we cannot easily do locally. So we’ve made three trips into Accra so far. The first was made by Ian last month, and he didn’t see much beyond Nkrumah Circle (the busy traffic hub to the north of the city) and the Accra Mall (a new, smart but quite small shopping mall near the airport). On the first of our two trips together we went to James Town, an old historic quarter by the sea. This was interesting but very run-down, and we didn’t feel entirely welcomed there. From there we walked further into the city, past the very smart National Theatre, and then got a taxi to the Mall, where we had a restaurant meal and did some shopping.
On our latest trip we took a taxi to La Beach, on the far side of the city. The beach there is packed with bars, all with tables reaching down to the edge of the sea, and all touting for business. For lunch Ian enjoyed a plateful of ‘lobsters’ – actually a variety of crayfish – and chips, which was very tasty. Sunday lunch on the beach in November – can’t be bad! Afterwards we went to the Mall again and bought a load of stuff for the flat. It’s fairly bare, but James has given us a grant to make improvements. And as we are going to be here for a year, we may as well be comfortable!
After our longest-ever separation, we were reunited at Accra airport at 11pm on Tuesday 1st November, when Sandie’s flight from London, via Rome and Lagos, finally disgorged her through immigration and customs into Ian’s waiting arms. His trip to the airport had not been simple, taking one and a half hours through the traffic and roadworks on the western edge of Accra. Fortunately the return journey was quicker, and by midnight we were unloading Sandie’s luggage in the flat which is our new home.
During the previous month the facilities in the flat had improved. We now had a wardrobe (delivered the day before Sandie’s arrival by lorry up the steep bumpy dirt road and manhandled into the flat with some difficulty). We had a pump installed (after about three weeks and visits from three different plumbers) which delivered both hot and cold water at sufficient pressure to have a decent shower and wash up dishes. We even had a TV, with a motley collection of channels and no information about what’s on which channel when. But it seemed more like home, and we were delighted to be together there.
After Sandie arrived Ian had a day off helping her settle in, and then we went together to the Omega Schools office for the last two days of the week. There was an inter-schools football tournament for those two days, on the playing field just outside the office, and most people were involved with that. We got positions of honour at the final ceremony, and were even asked to present some of the trophies.
After that we had a 3-day weekend, as it was a public holiday on the Monday. On Sunday we went to a local beach. We first walked down the hill, passing lots of people going to church in their Sunday best. We got a tro-tro (minibus) along the main highway, and then a shared taxi to Kokrobite. We walked through the village to the beach, where we were surprised to find several white people – we hadn’t realised until then that Kokrobite was popular with backpackers and others. At one stage we walked quite some distance along the sand, till we were warned by security men that we were likely to be mugged if we went any further! We spent some time in Big Milly’s Backyard, a sort of resort/bar/restaurant complex which has an elevated cocktail bar with a view over the beach and the fishing boats.
The following day we walked to a nearby town called Weija, where there is a large dam and lake. We also found a bar called Daddy’s Cottage, where we stopped twice for a drink – very welcome in the African heat!
In some ways, life in Ghana is different to anywhere else we have lived. Power cuts are frequent. Last Thursday Ian commented with amazement that there had been no cuts for a whole week. But when we arrived home on Friday the power was off – and remained off until Sunday afternoon!
You cannot drink or cook with tap water, and bottled water is expensive; the local custom is to buy bags (plastic sachets) of purified water. These are normally sold cheaply in bulk, 12 litres a time. It’s heavy to carry, but we’ve found a source of supply (a hairdressers!) only five minutes walk from the flat, and with a rucksack each we can share the load. It’s amazing how quickly you use up 12 litres of water though.
There are some very good points about being in Ghana. People are friendly and most greet us when we pass on our way to or from work. Children in particular will wave or call out to us; some children (and even a few adults) actually ask us to take their photo, and we are always happy to oblige!
The temperature is constantly about 30ºC, and we are really enjoying the sun. Our flat has a large balcony, with a plastic table and chairs, and sitting outside is very pleasant. When we return from work, we have a shower and then a leisurely drink sitting on the balcony watching the sunset. We are definitely getting used to the laid-back Ghanaian lifestyle!
When Ian flew to Ghana on 28th September, I stayed in High Wycombe, in order to help Claire when her second baby (due October 13th) was born. I moved into Claire’s house and shared a room with Charlie (aged 2½) which luckily worked quite well.
The first week was enjoyable, partly due to the unseasonably hot and sunny weather. Claire was feeling uncomfortable but otherwise fine, so one day the three of us went on the bus to Henley, where we had a picnic, fed the ducks, got ice creams and went on a boat trip – Charlie’s idea of a perfect day! Other days I just took him to the local park, where there are two excellent playgrounds and I was quite happy just to sit in the sun.
About a week after Ian left, the weather changed dramatically from summer to winter. Claire started suffering more – feeling really sick or having violent pains, which led to us spending one afternoon in Stoke Mandeville Hospital. The waiting for baby’s arrival seemed endless, and the bad weather restricted the possibilities for outings with Charlie. We were glad to have a visit from Paul and Rosie (who were attending a wedding in Marlow) and also Ian’s sister Maggi, back from Spain for a few days.
On Sunday October 23rd, Claire was admitted to hospital for an induction, as Oscar was by then ten days overdue. She was warned that the procedure could take some time, so I planned to take Charlie to visit her on the maternity ward that afternoon. Then things happened very quickly, and Oscar was born at 2.51pm! I was able to take Charlie to visit his mother and new baby brother, both of whom were doing well. Oscar weighed 8lb 5oz at birth, and is a beautiful little boy. He and Claire were back home at 10 pm that evening.
The following Friday, Andrew and his family came over to meet the new arrival. We had a pub lunch together, and it was great to see all four of our grandchildren.
While staying with Claire, I went with her to Polish classes on Monday evenings. These begin with a five-week taster course, before progressing to Level 1. Claire was keen to learn some Polish in order to communicate with Raf’s family. I decided that I would like to know at least a few words of the language, although for obvious reasons I shall not be able to continue after the five taster sessions.
We really enjoyed the small-group classes, with an excellent teacher, although Polish is certainly a difficult language, and I find the pronunciation impossible. Claire realised when she enrolled that she might have to miss a lesson (or two) when Oscar arrived. But we managed four while she was pregnant, and there was no class (due to half-term) the day after Oscar was born. So we were both able to attend the final class, on October 31st, before I flew off to Ghana on November 1st.