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  • Writer's pictureThe Old Farmyard Forceleap Farm

Goodbye Ghana!

So, our time in Ghana is up! We have had a great time here, with the predictable ups and downs, and I am left wondering exactly what the impact of this experience will be on the children? What I find really satisfactory, is that we have been here long enough for some of this extraordinary life, to become mundane. Overall, it has been great, and I have to say this is largely due to the generosity and kindness of James and Martha. The whole Bakaponi family have made us so welcome, and we have been allowed to be part of their family for the time we have been here, and I am so grateful. They are such a wonderful example of the friendliness of Ghana and Ghanaians, amazing!

But while we have been here their lives have not stood still! Jeff (their 18 year old son) has been working at the school, while waiting for his secondary school results to be released. They should be published in January, so fingers crossed he gets what he needs to apply to the University of Ghana in Legon, Accra to study IT, which is his plan.

Throughout our time here Morme (their 14 year old daughter) has been waiting for her Junior High school results and has been busy applying to go to secondary school. She had to submit 5 choices, but only 1 could be from the grade A list (which include the best and most popular schools in Ghana and the only ones she really wanted to attend). Since applying she has spent her time at the school selling lollies and sweets. The boys really like her as she tends to give them a sweet, take their 1 Cedi, and then give them 1 Cedi change! Finally, last week, she heard that she had got her first choice of a really good all-girls school in Kumasi. The news was greeted with delight but also some consternation as she was only given one week to take up her spot, by reporting, fulling equipped, to the school which is in the other end of the country! This precipitated a bit of a panic, and everyone had to pile in to secure her uniform, books, stationary plus all the living kit for boarding, such as buckets, a mattress, bed linen, a bible, soap etc as well as bus tickets and getting her aunt who lives in Kumasi to meet her and get her sorted. Poor Martha was particularly stretched, as not only had she got to contend with Morme’s preparations, but also Mary and Martha. They are the twins from the next-door. Sadly, they are now double orphans. Their father Steve was a friend of mine when I lived here back in 2005. He sadly died in a motorbike accident over 10 years ago. He punctured his lung with broken ribs by falling off his bike while pissed. As his widow, their mother was a leading light of one of my groups, but she died quite suddenly a couple of years ago, we think from a stroke? Mary and Martha are great friends of the girls in our household and come around every day, helping with chores like washing and shopping and they go to the school with Morme to sell sweets and snacks. So, they are really part of the extended family and James and Martha look out for them. They both got offered placers at Bolga secondary school and so need all their kit too. So, there was a bit of a drama about who got what. Anyway, we managed to beg, buy, borrow and steal (…well acquire under dubious circumstances) most of the kit on the list. The rest they will have to do without for the time being. Anyway, they are all about to embark on the next stage of their lives, which is exciting for them.

Kobe (their 7 year old) has been a bit of a legend! He has been a mainstay of the boys experience here and this was really illustrated when Kobe had Malaria a couple of weeks ago. The nurse came to the house and put him on a drip in our yard. He was really quite ill at one point and the boys got really worried and tried to sit with him an cheer him up! He has really become a proper friend tand they are going to miss him.

Meanwhile, after more than 25 years, James is trying to extricate himself from his employment with the Presby Church at the Agric station. He has worked there for over 25 years and has been the manager for the last 10 years. But funding is a never-ending problem, and he is fed up with not being appreciated or supported by the Presbyterian church. He got particularly annoyed by an auditor who recently reviewed spending at the 4 agricultural stations in the Northern Presbytery. All the managers of the agricultural stations were assembled and asked how much they earn each month. They answered that they get around 1700 GHC (£125) per month, that is if there is money in the account to pay them at all, (not a forgone conclusion). Instead of saying, “That is low, how on earth do you feed your family on such a poor wage” he said, “That is low, you people must skim off plenty from the project, as no one can reasonably support a house on 1700 GHC per month.” This really demonstrated the lack of support he is complaining about. Of course, most people in formal employment only survive by their side hustles! Although I am sure some managers skim from the project’s budgets, James does quite a lot of farming in his own name and he works for some businessmen away from the station, mobilising small scale farmers to supply them with products in bulk.

The household also rely on Martha who is a paid teacher, but she also farms in her own right and of course they run the school together. Then Martha does various other things, from selling soap to sweets and lollies etc. As James asked me with a raised eyebrow, “do you think we rely on my wages to support this household?” Apart from money working at the station is a hard life, constantly struggling to get out into communities on a clapped out motorbike the station can’t repair or replace, or spending all his weekends writing reports about projects that he knows no one really cares about, and that he probably only get criticised for, is getting tiresome. He says he is getting too old for it all. He tells me he will finish at the Christmas break, but we will see, I think he will find it harder than that to extract himself, although he assures me, I am wrong! Most importantly, he plans to stay in Langbinsi (which is relief for me!) and he wants to carry on working with the farmers (which is a relief for them!) but he is going to do it on a consultancy basis. So, he is in the process of registering his new consultancy business, Green Land Farming, which is promising. With his wealth of experience and contacts, leaving Langbinsi would be such a waste and a real shame.  

Martha is deputy head of the secondary school in Langbinsi, and as they have just started term again, she has been busy with organising timetables, attendance registers and extra duties as well as teaching. Added to work both Martha and James have been involved in the preparations for elections in Ghana next year. James loves politics and is keen supporter of one of the parties in Ghana. He has been working on the primaries and getting the right candidates for his party in the right constituencies, as well as plotting how to get the bad ones ousted!! Martha is not so keen on politics, but has been seconded by the Electoral Commission, to do an eligibility check of the electoral register in Langbinsi. This is a bit like jury service and involves 3 local people randomly selected, sitting down to check the registration list. They look for anomalies such as ages, deaths, duplications. Using their local knowledge, they try to winkle out any voter fraud in the registration process, before the Electoral Commission publish the final voter list in the new year, ready for the election.

Added to all this, the family are in the process of trying to build a very swanky new house, so there is lots of extra costs as well as cooking for the builders, the plumber, the steel bender, the plasterer, as well as the endless choice that go with building such as choosing tiles and layout etc. One evening I even had to go and collect the kitchen sink from Nalarigu with the pickup. It had been bought north on a market lorry and a trader there was holding on to it for Martha.

Martha is just such a good person. The other day, I looked over the plastic strewn landscape and wondered what Ghanaians value as beautiful, so I asked Martha. I said, "In England people love their gardens and dedicate most of the garden to growing flowers to look beautiful, they admire beautiful things such as art or jewellery or good looking people or a dramatic landscape. Where do you find beauty?" I thought she would say that Ghanaians wear their beauty on themselves, in their cloths or in their braided hair styles, which are certainly striking. But, no, I was wrong. Martha said, "I find true friendship beautiful. When Kobe had malaria and James was away, you and the boys were here to help us. I knew I was not alone. That is a beautiful thing." I was humbled.

For me, as we near the end of the trip I have had to grapple with the thorny issue of what to do with my pickup. This has thrown up a variety of issues, but what is clear is that there is simply not a lot of money about at the moment. It seems the cost-of-living crisis is not just an issue at home! Cars are much more expensive in Ghana than in the UK anyway. All cars are imported and shipping, import duty, costs to clear the docks and then change the papers all probably double the value of the vehicle. So, I estimate that in the UK my pick would be worth about £3-4000, but I paid £9,000 to make sure it was all legit. I probably could have picked it up for about £6-7,000, but recently there have been several cases where owners have been arrested for inadvertently buying stolen cars and have even been  imprisoned, so don’t fancy that really!. At many police check points nowadays the police enter your number plate into an app on their phones, to check the ownership details with DVLA.

Putting a For Sale sign up seems to have encouraged the police to pull me over even more often. I got pulled over the other day because my insurance sticker had fallen off my windscreen in the heat, another time because the policemen wanted me to take their plastic chairs from their road block to the next one, a few miles further on, another time because the policeman wanted to know how much my car was being sold for, another because he wanted to marry me, another to get lift to town and another because he wanted me to organise a UK visa.

The most bizarre stop was on the coast. Some serious looking policemen asked for our passports and then what was in the back of the pickup. When I said just our suitcases full of dirty cloths, they told me I should show them. So, I jump into the bucket and untie the rope and remove the tarpaulin and took out the bags. As I was about to open them, they asked me if we have any guns on board. I momentarily considered showing them Toby’s water pistol, but I mean seriously, do Toby, Mikey sitting in his car seat in the back and me, really look like international arms dealers or mercenaries!! Maybe we do, now that is a thought!

Anyway after tears all round, we have left Langbinsi and so that is Ghana done… next stop South Africa!

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Dec 29, 2023

I am really loving reading your blogs and have learnt so much about Ghana, or your bit of it! You write so well and amusingly! Enjoy the next stage! Xx

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