Mar(k): Travel, Hiking, and "Doing Good"

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

00 December 2009

with 6 comments

A Salaminga’s Thoughts on Life as a Volunteer in Tamale:

As a new arrival to Ghana, I guess I can join the numerous – the plethora – the countless others who have come before me. All here under the banner of “development”. Some, like myself, are here in a voluntary capacity. Others are here because they have chosen development work as part of their career path. Regardless, one doesn’t need to be in Tamale for long before it becomes blindingly obvious that there are a lot of us around the place.

Whenever we humans uproot ourselves from one place to another, it seems natural that at least two things happen. The first, is that there is a natural tendency to seek out the familiar. This happens whether one is moving to a new village, a new city, country, or continent. When you are in “alien” territory, it is comforting to find things that are familiar, when much of your new environment seems strange, or foreign. For me, some of these comforting things have been listening to jazz on my portable music player, enjoying some ground coffee brought with me from Australia, and rationing out a little bit of vegemite onto my toast in the morning (NB: Vegemite is a sticky, yeast-based black “spread” that is quite salty. Strangely enough, we Australians find this to be somehow “appetizing”).

The other thing that happens is that we have a heightened sense of things that are “different”. This can be through language, custom or dress. But for me, one of the most immediately different experiences has been the intermittent privilege of having running water and electricity on demand. Now, I come from a place (Perth, Western Australia) where there is an expectation that when one turns on a tap, water will flow. Similarly, a flick of the switch will virtually guarantee the glowing orb of electricity. Not so in Tamale!

The first five days of our arrival had us without power. At that time, we were assured that this was not “usual”; apparently a transformer required repairing. The problem was eventually resolved and for the last few months, it seems almost regular that we will lose power for a few minutes each evening, but rarely for more than a few hours at a stretch.

The same situation with water. We have had a few days without running water, but our back-up supply got us through without undue hardship.

I raise these points because it becomes an argument of relativity. Back in Australia, I cannot imagine the amount of whingeing and moaning that would result from a few days without electricity. To say nothing of water; Perth considers itself to be enduring hardship as it is; with rostered watering days for people’s gardens!

Ah, but it IS all relative, isn’t it? What privilege I have here in Tamale, with the luxury of having both of these “essential” services (nearly always) on demand. Yet much of this beautiful country is without these “essentials”. I do not have to travel far at all outside of Tamale to witness the non-stop queuing at village water pumps, or the drone of diesel power generators, if a village is lucky enough to have one at all…

It has certainly been an eye-opener. And it most definitely has made me acutely aware of my consumption of utilities. This awareness is definitely a good thing.


Written by Mar(k)

December 17, 2009 at 3:05 pm

6 Responses

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  1. All the best to you and Mark. Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

    David Lim

    December 20, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    • many thanks David! all the best to you as well! Mar(k)

      Mar Knox

      December 21, 2009 at 4:51 pm

  2. Mar and Mark,

    Have enjoyed your stories. Sounds very challenging. Hope you have a great time there and that the new year is kind to you both.

    Love and best wishes

    Pete Weaver

    Peter Weaver

    December 23, 2009 at 6:12 am

    • many thanks Peter! very best wishes to you as well! Mar(k)

      Mar Knox

      January 6, 2010 at 11:53 am

  3. Greetings from Perth. You guys seem to have fallen into the Ghanaian rhythm OK. Our trip to Dhaka went well, but Singapore after that was a great and welcome change. Hope the dry season does not fry you.

    Peter Strachan

    Peter Strachan

    January 8, 2010 at 2:39 am

    • hi Peter! indeed, we ARE settling into things quite well here! Hard to believe our first quarter is already behind us!!! Most envious of the Singapore trip – and am really looking forward to seeing you and Heather in July! The dry season is exactly that…. cracked heels, chapped lips, hair like straw, etc…. bring on the rains!!!

      Mar Knox

      January 8, 2010 at 9:17 am

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