Sunday, January 9, 2011

Day 8 - Responsibility at a young age

In Ghana, saturday is still a working day.  Like any other week day, we were at the factory by 9am this morning.    We were greeted by all the workers as if it was any other day.  Worked progressed on nearly every project, the foundation got poured for the latrine, the hole finally got finished for the rain water storage tank, the metal poles got cut and fastened together for the tarp support structure, and Big Red and Forman (the welders) continued to work on the drying rack shelves.  For the day, I helped Jonathon (one of the Susan's graduate students who is writing his thesis on his work in Ghana) to pour the concrete foundation for the composting latrine he is building on site.  In terms of working, Jonathon and I were doing relatively little; the real work horses were Swali and Shani.  Swali is a mason, while Shani is called an unskilled laborer.  While Shani isn't directly skilled in anything, he is an incredibly hard worker.  By the end of the day, we had nicknamed him the beast, because despite his short stature, he could lift anything and was constantly doing the back breaking task of manually mixing concrete.

At the end of the day, a herd of cattle came through the work site.  While goats and chickens are regulars around the factory, I have only so far seen one other herd of cattle.  This particular bunch numbering about 100 heads came incredibly close.  As the cattle were slowly passing through, I saw a young boy who seemed to be standing around carrying a stick.  I hadn't seen him before (occasionally kids from the local village, Taha, will come and watch the work at the factory).  Then I saw four more boys and realized they were responsible for herding the cattle.  None of these boys were older than I would guess eight years, yet they were entrusted with the vital task of managing and protecting presumably a village's herd.

Almost immediately after the herd past through, Manny (a former professor and expert potter, who is currently on his third trip to Tamale to help PHW) showed us the dug out where the local villagers fetch water from.  Dug outs are depressions that collect water; this is the common water source for rural Ghanaians.  As you might imagine, the water that is retrieved from such a source is very dirty.  The hope of the PHW is to provide such villagers with water filters that could be used to make such dirty water safe for drinking.  Walking to the dug out across the plains with cattle surrounding us and the sunsetting felt like a scene out of The Lion King.  Manny couldn't remember exactly where it was, so we followed two young girls with giant buckets.  In Ghana, women (and girls) are responsible for fetching water for the household.  When the girls got to the dug out, they loaded probably 50 pounds worth of water in each of their buckets and then placed impressively carried it back to their village (probably a mile away) on their heads.

Both of these experiences gave me a glimpse of what rural life is like, in particular for kids.  I was struck by how these kids (boys and girls even though their respective tasks differed by their gender) not even 10 years old were given critical responsibilities, like ensuring their was water to drink and their dinner was safe.  Additionally, I noticed how happy and stress free everyone we meet on our voyage to the literal watering hole seemed to be.  From a Western prospective, these people had nothing and most of their daily tasks centered around making sure they had just their basic necessities.  However in this simpler way of life, they also seemed to lack the stressors inherent in living in a complex and fast paced world.


  1. AHH! This is amazing! I have to say, I have quite a few memories of mom making us carry purified water in from the garage on Saturdays and herd the cats out of the house...which seems comparable to what these kids are doing....

  2. Zac...what a great post! Really gives me a sense of you connecting to your environment and really paying attention to it. I would ignore your smart aleck sister! It only felt to Kate that her f gallon jug she brought in from the garage which was a few years was a mile! She is funny though!



  3. OMG....Kate cracks me up! Honestly Nancy, you are one tough mom. Asking those two little angels to bring bottled water in the house? What were you thinking?
    Ok Zac, How close is the nearest Starbucks?? Maybe the states?
    Thanks for sharing your experience with me. It is a great reminder that a simpler life is the best. It is not the "things" but the people and experiences with them that enriches our lives.
    Be safe and be happy!
    Love, Auntie Karen