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Voices from the Field: Mekleet, Britt, Phoebe & Jessica

THE ROAD TO BELAMPUSO

Several years ago, you didn’t have to travel too far outside of Tamale to find a community without access to clean drinking water or electricity. Now, thanks to the work of previous Saha fellows, we are going further and further outside of the town center to find new communities to work with. As a newer project, there are nearby opportunities for solar implementation. Even so, Belampuso (formerly known as Balamposo!) is about an hour away by car, so our team spends a lot of time in the cab to and from GILLBT guest house, our home base in Tamale.

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Tejani (affectionately known as TJ or Teej) is at once translator, taxi driver, and friend. He usually arrives early, making fun of us, delayed as always, as we rush to gather our things and scarf down a carb-heavy breakfast. Recently, as we have entered the more rigorous building and training portions of our project, and out of consideration for the members of our communities who are fasting for Ramadan, we have been leaving at 5:30am!

Some mornings, when we aren’t falling back to sleep against the backseat cushions, we use the ride out to Belampuso to make final preparations for the day ahead, comparing notes and rehearsing prepared remarks for a community meeting or a training session or a monitoring routine. On the way home we reflect on the work that we did, or the interactions we had, and ways that we can improve the next day. Some afternoons we are quiet, looking out the window as Ghana unfolds around us. We have made the same round trip each day for more than two weeks now, but the beauty of this country and its people still amazes us.

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The drive to and from Belampuso is also a great time to get to know our team better. We are a very diverse group, with our own interests, backgrounds, and origins. We come from different schools and jobs, each bringing something unique to a project that requires a variety of skills and perspectives. Mekleet’s family is from Ethiopia. Phoebe’s family is from Hong Kong. Jessica is from Peru, while Britt hails from Boston and TJ from just outside Tamale. We have not yet met TJ’s mother, the famous baker of the soft fresh bread that, on the days we are lucky, greets us from the dashboard as TJ rolls into the parking lot. But we have met his cat, and a chicken with a new flock of chicks following behind her. Just this past week, one of the Fulani (nomadic cattle herders living on the outskirts of town, known for their milk and cheese) gave us a live chicken who we affectionately named Wagashi (the fried Fulani cheese we have grown so fond of!). Anticipating some push back if we tried to reserve a room for our new friend at GILLBT, TJ took it home with him. That day we were 6 driving back from Belampuso!

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In the car, we all have our idiosyncrasies.

Mekleet rides in the front where most of the dirt from the road whips up through the open window, so she has started wrapping her scarf around her face and securing her glasses over her pink nose, patterned eyes peeking out through the frames. It may seem like she can’t see, but she can, so beware of taking discrete selfies! Jessica can sleep anywhere, and the rocking of the moving car immediately lulls her to sleep as we make our way to and from town. Phoebe wears her safari style wide brimmed hat, despite the shade of the roof as she jots down project related notes. Britt gazes out the window, camera in hand, poised for the next kodak moment, of which there are too many to count. And TJ bobs his head and sings along to the music emanating from his cell phone, perched on the dash. The phone only holds two songs, but we have learned that he has many more favorites, and that he was in a band growing up. He promises to write a Saha rap before our time in Tamale is through!

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Monday afternoon, after a full day of distributing lanterns in anticipation of our opening night, we drove away from Belampuso, waving to the children who have gathered to say goodbye. “Tinya Taba” we call, and also, “Nawumni Labsena,” Britt throws in. The men laugh and wave. We think they are impressed by our Dagbani, but later Britt learns that she has said, “God grant you safe travels” which of course makes no sense when we are the ones heading out of town. Oh well. They laugh when we attempt the right greetings too!

A few minutes on the road and we run into a road block. Most days it is the Police stopping to ask us what our business is, but this day it is a full herd of cattle! We stop and get out to examine them up close before TJ informs us that they do in fact charge without warning. Back in the car we go. As the cows part and we make our way through we see several Fulani, sticks in hand, ushering the beasts to the side of the road. TJ yells something to the men. We have grown accustomed to what sounds like anger, but is often light hearted banter between drivers and pedestrians on the road in Ghana.

Tuesday night was the opening night of Belampuso’s solar charging center and as such we made our way home in the dark. The faint glow of the moon and the light from our highbeams guide our way through absolute darkness. We drive in silence, each gazing out through the windows as lights turn on for the first in Belampuso.

Usually, we keep the windows open, welcoming the breeze into the sun baked cab, even though the wind brings with it clay colored gusts of dust from the dirt road, coating everything in a layer of red. By the time we arrive back at GILLBT, often as much as 10 hours after we left, we are tired but satisfied, dirt clinging to the sweat on our brows, a new surge of energy carrying us quickly to the filtered water tanks and then to the welcoming cool of a cleansing shower.

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