May 26, 2003 - St. Lawrence University: The Seasons Come and Go: Impressions of a Peace Corps Tenure in Ghana

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ghana: Peace Corps Ghana : The Peace Corps in Ghana: May 26, 2003 - St. Lawrence University: The Seasons Come and Go: Impressions of a Peace Corps Tenure in Ghana

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The Seasons Come and Go: Impressions of a Peace Corps Tenure in Ghana

The Seasons Come and Go: Impressions of a Peace Corps Tenure in Ghana

The Seasons Come and Go:
Impressions of a Peace Corps Tenure in Ghana

By Christopher M. Burns '95

Chris Burns '95 is an agro-forestry and sustainable agriculture Peace Corps volunteer in the village of Tongo, northern Ghana. He manages a tree nursery with six workers; they raise seedlings to sell to farmers, businesses and local organizations. In addition, he works with farmers to improve techniques of farming in brittle environments and implement land conservation measures. As he notes in the following edited excerpt from a much longer reflection on his time in Ghana (available upon request to, Chris took part in St. Lawrence's Kenya Program in 1993.

African life, peaceful yet busy, wakes me instantly. I bend over the rail to catch the sounds of horns, people and animals, the sights of colorfully clad women in perfectly patterned cloth, with everything imaginable -- from headpans overfilled with carefully balanced tomatoes, to brooms, sewing machines and five-horsepower generators -- on their heads. Small boys are pulling donkey carts with only three good tires; men are loading tro-tros and buses for distant vicinities. A deal for fertilizer goes down next door. Taxi prices are negotiated on the street corner. Oranges and bananas are being hawked for mere pennies, groundnuts for even less. Bicycles, by far the most common mode of transport, glide past, swerving left and right, narrowly missing daydreaming bystanders. The wind sways gently through the neem trees. I strain my nose to pick up smells, but there are none. I strain my eyes to catch a glimpse of my Tongo Hills in the distance, but buildings and a thick morning haze block the view . . .

My mind wanders to December 1993, to a similar vantage point: a different balcony on the streets of Mombasa, on the other side of this great continent. Although I can no longer recall specifics, the day is forever engraved in my memory, more so in my dreams. Coconut-sized mangoes sat in piles on the side of the road, their yellow, orange and red hues beckoning pedestrians. Most would stop to buy some, unable to resist the temptation of the sweet juices hidden beneath the peel. Electronics shops, bookstores and auto-mechanic bays lined the congested street. Murmurings of Swahili, Luo and other Kenyan dialects drifted up to the second floor of our cheap hotel, in lazy ascent, much like the smoke from meat roasting below. From my balcony I reveled in the kaleidoscopic events below.

I'm compelled, but not eager, to return to work at the keyboard in the fanned room. Dreams of yesteryear will have to wait for the next respite, a different balcony.

Sixteen months into my 27-month Peace Corps stint in northern Ghana have allowed me to live the law of the African land in its true glory. I have not felt as much at home and at peace in a foreign land since my Kenya semester days of seven years ago.

For over six long months -- from October to early May -- the land dries up like a forgotten sponge on a kitchen counter. People dry up too, for there is little to do in a farming community when one cannot farm. Instead, they look to family and friends for social support. The hot, dry season (once the Harmattan winds vanish in late February) becomes the funeral season. On most nights, drums, music and dancing catch the midnight air. Day in and night out, villagers gather to praise their loved ones who have passed on to a "better world," in their minds. They do not mourn, but rather celebrate life with a grand party, something our culture could stand to learn.


Finally, we get an answer to our prayers. Florae break through the soil with parched tongues outstretched, like baby birds waiting for a morsel from their mother's beak. Tree roots awake from their hibernation and turn an ear toward the sounds of raindrops and thunder high above. Piglets and kids frolic in the carousel of spinning rain.

The village was alive with life, more than I had ever seen on a non-market day. With hoes in hand and seed in tow, the farmers toiled in their fields, sowing the early millet. The dank, damp feeling of yesterday's rain embraced us like a halo. And the workers moved and circled their hips to the beat of the hoe and the glimmer of hope for a bright harvest ahead. I carried on with my daily routine, harboring images of the day growing behind me. When I finally reached home, I danced my own little dance, to myself, and also hoped for a fruitful season ahead. It's an amazing thing, rain. Let's hope God never stops crying.

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Story Source: St. Lawrence University

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ghana



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