Sissala East: The forgotten corner of Ghana

Sissala East (SE) is a district in the Upper West region of Ghana, bordering Burkina Faso to the North and Upper East Region to the east. I hear the people of Tumu, the district capital, identify more with Burkina Faso than Ghana. I, along with Papa Roach (PR), another PCV, travelled to the district from Tamale and it took about fourteen hours when it should really only take seven or eight.
The tro (basically a van) left Tamale around 6:30am and the driver kept asking for breadfruit. I thought it an interesting snack for the journey and as we were leaving the city, he pulled in to every gas station asking for it. I thought how strange that gas stations would sell breadfruit. I settled in and fell a sleep for a couple hours. The route cuts across the Northern region on the Damango road, passing Mole National Park. I wish I could say a swarm of monkeys crossing the road delayed us but instead we had to pull over somewhere and I was woken from my slumber. The driver pulled into another gas station, asking one more time for breadfruit and only when the attendant handed him break fluid, did I realize my mistake. The rest of the journey was spent going slowly and jerking at every speed bump. We arrived in Wa, the regional capital of Upper West, a little after noon. The second leg of the journey was a tro to Tumu and took about an hour to fill before we were off.
This stretch should take four hours and also has a section prone to armed robberies in recent years. To the point that the tros are required to carry an armed guard for most of the way. This caused a price hike. Bringing the total cost from Tamale to Tumu up to 41 cedis. It costs 35 from Tamale to Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti region, located in the south, a seven (or so) hour drive. How disproportionate is that? There is another route to Tumu from Tamale: Tamale – Bolga – Tumu but that road too is unpaved and public transport is scarce. About halfway, in the middle of nowhere, the tro broke down.

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A smoother section of the Wa –  Tumu road

We were stranded for almost three hours and barely any vehicles going north, passed us. Some passengers were able to squeeze onto a motorking (think of a motorcycle with a flatbed). Turned out the radiator had overheated and was leaking. Water was fetched from somewhere and the driver disappeared with a truck going south to hit up the nearest town for some superglue. About four tubes were slathered on to the leaky section. We were able to continue just before sun down but not after we had gotten destroyed by biting insects that pulled tiny drops of blood up. My legs did not start to itch until two days later. They stopped itching three days after. What WERE they?!
I was supposed to meet Dixie and Chef Gately (CG), two more PCVs in Bugubelle but they were long gone by the time we rolled passed. I continued on to PR’s site for the night. Most of the Wa – Tumu road is not paved (if at all, to be honest, I cannot remember). Soon after departing Wa, I lost phone signal and was without the entire time except for the afternoon I spent in Tumu with Dixie and PR.
My first full day in SE, I tracked back down to Bugubelle and branched off to CG’s site. I made it in good time and found the host and Dixie sipping tea. I love seeing other PCV’s sites, set up and how they live. CG has awesome digs, with a screened in porch, a hut he’s converted into a chicken coop, a guava and crabapple tree. He is also an excellent cook, in case that was not obvious. I had a veggie burger for elevenses and a soya and bean stew for dinner, both which I will try my best to recreate for the rest of my service. It became overcast and these seasoned PCVs simply knew it would rain. It started when we went to sleep and continued to drizzle late into the morning the next day, thus delaying Dixie’s and my departure to her site.

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Dixie and I, sippin’ on Don

Walking is an option, if you like three hour strolls. The roads to her place are the ultimate provincial. Practically no vehicle passed us, so when a huge truck appeared and picked us up for the rest of the way, I was in wonder how this monster had made it thus far.
I am convinced Dixie is the most far flung PCV in Ghana. For one, I am only the third PCV to make it to her place and she is COSing in less than two months. I am probably her last visitor. Her set up is also very nice. She lives in a clinic compound and shares the kitchen with a nurse, has a spare room, a porch and spacious bathroom. Recently they had some issues with snakes and scorpions crawling in under the doors. Knock on wood but I have yet to experience any of this in Macondo. I will be very happy if my biggest critter problem are the mice.

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A market lady selling her aleefu (amaranth) and moringa. My first time seeing the latter sold at market.

img_20160921_142700The next day we made it over to Tumu for market day and met up with PR. I found some awesome pieces of cloth and already know the fish one will become another moomoo – my favorite thing to wear. I want one for every day of the week. The market was bustling by the time we arrived and I do wonder how all the produce gets up here. Most of it must be local and from what I have gathered from this PCV trifecta, not a lot of what the rest of Ghana gets is available here.
I give mad props to this trio of PCVs who are all about to COS. I know this isolation is nothing new to most PCVs in the 55 years of Peace Corps’ existence and that they had each other. But, with how accustomed we are to being so easily connected these days, this kind of isolation could be more difficult. None of them are being immediately replaced and no new sites have been developed that I know of. I hope Peace Corps also, does not forget Sissala East.

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