A New Baby






















It was around 2pm in the afternoon when the phone rang. It’s my very good friend Justa. Justa works as a Nurse’s Aid in the Tongo Health Clinic, and she’s calling me from work. She greets me and then blurts out – “Saraaaah, Charity is in labour! Here, I will pass her the phone!”


I hear Charity’s voice at the other end of the line. She is the Daughter in Law of my host father, Patrick. About my age, she and her husband, Patrick’s son, are a part of our compound. I help Charity cook for the family whenever I get the chance, and normally wash bowls in the mornings with her. She taught me how to scrub the big pots with sand to remove the scorch marks that accumulate from the fire. Charity says hello weakly and I tell her I will come home as soon as I can.


I tell everyone at the office that my sister in my house is in labour – causing a lot of confusion because people are not sure if I mean my sister in Canada or what. I consult my chief advisor in culturally appropriate actions in these sorts of matters. Modesta, on secretarial attachment in my office, suggests that the correct course of action is to bring a new mother a baby dress, or soap, pomade and/or baby powder.


Charity doesn’t use pomade herself (moisturizer) so I know it would be a bit of a stretch and maybe a bit over the top to bring home such things – but still I am so thrilled and tickled to think there will be a new baby that I just can’t wait to go to the store when work ends…


The afternoon DRAGS on like I can’t believe. FINALLY I finish up for the day and drive my moto, aka “Black Star” to one of my regular corner stores. I blindly rush up to the clerk, David, and blurt out, “My sister [in tongo] is having a baby, she’s in labour, and I need to buy soap and pomade and baby powder.” He laughs at my panick-dness, and heads to the next shop to fetch pomade because he is out. I buy everything. My purchases are dressed in matching light blue packaging featuring a cute Caucasian baby. I don’t immediately register the lack of cultural ‘appropriateness’ of some imported products – I’m used to it.


I have to stop and look around to find batteries for my camera as well, and I waste time. It is dark when I arrive at the big trees after the bridge, that mark the entrance to the village/small town of Tongo.


Turning signal blaring I branch to the health clinic and park the bike beside the Ambulance that carries serious cases to the Regional Hospital in Bolgatanga. I make a small wish that it will stay parked there tonite. I’m sure that Charity is not covered by the National Health Insurance scheme that provides basic medical coverage for a premium of about 10$ CAN a year. It’s a clear and encouraging attempt on Ghana’s part to provide some more affordable health care for the public. It just hasn’t reached Charity.


I walk up to the veranda, squinting to identify people in the dark in case they are from my house. A man asks me what’s wrong in a confused tone, clearly wondering why I am so frantic and worried that there might be something wrong with me, a foreigner.


I basically completely ignore him because I see where Charity is sitting and join her on the edge of the cement porch. The nurse and the man who greeted me both laugh in surprise as they realize the purpose of my visit.


Charity looks woozy and she isn’t breathing very much. The pain started this morning in her back and down, and it is getting worse, although the contractions still seem far apart. I tell her about my day and some other things to pass the time, in between reminding her to breathe.


The attending nurse says it will still be a long before she is ready to give birth. I goodbye Charity and say that I will be back. The house is really close by the clinic, just across the field – so I head back for supper and do a bit of work.


I have just stepped out into the yard with my flashlight in hand to check in on Charity’s progress when the father-to-be, TinDan Doog, interrupts my thoughts.

TinDan Doog is sitting on a step watching a Nigerian movie on our little crackly TV along with about 10 other children and adults, (it’s a slow night, sometimes I count up to 30 kids).


I don’t hear him right away because I am trying to avoid eye contact with anyone as I make my way to the back of the compound, pretending to watch TV. I’m in the process of deciding whether to negotiate openly about walking across the field alone in the dark with my host mother, Madam Lardi, or try to sneak away so that no one will feel they need to accompany me.


Finally I realize he is saying,“Sarah BoaPok, they have come. She is there.” While he points into the room across the compound. I run and get the baby blue soap and rest from the thin polythin bag sitting in my room.

Charity is resting while Mme Lardi carries the baby to just outside the bathing area. Lardi baths it carefully and rubs it down from head to toe with warm shea butter oil. I sit behind her in a doorway and peek over her shoulder to see that it is a little girl. The little body is finally wrapped in a clean new cloth and carried inside to her mom.

Everyone finds it amusing when I ask if I can snap photos … this house has seen at least 15 births in the last 25 years or so… the novelty factor just isn’t strong.


I catch TinDan Doog though –When I ask if he wants me to snap a picture with him included, I add, “Because you are now a father…“ He smiles uncontrollably. Maybe the excitement isn’t lost on everyone. He and Charity both look especially joyful.

It’s unquestionably a very special Dec 4th


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If I can dedicate this entry it will be to Michael, my younger brother, who was born 25 years ago on Dec 6th. I’m sorry to be missing your birthday, Mike-man – but maybe sharing in someone else’s Birth Day will help us all manage me being far from home in Canada.


All my love,






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Visits to the Field in Navrongo and Sandema

Martin, the acting M&E officer in the Bolgatanga office, teaches a young extension agent who is interested in becoming a technical officer how to take a bearing

Please accept the following pictures of my time in the field with the Regional Monitoring and Evaluation team as a replacement for the FULL post that I really owe you…. and I’m working on, I promise.

Two members of a rural household near Navrongo, I didn’t get their names (my apologies). Madame was very proud that MoFA used their fields to measure the state of agriculture in the region.

In another nearby area, we witnessed further evidence of the collapse of homes due to the heavy rains in August. The districts we visited were some of the worst hit by flooding in the region. In the background are two grain silos.

The early millet produced from the 6×6 plot cut from the same house is pitiful. This is every stalk in the area, and it only weighs 1kg. I would say that this level of crop failure is much worse than the average farmer, but not a rare occurrence across the region.

This time of the year farmers burn the grasses around their homes  and along  commonly used pathways for fear of snakes and scorpions. My friend Justa, a nurse’s aid in Tongo, killed a cobra and a scorpion in her yard last night. The health centre where she works is currently out of anti-venom, but people regularly arrive with bites and must be transported 15miles to Bolga for treatment in the ambulance. I can understand why she is thinking about burning the brush near her house.

Unfortunately, the burning often goes out of control and causes the destruction of property, income generating trees (mango) and dry season crops. The frequent bush fires severely reduce the fertility of the soil. Other countries in the region (Burkina Faso, Togo) control bush fires through strict policing, but Ghana has not taken significant measures.

Akaanmami ADEM is a small scale livestock farmer in the Builsa District. His name means, ” If I can’t give, you should not blame me. ” yet he gave us a very active chicken as a thank you for coming to his farm. It is worth over 3GHC in the market at present – which is enough money to fuel my motorbike for three days of riding.

Sorghum yields are low, Mr. ADEM is lucky to have heads on these plants that are heavy enough to be bending in the wind. Many sorghum plants in the region didn’t produce grain because the rains washed all of the pollen out of the flowers during the day when they are open.

Here we are husking maize to get the production from the 6×6 plot. I lost a bet on the weight, guessing 6.1kg when the result was 12kg. I should know better than to bet against agric. staff at this point, although no one else guessed close. I consistently lose, particularly when predicting distances. This farmer did much better than average in terms of his yield, and is very familiar with MoFA’s programs.

When measuring the rice plots (rice was one of the crops that did well in areas where the water level didn’t drown the plants ) we came upon some women threshing rice. We would beat the stalks and then turn the pile and continue, until the grains all fell to tohe bottom. Then we winnowed the grain.

It really didn’t take long for me to get some serious blisters, and I got chaff in my eye while winnowing. I swear that my technique got better than this!

Until next time…

oh yeah – and here is my motorbike!

🙂 My friends tell me that when a woman gets a machine, you should call it her new husband. All I can say is that my new man has power to burn. We are in the rocky early stages of our relationship, but there is hope for the future… and I have a good helmet.


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A loss in the Office

Here are some pictures from a recent funeral. One of my colleagues in the Talensi-Nabdam District office, a Veterinary Technical Officer named Ben Sabill, died suddenly about a week ago. He leaves his wife and six children. I have mixed feelings about writing about this experience.

Beyond my sorrow for the loss of a talented, kind and hardworking colleague, the death of an income earning head of household is a tragedy in Ghana that goes beyond my understanding. MoFA paid for a great deal of the funeral expenses, and so the richness of the ceremony in the photos is deceptive and un-enduring.

I have trouble accepting the generosity of Ghanaians at times. For example, I will book myself a hostel room instead of inconveniencing a coworker by asking them to host me if we are working late. If they knew I was planning on staying in a hostel they would insist on  extending their home to me, even though it will create inconveniences for the family. When discussing this with my colleague Mr. Salifu,  the regional extension officer, he said that the reason I don’t find it easy is that I have never really been vulnerable. So I don’t understand.
At this funeral I felt that he could not be more correct in that statement.family in front row

Church service, family in front row

Women hitching a ride to the burial site

Crowd around burial site (circle of people at top left)

One of Ben’s daughters

Priest preparing at burial

My colleagues from the District Office.


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When it rains it pours: Coping with floods in Ghana

Image1: The Kpalwega Community attempts to block a burst dam


Air whistles in the screens as it starts to ‘wind‘, signaling the imminent rain. The power in my office goes out and I watch as the drapes blow into the dark room. Cool air streams in the windows and water starts to pound the tin roof. Today, the storm is more violent than the rains a few days ago, but the trend seems to be easing overall.

The Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) regional office where I work is quiet today. Every agricultural extension officer is on assignment in each corner of the region, collecting data on the flood disaster areas. Farmers have been steadily visiting our office in Tongo, registering themselves, the crops they have lost, and the damages to their homes.

The paths around my house have been impassable for weeks, and dirt roads in the Talensi-Nabdam district are eroding and partially blocked by water. My district is flooded at the southern end, where the White Volta runs through a community called Pwalugu. There, many farmers have lost their homes and fields to the flood water, and the river has risen so high as to reach the treetops, showing no signs of receding. Ousman, the MOFA Extension Agent for Pwalugu Area, reported that hunger has started to affect that community in our last staff meeting.

I remember clearly, at the beginning of August, one of MoFA’s agricultural extension agents told me that the rains were becoming too much. He explained that the buildings, made of clay bricks, are often covered with a thin layer of sand mixed with tar and cement. They have no foundations. When the rains are heavy and continuous—as they have been—the walls become saturated and begin to collapse.

Image 2: Collapsing Kpalwega Church

Last week, one of the brothers in my house told me that when he sleeps, it is never too deep because he fears that the walls around him will not last until morning.

My rough estimate from living and traveling in nearby communities is that more than 85% of traditionally constructed homes in our communities have experienced some cave-ins. Normally the cave-ins are cooking areas and animal housing. The Tikaha house where I am staying lost its pig pen and goat enclosure. The extended family’s compound house has several major walls down, including two cooking hearths and an animal pen, as well as one room. The most noticeable loss is the collapse of small tailor shop run by my Aunt Grace. It is located just by the roadside near the house. In a nearby village, Sakote, where I stayed in August, three families had to take refuge in the local elementary school.

When I anxiously asked my friend Lizzy, a high school student what these families would do, she looked at me calmly: “We will rebuild in the dry season,” without even batting an eyelash.

People just cope.

Broken Culvert in Manga Village

Image3: Collapsed bridge in Manga Village


She’s right. I have watched people, like Auntie, do just that: cope. Auntie now sets up her tables and her sewing machine under the shade of a baobab tree.

This ability to cope struck me most while I was walking across the village fields in Sakote with George, my host during my stay. The group of 12 men were bent over in the field weeding sorghum with hand hoes to the energetic and skillful music of a handmade guitar accompanied by song. The group stopped as we approached to greet us and walked with us up to the house. We met a pregnant woman pounding spices for the worker’s evening soup surrounded by three young children. Their house was particularly affected, with everyone of its six rooms collapsed. Yet despite it all, we received a warm welcome into their home and were offered flour water as is tradition when strangers arrive.

Because it is still the farming season, construction will have to wait. Unfortunately many of the crops have been spoiled because of the weather conditions and more vulnerable community members are without resources to rebuild or crops to harvest.

The crop failures due to erratic weather conditions has been a profound lesson in the vulnerability of these communities. Earlier in the rainy season, we all prayed for the rains to arrive. Now everyone is praying for them to stop.

The destruction and destitution left from the floods has emphasized to me the importance in reducing farmers vulnerability. I am now looking ahead to the next two months when I will be working with agricultural extension agents at MoFA to promote a business-minded approach to planning the dry season gardening that occurs in irrigated areas at damsites in some communities.

A strong crop in the dry season could really help some of the families who lost their crops this rainy season, and developing the habit of planning their production level each year will help to protect farmers in the future as rains are consistently unpredictable.

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My home in Tongo. The Tikaha House

When my hosts use the term stranger to refer to me it means I am an honoured guest. Patrick Tikaha and his family have made me feel extremely welcome here, so when they say I am a stranger, I know that it is with great pride.

Image1: Patrick Tikaha (53 years old )

Patrick is a local JSS (equivalent to elementary) schoolteacher. He has a sturdy bicycle which he uses to travel more than 30 minutes to the small village school where he teaches young children to read and write. When I asked Patrick about his life story, he said that he had to start at the beginning, which was the origination story of his people. I will save that one for another post (sorry for the suspense), but when we did get to his personal story, I learned just what a determined and hardworking man his is. It helped me admire him all the more.

Image2: Sticks used for pounding, for example, removing the sheathes from grain, and an old storage room.

As a young man he left a job in the southern town of Kumasi to care for his elderly parents in the village. They insisted that he marry his first wife, Talata, when he was around 22 years old, so that there would be someone to take care of this house, which was a necessity, since they were no longer able to manage it alone. Patrick agreed. His parents made the arrangements, chose his bride, Mme Talata, and his father paid the dowry.

A few years later, Patrick completed a certificate course to become a school teacher, and with his salary, paid for his older brother to marry. Then, finally he was able to marry again. Mme Lardi, (whom I was not able to get a photo of this morning) is his second wife. I get the impression that the second marriage was for love, although Patrick himself would never compare his wives in that way and it is something of an imposition for me to say so. His first wife does not live in the house any longer, although they raised six children together. Mme Lardi has six children of her own, bringing the family up to twelve children in total.

Image3: Terimba (Mme Lardi’s daugher), a neighbour, and Ahna (Mme Talata’s daughter), posing for me as they do the laundry. I am getting better at hand washing, but I’m not nearly as quick as these girls.
Two of the grown children live in the house, along with their children, and some of his grandchildren stay here as well. Patrick works full time, but he is also attending University through distance education. Last month he was writing distance examinations and staying up all night studying while attending to community obligations, which take up around four evenings every week, and taking an additional course arranged by the Ministry of Education during the day.

“We want you to tell your parents, when they worry about you, that you are with a family that will do everything we can to make sure you are comfortable. Before you go to sleep hungry I myself will sleep without food. We live in a simple house, and we know that you have left all of the comforts of your place and sacrificed to come here.

You will never pay anything to stay here, and you can stay as long as you like. Until the day when you come and tell me and my senior brothers that you will be leaving, and we celebrate your departure home, I will never ask you for anything. If you have any problem in this house just tell me. And if you are shy, you just tell my wife.

Feel Free. You are Welcome here.”

Image4: Ahna, posing with laundry soap. Apparently this picture is HILARIOUS, but no one could explain why so that I got the joke.

The downside of never being uncomfortable is….

“I don’t want you to do anything!” They insist. Taking care of guests well is a point of pride in the Tallensi community, and although I help with cooking or small tasks around the house, it is honestly very difficult to manoevre carrying water. I spend most of my energy trying to convince the family that I don’t like meat, which is usually only added to my dish if purchased, and that I actually DO like spicy food. I manage to do my own wash and generally fill my own bucket of bathwater in the mornings and evening.

Image 5: Mme Charity cooks all of the meals in the house, she is the wife of Patrick’s third son with Talata and is about to give birth to her second child.

But, I still fight to sweep my own room, or fetch my own stool to sit on these days. When I was staying in a neighbouring house (with a Dagbani family from the Northern Region) I swept the yard every morning and even carried water from the borehole. My struggles to contribute to the Tikaha house and participate in daily activites are a testament to the cultural variability in the Northern Regions of Ghana. It is slowly getting better and I’m sure that soon I will be allowed to do dishes.

sorry mom – i know reading that doing dishes has become something i aspire to must be strange for you.

Image 6: View of courtyard towards kitchen. Mme Charity in the doorway.

I know that Patrick is proud of his home. His family eats well, his children all attend school and there is electricity in this house. The reason Patrick has been so successful is that he manages his money very carefully. He pays his bills as soon as he receives his salary and provides the women of the house with more than enough money for soup ingredients.

To obtain electricity was expensive , but he saved and sacrificed to have poles erected from the closest line. All of the children from the family compound come and sit in the courtyard in the evening to watch Ghana News at 8:00pm and hang around to see whatever program is on afterwards.

Image 7: Linus (Patrick’s grandson through Talata), Sammy, and Lautia (Lardi’s youngest daughter)

Image 8: …Running to see the picture

The compound house is quite large and is located just steps away from Patrick’s compound. There are the extended families of four brothers, including Patrick, living here with their families. When I arrived all of the senior men and their elder sons met to welcome me to the family home. It was quite intimidating to be in the room greeting 12 men formally and being introduced to them in the local language, which I had only started learning. However, I now know many of them better, I am more comfortable and we always visit and greet each other.

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Image 9: My bed – super lux!

The room that the family has opened for me is the nicest room I have stayed in here, it was not in use and it was cleaned and prepared for me with great care. I have not done the place credit with clothes strewn about and all that. The beautiful bed was one that had been previously bought and not used. Patrick assembled it with me.

Image 10: Everything I own (sorry for the shaky pic – and for not cleaning…)

Image 11: My sweet ride WITH gears! 42$CAN

I am very happy here.


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Atarah Family – Kongo Photos

I stayed with the Atarah family for almost 2 weeks near the beginning of my stay in Ghana. I remember the visit fondly, because I met my very good friend Justa during that time. She lives in the same village as I do, Tongo, and we have become great friends since this time.

The Atarah Family; Pascal, Kristy, Justa, Selina, Martin.

Selina helping to shoo the chickens towards her mother, Kristy, has trapped termites for the fowl to eat (protein!) in the bucket.

Sowing Sorghum at the beginning of the farming season. I got a fantastic sunburn on my back on that day. 😉

Eric Atarah, my host and the head of the family, is on the far right.

Kristy brews Pito – the local beer – and sells it in the market, which is held every three days. It takes three days to brew Pito. Coincidence?

Kristy, stirring TZ, a millet porridge and staple food that is eaten with spicy soups. It composes most major meals.  I eat it a lot.

I try to work for my supper as often as possible.

Hope you enjoyed the picture show and the non-work related update!



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The Decision to Adopt is with the Farmer

International Governance has its roots in the district office of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Tongo, a small community in the Upper East Region of Ghana. This small office is where I work with government extension agents, bringing improved technologies and development programs to farmers and their families.


They say that the health of the roots will determine the height of the tree. My experiences here in Ghana have led me question how well we who are concerned with the progress of human development, know what is happening here at the roots, in the field. How many of our statesmen, program developers, researchers and politicians take time to understand the decisions farmers make, and tackle the realities of policy implementation in places like the Talensi-Nabdam District in the Upper East Region of Ghana?

Anobre Akologo


I meet Anobre Akologo on a monitoring visit with several district officers from Bolgatanga about two weeks ago. She is a frail elderly woman, a widow, shy and silent because we had interrupted her on her field. She is clearly intimidated by our presence and seems confused by our interest in her work. The small groundnut (peanut) plants in rows around her feet are stunted and flowering prematurely. The grains of her extended families’ early millet are hard and bland due to the recent drought, and the officers are concerned that the crop will not produce viable seed. Although it is now late in July, Akologo is planting cowpea and more groundnut among the failing plants in hopes that the rain will continue into October. She must harvest before the rains stop and the ground hardens, which makes it near impossible to remove the nuts undamaged. The rains normally begin to slow in mid-September.

Asimbaling Apuko


Not five minutes drive down the dirt road we stop to meet Asimbaling Apuko, a model farmer who works closely with MOFA. To reach his house we pass through fields of tall, healthy millet and sorghum. The millet is almost ready to harvest and the grains look fat and healthy. Apuko is a confident man who speaks in broken English, and after a few tries we exchange words and manage to understand each other. His wives greet us from the doorway of the house and then disappear inside. He says that he uses a mixture of compost and chemical fertilizers to achieve such good results, but I know the timing of planting, the quality of seed and soil, and the ability to manage complex community relationships all play a part in Apuko’s success.


The diversity of the experience of a subsistence farmer in these examples becomes more clear after actually living and working at the community level. Many reasons for the disparity can be traced to the sophisticated and geographically specific social systems that govern village life, of which I have only the barest understanding after five months of living in Ghana. However, the best Agricultural Extension Agents (AEA’s) among MOFA’s staff understand it very well.


This brings me to a very important point, that I had left AEA’s entirely out of the story. The staff of MOFA are the representatives of local and international institutions of government to farmers. I watch carefully as the MOFA officers interact with both of the farmers. The female officer speaks gently with Akologo as the others stand aside to help her to feel comfortable expressing herself. I follow their lead and hang back after greeting her in the local dialect. The field workers ask very specific questions about the state of each farmer’s crops, and what impact the season has had on the wellbeing of their families. The officers give what advice they can to each farmer and communicate the results to the regional government.

District Directoe Yusif interviewing Farming Family


I often ask my colleagues what they would advise international institutions and the donors that fund MOFA’s programs if they had the opportunity. Over and again, my co-workers repeat that assistance does not reach the poor and needy people in communities. They know it because everyday MOFA staff manages the impact of overambitious and poorly managed programs with limited resources. In the rush to spend budgets before they expire, many programs severely discount the time, expertise and supervision required to work well with local communities. In the end, this systematic neglect of the challenges of implementation limits MOFA’s ability to promote the development of agriculture.


These field realities are even more remote when decisions and pronouncements are being made from Geneva, Rome or Waterloo. The greater the distance, the clearer theory appears and the further the complications of implementation can be allowed to fall from serious consideration. The greater the distance, the easier it is to write a beautiful policy or plan, send it to another party to implement and declare success with satisfaction.


I wish I could invite international governance thinkers and policy developers into our district staff meetings with MOFA. For example, a few weeks ago there was a pertinent discussion on the challenges of fieldwork sparked by a field agent’s comments during a field report.


The AEA was speaking out of frustration. Each AEA was required to trial a new planting technique with their farmers, planting seeds with a small amount of compost in each hole in one of their fields. The practice is time consuming and very few farmers were willing to try the new technique. After a few hot comments to the effect that the practice would not be adopted, our district director, Dr. Quist, broke into the discussion with a few words.


He said, “You seem to have forgotten that the decision to adopt is always with the farmer. Introducing a new practice is an experiment, a joint venture undertaken by the farmer and the field agent.


When the results are in, it is for the farmer and the AEA to each take something from the experience and to decide how it can be applied. You are not the one who decides if hole composting is worthwhile for the farmer. We try it together and it is the farmer who decides.” The comments succeeded in re-focusing the discussion on how to demonstrate the technology more effectively.


I have referred to Dr. Quist’s words often in my work. In my limited experience it has been easy for me to forget that a brilliant program idea is only the first step towards a positive change for farming communities.


What lesson do this afternoon on a field visit and a discussion in a district staff meeting have to offer international governance theory?


It is imperative to account for the decisions community members make as they face the opportunities or challenges created by their government. These experiences teach that the interest of policy makers should be to know how Apuko or Akologo’s lives will actually change through a new policy direction, and that meaningful dialogue between key decision makers throughout implementation will show us what success, if any, is being realized.


The implementation of a policy is the true test of its quality, and the power to achieve results… or the decision to adopt, rests with the people whom policy is intended to assist.


The decision to adopt is with the farmer.



By no means does the mention of individuals’ names indicate agreement on the part of that individual with the conclusions I have drawn from these experiences. I would like to express my deep appreciation to Lawrence for his patience and wisdom, Clement for his skill and enthusiasm, Edward for his support and confidence, and to Dr. Quist for his critical eye. To every member of the Talensi-Nabdam MOFA District Staff I owe equal thanks and appreciation.

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