Sunday, 11 December 2011

"So this is Christmas......."

As I reach my 100th Blog posting I also reach the end of the first phase of my time in Ghana. I am going home to England this week for Christmas and will return in January for another year in Nadowli. Therefore, for the next month, “Adrienne will not be in Africa” and this Blog will be taking a well earned rest!

On Friday, a Christmas Carol Service was held for some local schools in Nadowli Catholic Church. For the last fortnight we have been rehearsing with one school choir, teaching words and tunes of “O Come all ye Faithful” and “Little Drummer Boy”. They needed none of our help to learn a beautiful and very lively carol in Dagaare.

The start time was 9am and we expected to be sitting alone on the church steps for an hour or so waiting for everyone. None of it! The church was already full of children and teachers, practising songs, adjusting traditional colourful costumes, testing musical instruments and generally scurrying about. There was little room for performers let alone everyone else who wanted to see and hear what was happening. 

Very young children from the Kindergarten filled all available crevasses up near the altar and choir positions. They were moved back every few minutes but managed to spread forward again almost immediately. A small crib scene was positioned on a white cloth over a small table with a candle at the front beside an improvised Christmas tree. (The candle didn't set alight to the cloth. I watched it closely with my Health & Safety hat on. Old habits die hard!)

Eventually, we were ready to begin. The Director was late but we didn’t wait for her. She arrived a little dishevelled after half of the programme and only just managed to push her way through a very crowded side entrance.

All the singing I have heard here is at one volume….loud, and one tone……from the throat rather than the diaphragm. However, whoever sings does so with all their heart, soul and energy. This was definitely the case today. There was no holding back and the choristers loved it. Children, teachers and District officers read familiar Nativity passages from the Bible to a noisy congregation and the priest blessed us all at the end.
This was a lovely occasion and the only sign, in Nadowli, that Christmas is near. From what I can tell, apart from joyous church services, there will be little in the way of Christmas celebrations that would be recognised in the more developed countries around the world. However, in most of those, the real meaning of Christmas is drowned out by the manic consumerism that causes so much exhaustion, greed, relative poverty and emotional stress. The birth of Christ will certainly be celebrated here in Nadowli. Father Christmas and anyone else bearing gifts will pass by almost all the children in this part of the world. If they eat well they will be very lucky on Christmas Day.

I should like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has followed this blog throughout 2011. I have felt so privileged to be living in Ghana and your support has encouraged me to record the significant experiences and observations of my first year. I have loved writing the 100 postings to date and hope I shall reach 200 by the end of 2012 and my work here.  With your continued interest I shall be spurred on to write more. My Ghanaian friends have promised to teach me more about life for the people in the Upper West. I look forward to pounding my own Fufu and making TZ for a start. Watch this space for more details.

I hope you and your families all have a very merry Christmas and a happy and fulfilling year in 2012.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A Long Walk to Inclusion

“The International Day of Persons with Disability” fell on December 3rd which, unfortunately, clashed with “Farmers Day” in Ghana. Subsequently, we celebrated in style today alongside about 350 people either with a disability or supporting someone else. Ghana has a long way to go to being "Inclusive". Today they went a little further, but it is a long journey.

We gathered outside the Wa School for the Blind at 8am where pupils were dancing to the beat of a few loud drums and 2 or 3 very battered trumpets. (The musicians managed to keep playing for 4 hours non-stop!)  Buses and tros drew up and people were handed their crutches and helped into wheelchairs, many of which were transported on the roofs. Organisers arrived with T shirts and these were grabbed frantically and put on over other clothing. Placards were distributed and we were ready to go
We had had a few hours notice of this parade and were concerned about the distance to be covered. When we set off in the wrong direction we realised we were taking the long way round! This was to be a 7 kilometre walk in 35C heat…….and we walked 1km to get to the start. I can hear you protesting, ”but you are able bodied!”  Precisely! Most of these walkers wore flip flops and many had deformed feet that no shoe could contain. They supported themselves on wooden crutches or a single stick, neither were the best size for them. The blind students, some albino, were led by the deaf in many cases, sharing skills. Grandparents were supported by small family members. Old and young were there all having a wonderful time.

The atmosphere was fantastic and extremely good humoured on behalf of the organisers, police and the public, in transport that was held up for ages whilst we occupied long stretches of road. Those who found walking less of a challenge danced to the beat of the music the whole way and turned the entire event into a carnival. Some were given a lift for part of the journey.

I have been humbled so many times in the last 10 months, but this was the best example. For once these people were having “their” day. Disability is often seen as a curse in Africa. Disabled children can be ostracised by their own families from birth. Difference is neither welcomed nor tolerated in many communities. The parade was to raise the awareness of the public to the strengths, challenges and determination of disabled citizens of all ages. There can have been no doubt, along the streets of Wa, that today’s revellers and stoic walkers were making a very strong case to be included in all communities and that their inclusion could only be regarded as a benefit to everyone. As one placard read, “See what a person with a disability can teach you.” They taught me a lot today and the world would be a poorer place without the example they set here, in a country where life is tough enough.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Traditional and Recycled

This is the last episode in the travel tales from the October trip. 

In a village called Besease just outside Kumasi we found one of 10 remaining Traditional Asante Dwellings. These were built in the 18th and 19th Centuries and the last few are listed as World Heritage Sites. Most of these buildings were destroyed during the wars with the British. Whoops! They are surviving examples of the power and wealth of the Asante Kingdom, Kumasi being the capital. This one is a “Shrine House”.

The “Okomfo” would have lived here, a local priest who became possessed and acted as the medium for “Nyame” the omnipresent God in the Asante Traditional Religion. Nyame has sons represented by various natural features such as rivers and lakes. The goddess, Asaase Yaa represents the earth. Concoctions which have particular powers are mixed from water, clay, gold, beads and herbs which are pounded in a brass pan. These then have to reside in the shrine house for ritual purposes.

The shrine house has 4 buildings, one for the drummers, one for dancers, one for cooking and a closed room for the Okomfo. An important feature is a tree or forked post in which is wedged a calabash for sacrificial offerings. This is the altar of Nyame Dua the Sky God.

The caretaker insisted on wrapping this grass skirt around any woman who entered the site and then entreated you to take photos of him……..and me, for which he could then charge you! I imagine it works every time as the shock of being manhandled by this rather lecherous character is enough to make you pay him to let go!!

I have said before, that nothing is wasted here......except time! I just wanted to include a few quick snaps from one day of our trip in Kumasi. 
Here is a photo of my bed when I pulled the blankets back.....a ripped sheet perfectly pressed open just where you get into the bed.

A plastic coat hanger that someone has attempted to repair.

Also, an ingenious use for used water sachets.