Thursday, 31 May 2012

A Very Long Awaited Arrival

The rain fell in “stair rods” for 4 hours yesterday. When it finished, finally, I went out to padlock the gate. As I turned to come back in I glanced through the netting and caught sight of the very sodden, honey coloured face of Doris with raindrops caught in her long eyelashes.  My first reaction was to reprimand her for being out in that weather in her condition. (Not that she was in any danger of catching her death of cold, mind you!) I reopened the gate to talk to her and there beside her was the tiniest kid. 

Yes, just the one and……………coal black! Gemma and I showered her with compliments and congratulations and soon afterwards with her third chunk of bread that day, but the question still remained…… that it? After all those months of being as wide as she is long and this miniature bundle of fluff, albeit beautiful, is all we have to show for it.

They stayed on the platform around the moat all night, as far as I could gather. I imagine it was the driest place to lie down. I kept checking on them just to see whether a second “issue” was forthcoming, but no, “Sooty” is the one and only! Mother and daughter are doing well and are staying close to our house all the time due to the fact that we keep feeding Doris. She is partial to rice and I’m now cooking an extra portion at least daily with her in mind.

There are goats bleating and calling all the time around here, but I have never heard Doris utter a sound. She just stands and looks at me from wherever she is. She really is quite extraordinary and very special……………………and that is not just me saying that, either.

Yes, Sooty did fall off the step as soon as I'd pressed the shutter and, no, Doris didn't get down to help her up! She was too busy smiling for the camera and hoping for more scraps!!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Wet Sports Day

How familiar is this? Everyone is out on the field for a Sports Day, the sky turns black and advances threateningly from the horizon towards you. Yes, it can happen here too, even when you are sitting under a tree for shade and “sweating plenty”.

This is actually Sports Week for this term. There is one each term with a different focus. All the schools abandon classes whilst everyone gathers to support their team. Today we enjoyed some excellent football and energetic running. Note most of the supporters were sitting in the goal mouth! 

Tomorrow the volley ball tournament is staged. I watched the training and team selection yesterday and it looked very promising for my adopted school. I think I’m supposed to be impartial, though. That is difficult when, yesterday, I presented some PE and maths equipment, donated by friends and my nephew, Victor, to this school. Footballs have already been given to a number of schools around Nadowli. They were delighted despite the serious faces in this photo. I have to work hard to get spontaneous smiles in photos. Also, there was a whole school observing this behind the photographer! The children pictured are stragglers from the neighbouring Kindergarten.

So, suddenly the decision was made to abandon the activities and everybody headed for home. This was the shot I took as I pedalled across the park. The sky was at least as dark as this, the blackest sky I have ever seen.

 The rain has been falling heavily for 2 hours now. Everywhere is very green and lush, unusual for this early in the wet season. Last year we hadn’t had a drop in May. Rain at night is very welcome as the temperature drops and I can sleep like a baby. The drumming on our zinc roof acts as a lullaby! I can’t say the same for the often accompanying lightning and thunder which is very exciting and shakes the walls.

Whilst I sit writing this I am wondering what the rain is doing to the dirt road between here and Daffiama, the next town east of here. I am delivering some training to 41 headteachers there on Friday and took a trip across there yesterday with my friend, Louisa, to ascertain how long the journey would take. 40 minutes it took on Michael, with the return journey reducing to half an hour. I’m still nervous on sand and grit, not to mention the deep crevasses on either side where the rain has gouged channels. It’s a bit of a slalom and I hope this deluge hasn’t deteriorated the surface further. Time will tell and I shall allow a full hour, surely time enough to walk it!!

Sunday, 27 May 2012

African Union Day

This has been a long weekend due to Friday being African Union Day and a Public Holiday. We have wondered what this is and whether there is considerably more celebration in other parts of Ghana and Africa. I heard it was initially, Gaddafi’s idea to unite African nations and he planned to be president of that union. So, probably the less said about that the better!

Anyway, I spent the day cooking and attending a funeral. I’m getting the hang of TZ now and will attempt another “solo flight” soon. This time it was accompanied by “Green Green”, a stew of shredded pumpkin leaves and okra. I doubt you’d like it as it’s rather slimy but I’m getting used to alternative textures.

The funeral was a big gathering. The dead man was fairly young, with a pregnant wife, and was hit on his moto on Thursday morning by a tro on the wrong side of the road in broad daylight. He was very well respected and worked at the District Assembly (Local Council). People came from everywhere to pay respects and walk around his open coffin. Men and women were wailing loudly at their loss. The corpse wasn’t brought to this site from the hospital until lunchtime on Friday but the mourning had been underway for 24 hours by then. A photograph of the man was displayed in the meantime. Mourning was accompanied by the playing of 3 large xylophones continuously throughout the day and night.  A mass was said there under a tree before the coffin was carried the short distance to where the grave had been dug near the family home. Even as they processed towards the grave, people were still arriving and running, crying and wailing desperately, across the field to catch a last glimpse of his face. Apparently, you can tell their relationship to the corpse by the way they wail. Within 34 hours of the accident the corpse was buried. We left at that point to avoid the huge volume of traffic that would be heading back to the main road from the village.

I hadn’t been to a funeral like this where so many mourners attended and so many men wailed. Some men carried goat skins over their shoulders sewn up into bags. Evidently, years ago when cowries (shells) were used as currency, men carried them to funerals in these bags to throw around the body and for the xylophone players. Nowadays coins are thrown but the bags often make an appearance in keeping with tradition.
There were 2 other funerals in Nadowli that day. They are very common occurrences and sadly too often involve young people.

Just a quick update on Doris. She is still "with child" and getting wider by the hour! She must be the best fed goat in Ghana as I'm finding her scraps every time she appears at the door. Well, she is eating for at least 3! As soon as she gives birth I shall post photos with the announcement.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012


TZ is the staple food for this area. Although people prepare and eat fufu, banku, kenkey and rice, TZ is what sustains people most often in this region. I’m not sure whether I have ever known what it stands for or even if that is widely acknowledged. However, it has little if any taste and is therefore not unpleasant, unless the smooth but slightly gritty texture upsets you.

I have been allowed a token attempt at pounding fufu but anyone who pounds regularly and was born to it, smiles or even laughs out loud when I mention it. How could these small, delicate, white hands seriously pound fufu. It’s a joke to even consider it really. Apparently, I’d be blistered before the yam pieces were even broken, never mind turned to a mound of smooth, inflated, elastic gorgeousness!
Anyway, I am determined to succeed at beating TZ, in all senses of the word. This is all about cornflour. You start by making a boiling “porridge” with water and sour corn dough, into which cornflour is stirred and fiercely beaten. I have mentioned before the strength and tenacity of Ghanaian women. There is no such thing as fast food here. When your meal is ready to eat, you have deserved every mouthful. I managed less than half a cooking pot of presentable TZ under supervision from Louisa and with the right tools for the job. Tools include iron hooks that allow you to secure the cooking pot with your feet so it doesn't fall off the stove. When beaten enough and cooked, you scoop it out with a calabash and layer it into bowls. When you eat it, cold, with soup or stew, it comes away in slices. Evidently, people make lots of it, cover it with water and it lasts for days and weeks.

Needless to say, my unsupervised attempt at preparing TZ in the privacy of my own home, was a disaster. Quantities are not measured here and my estimations were a long way out. In addition, a non-stick saucepan (Christmas purchase from Sainsburys) and a wooden spoon just didn’t meet requirements at all. Things have improved since and I produced something edible, with help, last week. The other skill I haven’t yet mastered is being able to clear around the inside of a pot of boiling porridge with my bare hands and pour a spoonful of boiling soup into the palm of my hand to taste it for seasoning!!!! My tutor must have a layer of asbestos below the skin. I shall get better with practice, but how much better I’m not sure. You see, this type of cooking is not in my blood and that seems to matter!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Hippos under the stars

The Hippo Sanctuary at Wechiau is not at all easy to get to without a car and it was fortunate that we had this opportunity to visit the place with Francis. The road was a challenging drive for him again and it came in stages. The Visitors’ Centre is in Wechiau village where we registered for the night on the tree platform. 19 kilometres down the road we came to the Sanctuary Guest House where Francis was to stay. By this time we had lost contact with all phone networks. It was another 5 kilometres before we arrived at the “tree” and the river. This place felt very remote. As we unpacked thin mattresses and mosquito nets from the boot of the car, another guide arrived with 2 young German guys having just observed hippos downstream.
It was suggested that we should see the hippos that evening rather than waiting for a morning trip and possibly not finding them. We readily agreed and climbed into a long, low canoe with the guide at the front and a fit young paddler at the back. It took an hour in total to paddle downstream watch the hippos from a safe distance and return to the tree platform. These huge animals were under water most of the time but surfaced to yawn and play fight with each other. Some were standing on a submerged rock so they were more visible. We kept our distance which I have heard is prudent, but we were not able to get a clear impression of their massive size.

Ros, Victor and I had bought far too much picnic type food to eat as supper. Fruit and biscuits would have sustained us until morning and the ants enjoyed some of it too. I have spent many a night under canvas but never before have I been able to see the sky and the underneath of a large tree canopy all night. There were 6 of us lying under nets on this wooden platform which moved slightly when anyone rolled over. I felt confident we were safe even though our guide had told us of one platform that was lately out of use as it collapsed! 

It was still warm all night as we were still in the dry season, but cooled a little before dawn. We experienced surprisingly few insects and none of us seemed to be bitten. Unless I slept more soundly than I thought, the hippos were not audible during the night. I'm not sure whether that was a blessing or not! I enjoyed the experience but, I think, one night sleeping fully clothed on a tree platform was enough.

Francis returned with the car at day break and we piled everything back in and returned to the Guest House, where he found all the essential ingredients for a welcome cup of tea. Home, a shower and a thicker mattress beckoned and we set off towards Nadowli. I was looking forward to having members of my family in my African home, even for a short stay. It had been a very interesting, privileged and long, albeit comfortable journey from the south and shortly, Ros and Victor would be returning to Accra and a flight home to London. They had travelled far to visit my home and I am eternally grateful to them for their tireless efforts. 

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Totem Python

There is no end to the things I have still to learn about the culture, customs and traditions of the people of Ghana.
This week I heard from a friend about an alarming incident that happened to her and her neighbour the previous evening. The young mother lifted her small boy who was wrapped in a cloth, sleeping, on a nearby bed. Something fell out of the cloth in the dark. On inspection they discovered a snake, at least the thickness of 2 fingers.

Snakes are feared here as most carry venom and medical help is minimal and can be some distance away. Immediately, in the interests of everyone’s safety, my friend found a stick and bravely hit it a few times until it was clearly dead. Then they called another neighbour who arrived quickly. His reaction was not what the women had expected. He burst into tears and sobbed that they had killed his tribe’s totem, a python!

Later, when emotions were somewhat restored. It was explained that the python was adopted a long time ago as a “totem”, after a huge one had stretched across a river and allowed the ancestors to cross it safely, as a bridge, to escape their advancing enemies. Totems are usually animals, regarded as sacred and are revered by their tribe. What these women should have done, apparently, was to tell the python, quietly, that it was in danger of harm as it was frightening people nearby. It would then have slithered away and caused no problem!

The dead python was removed and “buried” (a pile of leaves was placed over its corpse). Everyone is trying to forget the incident but it is clearly not easy and the snake still lies in its leafy grave.

Evidently, the python is known as the “King of Snakes”. I am told it shows its power in a subtle way. If you are bitten by one there is no reaction nor need for medical attention. However, if you are ever bitten again by any snake, and take anti-venom, the dormant python venom will kill you!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Tracking Elephants

When my sister, Ros, nephew, Victor and I arrived at Mole National Park it was early evening, still very hot but almost dark. We were anticipating the sight of elephants the following morning and were not to be disappointed.

The walking safari starts early to avoid the greatest heat. The ranger with his gun seemed to be wandering away from the large pools where elephants tend to gather. He showed us cobs and water bucks but everyone sensed something bigger to come. There were some huge foot prints in the mud, mountains of fresh dung and evidence of branches stripped of tasty bark. We trekked in a column of silence behind the ranger as he wove a path through the undergrowth.
Finally we came into a clearing in front of the pool and there they were wading into the water. 

Nine huge elephants turning from grey to black  as the water washed their hides. They wallowed for hours as we stood and watched them enjoying the cool spray from their trunks. I have been privileged to observe them twice during the last year and could marvel at them daily given the opportunity. This is the only place where elephants can be seen in Ghana. Almost nobody in Nadowli (4 hours away) will have had that chance.

Monkeys and baboons were less evident than on my previous visit as there was food for them in the bush. Fortunately, they didn’t need to steal our breakfast as happens to some visitors. Those we saw carried inquisitive babies.

To reach Mole you travel through the village of Larabunga. It’s ancient “mud and stick mosque” is reputed to be the oldest in the country but nobody is quite sure how old it is! We walked around the village and came across a large group of Muslim women escorting a young bride to her husband’s home for marriage. I wished she had looked a little happier about the prospect. 

There are some differences between building styles of homes from one area to another and it is interesting to see how people live. As always white visitors attract lots of attention and the expectation that you will provide money.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

A Black & White Story

Within the novel “Ama”, I read a story told amongst the slaves along their journey south to the coast of Ghana.

In the beginning, Onyame, creator of all things, selected 3 black men and 3 white men and gave each a wife. They were shown a large clay pot and a piece of paper and told each group should choose one. Lots were drawn and the black men won. They considered the options carefully.
The pot must hold something of good use and it was large. The piece of paper could not possibly be of much value to them. Eventually, they chose the pot. Once they examined the contents, they discovered some iron and a small piece of gold.
The white men were left with the sheet of paper on which was written “everything they ever needed to know”.
Onyame gave this country to the blacks and took the whites to the great water in the south. He taught them to fell trees and build a boat. He directed them to a country far away and they set sail.
Years later, descendents of the white people returned with goods to exchange for gold, mined here in Ghana, and slaves. (The paper had shown them how to make things)

Some of the captured slaves asked what the white people were like. The answer was that they are very tall and ugly. It hurts your eyes to look at them and if you look for too long you will surely be blinded!

Often, around here I see adults talking to their children about me. The children are sometimes visibly frightened. Then the adults laugh and explain that they tell their children, if they don’t do what they say the white woman will take them away! Fortunately, this doesn’t occur with all of them. I am not aware that I have ever before, knowingly, frightened a child. What a shame it should happen here and through no fault of my own. Last week having spent some time with a couple of 3 year olds, one told the other, in Dagaare, “I don’t fear the Nansapor (white woman), any more”. Thank God. I am working on them individually and in small groups to try and dispel this horrifying myth.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Travels continued

Much of this holiday was spent revisiting favourite places and sites of particular interest to my visitors. As in previous trips, along the way we stopped to sample food, particularly fruit, new to us. This is a huge velvety pod which is the fruit of the Baobab tree, a dry substance with a taste I’m struggling to describe. It wasn’t especially sweet but not unpleasant. We also found cashew fruit. The nut is clearly visible attached to the fruit. Ghanaians make use of both but I have rarely seen either for sale.

We also saw this amazing lattice fungus on the walk leading to a waterfall.

We managed to enjoy a few days by the beach and took in visits to Cape Coast & Elmina Castles to consolidate my nephew, Victor’s school project about The Slave Trade. Each time I learn something new and even more disturbing. This time, it was explained to us how the slaves walked hundreds of miles through virgin forest over thorny foliage, heavily manacled and shackled. There was no opportunity to stop and remove thorns from their feet and anyway, they couldn’t reach their feet! Such small numbers of people survived the journey south to the coast and the 2 to 3 month existence within the castle dungeons. The narrow drains in the floors were the only feeble attempt to remove all effluent for hundreds of prisoners and corpses were removed infrequently. What a futile waste of life. 

Afterwards, as I walked along the beautiful beaches within sight of the castles, I counted my blessings once again and wondered, yet again, at the horrors human beings are capable of inflicting on each other.
I have recently read a novel, “Ama” by Manu Herbstein. It follows the journey of a young girl from the north of Ghana who is captured and eventually transported to Brazil as a slave in the sugar plantations. Many of the places she passes through are familiar to me including the site of her incarceration in Elmina Castle. The background information to the story includes Ghanaian customs and traditions that I recognise and remind me how much I have learned in the last 15 months. Although the eventual buying and transporting of Africans as slaves across the world was the responsibility and shame of white traders, black tribesmen captured and gathered their own people, those of tribal enemies and undesirables within communities and traded them down the country for money or commodities. Evidence of Slave Caves to contain captives can be found around this area in the Upper West. 

Sunday, 6 May 2012

A Warning for Doris

It seems there is a lot of confusion about weather patterns everywhere. Over the last week we have had 2 nights of significant rainfall when we should still be in the dry season. It rather looks as though the rainy season is arriving early…….very early, compared with last year when we hardly felt a drop before July!
Anyway, as well as finding plots fenced off and ready to farm, lines of small boys one behind the other, a hoe over their shoulders heading out towards their farms, there are some goats who have found themselves tethered already. They must feel so hard done by as others will be roaming free for another few weeks before they find themselves tied to a post or a tree each day for the duration of the growing season. You hear the free ones jeering at the prisoners who reciprocate mournfully.

There is also a proliferation of building projects around our locality and areas laid out neatly with mud bricks that have been formed and left to dry. One collection of these appeared beside our house last week. They were different from others as the ones around the perimeter have a stone on top of each of them. The reason for this was clarified for us later in the day when some children explained that they were to keep the goats off. Apparently, if a goat were to climb on the new bricks undeterred by the stones, it would die!

This begs the question…..Has anyone told the goats?

You can imagine my concern. If Doris, my goat, had not attended the briefing and missed this information, the outcome could be disastrous, and her still “with child” too. Fear not, dear reader, I am pictured here ensuring she is briefed accordingly.