Sunday, 27 January 2013

Winnowing woman

This lady was winnowing her rice as I cycled home from the office. She stays just up the path from me. There has been a lot of winnowing since harvest time. Rice, maize, beans etc have all been ground out of their “shells” and the winnowing has separated the grains from the chaff. You just need a good breeze! The good stuff has weight and falls in the bowl whilst the chaff blows aside. She had a lot to winnow and the pigs and fowls enjoyed the chaff after she had finished.

One reason I have included this picture is to emphasise how hard the women have to work and it is all very physical. They have amazingly strong muscles in their arms, back and neck from the carrying heavy loads on their heads to beating and grinding as an integral precursor to preparing food.  Everything is labour intensive and accepted proudly as making the best nutritional use of the raw ingredients available. Carrying huge heavy loads of fire wood, women pass my window numerous times a day. They tend to perform this task with company and it appears to be quite a social event judging by the cheerful banter that heralds their passing.

I have made good attempts at cooking Ghanaian style and am proud of my successes, however I would need to be living here many years longer to display half the skills these women have been practising since childhood. I take my hat off to them and salute their endurance and patience amongst other qualities.

Doris !

I don’t know how I shall leave Doris. She will be one of my saddest farewells. She is known all around here as my “Grandmother” and I am chastised for not giving her prime choices of precious food from my fridge. You will be glad to hear she is hugely pregnant again but I fear I shall miss this birth.

Unless you have met Doris you cannot fully understand the amazing character of this goat. She all but speaks! We certainly have a special bond and whenever I appear at the door I can spot her staring at me from somewhere nearby, often peering around a tree or the side of the house. She just stands and looks me straight in the eye with her head cocked on one side. This is particularly strange because her eye sight is dreadful. If I put scraps on the ground instead of under her nose, it takes a while for her to find them. Meanwhile there is a danger the large clan of noisy chickens has grabbed what they can and run off with it! She is very placid and won’t stand up for herself. If I was to be here any longer I may have started a course of assertiveness training with her!

Some of my favourite neighbours

How could I reminisce about life in Nadowli without mentioning the pigs. At this point in the year they are looking pretty healthy and stout. There has been a lot to forage on after the harvests and as the pigs roam freely now, they can help themselves to anything they fancy. The remains of maize and other crops litter the whole farming area and provide good feeds for these animals.

Any waste water offers them a mud bath and they wallow contentedly before wandering proudly displaying a crusty tide mark at various levels on their fat bodies. Although they seem contented and free to roam, there is always pork in the market. Slaughtering is done where they are caught and within earshot of their friends. I imagine that makes you rather nervous and inclined to hide a lot of the time!

Keep it in the Family

I have chosen this photo because it reminds me of the community structure in Ghana. This chief is proudly escorted to his place of honour at a festival by an entourage of less senior members of his community. They are wearing traditional clothes and smocks worn everyday by men across the Upper West. The hierarchy of men, almost exclusively, is very important and respect is demonstrated through behaviour. Local chiefs and family elders are responsible for their communities and extended families. Tribal traditions continue their long history as decided by ancestors long departed this world. Ancestors remain a vital part of their culture, however, even in death and libations are poured into the ground to them at gatherings to this day.

We are reminded of the strength and unity of extended families as part of everyday life. Although people do move away from their home village, it never seems far and the connection between people from the same village or town is a close bond. From where you originate is a key element of your introduction to strangers.

Elders and chiefs are elected to these posts and your position and reputation within that community are significant factors in your nomination. Younger members look up to these wise figures and can aspire to those lofty, regal heights of respect. Elders are called upon to mediate in disputes and to add their opinions when all else fails. They discipline members and intervene when evil powers are at work between enemies. Their word is final and the communities and families they support know that and respect their judgement.

I imagine that in a country where there is limited respect for the undermanned police force in which training is less than sophisticated, it is far better for local disagreement to be managed within small communities than risk outcomes from armed police involvement. Managing your families in this way is as it has always been and that must seem the most effective solution for all. You know the people in your locality and family and can deal with them. How could a strange law enforcer do a better job?
Of course domestic disputes at home are largely managed very differently, sometimes heavy handedly by the police and social services. As we know, families in our culture are spread, often, across thousands of miles and offer each other no support at all. There is no extended family, nor wise elder advice to resolve differences there and I surmise we are the poorer for that.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Photo 1

In just over 4 weeks I shall be leaving Nadowli and heading home at the end of my placement. Much of what I see day to day I have documented in this blog over 2 years. Many postings have included photos to illustrate my experiences. However, most of my photos lie unseen, here in my laptop. I am going to take the opportunity, during these final weeks, of posting some of the best ones and those that evoke the more vivid memories of my life here in Ghana.

I have to begin with a school photo. This is Class 3 who I have come to know better than any other group of children. They arrive each morning, most punctually, to await happily whatever learning experiences are available to them. I never cease to be in awe of their enthusiasm to be in school when I consider the lack of stimulation afforded these pupils.  The attendance of a teacher heralds a good day in itself. If their teacher had had the privilege of the best training available, he would still be lethargic in his daily delivery at the front of the class when denied access to the most basic of resources. If you live in interesting times and have imaginative stimuli surrounding you almost constantly and you feel valued and respected, you can strive to be an imaginative and exciting teacher with very little equipment and funds.  However, when your own education and teacher training involved solely the use of chalk, ancient theories and monotonous instruction, and imagination is not considered an asset to teachers or pupils, then you are hardly likely to break out of the mould from your own initiative.

It may be true that for most children in these schools who will live out their adult lives in this same community unaware, largely, of the outside world, their school education will suffice as it exists. Oblivion can allow peaceful, stress free existence. Nevertheless, there are some who could spread their wings, be exciting and contribute to the development of their country if they were empowered. The injustice of this poor educational provision and the frustration that I feel is about those children with unrealised and stifled potential. They are tethered chickens scratching in the dust who could be eagles exercising their wings and preparing to soar.

No change then!

Well, Nadowli hasn’t changed much in 4 weeks. I’m not sure it will change much in 4 years! However, there have been a couple of surprises. All the dead scrub from the harvest has disappeared and the spaces between buildings are parched and wide open. The very dry Harmattan winds make your skin like sandpaper so I shall be getting through some moisturising cocoa butter in the next few weeks.

I cycled to the market this morning for the first time, searching for tomatoes and tins of sardines. It came as rather a shock to turn a bend in the well trodden path to find a partly built house across my way. All these sandy pathways are well worn and well used by motos, bicycles and walkers. We just have to find a new route through someone else’s land. As a “main road” this will be a challenge for us all!

I made a visit to a local school in the afternoon and had a similar experience when I came around the side of a neighbouring house and found another house blocking my way. I am wondering how soon it will be before we cannot get out of the community!

Joys of Travelling

The night bus from Accra to Wa, mercifully ,showed no dreadful Nigerian movies, nor inane Ghanaian soaps this time and my ear plugs protected me from most of the repetitive, loud music played through the coach system throughout the night. I was so tired I slept longer than all my previous journeys combined. Arriving in Wa at 8am, I dragged my suitcase down the main street and arrived at the tro station at an earlier than ideal time. The market was only just coming alive and the tro took an hour to fill. Heaven forbid that it should leave for Nadowli with a spare seat, unpaid for. This is the time for people to arrive for business…..not leave it for the villages. I sat in the front seat with a sachet of water, a hunk of bread and a hard boiled egg and watched the station begin its day.

Most young men seemed to have a full time job greeting each other jovially and play fighting. Supremacy was obvious amongst them and the ones with any business oozed confidence. It was clear which ones would not be part of anything lucrative throughout the rest of the day. Some were busily loading and unloading various vehicles that arrived, blocked everyone’s way, and left in a hail of horn blasts.

The women, of course, were seriously going about their business of earning enough to feed their extended families. They carried everything on their heads, eggs, bread, water and small pouches of other liquid refreshment, fruit, toothpaste, tooth cleaning sticks, wrapped kenke and bolts of cloth to name but a few. Their eyes are everywhere looking for potential customers. Being white and therefore “rich”, I am an obvious target and they all make towards me in hope. Surely I must need all that they offer. I noticed an old man who had already spotted me from afar, gesturing his hunger and begging for cash. I am not able to refuse this one.

Some traders announce their goods with shouts and calls and others tap their box or bottle. In this case a bottle of clear liquid that promises to start your day with a shot of either neat spirit or some restorative “ herbal medicine”. It didn’t take much for me to refuse this!!

Finally, we are ready to depart. A couple of petrified goats have been tied to the roof rack along with some large baskets and bundles of something light and soft. The locals pay a few peshwas for their wares and belongings but a suitcase seems to demand more!  The tro “mate” who deals with everything except driving it, asked me for 2.5 cedis. Laughing, I pointed out that this was more than it cost to transport ME! I gave him one cedi and lifted the case into the back of the vehicle myself. He had no answer to that!!

"Home" Again

So here I am back in Nadowli for the last 5 weeks of my placement here. I return from a wonderful 3 weeks in England enjoying a host of family celebrations including Christmas. Yet again I was staggered by the pace of life and struggled to keep up with my 90 year old father! The two of us managed to make some significant headway in preparing for the re-occupation of my house. I am sure I parted with more money in a few days than the total monthly salary bill for Nadowli  District Education Office. A far cry from finding the equivalent of £133 a month more than sufficient funds here.

The journey back to Upper West Ghana seemed long but was only 3 days in duration and passed painlessly. My Guardian Angel continues to do sterling work on my behalf.

On my way through Accra I managed to put in motion my Police Clearance check. This allows me to bring home to England the proof that I have been a good girl in Ghana! Getting there took 3 tro rides but I was assisted by fellow passengers all the way, eager to deliver me safely to my destination. One even walked me to the main gates and wished me a successful visit. The process at the Police Headquarters was much as I expected. A very small office, packed with people and seemingly chaotic, but with a system in place that worked for them. I was sent out for a photocopy of my Residents Visa which involved picking my way through a car wash area and out of the back gate to a container in the market behind. A dusty photocopier provided me with the required duplicate and I returned to the office for fingerprinting and passport photos that immediately brand me a criminal! It was interesting to note that the people ahead of me in the fingerprinting queue couldn't bend their fingers! The guy behind the desk was almost dislocating their hands to get the required fingers in prominent positions. I shall collect, I hope, the final document on my way out of Ghana next month.

My lunch of chicken and salad was enjoyed in Osu, a main retail area of Accra. There it is common to find other white faces, many being volunteers and NGO workers in Ghana for a limited period and others forging lucrative business links in a fast developing country. I find myself wondering what brings them to Accra and whether they venture further north to experience the real Ghana. I am somewhat disturbed, on occasion, by what feels like unwholesome business transactions between seedy looking white men and a young Ghanaian couple, taking place on an adjoining table. I may be wrong but the expression on a young girl’s face tells me she is scared of the deal her brother is arranging for her. She is the only one not laughing as they all shake hands and leave. Business wears a lot of different faces in a capital city.