The road to Nakpanduri

July 27, 2010 at 4:51 pm (Uncategorized)

This weekend I turned 25. We decided to go to Nakpanduri, a small village about 4/5 hours drive to the north east corner of the Northern Region, on the border with Togo almost. We chose it from the guide book and decided on Friday to go. ‘We’ being the four white silmingas in our house.

The first unusual ordeal was that the ticket had to be bought at 5am in the morning on Saturday for a bus that leaves at 12:30 in the afternoon. There was no other option, the bus man was very clear about that… seemed kind of ridiculous to me.

We got to the bus station at 12 ish, and finally got to leave at 2:30..!  we weren’t particularly surprised, and neither was anyone else on the bus really, everyone was still happy.. a delay which Im sure wouldn’t be tolerated in the uk. We sat on the bus for quite a while, people came and sold food through the window.. I ate some roasted groundnuts.

Then we set off! Through Walewale, and some villages I past when I was last in Walewale. At each place we stopped at, girls ran up to the windows selling things, a few watermelons were thrown into the bus and money thrown out. The road out east from Walewale was mostly unpaved, it felt like we were going deeper and deeper into the unknown where not many people ventured.. until we come across the next village. We saw lots of trees, and crops, and hills, and rocks! and a few small rivers. It was a beautiful drive, and just as we were getting to Nakpanduri the sun was setting..

The four silmingas were dropped in Nakpanduri in the dark and pointed to the road where the one guesthouse was located. So we set off. When we had found it and dumped our stuff we went back into the middle of the small village to find some food. I found some roasted maize and some gin :), no tonic, but some sprite did the job nicely! So my birthday was officially celebrated with the appropriate drink and we found a perfectly suited hut to sit in.

Gambaga escarpment

The next day we got some breakfast, I pigged out on TWO fried egg sandwiches from the man selling in the village, they were so good, then we went for a walk to the edge of the escarpment where we could see for miles.. probably into Togo, it looked almost untouched, I couldn’t see any villages or crops.. I wanted to see an Elephant, or an Eagle.. or a dinosaur.

Then it was time to head back, it was fairly early since there were no scheduled buses and we knew we would have to rely on trotros, and probably about 3 or 4 of them to make the journey back. Our first tro took us about 20km into Nalreigu, it was a small tro called ‘Black Man’ and the seats had flowers on. In Nalreigu we found some of our favourite ‘egg breads’, and were told to get into the next tro immediately because it was going to set off for Walewale in 10 minutes. An hour later some guys came and pushed the tro from behind to get the engine going, and we set off! This tro was packed so full, every seat was taken, and every aisle seat… we got as far as 2 or 3 km from Langbensi when my side of the tro suddenly dropped and we saw a big tro-like wheel rolling past us! The wheel axle had broken off! Everyone was laughing, saying ‘Nawun zugu’ – god damn! thankful that the tro hadn’t flipped on its side or something! We all got off the thing fast and sat on the side of the road considering our options.. we were still about 2/3hours from Tamale, but only maybe 45 minutes from Walewale… in a car. But we had no car. Anyway, we didn’t have to worry for long, a replacement tro that was bright green with funky patterned seats, came from Langbensi to take us the rest of the way! phewf.

Broken axle

Almost at Walewale the tro stopped.. the driver got up and told us silmingas at the back of the bus to get off as there was a tro to Tamale just behind us.. because we were at the back and all the aisle seats were taken, Kevin said we should just jump out the window.. which we did. It was high!

The next leg of the journey went without a hiccup and we got back to Tamale pretty tired and very dusty!


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Zosali Paga

July 14, 2010 at 11:03 am (Uncategorized)

Im going to start this blog post by saying I am currently sitting in my room in Tamale having a nice cup of tea and some biscuits, you can’t beat a good cup of tea… unless perhaps it is apple crumble.. or macaroni cheese… mmm I will also say this is going to be a long one, but I am not excusing it’s length..

The chief's palace - Zosali

I got back from Zosali yesterday, I had an amazing experience and learnt a lot about farming, food, living closer to the environment, people, frogs.. there were many frogs making lots of noise in the evenings… goats and donkeys too, so noisy!

The first week I was there I spent every morning going to farm to pick sheanuts with the niece of one of the chief’s 5 wives (called Adamu). We would get there about 6:30am and pick sheanuts that had fallen from the trees until 11 or 12 o’clock. I was very slow at first because I was afraid of all the maggots and spent half the time trying to get them off my hand, I felt they were going to burrow inside me. But now I am thoroughly desensitised to maggots, and was able to pick fast after the first day. It was also kind of a treat to find one without maggots in that you could eat; that is one of the things I will remember most.. sitting under the sheanut tree in the early morning listening to random birds singing and eating sheanuts… they taste a bit like dates. We would carry the sheanuts back to the village on our heads, I was given a much smaller tub to carry to Adamu, but still I couldn’t balance it on my head for more than 5 seconds, I felt like Moguli from the Jungle Book.

Adamu picking sheanuts

One thing I had to get used to in the first week was knowing how to act in the chief’s palace and what the etiquette was about food. I say the chief’s palace because that is was it was called, but it was the same as the other compounds in the village, maybe slightly larger, and had some stones embedded around the door at the front for decoration. I couldn’t sleep here in the end as there was no room (I had a room in with the teachers), but I ate all my meals there and helped during the day with the cooking, and the sheanut processing process. I was very conscious at first about who was paying for the food and I tried to eat everything I was given because I was very grateful.. also sometimes they made me something separate without me knowing so I felt I should eat even when I wasn’t hungry. Everyone ate about 4 times a day; koko (like porridge) or bread (from the market every 6 days 6-8km away) in the morning, rice or tz at 10:30 ish, rice or tz again about 2-4ish and then tz in the evening about 7:30pm. After a few days I found that what I didn’t manage to eat was always eaten by the children, so I started to feel ok about leaving some food. For all my meals I ate on the floor and with my hands, I burnt my fingers a few times.. and I’ve lost the feeling on the side of my foot that I sat on cross legged..! I hope it comes back.

Every day it was proper for me to greet the chief, it was always interesting to have a chat with the chief.. we mostly talked about the rain. Also every day, when I walked from my place at the teacher’s quarters, to the chief’s palace, I greeted and was greeted by everyone I passed, depending on what time it was people were outside dealing with their sheanuts, or sitting chatting, or I’d pass Anatu making Gabli, or Sanatu making rice to sell. Haha, and the Iman to the mosque would always be sitting outside his house, and instead of ‘naaaa’ as the answer to good morning he’d say “humdidila humdidla” some Arabic of some sort. At the beginning I was called ‘Silming Paga’ (white lady) then the men started calling me ‘Ayoba’ (which is the name given to a stranger in the community who traditionally they would lure out with drums and decide if they want to marry them), then after a week or so the teachers gave me the name of ‘Pa’anaa’ which means queen of women! Everyone in the village was very friendly and welcoming, but also mostly amused by the fact I was living there and farming and wearing similar clothes. A few times the fact that I was always being laughed at and challenged with a dagbani phrase, got me frustrated, but I would reason with myself that it’s only their way of interacting and taking an interest.

Elder at his yam farm

In the second and third week I spent most of my time with Adam, one of the teachers who is the main contact with RAINS. He took me round many of the farms of the women (and men)  in the community and I was able to ask questions and learn about farming. I saw maize, groundnut, yam and cassava farms, and a few times I spent half the day sowing maize by hand with others in the chief’s family (sowing, ploughing and weeding were usually a group task – around 12 the women would bring food, big pots of Adowa; a bean type meal, and we’d sit under trees and eat before continuing to put the seeds in the holes). Some of the farms we went to were 6km away, we mostly walked everywhere but sometimes we were able to borrow bikes.. I loved walking through the areas that were not yet farmed, where it was almost virgin forest.. sometimes Adam’s dog would follow us, or I’d see a big locust, or we’d bump into the herd of cattle.. or the rain would be coming and we’d have to run back. At this time of year everything is getting very green, and when the rains come the clouds become very dark grey, the wind picks up and it thunders! We would sit out the rain in their huts, in Hajia’s hut in the chief’s palace we might start cooking on the small coal stove, or sort some sheanuts. In Adam’s hut I learnt a few dagbani stories and was forever entertained by the chicks trying to eat the rice that his children were eating. The animals fascinated me, the goats would always make me laugh balancing on walls or rocks as if they were putting themselves on display and waiting for you to look at them. It’s not like I’ve never seen a goat before but I’ve never had them living around me so closely!

Fulani lady making Wagashee

Adam also took me to visit the Fulani’s, a tribe living on the outskirts of the village, who look after cattle as their main livelihood. I learnt how to make wagashee, the cheese I mentioned last time! I was also able to chat to the traditional religious leader who made sacrifices for the chief and the community (the fowl or goat would die when only water was poured over it and the names of the ancestors called to accept the sacrifice!), and I went to visit certain women in the community who had particular skills, for example I learnt how to make sheabutter when I was just passing one house and they invited me in to have a go, so I did, and everyone found it hilarious. It was hard work! ..but I managed to make a small bit of sheabutter, I was proud. Also I learnt how to make Wasawasa, a meal that takes 6 hours to prepare and is made from yam peel. In the chief’s palace I learnt how to make TZ, and a few of the many different soups that go with it, and I learnt how to use Zabla as a tattoo type die on my hand… I’ve always wanted a tattoo 😉

Quick cup of tea whilst getting ready for the wedding

I was lucky enough to go to a wedding of one of the chief’s brothers, so I got a dress made in the nearby slightly bigger village (for the equivalent of £1) and we drove down to Tamale, about 15 of us crammed in the pickup. I sat in the back on the way home to Zosali, and at 70mph it wasn’t the best plan in hindsight, it took me ages to get the knots out of my hair. I made a friend in Zosali, a girl called Amina who had a 5 month old baby, in the 3rd week I asked her to cut my hair with the chief’s scissors as it was too hot on the farm with my long hair. She had never cut anyone’s hair before, but she did a good job making a straight line! I don’t know why I ever paid so much money in the UK.

I will always remember the kids in the village, always calling me from perhaps 100s of metres away to say ‘sister ruth, good morning” and waving. They would always ask me where I was going, I would say “n chenla naayili” – I am going to the chief’s palace, or “n chenla puuni” – I am going to farm, and they would laugh! The smaller kids in the chief’s place were initially a bit confused and scared of me, but in the last week Irridisu and Sharifa kept coming to me and giving me things like the last of their half eaten wagashee, or a piece of cloth, an empty plastic mug. I taught some kids how to make the owl noise with your hands whilst we were waiting for the rain to stop, sitting in the horse’s stable. They taught me the names of all the animals we could see.

Chimsi, Sharifa and Irridisu

I was asked by Abudulai in the UK to see if I could get some traditional dagbani folk stories, so I asked around to see if anyone knew any and was told that the first wife of the chief ‘Walirija’ was the best story teller, and knew many. So one evening (which had to turn into two as more people remembered stories) we sat in one of the huts and Walirija began telling her story. It was about a spider and the chief’s mother.. and for the conclusion of the story she sang! We heard about 4 stories that evening from the different wives of the chief, every story had a kind of song/dance at the end and we would all be laughing! This is another thing I will always remember.

The chief and 4 of his 5 wives, in the chief's palace compound

At the end of my stay I asked Adam how I could thank the community for making me so welcome, and for letting me visit their farms, he said I should give him a few cedi and he would see what he could do. At the last call to prayer that evening Adam announced on the mosque microphone that I was leaving the next day and wanted to thank everyone! Haha, the whole village would have heard it! Some of the chief’s wives hadn’t realised I was leaving and came and said “kwwooooi! Nawun zugu.. a chenla tamale??” It was a perfect ending.

Most of the time, especially in the first two weeks, I felt like a child, not being able to do anything without someone showing me how, or learning to do it again on my own. For example simple things like bathing, I’m used to relying on a shower, wasn’t very good at using a bucket; and other things that us in the western world don’t experience anymore because we rely on everything being available to buy.. planting seeds in the soil to grow into plants that you harvest and then eat.. I was so slow at sowing the seeds, always half way down the field when everyone else was almost finished. I discovered how hard it was to be a subsistence farmer, but also how fulfilling it is to work closely with the land knowing the reward is that you have food to eat, and to work practically so that you feel you have achieved something meaningful that deserves the food you eat when you get back to the house at the end of the day. Every task has a real purpose and there is a real sense of belonging, of living.

There is so much more I could say, and so much more I can’t put into words. But I think I have written enough. I’ve also finished my packet of biscuits. When I’ve written up all my notes for the various organisations, I will put some links on here…

Making sheabutter!

Windswept in the pickup

Resting in the hot afternoon with Amshawu, Okashetu, Maria and Amina

Attempting to chop the Brra

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