The rainy season

August 25, 2010 at 11:40 am (Uncategorized)

I can smell cut grass, and its cool enough not to use the fan that makes so much noise.. so its quiet now. The atmosphere has changed since I first stepped off the plane into the wall of heat that is Africa, partly because I think my body has got used to it, but August and September are the coolest months in the year with temperatures reaching 23/24 at night, and only up to 30 during the day. Roughly.

A few months ago when it rained for the first time, it was an event, we would stop and watch the torrential downpour and the fork lightning and enjoy the short cool spell. In Zoosali we were always waiting for the rain, my conversations with the chief every morning were always that we pray for rain today.. when it did rain, it was dramatic. Huge black clouds moving in fast over the rich green of the shea nut trees. The wind would suddenly start howling and we would have to run back to the village carrying all the shea nuts we could. Now it rains every other day almost, the crops are growing fast and green in the once dry, neglected empty spaces of town that I thought were just waiting to be built on. The tall maize has transformed the areas its growing around, changing the landscape. More walls of plants, and more corridors to peer down, places to get lost. The once trickling streams are turning into torrents of cloudy murky water, carrying all sorts of items with them. Plastic bags mostly, and fish. Boys have started to lean over the bridge with fishing lines. Available food has changed with the season, now there are women selling maize roasted on fires, some wear big straw hats to sheild themselves from the sun. Im not sure why, but its only the maize sellers who wear them. Koshee stands have popped up along the road in the evenings, where there wasn’t any before. And Koko. Both seem to be popular choices for breaking the fast. And the oranges too, all peeled to a bright yellow colour and displayed on metal stands.

I went to Salaga to attend the enskinment of a chief. Close to the Volta river, Salaga served as a busy market town during the slave trade, and I was shown the wells that remain from the place the slaves were washed before selling them down, or across the river. It felt eerie, haunting. We visited the village where my friend grew up, in the 1950s, when there was only one primary school in the whole region and he had to walk far. The chief never got enskinned that day because an opposing family got out their guns and shot someone, threatening more if the enskinment should go ahead. The soon-to-be-chief wasn’t part of their family, or something.

Back in Tamale, I bike to work, pick up my koko from ‘Kokolana’ if she is there, or from another further down the road. I work. Then I bike home down the slight hill, so I don’t need to pedal, deciding what to eat. I’ve found a lady selling really good wachey on the side of a road behind the big mosque, and also made friends with a girl in Jisonayili, near my house, who sells fried yam. Our dagbani conversations invariably centre around yam, beans and chicken.

I know exactly what it is like back in the UK, I can see the coffee shops and supermarkets in my mind, but I can’t imagine what it will feel like to return this time.

Its not cut grass, its weeds that have been sliced with a machete.


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The night we went to the stadium

August 7, 2010 at 5:53 pm (Uncategorized)

I don’t have a photo for this blog… which Im upset about.. but I want to give an alternative viewpoint on ‘the night we went to the stadium’, to that of my housemate!

So, on Friday Alex persuaded me and Josh to go to a concert in the biiig stadium of Tamale. From what I understand, the concert was about the Black Stars, the Ghanaian football team.. perhaps to celebrate their home coming, or to make the most of the football fever left over from the world cup, I never did quite understand. Anyhow, it is worth mentioning that before we went to the stadium we tried a new restaurant that neither of us had been to, because Alex was soon to be leaving and… well, we wanted a curry. And oh my god, it was a good curry..  real INDIAN curry with naan bread! We were pretty ‘stoked’. We walked over to the stadium, stopping at a bar along the way.. I had a shandy. We got to the over sized stadium at about 8:30 I think, thinking we might be a bit late since it started at 7:30.

We sat down. There was a DJ playing tunes and doing the “yeah! yeah! yeah!” thing that DJs do. He was playing all the popular Ghanaian tracks that I’ve been hearing about the place, some of them reminded me of being in Zoosali since their radios would often be on in the evenings. I understood that the DJ was filling in until the main act arrived, and I settled myself into what I knew would be a long wait and bought some roasted peanuts from a passing peanut seller. Some people were getting well into the music and dancing up and down the stairs, and I was noticing how unbelievably cool everyone was looking. A lot of guys were wearing biig sunglasses and amazing crazy shirts, cool shoes. I felt very english and dull!

It was a longer wait than we were anticipating, after maybe 2 hours, or 4.. I lost track of time.. a ‘host’ man came on the stage.. “yo yo yo, should I rap for you!” … no. He wanted all the acts to register their CDs to the DJ, and then told us the list of the businesses sponsoring the concert….. A) Couldn’t the acts have registered their CDs a few hours earlier? B) Couldn’t he have made the announcement a few hours earlier? C) …. CDs?? haahaha loved it.

The first act was a girl wearing very very high red stilettos, who sang really nicely into the microphone wondering where her backing track was.. then when the CD kicked in she was ok, she didn’t need to sing anymore, just mime. She did a pretty good job at that.

For the second act a group of guys in blue t shirts came onto the stage and started dancing! Although one of the guys’ shoes came off part way through, and a few moves looked a bit shaky.. it was awesome! Crazy moves! Everytime they did a flip or a crazy manouvre successfully we all cheered, and a girl behind us was loving it even more than me, making lots of noise.

The third.. I think it was the third; made my day. 3 well slick guys all in black with black trilby hats and a silver design on their t-shirts. They did some crazy shaking/dancing to short snippets of black stars music and Ghana pop.. I can’t describe it well enough, they all danced in unison in an african/michael jackson/laurel and hardy type of way.. and at the end they danced a mock fight..! brilliant.

I’m a little unclear about what happened next.. there was a lot more singing along to CDs and shaking of asses, and we were told the list of sponsors perhaps 4 more times. One of the singers went slightly over-excitable with the dancing, took his shirt off and ran onto the football pitch all the way to the other side! haahah, I laughed.

We decided, at midnight, that perhaps the Black Stars were’nt coming, and that there was a limit to how long you can watch someone sing along to a CD, however impressive the dancing. So we got ourselves home.

£2.50 well spent.

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Pagnaa, o labna

August 4, 2010 at 8:44 am (Uncategorized)

Last weekend I decided to return to Zoosali. Because I wasn’t going for work reasons I had to get myself there, so I biked myself into town and after going into the market to buy cola nuts for the chief, and bread for the others, I found myself the right tro going in the right direction… north! They hoisted my bike onto the roof and I sat inside. Then we set off. The driver really liked to use his horn, and I was sitting at the front on the gear stick almost, and next to an old man with big round glasses who wanted to join my list of potential husbands.. and in Pong-Tamale, one of the villages on the road north, we hit a small goat! They dropped me in Diari, a village on the main road close to the turning to Zoosali and I biked the last 8 or so kilometres. I passed several people who were walking to the market and they looked so surprised to see me, and were laughing saying ‘naa gorum!’: ‘naaaaaa!’ As I got closer to Zoosali people were saying my name ‘Pagnaa!’ and as I entered the village some kids saw me and came running towards me cheering! I stopped to say hello and they all wanted to touch my hand. The lady in the photo of me stirring shea butter in the last blog was sitting under her tree with several other people as normal and they all welcomed me and greeted me! Then when I biked further in, round the corner and past the mosque, sitting outside the chief’s palace were Adamu and 2 of the chief’s wives and they all cheered when they saw me! I was a bit overwhelmed..  it was so nice to be back in the village, and to feel so welcome.

I spent the rest of the day relaxing in the chief’s palace, I gave my printed photos to those in the photos.. they were really pleased! and I gave my cola nuts to the chief. Adam came to greet me from the farm holding a machete in one hand and a dead mouse in the other! then I sat with some of the small kids in the chief’s place and they wrote the beginning of the alphabet in charcoal on the ground… so I wrote their names on the ground too, and drew a house and a goat.. I asked them to copy my house; they did pretty well! In the evening I was given my usual pots of TZ, with one of my favourite soups. I sat with Ma Hajia in her hut after eating, she wasn’t feeling well so she only ate koko (porridge).Then I trundled my bike back to the teacher’s quarters where I was to stay the night, the stars were all out and the frogs were still croaking dead loud.. but I was all alone in the teacher’s quarters this time.. apart from some very very small lizards.

The next day my alarm was set for 5:15. I woke up and it was just getting light. I went next door to Sanatu’s place who cooks koko to sell in the morning, and bought some. She gave it to me in a silver metal mug with a lid and I biked it over to the chief’s place where I sat and ate it as the sun was rising and everyone was starting to go about their day. There was a quietness about the village, and a cool misty/smoky air. I bloody love koko, I ate it all, and then Adam was ready to go. We took our bikes to see the local bridge made from branches because the river has started to actually have water in it and I wanted to see what it looked like! The bike there was gorgeous, the grasses were scattering the light from the rising sun, tall maize or short groundnut plants covered either side of the straight narrow red dirt track we were on. I couldn’t always control my bike in the mud and a couple of puddles were much deeper than I was expecting, but we got there. There was indeed water under the bridge.. and it was flowing. I took a photo. Adam said there were crocodiles further down, so I didn’t venture in.

Biking to the bridge 6am

We biked back to the village and sat under Adam’s tree waiting for the children to be ready to go and sow a field they use for the ‘school feeding programme’. One kid was ringing a bell and running round the village rounding everyone up. Some kids waiting with me under the tree had remembered my skill of making an owl noise with my hands and were showing me their progress.. one boy did it! amazing. I was so proud. They wanted me to take their

photo, and once again went crazy… see photo above. It was great!

Then it was time to go to the farm. It was about 2kms away at least, we were following a long line of children all walking to the farm, which was very photographic. The farm was 28 acres of ploughed land that needed to be planted with soya beans. The adults set about making the holes with sticks and I waited with the kids again, not wanting to slow their progress. The children found some fruits in the forest and brought them back to show me.. I thought they were perfect for juggling so I showed them my juggling skills and they loved it! It entertained us for a pretty long time. Everyone wanted to have a go, and then wanted to see how long I could do it for..

So the day was spent putting soya bean seeds in holes under the hot hot sun. I got very sun burnt. When I went to rest every so often under a tree, some kids would join me and poke my sun burnt arms to make it go white, or play with my feet… or point at my freckles and say ‘freckle freckle freckle freckle’ since I had taught them the word! When I was sowing there was always one girl in a striped dress who would follow me and if I missed the hole she would put my soya bean seed in for me. At one point one girl took a swing at a boy and they had a proper fight in the field! they were punching each other and then fell and started wrestling..! Adam sorted them out.

So after about 5 hours of sowing this massive field, we went back to the village. Some carried on to harvest some ground nuts, but I was absolutely knackered! After a few hours resting in the shade at the chief’s place talking to Ma Fati and Ma Hajia, and generally soaking up village life, it was time for me to go.. I put my bike in the Chief’s car and was driven to Diari and shown the place to get a taxi. The car was ready to go when there were 4 of us in the back, 3 in the front and one in the boot, including 2 bikes on the roof!

Back in Tamale I had a nice long shower.

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