March 22, 2011 at 8:11 am (Uncategorized)

I took a taxi/mini van to the mountain village of Tshidzivhe 2 weeks ago with Mashudu T. The drive is about an hour over bumpy dusty rocky road, and the taxi dropped us just before the really steep bit so me and my pack, and Mashudu and her wheely suitcase had to hike up the rest of the way. Luckily some children found us to be quite an interesting arrival and helped us with our shopping bags of food whilst giggling and staring.

The view

Tshidzivhe village sits on top of a mountain that overlooks the beginning of the Drakensberg mountains. We were staying at the chief’s place and he lives with his family right on the top, so you don’t have to go far to find a spectacular view. There are big banana leaves blocking some of the view to the north, but if you sit on the rocks under the big trees you can see for miles. In the evenings there are sounds from the trees, and branches seem to move on their own accord, but when you look up there you just miss a glimpse of a grey monkey jumping about. During the day you can always hear cow bells, even when you can’t see any cows.

Me trying the marula drink from a calabash

One night the chief and some others were drinking a traditional alcoholic drink made from the Marula tree fruits, and everyone was getting a bit tipsy. He gave me a beautiful decorated calabash saying it was specially for me and that I should keep it safe but I should tell everyone at home that I was given it by the chief of Tshidzivhe.. which is what I am doing now! He also said he would take Mashudu and I on a trip to see the sacred lake Fundudzi. The day we went to the lake was great, the chief, two of his friends, Mashudu and I managed to cram into this tiny battered red ‘citi golf’ car of which the door on my side was falling off and the speakers kept cutting out. We were listening to DJ Joe most of the way, the volume cranked up, along really rocky dirt tracks through the forest. After we went down a few un-passable roads which we had to reverse back up, we arrived a walkable distance to the Lake about an hour or so later. Most of the whole hour, the forest we were passing through was a pine tree plantation, rows and rows of tall non-indigenous evergreen trees. It was gigantic! I find it to be such a boring forest to replace the thousands of acres of lush indigenous forest that was there before which would have also had wild fruits, animals and many many different insects in. The Lake was beautiful, we saw some fish and I took in the steep mountainous view. Then we drove on to visit a man who showed me a traditional way of pounding peanuts and maize and such, and he gave us some bananas from his tree and some biltong (dried meat). From there we went to visit a lady who was making a traditional beer out of millet, I had a taste.. quite nice. We drove on, back into the pine forest, on our way to the sacred forest.

Pine tree plantation

Just before we got to the sacred forest, some workers were harvesting a section of the pine forest, massive 3 wheeled tractor/digger machines were picking up and throwing trees around like they were plastic piping. Approaching the sacred forest was quite magical, it has been preserved the way it has been existing since the beginning of time. There were pine trees pine trees pine trees, right up to the edge of this lovely green disordered mass of all different kinds of trees with vines hanging down and moss on the tree trunks. It was like the elves’ forest in lord of the rings or something. And it was striking, the difference between the great mass of buzzing, humming, life in this forest compared to the barren, dry, lifeless and orderly pine trees that don’t even belong here, just next to it. I was not allowed to enter any further than the edge of this forest, and I did not want to push my luck since mysterious things have happened to people in there. Before leaving however, the chief showed me the reason for coming here.. about 15 Christian graves had been built in the sacred forest, a place where only bones with no flesh on can be buried in the customary way. To build them they had to cut down a fair amount of trees, and they had left some excess bricks behind as well as litter from the flowers that people put there.

The biltong

The chief was visibly disturbed by it, he said that this is a sacred place for those that have treated it so for thousands and thousands of years, we wouldn’t bury our dead in a church, so why should they bury their dead here, cut down trees and put their religious quotes on the stones? I said I didn’t know, I had no answer. He is currently fighting a legal battle to get these graves out and the trees replanted.

We drove on, DJ Joe back on the track, and the biltong starting to make the car smell like a dead cow. It was a good day.

Walking to the farm

I have spent most of my time talking to elder makhadzi women and going to visit their farms to see what things they are growing. Some of the farms are quite a way away, which is no easy feat in these mountains. I have also been able to try some of the delicious foods they are growing, like sugar cane (so nice), avocado, bananas, maize, pumpkin, ponda.. and some different wild fruits, one which is a bit like a fig. It is great to know what you can eat in the wild, everytime I go out to see a farm I look out for fruits in the trees… my name is Muofhe for a reason! I learnt many things talking to these ladies, some traditional healers, some who live in big houses, some in small. Many of them had nurseries where they were growing indigenous tree seedlings, and they knew all the names. I also spoke to a few men, one of whom made drums and spoons out of some of the trees in the forest.

Everyone was so generous and kind to me, I was given a Mukasi, a traditional venda skirt by Vho Nancy, and Vho Joyce gave me some venda beads to go with it. They all said it made me look beautiful “no naka!” which made a change to them jokingly calling me a ‘chibumba’ (some fat person). I don’t want to be a chibumba, but surely being called Muofhe means I am entitled to!

On the Sunday of the first weekend, I went to church again. This time there were more people and some keyboards and microphones. People stood on the stage and sang, doing some crazy dance moves during the songs. One guy was particularly enthusiastic. At first Mashudu and I sat down and were just tapping our feet, but it was kind of infectious. At one point everyone went up to dance at the front by themselves. I knew they were going to call on me to also go, and I initially tried to say no like a true pansy british woman, but they insisted! So I went for it and danced out to the front trying to copy what they had done on stage. It was really fun! And everyone was whistling and clapping. Loved it.

Tshisikhawe holding plants to cure flu

The second week that I have been here, I have had a rubbish cold, which is not cool, but on the plus side I have tried two different traditional medicines to get over it. One they boiled 2 particular plants and I had to breathe in the steam which hurt my eyes a bit, it was strong! The second was a spoonful of melted pig fat, we went to the fire and held the metal spoon over it. This is actually a miracle, it stopped a really annoying tickly cough so that I could sleep twice, and now it’s almost gone. Could have done with that in December last year!

On the Thursday of the second week, I had finished visiting all the people I was meant to visit, and they wanted to show me a traditional food called Tshidzimba. Which is beans, maize, ponda and peanuts all boiled into a tasty mush. Whilst we were waiting for it to cook we got the drums out and people starting singing and dancing. I love the songs, there is a song about Muofhe too, which I want to learn.

Banging the drums

I was taught a few of the dances, most of them are really confusing to me because they involve lots of stamping in time to the drums and I’m never quite sure what to do with my hands. I was pretty good at one dance though, and you dance it with another person as a kind of stand off.. the person still standing wins! Somehow I managed to remain standing the longest, my chibumba legs no doubt J haha it was so much fun. As the last dance, two of the elder women pretended to be fighting over grasshoppers, it was hilarious! I also watched a dvd with the chief of some traditional dances, which was also pretty funny because they seemed to be mostly about lady’s private parts that ‘shouldn’t be touched’, and men’s balls that get stuck! So very rude.

Having tea at the ceremony

Mashudu left on Friday and I decided to stay an extra day because the chief’s brother’s new baby was 3 months old, which meant that he could now go outside the house and be given a name! So it was a party pretty much. I got up around 6:30, made a fire and swept the room the fire is in. Then I fetched some rain water from the bucket because the tank had run out, and boiled it so that I could have warm water to ‘bath’ in. Afterwards I spent a really nice hour or so talking with some of the kids in the chief’s place. The smallest boy, Rotundwa, seems to really like me and I am happy to have made a friend, he is very sweet. Then we went down to the house where the people were gathering. So much talking and laughing and cooking, we ate a big meal of chicken and pap, and then a second meal straight away of rice with a shed load of mayonnaise and a little bit of grated carrot and cabbage. Later we sat outside and a 5 litre bottle of wine appeared from somewhere. I had a few glasses, and when the makhadzis started singing, Vho Lucy got me to get up and dance and Vha koma banged a water tank for a drum. We walked back up the hill under a full pink coloured moon and I am very happy that I decided to stay.


Again, I feel incredibly privileged to be sharing the lives of such lovely people. I don’t yet know how I can return their generosity, but I hope that my work with the Mupo Foundation will boost the organisation to continue doing the good work that it is doing in the communities. So now I have collected quite a lot of information, I am returning to Vuwani to spend the next week in the office typing everything up and designing some brochures.


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March 7, 2011 at 8:27 am (Uncategorized)

This week I have been staying in a village called Ngulumbi.. I think it is north west of Thohoyandou. Not too far anyway, maybe about 20 minutes in the taxi (sometimes 45 mins, never predictable).

The house has a gorgeous view of some steep but low mountains directly opposite, like we are always looking at a painting of green leafy fields. There are lots of mango trees, avocado trees, macadamia nut trees and maize crops.. and in the opposite direction are some tea plantations, at a village called Vhutanda (where I will be staying at some point down the line!). As much as I understand and agree with the disadvantages of growing only one crop over a vast space of land which used to be a dense indigenous forest; the tea fields do look very luscious and picturesque from a distance!

Dancing the Shikona, Tshidsive

On Tuesday we went to a village in the mountains called Tshidsive to watch a Shikona dance. About 20/30 boys from the village dressed up in grass head gear and skirts and played sort of whistle/recorders, each one with a different pitch, and one playing the big swirly wilderbeast horn. There was one adult wearing an animal skin, with the animals head on his head, and two other guys who were keeping the boys in line with sticks. The makhadzi women were playing biiig drums to the whistling. They started in a group and then started dancing in a circle, it looked very complicated. At the end of it Mpathe gave a speech about how they should be very proud of their heritage and continue to learn the Shikona dance, then she introduced me (‘Muofhe’) and told me I need to say some words too! I’m beginning to get the hang of this spontaneous speech giving I think. As a thank you/acknowledgment they all played one note on their whistles.

I’ve spent most other days in the office doing a bit of this and a bit of that, but on Friday we stayed in Ngulumbi and interviewed another makhadzi about ancestral foods, and her opinion on the destruction of the sacred site at Phiphidi… it was an interesting day, I also learnt some more Venda words, and asked Vho Matamela (in Venda) if she would let me buy some bracelets from her. VhoMatamela  must be in her late 70s and she makes the traditional Venda bracelets that the Makhadzis wear, using a horn from some animal, and a piece of wood. She measured my wrist and made 14 specially for me. I love them!

At the river

This weekend we have relaxed in the sun, all the children were home since there is no school, so we started to get to know each other a bit better! Mostly we sat around making beaded bracelets, learning Venda, dancing, doing homework or trying to smoke out a snake. On Saturday though, we all went on a walk down the steep track to the river which feeds into the Phiphidi waterfall, we clambered over the rocks in the river to get upstream to the rickety rope bridge. We all got in up to our waists at least, and I spent a lot of effort trying not to drop my camera in the water.. which made me look like a clumsy city girl fool who can’t walk gracefully on river boulders! I maintain that I was also looking out for the smaller kids because I was the only one who could swim. Don’t think I convinced them though! Mpho was holding my hand and helping me across the rocks, and she is 12! Haha. It was such a nice day.

Sunday I went to a church service and read the bible. I loved listening to the many gutsy harmonious songs that they were singing, and the pastor was very welcoming, although I understood very little of the service since it was in Venda. I did a lot of clapping though, and Riena was telling me when to pray.. I said ok and continued to read how god tells Adam that he has dominion over all other species on earth…

I will be sorry to leave Ngulumbi! Tshidsive tomorrow, for 2 weeks I will be staying with the chief’s mother, and the other Mashudu from Mupo (Mashudu T). There is no electricity in Tshidsive, or much phone network, so will be off the radar for a while! Ndi do ni vhona ngawuya – see you later!

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Cape Town to Vuwani

February 28, 2011 at 12:41 pm (Uncategorized)

I have been finding it difficult to find the time to write, and get on the internet so sorry for getting this out so late! I have begun this blog about three times now without being able to finish it or save it… and Im sure its going to be a bit rushed and bungled.

Hout Bay

I arrived into Cape Town on the 9th Feb I think, and spent 10 days or so staying in a beautiful house overlooking the Cape, just south of Simonstown on the Cape Peninsula. We had lots of meetings and ate lots of amazing food, and I swam in the sea almost every morning! I had the most amazing calamari in a bar that was pretty much in the sea, and cooked some ‘white stump nosed’ fish on the bbq at our house, which if I may say so was absolutely delicious.

We had a meeting in Stellenbosch, which felt a bit like the south of France to me, and a meeting in Stenberg, one of the oldest, poshest, vinery’s in the area. We met around candle light outside, or in the front room of the Simonstown house that has a vast view of the sea. We used snuff and incense to bring us good vibes for the meetings, and I was given a protection amulet with minerals and plants in. I was then left to my own devices in the house, with the use of the hire car for a few days.. which was pretty amazing, I drove for miles and miles along coastal roads and walked along some beaches, paddling in the sea, I saw some baboons! Then I drove myself to the airport, got on a plane to Johannesburg.. got stuck in the airport waiting for Mpathe to arrive from Botswana on a plane that was ‘indefinitely delayed’ then was driven at lightning speed to Vuwani, where I have been staying for the past week with Mpathe, her son and her niece.

Mpathe’s house in Vuwani (a village 30km from Thohoyandou) doesn’t have electricity, and hasn’t for 3 years due to corrupt government people, and the electric line goes just by the house. So it has taken longer than usual to get stuff done involving the internet! It is really nice to live by candle light and fire though.

In the week I was at Vuwani I went to the high court to see the case of the Ramunangi clan be upheld against the builders, who now have a court order to stop building their tourist chalet in the Ramunangi sacred site. The makhadzis (women custodians of the sites) were very happy and ululated outside the court! I have met all the people at the Mupo Foundation, where I will be working, who are all very nice. It is a small one-room, one-computer and one-internet lead, office. We had a meeting with the makhadzis here, in which I was introduced. It was great to meet with such wise ladies, and a lady called Joyce gave me a name – Muofhe – which means ‘the one who doesn’t like to feel hungry’, which is totally suitable for me! No idea how she just knew that.


The weekend just gone we were visited by some friends of Mpathe’s, one from USA and one from Johannesburg, they are white guys who are training to be sangomas (traditional healers). Mpathe took them, and me, to her home where she was born, to a village deep in the mountains called Vuvha. We celebrated her niece’s birthday with cake and dancing, then the next day Mpathe’s brother took us for a walk up into the mountain to teach us some of the medicinal plants in the area. We set off about 9.30am I think, and after a detour to a big waterfall where I half swam in the stream below, we got back about 4pm… lonnng way! Back at the house we ate some ‘pap’ with chicken’s feet (with the claws on!). Pap is like TZ in Ghana. Then we drove the long drive back to Vuwani and sat by the fire looking at the stars.

I can’t help but make comparisons between here and Ghana, it is a very different place. I arrived into Cape Town to lovely Mediterranean weather; not half as hot as Ghana.. and the roads are big, paved and wide, there are lots of malls and grid-like street layouts. Cape Town felt a lot like California to me really. The scenery is absolutely stunning though with massive mountains and a bright blue sea that is always changing.

Since I got here a running issue keeps coming up, which I had not totally considered before. Mpathe and people who are living in the traditional way, and honouring the traditional culture that has been here since time began are constantly persecuted by many of the christians here who say they are practicing the work of the devil. They banish members of their family, and encourage younger people not to get involved with the traditional ways, not to keep even photographs of their elders. They also burn traditional objects, like the big drums and the curly Wilderbeast horns. What will this country be like if everyone were Christians?? Perhaps it would be like any other Western country; there would be no indigenous culture anymore, no deep knowledge about their own heritage, no diversity. Just bible bashing, money grabbing jesus saviours who don’t care two cents about the environment, the sacred sites or the loss of a rich culture. Christianity isn’t the only religion in this world, far from it (and to me it feels like the most destructive and manipulative in the way they have spread round the world), so why can’t they leave other people to follow their own beliefs, ESPECIALLY when those beliefs are what the people would have been doing until some greedy white missionaries from a far away land looking to dominate came and said ‘hey, you should be praying to our god, HE is the real one… and to do this you need to give me money to build a fantastical church’. In my mind, this is getting mighty close to ripping the heart out of Africa. With development and Christianity the people here are no longer eating so much traditional food, they have kfc and coca cola instead.. they are no longer respecting the elders as much, and they are no longer doing the traditional ceremonies.. instead they have TV, fancy cars blaring loud music and an abundance of malls in which to shop. I think there is an urgent need to revive the passion in the youth for their culture, and empower them to not feel that Christianity is the one and only way in life!

Ok, rant over.. Im sure there are other factors involved, and it isn’t all the christians here that act in this way, but still.. something has brought change here.

So today I am moving to a different village to stay with Mashudu, who is my age, where I will be able to talk to and learn from the Makhadzis there!

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Southward bound, to the home of Mupo

January 17, 2011 at 10:56 pm (africa, Uncategorized)

I am off out to Africa again! After Ghana last year, and calling it ‘Ruth’s Ghana Blog’ I thought that it was a bit restrictive for what I am doing next… which is going to South Africa. SO here it is: my new blog: Ruth’s African Blog!

So inspiring and original, I had to declare its all-encompassing new status. Brilliant. Now I can go where I want!

Makhadzi women - Will Baxters photo

This time I am going to the north east of the North Eastern province of South Africa; the Limpopo province. I will be working with the Mupo Foundation, and predominantly supporting the Makhadzi women of the Venda people, to protect the existence of their sacred sites.  I’ll do this by interviewing people in the community and getting an understanding of how the threats to their sacred sites are effecting their lives, as well as getting to grips with the clan’s customary laws and taboos.  I will also take photographs, do paperwork, and give training to the women so they can do their own documentation of the events that are happening around them. This will help the communities to legally register their sites so they can be recognised in the South African court of law. The threats they are facing include the building of a giant hotel complex in their sacred forest, generally disrespectful tourism, mining, and illegal christian burials.

The Mupo Foundation works with the communities to build their capacity to protect traditional lands/territories and community rights. The local organisation, based in Thohoyundou, supports the clans in the area as they are threatened by post-colonial land and development policies that are ecologically destructive and culturally discriminatory. By raising awareness of the issues the communities are dealing with, other communities facing similar challenges may be mobilised into action to protect their own sacred lands. Part of my task is to raise awareness in a way that doesn’t reveal the secrets of the clan or trample on the customary taboos.

Mupo means original Creation, or living Earth, it encompasses all living beings not made by humans, including the moon, the stars and the air. The sacred sites around this region are critical to the survival, culture and well-being of the clan, and are places where the spirits of the ancestors of the Venda people, and Mupo, can be felt most strongly. Any violation to the sites or any disrespect to their customary laws regarding the sites causes great distress among the community, for fear of angering the ancestral spirits and disturbing the natural balance. Because the sites have been protected and held sacred in this way for thousands and thousands of years, the areas have thrived and become incredibly rich in biodiversity; which is incredibly important from an environmental perspective, and is even more of an incentive to enable the clan to continue to protect the sites from outside threats.

I will be leaving in a few weeks or so, and staying for 3 or 4 months.. and travelling a bit afterwards. A bone reading done for my trip revealed that it will change me in some way. So see you on the other side!

The Makhadzi women are the designated custodians of the sacred sites, a role given to them by the ancestors.

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Photographic Exhibition

November 23, 2010 at 5:50 pm (Uncategorized)

Tomorrow I will be exhibiting 4 of my photos from my time in Ghana at the Showcase exhibition in East London from 6 to 11:30pm!


If anyone fancies coming and buying one, all proceeds go to support my next venture, which will be supporting the Mupo Foundation in South Africa to protect the sacred sites of the Venda people from threats such as tourism development, mining and illegal burials. An article in the BBC captures the plight of the Ramunangi: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-10793664 who I will be working closely with.

Additionally, if anyone would like to come and help me sell them by standing and looking at them and saying how amazing they are in a really loud voice, please come along!

There are also some other people exhibiting, as well as a bar, as you will see from the website, so I reckon it will be a nice way to spend a Wednesday evening.

Perhaps it is too late notice, but hope to see you there!

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Back in the shire

September 29, 2010 at 1:03 pm (Uncategorized)

So I’m back. After a lovely send off from RAINS, I was given the luxury of flying from Tamale to Accra, and then I spent a day in Accra visiting a friend. I could feel Pagnaa slipping away and ruth leavett returning as more and more things became familiar… coffee, airports, planes, white people, suitcases, shorts. I sat in the departure lounge looking at the Ghana flag key rings and bottles of gin, and began to realise that I was actually leaving.. leaving all the fantastic people I had met and made friends with, leaving the warmth and the chaotic but fulfilling way of life.. and that, really, I have been living a pretty exciting adventurous existence in Ghana, which I might not get the chance to repeat anytime soon!

After only 6 short hours, and two very compact meals, I was back in London. Terminal 5 looked immaculately shiny, clean and empty. No-one really spoke; there were no hold ups and everything was clearly and obviously marked; so no-one needed to say anything to anyone… it was cold too.

But then I took the tube to Chiswick and Louise and I had the most amazing breakfast 🙂 making a nice circle since we did the same thing the day I left for Ghana in March.

It is quite strange being back; so quiet without the chickens, frogs, mosques, crickets.. and with double glazed windows. Nothing has really changed.. new prime minister perhaps, and maybe my reflection in the mirror has changed as my hair has got even blonder. I have been getting a bit carried away with having such a massive variety of food to choose from again.. although I’m missing wachey and eating with my hands. Also I keep trying to click my fingers after I shake someone’s hand and I’m still conscious not to use my left hand for anything!

I am spending my days enjoying the comforts of being at home in the Lakes (of which there are many :)), and planning my next move. Ideas are being discussed at Gaia including sending me to learn from the Venda tribe in South Africa or some rural farmers in Kenya. But not till after Christmas, which will give me time to raise money for it, and to catch up with friends and family. I will be going back to London in the meantime to refine my material, and perhaps to do a photographic exhibition of my work!

If anyone has any ideas of how I can raise money I would very much appreciate hearing from you!

So, until next time.. (when I may have to change the name of my blog to Ruth’s South Africa Blog or Ruth’s Kenya Blog!)

nawuni son tuma, nawuni pahi ti gom


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Nearing the end

September 16, 2010 at 4:07 pm (Uncategorized)

I am leaving Tamale on Saturday! 6 months has gone very fast.

I just wanted to put down the link to the website I have built for Opportunities for Rural Development Foundation [www.ordfghana.org]. Meeting Seidu and getting involved in his project has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me here. I intend to keep being a part of ORDF for many years to come.

Also, for those who were not aware, my photographs from Zoosali were published on the BBC at this link [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-10935094] I am still very proud of this! I keep checking it is there.

The work I have done for RAINS and Gaia and ABN includes things like stories of climate change effecting subsistence farmers in Northern Ghana, Ghanaian food, farming in Zoosali, traditional customs in Zoosali, GM crops in Ghana, among other things, as well as a bunch of editing of core documents. I hope some of the readable material will be available on some websites soon.

I can’t think of anything profound to say right now, but I am feeling quite strange knowing that in a few days I will be back in another world almost. Im excited and sad and a bit overwhelmed at the same time!

I will write again when I am back in the UK.

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The Bank

September 10, 2010 at 2:52 pm (Uncategorized)

Only recently renovated, after at least a 6 month delay, the bank used to be a wooden desk in the middle of the room and a bench in front for people to queue on. It is necessary for a bench to sit on, because people with money are important, and some quite large, and the wait can be long on Ghana time, as everyone is aware. Now it is a new bank, there is no longer an oversized fan creating a wind tunnel to keep the customers cool, but a non-conspicuous air conditioned breeze that makes it feel ‘civilised’. Instead of a bench for the customers, they are now treated to a swivelling office chair each to sit on, which, while comfortable, makes the constant shifting to the next chair when the first person in the line goes to the teller, quite awkward. I have a cheque in my hands that is addressed to me, and my task is to cash it. But I have forgotten my ID, or rather I didn’t bring it because I don’t ever carry it on me, and last time I came, when the bank wasn’t new, I didn’t need it. But I’m thinking; now the bank has air conditioning and tall desks, and matching coloured balloons hanging from the ceiling, will they ask me for ID? How do they know that I am the Ruth on the cheque before they hand over the cash? I don’t think they do. I am in line after about 5 people expecting a long wait. Only when one teller shouts out “Cheque!” do I realise that this is the man I need to speak to. Everyone is looking at me, I have a cheque in my hands, the cheque man was talking to me. Unexpectedly bumped up to the front of the queue, I have sampled only 4 of the 10 or so swivelling chairs, but I hesitantly go and see the man behind the tall desk. I give him my cheque. Can I cash this cheque please? A nod of his head confirms that I can indeed cash my cheque and he stamps a few things before handing me over 200 one cedi notes. What am I going to do with all those?! I ask for a bag before I flash a bundle of cash to everyone I pass on the street, and he gives me the standard, a black bag. Can I go now? Yes. Awesome. That was easy. I walk to the new main glass door and step out into the still baking hot, still busy with people selling maize for 20p, street where the inside of the new bank appears to have been a very surreal larium filled dream. It’s possible.

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Zoosali under water

September 6, 2010 at 2:31 pm (Uncategorized)

I returned once more to Zoosali. This time I got my bike rammed into the boot of a taxi that was too small for a bike in the boot really, let alone two. It dropped me in Diare and I biked the rest of the way to the village.

There weren’t so many people to greet me as I arrived this time as they were out at the farm, but a small boy hung onto the back of my bike and ran alongside me all the way!

The village and the chief’s palace looked different again, as there were piles of groundnuts and rice drying in the sun instead of Shea nuts. The grasses and crops had grown even bigger making the paths to the farms like corridors, and I didn’t even recognise the place where ‘my tree’ was, where I spent so many hours picking shea nuts before. Also its still ramadan so the food people were cooking was mostly just different types of koko. The women would get up at 2am to start cooking for everyone to eat before the sun rises. Then at 3/4 ish they would start cooking koko again to break their fast, and TZ for dinner. No Adowa at lunchtime on the farm, or gabli, or wachey back at the village… Having koko every day makes up for it though, I love it.

On Saturday I mostly just chilled out, the ride to the market in the morning to get the chief’s kola, and from Diare to Zoosali knackered me out. So I sat with Ma Hajia taking stalks out of a pile of harvested groundnuts… just like I used to sit taking the shells out of a pile of shea nuts. In the evening (after I had the first warm water shower/bucket since I got to Ghana, outside with a lamp) we watched a dagbani film on Ma Hajia’s new TV.. she told me the story beforehand and I was able to pick out enough words to understand the gist! Many kids trickled in to come and watch, the room was packed after a while.. two small girls who juggled with me last time I returned to the village, sat next to me and for some reason hung onto my feet. This time I wasn’t leaving to go sleep in the teacher’s quarters as I was staying in Ma Hajia’s hut, so after removing the dead rat, and after the film got cut off because the power went out, 5 of us found a space on the floor and slept.

I was woken the next day by noises of cooking and chatting. It was still pitch black. I got up too, and sat with my koko in a corner of the compound as the sky started to get brighter. Most people and the older kids got up, took a carrying pan and a big hessian bag and filed out to the farm. I looked out over the wall of the compound and saw them walking out into a layer of mist on the ground, the sky still only a lighter shade of dark blue, chatting as they went holding the pans on their heads.

Nearly at the bridge

I went with Adam in a different direction at about 6:30. We wanted to see the bridge that we went to last time, but we walked because we had to wade through lots of water to get there and it was too deep for the bike in places. We past a place that sounded like there were a million massive toads making a noise across a whole field .. but infact it was just a small puddle full of tiny tiny frogs. We had to take our shoes off to wade into where the water floods the path, and I finally found a really good way to tie my african cloth so that I can walk properly, and also not get it wet! It was cool water and the mud was all slippery underneath my feet, I was pretty worried Id slip and fall in with my camera. I was told there hadn’t been a crocodile in this area for a long time though. So that was good. We reached the bridge and the water was pretty deep. We had to wade in up to a metre or so before the bridge actually began, some farmers had left their bikes to walk the rest of the way. Standing in the middle of the bridge the water underneath was really moving fast, and it was all murky from all the soil it had travelled through. I knew exactly how deep it was since I had been standing underneath it only a few months ago! I didn’t want to fall in.

We rushed back so Adam could meet his friend and then I wandered out on my own to the farm where people from the chief’s place were harvesting groundnuts. It was nice walking through the crops alone. Lots of bird noises. So I spent the next 2 or 3 hours with Ma Kubura and Chimsi taking groundnuts off the plant, listening and watching the many others who were hidden behind the tall millet grasses doing the same thing.

Ma Kubura and groundnuts

We filed back to the village around 1pm, and I took my small contribution to the farmer who’s farm it was, along with all the others. It works like this; if you go to harvest on someone elses farm then you get to keep one fifth of what you picked. So my small pile was divided into five, and I got to take some home! Everyone thought it was pretty funny, my small pile. Its hard work picking groundnuts!

Around 4 the clouds were looking pretty dramatic and ominous. Adam and Adamu said I need to get going before the rain because it wouldnt stop once it had started and Id get stuck. So I said some hasty but meaningful goodbyes and got bundled into a taxi on its way to the Diare market. As soon as I got to Diare the rain was torrential, and my camera had been left in Zoosali somehow.. so I stood with many others taking cover from the rain at the market, waiting for my camera to come back on the next taxi!

After a few hours the rain still hadn’t stopped and it was getting dark so I braved it, to many exclamations from those around me, and ventured out to find a taxi home.

Nyeba's first steps

manyaanga mani mani mani

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Cape Coast

September 1, 2010 at 9:43 am (Uncategorized)

Looking west from the castle

I took a trip to Cape Coast to see the ocean. After staying an unexpected night in Accra in an unexpectedly nice hotel with a blue tiled bathroom, Josh and I arrived into Cape Coast on Saturday morning. I first noticed as the bus was getting closer, how the usual red dusty earth was now a brighter sandy colour, giving the place a more.. sandy feel. Stalls on the side of the road were now selling pineapples and mysterious blue packages rather than yams and oranges.

The first thing we did upon arriving was walk straight to the beach. As we got closer we could hear men singing a sort of ‘heave ho’ type song. A group of about 30/40 men, I reckon, were hauling in a fishing net and singing in time to their pulling. It was kind of magical, my first view of the ocean, Cape Coast castle in the distance, crashing waves and eerie fishermen songs.. and the vast horizon of blue water. I tried to imagine how it would have looked and felt 100 or 200 years ago with big foreign ships arriving to take hundreds of thousands of people away from a dungeon they were forced into, to a place they didnt know existed.. I couldn’t.

The castle itself was unexpectedly pretty for such a horrific history.

At one point we were sitting in a ‘chop’ bar opposite the castle where a bright green fishing net was laid out and men were fixing the holes in it somehow. There was music playing the customarily loud Ghanaian music from an unknown source and whenever someone passed by they would start dancing! Girls carrying water, fish, banana chips, men who had just come in off their boats, children on some errand or another.. would all dance as they walked by. I would have joined in had I not have looked like an idiot white woman trying to ‘fit in’.

Sunday we explored Elmina, a town full of fishing boats and fish.

On Monday Josh went onto Accra to get his flight home, and I took a bus up to Kumasi at 5:15 in the morning. This stretch of road was new to me, we went through a few towns that had big gold mining type structures and green trees. At Kumasi I had only 2 cedi on me to get myself to Tamale, so I had to find a bank. It was a good excuse to explore a little bit of the town, but when I got back to the bus station I found that there wasn’t another STC bus to Tamale that day! I think if I hadn’t been here a while this would have sent me in a panic. However, I managed to get a taxi to take me to the other bus company station, where the buses are smaller, more cramped and make dodgy sounds. I got a ticket for a bus that was leaving for Tamale “whenever its ready” and found my seat which was wedged in between the aisle and a raving christian pastor.

After ascertaining that I was a christian (for some unknown reason I decided it would be a better idea to agree, for the sake of the journey perhaps), he said I was blessed for the sacrifice I was doing working for free in Ghana, and that he wanted to buy me lunch before we set off. Which was nice. The 7 hour journey in a hot, packed, but windy bus was interspersed with girls selling things at the window whenever we stopped in a town, or a deserted road block, and interrupted with questions like “you people, I heard you have sex before marriage, why do you allow yourselves to do that?” and “when I marry you, will you want only 2 children like most of you people do?.. why? and how do you people stop yourselves from having more??”. His mobile phone also kept interrupting: “You are blessed on your family, you are BLESSed on your work and you are BLESSED on your finance!”. Good god… Nice man though.

One thing he mentioned was that ‘we Africans’ want to marry ‘you people’ because he said Africans have a lot of respect for the white people. But why?? We come barging in, take all your gold, divide up your land for ourselves, inflict our religion onto you, then take all your people to work on our fields that are growing on someone else’s land .. I can’t understand it.

pulling one side of the net

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