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Archive for December, 2011

“Fearing” the cold

One week ago the weather in northern Ghana made an about face, bringing a conclusive end to the regular farming season.  The pervasive heat, humidity and occasional rain shower of October and early November resulted in a steady temperature of 89.5 degrees in our room, not the most pleasant conditions for sleeping.  At these temperatures bedtime conversations tended to degenerate into “move over, your leg is touching my leg,” even among us affectionately married folks.

But, those days are over!  The sudden advent of dry breezes from the Sahara to the northeast is bringing refreshing cooler nights and somewhat lower daily highs.  The upper atmosphere is vaguely hazy with desert sands to varying degrees during the day, blocking some of the sun’s intensity.  We are now scrambling to locate the chap stick.  This season in sub-Sahara Africa is called “harmattan” and us Oregonians find the lower temperature a welcome change, in spite of the dryness and dust.  Ghanaians on the other hand “fear the cold”, defined as temperatures in the 70s. Many of those discarded down jackets you gave to the Salvation Army are now being used by people with icy hands on 75 degree mornings in West Africa.

The change in weather marks the beginning of traditional harvest festivals in Ghana, which leads me to reflect on the differences in how we celebrate Thanksgiving vs Harvest Festival:

American Thanksgiving-Holiday at the end of harvest with emphasis on a large number of people sitting to eat a large amount of deliciously prepared food, followed by watching TV/talking about professional football.

African Harvest Festival-Holiday at the end of harvest with emphasis on an entire village joining in syncopated clapping with the women dancing, men playing drums and shaking calabashes while also dancing , followed by groups of  children of all ages adding their own drumming, and then repeating it all.  In a major departure from American culture, food is not part of the celebration.

This year, seeing as how we are somewhat deep in the heart of Africa, our harvest celebration consisted of the highly entertaining drumming and dancing option.  At 3:00 pm Saturday we traveled by moto on a dusty 12 miles of mostly decent, though unpaved, road for the best harvest festival in the Nabdam area; the Sakote Harvest Festival.  In addition to the usual entertainment, the remote Sakote village is particularly well known for the “Sakote Boys,” a dancing and musical group of fantastically strong, flexible, athletic leaping men drumming/singing/playing flute and 2-string guitar, that travels all over Ghana to perform.

We were not disappointed, the two white people were greeted in the most friendly manner and immediately given front row seats.  The village drumming and dancing were exactly the kind of African cultural experience that I would hope everyone could have at least once in their lives.  It was simply superb in every way.

As dusk approached, we meandered north and west on the moto, back to our home in Kongo.  Along the way we passed a contented family of five, also headed to their home, but in a donkey cart.  The palpable sense of affection and harmony among the parents and children as the father guided the donkeys along the trail seemed to truly exemplify the spirit of a Thanks giving that comes at the end of a decent harvest.

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to Market, To Market

To Market, To Market

Market day is a big deal here, but before you can start furiously bargaining and counting out your bowls of beans and millet, you have to get there. Yesterday I went over to the clinic, from where I was going to ride into Bolgatanga in the clinic truck. I was supposed to be back to the clinic by 11am or so, but in Ghana time is somewhat irrelevant. I waited for the driver to come home from the local market, and then for him to bathe, before we left. It was three hours before we left, and then we

Carrying peppers through the market

made one stop on the way—and the stop was even pre-planned! It was pretty amazing, considering.

It wasn’t market day in Bolga today, but there were still plenty of women walking around with huge bowls of food on their heads. When you add in all the bicycles and motos that drive through the narrow rows between stalls, you have to be prepared to duck or leap out of the way at any moment. Walking side by side is not a very smart choice.

Other than the endless fascination of seeing heavy loads balanced on small women’s heads, my favorite part about market is watching people bargain. The women run the rice, millet, wheat, and beans through their fingers, checking for weevils and probably lots of other little bugs and things that I don’t know about—and that I’m just fine not knowing about. (They don’t mind if you touch the grains or even eat a dried herring or two, but I learned a good lesson yesterday: DON’T touch the dowa dowa! I still don’t know why.) Then they talk on and on about the price of what they’re getting. They have very heated arguments, which bear no resemblance whatsoever to buying food in the US, unless you’re an extremely rude customer. It’s quite exciting to watch and listen to, but I don’t know if I’m fierce enough to get a good price.

I remember someone saying that you can argue the price of anything here, even your hospital bills. And they will not give you even one pesewa extra. But then again, they do always seem to heap a bit of extra rice in the bag that you didn’t officially buy. Courtesy, I suppose, and custom.

Anyway, once you’ve decided on the price, you stand there in the hot, hot sun and count as they measure out your purchase. If you don’t, uh-oh. They might cheat you one or two bowls of millet. Which if you ask me, isn’t such a big sacrifice if it saves you hours of time, but I actually enjoyed standing there and counting to ten almost 100 times. Everything feels different when time isn’t a commodity. Maybe that’s why they spend so much time greeting and goodbye-ing. They’re not trying to “save” time, they’re trying to save their relationships—because your relationships with people are how you define yourself here.

So if you, reader, ever go to market in northern Ghana, don’t forget to stay and count your rice. You might not get every grain you paid for, and you won’t get to know the lady who’s selling it to you. Besides, it will probably be some time before you can catch a ride home.

–Britney (Lisa and David’s niece)

David, Lisa, and Britney

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