Saturday, June 30, 2007

The story of the Lunga (talking drum)

One of the coolest parts of the village stay was the excursion I made on the Friday morning with my friend, Hassan. We woke at 4:30, quickly bathed and changed, and made our way to the chief's house before the sun started to rise. It's tradition that on Friday mornings the chiefs from some of the smaller, neighbouring villages come to Zoggu, where I was staying, to great the chief. They all come wearing their best robes, cloths, and other traditional wear with their entourage, and drums announce their arrival.

Even before they arrive, though, the drumming troupe in the village stands outside the chief's door to awake him, and the head drummer sings the history of all the chiefs to the village, awakening them in the process.

There is quite the variety of drums that are used, but the one that is the most important in this ritual is the Lunga, or Talking Drum. The drum (that you can see in the pictures) has two faces that are attached by rope of either goatskin or nylon. When you create slack or tension in the rope, it will make the drum face either more loose or taunt, changing the pitch of the drum. Makes sense so far? Because this is where it starts to get really cool.

Dagbani is a tonal language, and so all the words you say have a natural rise and fall to them. Also, just like in English, the words have an emphasis or stress on a part of the word. It works the same for names. So, when the chiefs from the neighbouring villages come to visit, the lead drummer will actually play their name on the drum to announce them, as well as where they're from. They can also include things like whey they are coming, who they are coming with, how long it has been since their last visit, and if time allows, the history of the chief's family. It's like a beautiful musical Morse Code that everyone knows and can respond to.

I sat and watched them for HOURS, and when they finally finished I left with only one thought: I have to have one.

The Saturday morning I was leaving, so I had to act fast. Later that day Hassan and I went to the lead drum player, and we asked him about the origin of his drum. He made it, he responds. The wood part in the middle was bought from someone in a neighbouring village, but the drum face and weaving of the ropes was all done by him. I tell him of my request, and he agrees to make me and sell me one. I can come back in two weeks and he'll have it made, as long as I get the nylon rope instead of the goat skin. I agree, it has less of a chance of becoming brittle and it will be finished WAY faster. It seemed like a really good price too.

The following Tuesday Hassan came to Savelugu for some business and came with some bad news. The person that he was buying the materials from had increased his price, and so he couldn't even buy all the things he needed with the money I gave him, never mind get paid for his offer. If I wanted to continue, the price would have to go up about 30%. I agree... this is going to be the big souviner that I bring back to Canada with me, I'm willing to pay a bit extra. Plus, how cool is it that I actually know the guy that made it for me?

I get word that the drum is ready, and I make my trek back to Zoggu on my off-balance bicycle giving me, once again, quite the ab and upper body workout to keep it steady. This time, I arrange to go on Savelugu market day, where I know there will be some vehicles travelling along the road Zoggu is on so that I can hitch a ride (with my bike) back for the uphill portion of my journey. (Hitching is very safe here, and almost expected. If someone can help someone out with a ride, they try to pick up as many people as they can. I ended up in a taxi, and my body was very, very thankful for it)

When I show up Hassan immediately asks me, "Did you bring a chicken?" Um... no? He explains to me that making drums is a family tradition, and so the man who made the drum belongs to a family that has been making drums for generations. Each time someone is his family makes a drum, they have to sacrifice a chicken to please the drum-makes that came before him. Despite that the costs associated with this drum keep going up and I'm probably just paying for this man's dinner, I agree that I don't want any angry ancestors after me and I want their blessing, so I give him enough money to buy a cock so he can sacrifice it when I'm not there. I'm quite squeamish that way.

The drum maker then informs me that his father is still alive and one of the elders in the village, and we should go and greet him. I panic -- the rule is that when you meet an elder, you should present him with kola nuts, something that I didn't bring with me on this journey. Don't worry, the man tells me, I can buy some off of him (for an inflated price.) We meet the father and he is very happy with the gift, and bestows his blessings on the drum telling me that every time I play it, I will be given luck.

We then go back to the drum-maker's house and he teaches me for a while, as well as just plays for me so I can get some video and we even danced. He asked the names of my parents and my mom's mom and my dad's dad so he could play my history they same way he had played each of the chief's history on Fridays. I was with him for about two hours when I realize that it will become dark soon, and I really need to get back to Savelugu while it is still light, especially if I don't find a ride.

It is then that Hassan (a really good friend of mine that I trust completely, I just wish he would tell me some things in advance) tells me that I should give the man a gift for teaching me to play. Whaaa? I didn't bring a gift with me. He tells me a gift of money will suffice. Seriously? More money?

So, at the end of all this with all the added costs (the cost increase, the chicken, the kola nuts, and the gift), it cost about 55% more than the original cost. It total, the drum cost a very reasonable amount in Canadian, but quite a bit in the Ghanaian currency. I just keep telling myself that I really, really love percussion and drums. It's not that hard of a sell.

The final picture in this post is me with the drum-maker and his wife. We had just finished dancing together and having a great time. So, despite the trouble and increase in costs, I'm very excited about my drum. It makes an amazing sound, and though I'll probably not learn much beyond "Malititi", "Ghana" and "Canada", I'm really excited to bring it back and play it for my Canadian friends so they can live some of the magic that is Ghana.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Village Stay (in long)

One of the downsides about living in a district capital is that it takes you very far away from some of the people that EWB is trying to help the most. My mission for this summer is to help build the capacity of the District Water and Sanitation Team, an office at the District Assembly, which is the local government. The hope is that by helping the DWST do their jobs better, it will further help the people that need the help the most.

But who are these people? I live in town that is fairly developed. It gets a lot of NGO attention. Most of the people speak english, the children go to school, many of the women have jobs... while the water crisis in Savelugu still exists, the people here have many options for their future, and the people truly have hope for development and lives in which they can provide for themselves and their children, and even live comfortably with luxuries like fans or air conditioning, or TVs and DVD players.

The week that I spent in the rural community has been the most informative week since I got here. I set it up with the Assemblyman (like a city council, I think) for the community. Not only is he within my age range and really easy to talk to, he also works as a teacher in the community and was really enthusiastic about having me come. He wanted to show me the real community. He wanted me to experience how a person really lives in rural Ghana, and was also excited to show me off to his friends and neighbours.

For the time that I was there, I lived in a small compound (where they had all squished together to give me my own room) with the Assemblyman (Hassan), his father and his father's wife, and four of his siblings. The children in the community had taken a liking very quickly of standing outside the door to my room watching everything I do including putting on sunscreen, looking in my Dagbani language books, or writing in my journal. The family I stayed with had some plots of land about five kilometers away where they grow maize and beans, and Hassan had another small bit of land where he wants to grow soy as a cash crop.

The first day was quite the indication of the amount of work to come. Hassan related to me eagerly that there was a compound in the community that was having the courtyard area be paved for the first time, and that we could go watch. Believe me, it was nothing like I thought it would be. Take away the ideas of cement trucks and industrial machinery... the term that he used was "communal labour", and I can't think of a better way to describe it. The work of taking care of the compound is the woman's work, and about 45-60 women came to help out at different parts of the day. Gravel had to be gathered from the pits just outside of town to the compound, water needed to be brought from the dam, and when all the materials had been brought to the courtyard, the gravel needed to be laid out, mixed with water, and pounded into the ground until it was hard and smooth.

The most amazing part was the way it happened. These women would all work together to bring the gravel and water to the same place. The ones that were too old or not strong enough to be the porters were cooking to feed all the people gathered. Then when it came time to do the pounding, all of the women (maybe 30 at this point) would start on the same side of the compound with their mallet like object that can be seen in the picture, and rhythmically struck the ground over and over in time with their singing and movements. It was like watching a dancing, and it didn't take long for me to wrap some material around my legs (protecting my pants, which I pulled up around my knees -- I was going to get DIRTY!), find a spare mallet, and join in.

Hassan was beside himself, taking pictures with my camera, and exclaiming that he didn't want me to overwork myself the first night there -- he really thought I would just want to watch, not participate.

It was a great way to start the week. I immediately got introduced to many people in the community, and the news spread like wildfire. I could almost understand the words that came with the excited laughs and hand gestures; "there's a Salaminga here! and she worked hard!" From that moment on I was invited to many things with the women, including make Shea butter.

Making shea butter is a multi stage process that takes many days and a lot of hard work, and I arrived just at the right time to observe most of the steps. They were collecting the Shea fruit (tama) from the trees at the farms, and transporting it back. They were steaming the fruit off the nut. They were drying the nuts in the sun, and then pounding them to revel the Shea beans (Kpihi Kpilinga) inside. They were boiling the beans, and then further pounding with the mortar and pistol. They brought it to the corn-mill to further bring the bean to a flour. Then, and this is the part that I helped with, they added the flour to water and mixed it to a paste. They then added hot and cold water alternatively (I did not understand the pattern, nor how they which to add when), when finally, after mixing for what seemed like hours, the liquid sank to the bottom and the fluffy substance rose to the top. The liquid is disposed of, and they further do a combination of boiling and mixing (which I did not see in its entirety, so I'm not completely sure) until it separates again into the butter/oil (kpihi kpam) and another liquid which isn't used. The butter is then made in excess and securely stored -- this would be the butter that they use to cook with for the rest of the year, or until the Tama has once again started to fall from the tree. What I found interesting about this entire process was that no woman ever did any part of the process alone. Even if someone's friend has already completed the process for their stock of the fruit, they would be found pounding the nuts or mixing the flour. They would be helping the rest of the people in the community.

In some communities, the Shea Fruit means wealth and prosperity; companies such as "The Body Shop" buy the butter for their lotions and other products. Unfortunately, it can't mean wealth for everyone; from what I understand, the market is already saturated. These people instead use it for their every day cooking needs, and don't need to rely on buying oil from larger markets.

I also farmed, met The Chief of the community, and helped fetch water. Those stories are for another day... this entry is getting long enough.

What I really wanted to relate to the people reading this, though, is the strength of the relationships in the community, how much help people will give each other, and how hard every works for the good of the village. Even with only one week there and my limited Dagbani skills, they made me feel included and welcomed, and were sad to see me go. It was an amazing week, and I'll never forget it. I've got enough pictures that I won't be able to!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

In short.

I'm running out of my internet time, and didn't get many of the things that I wanted to do done, so I have to keep this week's blog entry short. While normally I write my entries during the week and post them on the weekend when I have internet service, this week I was without my computer.

Why? I just completed a week in a rural village in Ghana, about 14 km away from the main road. How do I know the distance? Because I rode my bicycle there. Keep in mind, this isn't any ordinary bicycle. It's a one speed girl style bike (most of them are here, it's really practical for when I'm wearing a skirt!) that is supposed to be shiny and red, but instead is more of a subdued orangy-maroon because of all the red dust and dirt that gets into everything. It has a bell that is used for alerting goats and sheep to get out of my way, a basket on the front, and a light that I can turn on and off that is powered by my peddling. The best (read: worst) part though, is that isn't balanced. While in Winnipeg I can take my hands off the handlebars and am still able to continue, and even turn corners, when I tried this on the Savelugu roads it banked sharply to the left. It makes steering quite difficult!

So I took my bicycle (with a week's worth of clothing, medicines, my journal, and my first aid kit) to Zoggu on a semi hard red dirt road. As long as I was really watching where I was going, I could make the ride very easy. I learned to distinguish very quickily the colours of the harder road to the softer, and weaved between them... at least, when my bike allowed me to with it's faulty steering.

It was quite a bit easier, even, than I thought it would be. I found myself thinking that I could return to Zoggu for day trips, to visit the friends that I was going to make. The ride was easy!

And I thought this for the week, until I started to return to Savelugu. Then I looked at the road I was to return on, and I realized why it was so easy. From Savelugu to Zoggu it is almost entirely downhill, which means that my 14 kms back would be entirely uphill. It took me twice as long to return, and I was travelling after a full week of labour. If I go again, I'm going to try to arrange a ride there on the back of motorbike!

I have many things to write about my village stay, I learned more about the way rural communities run and the people live in that one week than I have since I got here. I'll have pictures too, but unfortunately, you'll have to wait until Friday, which is when I'll have internet next.

I hope you're all enjoying your perfectly balanced bicycles. I know I will when I return!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Market day

Market day is always a cause for celebration. The entire city will congregate into a small area of town behind the taxi stand / tro-tro yard, ready to bargain, shop, and trade. People leave work early and forget their farms for one day. People from small neighbouring communities will travel to Savelugu with their produce and grains, walking for sometimes hours with their produce and grains towering on their heads. Children leave school in a rush to help their parents at their booth (if they go to school at all), or travel through the narrow isles with the little plastic sachets that I've become so familiar with calling out, "pure water! pure water!"

The brightest and most colourful materials are displayed, waiting for someone to buy them and bring them to a tailor or seamstress, both of which can be found just outside the market gates. People will call as you walk past with what they're selling, and the phrase, "kami na", or "come" is heard above everything else. I hear the ever present "Salaminga" rise above the children's laughter, and I stop to buy a mango from a small girl who is young enough to be afraid of the white woman's face.

I don't worry about pulling my pocket knife out to peel the mango, I've learned to eat them the same way as the locals. I squish the insides of the mango between my hands for several minutes, being careful not to break the skin. I pour some of my pure water only over the tip of the fruit, bite a small portion of the top off, and spit it aside. When I put my lips back to the opening and squeeze, I'm left with a sugary juice that is (almost) easy to drink. When the juice stops flowing, the skin can be further peeled apart to get at the pit, and you can then further eat the bits of fruit attached to the skin or the large hard seed on the inside. I'm not perfect at it yet, but it's wonderful.

I pull out my camera to capture the chaos, and kids start surrounding me, wanting me to take their picture, and won't leave me until I do. I snap some quick ones and they rejoice, coming to my side of the camera so I can show them what their digital selves look like, and they start to pose again before I say, "chama, chama!", or "go, go!"

I then carry my camera in my hand, winding through the isles, getting even more attention than before. The children are following me and I try to duck between two booths to put it back into my purse, but there's one more person that requests a picture, the lady in the booth that I ducked beside. She's selling beauty products, and proudly asks me to take her picture with her booth using body language and I try to respond in my broken Dagbani... but nothing makes her smile wider than when I start to lift my camera. The smile quickly disappears, though, when I go take the picture. She wants to look dignified with her business. I look for something to buy from her, but I have all the soap I need.

I look around anxiously, wondering how to find what I'm looking for in the disorder. I wanted to see the excitement for the first time, so the mother of the family that I live sent me on a mission. She needed a head of cabbage.

I'm seeing tomatoes, onions, okra leaves and more groundnuts than I would ever be able to eat. Mangos and oranges are plentiful, and the small sweet bananas I love are everywhere. I finally turn to a man that I heard speaking English and asked him to help. He grabbed my hand and pulled me through the crowd, behind booths, and around people until I didn't even know what direction I came from. He then stops quickly in front of me, almost causing me to crash into him, and announces proudly, "cabbage!" He then makes sure I am getting a fair price, shakes my hand, and then disappears back into the crowd.

The market was on Thursday this week, and continues on a six day rotating cycle. It's two days after the Tamale market day, which is on the same six day cycle, and so many of the proprietors travel from district to district hoping to sell to the more rural communities what they could not in the larger city.

The market in Tamale is more permanent. It's not just the small hut like structures that are used to shade the workers from the sun like in Savelugu, they have concrete walls and tin roofs and doors that you can shut and lock overnight. In Tamale, there will always be people open and selling even when it's not market day. In Savelugu, you can find some local fruit and sometimes a butcher, but the real excitement comes once every six days. That's when Ghana comes to shop.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Answering questions

Sometimes I travel by tro-tro, but luckily there have been no goats on top. Tro-tros are like mini buses that travel from town to town that get stuffed to double what their capacity should be. When the tro-tro is starting to get full, people will come in through the windows to try to find that empty spot. The luggage on the top of the tro-tro can be piled as high as the tro-tro itself, and can also be strapped to anywhere they can tie rope.

I had to buy a large drum to hold my water in, and I had to take it from Tamale to Savelugu. They strapped it to the back of the tro-tro, and had a boy (maybe 12) stand on the bumper in the back and watch that it (among other things) didn't fall off. On most of the tro-tros the door is the same as on a minivan. On this particularly packed ride, they didn't close the door, and there were an additional five people that were standing out of the door, holding onto the roof rack. When I finally got to my destination, I was told my another passenger that I should pay the boy watching my stuff. I didn't ask him to watch it and risk his life... but I took the direction of by fellow passenger and gave him enough to buy a snack in the market.

As for language and communication... it happens. Ghana was colonized by England, so English in the national language. Anyone who has had any kind of formal education I can communicate with, so that pretty much means children of school age, most men, and some young females. The trick to talking to Ghanaians, though, is to SLOW DOWN, which has been quite the challenge for me. Other ways to enhance the communication is to adopt Ghanaian English... for example, when you're leaving a room that you'll eventually come back to, you say, "I'm coming," which is quite counter-intuitive to me, and when you're doing something a little bit at a time the phrase is, "small small."

Otherwise, I am learning Dagbani, the local language here, but I'm only learning "small small." I have someone at work that is now helping me with the phrases that I need to know the most, but unless I write it down I tend to forget fairly quickly. I know all the greetings and can make some very small talk, but I really want to learn more. I need to kick it up a notch! The other thing is that I'm going to some more rural communities in the next few weeks where the education is less available and the English is less frequent. I'm really going to spend some time on it this week.

The temperature? It's hot most days, but I'm finding myself getting more and more used to the heat. I've always been good with extreme heat anyway, so it's not too hard for me. I don't have a fan in my room, but there's a nice breeze that flows through my windows. There's a fan in my office. When it rains, it's often cool after... and by cool I mean maybe 20 degrees.

The people here have no concept of cold. They keep asking me what people wear outside in winter, and I have only one picture. I should have thought ahead better on that one.

My internet access is... sketchy. In Tamale there's internet, but it's dial-up and extremely slow. There's no internet at all in Savelugu, and I usually come into Tamale about once a week to download my emails and post a new blog entry. I try to answer my emails during the week on my laptop, and then do the send-download-upload dance all over again the following week. There's only a few places in Tamale as well, so they're usually pretty busy. The computers are also old, and so some webpages don't load. Again, my saving grace is my laptop; yet, I hate walking into the internet place and pulling it out of my bag. Western privilege again, and the people just see the white lady that has a shiny computer that she can bring with her everywhere. At the same time, I can do three times the amount of things that I want to do when I bring my laptop, so it's just a matter of managing what I need to do with the image of myself that I want to show. Most of the time I'm in a hurry to go back to my community, so I take the laptop.

I'm the only volunteer from my organization in Savelugu, and I only get to see the other volunteers every 3 weeks or so. This was one of those weekends, and it feels AMAZING to reconnect to the people that are going through the same things as me, and we can give each other amazing support. It's always so nice to see them again.

I'm going to leave some of the work that I am doing to another day and for another post, and hope that these answers are satisfying you. I love hearing from all of you and really love the comments. I'll talk to everyone again soon.

Next post I'll have more pictures, and I'm getting a second dress made. I can't wait!