Market and Stories

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

By Melissa Rick

A couple of weekends ago I stayed at a Ghanaian family’s house.  They are a wonderful couple from the church that I attend that have been generous to show me different aspects of normal Ghanaian life.  When they picked me up from my hostel, we immediately went to a Farmer’s market.  Me and Ante Charity went into the market.  Immediately after exiting the car a small girl with enormous metal bowl on her head attached herself to us.  She would carry all of the produce and food stuffs that Charity bought on her head.  Many like children were following all the other individuals in the market.  I was amazed what these small children could balance on their heads.  The bowls were overflowing with yams, pineapple, fruit, meat, and more. 
Charity moved confidently through the market as I followed along in her shadow in a state of sensory overload.  There was kenkey (balls of dough wrapped in corn husks), dried shrimp and fish, fresh hunks of meat, all kinds of fruits, and vegetables.  Charity talked to the sellers (wura) in Twi.  At each stand the amount the item is sold in is grouped together, like 5 for 2, 000 cedis.  Usually the seller would smile as she packaged the items and throw a couple extra into the bag.  Food stuff seems to follow clear gender roles in Ghana.  Men sell kabobs, meat, coconuts, and on the street popcorn.  Women sell everything else from working the chop bars (where we each most of our meals), to the small stales, fruit, and water.
Later that day, I played with their grandchildren and tried to teach them how to pop gum.  It was fun to be called Ante Melissa and Ante Akosua (my Twi day name).  Charity taught me how to make groundnut soup.  Later that night the power went off as part of the scheduled rolling blackouts.  We sat around in the living room and told stories.  I though it was interesting that they told Western and African stories.  I heard African tales I had heard before and are famous in this area, like the Ashante story of the Golden Stool.  In West Africa, Ananse (the spider) is a central role in folktales.  He is clever, lazy, and gets in trouble.  They told different stories with Ananse as the central character.  The variety of the stories was interesting.  I think that Western and African cultures influence each other and take different elements from each.  However, I also think there is an unequal exchange with African cultural elements losing.  For example, I never heard African folktales before coming to Africa but in African Western folktales were told.  Another surprise and insightful observation. 

Gundona

By Melissa Rick

Her dark face worn with clusters of wrinkles, demanded respect from the many difficult years each wrinkle represented.  She had a subtle shake, a combination of years and illness.  A few days prior, Gundona the female chief had been in the hospital and still carried a deep chest cough with her as a souvenir of some irritating illness.  She has been ruling for seven years now.  Traditional leaders in Ghana still play important roles.  Although they are no longer military leaders, they act for the social service interests of their people and as lobbyists. 
Gundona’s palace was part of a mud compound house that housed over 300 individuals.  The room she was sitting in when we visited her was one of these circular clay rooms.  It contained no windows and the sun tried to permeate the darkness through two doors located on either side of the room.  Flies swarmed the room and the heat gave it a strange smugly atmosphere.  Thundering drums gave a droning sound outside the room. 
She sat on a raised platform on skins.  In the Northern Region of Ghana the chiefs sit on skins whereas in the South they sit on stools.  For a chief to be dethroned it is called de-skinned or de-stooled.  We presented Gundona with a cell phone as a gift.  Through a translator she thanked us then told us of the grievances of her and her people.  She asked us to provide her with a car and to get the community a health clinic.  We didn’t know what to say.  As we climbed back into our air-conditioned bus, we were humbled and determined to remember this and the many similar experiences we experience daily in Ghana. 

Northern Region Summary

Saturday, November 04, 2006

By Melissa Rick

From Monday to Monday sixteen students, Professor Groenhout, her kids, Samuel, and our driver Robert went to the Northern Region.  Northern Ghana has a mystic element about it.  Most of the Southern Ghanaians I have met have never traveled to the Northern Region.  Stereotypes and generalizations about the North and Northern people permeate discussions and assumptions.  1,820,000 people live in the Northern Region, a small percentage of the 21 million population of Ghana.  Of this number 305,000 live in Tamale.  70% of the economy is agricultural and Islam is the dominant religion.  The average yearly income is around $100 US dollars. 
We drove by villages comprised of round clay huts with patched roofs.  Groups of compound houses would make up the small village.  Compound houses are separate huts formed in a circle with a courtyard in the middle.  One hut will be the kitchen, one for the male, one for each wife (polygamy is legal and practiced in Ghana especially in the North), and then an entrance hut. 
After a twelve hour bus ride we arrived for our first night in Tamale.  We spent most of our nights at TICCS (the Tamale Center for Cultural Studies) as we traveled around the surrounding areas during the day.  Perhaps my favorite part of the trip was renting old-rusty-barely-working-metal-bikes in Tamale.  Tamale has few cars and most people get around the relatively small city on bikes.  It was accelerating weaving past motor bikes, pedestrians, stalls, and other bikers on wobbly bikes.  The bike tour was a great way to see and experience the city. 
We also visited World Vision’s Northern office.  World Vision is focused on providing clean water for different villages in the North.  They function as an amazingly efficient NGO that wants communities to build sustainable projects that the community can maintain without assistance from World Vision. 
Another day we visited a crocodile pond.  The members of the village that surrounds this pond have their entire lives wrapped up in the existence of the crocodiles.  The crocodiles even lay their eggs in people’s homes.  For the tourists (us), the villagers coaxed a large crocodile out of the pond with a squawking live chicken.  The crocodile stayed stationary with its jaws open toward the chicken while our group sat on its back and took pictures.  Finally they handed the chicken over to the mouth of the crocodile and he consumed it in a few bites then slide back into the water. 
One night we stayed over in Yendi, which is the second largest “city” in the Northern Region.  While there, we saw another NGO, BIRDS and visited women in a collective.  The collective makes shea butter and sells it to make profit. 
That night we were treated to a Gonji Performance inside the courtyard of a more modern compound house.  The courtyard was packed with gonji players, women, and at least a hundred children.  The gonji is a traditional guitar like instrument that has almost a moaning type sound.  The performance was fun and at one point we each had to dance by ourselves or with one other person in the courtyard (embarrassing). 
Another highlight of the Northern Region Trip was Mole National Park.  The Park is a reserve for African animals.  We stayed at a hotel (with a pool!) at the park.  The hotel overlooks a watering hole and we watched warthogs, elephants, and birds enjoy the water.  In the morning we went on a nature hike through the park to see animals.  However, when we woke up we were surprised to find an elephant inches away from our hotel rooms!  On the nature walk we found two more elephants drinking water and sat and soaked up their majestic entertainment for a while. 

Cape Coast

By Melissa Rick

Ghana rests on the Gulf of Guinea.  Cape Coast, one of the largest cities in Ghana, embodies a typical tropical city.  The buildings are painted brighter colors, palm trees lean into the ocean, and white beaches scattered with white shells.  Long narrow wooden fishing boats crowd the beach fronts.  They are painted bright colors and are filled with thick fishing nets.  Naked or scantly clad children play in the water or practice acrobatic tricks on the sand. 
Our primarily purpose for visiting Cape Coast was to see the infamous Cape Coast castles.  Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Castle are painted white and to the unknowing eye, beautiful historical structures.  However, I found the community trash dump behind Cape Coast Castle to more adequacy portray the historical elements of these landmarks.  These castles represent periods of Ghana’s history since they were built.  Elmina Castle was built in the 1400s when the Portuguese were first establishing trade links with the African people off the coast.  This location was crucial in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.  The process of the trade is described as a triangular slave trade.  England would trade manufactured goods for slaves.  The slaves were then sent to America to work in plantations to produce the raw materials that were sent to England to manufacture goods…and the cycle continues.  Over 11 million slaves passed through Elmina Castle and 4 million passed through Cape Coast.  This figure does not include those that died at the castle and in the process of capture or transport.  Elmina Castle over time switched hands to the Dutch and then the English.  Also as history progressed and slave trade was abolished by the British the castles took more administrative proposes. 
Visible cruelties run throughout the structures.  For example, the church in Elmina castle is located directly above the slave’s dungeons.  The dungeons still smelled terrible.  They are concrete rooms underground with little to no ventilation or light.  The rooms were built to contain 500 persons but during the height of the slave trade over 1, 000 were kept there at a time.  The captives could stay in the rooms for up to 3 months.  Both castle’s exit to the ocean was called the door of no return.  Our guides explained that these gates were now the doors of return for the Africans of the Diaspora to return to Africa. 
We also visited Kukom Rainforest and Canopy Walk.  The Canopy Walk is narrow rope bridges strung from tree to tree.  The bridges hover over the rainforest trees allowing us to look down into the forest.  Walking on the shaky but ultimately stable bridges was an adrenaline rush.  While at the park we also took the Ebony Tree Trail Walk.  Ebony is an endangered wood and was extracted from Africa during pre-colonization and colonization.  One tree takes 1,000 years to mature!  My favorite tree on the walk was the proud tree.  It is a small tree but its roots make it stand above the ground and the roots grow out in front of it so it follows were the water is essentially walking through the forest.  The sap from the roots cures certain aliment and the fruit cures different aliments.  However, if the two are mixed together it is a powerful poison and is even used as a pesticide.  The liquid that comes from the roots will kill any plant life that it touches so that nothing stands in its way as it moves through the rainforest, hence the name proud tree.

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