Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Village of Manga

On Monday, I left my homebase of Tamale and headed to a nearby district to experience village life for 3 days. In the district capital, I met a member of the District Water and Sanitation Team (a DWST) who arranged the stay and would be taking me to the small community. When we were ready to go, the DWST handed me a helmet (embarrassing photo included below) – this would be my first motorbike ride! I rode on the back, enjoying the breeze and the natural beauty of rural Ghana.

We turned off the paved road onto a dirt road. We turned off the dirt road onto a dirt path. We weaved our way around rocks and deep grooves. Finally, a cluster of mud huts was visible in the distance. A community of approximately 400, Manga has no running water or electricity, and almost the entire community relies on farming for a living. After dismounting, I must have made a goofy first impression – first of all being “white” made me strange looking, I was still wearing the helmet as I struggled to get it off, and I’m sure the fanny pack didn’t help!

The chief and the men of the village gathered to greet me. We sat on log benches under a thatched canopy, shading us from the unforgiving midday sun. I gave the chief the traditional offering of kola nuts. He accepted them and welcomed me to the village. The village children started to gather to get a glimpse of this “strange creature” that had just arrived. I was introduced to Nicholas, the village's Water and Sanitation Committee (WATSAN) Secretary. Thank goodness Nicholas spoke fairly good English! I’ve been spoiled in Tamale, where most people speak quite a bit of English. Nicholas showed me where I’d be staying – I was displacing one of his sons for a few nights. I was glad to have my own room – after just a brief time in the village I could tell that I would be the village’s main attraction my entire stay!

The first day I wandered around the village and greeted people. Whatever Manga is lacking in modern convenience, it makes up for in natural beauty. It is set amongst rolling hills, green and lush, filled with life. Darkness fell quickly, so much so that it seemingly interrupted people’s day. But everyone carried on. Lanterns were lit and we ate by moonlight.

First thing the next morning, I met with the men of village. There would have to be two separate meetings – one for the men and one for the women, as it’s not customarily appropriate for both genders to be present at a meeting. I said that I was there to learn about life in a village. They commended me on coming to Manga and one man said, “You have come straight from Canada to Manga, but when will a Manga man ever go to Canada!” I asked them some questions about the water and sanitation facilities, as well as about their feelings about their relationship with the district authorities. My village stay was not only a chance for me to live like the majority of Ghanaians, but a valuable opportunity to learn more about the concerns and challenges they face. Hopefully, Luke and I will address some of these concerns through our project, working to improve capacities at the district level.

That afternoon, Nicholas took me to his farm, where his family had been working all day. After having just planted his maize the day before, today they were planting millet. His son would walk down the rows, creating holes. His two daughter would follow with bowls of millet seeds, dropping a pinch into each hole and deftly kicking dirt to cover the seeds. Nicholas also grows yams, pepper and cotton.

Later on, I sat with the old women in the centre of the compound and shelled shea nuts. The women collect the shea fruit from the trees, remove the fruit surrounding the nut. The nut is then boiled and shelled, and sent to the man in the village with the machine to process the nuts into oil and butter. The smell of shea nuts filled the air and we quietly sat there, shelling nut after nut until the pile was gone.

That evening, I met with the women. I again explained my presence in the village and was warmly welcomed and thanked for visiting. I asked them the same questions I had earlier that day to the men. The gender roles here are quite different than at home. It can be a very strange experience here as a “white” female. Generally, white trumps black and man trumps woman. So being a “white” woman is a curious existence. I’m not yet sure where I fit in the social hierarchy.

The men and women shared similar concerns. Without a proper road to Manga, what would they do if someone was ill and needed transport to the hospital? And the nearest hospital was a 6 hour walk away. There were several bicycles in the village, but only 1 motorbike. Manga had just been given its own school a year ago, but without a proper building and adequate resources, it was struggling. Many people expressed interest in learning new skills, but there was nowhere to go to learn and no one to teach them. Some people rented tractors from a neighbouring village, but others ploughed using bullocks or by hand. Tractors would help them prepare the fields for planting much more efficiently. But with the vulnerability of crop failure resulting in a loss of yearly income and a shortage of food, the expense of a tractor was unrealistic.

The 3 days passed quickly and soon I was packing my things and saying farewell to Manga. After I expressed my appreciation for the village’s hospitality, the chief thanked me for coming to Manga and presented me with a goat! (That’s a step up from my chicken!) I wasn’t certain if I was expected to take the goat back with me on the motorbike, but the goat was tied up and secured to the back of the motorbike before I knew it!

Driving into Tamale, I felt like I was returning home. However, it occurred to me that even if I considered Tamale to be my home, the people here would never view it as being my home. There would always be someone who didn’t know me, and would call me “white!” or “saliminga!”. Because of my skin colour, I doubt I could ever be fully Ghanaian. It’s a bizarre feeling being treated differently due to the colour of my skin - a phenomenon I thought was mainly a thing of the past. The attention is generally positive and people want to be your friend simply from your appearance. I forget that Canada is fairly unique in its multiculturalism (although racism still exists as well) and that there are places in the world where people have never seen people who look different than themselves.

The other day, while walking home from work a man on a bike came up beside me. We started with small talk. He said he wanted to be my friend. He said he likes white people. We encountered a language barrier when I said that was not a wise thing to do, not all white people are nice just like all black people aren’t nice. I don’t think he comprehended what I was trying to explain, but it’s comments like that that both surprise and worry me.

Anyways, back to the goat. Back at the office, I decided to give the goat to the driver, who had kindly driven me to and picked me up from the district. But he did not take it home and instead left it to graze just outside the office. The next day, the goat was still there. I wasn’t sure if anyone was going to claim the goat or it was going to become the new office mascot. Before I left that day, I took some photos of my very first goat and made sure it had water.

The following morning, as I approached the office I could hear a commotion at the side of the building. I peeked around the corner to see what was going on. I caught a glimpse of a piece of gleaming metal in someone’s raised hand and I knew. My goat was no more. Purchasing meat from the supermarket, it’s very easy to forget where it comes from. Here, people are not as removed from the land that yields their crops and the animals that are sacrificed.

Please let me know if there’s anything that I’ve been neglecting to describe or write about. It’s difficult to know if I’m painting a full and fair picture of what I’m experiencing. So if you think I’m missing anything, please post a comment!


Blogger Tomato said...

Well it´s not a pig.. But I guess a goat will do. Needless to say I am personally loving your blog and look forward to reading it whenever you got a new one up. Even though I´ve been reading up on pretty much everybody´s blog that I´ve known which has gone to Ghana, each one has brought a unique outlook on this country. In other words your blog is fine as it is.


PS. Anybody want to bet what´s the next farm animal Sarah is going to get? Forget a pig, I´m hoping for a cow this time.

6:05 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My guess is, it cann't be a pig because they are Muslims. However, I can be sure in her last trip she will receive either a giraffe or an elephant.

Cheer Sarah ):

8:21 a.m.  
Anonymous Inga said...

Hi Sarah!

You're blog is awesome and you are painting a great picture for us all at home! As "tomato" said, its neat reading everyone else's experiences too. I will not talk about your goat, except to mention I went from totally excited, to jealous that you had your own goat to horrified in 1.7 seconds. haha Thats life. I really hope you got to eat some of your goat (who I'm sure did recieve a name) and enjoyed some protein? Keep well! Miss you tons!

10:14 a.m.  
Anonymous Channifer said...

I'm so traumatized... Save the Children?? Save the Goats!!

8:31 p.m.  
Anonymous Cheryl said...

Hey Sarah! Your blog is awesome, keep the hilarious stories (and pictures) coming. I hope your goat met a swift end... sounds like you're encountering new cultural differences every day! Can't wait to hear more!

9:08 p.m.  
Anonymous Aunt Shirley said...

Hi Sarah,such an exciting adventure you are having! This novel gets more interesting all the time. I have a question obviously about fashion(having costumed you for many past recitals)-when are the new garbs going to be modelled?

11:43 a.m.  

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