À travers des yeux d’enfants (des choses, on en apprend!)… [session #4]

If somebody ever tells you that there is something better than little feet running after your bicycle so that little hands can pull the hair from your legs, you are talking to a liar my friend.

I love the children from my compound.  I love how they shriek my name when they see me, I love how fist-pounding still hasn’t gotten old after three months and a half, and I love how genuinely excited they become for seemingly mundane things.   Laundry by hand?  An occasion to have soap all over their little faces!  A plate on the ground?  An incredible rolling toy that can be amusing for hours!  A visit to the farm?  A parade through the village and a game of bug catching!  Everyday life?  An incredible adventure…

The small ones, shelling shea nuts with me!

Population boom is an issue in rural Ghana.  Last year, only ten people died in my village but more than sixty were born.  According to the Assembly Man, if you would visit each compound in the community, you would find at least one pregnant woman.  People seem to be aware of contraceptive measures, but it is believed that labour is needed on the farm and polygamous relationships lead to many children.  Many, many little feet to run after bicycles but also many, many little mouths to feed, little minds to educate, and little hands to fist-pound.

A few nights ago, I was sitting on my favourite wooden bench with the straw roof close to my house with a few of my fellow Dagban men.  I was proudly told that about thirty years ago, my landlord could come home with three antelopes after a day of hunting.  I listened and learnt about the days when the forest surrounded the village and the neighbouring farms.  The days when lions and wild game roamed were painted beautifully for me with the few shared words we hold dear.

One of my host mothers, looking over some of the many, many little ones!

When I went to the farm this weekend, a small boy caught a flying bird with his skills and slingshot.  This is the extent of the hunting possible today.  Many, many small mouths had eaten all of the wild animals.

In my three months and a half here, I’ve noticed some of the little hands grow bigger and bigger.  Soon, these hands will start looking for seeds and land to start feeding their own families.  Soon, they’ll be having their own little ones.   Soon, the days when land was available to farm might be told sitting on the bench at night at the same time as the story about the antelopes.

Salamanu and his siblings, always growing...!

The world is changing.  Farming is turning chemical, yields and pollution are both increasing.  The youth is slowly getting educated and there is a mass exodus to the cities.  Land might not be the issue, but without proper planning, unforeseen consequences, like the disappearance of the antelope could certainly happen.

The world is changing, but laundry should always be a game and it should always be possible to transform a plate into the most wonderful toy.  Soon, I’ll be changing the way I live drastically, and moving halfway across the world. I’ve spent three months and a half, to have more questions than I had before starting.  Hopefully I’ll remember the answer to one key question though, as answered without uttering a word from the wisest of them all.

Everyday life?  An incredible adventure…

Living the adventure.

The spray was of a bittersweet fragrance…

“We have been trained on the usage of weedicide for our maize fields by an NGO called Teach-Tech who came to our community.  Teach-Tech provided us with training on when to use the chemicals and how to do it safely.  We were also given a knapsack, boots, and a mask.”  - Mr. Abdulai, the chairman of a farmer group in the Northern Region

Many Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) come to communities in Ghana to teach farmers about different technologies and have been doing so for many years.  Sometimes these NGOs directly ask staff from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) to help in the implementation of projects and other times they conduct their programs without even informing the district MoFA office.  In most cases, these projects only last for the duration of the funding from a foreign donor country and the long-term impact of the intervention is not evaluated.  Neglecting the bigger picture can sometimes have disastrous consequences.

Mechanization, one of many changes in agriculture.

Teach-Tech ran a program a few years ago without informing MoFA in randomly selected districts in the Northern Region.  The focus was to increase the usage of different chemicals by farmers to increase their yields.  Selected farmer groups went through a series of sessions and were then provided with safety gear to do the spraying on their own.  The training had a theoretical component, where farmers would learn about concepts like the quantity of weedicide needed and the appropriate time of application for various crops.  The trainers also went to the farmers’ fields to demonstrate how to apply each product.   Most of the farmers that have been trained by Teach-Tech are spraying their fields while following best practices and use the provided safety equipment.  They also dispose of used cans correctly and hence reduce long-term negative health effect.  The usage of appropriate chemicals has also increased their yields and the neighbouring farmers, who have not been trained by Teach-Tech, have started asking questions and adopting spraying on their own farms.  On the surface, this seems like an incredible tech adoption success story.

Sarosate, a popular weedicide here in Ghana.

Upon deeper investigation though, it is apparent that farmers who have not been trained by Teach-Tech are only learning about the timing and the type of chemicals to use on their fields.  Safety procedures are not transferred to farmers outside of the initial group, since this knowledge is not directly necessary to have increased yields.  These other farmers also do not have the necessary safety equipment including boots and masks.  Farmers that were not part of the initial training borrow knapsacks from farmers who do have them or buy them in town to be able to spray, since this is driven by necessity, but in general do not seem to bother to get the safety equipment.  Since contact from the chemicals does not cause immediate health issues, farmers do not necessarily associate the increased number of respiratory problems and other illnesses in the community to the inappropriate usage of chemicals.

In the long-term though, inappropriate application of chemicals can have serious negative consequences on the health of farmers, leaving them unable to farm and hence threaten the food security of their families.  The impact has started to show itself in the community already and is measurable by the increase of visits by men to the local clinic.  MoFA was not aware of the program to make sure that technology diffusion was being done inappropriately.  Signs of necessary intervention were only apparent after people started getting seriously ill.

These funky and awesome kids are the reason why we need to think long-term...

Teach-Tech is not a real organization but the problem it represents is real and pressing.  Currently many different players try to influence farmers without having a common strategy.  This is one of the many reasons that it’s important to demand transparent foreign aid in Canada and collaboration with established governmental structures in recipient countries.  We need to be aware, and critical, of the impact our country and other developed countries are having in the world.  The longer I work in development, the more I see examples of short-sighted interventions…

Hoes & Weed(s): En perspective…

“Ooooo my hoe’s real’ dirty, what about yours?” says the young man to the closest boy.
“Oh yeah, real dirty!   Yo just pass me your hoe, I’ll bang her with mine and it should be better.” responds the boy, as if this was a normal activity, while trying to catch his breath.
The young man passes the hoe, sighs ,stares off into the distance, and shares his new insight with the closest boy, “Man ok, but, I’m starting to feel light-headed… but we still have all’ this weed to go through.”
“Yeah, I know… soooooooo muuuuuuuuuch weeeeeeeeeed!” knowingly answers the boy.     

It’s easy to have misconceptions about agriculture.  Right?

If young Dagbani boys would speak like gangsters, this is exactly the conversation I would’ve had this weekend, on many, many occasions.  We weeded a field of peanuts and corn for over 10 hours.  It was hard, repetitive work.  It was rewarding to see the work we had done, the ache in my muscles felt good, but I’m happy to be at the Minstry of Food and Agriculture office today writing blog posts, planning randomized testing of a communication tool, and designing workshops instead of weeding for the nth consecutive day.  It’s much more stimulating.  Yup, it’s easy to have misconceptions about agriculture from an outsider’s perspective.   Personally, I’ve been guilty of this before.

One of my fellow workers, weeding with energy!

“I hate exams.  I hate, I hate, I hate exams.  Why do we even need to go through this?” says the same young man to his friend.
“I don’t know man, we really should just get a small farm, you know?” dreamily answers his friend.
“Yeah, we totally should.  We would spend time outside, breath fresh air, and it certainly wouldn’t be this stressful!  Having a farm would be amazing!” naïvely answers the young man.

It’s easy to romanticize working with the earth.  Small-scale rural farming is incredibly rewarding, but it’s also a lot of hard, repetitive work.  From a comfortable desk in a stimulating university setting, it’s easy to see past the incredible opportunities we have to follow our passions, be it agriculture or something else, here in Canada.  Many people in Ghana dream of being able to pursue secondary or tertiary education.   And many adults have never even had the chance to go to school at all.

This weekend I went farming with my landlord and his children.  Midday, we took a break to eat a mixture of corn, soybeans, and flour to give us energy for the rest of the day.  Before going back to work, my landlord takes out a shiny aluminum pack from his pocket and proceeds to swallow a few pills.  Since we can’t really communicate verbally, he proceeds to tell me “Chinese” while pointing at the pills, and then holding his back.  As a generous Ghanaian, he then offers them to me so that I can take some too.  I politely decline.

Kids joining us to eat at the farm, soon they'll be weeding too!

In the field, there’s no worker’s compensation.  Your social insurance is your family, but when you have over twenty young children, working has to seem like the best option.  Instead of worker’s compensation, you have small, white Chinese pills and you have your hard-work ethic.  Farming is hard, and the repetition leads to injuries.

Nothing beats sitting on a wooden structure under a straw roof after a hard day at the farm.   Simply sitting under a blanket of beautiful stars with other men who have done the same work as you with a filled stomach thanks to a shared collective meal, well, that’s powerful.

Foreign development organizations and other institutions seem to be focused on changing Ghana.  It’s true that more freedom must be given to people.  It’s true that it’s important to provide basic necessities like potable water.  It’s true.  It’s also true though that this starts by changing things like agricultural subsidies or foreign aid policies at home, so that my hard working landlord can have a fair price for his maize on a so-called free trade global market.

There's nothin' more beautiful than a weeded field...!

I think that true worldwide development will only come when we can incorporate the best from Ghana to Canada as much as we try to “Canadify” Ghana.  If every Canadian and other so called “privileged” individual ate from the same bowl of maize paste, dipped into collectively shared bowls of vegetable soup, power dynamics would be set up so that my landlord could have a fair profit for his maize.  Together, we would be powerful.  It would be amazing.

Manquer ses proches… c’est loin d’être facile!

In the last few weeks, I’ve been travelling a lot around the Northern Region of Ghana.  I’ve met a lot of amazing Ghanaians and spent some time with wicked fellow EWB volunteers.  I also left all of these people and I miss them.  This has reminded me that soon I’ll be leaving Ghana and going back home for real.  The reaction?  Some homesickness and being excited to see everyone back home combined with a jumble of other emotions.  Why am I posting this here?  To take full advantage of the title of this blog.  Yams and more importantly, scribbles. 

I’m feeling much better now, but missing loved ones is definitely part of working overseas!  

C’est proche de la fin et je suis loin de mes proches.  Aujourd’hui ma blonde se promène en avion, en direction de la maison.  Elle revient en conquérante de l’Allemagne où elle a apprit à dompter cette langue gutturale, qui est pour elle familiale.  À travers des messages SMS je suis son voyage mais je suis stationnaire, pris au sol, solitaire.

Je suis au bureau, mon ordi est un bourreau qui me fait écrire des articles de blog, des documents de stratégie et il m’envoit aussi sur des tangentes Facebook.  It’s a picture of someone at home, jeez… I just have to look!  Je clique sur des photos de ma sœur, qui me mettent de bonne humeur et de ma blonde, mon petit cœur.

Il faut dire que je suis un peu jaloux.
Il faut dire que j’aimerais être saoul.

J’aimerais me saouler de sourires familiers, de regards déjà vue, de conversations continuées et de maintes poignées de main, des caresses j’en veux pleins.

Je veux voir mes grands-parents, ma chère maman, ma petite sœur – qui à presque la permission officielle du gouvernement de conduire, elle vieillie je dois l’écrire!, mon Oncle Marc, et Ali la demoiselle qui a laissé sur mon cœur une marque.  Je veux voir des amis du secondaire, c’est un besoin élémentaire.

À quatre heures dans l’avenir de Sudbury.  Je suis ici à vider mon cœur, à taper.

Toujours en route... on fait son petit boutte.

Il faut dire que je vis une expérience incroyable, surréelle.  Que j’apprends énormément, que la vie est belle.  Que je me sens stimuler, que je bâtis des amitiés (au quatre coin du pays, que je dois parfois quitter), que j’ai l’opportunité de voyager, de créer, de rêver, de pensées et de réfléchir (et parfois j’apprends même à fléchir, réflexions qui me ressemblent, qui s’assemblent comme mon ami l’Assembly Man, et qui me changent).

Il me reste seulement un mois au Ghana.  Then I’m Ghana be gone from Ghana (du moins pour les prochains quelques temps).  I don’t want to go.  Je veux rentrez à la maison, mais on doit toujours quitter une certaine maison pour en rejoindre une autre…

Bientôt, je serai proche de mes proches et loin des gens auquel à chaque jour je deviens plus proche. Bientôt je retourne à la maison.

J’approche de la fin mais je savoure chaque moment restant comme un enfant gourmand, sans penser aux conséquences du gâteau sur la balance.

En étant proche du monde, le monde devient la maison…

À bientôt!

Marc-André

Crédit et crédibilité

Farmers should be able to farm.  That’s obvious.

This is not as simple as it looks though.  Many small-scale farmers in Northern Ghana do not have the capital to buy all of the necessary inputs, like renting a tractor for ploughing or buying seeds, to start farming when the rainy season comes. Money from last year’s harvest is usually used up by that time, to manage during the dry season.

Farmers don’t have enough economic freedom.  That’s obvious.

Hence, the government of Ghana has decided to start a project called Block Farming Program  in 2009.  The concept is simple: the government provides all of the necessary inputs to farmer groups to start farming and then collects payments in-kind at harvest time to cover the costs of the given inputs. In theory, this should fix the credit problem, be sustainable, and enable farmers to farm.

Mr. Abanga (green pants), a skilled Extension Agent working with farmers.

Theory doesn’t always translate well into practice.  That should’ve been obvious.

Turns out that corruption, late inputs, poor information flows, and lack of staff and staff capacity are all problems affecting the project negatively.  Every year.  This results in poor repayment rates, for example only about 45% of costs were recovered last year in my district, and hence directly threatens the sustainability of the program.  Unfortunately, my district is not an anomaly, but rather the norm.

Just yesterday, my landlord in Komoayili, who is also a tractor owner, came to the district office in Karaga to get paid for the ploughing he did for various Block Farm plots.  But the money was not there.  He wasted a full day under a tree and didn’t get paid, according to a pre-agreed deal.

A few bags of seeds left... but no money.

Last night, I had a conversation with my landlord, via a teacher who translated, initiated when he asked me about the money.  By chatting more, I realized the extent of the issue.  Farmers hire him to plough fields with credit from the Block Farm project.  My landlord then buys fuel on credit to be able to do the work.  He buys this fuel from businessmen who are also selling fuel on credit from people in Tamale, who are probably selling on credit from Accra, the capital city.

Yesterday when I sat at the office, it wasn’t just my landlord sitting under that tree.  More than twenty people and their families were actually sitting under different trees, roofs, or the hot burning sun waiting for that payment.

That’s big, and it’s not good for business.  Networks of informal relationships hold people together in Ghana.  If the money doesn’t come, credibility will be lost.  Instead of strengthening markets and lifting people out of poverty, the Block Farming Program runs the risk of deteriorate the long-term business environment.  Instead of fixing the credit problem, it’s eroding trust.

You see these people? These are our farmers.

Farmers are real people.  That’s obvious.

When big projects are dreamt up though, this seems to be easily forgotten.  The magic and big plans of projects with budgets of seven-digit numbers tend to make us lose the story of individual people…

La liberté de voyager.

All my belongings fit nicely in one big, red backpack.

Over the last two weeks and a half, I have had the opportunity to take full advantage of this fun fact.  I’ve been to Mole national park to connect with fellow Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Junior Fellows, see elephants, eat good food and talk in rants, and brainstorm on further ideas for our placements.  Then I went to Tamale, the metropolitan of the Northern Region, to attend an in-Country meeting with all of the EWB staff working in West Africa.  We talked strategy, passion and poetry, agriculture and our collective future, we talked about values, the news, and on Canada Day/ Ghana Republic Day I saw a few rap crews (possibly influencing the above rhymes…).   I also spent a week in the Upper East region of Ghana to be exposed to different realities and assess the impact of a program that EWB delivered to a few farmer groups in the community two years ago.  I went back to my home in Komoayili, spent a few days in my district in Karaga, and then came back to Tamale to help facilitate a leadership session for District Directors of Agriculture, well educated and travelled, influential, and impressive guys.  It’s been a whirlwind of emotions and both my heart and camera are loaded with beautiful memories.

Indeed, my big, red backpack has proven to be a good investment.

Some of my fellow EWB staff. Good friends, amazing people.

I’ve been welcomed in the home of very special and friendly people for whom I have immense respect.  I’m gaining confidence walking in crowded Ghanaian markets and in mostly empty millet fields.   I’ve had conversations about love and living a meaningful life under a canopy of stars completely free of any trace of light pollution.

I’ve seen how alcoholism can cause problems in families, anywhere.  I’ve realized that development is a complicated process with fuzzy end goals.  I’ve talked about hunger with farmers who faced this ugly bitch before, I’ve talked about the lack of rain, tractors and employment, and how electricity cables had been set up in a community eight years ago, but that the houses beside electric poles had not been yet electrified.

Electric lines, wired houses, political promises, and a lack of results.... maybe next election?

Travelling has expanded the ways I view the world.  It has helped me gain a better picture of Ghana, meet thought-provoking people, and spend some time reflecting on crowded and sweaty bus rides.

Going back to my community in Karaga, I’ve had the opportunity to bring a few simple gifts and share my adventures.  By naming the cities and communities I had visited combined with elaborate hand gestures and most importantly the help of young students who know some English, I was able to explain the amount of travelling I had done in the last few weeks.  That night, I sat again on the now familiar wooden, roofed platform with the other men of Komoayili.   A teacher at the primary school asked me to see pictures of my adventures.  I took out my laptop, and showcased the huge dose of privilege I have, simply due to the fact that I come from Canada.

 

My young friend Sylvester, showing me a beautiful view of Dua, my community in the Upper East.

I was showing snapshots of another region to people who had never had the opportunity to travel outside of the closest neighbouring cities.  For most of the people crowding around my laptop, it was the first time that they saw the rocky landscape of the Upper Eastern Region, only a about 150 kilometres north of where they are established.  I felt deeply humbled by the privilege I’ve had all of my life.  It makes you think, ya know?

I only have about five weeks left in Ghana before returning to Canada. Soon, I will be packing my big, red backpack.  I’ll miss the harvest and won’t be able to see the impact of projects I’m currently initiating.  I won’t see the worst of the dry season and I’ll go back to finish post-secondary education.  This summer, I’ve had the opportunity to travel halfway across the world, work and live with incredible people, and grow immensely.

My Upper East host mother, teaching me new skillzzz!

I can’t say that I truly understand rural livelihoods or my place in the bigger picture of creating a more just world.  I don’t understand how to build vibrant communities where people lend money to each other in times of need in Canada.  I don’t know how to create a system that enables a better, and more fulfilling job market in Ghana.  Rather I only have snapshots of inspiring people, enlightening conversations, moments of laughter, joy, and understanding, and… well cute Ghanaian children.  I have a few nice African shirts, a bit of Dagbani vocabulary, and an ignited passion to create more freedom for people.

I hope that my big, red backpack is big enough to bring all of this home.

Because my friends, we’ve got work to do.

J’ai entrevu en entrevues…

Hey everyone!  Here in Ghana I’m at the mid-placement retreat of Engineers Without Borders, to reconnect with all the Junior Fellows and some African Program Staff and plan the second half of my placement. It seemed appropriate to post this piece that I had in my drafts for a while, to talk about work and have an excuse to wish you Happy Canada Day and that I saw an elephant at Mole National Park yesterday (pictures to come!)!  Thanks for reading!

The wind is loud in my ears and is further amplified by my big, black helmet.   I’m hanging on to the back of a motto speeding on a red, rocky dirt road and it’s early in the morning.  The scenery is beautiful and I see a few early rising farmers already working in their fields.

“That’s my farmer!” proudly yells the Agricultural Extension Officer (AEA), Mr Emmanuel, for the hundredth time.  I barely hear him, but I’ve figured out what he’s been saying.  I like this guy.

I spent every morning of last week doing interviews with different AEAs to better understand the process which leads to farmers adopting new technologies.  I stayed in Karaga and lived in officer quarters, kneeled and greeted chiefs, walked around hand in hand with grown men, asked many questions, and received my fair share of guinea fowl eggs as presents from the various communities.  I learned a lot about behaviour changes of farmers, the topic I was researching and even more about the work and challenges of the extension staff, simply by immersing myself in their daily lives.

Greeting some swell farmers, before an interview!

The office where I work is full of inefficiencies.  This is supposedly common of many offices of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, at least in Northern Ghana.   Computers, provided by NGOs, are few and people trained to use them competently are even fewer.  Information flow from the national level, where most decisions are made, is not clear.  AEAs are understaffed, under-resourced, and undervalued.   This leads to sub-par performance in certain cases.

The office where I work is full of passionate people.  This also appears to be a common thread across offices.  Agricultural Extension Agents spend some of their own money to buy fuel to do field visits, live far from their families and only see them on weekends, and always talk about how to improve the Ministry, farming, and the livelihood of their beloved farmers.  They do great work and when you visit the communities under their responsibilities, often farther than an hour motto ride from their living quarters, you see the impact that they are having directly on the ground.  They contribute directly to real development.  They are currently distributing seeds on a Sunday, here at the office. These people are changing rural Ghana.  Fo’ real.

Documenting farmer visit, on the way back from interviews!

Millions and millions of dollars are spent every year in agriculture in Northern Ghana.  Foreign and local staff is trained to give workshops on chemical application, post-harvest technologies, bookkeeping (practiced often taught to illiterate farmers… weird and in most cases ineffective),  or any other topic that is the current trendy in the donor country.  AEAs are sometimes enlisted to help, further diverting their resources from their own work, and other times not even informed of the interventions, making it nearly impossible for them to keep track of the future needs of their communities.

The money exists and trained, passionate Ghanaian government workers are also already present in the field.  I don’t have millions of dollars, a position as a distinguished policy analyst in a rich Western country, or years of field experience.  I don’t have a C.V. full of development experience, and heck I’m studying engineering not even development.  I can clearly see a possible solution to at least part of this problem though.  Why not invest in long-term change-agents who made a life-long commitment to changing farmers’ lives for the better?

These are my people, my passionate people!

In Canada, we have a state-funded, free education system up to the secondary level and government subsidies for post-secondary institutions.  This is a great accomplishment, and even though some improvements could always be made, this is directly contributing to the knowledge economy of our country.   Do we have private foreign projects, passing as government approved curriculum, teaching our children basket-weaving, witchcraft, or hen raising during school hours or do we have a well-funded, independent education system?  That’s what I thought.

À travers des yeux d’enfants (pas mal plus grands!)… [session #3]

Sorry for the late Monday post, I had forgotten my camera in Komoayili, so I had to wait to add the pictures!

I love Ghana.  This weekend, I realized this once again.  Due to the lack of rain and the fact that many of the more experienced farmers were gone on a rice-planting expedition in a neighboring community full of valleys that flood with the ploughing tractor, work on the farm was minimal.  Hence, Saturday I helped inter-crop a bit of maize on yam mounds, and then we just hung out.

Hanging out is simple.  You don’t need to speak the same language.  You don’t need to have the same cultural references.  You don’t even need to know everyone before you jump right into it.  All you need is time and being ready to laugh and share!

Ok so I did share a few cultural references with Lukeman and Mohammed.  Apparently silly gangster pictures are a worldwide accepted standard.  You wear a big hat, you don’t smile, and you preferably shake hands with a fellow gangster.   Repeat.

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After the picture taking adventure, we decided that even though we barely speak the same language, we were in a perfect position to teach me more Dagbani!  Using our small common English (their English skills still outperform my Dagbani), lots of repetition, and all of my charade skills I was able to learn a few new words. Highlights: biyaéné meaning tomorrow and dalé meaning the day after tomorrow.  Perfect words to help me articulate when I need to go back to work after the weekend!

Finally we met up with another friend, Youssif.  Here we tested my deduction skills to their fullest.  I learned how to play Oware, a pretty simple board-esque game played in Northern Ghana.  It’s a board with beans on it, and basically the goal is to capture as many beans as possible.   A few key learning points, turns out the two colours of beans don’t make a difference – it’s simply aesthetic, everyone including the kids want to tell you were to play next – and they don’t always agree, and it’s hard to understand a game when both parties can’t even articulate the winning criterion – watching a few rounds cleared that one up.  Turns out that it’s a lot of fun though, and thanks to my patient friends, I was able to play a game on my own and even win a few rounds!

Playing games is serious business haha!

It’s impossible to be alone or lonely in Komoayili.  Sometimes it becomes a bit much for my Western need for personal space and makes being productive outside of work virtually impossible.  On the other hand, I’ve seen no one that was not included in daily social interactions.  Nobody is alone in their rooms, watching white walls, monitors, or the phone.   It leads to a fun Saturday!

À travers des yeux d’enfant… [Session #2]

The lean, muscular boy lifts his hand and slaps the cute, pudgy girl in the face.  Hard.

He’s about seven and she’s less than half his age.  For a second she looks at him with her big baby eyes, shocked.  Then she starts crying and screaming.  It breaks my fucking heart.  To shut her up, the boy whips her on the back with some branches used to broom.  The girl stops and rubs her shoulder.  The wives in the compound ask what is happening, in Dagbani, and I believe that the young boy explains that he’s trying to broom but the toddler is in the way. Satisfied by the explanation, the wives continue their work and the small girl is shoved aside.  The boy continues sweeping and life continues moving.  I continue to wash my laundry by hand, less satisfied by the dirt out of my clothes and into the water than before.

Being adorable, with mother only a step away!

People in Komoayili love their kids.  Children are carried on the back of their mother in a cloth, to be able to give them constant attention.   It is a common sight to see a man with a small child on a bench, simply sitting and holding each together.  Young children take care of younger children and everyone is a brother and a sister, regardless of family lineage.  They play football together, eat together, go to school together, catch bats and fry them on the fire together, sing songs together, plant groundnut seeds together, and even wash each other.   It shows that they truly do love each other.  Every time a youngling is sick, special attention is paid to him or her, powders and local medication are administered, and prayers are made.  People deeply and truly care about each other. It shows, all the time.

Friends just hanging out, ya know?

Personally, and like the vast majority of the world, I love kids.  This seems to be a universal trait hardcoded into the human race and even most, or all, of the animal kingdom.  It’s a survival instinct.  Plus let’s face it, what’s cuter than a baby or a small child?  I don’t understand any context in which physical violence should be a method of discipline.  I know it happens in Canada and it happened right in front of me here in Ghana.  I understand that life is rough, that every day is filled with hard-work simply to meet basic needs like getting food, water, cooking, farming, washing, and… sweeping.  I know that as an outsider it might not be my place to intervene but is the best strategy, to say it bluntly, to simply sweep the issue aside?

The camera can't even capture this cute ball of energy!

Au rythme des cieux…

I miss hardcore shows.

I miss their spontaneity, the feeling of unity, and I miss being part of a dancing, sweating, hitting-each-other-but-picking-someone-up-if-they-fall mass of people. I miss the beat that is too loud and the lyrics that are too honest.  I miss two-stepping, I miss the adrenaline, and I miss the soul and the vibe of it all.

Last night, I felt it again.

Don’t get me wrong, bearded men did not parachute to my small village with a stack of amps tied to their own smaller parachutes.   Something even more magical happened.  The moon was swollen by the Sun.   The full moon first turned red, and then disappeared.  There was a lunar eclipse, minimal light pollution, and it was beautiful.

The kids loved it.

From the trustworthy CBC, since I couldn't capture it as beautifully!

According to local Dagban customs, the young 60% of the population under the age of 18 featured on Monday’s post is responsible for getting the moon back when the Sun decides to snack on it.   Even without advanced notice, these young mediators take their job very seriously and get organized fast. Old plastic fuel containers are transformed into loud booming drums, and the kids transform themselves into a marching army.  Everyone yells “Aiya compara” which translates to “The Sun should fear God, and release the moon.” 

Some of these kids spent the day at the farm. Energy level = impressive!

 This is done with energy, while marching around the surrounding communities, during the whole few hours of the eclipse.  I had the chance to join the action for a while.  I clapped, I yelled, I danced, and even took some pictures (the flash was a hit!).  Trust me; getting the moon back is wicked fun.

People everywhere love to be rowdy and be part of something bigger than their everyday life.  Yesterday back in Canada people were yelling enthusiastically at men sliding on ice while we were doing the same, with much less infrastructure and equipment, in the direction of the moon.  Who’s crazier?  I don’t know.

... but I might guess that it's the dude with the long hair and the glasses at the back haha!