Des mangues, des ananas, la malaria et un Rasta!

What’s the common thread between these four things?  Well I had a direct interaction with all of them during my last week in Tamale!

Let’s start with mangoes and pineapples. 

These two fruits are del-iiiii-cious in Ghana!  Imagine this. You are walking on the side of a busy street.  Motos and taxis are whirling by, the red dirt from the ground is sticking to your legs, you are saying good afternoon (or Antarre, pronounced Ant, like the bug – Array, like the data structure) to people everywhere, and the sun is hot.  Then you walk a few steps and there are about five women selling delicious mangoes and pineapples.  Trust me, it rocks.

Don't they look great?

Why are there five women selling the same pineapples and mangoes at the same spot you ask?  I had the same question.  I talked about this with Umair, the other JF from Waterloo, and we realized that the answer might simply be, why not?  Even though they are all competing for the same customers, it does not matter if there are at the same spot or not.  The truth is, if I had continued another few steps, I would have probably met another stand with four or five women selling more delicious fruits.  This again rocks for me, since the fruits (as mentioned before) are delicious, but plainly shows how oversaturated the informal sector is here.  From my limited experience, the market is full of people who want to sell the same things, and probably not enough people to buy them.  A taxi driver once told Umair that there were three things you could do in Ghana, if you weren’t a farmer: “you can drive a taxi for someone, sell small things at the market, or if you’re lucky, work in government or for an NGO”.

Next, we can chat about malaria.

Turns out I’m somewhat of a trailblazer.  This summer, I’m officially the first JF to test positive for malaria!  There’s nothing to worry about though.  I’ve already finished a three-day medication treatment, continued taking my anti-malarial medication, and had access to great food, care, and a place to rest at Ben and Erin’s house, two Engineers Without Borders African Program Staff in Ghana.  I felt better in a few days and now I’m 100% in shape!  It basically just felt like a cold, with muscle pain, puking, stomach aches and the rest.  More annoying than painful, ya know?  Also, probably due to my anti-malarial medication, I only had one ‘+’ on a scale of one to three ‘+’ for the strength of malaria.

Bustling Tamale, street view

If I was able to feel better from malaria in a couple of days due to a test and a treatment that cost 10 Ghana Cedis in total (less than 7 C$ each), why do thousands of people die of malaria in Ghana each year?  I don’t know.  It sucks and I don’t know.  I really don’t know, but it might have something to do with everyone selling mangoes and pineapples at the market…

Finally, let’s talk about my friend the Rasta!

I have the worst sense of orientation.  Ask my friends.  Ask my family.  Actually, ask anyone who’s ever been in a car with me.  I’ve lived in Sudbury, a pretty small Northern Ontario town for about 18 years, and I still use my GPS to find places when I’m back.   So in Tamale, I tend to ask people directions when I’m trying to get somewhere.

When I was looking for the clinic to get my malaria test done, I had all of my bags, since I was going to move from the guesthouse I used to live in when all the JFs were in Tamale for In-Country training before heading off to our placements, to Ben and Erin’s house.  I looked like a tourist.

This ended up being a pretty great opportunity though.  Apparently Umair’s taxi driver was wrong.  There is a fourth thing you can do in Tamale if you speak good English and dress-well.  You can be a Rasta.

These people tend to make friends with (white) tourists, show them around town, act very pleasantly, craft you a story that you want to hear, and then ask for money at the end of the day.  Even if you tell them, politely, that they can leave, they tell you that they’ll stay with you.  Together, we ended up on the roof of a restaurant, writing songs about girls in far-away cities.  When I told him my girlfriend was in Berlin for the summer, he told me about his girlfriend in Holland.  I blame my small malaria fever for my adventure.

Splendid Tamale, from the rooftop

I’m not sure what the conclusion of the story is here other than the fact that Tamale is a city full of dimensions and resourceful, brilliant people.  Even though my friend the Rasta made me feel pretty weird and slightly uncomfortable, his directions were useful, his company pleasant, and his way to make money cunning.  Plus, he probably would have money for anti-malarials…


14 thoughts on “Des mangues, des ananas, la malaria et un Rasta!

  1. Wow, Malaira right at the get go. The Waterloo chapter is glad to hear you”re doing better! You said the treatment only cost 10 Ghana Cedis, I was wondering if you noticed any local/government support or aid in reducing the cost or access for people to receive the treatment?

    It sounds like you are having a quite an interesting experience, I am rather jealous of the mango’s though.

    • Hey Savannah, thanks for your comment!

      Malaria is a big problem that a lot of stakeholders are trying to tackle at the same time. I think that a lot of effort is currently spent on Malaria prevention. For example, I visited a neighboring village of the community where I am currently living (I found a place in a village yesterday, so exciting!) with the Assembly Man, since he was organizing spraying of houses with mosquito repellent. he proudly told me that last year they had there first year without Guinea Worms, and Malaria is next on the list!

      After talking to some people in Tamale, I’ve also learnt that the government has a “National Health Insurance Scheme”. From my understanding, people need to pay yearly fees to be able to have access to subsidized health care. I don’t think that it is very expensive, but it still isn’t affordable to everyone.

      There are also a lot of non-governmental from prevention (bug nets, spraying etc.) to drug delivery and other things. Again, from my limited experience, I think that these projects are highly dependent on specific locations.

      I hope this helps and I agree, mangoes are delicious! I hope Waterloo is great!

  2. Glad you survived malaria dude. I’m excited to hear more about your adventures and the people you meet! It’s nice reading your perspective and getting a tiny glimpse of Tamale.
    In other news, I tried writing poetry today, and it was ridiculous.
    Have a good week, looking very forward to your next post!

    • And I’m looking forward to reading poetry on your blog, my dear Ali!

      It’s been pretty crazy since I got to the village yesterday I’m just seeing so many different things! People are incredibly welcoming though and the new Dagbani word of the day is “a marraba” meaning “you are welcome”, to which I’m suppose to answer “ngugna” which… I still don’t really have a direct translation to!

      Also nice post today, you always make me laugh and I’m glad you’re loving German music haha!

  3. I love the pictures accompanying the blog, and the pronounciation help with the words! When I see that, I automatically try to say it out loud, and feel a bit more connected.

    Looking forward to hearing about your stay at Ben & Erin’s place!! And take care of yourself!


    • Ben and Erin’s place was awesome, it was very nice of them to host me. On Monday though I had the chance to move to my village Komoyaèlé (written phonetically, I’ll try to find the right spelling before writing about it!), which is about 45 minutes from the district capital (on a pedal bike), Karaga, where I’m working. I’ll try to snap a few pictures from village life tonight, hopefully it’ll go well! The people are very welcoming and I’m making lots of friends, the problem is that most people speak very limited English and mostly Dagbani, so explaining why I’m taking pictures might take all of my miming skills haha!

  4. Amazing post Marc! I love your writing style, it almost feels like you taking write in front of me whenever I read it.
    It’s interesting to read about the oversupply in the informal sector. Is the Ghanian government addressing the informal sector in any way? or are NGOs or Multilateral Organizations working with it? or even better, do street vendors have ways of organizing themselves already in place, such as” who sells what where”?

    Keep up the cool posts!

    • Thanks a lot Christian, I’m glad you’re enjoying it and it’s nice to hear from you! How is your summer so far my friend?

      Ok so due to the many, many NGOs working in big cities like Accra and Tamale, I believe that there must be government, NGO-supported government, or solely NGO project trying to address the issue of the informal sector. In any case, I feel like the answer is not reorganizing the informal sector, but rather finding ways to create different sources of employment for people. This means finding ways to stimulate the agricultural sector or even creating long-term changes where employment opportunities could be based on knowledge-intensive work instead of labour-intensive work. For this to happen though, I think things like education and health must also significantly improve in Ghana, which is a longer-term thing than most NGO projects…

      In Tamale, some sections of the town are more organized than others. For example, there is a place called “the cultural centre” which is bigger shops and is geared towards Western tourists. Here shops are actual permanent structures (as opposed to easily movable stands) and vendors try to send you to neighbouring shops after you have been in their store for a while. On the streets though, people seem to mostly collect themselves in clusters of similar products. From my understanding since everyone is selling similar things, it doesn’t matter where you are physically, the offer is much higher than the demand everywhere.
      I moved to a small village on Monday and things are different here too. There is a very, very small informal sector in the village itself, since most people only buy things from the district capital, Karaga, which is at about a 45 minutes bike ride. Also, I don’t think that people buy as many products here, since I think disposable income seems to be less available to everyone.

      Anyways, these are my few thoughts in response to your really interesting questions!

      Thanks for making me think!

  5. Hey Marc,

    You do have a very wonderful writing style and a unique way of describing things. Glad to know that you’re all better from malaria. Mind taking a picture of a mango tree for me when you get the chance?

    Just a quick question, how much did each mango cost? And I noticed that in your answer to the first comment, you mentioned an ‘assembly man’. What is his role?

    Keep updating!

    • Thanks a lot Lorena!

      Next time I see a mango tree, and I’m able to recognize it, I’ll surely take a picture for you!

      Each of the big mangoes you see here cost 50 peswas (50 Ghanaian cents) which is about 35 Canadian cents. They also have local varieties which are smaller and are full of fiber that stick in your teeth. For the added trouble, these ones cost about 10 peswas haha. I haven’t been able to find the 50 peswas variety in Karaga, the district where I currently am, but I’m looking forward to indulging next time I’m in Tamale!

      In rural Northern Ghana there are two different types of political authority. Their are the traditional authority (ex. chief) who are determined by lineage. One of the responsibility of the chief is that he formally owns all of the land of the community and must share it with all of the farmers.

      On the other hand, the Assembly Man is an elected local government representative for a few communities and is responsible to represent them at the District Assembly which is in the district capital, Karaga. I had the chance to attend the District Assembly last week. This is where they approve local budgets, set priorities surround Education, Agriculture, Youth, etc. Another small project of the Assembly Man is to organize spraying efforts against malaria of houses in the community. If I understand correctly, he’s responsible for many small projects of that kind!

      Even though he’s been elected, the Assembly Man is also the brother of the chief… it appears that a few families have most of the power in the community.

      Hope your summer is great!


  6. Thanks for the post Marc! I like the threads you were able to weave into the story – definitely a narrative with a lot of thought about what’s below the surface of your experiences.

    Hope you’re on the mend from malaria! If I remember at all, it tends to be a pretty bad experience at the time, but makes for an interesting story afterwards!

  7. You’ll have to teach me some more Dagbani when you’re back! That’s the language my sponsored child speaks. I picked up a missionary book on Dagbani at the guesthouse I stayed at in Tamale but it hasn’t gotten me very far in terms of communication. I was able to ask how his family was and how the crops were (the two most important things) but very little above and beyond that. Also, if you’re looking to avoid malaria pick up some Moringa leaf powder from the local witch doctor/homeopath. It’s all the rage in Ghana and really seems to help malaria victims recover quickly (among helping with a million other health ailments)! This post was so exciting for me to read! Can’t wait for more!

    • Hey Jess, no problem I’d love to teach you as much Dagbani as I’m able to learn! It’s a little tricky though, with the sounds that don’t exist in English! My Dagbani is coming along biela-biela (small-small) but hopefully it’ll be better by the end of the summer! The Assembly Man also gave me a small publication (he’s super nice!) but for now the best way to learn has been talking to young people who also speak some degree of English and then try to take notes in a notebook. We’ll see how it goes!

      To cure malaria I just took Lonart DS, a wonderful Western medicine from India for a few days and felt good to go! Hopefully my Malarone and bug net will be able to make me avoid malaria a second time, but if it doesn’t, I’ll definitely look into the Moringa leaf powder!

      Thanks for the advice and for reading, it was very nice to hear from you Jess!

      How’s the summer in Ottawa my friend?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s