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.
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.
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.
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…