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!

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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!

À travers des yeux d’enfant… [Session #1]

In Komoyaili, in my small community, there are ten students from the University of Development Studies. These students are conducting a research project. They will be spending two months in my rural community this summer, and another two next year. It’s nice to spend time with them and hear their perspective on the world. They are well-educated, speak fluent English, and have many opinions.
In Komoyaili there are many village children. Most, but not all, of these children go to the local primary school. They are able to learn when the teachers attend. A portion of them will go to junior high school, some will make it to senior high school, and a lucky selected few will be able to have access to post-secondary education. Some might even do a research project in a community like Komoayili. These children are curious, resourceful, and love-learning. Especially if it’s learning about how to use a slick, shiny, and outlandish camera…

Look at this wonderful kid, he's just done eating!

The University of Development Studies student shared a very interesting part of their research with me. More than 60% of the population in Komoayili is 17 years old or younger. As comparison, in Canada only 24% of the population is in the under 20 age group. Think about it. That’s a whole lot of cute, big-eyed children.
Life is hard in rural Ghana. Life is filled with physical labour, poor sanitation, and food lacking adequate nutrients. People laugh a lot in rural Ghana. People smile when they fall of their bicycles, get intercepted by a goat, or have been washing laundry by hand for three hours.
I think there might be a connection between the kids and the attitude.

Isn't that a wicked smile?

Hence, every Monday I’ll upload a few pictures of a child taken by another child over the weekend! Might as well share a pretty great source of happiness with you, and showcase the talent of these young photographers!
Bon début de semaine!

C’est la saison des semences…

I woke up one morning to a new sound in the village. I was not woken up by a prideful rooster singing at full lung capacity. I wasn’t hearing the famous mix of laughing and crying that is constantly produced by the mass of children in the community. Nope, I was awoken by a constant, soft, and relaxing sound. I was awoken by rain.

The rain had finally come. Farmers could start planting. The few tractors in Komoayili could be started again. Ploughing. Sowing. Weeding. Lunch at the farm. Hoes on the shoulder. Men on bicycles, wearing hats to protect themselves against the harsh Ghanaian sun. Everyone yelling Na pooné? (how is the farm?), to which people invariably answer Naaa! (fine!). Life had taken a new turn, a new twist. The rain had come.

On the way to the farm!

This gave me an opportunity. Since it was the weekend, after convincing my new friends that I was strong enough to work the land, I was able to go to the farm. There I was able to witness firsthand the elusive technology adoption process that I will be trying to understand, and possibly even influence, over the next three months in my small corner of Northern Ghana.

On Saturday I was able to witness broadcasting of groundnuts seeds. Broadcasting consists of taking handful of seeds and throwing them in various directions while walking the full area of the field. Then, the field is ploughed by a tractor to sow the fields into the ground. It’s fast, it’s satisfying, and you get a big farm. You also waste a lot of seeds since most of them won’t germinate from the planting at uneven depths and the damage from the tractor, and the seeds that aren’t planted deep enough suffer from the attacks of various animals and pests.

We planted many bowls of seeds like this!

On Sunday I row planted groundnut seeds. The process is simple. The head farmer walks around with a stick and makes holes at constant spacing and depth in his field along straight lines. Then children, myself, and the occasional adult follows and drops a seed in a hole, kicks soil on top of it with bare feet, and repeat. Repeat, repeat, repeat. For many hours. It’s hard work and you feel like you’ve planted less seeds then the farmer who is broadcasting. You also use less seeds, have an easier field to maintain for the rest of the season which will need less chemical inputs since they can be applied appropriately on rows, you plant more densely, and more seeds will germinate.

Why do farmers still use broadcasting you ask? I don’t know, why do people eat junk food, start school projects at the last minute, or don’t exercise and wait to get sick in Canada?

Back at the office and armed with my new farming experience, I still asked the question to my coworkers. I had very meaningful talks with intelligent, articulate, and passionate Agricultural Extension Agents.

Une photo de moi, à la requête de ma chère maman!

Some said that farmers don’t see their farming activities as a business. Hence, it’s very difficult for them to do a cost-benefit analysis and analyze the final profit of their farm. Even if the bigger broadcasted farm has more yields the profit is much lower. Others said that farmers prefer to have a bigger farm instead of reducing the land size since it’s more satisfying and brings more social status. Finally some mentioned that with appropriate technology like tractors to sow or money to hire more labour, everyone would row plant. All mentioned that educating and training illiterate farmers on these issues is a challenge and that they were understaffed.

I had a long conversation with Mr. Abanga, an Extension Agent, about tech adoption, Ghana, my purpose, and life in general. Pointing at the primary school in the distance, he mentioned that technology adoption should start at that level, to educate the next generation of Ghanaians. The idea, the seed, the dream to always learn more and doing things better should be sowed in these young minds. I also realized that I’m only in Ghana for a very short time. I’ll be gone before the groundnuts I planted will be harvested. I’m not here forever. Earlier in the week I was a little frustrated that I wouldn’t be able to drastically change the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in my short stay. I won’t be able to make the myriad of NGO projects always distracting the staff more efficient and have a more holistic approach. But I will plant seeds. I will plant seeds of change, ideas, and I will row-plant them to give them the best opportunity to germinate.

And finally... my small friends at the farm!

Many ideas have been planted in my mind from very brilliant, caring, and passionate Ghanaians at work and in my community Komoyaili who have very generously invested in me. I’ll try my best to take care of these precious gifts and make them create the most beautiful garden possible in Canada. I guess a farming season can last a lifetime….

L’étrange étranger est ici pour rester.

Komoayili, Karaga District, Northern Region, Ghana

The sun is setting and the sound of a motto disturbs the impromptu football game played by children on the road. Then, the silhouette of a motto appears and the driver can be seen. It is Mr. Abdulai, a well-known and respected man from Karaga with an unknown passenger. Upon further observation this unknown passenger is… a WHITE DUDE wearing a ridiculously big black shiny helmet?

WELCOMING VILLAGER: Anulla (how is the night? I hope it is fine, in Dagbani)

WHITE DUDE: Naaah (It is fine, in Dagbani)

WELCOMING VILLAGER: Akbiera (How is your sleeping place?, in Dagbani)

WHITE DUDE: Gom bièné (My sleeping place is good, P.S. my Dagbani is simply written phonetically… I don’t think that they use French accents.)

WELCOMING VILLAGER: Some more advanced Dagbani that I don’t understand (in Dagbani, of course)

WHITE DUDE: Naah?

The WELCOMING VILLAGER laughs joyfully with his surrounding friends and shakes the WHITE DUDE’s hand. The WHITE DUDE is also laughing, but appears moderately confused.

Welcome to my new life my friend, welcome. Or as we say in Northern Ghana, a marraba, to which you should answer, ngugna.

A week ago, a Monday afternoon, I moved to Komoayili. In Accra and Tamale, l realized that Ghana was different than Canada. Taxis need to avoid many farm animals on the highway, people greet each other profusely, the sun is warm, and as mentioned before… the mangoes are delicious! But, living in the guest house and then at Ben and Erin’s place (two African Program Staff), I did not feel any “culture-shock”, je n’étais pas vraiment dépaysé.

The view, as you approach the village on a motto...

Cependant, en arrivant à Komoayili, tout ça a changé. Je ne peux plus communiquer adéquatement avec les gens qui m’entourent. I cannot communicate effectively with people around me… and I make babies cry. Yup, you’ve read right, I’m so strange that I make little babies cry. (Update: I’ve figured out a way to establish common ground with these young ones. It is called the “exploding fist handshake”. Basically your traditional “pound it” with an added twist. You open your hand at the end and make the sound pewwwwwww. Winner. Every-single-time.)

See? Told you we were friends!

Even though a Martian might fit in better than me, people are really nice and I’m making friends. The welcoming (and English-speaking!) Assembly Man gave me a few rides to town on his motto before Abanga, a great co-worker gave me his bicycle for the summer. Swaélé, the Assembly Man’s son (and many other amazing village children) have been teaching me some Dgabani words that I’ve diligently been written in my notebook and reviewing every morning. Some village men have promised to bring me to the farm on Saturday. I’ve spent hours simply sitting outside with the other men under a beautiful star canopy. I’ve also showed them pictures of a dairy farm in Earlton, my family, and we’ve surfed Facebook together so that they could see more of my life.

Part of my big host family, and a glare from the hot Ghanaian sun!

Life is good. Life is slow, since we are waiting for the rain to start planting*, but life is good.

Thanks for reading and I’ll try to write more soon!

Marc-André

*Second Edit (I wish I could’ve posted this earlier, but I was waiting to have a few pictures and then internet!): Since I wrote this last Tuesday, it has started raining in Komoayili, therefore I had the chance to plant groundnuts on Saturday AND Sunday!