As you may know, a few weeks ago I moved out of the Queen Mother’s house and into a compound with my host father Amafi (more on this wonderful character here).
Making the move this late in my placement was an unusual decision, but getting to know Amafi’s mother, sister, niece, and great-nephew has been amazing so far, so I’m really happy I made the move! Moving also meant that I’m more inclined to spend weekends disconnecting from Canada (by virtue of no water or electricity in the compound) and learning a bit about village life. To paint a picture of the small slice of rural Ghana I’ve been able to see, I present to you a detailed account of my Saturday in New Ebu.
Saturday, July 30, 2011
5:53 a.m.: No longer able to ignore the singing, sporadic music, and yelling blasting through the village from the announcement center, I root through my mangled sheets and mosquito net to find my cell phone and when I do, I check the time. It’s earlier than I’d usually wake up, but I remember that I’m supposed to be heading to the farm at 7, so I reluctantly and haphazardly stumble out of my bed, slip on my trusty new 2-cedi flip-flops, and head to my Auntie Juliana’s compound (3 compounds over) to use the latrine.
6:15 a.m.: After a short walk there, a few minutes spent visiting with one of my very favorite Ghanaians, and of course a quick stop at the toilet, I’m on my way back home. As I arrive, I see Amafi’s 21-year-old niece, Rhoda, with a few buckets in her arms. “Let’s go,” she says. I nod and take a bucket, and turn around to accompany her to the tap just outside of Auntie Juliana’s compound. There’s a crowd of ladies and an assortment of buckets crowded around the tap, chatting and laughing (the ladies not the buckets). They greet Rhoda and I and are clearly amused by the obrunyi wielding a small green bucket. “Sistah Abena, memoakye,” they say to me to bid me good morning. “Ahinowa,” I respond, which is one of the common responses to greetings but, coming from me, results in laughter. “Wapomeh,” they enquire. “Eye, wosuwe” I respond again, resulting in responses saying that they are well, even more laughter, and a few congratulatory handshakes. I note that anyone wanting to learn another language should go to a village where everyone will praise your every attempt to speak the language. Serious self-esteem booster! When our buckets are full, Rhoda and I each hoist one above our heads to take back to the compound. I inevitably have a few “pre-showers” on our three trips from the tap to the compound, despite Rhoda giving me the smaller and less-full bucket.
6:35 a.m.: We’re supposed to be leaving in 25 minutes, but given that we still haven’t eaten and there are clothes being washed, I’m thinking that we’ll more likely be leaving in 25 Ghanaian minutes. I grab my toothbrush and sit on the ledge outside my room beside Rhoda’s baby, Jeff, as his mom is scrubbing some of his cute little shirts clean and hanging them on the line.
I sit with Jeff and play my favorite game with him, which consists of me looking at him and saying “Jeff Jeff!”, and then him giving me the cutest smile and laugh in the world and looking away, and then repeating this many, many times.
7:15 a.m.: Mom is finished with Jeff’s clothes so we head down the road to buy some beans with garri (cassava flakes) and fried plantains for breakfast. Yum! This is one of my favorite meals in Ghana, and should sustain me for the day’s work.
8:00 a.m.: We are finally geared up to go. Rhoda has a bucket, a machete, and a few rags in a large silver pan on her head, Auntie Kate (Rhoda’s mom) has Jeff strapped to her back, and I am carrying… nothing. It’s always a struggle trying to do work as a guest obrunyi! After we get to the end of the road in New Ebu, the path to the farm is clear for most of the way, but a few times we have to slip off our flip-flops and hold up our trousers to cross through knee-deep water. Fifteen minutes in, I step in some sticky mud and pry my slipper free, accidentally and mysteriously spraying my entire backside up to my neck with mud. Oops! I laugh it off and revel in my freedom to get completely wet and dirty today. I didn’t bring my cell-phone or i-pod, and I don’t have to look good for anyone. Bring it on!
8:25 a.m.: We arrive at the farm and I realize that I had been here before about two months ago to plant groundnuts. Coincidentally, our task today is to uproot groundnuts! This makes me smile. Rhoda shows me the process: gather up the branches of the groundnut plant, pull to uproot carefully, snap off the groundnuts that are mature enough, toss them in the bucket and discard the rest of the plant. Repeat! The task is simple enough and isn’t very strenuous, so I feel like our goal of filling two buckets before leaving should be a piece of cake.
9:30 a.m.: Half a bucket. Wow, this takes a long time. It starts to rain lightly.
10:45 a.m.: The rain lets up as we fill up one full bucket. Half-way there! The work is incredibly repetitive and I’m glad I don’t have to do it every day, but the tedious task is mindless so I’m able to relax and reflect, and occasionally look up around me and enjoy the sight of rolling hills covered in lush green foliage. Southern Ghana is beautiful!
1:10 p.m.: We finally fill up the second bucket. I feel proud of the mounds of groundnuts we’ve managed to accumulate and have a new-found appreciation for roasted peanuts! The next time I shove a handful in my mouth I’ll definitely be thinking of the farmer who must have spent many hours planting, tending, and weeding his field, until he could uproot and gather the nuts before sending them off to be roasted and shelled! Boy that’s a lot of work for a salty snack. We head back on the trail home with Jeff on Rhoda’s back, leaving Auntie Kate to finish up some weeding. I manage to convince Rhoda to let me carry the bucket of groundnuts, corn, and cocoyam leaves that we’ve gathered on my head. On the journey back, we have to take off our flip-flops to trek through the water that the rain has made slightly deeper, and I leave them off while the path is smooth. I feel more connected to the earth than ever before as I walk barefoot down a solid-dirt path with a bucket of freshly picked root vegetables balanced atop my head.
1:40 p.m.: We arrive back at the house dirty, hungry, and sweaty. The perfect time for a bath! I grab my little bathing bucket and a larger bucket full of water and take them to the bathing area, which is a small enclosed area with walls of clay and tin that covers you up to your rib-cage if you’re standing. I crouch and throw water on myself and can’t help but jump a little when the cold water hits me. I’m still warm from the walk home, so the cold water feels nice after the first shocking splashes.
2:00 p.m.: I’m bathed and squeaky clean now, so I sit with Jeff while his mom bathes before I make my “village rounds”. Living in three different places in New Ebu means having obligations! When Rhoda is out of the bath, I leave the house to greet Auntie Nanama and the Queen Mother. I eat a small bit of soup and socialize at Nanama’s house, and drink a mini bottle of Coke while I chat with the Queen Mother at her provision shop.
3:05 p.m.: I come back to the house to see that Rhoda has just finished boiling some groundnuts and maize in salt water. Yummy! I sit with her and Jeff, and we snack on our labors of the day.
3:30 p.m.: It’s time to start cooking! I’m tasked with grounding up the vegetables to make enkatse-conto, or groundnut and cocoyam leaf soup. This is one of my favorites so I grind with vigor!
4:10 p.m.: Amafi arrives home from a funeral and mock-harasses Rhoda and I for not starting dinner earlier. Oops! We offer him the maize and groundnuts as a consolation.
4:15 p.m.: Auntie Mary arrives home from a different funeral. She is Amafi and Kate’s mother, Rhoda’s grandmother, and Jeff’s great-grandmother, which I find really cool. I live with four generations! Auntie Mary is my best friend over 80 for sure; she loves laughing at me and repeatedly asking me what our neighbor’s sheep are named just to hear me say the names. Although she doesn’t speak much English, she has a really cute response of “Hello!” every time anyone says “Auntie Mary.”
4:30 p.m.: The soup is on the charcoals warming up and the cassava and plantain are on the clay stove. I go to my room to read for a bit as I wait for the cassava to boil.
5:05 p.m.: Thump. Thump. Thump. The sound of mortar on pestle signals the end of my reading time and I step out of my room to help pound fufu. Auntie Kate lets me pound as she drives, which means that I get to use my full weight to crush boiled cassava and plantain with a long scepter as her nimble hands work it into a malleable lump. Every time I drive the pestle down I am terrified of crushing her hand, but she is a fufu-master and in twenty minutes we have three large lumps of fufu.
5:30 p.m.: The soup smells excellent and is ready, so we plunk a lump of fufu in each of three bowls and pour scalding hot soup over it. I’m given an unthinkably large portion of fufu and I object as I do every day, but to no avail. I manage to eat way more than I thought possible.
6:10 p.m.: I am stuffed full, but am still craving for something… dessert! I let my family know I’m going and coming (meroko maba!) and leisurely stroll over to Nanama’s house to eat oranges that she picked for me from her farm yesterday. I sit on the bench outside the front entrance to eat it, chatting with her and Sister Ama (a.k.a. Meeneenee, a neighbor who owns my favorite sheep) and greeting people as the sun sets.
7:15 p.m.: It’s getting dark and I’m getting sleepy, so I venture back home. Auntie Mary, Auntie Kate, and Rhoda are sitting on the step outside of Auntie Mary’s room, so I squeeze between Auntie Mary and Auntie Kate. They mostly speak in Mfantse, so I don’t understand much of it, but I enjoy their company and the bright stars. I can’t find any of the constellations I usually see so I start to make up my own. “Manko,” Auntie Mary says to me suddenly. I look at her. “Manko Canada.” I laugh since I’ve heard this many times over the last few days and as my time in Ghana dwindles. Don’t go to Canada. I smile a smile that’s happy and sad. Happy to be here, sad to have to leave soon. As much as I want to go home and see everyone and everything I’ve been missing from Canada, I know the day I have to leave will be a very sad day. I say I have to go back to school, and Auntie Mary suggests that I stay and go to Abass high school instead. We laugh at the prospect, and I feel genuinely happy at being able to connect with these amazing people, despite the limited timeframe.
8:10 p.m.: I’m tired, and so is the rest of the family. “Ma bre, merekada,“–I’m tired, I’m going to sleep– I tell them, hating to have to end our conversation, but needing to on account of drooping eyelids. “Dεyε,” they respond, bidding me goodnight.
8:15 p.m.: I’m tucked into my mosquito-free fortress with my headlamp on, but lack the energy to pick up a book, so I turn it off. I quickly fall into a deep sleep, forgetting momentarily about what lies ahead and embracing the warm feelings from my good day and amazing family here in Ghana. Dεyε world!