Thursday, 23 December 2010

My Cooking in Ghana

17 December 2010
It started when I arrived in Bongo. I was not very experienced in cooking but liked to try my hand in the kitchen once in a while. My mother and wife, being the typically Indian women, have always been taking care to make the men in the house not to work much in the kitchen. Due to this reason, I did not feel it necessary to spend much time in the kitchen. Back in India, I had always liked cooking, because it reminded me of my chemistry classes and because I liked to know how various ingredients reacted in different media to give the final taste to the end product. I have always been criticized at home for watching too much of cookery shows. During our preparatory training in India, I heard story of one vegetarian Indian volunteer who survived his entire volunteer tenure of two years in some remote part of Africa on peanut butter sandwiches and bananas. I don’t know whether this can be true but I can't imagine myself doing that because I have realized over the time that one should have interest in the subject of food, only then one can develop interest in cooking.
My cooking took off on a full speed after coming here in Ghana as it was a do or die situation. In the first month, I could not digest the fishy smell of food which was available at the chop bars and vendors in Bongo town. I tried my best to make myself used to eating Banku and Kenke but still I don't like their taste and texture. I shall eat them only if there is no other choice. I have started liking certain local foods but certainly I won't prefer the same food at the lunch as well as dinner. I don't have any option but to cook to keep myself not remaining hungry but healthy instead and that too with supply of all the proper nutrients required by the body.
I still remember my first day in Bongo when I was dropped in Bongo by the VSO vehicle. VSO driver Issa, had shown me around the house and provided some really kind words of caution but then immediately drove away. I had not had any lunch and did not dare to go out as I had never eaten any food in the chop bar and street side till that time. Fortunately my house was equipped with gas, stove and a refrigerator. There were two volunteers who had lived in the house before for a shorter duration and had left some utensils in the house. I had given serious thought to the advise of my VSO friend Rose and I had come with ready to eat noodle packets, chivda and ladoos (both of the later are traditional Indian snacks) for my first few days of the placement. I looked at those packets and I felt that they were going to be a highly prized commodity then.
I did not venture much into the market in the initial days, as I tried to survive by miserly use of pulses, spices and ready to eat type of products brought from home. Once I had a look at them and thought that these are not going to do me any good and I have to get free from this attachment. Indian shops in Accra were 850 km away and there was no way I was going to Accra again for some months. I decided to finish those products as fast as I could so that I would be left with no option but to look for the local ingredients and start using them. Once came the day when I had no option but to go to the market and do some real shopping for the kitchen.
As I explored the narrow lanes of Bolgatanga market, I saw a variety of produce, some of it was familiar and some of it was not. After entering vegetable section, the first stall was having tomatoes, onions and ginger. “Hurray!”, I cheered in mind and afterwards by adding tomatoes and onions I could bring some life to my boring Khichadi (rice and pulses cooked together). In the next week entered in my kitchen eggs, cabbage and okra. Cooking eggs was a simple job which I had overlooked till that date. I started getting complete proteins. I had never cooked cabbage and okra before, but after a couple of consultations over the phone with my wife and VSO friend Rose, I was successful in cooking them. My decision of bringing along the cookery book proved useful in this regard. The book is titled “Cooking Made Easy for Men”, it is written in Marathi and gives recipes for various simple Indian preparations. I was invited to house of other VSO volunteers for the meals and I tried for the first time cooking for others. They liked whatever I had cooked and it triggered me to explore some more skills in the kitchen.
Each month I explored more of the market and realized that Indian cooking is possible here without having any need to go to distant city of Accra. Though for bringing real Indian taste, some spices which are not available at all here in Bolgatanga have to be purchased from Indian shops in Accra but I found that these days I can live without them. It is an important learning, which overseas volunteering imparts. It makes one innovative. My friend Jason, who is an American, has been a great inspiration to me when it comes to cooking. Being from a developed country he was not much used to the raw ingredients that are available here in the local market before. Most of the cooking in America is highly dependant not on the use of fresh produce but on the packaged goods. It becomes just a job of heating and boiling the things in the packets. But he has adjusted himself to the local produce so well that I think if somebody gives him some random ingredients, he will be able to make some delicious and healthy preparation.
There are some ingredients which are also available in India and I could make the traditional Maharashtrian recipes using them. The local fresh raw chillies are dark red in colour and very hot. They are certainly better in taste than the ones which we get in India. Most of the vegetables which we get these days in the Indian markets are cultivated with very high use of fertilizers and pesticides. While getting the high yields, Indian vegetables have lost their unique tastes and keeping quality, which new age farmers in India should seriously consider. And yes, there are spring onions available sometimes seasonally but commonly. Ambadi (Indian hemp), locally called as Bito, is a very popular vegetable here. The local Bito soup can not beat the Maharashtrian style Ambadichi Bhaji (vegetable) as far as my Indian taste goes. I downloaded its recipe from internet and could make the vegetable the way it is made at my home. It had a great taste but I felt sad because I was alone in the house and there was nobody with whom I could share the vegetable and the joy of success in making it.
I have been able to work with some other ingredients which are similar to Indian ones but not exactly the same. One is Alefu, a leafy vegetable in the family of Amaranth. It is green in color and available very cheap. It can be cooked in the same style as the local Amaranths in India. There is a gourd which is similar to bottle gourd and it is locally known as Wala. It has similar taste to the one in India. Garden eggs are not the real eggs but egg shaped orange coloured vegetable in the family of brinjal. These are bitter in taste and I don't like them at all but still have tried to cook them by removing their bitter taste by soaking in salt water, boiling in water etc. Fresh milk and milk products is not available here easily. Some Fulani herdsmen (herds-women actually) sell it in the market but looking at the way it is handled, I have avoided it till date. Milk powder and condensed milk are available commonly and many Indian sweets like Kheer, Sheera etc. are possible by use of milk made from them.
Some ingredients are not indigenous to Ghana but are important in the Indian cooking and available here in Bolgatanga, though at the higher price. These are imported from neighboring countries like Burkina Faso. Can you imagine buying 5 potatoes for Rs 66 or one bulb of garlic for Rs.33, but that is the cost we have to pay here. Speaking the subject of garlic, I recall one funny incidence that happened in the market. I was purchasing garlic when one man asked me, “why you white people like garlic so much?”, I answered jokingly, “because garlic brings out the real man in you.” The person could not get that it was joke and actually purchased garlic from the vendor. He told me further that he was going to give it to his wife so that she could add it to the soup that evening. Now coming back to the subject, as against the imported vegetables, which are not commonly eaten by the locals, the locally produced 1 kg of Sweet Potatoes can be purchased for Rs 3 and 0.3 kg of ginger for Rs.17.
Once we all Indian male volunteers were chatting together and started talking about these prices and what could be found where at the cheaper rates. It all started to sound like the talks of typical Indian housewives and we had a big laugh over the fact. Thinking of it afterwards, I can now empathize with my wife, mother and other house makers back in India about how they must be feeling and thinking when they go for shopping for the home kitchen. I think that more than improving my skills in cooking this is one more major change brought about in me by overseas volunteering.
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Saturday, 18 December 2010

Indians in Ghana

4 -11 December 2010
I don't live here in Ghana amongst Indians and have not come here with an intention to do so. Volunteering is not about living amongst your own countrymen but experiencing the real life of the host country, which you are living in. Still luckily I have got opportunity to meet so many Indians and have Indian volunteer friends that I can make some general statements about Indians in Ghana. 
The impression which majority Ghanaians carry about Indians here is that they are good traders and businessmen. Compared to businesses run by Ghanaians, certainly they are doing well. Indians are running shops, trading companies, manufacturing units, import and export firms and many types of businesses. Some Indian run business firms have been operating here since 100 years or more. Most of the Indians are concentrated in major business hubs like Accra, Kumasi, Tema and Takoradi. The population of Indians here in Ghana is approximately 3,000 as per a Government of India website on Non Resident Indians. Since it must be based on the number of people who have registered themselves at the Indian High Commission office and does not include those who have not registered themselves, actual number must be far higher than the official figure. In city like Accra, sighting of Indians is so common that if one Indian sees another Indian on the road, many times people don't even bother to smile.
Like you observe everywhere in India, there are certain communities engaged in their traditional occupations. Majority of the shop and trading firm owners are Sindhi and Gujaratis. There is a large number of Tamils engaged in the businesses like timber, borehole digging etc. Most of the skilled workers and executive class employees of the companies here are Bengalis, Telugus, Maharashtrians and north Indians. 
Most of the Ghanaians, with whom I have met, have been very respectful of Indians. Some even said that they are doing a great service to their nation by helping to develop their economy. India and Ghana have had very good ties since Ghana became independent. The presidential palace of Ghana has been built with help from India. First president of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru were good friends and both tried to take the Non Aligned Movement further. The road opposite to presidential palace is called Jawaharlal Nehru Road. Many Ghanaians know about Gandhi, at least his name and he came from India. 
Indians here live peacefully and seem to be mostly concentrating on their businesses rather than other political issues. I think, country like Ghana is so peaceful that there are very little other issues to look into. With majority Ghanaians, living their happy go lucky life and not taking much of stress to achieve the big money dream, Indians have found their niche here and doing very well as there is little business competition here. Many Indian companies like Tata Motors and Airtel are prominent here. 
There some negative points or moreover points of concern about Indians in Ghana. Ghana is considered as the friendliest country in whole of Africa. As I do not have much of experience about rest of Africa, I can surely say that people here are much friendlier than Indians. They like to smile and keep their conversations polite and lively. Talks always start here with greetings. Ghanaian society is not hierarchical as Indian society is and people cleaning the toilets can also proudly greet the super bosses in the office. 
I have not seen many Indians taking into consideration all these points and interacting with their Ghanaian employees or customers. When in an Indian shop, local helper was very polite and helpful in finding the right items, I found the shop owner unnecessarily barking at him. When I was invited in one house of an Indian, I found him speaking loudly and impolitely with his maid when she was not able to attend to him immediately because of being busy in the kitchen, while the person did not even care to move from his couch to take the water which he seemed to urgently need. I have seen some Indian customers getting very bitter and crude during bargaining, while the shop keepers and taxi drivers though initially try to maintain their coolness; do not do so after a while. 
Once I met an Indian executive who made some purely racist and bad remarks about black African people and was wondering how I have been able to live amongst them unprotected so long and moreover friends with them. When he was expressing that he also mentioned that he has been living in this country for last 4 years. He did not have any shame blundering this while he was earning his bread and butter by living here. Majority of the executives working for big corporations here live in protected bungalows with watchmen and chauffeur driven cars. They know little about the way common Ghanaians live. I wonder whether they at least care to know that. 
As against these examples, I found that some Indians have really mixed well with the local people. One shop manager whom I met has learned the local language well and has many local friends. His behaviour with his staff in the shop was very good and most of the people seemed to admire him a lot. I met one person whose son has been brought up in Ghana. His son has been given a Ghanaian name and it is their in all of his documents. I was told a story about Vic Baboo’s Café, a 70 year old establishment run by an Indian. Seeing the way its founder Vic Baboo got mixed with the local people, the local chief helped him to establish his business and encouraged him to develop it further. 
Bringing an end to this subject, I shall like to write here that being from the typical Indian middle class and having little sources of my own to go to a distant country, volunteering has proved to be a great opportunity to experience a new culture and environment. What makes me sad though is that majority of my fellow countrymen living here and some wishing to fulfil their money making dream (which is not wrong at all,) do not even try to experience it. This is something Indians coming here should remain aware of and be respectful about the local culture. Only then we can really say that Indians and Ghanaians are friends of each other.
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Azambene

12-16 December 2010
It is December and it is the month of the festivals. There is a common factor in majority of the traditional festivals around the world. Many of these festivals follow harvest season. The people celebrate the incoming of food and cash with festivals. The major festivals of Bongo are harvest festivals and Azambene, the fire festival. Harvest festival is celebrated in some parts of the district and fire festival is celebrated in Bongo town and some other nearby small villages. I did not have any opportunity of seeing harvest festival but fire festival which ended today was the one which I could witness as it was in Bongo town.
Fire Festival or Azambene marks the victory of the local Frafra tribes people over some other tribe who had tried to invade these people. The Frafra people of Bongo defended themselves using fire. They created fire torches by making bundles of wood sticks and straw to keep the enemies away. This festival is celebrated in memory of this victory on some particular day as per the local lunar calendar after the harvest is over.
The activities of the festival included various competitions such singing competition for women’s groups and dancing and drumming competition. As they were competition, most of the groups performed very well as per the local standards. The singing of the women was not at all pleasant to my urban Indian ears however. One interesting thing about the singing competition is the meaning of the songs. One group with relatively more number of older ladies sang a song which was about older times when women did not expose their bodies much, behaved properly and had plenty of children. The next group was having relatively more number of younger ladies and the instantly prepared a song which conveyed how the times have changed and how women also have to change with it. How it is good to have few children so that one could better feed them and take care of their education. This group of course got the biggest of the applauses and also won the competition.
I missed the major action as I was strongly suggested to keep away from the chaos that exists on the main road of Bongo. This is how it happens as per the information given to me. First some gun shots are fired at around 7:00 pm from the chief's place announcing the official start of the fire festival. People light the torches by firing them and start whirling them around themselves first and run after the people who are around them in order to scare them away. It goes wild as many people get drunk and then play this game. Remaining at my house I could here the noise of the crowd on the main road but I could get an idea about it must have been as I saw the small kids playing near my house running after each other with fire. Some kids also came towards me while I was standing in the verandah watching the kids playing the dangerous game. As I shouted at them, they mischievously smiled and said that they were not really going to burn me.
Next day of the event was the grand closing ceremony of the festival with the Chief's Durbar. Here Durbar does not mean the gathering of ministry of the Kings but the open ceremony where Chief or King meets general public from his territory. The program consisted of various speeches which became very boring after some time Since local assembly elections would be held in this month, the speeches sounded political. Though it was a Chief's Durbar, it was sponsored by the cell phone service MTN and in between the speeches and interludes there were MTN advert slogans. It gave the whole event more of a feel of a commercial program than a royal one.
In the interludes between speeches, there were dances and music, most of which were good. The sub-chiefs and other dignitaries were lavishly throwing money on the dancers and music groups as if it was part of their display of power and wealth. The amount which they were throwing on the dancers was very big at least in view of the volunteer living allowances we are getting here. I wondered how they have earned this money which they were extravagantly throwing away. Some of the dancers made their performances lively only when baksheesh money started coming in.
In the evening while returning to the home, I saw that suddenly the main road had became full of street side Kebab stalls and the air was full of smell of roasted meat. Having bad experience of meat in Bongo, I made my way straight to my house and cooked Alefu leaves (a type of Amaranth), while everybody else in the village was enjoying feast. Sad smile
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Traditional dance party on the road
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Drummers
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Spectator crowd
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Bongo Paramount Chief with queen mother and his servants

National Farmers' Day

3 December 2010
It is a national holiday in Ghana but this is the day on which Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) is supposed to work with their whole heart and minds. I can say that the staff of district directorate of MoFA in Bongo district did work with their whole heart and minds on that day. It is the day when the best performing farmers are awarded.
The program in Bongo district went on quite well on that day. Saadat, my friend at MoFA, took me and my VSO friend Rose to the event, which was to take place in a distant village. As I work with many people of MoFA, my presence on the day was welcomed by them and they gave me a seat in the dignitaries section, which might be a Solemiya effect (special privilege being a foreigner). The program started with prayers like most of the programs here do. Then followed the speech of the District Chief Executive, the highest political authority for the district and the Bonaaba, the traditional paramount chief of Bongo.
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Paramount Chief of Bongo delivering the speech
What followed afterwards was drumming and dancing which was not very pleasant to my ears at least. What irritated me the most during that drummers dance was the way money was offered to them as a tip. The drummers came in front of the guests and played their drums while some of the guests thumped the notes on the foreheads of the drummers. They did not seem to mind it at all about it because I think it was money after all. Because of their constant movement, the notes that were being thumped on their foreheads were falling on the ground before they could catch up. Seeing this, one of the guest tried to stick the note on the drops of the sweat of one of the drummers forehead, which I thought was the insult to the basic dignity of the person but nobody seemed to mind it.
After this drummers dance, came a dancing and singing party of local women which was little more bearable and as they were not professional, I think the group did not go much for the tips. In spite of these I should say at least I could get a proper idea about the style of traditional dance and music of Bongo District. Most of the dances involve a lot of jumping and bending in knees. Then there was competition of eating bread and tug of war. They had also arranged for women's tug of war but not many women from other communities were present to form an opponent team so it ended up with local women's team getting the prize without having to fight.
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Bread eating competition

Various farmers in the district were given prizes. The crop farmer's prize included fertilizer bags, pesticides; livestock farmers' prize included various veterinary medicines and fisherman's prize included fishing nets. The Best Farmer of the district was given a motorcycle. I was told that if one wins the prize of the Best Farmer at the regional level then one gets a tractor.

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Samples from Prize winning farmers’ crops
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Prize Distribution

The program ended with some more speeches and food which was given to some few guests. I heard the girls distributing coupons discussing with their boss whether that white man (they were talking about me) is eligible for the lunch coupon. I further heard her boss telling that he is (I was). Having eligible for plain rice with stew, a big piece of fried chicken and bottle of beer, I took the lunch pack and came back with Sadat, who further negotiated with the chop bar owner to exchange my beer bottle with that of Fanta as afternoon was just turning up and I did not feel like drinking the beer. Chop bar lady must have been very happy to do that. We had a nice chat over lunch and properly ended our Farmers' Day.
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Accra Again II

26th November to 2nd December 2010
Some more interesting things were in store for me during this visit to Accra. One was my visit to Labadi beach. It is a public beach in Accra but the entry to the beach is regulated and they have put an entry fee. The beach is nothing special but it was an opportunity to chill out and enjoy the sea. As it was Sunday, it was bit crowded. First time I was entering on a public beach in a foreign country and the scene in front of me was the one never seen before on public beaches in India. It was the huge number of girls and women clad in minis and swimming suits, showing their bare skins. After some time however the eyes got used to it.
Most of the crowd was local youths with some Europeans, Chinese and Arabs (commonly stamped as Lebanese as majority of them are). They could be prominently spotted even from the distance amongst the majority black coloured crowd because of their very fair coloured skins.
Majority of the people were busy sitting at the beach side bars and enjoying their beers and kebabs. A part of the crowd had ventured in the waters and was enjoying the waves. Some were having surfing boards. Three of us went into the sea and enjoyed the waves while the remaining who were not enthusiastic enough to enter into the water had to take care of our clothes. When we came out of the water, we had a hard time finding a bathroom for shower but we did after some time. They were offering a bucket of water and bathrooms having no doors. Two people were going in one bathroom at a time and most of the people were bathing completely naked. I was feeling very awkward but then I entered one bathroom after the guys in that bathroom finished their bath, I started showering by keeping my underwear on. While I was showering, one person came in and stripped himself naked and started bathing, while doing that he was speaking with me very naturally and was asking me which country I was from etc. After a while, I think I got used to it and did not feel much awkward but still I can't imagine stripping myself naked in the public bathroom and having bath in presence of a complete stranger.
The evening was starting to set in and the sunlight started disappearing. We had beer and popcorns while they started to play loud music at one of the bars and it seemed that there was an open and wild party with all the drunk youth around. Some cheap looking heavy sized women came near us and tried to strike a conversation and pull some of us for the dancing. Many couples were engaged in the kissing and fondling in the open. While all this was happening, a family was still seating there. The husband and wife were engaged in the kissing while the two kids were seating there and eating their popcorns watching the wild dancing party. I have a no way of approving the behaviour of that couple taking their kids at a wild beach party and engaging themselves in sexually provocative acts in front of their very young kids. I felt frustrated that I had no way of expressing my concerns to them as it was none of my business to tell them how they should behave.
I had liked the way I have found Ghanaians were behaving publicly. The attitude towards sex is certainly far more open here compared to India and people easily engage in premarital sex. Advances towards opposite sex are also easily made and women are certainly not shy. In spite of all these, one thing which I always appreciate here, even in city like Accra, is that people never make a public display of their love. Rarely have I seen here couples walking together with even their hands clasped together. I like the fact that these people know what is to be done in private is not to be displayed publicly. It was a great disappointment after seeing this all. But I think now while writing about it, that it was surely an exception and it proves the rule.
Another such delirious place, which I visited during this visit to Accra, was Makola market. I was suggested by a number of people being an Obruni (white man in twi language), I should not venture much in the market and especially narrow lanes. I could not follow those advises, once I reached this frantic, crowded and exciting place. Makola is the biggest market place in Accra and it is the place where most of the local people go shopping for their daily needs. After reaching there, I saw many Chinese and Arab faces. I also spotted a south Indian couple with a small kid walking around the market doing window shopping and bargaining with the vegetable vendors. I could not laugh out loud in the public on those advises.
I had gone there in search of Guinea fowl traders in cities. (Guineafowl is a local poultry bird found in this region.) It was a very exciting experience to find the person which I had never met before in that crowded place. It was easy for him however, as I realized later, to identify a Solemiya (white man in Gurune language) like me to spot out from the crowd. The trader was a native of Bongo district and I had contacted him in advance through a farmer. The trader was happy to receive me and hear the greetings in his own native Gurune language. They enthusiastically provided me with the information I needed. I was also happy to see the end of the value chain of the guinea fowl trade and these sturdy and noisy birds from Bongo having made their way in cramped cages on the top of the tro to the shops in narrow those lanes of this part of Makola market. I shall write about this interesting journey of Guinea fowls and its value chains later sometime.
After finishing his interview, I roamed on the streets of the market. I felt as if I was in the central market areas of Pune (Mandai) or of Mumbai (Masjid Bandar) but the scene here was far different from the one which we see in India. Here the market was dominated by women. They were selling, moving around carrying heavy loads on their heads, and of course buying and bargaining. The goods that were available ranged from grocery items, plastic goods, clothes, vegetables etc. At one section there were all kinds of weird food items ranging from pig feet to snails and to a very horrible looking smoke dried fish. (We think of them as weird, but it is an important cheap protein source for the locals.) Since I no longer get put off by the smells of these things (many thanks to Bolgatanga market), I could move around easily without any feeling of disgust. The advise,which I think, I should not have followed but followed, was about not bringing the camera. I missed it very much.
Though the visits to these places in Accra were very enjoyable, I started to feel tired. It was partly because of the heat and humid air. I think it might also be partly because of the constant company of our group of Indian friends with whom I was moving around. It made me think that I should also remain alone for a while. Have I started to like my own company because of living alone in Bongo for a long time so? May be? But the underlining factor was that I felt tired of Accra this time and decided to cut my trip short. I had planned for many other excursions this time and it included the trip to the largest artificially created body of fresh water in the world, the Lake Volta. I just did not feel like moving somehow and came back to Bongo.
I have to specially mention here that they played a good Nigerian movie in the bus this time and it did not have any witchcraft nonsense in it. “Have my taste about the films changed or am I just adjusting myself to the local situation?” a serious question to think about.

Accra Again I

26th November to 2nd December 2010
Volunteers like me, who live in the rural areas in the northern corner of Ghana, always like to grab the opportunity to go to the southern part of Ghana and especially if it is the big city like Kumasi or Accra, it is the chance not to be missed out.
It was the workshop on GSAP (Guided Self Assessment Process) for the organizations with which VSO is working. The volunteers are expected to facilitate this process at their respective placements. It was a great learning opportunity for me because I have not had any exposure to the field of organization development before.
Before I write anything about the exploration of the city, something about the workshop which I attended. First time, the workshop was conducted entirely by the volunteers and program staff of VSO were not on the role of resource persons. Aidan Cantwell, a volunteer with good experience in the organizational development process facilitated it with the help of some other volunteers. It was a really good learning experience with proper combination of group works, PowerPoint presentations and discussions which involved experience sharing. I was not very much sure before whether I am the right person to be doing organizational development work. But this workshop made us realize that it is everybody's cup of tea and if you are working in an organization, then one has to be part of its development.
Having an opportunity to go to Accra or anywhere in the south means one more thing to me and that is utilizing all the weekends for touring. We always want to save both time and money as it involves travelling over a long distance through the tiring journey on the road. Along with having fun, I also tried to use the days to explore some more aspects of my study on Shea butter and Guinea fowl and it also lead to an exciting and memorable experience. It took me to the rich and famous shopping malls of Accra and Makola, the craziest street market in whole of Ghana.
There are two famous shopping malls, where most of the rich and famous of Accra frequent. The first one I visited was Accra Shopping Mall. Compared to the shopping malls visited in Mumbai, it is small. Yes but these days I am living in the small town of Bongo in the northern corner of Ghana and not in Mumbai. After seeing the shiny displays in the shops, I started to have the same feeling, which a villager who comes to the city for the first time or at least after a long time. The glossy and rich displays with highly priced and beautifully packaged products, which I had been seeing after about 4 months started to make me envious of the volunteers living in Accra.
While searching for the range of Shea products available there, I found out that there were only two primarily synthetic products with some Shea butter added to it and there was only one locally made product which had its major ingredient Shea butter. In the country which is a major producer of Shea butter, one of the most important shopping malls, out of its 40 plus body and hair products had only one Shea based product. In the other shopping malls which I visited, the picture was not different.
One intriguing incidence happened while we were returning from Accra Shopping Mall to Rishi's house. (Rishi is an Indian volunteer friend of us who lives in Accra). We were returning by a tro tro to his house. It was late evening and there was lot of rush on the bus stop as everybody was rushing towards their homes. While I was getting in a tro tro, I found myself stuck at the small entrance as one person did not get down even after all the people in the tro tro got down, while we had started getting in. I could not give him way by getting down as another tro tro came at the side of the one in which we were getting in. While I was stuck up in this situation, I sensed that one hand had entered into my back pocket. All the cash, which I had brought, was in that pocket. I managed to take my hand back and to insert it into my back pocket. I held the fingers of the person who was trying to take the money out. The person started to call loudly that he wanted to get down and as if I was the one who was holding him to get down. I forcibly took the fingers out from my pocket and he escaped. Afterwards I could go inside properly and one person also made some space for me to sit. He told me that the person who was trying to get me stuck at the entrance was a pickpocket. He suggested me to check the pocket, which of course I did not, as I did not want to take all of my cash out in the public while in the tro. I could sense from the feel of the bunch of the notes in my pocket that the pickpocket was not successful in his job at all. It was a lesson for me however, so that I would keep my cash more safely, while travelling in the tro tro during the rush hours.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

NAFAC

18-21 November 2010
NAFAC means National Festival for Arts and Culture. It is an event organized by the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Culture, Government of Ghana at one of regional capital every year. This seven day event was conducted this year in the city of Tamale. Tamale is the third largest city in Ghana and is a major centre of business, culture and transport in the northern part of Ghana. It is also the capital of Northern Region. The event spread over the period of 8 days was packed with various kinds of programs throughout the day. It was a great opportunity to have a glance at the cultural kaleidoscope of the entire country at once. I visited the event on the weekend and was lucky enough to be there at the time of opening ceremony.
Officially it started on Friday 17th November with the prayers at the mosque which I could not attend but grand opening was on the next day Saturday, 18th November. The opening was with the durbar of chiefs. Paramount chiefs from various regions had congregated at the venue. All chiefs seemed to be making as best a show of their power and grandeur as they could. Asante and Fante chiefs from the southern parts of Ghana had come with their lavish cars and bright displays of Gold. The chiefs from the Northern regions were all dressed up in their finest of the smocks. After the arrival of the chiefs and after they settled on their respective places, they went in for greeting each other ceremonially. The most grand greeting ceremony was between a paramount chief from Ashanti region and a paramount chief from Northern region.
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Asante chief greeting a chief from Northern Region
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A chief from Northern part of Ghana

After this settling of the chiefs, what followed were long speeches by the ministers and officials while the general crowd was standing under the hot sun. Waiting for one and half hour proved productive because what followed was the parade of dances and drummers from various cultural groups from Ghana. One group of men from Builsa tribe wearing buffalo horns came parading the ground with their war dance. After them a group of young girls, clad in the shortest of the clothes and white coloured circular marks, came dancing. Though with minimal clothes, with their dancing and drumming it looked very natural and was certainly not looking provocative. What followed them was a church choir groups and then a dance party of Muslim women with their heads properly covered. It was a beautiful mosaic representing Ghana's ethnic and cultural diversity.
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Builsa War Dancers
The evening program was a competition of various choir groups. It became boring after some time as some of the groups were really very discordant and it made us leave very early.
The next day was exciting because of the football match between Tamale Youth Club and a team called Berekum Arsenal which had come from southern part of Ghana. In Ghana, the game of football is taken as seriously as the game of Cricket in India. When we reached the stadium, we were late and Tamale team was on the verge of loosing on its home ground. The crowd was angry and very loud. It was no use after all as the Tamale team lost. When the the players were leaving the ground, the people threw the water sachets at them expressing their angers and some were thrown also at the police. The police did not do anything however and nothing serious happened afterwards. It signified to me again that Ghana is really a peaceful country.
What I liked the most, more than the football match was the stadium in Tamale. It has been built with the assistance of the Chinese. It has been well maintained and has a football ground surrounded by a very good athletics track. It also had a big digital display board. All this in the city of just 300,000 residents. I wonder how many cities in India with that population have such facilities. Mumbai which boasts a population of 9,000,000 people, has only one such stadium. I am envious of Tamale for this reason.
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Football match at Tamale Stadium
The evening of the day was full of high life dance and music. First some information about High Life. High Life is a form of music which was evolved by the musicians from Ghana. It is a hybrid of western popular music and the traditional West African dancing and drumming. It evolved in the late 50’ –70’ when the Ghanaian musicians were exposed to the western popular music. As this genre of music has its root in Ghana, the people here are very proud about it. These days it has turned itself into a new genre called Hiplife, which also mixes in rap, rock and hip hop dancing.
It was an interregional competition and as they were waiting for the teams from the various regions to register themselves for the competition, it started late. It was fun to watch these dances. Each team consisted of a couple, man and woman. All the teams were wearing the traditional clothes of their respective regions. At the time of elimination for the final round, it was found that the Northern region, the host region was the fourth. The decision of their elimination was reversed and they were given the chance to dance in the final round and they were ranked on third position in the final round. The couple from the Brong Ahafo region who lost their position were very angry and were arguing with the program anchors. Suddenly they started the music and every couple was told to start the dance again in the celebration of the results. The angry couple had to again put on their smiling face and start dancing. As a spectator, it was very funny to watch them, but I think they were dancing better than the couple who took their position and the decision was biased. The first two positions were certainly beyond all these and performed superbly.
It was 10:30 in the night and all of my friends had left early for the house as they felt tired. While in Ghana, we have always been advised of not venturing out in the towns alone in the night. I have been following this advise strictly except this time. I walked alone to my friends' Raj's house. Unlike the southern cities of south ie Accra and Kumasi, Tamale is such a city that I have never felt unsafe here. I walked on the road as if I was walking in my home suburb of Vileparle (Mumbai). There were not many people around but I did not feel scared about it at all. While I was walking it occurred to me that I never ventured into walking at this time on the road near to my house in Pune because I never felt secure ("Pune is considered to be the cultural capital and a very peaceful city in the state of Maharashtra").
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Friday, 26 November 2010

Not Made in Ghana

07- 17 November 2010
If you go to a bigger grocery shop to find biscuits, one can find those made in Germany, Turkey, Czech Republic, China and India. There are only a few local Ghanaian brands. I like a local Ghanaian brand of biscuits called Milk and Malt because it is available everywhere and less costly. I prefer these biscuits because they are locally prepared so there is more guarantee of control over its quality. It is also to patronize the local product. Once I went to a grocery shop in Bongo where I frequently go to buy them in larger numbers so that I could keep them in store at the house and have them as and when needed. Then the lady in the shop without telling me anything gave me a pack of biscuits which was manufactured in India but imported in Ghana by a Singaporean company. The name and packaging was different but in small letters there was written Milk and Malt Biscuits.
This same shop, which is only of its kind in the small town of Bongo, stocks up rice from Thailand and Vietnam, palm oil produced in Indonesia, vermicelli made in Italy, ready to eat noodles manufactured in Nigeria, wines brewed in Spain, mosquito coils from China and match sticks made in India. I feel amazed many times by the number of countries from which the products are coming here. Visit to the only supermarket in Bolgatanga, which is frequented only by local rich and Solemiya (foreigners) like us, can give sightings of more international range of products not commonly used by general class of locals. There is Cheese from Morocco, beef from Brazil, Green Peas packed in Italy, luxury soaps from various European countries, perfumes from France, and Whiskey from India. For sure variety of products and possibility of getting them as and when needed is greater in India. But I have never seen common grocery shops in India to be full of products made in such exotic locations across the world.
Visit any supermarket in Ghana and you will come to know about how this process of globalisation affecting the local economies. Ghana is one of world's most important producer of Cocoa. I heard about one local brand of chocolate and asked the staff of the shop for it. He took me to the shelf where chocolates of various brands were kept. The brand which I was searching for was not there but there were other chocolates which were made in places like UAE and Germany. I don't know whether these chocolate makers procure their cocoa from Ghana. I purchased one pack of dried grated coconut from the shop so that I could use it in my cooking. The pack said that it was produced in UK from the high quality coconuts purchased in Cote d'Ivoire. The coconuts from this neighbouring country of Ghana were being shipped to UK and after getting processed they were coming back to this same part of the world. Pine apples are produced locally in Ghana but I still can not figure out why the only pine apple jam available in that shop was the one produced in the Netherlands. I sometimes feel like still I am in that age of colonization, where Indian cotton was getting processed into yarn in the mills of Manchester to be sold back in India as cloth and in the age where American states and Great Britain were fighting amongst themselves over the fate of Indian tea.
Chinese products are almost everywhere and in every sector. Nobody can give guarantee for the life of these products. People just look at the lower price of these products are available and purchase it. Tube lights, torches, toys, toffees, the list of words rhymes well but try to buy any of these products in the markets of Ghana and you will find them always Chinese. Nobody seems to know how long will it last and whether it can be used at least once after purchase. In the northern part of Ghana, where people as well as their public transportation system is very poor, motorbikes are becoming very popular and I found Chinese motorbikes being sold here at such a low cost that I could not have imagined in India. People buy them even if they complain about its unsuitability to the dirt roads and need for frequent repairs shortly after purchase. Once while travelling to Kumasi from Accra, our bus broke down and people started complaining about the bus being of Chinese make.
I feel that surely it is newer age of colonization. The players with some exception are the same but the rules of the game have changed. The countries are independent and there is no slavery or bonded labor existent these days but still deprivation of the people and their rights is being continued but this time with the consent of the people who are in power in those deprived countries. The African countries are trapped in the cycle of aid. There are distressed conditions due to anarchy, natural disasters or droughts. To recover from these conditions comes the aid from the developed countries which induces corruption and mentality of begging for more money. In return they give rights over trade and natural resources and lose their control over their own economy. Most of the local industries which have been based on use of local resources and traditional older concepts of living life, are losing with the advent of western influence on the culture. To large extent this is also true for India but we have been able to adapt ourselves very well to these new changes. I started thinking that trade has been in our traditions. This does not holds true for majority of the Sub Saharan African countries.
There are some countries like Ghana who are performing better in terms of good governance and stable democratic systems compared to other African countries. There are some countries which have improved in terms of economic conditions and reduction of poverty. Still unlike India, overall picture of the continent, including Ghana, does not really give a sense of prosperity coming to the local people through the local resources and the local industries.
In Ghanaian economy it seems that "Not Made in Ghana" rules.
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Saturday, 13 November 2010

Colorful Sirigu

06 November 2010
Sirigu is a small village in a corner of the Upper East Region of Ghana. This corner of Ghana formed by two districts Bongo and Kassena Nankana is famous for the traditional arts and crafts. Villages in Bongo are famous for their leather work and weaved products from straw whereas villages near Sirigu are famous for pottery. The village of Sirigu has also one more specialty and that is painted houses.
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We visited one NGO called Sirigu Women's Pottery Association (SWOPA). Unlike India, where pottery is a male dominated business, women are engaged in pottery here. This NGO, started by a local teacher to promote local art and support the artisans, has done very good work here. We were received by the campus manager Madam Francesca. This humble lady introduced us to the local art and also the activities of the organization. SWOPA has a beautiful campus and guest house for tourists. The campus and the guest house are designed like a traditional homestead found in this part of Ghana. All the walls in their campus are painted with traditional designs and bright colours. One can stay here and also learn the local painting and pottery. The place is promoted these days by the Ghana Tourist Board. UN Secretary general Kofi Annan has also visited this place once.
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Colorful Campus of SWOPA

The shop at SWOPA has very good collection of fine traditional pottery and paintings found in the area. There are pots used for storing grains and spices. Some pots are used for keeping bad spirits away and called as Juju pots. Women are trained here in new designs as well and some of them are producing fine pottery and clay sculptures. Some of the women work in groups by maintaining their fire kilns in groups. The shop is one of the selling outlet for them though many of them also sell their pottery in the local markets.

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Traditional Painting
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Sculptures and Pottery in Clay
Sirigu has houses which are painted using traditional designs and paints. The structure of the traditional houses is also unique to this area. After coming to know about this uniqueness, people started to come to this place and started taking pictures of the houses and the people. They also tried to enter into the houses of the people. This created a tension between the tourists and the villagers. SWOPA has tried to organize the tourist circuit in the village by providing guided tours. These also help in supporting the house owners who have kept these traditions alive.
We visited one traditional house in the village. The structure of these traditional house came into existence when the villages in this part of the country were raided by the neighboring Kingdoms for capturing slaves. The houses are built using mud but the structure is like cave. There is very small entrance to the house where only one person can enter into the house at a time. The entrance could be protected from inside and the people could attack the invaders trying to enter into the house from inside using spears. There are two rooms constructed in the house and the inner room is connected to the main room by only one entrance which is similar to the main entrance. The whole structure has only one opening for the ventilation and light near the roof and in the time of emergencies it could also be closed.
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The Traditional House

Visit to Sirigu was very informative and completely free of hassles and haggles, compared to our previous visit to Paga. We were really happy to visit the place and it is worth recommending to anybody who is visiting this part of Ghana.
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Diwali at Bolgatanga

05 November 2010
Diwali in India means a lot. It is not just a festival of lights. It is the change of season from receding rains in the October heat to the cool winters of November. It is the start of the agricultural harvests and forthcoming prosperity. It is the gathering of family members. In different regions of India there are different festivals which are considered as major festivals. In Konkan it is Ganeshotsava, in Gujarat and West Bengal, it is Navratri and in the southern parts, it is Pongal which take first place but what is common is Diwali has an important place in the people's hearts all across India. "India is not just a country but it is a sub continent", I remind people when they want to know more about India from me. There is diversity in cultures, languages, food, clothes and there are lot of commonalities as well. Diwali is one of them.
Our dear friend Rahul has always been wonderful when it comes to bringing Indian VSO guys together. He always comes up with some ideas and infects us, of course in positive way. He suggested to get together again at the time of Diwali for touring the northern part of Ghana and also celebrating the festival. There was no question of disagreeing to this infectious but enjoyable proposal. But this time we decided that we should not keep this limited within our small Indian gang but also include all the other VSO friends in our celebrations.
Normally in India, giving a party means, one has to arrange all the food and drinks for all the guests coming for it. It was not possible to prepare food for all the guests we wanted see on the occasion because of the the limited resources we were having here. We decided to take the typical western approach to the celebrations this time. Everybody was supposed to bring something of his own and then share it with others. It is also called as Pot-luck.
Here again I was a self proclaimed event manager. I sent invitations to all the VSO people, conducted meetings with our team members about the activities to be done, contribution amount to be taken from the members, menu for the evening and activities to be done. Then came the collection of contributions from the team members and shopping for necessary items. It was celebrated at the house of our Indian friend Rose. She shares her house with two other girls from UK, Vic and Rachel. Both readily agreed for using their house for the celebrations. Rahul did the hard work of finding fire crackers in Accra but did not find them. We were disappointed with it as Diwali without fire crackers is something unheard of these days in India. I have always wondered how and when this Chinese custom of burning fire crackers was fused with this Indian festival but till date I have not found any answer to it.
Having done the preparatory steps, it was now the job of starting the actual work for the celebrations. On the day we divided ourselves in teams. Ketan and Rose formed the kitchen sub group and I and Rahul formed the cleaning and decoration sub group. As Raj had fallen ill he retired to take rest for the day but later took the job of photographer in the evening. We changed the sitting arrangement by keeping some mattresses on the floor and getting our shoes out. The guests who had come did not mind to get their shoes off and sit on the floor. In fact some of them with their training in Yoga could also sit in the Indian style, which we do not see commonly in people of other nationalities.
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Cleaning the house

Rahul with his skill in drawing, drew beautiful Rangoli, but not with sand as we do in India but with the chalks. It was still very good. When Rahul was drawing it, Rose and Ketan stopped working in kitchen due to their curiosity and joined us. They lagged behind on work in kitchen. Vic and Rachel also helped us with blowing balloons and helping us in the kitchen. To our surprise Vic could also roll the Pooris. But still we were working behind schedule. People started arriving as per given time of 18:30 and started asking about the time we were going to start. I had to smile sheepishly and tell them that, as we were celebrating Indian festival we are following Indian Standard Time which is always about an hour behind the schedule. Our last minute idea of serving drink made from fruit juice powder came to our rescue as people were engaged with drinking and conversations. When we were ready, we started waiting for our Ghanaian friends to come. It was the combination of Indian Standard Time with Ghana May be Time. Luckily some of them were living near Rose's houses and Rose just went there and brought them. I hope she did not drag them out.

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Rahul’s beautiful Rangoli drawing

Then we lighted the lamps. Not oil lamps like India but candles which we had placed near Rangoli. In order to involve everybody in the activity, everybody was told to light one candle. Luckily there was not much of wind outside and candles burnt steadily making the outdoors very beautiful.

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Lighted Outdoors

Everybody was requested to take their food afterwards. We had requested people not to bring any alcoholic drink and not to bring anything with beef in order to follow Indian traditions. To our surprise some people had brought food which was made using Indian spice mixtures like Madras Curry Powder and Garam Masala. That was a realization of how Indian style of food has made its presence at the global level. The taste of all these dishes was really good. We could really see the fusion of Indian cuisine with western and African cuisine. With Pot luck we could taste Indian, western and African cuisine at one place. Our group had made Poori (deep fried flat bread made from unfermented dough of wheat flour), Rassa Bhaji (vegetable stew with Potatoes, tomatoes and onions) and Kheer (dessert made from rice and milk). After some debate amongst ourselves, Rassa Bhaji was done less spicy and Kheer was made less sweet to suite the western palette. Kheer was very much liked by all the guests. All of them were calling it Rice pudding. One special mention about the Tablets. Rachel, Rose’s house mate is Scottish and she had made them. These are extremely sweet quadrangle shaped solid pieces made from milk and sugar. I recalled the Sakhari Pedha which is sold in villages of Maharashtra after eating them. She told that it is uniquely Scottish preparation. It made me wonder how the taste could be so similar when there is no official or unofficial connection between the Indian state of Maharashtra and British country of Scotland.
 
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The Potluck
After eating food, it was the turn for the next activity. We had discussed a lot about arranging some dance but nobody from our group was good at it. We first tried to take some practice sessions amongst ourselves but did not agree on what to do. Finally Rose and me decided to give it a go at once but still we were not sure about how to dance. She told me to lead the dance and teach others to which I agreed even when I was not really sure how was I going to do it. We started to play the famous song Nimbooda and called everybody to join. Somehow when it started I recalled some dance steps which we had practised in my native village in Konkan and I taught them to the people who had joined. Finally it resulted into a heady mixture with a Gujarati song from a Hindi film with Konkani dance steps. It was a kind of Indian national integration at the party of international volunteers.
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Dance Full On
When the party was getting over, I should mention here that guests also helped us with cleaning the house and washing the dishes which rarely happens in India. The crux of the whole event was that we had fun in an Indian way.
Two days afterwards, our Indian group was climbing Bongo hill (popularly called as Bongo Rock). It was the day of Bhaubeej (Hindi- Bhaiduj), when everybody in my family had gathered at my aunts place. They called me to wish me for Diwali. They were asking me whether I missed Diwali in India. I answered that I missed it. But a second thought came to my mind, which I did not convey it to them. Will I miss this international Diwali next year when I shall be back home? The answer might be yes.
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Paga

04 November 2010
After seeing plenty of kobs, warthogs and baboons, it was the turn of the scaly crocodiles to give a sighting to us. The town of Paga is famous all over Ghana for its crocodile ponds and as an important exit point from Ghana. (Or entry point to Ghana, it depends on the place from where you are looking at it.) It is a major tourist attraction in the Upper East Region. I was really eager to see this place for a long time after coming here but somehow, the occasion to visit this place did not come till our northern Ghana tour. This small town lies on the northern boundary of Ghana with Burkina Faso.
Our first destination was Pikworo slave camp. Pikworo is the name of the place where slave traders camped during their trail from Mali and Burkina to the ports in the southern part of Ghana. This particular place was selected as a camping site because of a presence of a perennial spring in the rocks. Apart from the spring, camp has some bowls carved in the stone to be used by the slaves, an entertainment area for the slaves where a big rock is used as a drum and some stones are stroked on it. It creates some sounds (which were certainly not pleasant to our ears). There is also a high rock used for keeping watch on slaves and the surrounding areas. There is also a punishment rock. The place was in use from 1700s to 1845 till slave trade was officially stopped by the British.
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Entertainment rock at the slave camp
Southern part of Burkina Faso and northern part of Ghana was the main part where slave raiders captured people and sold them to the Arab lands in the North and European traders based at the ports in the south. This area has poor agriculture and lacks other natural resources. The area has always been poor. The people in this area could not fight with the Kingdoms from the North like Mali Kingdom and southern Kingdoms of Asante and Dagomba. There were people who were ready to buy live human beings in exchange of salts, grains and gun powder, latter to catch more people as slaves. The visit to this place gives an insight into the slave trade which was carried for many centuries and created a larger picture of slave trade, which we had got after visiting Cape Coast Castle.
The picture these days is somewhat changed for these areas. The slavery no longer exists but the people of the region are still very poor. Youths from this area migrate to the southern cities and end up working on meagre or no payments at all. Some try to go to the oil rich northern lands of Libya and Algeria and many of them end up being looted by the people in the Sahara Desert or end up as bonded labour after reaching. Hunger which can come in their lives any time compels them to take those risks.
After getting a feel of this slave trade, we moved on to the next place. It was a pond full of crocodiles. They were not visible there anywhere when we reached there. There was a hut where some people were sitting. After paying the fees and paying for the chicken, we were ready for the crocodile show. The people at the pond told us that there are almost 200 crocodiles in the pond. It was difficult to believe this fact as the pond seemed to be very small and if it had so many crocodiles at once then certainly there would be a survival crisis for them as it should have that much of aquatic life for them.
What these people do with the crocodiles and tourists is as follows. They take a live chicken in hand and go near the pond. They make the chicken scream and hearing that sound crocodiles come on the bank. They stand in front of the largest of the crocodiles and drive other smaller bunch away by beating them with sticks. The crocodile which remains keeps on looking at the lure of the chicken which is in the hand of the man and remains steady. Till that time people can go behind that crocodile and hold its tale. Sometimes one can also sit on their backs. After the photo sessions and touching activity, chicken is thrown near the mouth of the crocodile which it catches and swallows in a flash. The game gets over.
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Holding the tale of Crocodile
It is really an exciting experience if you do not believe in cruelty towards animals. My emotions were mixed when all this was happening. I was excited by seeing and getting so close to the animal which we fear so much and at the some time there was a kind of disgust because of the death cry of the chicken used for creating a live show for human entertainment.
Then we moved on to the border. I had a fixed image of land borders in mind. Having seen on television the land borders between India and Pakistan, I always thought that land borders are tightly protected with presence of military forces. What we actually saw here was something which gave us a feel of custom check post or simple toll gate. There were offices of customs and the immigration services on the border and the road was closed by putting a gate on the border and fence on the sides. Huge cargo trucks stopped at the gate and then after getting clearance, passed further. There was a structures erected at the gate but with its faded blue colour and dust accumulated on its wall, it gave an impression of a toll gate somehow. (I got reminded of the dusty toll structures in Mumbai after seeing this one). Across the gate there is a no man's land for about 800 m and then there is an entry point for Burkina Faso. Since we had not brought our passports with us we did not try to venture beyond this exit point. But local people were just crossing it as if it was a general check post. For people, who were walking or going on motorbikes, there was no check at all.
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Border Post at Paga

While walking on the streets, we were attracting attention of the people in the street, as we all were wearing IVO (I Volunteer Overseas, the VSO-MITRA venture in India) T- shirts. But I think the people in Paga are accustomed to foreigners so much that very few people came forward to speak to us. Along with English, many people were also speaking in French. On the street, there was a big group of Fulani herdsmen who were dressed in beautiful bright clothes. They greeted us "Bon Jour" which means "good day" in French. While we were taking photographs of the border gate, one man came towards us talking loudly in French. As we did not understand anything, he went away laughing. Walking in the scorching heat of the afternoon made us tired and we started our journey back.

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The iVO (I volunteer Overseas- VSO’s India unit) Gang on the streets of Paga (From left to right- Sachin, Rose, Rahul and Ketan. Raj is missing because he was taking the photograph)
Before ending this post some words on the business of cashing in on the tourists at Paga. There are three tourist attraction in this town and all of them charge very high fees to the foreigners. It is all in the name of keeping history and traditions alive. Slave camp did not have any official rate card with them. They started to tell us that there is separate camera fee after starting the tour and we need to pay some tip to the people who played on the entertainment stone of the slaves when we reached that point. At the Crocodile Pond they tried to sale us a chicken for 8.00 cedis which in the market could have been only 4.00 cedis. Fortunately our Indian skills of bargaining helped us to get through and instead of paying a big sum, we could manage within a lesser sum, which was still very costly. The people at the pond were complaining to us that larger crocodiles did not come out because we did not give them enough money. I also have to mention here that these crocodiles are considered as sacred by the local people but it is a thriving tourist business using this sacred animals. As we personally do not believe in the sacredness of the crocodiles it was okay for us to hold their tales and getting photographed.
The taxi driver whom we requested to take us for the detour to slave camp also tried to gain some extra cash from us by taking us to crocodile pond without asking us. As the place is not organized properly in the form a tourist circuit people are after fast cash. There is not much of maintenance and structural improvement at the crocodile pond and 500 m of road to the pond is still poor. They must be getting good sum of the money from the tourists which is not going into the development of the place for sure. Due to these reasons we dropped our plan to visit chief's palace as apart from the entrance fees and they might have started asking for some donations.
Having said these words, I now end this post.
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Thursday, 11 November 2010

Mole and around: Part III

03 November 2010
I was very much impressed by the location of the Mole Motel and access to free wild life it offers. It also has a swimming pool. But the cost is something which is prohibitive for the volunteer allowances we are getting. We had to leave this beautiful place on the second day. As I had missed the morning walking safari on the previous day, I decided to do it before leaving. I was not very keen on seeing Larabanga Mosque because of the bad reviews and experiences which I read in the guidebook and heard from the people around but our group members wanted to see it so we decided to give it a go.
In the morning walk safari, our group included a group of 4 Dutch women, a Japanese girl, a Belgian girl and me. We were very lucky to see kobs and bush bucks from very near. We saw so many of them that we got bored of seeing them after some time. On the way back we could see a big colony of baboons. Babies of baboons, unlike other monkey babies, instead of holding their mother's bellies from downside, sit on their back. It was very funny to watch them. Near the staff quarters, we came across a big pile of rubbish and we saw many warthogs happily scavenging there. Warthogs are from the family of pigs so I think it was natural for them to be there but I lost interest in that creature after seeing the scene. In the morning as well we could see the browsing done by the elephants and heaps of their dungs but there was no sighting of them anywhere. We were told that it was their season of mating and they do not like to remain near human beings during that time. Like us they also like to maintain their privacy it seems. For the first time after coming to Ghana, I got the bites of Tse Tse flies and Oncho flies. Tse Tse flies are infamous for their ability to spread sleeping sickness and Oncho flies are infamous for spreading Onchocerciasis. Apart from the small swellings, nothing serious happened after the bites. We were told that one needs to bitten by a large number of flies and that too repetitively for some consecutive days, to get the disease.
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Colony of Baboons
The walk became boring after some time and I chatted with the Japanese girl for sometime. She was doing her field research in Tamale and was studying in a University in the Netherlands. She had lived in Delhi for two- three months as part of some exchange programme and had liked the Indian food. I asked whether she knew about Masanobu Fukuoka, and to my disappointment she had never heard his name. Fukuoka is Japanese farmer and considered as the pioneer in the development of concepts of natural farming. The name is very popular in the organic and natural farming movement in India.
Osman gave us information about the bus that leaves Damongo for Tamale at 14:00 hours, so we decided to go there by stopping for a while at Larabanga. We chartered a vehicle and went to Larabanga. While in the hotel we were approached by a guide from Larabanga and he told us about the history of the village and community based tourism project which they were having. I personally felt and also realised later that the whole thing is based on not providing proper information and just cashing in on the tourists coming to the Mole Park.
One guide just joined us in the vehicle without taking any formal permission and started to claim that he was a volunteer in the village tourism committee. They help to build the village infrastructure and schools in the village which they are getting through tourist fees. They charged us a viewing fee for the mosque. Being non Muslim, we were not allowed to enter the mosque but saw it from the outside. Had we been Muslims, he was ready to have some discussions on religion and allow us the entry into the mosque. He was telling us that the mosque was built by people who came from Medina but my reading on history of the country had told me that Islam was introduced in Ghana by the Sudanese missionaries. Wherever they went in the western part of the Sub Saharan Africa they promoted building this Mud and Stick type of structures for the mosques, which is very peculiar to them. Then they told us about the viewing fees of 4.00 GHc per person which we told them that we were told that it is only 2.00 GHc for which they later agreed. All this approach was so hypocritical that I had a feeling that it is nothing but just a tourist trap. I have to say that we saw the mud and stick type of Mosque in Africa which I might not get the chance to see during the rest of the period I would be in Ghana.
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Mud and Stick Mosque at Larabanga
Later we went to Damongo and waited for the Metro Mass Bus for Tamale which was supposed to come there by 13:00. While we were waiting, we sat near one shop for some time. Unlike other parts of Ghana where we would have got a lot of attention from locals, we got plain blank looks from the villagers. Was this due to predominantly Muslim population in this town? Does Islam make people so serious and cautious about the strangers? These were the questions which came to my mind. While waiting for the bus, Ketan tried to take a picture of the women who were pounding some dough. There were 4 women who had a very good co-ordination amongst themselves. But as one of the woman saw the camera directed towards them, the younger of the lot came near us and told him that he should take permission before taking picture. I think they were right. The woman did not stop after saying that however and checked Ketan's camera to see if the picture was really taken. It was not there. Poor Ketan ended up taking a photograph of a dirty duckling on the street.
We waited for the bus from 11:00 to 14:00 and eating oranges, munching groundnuts, drinking water from the sachets, when one private bus started taking in passengers. While on the road, Metro Mass Bus from Damongo passed in the direction of Damongo. Our bus stopped at many places collecting and dropping passengers. The metro mass bus which started from Damongo very late, overtook our bus when we were near Tamale. As it did not have many passengers on the way to take or drop, it came very fast.
After getting down at Tamale, we went to Mike's, a Lebanese restaurant and I fulfilled my wish to eat Lebanese food in a Lebanese run restaurant. I ate delicious Babaganoosh with Lebanese Bread. Babaganoosh is a lightly spiced mixture of chickpeas and egg plants mashed and mixed together with a dressing of Olive Oil. Lebanese bread is just like roasted Chapati except that it was very fluffy. It was the end of the first leg of our Northern Ghana tour.
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