Saturday, 31 July 2010

Unexpected Indians

24-25 July 2010
After spending the Saturday cleaning the house I decided to spend Sunday by exploring Bolgatanga on my own. Till date I always had somebody accompanying me while I went around Bolgatanga or even while I was in Accra. Cherith (from UK) helped us as she accompanied us from Accra to Bolgatanga. Jason (from Canada) accompanied me and took me to the VSO office in Bolgatanga when I first decided to go there from Bongo. Rose (from India) along with Aidan and Better (from Ghana) helped me to do shopping. Richard (from Uganda) helped me to find a taxi back to Bongo when I got stuck up in Bolgatanga. I mentioned their names because I am really grateful to all of them. Being a first timer in another country and culture, they helped me a lot. I am mentioning the countries which they come from, because it strikes to me and really touches me, that there is a representation of four different continents here and they do it out of the same intention and compassion of helping somebody.
In spite of all of the help, I thought I had started to feel that it was like becoming a small child so that every time somebody was guiding me around. I strongly felt that it was high time that I become an adolescent in this area and start doing my own exploration and start developing the skill of getting through unknown area and people.
While I was walking on the road in Bolgatanga, a vehicle on the opposite side of the road started honking trying to catch my attention. The people were showing some signs which I could not understand. The two of the people in the vehicle were Indians. I did not expect to find any Indian here as by that time I had made an assumption that there is nothing of commercial or trade interest in Bolgatanga which can attract a typical Indian worker or trader. (I have to mention here that there is a large number of Indians in most of the major cities in Ghana. Most of them are either working as skilled personnel or managers in Indian owned companies or own small businesses mainly shops and trading firms. Majority of the Indians in Ghana, who are in business are Tamils, Sindhis and Gujaratis. Notably some of the Indian run firms are being run in the country since last 100 years.)
I crossed the road and met them. These two guys, Mani and Pradeep, work for an Indian company which is in the business of timber and scrap. Then there was brief introduction and they asked me whether I was busy. I said "no." Then they asked me whether I could come with them. I said "yes, I would like." I had an afterthought that this was not what I had planned for today and that I wanted to do everything on my own. But I had to drive the thought away as something was happening which I did not expect to happen and I had got into this experience without anybody's introduction or help.
We went to an area on the fringe of forest few kilometres outside of the town. There were many teak logs lying there on the ground. It was obvious that they were into logging activity. Their company obtains logging permits from the local forest departments. The logs are processed in a timber factory near port city of Tema and then exported to India. I was told that company also operates in scrap metal especially lead. They import dead car batteries from around the world in Tema, process the lead in it and export it to India. Presently the company is exploring and has started exploiting forest reserves in the Northern parts of the country.
Afterwards they took me to their house where I spent the day chatting with them on various subjects and viewing three Hindi movies one after the other. They had found this CD of the movie in Bolgatanga. All the movies were south Indian and were dubbed in Hindi. All the movies had single pattern, a clean uncorrupted police officer fighting the corrupt politicians by revolting against the system and then appraised by the court for doing good work before being released. (I hope somebody in India will make a movie sometime on changing the system and making it more transparent and people friendly.) There was no way I could like the movies but what I liked was the food. They have this maid servant Dora, who had prepared delicious Indian food. Mani has trained her. It was simple affair but it was a surprise to get it cooked by a local person.
They came to drop me at Bongo. While driving back, Mani told some stories about the chiefs which they have to manage. Here I shall first explain the system of rule of Chiefs present in Ghana and which called as chieftaincy. There are chiefs (and in many areas sub chiefs) who still have lot of control over the issues in the area. They control the ownership of the land and the forests in the area which falls under their control. All the people are permanent tenants of the chiefs. But interesting thing is the chiefs are selected from the community and it is not passed down from one generation to the other.
So for obtaining logging permits in the forest, Mani's company has to obtain permissions from chiefs in addition to the permissions from forest departments. Here comes the most interesting parts of the story. It is the managing of the chiefs that is important. Most of the chiefs first of all do not speak with foreigners directly and there is always a middle man in between a foreigner and the chief. Then while interacting with the chief sometimes you can't address the chief directly (these days at many places you can.) and you have to follow some manners. These manners may include that you can't sit in front of the chief or you have to gift them some Schnapps (an alcoholic drinks) and Kola nuts. After getting it correctly done you can start your discussion i.e. the sum which one has to pay to the chief for his signature on the letter giving the permission. So due to such powers, chiefs are able to provide very big houses for all of their wives. In the areas where mining operations take place, chiefs have become very rich due to such powers. But in many areas which are poor in natural resources very few people bother about chiefs and the chiefs themselves are poor living in traditional mud and thatch houses like the other people do. It seems Ghana has not been able to get rid of this feudal system even if it is making progress on many fronts especially political and economic reforms. In fact there is a central government department which deals with the chieftaincy issues.
I remember my first day in the office when I was introduced to the chief who had to come to the office for some work. I did not know how I should have behaved with the chief. But I bowed down bit more as we do in India when we meet a person with higher authority or age and then greeted him. It worked perfectly fine with him and in fact he had held my hand in his hand for quite a long time from which I could sense that he had approved of my greetings. But the main problem is I was introduced to so many people during the day. After some point they started to look all the same to me as all the men had very little hair on their heads and all were dark and wearing bright colourful clothes. Here one can't make any difference about the people, there is so much of variety in the way people dress and one can't identify a high official or a person of high traditional class or rank from the general class. So today if anybody asks me if I would be able to recognise that chief my answer would be "I am sorry but no."
Coming back to the happenings of the day, I have to say that I came back to Bongo without achieving a single outcome from my original plan but making two friends on the way. Or may be, I have achieved the outcome without following my plan fully, as had I gone there with somebody, I would not have made those friends.