Saturday, 25 September 2010

A Visit to Barber

20-23 September 2010
I thought I should feel like the way I did when I was in school while writing on this subject. They would give us some subjects like 'an hour at a bus stop' or 'a visit to zoo'. The language classes were the most boring those days. Now I don't feel getting bored while writing it because there are no rigid and serious faced teachers to evaluate them and give the marks. The actual experience was more exciting than writing about it. It is a visit to a barber in a small town from Africa after all and not the one from India.
After I arrived here I had not decided when I would get a haircut. I had got my hairs cut short so that I would not require cutting them immediately after arrival to Ghana. Like most of the men in India, I am used to a typical hairstyle. I used to live in Pune before coming to Ghana and though I don't like the city much, I shall definitely say that the barbers there are really good. The workers from the barber shop near to my house in Pune knew me and my hair cut so well that except for the first time, I never felt any need to tell them about how do I want my hair cut. I always rested assured on the chair and they took the control of my head for some time and did their job without any special instruction.
After arrival to Ghana however it seemed there is only one hairstyle everywhere. Every man has his head shaved and when some substantial stubble is seen on their heads, they simply head to the barbershop to clear that stubble. There is very little skill in the job and any man in the town seems to be able to do it. It is just the question of setting the shop with a chair, a mirror, electricity connection and the most essential shaving machine. That means there are barbershops on every street in the town. Unlike India where barber shops will have pictures of some Bollywood stars painted on their signboards, barbershop sign boards in Ghana has only one type of picture. You'll always find a picture of a man with short curly hairs and a small French styled beard. At the side of the face of this man there is always a picture of a shaving machine.
I think due to stiff competition in the business most of the barbers in the town seem to be either idling or operating two businesses at a time. Barbers here along with barbering (cutting of hair is called as barbering in the local English) may sell grocery, mobile phone recharge cards, fruits, vegetables etc. The barber to whom I went operates an internet café and barber shop at the same place. It makes a bit of sense in browsing the internet if you have to wait long for your turn for getting barbered ;).
During my first month in Ghana I did not require any haircut but in the second as the hair started to grow I started to become uneasy as I seldom allow them to grow much but I did let them grow for a while. In the third month however they grew so much that I got used to them. I once looked in the mirror and realized that I shall start looking like a Hippie in the next month. I decided to cut them but did not cut them for almost a month because I was not sure about the skills of the barbers in the town. I asked some other straight haired male volunteers for the best place. They answered that there is no such thing as a best place. They do it in the same way as others. I asked my Indian friend when I visited him in Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana. He answered that he gets it done in Accra, the national capital and is five hours journey from Kumasi. Accra is the only place where one can find some skilled person to get it done and they charge very high for that. When I heard these responses to my question, I decided to find my own solution to the problem.
I frequent the internet café attached to which is this barbershop. The barber there always looked clean and with smiling face. I asked the guy if he could cut my straight hair. He confidently said “yes”. When I entered his barber section, I saw that there is nothing special in the shop. There was a simple stool on which I sat and looked in the mirror. He started to run his electrical shaving machine and I could not think of any instruction with regard to the way I wanted my hair cut. I just told him to keep the hair short. He did the job with his machine by cutting hairs from side and back of the head. When it came to cutting of hairs on the upper part of the head, he was trying his best to do keep some hairs so that it will look like my earlier hairstyle. It was all being done by the same machine. The whole thing was looking very bad. I instructed him to just go ahead and cut the hair completely the way he had done at the side and back of the head.
After finishing the job I asked him whether he is capable of cutting hairs with scissors. It was a new knowledge for him that in India hairs are cut by using a scissors. I should say that he did his best though it did not turn out the way I wanted it.
Now don't tell my wife and I am not sure whether they were really genuine, but on the next day, I received complements from many women in my office for my new hair cut.


Random and Miscellaneous II

13-19 September 2010
I sometimes stay at the house of my volunteers friends, Jillian and Jason. They make a nice and hospitable couple. The road to their house is a dirt road which gets muddy when it rains, or really saying it has been always like that when rainy season started. There are always some guinea fowls that are grazing there near the road in the grasses which have grown alongside the road. When we walk on that road by getting our feet dirty as we walk in the mud trying to jump over the small puddles, guinea fowls start quacking loudly. I always feel that these creatures are laughing at us.
I never liked fruits much while in India. After coming here however I have started to eat them and have started to like them. The taste of fruits in India is just not good. It is because their lack of freshness and use of large amounts of chemicals. By freshness I mean the time the fruit has taken from reaching from the farm to the consumer. There are lot of processes involved in India so that the fruits are in right stage of ripening when they reach consumers. On the taste front, they loose a lot.
While speaking about the fruits, it occurs to me that one can not rely on the sellers here for anything. At the time of lunch, I preferred for two consecutive days to buy some bananas from the lady who operates a small stand near my office. On third day when I went there at the same time she was not there at all. I asked the neighbouring lady about her. She said that she did not know anything about her. The same is the case with the Gmebsa seller. Once I went there, there were hot freshly steamed Gmebsa available, next day when I went there same time, she was preparing fire. On the third day, she had decided not to prepare them at all and on the fourth day she had some cold ones available with her. “Whatever you are getting on the shops and street stands is a matter of pure luck or may be it is just some coincidence that they are there when you want to buy them,” I tell myself these days.
I have found out that I can mix very well with the western volunteers and have interest in the game of scrabble though right now I am faring very poor in it. One major thing I find in their culture and thinking is the distinct and strong sense of individuality. The differences in Western and Indian culture start from that point. By being in company of them I have been frequently hearing and learned about some abusive words like shit, crap, scum bag, jackass and f**k though I don't use them. The frequent use of these words in the friendly manner separates them from their real meaning. It is the same story with such words in India and I think in that respect Indians and Westerners are similar.
Life of local people in Ghana revolves around their tribal beliefs and customs. Back in India, we read many stories about tribal warfare and disputes. There is some inter-tribal rivalry existent in Ghana as well but it is mainly in a small part of the country. I came to know about some inter-tribal friendship as well. Dagare people from Upper West Region are considered as playmates of Frafra people of Upper East Region. If person of one tribe uses abusive language against person of the other tribe, the second person is not likely to be offended because they are by tradition considered as playmates. Dog meat is considered as a delicacy in both the Upper East and Upper West regions of Ghana. If a Frafra person cooks a dog and a Dagare person comes to know about it, he can just go there and take the head of the dog away. Head of the dog is considered as the most prized part of this most prized animal. It also happens vice a versa.
Since we are talking about dog meat, here is a story of a VSO volunteer in Bolgatanga and her pet dog. Whenever this volunteer took the dog on the street for the walk, people eyed the dog and always complemented her about the health of the dog and asked if she was thinking of giving it away or killing it. Once the dog was mistakenly kept lose and it went away on the street. It was hit by a large truck running speedily on the road and somebody noticed the event and ran to her to report it. By the time she went to the road, there were only some blood remains on the street. I wish all of those dog meat loving people from Upper East Region of Ghana were in Mumbai.
My neighbours had told me that they would be shifting to their new place on Wednesday. I greeted the woman on Tuesday and asked them by what time they were planning to leave and told her that I was feeling sad about their leaving this place. She told, “No, I don't know when we are leaving. We might be leaving on Friday and may be after that.” When it was Friday, I did not see any movement in the house related to packing or preparation for the departure. “Yes, I know you are following 'Ghana May be Time'. I know your favourite slogan which you people like to display everywhere, 'Who knows tomorrow'”, thought I. When I returned on Sunday after my stay at Bolgatanga for two days, the woman was still there doing her daily chores. I greeted her but did not ask her about her scheduled departure.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Random and Miscellaneous

4-12 September 2010
When I was writing my first blog post, I was in dilemma whether I should give titles to the posts. Because a title represents some central idea expressed throughout the text and whether it will be there always when I write it. After I wrote my first two posts, I found that both the posts could have a title of their own, I gave them and then finding appropriate titles for the posts became a part of the fun of writing.
For 9 consecutive days before writing this post, I was feeling the life has slowed down and nothing interesting was happening. This is partly because I got used to the life here so the initial excitement through which I was going is over. I realize it now while writing it that it might not be very exciting but things are happening anyway and they have significance. It is worth writing about them though they are random and miscellaneous.
There is a big tree on the main road in Bolgatanga opposite the site of three petrol stations which is a big nesting site for vultures. One can see many vultures in Bongo as well on a tree near lorry station. In India, majority of the people do not like them since they associate them with bad spirits. Back home they are on the verge of extinction due to a disease caused as an effect of chemical residues entering their bodies after feeding on animal carcasses and also due to the loss their habitats. Here in Ghana it seems they are having very good time however. People are not vegetarian here and butchers are welcome to open their shops anywhere. Meat waste is easily available for the vultures. Most of the meat is free from those deadly chemical residues. People do not associate them with any bad spirits but I suspect they might be liking these creatures because they are cleaning the wastes from the meat shops, which otherwise would have caused health hazards .
These days when I walk on the streets of Bongo, very few people approach me with pleas for help. Perhaps the news has spread that I am a stingy Solemiya (white man). I have learned the techniques of avoiding these types of people to some extent. I have set myself a limit on the money which should be given to beggars and the people who come across with the pleas for help. Actually after visiting the villages here, I realized that the situation is really distressed and it is really not bad to give some money to needy especially women and disabled who are likely to spend it on some food but certainly not to able bodied men because they are most likely to go immediately to nearest Pito (local alcoholic brew made from millets) bar and drain it off.
The initial joy of getting greeted by the children playing on the streets by their calls, "Solemiya welcome!" is now really fading away. There is a bunch of children who are always playing near the corner of the street of my house and they say this phrase daily after seeing me. It seems this is the only thing which they can say to me. Once on an evening one of the relatively brighter kid greeted me saying “Good Morning!". I liked that because it was something different than their usual words. I tried to correct them by telling that it was evening but they all kept on looking at me as if I was talking some alien tongue. It seems with every family having 4-5 children there is explosion of population here and young kids are everywhere on the street. For a non black like me, getting out on the street means getting prepared for hearing this phrase for so many times that you just lose its importance.
I did not expect that there will be good Community Based Organization (CBO) here after seeing the way promotional approaches are adopted by the governmental and non governmental organization in the name of participation. As part of my work I have been engaged with a very good CBO with very active, self driven and dedicated body of its members. It is the Guinea fowl Farmers Federation of Bongo District. I think they have great potential and they can really spearhead the intervention of Guinea fowl rearing in the district and also in the region. When I expected to do some field observations on the Guinea fowl farmers with the help of Agriculture department personnel, the federation people themselves came forward and took me to the field in the villages.
I had gone to Bolgatanga to access internet and I stayed at Rose's place for the night. My VSO friend Jemimah from Uganda did not know that I shall be visiting Rose. She had brought Chapati and vegetable cooked in Indian style. She said there are so many Indians in Uganda and due to them Chapati and vegetable are popular with Ugandans as well. She rolls Chapati with an empty beer bottle. I realized that I ate roti after two and half months. I told her that there is a proverb in Hindi which says if you are getting the food then your name must have been written on that food (by the God, दाने दाने पे लिखा है, खानेवाले का नाम) and though she had not made it for me, my name was written on it and I got to eat it. She told me that there is some similar proverb in her Ugandan dialect too.
As I am writing about my favourite subject of food, Gani, son of my neighbour peeked in the house and I talked with him for a while. This is not any miscellaneous thing but something which I am writing incidentally. They are going to shift to Brong Ahafo region which is far from here and culturally and geographically falls in the southern part. His father was telling me two days before how unhappy he was for his transfer since he had been living in the town for 15 years. Though he comes from Upper West Region, he has been quite attached to this place. They had planted some crops around and are now distributing some of the premature harvests to their neighbours and as a result I got some corn.
He and his wife were always very helpful to me and always watchful about the house when I was not around. I shall be losing a very good neighbour. Now I don't know if I would get any new neighbour and if I get would he be as good natured as him. I was asking the boy what did he eat throughout the day. They ate millet porridge for the breakfast and rice with fish stew for lunch. “Will you be having Fufu for the dinner?” I asked the boy as I heard the sound of pounding. “Yes, with groundnut soup,” the boy answered promptly. After two days I shall no longer hear this sound of pounding Fufu and Gani will not come to peek in the house.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Glimpses of Bongo

Traditional housing for keeping birds.

Inside a typcial rural house compound

The flowers are beautiful but this is an obnoxious parasite plant called Striga which grows on Sorghum crop.
Under The Baobab Tree

Guineafowl eggs stored in earthern pot on the Dawadawa seeds can be kept for long period. Indigenous Technical Knowhow.

Traditional storage system for grains.

Home scale processing of Shea butter, a type of vegetable cooking oil.

Writing on the wall says, "If god says yes, who can say no. Who knows tomorrow." I think it says all about the area and its people where I am living.

It is my house. It is pink in colour.

View from my house two months back, now the crops have grown very tall.

Intricately woven grass hats, a local craft.

No there is not weed between rows of millet, it is the crop of Bambara beans.

If you look closely, the woman is carrying a baby on her back while riding a motorbike behind this giant truck. It is common.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Exploring Food II

02-03 September 2010
Dawadawa- It is used as a flavouring agent in the food. It is a fruit pulp which is dried and used by adding it in small quantities to the food preparations such as rice, soups, beans etc. The smell of Dawadawa is awfully strong. The central market of Bolgatanga has a lot of stalls where Dawadawa balls are sold and the smell is everywhere in the air along with that of dry fish. So one can imagine how smelly affair is it to visit Bolgatanga market. I once ate Dawadawa Jollof rice which had good taste. They say it has some medicinal properties and the taste and smell depends on how Dawadawa is processed.
Guinea fowl meat- It is one of the tastiest meat as per the claim of the people in the northern part of Ghana. People who have migrated from northern Ghana to the south always make it a point to eat Guinea fowl meat when they come to the northern part of the country. I liked the guinea fowl meat which was served to me twice. Though I don't have much knowledge about meat, I can confidently say that the meat which they had served tasted better than any other meat which I have ever eaten till date.
Khebabs- Here Kebabs are spelled as Khebabs. They are served almost everywhere in the country but one can't say for sure that you'll get good kebabs everywhere. I had never eaten Kebabs back in India. Especially after seeing the way they make them near Bandra Railway station in Mumbai, I had made my mind that I am never going to eat them in life. On a request of a friend I took kebabs in Bongo and it was very bad experience for me. It was not cooked properly and I had good exercise of my teeth chewing the meat. I decided at that point I'll never ever eat Kebab in Ghana. The next day I went to a spot in Bolgatanga with my friend Rose and the kebabs made near that spot came highly recommended. The smell in the air was inviting so I decided to give it a try. They were juicy, lightly spiced and cooked on low charcoal fire for longer time and had really great taste. I found that the place is worth going there again just for eating Kebabs.
Sausages- They are sold on the stalls where they also sell Kebabs. These are prepared by smoking them on charcoal fire like Khebabs. Before smoking it they brush it with mixture of salt and spices. Taste is just great.
Omelets- Taste wise it is nothing special. One can find them at many street side stalls and is a cheap, safe food having easy of access when one is hungry.
Fried Plantain chips- These are thinly sliced raw plantain chips. These are similar to those available in southern India. Ghanaian chips are sliced finely and along the length of plantain and not across it so the chips are very long. These are served in lightly salted form and I found them to be tastier than the ones found in India. These are commonly sold everywhere in southern part of Ghana and not easily found in the Northern part of the country.
Palava sauce- These are made from leaves of a local leafy vegetable called Efan. The leaves are cooked by adding some fish or finely shredded meat and some other spices. They are generally eaten with some starchy substance such as cooked plantains or yams and has good taste.
Octopus and Squid- There is nothing great about the taste of these sea creatures but they can blend well with other food items in a preparation. The taste is bland and texture is rubbery. I ate squid Jollof rice in a beautiful sea side restaurant near Cape Coast castle. The squid pieces were cooked with rice. They had served once stir fried Octopus pieces at the dinner during our volunteer conference in Kumasi.
Waakye (pronounced as Wachye)- These are beans and rice cooked together. Taste is good but depends largely on what type of relishes added to it.
Yam Chips- These are fried chips sold at almost every street corner and by the moving vendors. The chips are thick in size and taste is not so great but not bad either. It is like French fries.
Beans- This is a cowpea cooked with some spices. There is something smelly added to it. Probably it is Dawadawa and some fish extract. After ordering it, as per your choice they add some relishes to it. The choice of seasoning includes Pepe (tomato, onion, garlic and ginger crushed together with sheer human force) and Shito (hot chilli pepper, fried onions and fish sauce), a red coloured palm oil with some seasoning added to it and gari (dried coarsely ground cassava). Generally it is eaten with yam chips. The whole thing is surely an acquired taste and I am acquiring it day by day as I buy it once or twice a week from the eatery opposite to my office.

No Expectations

22 August – 1 September 2010
I want to be philosophical while writing this but when I say this I am expecting something about myself and as I get drifted with the process I might not be what I expected me to be. I wanted to write something but I could not because I just kept on postponing it as I felt that there was nothing happening worthwhile. Writing on a blog also starts with a purpose and then one gets addicted to fulfil the purpose. The thing, that is meant to be. Sometimes I felt "am I bound by that purpose but then it occurred to me that I am the one who decides on the purpose." Then more introspection leads to the thought, "Am I the slave of I?" or "is it something different which drives me along". No I don't want to say that it is "God" because I am not religious person but I don't want to be atheist as well because I have not came to the realisation that the thing the people call as God does not exist.
It all started after returning from long trip to Accra and Kumasi when very few things worth mentioning in the blog happened and I started to feel bored with life in Bongo. It started to feel like my usual life in India as I attended some village meetings, prepared reports and they all started to look same to me. Not anything different than the ones which I was doing in India. Then I was invited to attend one marriage on Saturday and I was excited not because I was going to attend a local ceremony but because it was going to be something different than what I was used to in India and it was something worthwhile to write on the blog.
After attending the marriage I was disappointed to a great extent. The thing which they were calling as marriage later turned out to be an engagement. It was conducted in a rented hall. The catholic priest told that it was going to be traditional ceremony but there were some prayers and blessings etc. The only thing traditional was the ritual where bride was given by her family to the groom's family and grooms family then gave the bride to the groom. It was holding of hands of bride and moving her from one person to the other. Food was good and they served wine and drinks.
Actually there was nothing to get disappointed about this whole event but I was because I expected something. I expected that it will be a very traditional northern Ghanaian affair with lot of dancing, lot of people and traditional African religious rituals. I was expecting it to be something on the basis of a mental picture which I had drawn and in turn which was based on my vague thoughts about African people and not real knowledge. There were very few people, the ceremony was conducted with Christian customs, and there was not much of dancing because bride did not like it. Still everybody was happy about it and I was disappointed to some extent. My disappointment got developed because I expected it to be something which it was not.
While I was getting disappointed I had failed to understand that day that when the way they celebrated it was completely new to me. I failed to appreciate the things as they were. I realise now that many times expectations about reality not the actual reality dominates our thoughts. Is that the cause of suffering? A new philosophical question for sure!