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.

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.

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.
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.

Traditional Painting
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.
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.

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.
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.

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.

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.
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.
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.


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.
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.
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.
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.

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.

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.
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.
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.

Mole and around: Part II

02 November 2010
It was not a good start of the day. But my start of the first day in Mole National Park, about which we all were so excited, started with diarrhoea I lost hope of venturing into the park, as I started to think, that I shall have to see a doctor, if available nearby and take rest for the entire day and may be the next day. Fortunately a call to Mani, our VSO friend in Accra who is knowledgeable about medicines, and availability of those required medicines with Raj saved me and I got well within a few hours.
We took the available complementary breakfast and spent some time at the observation deck. Mole Motel is located on top of a hillock which provides an overlook of vast expanse of forest. There is a big water storage pond near the motel. In the dry season, many animals crowd near this pond since it is one of the major water storage which retains water in the summer season. Since rainy season was just receding, there was abundance of water in the park and it seemed animals did not need to come to the pond near the motel. Still we could see some herds of warthogs and deer near the pond. Near the pond there is a riverine wetland and plenty of birds could be seen there in the early morning. There were many colonies of egrets but most of the other birds were difficult to identify as they were far away and we did not have binoculars. When I was sitting at the observation deck, a baboon came very near to me. It had came to scavenge the garbage can nearby. It was my first experience to get near to a primate of such big size. They are not very friendly at all and quite scary.
Mole Motel
View of Pond from the observation deck

We then visited a small museum in the information centre The museum displays a collection of the specimens found in the park and those seized from the poachers. There were skins of elephants, crocodiles, snakes, python, leopards and lion. There was also an unborn baby elephant preserved in formalin. It was obtained from a dead pregnant female which was shot down by the poachers. Amongst other specimens there were horns, bones, skins and tales of some animals. There were some equipment used by the poachers, such as traps and guns. Fetish and witchcrafts are very strong in most of Africa and there is always a high demand for such items. Due to these, poaching of wild life is a major threat to the wild life parks in Ghana.
There was one interesting specimen of Puffer Fish in the museum. It was found in a river in the national park. When in danger the fish takes in lot of water and makes itself very hard. The fish has some glands which makes it deadly poisonous. In the traditional fetish cures for some bad lucks, meat of puffer fish is eaten along with some plant extract which neutralises poison in it and believed to make man very strong, making him survive through the worst periods in his life. The guide also reported that there have been many sightings of lion and one dead lion has been captured from the poachers in the village of Larabanga. Lions are very rare and are not found in those parts of the park where tourists generally visit.

Preserved specimen of an unborn baby elephant
Our guide, Osman, was very enthusiastic and had a lot of knowledge about the animal life in the jungle. Since I was feeling well, having survived through the travellers' diarrhoea, I decided to go for the guided walk safari in the evening. We were lucky to get in Osman's group. We were group of 7 people. There was a French family of five and two of us from our group, me and Rahul. During the guided walk we could see Kobs, Bush Bucks (both are types of deer), Hornbills (a large bird), green monkeys and warthogs. There were marks of the feet of elephant which indicated that they had just recently passed from the path but certainly we had missed them. We saw a natural salt lick. It was a natural deposit of salts found underground. The animals had dug around the deposit to lick the salt found there. In India, most of the monkeys are believed to be very mischievous and not fearful of humans, but we came across for the first time a species of monkeys which is fearful of humans. Green monkeys look like red faced monkeys found in India and are of the same size. Their face is black but colour of their scrotum is green, hence the name.
Kob (A type of deer)
Natural Salt Lick dug by the animals
Osman was keeping in touch with other guides of other groups over his mobile phone about sightings of the elephants. The German family, which had travelled with us on the bus, had taken a car safari and had sighted a group of elephants. But it was far away. Osman, was suggesting us to take the vehicle which French family had brought with them to go there but they declined and it was very expensive for two of us to hire the car and go to see the elephants. Osman was impressed by my questions on plants. Since there are many similarities in the plants found in India and this part of Ghana. He showed us many plants as a result of this. I found that there is a quite a big range of Terminalia spp. (genus of plants consisting of Haritaki, False Almonds, Bellerica, Ain etc.) in Ghana as well. Sadly he did not know much about their usage. It will be interesting some time to tour around with the local people for knowing more about the plants in Ghana.
In the evening when I was returning to our room, I saw many warthogs and kobs grazing on the grass near the room. Being shy Kobs ran away quickly as I approached them, but warthogs continued as if nothing had happened.
Warthogs grazing near the Mole Hotel
I have always been intrigued by the extremes which I have been seeing in the people coming from the West. Volunteering here has provided me with an opportunity to mix with them a lot and getting to know the way westerners behave and think. I am giving here some of my experiences about some European people whom I met during the visit to Mole and some comparison with the Indian culture.
Rob, the guy who travelled with us in the bus to Mole and helped us secure the ticket, was very friendly. I always had the impression that British people are very reserved and do not get close very easily. This was based on some of the previous experiences but it proved wrong. He was travelling with a partner, a woman. I was under impression that she must have been his girlfriend but it turned out that she was his just friend. He in fact they offered us to share their room with one of us as there were three beds and they would be using only two of the beds. It was an eye opener, as in India it is difficult to imagine a girl travelling alone with a boy who is just a friend and also sharing a room with him as well.
In the French family who was with us during the walking safari had two boys who must have been around 15 years of age and were in the high school. While we were walking, they started smoking. Smoking at this age is certainly not common in India and that too not in front of their parents. Boys and their parents as well did not seem to mind it. The family was friendly but did not seem much interested in actually knowing about the wild life as nobody asked any question and kept on chatting amongst themselves while following the tour. They had hired a tro tro (small minibus) which they were using to go to various places. It seemed an adventurous affair as only the man and one of the boys could speak English and they had plans to travel like that in three countries of West Africa, Togo, Ghana and Burkina Faso. We don't see such adventurous tourist families in India.
The German family whom we met during the bus travel from Tamale to Mole was very interesting. I tried to speak some German with the old man but then gave up after some time as I could not continue with it. The old couple was visiting their son who was doing some kind of internship in Ghana. They were there with their son and his Ghanaian friend. The old man always asked us whether we had seen his son Johannes whenever he went out of their sight. Johannes seemed to like to roam around with his friend, a typical behaviour of youth. He seemed to be very caring and obedient towards his parents however. He was like his father it seemed. The old man told me to close the window while in the bus so that the small baby and her mother sitting in the seat front of me would not have to face wind coming from outside. When he heard that we had planned to go to Larabanga, he warned us as the guidebook suggested that there is a lot of cheating and one can completely avoid that place. It was like a fatherly advice. He told me a story of interaction with an Indian he had had forty years ago when he was in his late twenties. He was telling me that the Indian ate his rice by pouring a yellow substance on it (it must have been Dal). Whenever they called Johannes, it showed their pride and love for their son. The whole affair was very similar to a typical Indian family.

Mole and Around: Part I

01 November 2010
Our first destination, as per our northern Ghana tour plan, was Mole National Park. It was our group of four this time, Rahul, Raj, Ketan and me. As per the latest information which I had received, the government run public bus service Metro Mass going to Mole National Park was suspended due to bad condition of the road. But somebody told us that the bus service might have been resumed as the rainy season was over. The information available was vague and the guidebook which we were referring was printed in 2008.
On the earlier day, we went to the Metro Mass Bus Station to get the information in the evening. There was nobody at the counter and most of the buses seemed to have already gone. We asked a person in uniform about the bus service, he told us to come next day by 5:00 am to get the ticket with the seat number. I reached there next day before 5:00 am and the man at the counter who seemed to be very rude (very un-Ghanaian but very bureaucratic) told me to wait till 6:00 am till they start selling the tickets for the bus. I went at the counter by 6:00 am, the same man barked that the tickets will be sold at the counter somewhere at the backside of the office. I went there to find a lady in the uniform who was speaking with a white man. He was also asking for the information like me. I joined him and started my queries as well. She told us that sale of tickets will be started after 11:30, as they are never sure whether the bus will leave for Mole on that day. Theoretically bus should leave Tamale by 1:30 pm. Rob, the white man whom I met there, had came there in a taxi, and gave me a lift up to Raj's house and during that time we exchanged our numbers to keep each other updated about the availability of the tickets.
We decided to go to the bus station very early by 10:00 am as we were not sure about the information which the lady had given us and for sure we did not want to miss our bus. When we were preparing to start for the bus station, Rob called me that he was also starting for the bus station, feeling insecure about the tickets like the way we were. We decided that whoever reaches the bus station early would book the tickets for both the groups. By the time we reached bus station, Rob had already booked the tickets. I always recall the famous two phrases which are repeatedly used in Ghana, “who knows tomorrow?” and “God willing, it will be,”. So true when one is in Ghana.
After getting the tickets, it was now the job of sitting in the dusty bus station and waiting for the bus. It was 11:30 and the scheduled departure was at 13:30. We had a nice time exchanging experiences of travel with Rob and his partner. They were from UK and very friendly. As the time for departure of the bus came close we became uneasy as there was no sign of the bus. We kept ourselves busy by eating fruits, drinking water and eating omelet thereby keeping ourselves not hungry. Then came near us one girl selling chewing sticks, I had never chewed them before. There was enough time for doing that experiment, it seemed. I bought some chewing sticks and started chewing them like the locals. When I started to move around in the bus station with a chewing stick in mouth it must have been quite an interesting scene for the locals seeing a foreigner with a chewing stick in his mouth and every body was staring at me.
They announced one bus which we thought was going to Mole and we rushed there, but it turned out that the bus was going to Bole. At about 2:30 pm the bus was announced. The bus was fully booked by that time and everybody was rushing in to enter into the bus. It was very exceptional, as in Ghana I had always seen people queuing up to enter into the bus. The bus left Tamale by 15:15 though it was ready to leave by 15:00 because one passenger was caught without a valid ticket and there were some arguments. Some of the passengers were standing including some women who were carrying little children on their backs. I was really worried about them as I had heard that road was not good.
After travelling for about an hour on the smooth highway, the bus took a turn and took a dirt road. It was quite a big bumpy journey but it made us more excited about the great experience which we were expecting. The population on this route was sparse and throughout the journey, on both the sides there was good vegetation. At about 18:00, we reached Damongo, a bigger town and a district place. It stopped for sometime and majority of the passengers got down here. Some more passengers got in here and one man was drunk. He put quite a good show for us. After about half an hour we reached Larabanga, the famous village with the claim of oldest mosque in Ghana. Here again bus stopped for a while. There were three foreigner groups in the bus. One was a German family, other was Rob and his partner and remaining were us. All of these groups were approached by some youths who entered into the bus and started to lure the customers for their services as guides for the visit to village and offering the accommodation. Fortunately we had already booked the room at the Mole Motel and were sure about the accommodation and were not sure about the visit to the village.
As we came near the entrance of the park, we were asked to pay big sum of 10.00 GHc (nearly 330 Rs.) per person as the entry fees, with no concessions for volunteers. Our guidebook was mentioning it to be only 5.00 GHc. The guy did not have any receipt book with him, as we complained about it, he assured us that it could be given on the next day and nobody will ask for the receipt once we enter. The whole claim of his seemed genuine and we paid without any further argument.
When the bus came near parking lot near Mole Motel, it was all dark with the only lights visible at the distance were from the buildings . In the head light of the bus we had our first glimpse of the wildlife in the national park. There were some warthogs (wild boars) and kobs (a type of deer) grazing on the grass near the building of the information centre
With this initial exciting glimpse of the park, we checked in the rooms of the Mole Motel with the help of friendly staff at the reception and happily ate the only thing available by the time we reached there, a tasteless and costly vegetable spaghetti topped with the insects fallen from the nearby light bulb.

Chewing stick, Ghanaian way.

Tour Planning

27-31 October 2010
Volunteering in Ghana has provided me with lot of opportunities and opportunity to explore a new country and its people is one of them. After our successful tour in the southern part of Ghana, our group of Indian volunteers decided to tour the northern part of the country. As I have been working in this part, I had taken for granted that I shall be visiting many places in this part any time but that any time did not come till the time our friend Rahul declared his wish to celebrate Diwali together and his plan to visit the North in the first week of November.
At most of the places of tourist interests, Solemiyas (foreigners) like us have to pay higher entry fees, so for me it was once for all tour, as I would not be going to these places again after visiting once, though they are very near and easily accessible to me. It is also easier to move in group as one can hire taxis as per convenience and the fares can be divided amongst the group. Like the last tour, with my interest in knowing more about the places and selecting the places to see, I was a self proclaimed tour planner for the group. I planned the itinerary and calculated the budget in advance.
For doing this I took help of the guidebooks like Bradt Guide for Ghana, Lonely Planet West Africa and some of the blogs written by the travellers and international volunteers. It was interesting to know about the perceptions of the people about the places they had visited. All of these resources proved excellent in terms of knowing the things in advance and planning the tour in detail but however I have to mention that views expressed in the guide books and actual experiences differed a lot for me as the authors of these resources come from the developed countries with Western culture whereas I and my friends who were travelling with me come from developing country like India which has a different culture. The western tourists especially back packers for whom these guidebooks are aimed at, take a very relaxed approach to touring around. This requires some good amount of cash as one stays at many places and requires more number of days and spends a lot on hotels and food. Having volunteered in Ghana, knowing the culture of the country and absorbing the atmosphere was not on our tour agenda at all. We like to do that on the go. As being not very crazy about drinks and having very less amounts of cash, spending on hotels and chilling out was also out of question. Most of the tours which we have been doing is centred on seeing places on fast track. The guidebooks for sure have helped for it with the necessary information but approach we had taken for the touring was was not the one suggested in the guidebooks. They are guides and not the prescriptions, though they sound like ones when one is reading them.
For us VSO volunteers, one major advantages is that there is widespread network of volunteers spread almost across this country. Most of the volunteers are welcoming and allow other volunteers visiting their respective towns to stay at their houses. After finalizing the itinerary, it was the task of asking people whether one could stay at their houses for one or two nights. I got all the positive answers and the problem was solved.
Then came the task of sharing the itinerary with the group. It was passed without any comments by just having faith in me. Plain faith with no thinking is something which I do not like at all but then I thought that the plan is also serving me and if something goes wrong then along with me all the others will also be responsible as they have lost chance to seriously think about the plan itself. It will also test the flexibility and the ability to face unknown challenges.
The plan for the tour included Mole National Park, Larabanga village, Bolgatanga town, Paga and Tongo Hills. It was to cover these places in the period of one week. It took considerable amount of time to go through the guidebooks and select the places and itinerary though they were very near to the place where I am based. After spending about one hours per day for the one and half week, the plan was finalized and passed. We were all set to start the journey.

Exploring Food (and Drink) III

26 October 2010
Tuo Zafi: In short called as TZ, is a ball of cooked millet flour. The millet can be Sorghum or Nara (similar to Pearl Millet). It is eaten with soups made from vegetables, meat or fish. It is the staple in the diet of northern Ghanaians.
Susubara: They call it as Tiga Nuts in Ghanaian English and Atchatwi in the southern part. These are small berry sized tubers having nutty taste similar to coconuts. These are said to be growing on some aquatic plant. I like them a lot and buy them frequently. Once some of the friends told me that I should not eat them much because I am living away from my wife (“my woman”, in the local language) and the nuts have aphrodisiac properties. I should say frankly that I have not experienced its said properties however.
Fruits: Bananas, oranges, pine apples, guavas and custard apple (latter two are rarely seen here but I once found them and bought them as well in Bongo) are also found in India but I have to mention specially here that the fruits found here in Ghana are more tasty. This is most probably due to less or no use of chemical fertilizers.
Smoked/ Roasted meat: It is commonly found all over Ghana on streets. There are street vendors selling pieces of meat which are roasted or smoked on the charcoal fire. The meat is generally of sheep, goat and pig. I have tasted sheep meat and it had good taste and smoky flavour. One needs to be careful and should only eat where they are roasting it properly. It is always better to consult some knowledgeable locals first before buying it.
Soya Kebab: Although named Kebabs, these are vegetarian. These consist of fried pieces of soybean curd and pieces of onion, both placed on a stick and then smeared with spicy Pepe sauce which consists of ground chillies, tomatoes and some other ingredients.
Boiled Sweet Potatoes: These are seasonal and sold by some vendors in Bongo and Bolgatanga. The sweet potatoes here have far better taste than the ones found in India. Some sweet potatoes have white skin and also have a white flesh. Some have brown skin and a very attractive golden coloured flesh.
Fried sweet potato chips: These have good taste but not commonly sold. It was sold by the eatery opposite to my office when it suddenly ran out of yams and everybody had started demanding for the yam chips. The taste was better than yam chips but might not be a common item liked by the locals after all.
Pito: It is a local brew made from millets mostly Sorghum. It is first sprouted and then boiled to prepare a mash which is known as malt. A liquid is extracted from the mash which is then fermented by adding yeast. Pito bars are almost everywhere and can be easily found around the corner. Every evening and also during the day on the market days, they get flooded with the people, men and women both. A small booze every evening is the norm here. Not different from the rest of the world. No, I have not tasted fermented drink yet. But on special demand unfermented Pito is also available and is really a very tasty and healthy drink, which I could taste once.
Palm Wine: It almost equals to toddy in India. Only difference is the palm from which it is extracted is a wild type. I found that the taste and smell to be both stronger than toddy found in India.
Chewing Sticks: These are sticks cut from branches of a tree. It is slightly bitter in taste. These are commonly chewed by the people everywhere.
Frafra Potatoes: These are commonly grown in the Upper East Region of Ghana. These are small black coloured tubers with yellowish flesh. A vendor in Bongo sales boiled Frafra potatoes seasoned with Yazi (groundnut powder, red chilli powder and salt mixture) and dressed in Shea oil. The taste is very similar to potatoes and commonly sold in the market raw or cooked. They are available in the market after their harvest in the month of October.
Bambara beans: These beans have a reddish colour when they are not mature and hard. There is only one big seed in a pod. They are boiled along with their pods and sold in the market. It looks like Ber from outside so I was mistaken by its appearance and ate the outer pod which was slightly sour and bitter in taste. Afterwards I came to know that it is the seed which needs to be eaten. The seed tastes like Peas.
Ground nuts: Ground nut is a major crop in the Upper East Region. The ground nut pods and de-husked ground nuts are sold commonly on the street. They are also available salted and dry roasted form on the streets and shops. There is another popular packaged snack with the brand name "snappy" available in the market. These are coated with some flour mixture and fried. The "snappy" is not very spicy but slightly sweet and salty in taste. It is not very oily either unlike its counterpart in India. One most commonly found processed product from Ground nut is Ground nut paste. Its process includes roasting the ground nuts, removing the skin, soaking the nuts and grinding them into a paste. This paste is used for making ground nut soup. It is also used for many other preparations in the Ghanaian cuisine. I use it however as a bread spread and sometimes add it to the vegetables. It is very healthy and tasty.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Spooky Knocks

23-25 October 2010
I am going to write about some spooky experiences which I have been getting since coming to Bongo. I might have got very scared of them but I did not and therefore did not see anything worthwhile in them until they stopped for sometime.
The house which has been given to me is one of the District Assembly staff quarters. The house has three rooms, all of which open into a very large outer space closed by a wall and an iron gate. One of the larger room is to be used as a living room and has another door which opens at the backside of the house directly on the main road. There is a small room, toilet, a sink and a passage connecting to all these. The design of these houses was not understood by me until recently when it was explained to me by Gilbert Akologo, my program officer at VSO. It has been designed on the basis of a traditional African house compound. The outer space in other houses is extensively used by the people. They sit on the wooden benches. There is always a big earthen pot kept in the shade to store water. Most of the cooking and eating of the meals is also done outside. So one can always see or smell what is being cooked in the neighbours' houses. The rooms are generally used for sleeping and as living rooms where they keep their sofa sets, TVs, cupboards and safes.
In my case however the house has been arranged differently as all the volunteers coming to the house will not use the house as it is meant to be but in the typical way as it is used in big cities. The living room has been used as a bedroom and other small room which is to be used as bedroom has been converted into a kitchen. The small room which is supposed to be used as store room for kitchen is completely disused and it has been filled with spiders and cobwebs. There was no point in cleaning that room because I was not going to use that room anyway so I have just closed the room. One of the room was earlier being used by a Kenyan volunteer who became sick after spending two months in the placement and went back to his home country. I could not find the keys to his room for almost three months. My bedroom which is actually supposed to be a living room has a door which opens outside. I have never opened this door and used that door. It seems that the door has not been opened since the volunteers started to live in this house.
When I started live in the house, I started to feel that it is too large for one single person to live and there were two rooms which were closed. Unlike common Ghanaians one of my neighbours never seemed to smile and always looked at me with a blank look and my immediate neighbours were away for sometime. The whole atmosphere always gave a haunted feel.
On one of the Sundays in the first month when I knew nobody and did not know what to do, I had immersed myself into reading a boring book. Most of the area seemed to be exceptionally silent and no sound was heard. It might because it was afternoon time and with the scorching sun everybody had taking their noon naps like me. I had fallen asleep sometime during the day while reading and suddenly woke up when I heard some knocks on the door. I did not expect anybody at that time. I opened the door but there was nobody over there. I was confused and started to think that I might have got some dream in which I could have heard those knocks. The knocks were heard again but this time I was awake completely and they were on the back door. I asked loudly, "who is that?". I heard nothing but then there were some knocks again. I opened the window panes to see who was there on that side of the house. I saw nobody but there was smell of dung of goat. I saw down and found that there was one goat sitting there near the door as it gave him the shade from the burning sun and occasionally banging its horns on the door. I felt relieved.
In the next week, my immediate neighbours returned. On the Saturday late in the morning, I was typing a blog post while again I heard the knock on the back door. Thinking that it must be that goat again, I did not pay any attention to it. But the sound of the knock was different this time. It was as if made deliberately and lightly. I opened the window pane again to see if there is somebody I saw some movement but could not see who it was. I thought that it might have been some lizard. But then next time again when I checked after hearing knock, I saw small child trying to hide from my sight by bending down and sitting close to the door. It was my neighbour’s son. I told him to come at the front door. He came. I gave him a biscuit and told him not to do it again. Next weekend he was again there, playing the same knocking game. This time I had to scold him and tell him that if he does that again, he should forget about the biscuit forever. Then he stopped doing that after wards.
It was once in the night, while I was trying to sleep, I heard some knocks. But this time it was not on any door and but it was on the roof. I was really scared this time as the sounds were really mysterious. Some times it was like a big knock and some times it was as if some stone was rolling away on the roof top. I could not sleep properly.
Early in the morning when I heard the knocks again, but on the front door, I suddenly woke up after hearing them. It was Malik, who washed my clothes, had came to give the washed clothes back. He asked me why was I late to wake up that day. I had not been able to sleep properly due to those sound. I asked him about them, he kept on looking at me blankly. "I am not able to know the answer. Only he knows the answer." He was pointing his hand towards sky. "You should do some prayers. Do you do that?", he added. I did not prolong the discussion. Then I asked my neighbour about those sounds. She laughed loud and said these are mice. They are many these days as they have started harvesting early millet.
It seemed that these knocks were not leaving me at all. It was again in the night while I was preparing to sleep, I heard them again on the back door. I opened window to check it and there I could get a strong smell of alcohol spread in the air. I asked loudly, "Who is that?", then came the answer in a husky voice. "I am looking for my brother. He is here." It was a woman. I told her, "go to your house and ask somebody to find him for you. He does not live here. Go home." Then she got up and started walking away.
The knocks were there again after some days. This time it was very late in the night. I checked in the mobile phone. It was 12:00 in the midnight. I switched on the light and checked through the windows again. It was the same woman. I told her strongly, "Madam, please go from here. I have told you that your brother does not live here. If you want I shall take you to Frank in the morning (Frank is a policeman who lives in a house nearby) and he will help you to find your brother."
Since I suggested her to go to the police, the drunken woman seems to have stopped knocking the back door in the night. Since my neighbours have moved away to a distant place, there is no question of their son coming to the house. I have got used to the goat sitting at the back door and the mice moving on the roof. The knocks are not spooky these days.