Thursday, 23 December 2010

My Cooking in Ghana

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

Indians in Ghana

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

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

National Farmers' Day

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

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

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Samples from Prize winning farmers’ crops
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Prize Distribution

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

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

Accra Again I

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

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

NAFAC

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

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