Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Girls in Bongo

31 January to 11 February 2011
On one of the rock on one of the ways that climb up the Bongo Rock, a small hillock in Bongo, there is written in bold letters, “Bongo Girls are Dangerous.” We had laughed a lot when we had read that for the first time. I asked one of the local boys accompanying us during the hike, whether whatever that was written on the rock was true. The boy had smiled and said, “I don't know.” It was as if he wanted not to say that it was true to a foreigner like me. As a man living alone in a place like Bongo, I have come across many encounters where I had to interact with girls or women. I am telling some of them.
Most of the female volunteers who are working here are almost always approached by men. It is so common and sometimes so foolish that men many times in the first meeting end up proposing marriage. In the first months many times these volunteers end up getting one marriage proposal a day. The female volunteers learn it eventually that it is not to be taken very seriously. Since Bongo falls in the relatively conservative northern part of the country, I had thought that here women might not be that bold. But there were some incidences where I received some marriage or relationship proposals.
A woman came once to the office to meet my boss. He had gone somewhere away, she started talking to me while seating on the comfortable couch. When she came to know that I am married, she started to ask me how I could stay away from my wife so long. “You must be feeling very lonely,” she said and added further, “You know my husband has gone to US and I am also very lonely like you. Therefore we can get along with each other very well” Then she told me that she would like to come with me to India. I did not know how to answer her appropriately and get rid of her, but fortunately my boss arrived in the office and the matter ended there.
A girl once entered into the office. She knew that he would be out for almost half hour, she kept on sitting in the office looking at me, while I was busy working on the computer. I thought it was the natural curiosity about the foreigners which most of the local people have, which will subside after a while. I thought that I should talk with her little bit so that she would stop staring at me. She started to talk a lot and I got bored. As my boss came into the office, the problem seemed to have solved. But I realized that it was not, when the girl boldly mentioned to my boss that she would like to marry me. I told her that I am happy having only one wife. I could not help but I had to put her off by saying that I didn't want trouble in life. Though I was smiling while saying this, she was clearly disappointed and went away in a very un-Ghanaian way without saying any good bye.
Once a lady came to my house very late in the evening when it was getting dark and introduced herself saying that she had worked before for other volunteers living in the house. In the first meeting she wanted my phone number. I did not give her my number and told her that I shall send her a message through somebody if I needed anything or a service since she lived near to my house. She then kept on coming to the house always late in the evenings when it got dark and then I had to rudely just tell her that she should not come. She stopped coming to the house afterwards.
I used to buy fruits from two small girls. The poor girls moved around the town with their worn out slippers in the scorching heat. The girls almost always moved together. They helped each other, but when it came to selling, they used to fight with each other. I told them that they should not to fight and I would buy from both of them. It was fun. I think news of Solemiya buying fruits from small girls spread rapidly and I was approached almost everyday by some small girls selling fruits. I started regularly buying fruits from the two small girls. They were bit curious about me as most of the children are. They used ask me about my wife and children etc. I had travelled for some days and after coming back, on one evening, suddenly two different grown up girls showed up at the house. I was very much confused after seeing them. “How these girls can grow so much within a span of just 15 days,” I asked myself. Though, after realizing that these were two different girls, I bought fruits from them. While handing over the fruits and taking money, they tried touched me. They were not deterred seeing my stern face and reaction and kept on hanging near the gate of the house after I went back in the room. I heard one of the girls singing and then I came out and told her to go away, she went away still looking at me expectedly.
After driving those two girls away for good, one small looking but grown up girl kept on coming to the house in the late evening when it was near to getting dark, in spite of me telling her that I did not want to buy fruits from her. She was very persistent in her efforts. I really felt sorry for her as I could see her attraction towards me but same time I could also see her innocence being small girl changing into a different phase of life. I have stopped buying fruits from these moving children now.
With most of the girls living in a not so much controlled social environment with poverty common everywhere, getting into puberty is a start of a problem here. It is not very uncommon to see young school going girls getting pregnant and bearing children in this part of the world. Are Bongo girls dangerous or the uncontrolled social environment which leads to this situation? Latter is of course true.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Your Mummy Wants to Buy Tomatoes

26-30 January 2011
Aago!” I heard this loud call once late in the evening while I was in the kitchen. They use this word to attract attention of a person. She was a girl. I looked at her and asked, “Yes?” She remained silent for a while; probably she did not know expect a Solemiya (white person) and could not think of what to say. She said afterwards, “I am looking for somebody.” My English has become more Ghanaian these days. I again asked her, “Who somebody?” She said, “My father.” I looked at her and waited for more explanation. Probably she was confused. She again asked me, “Does he live here? I don't remember his name.”
Had I been in India, I would have immediately come to the conclusion that it was some case of loss of memory and/ or some lost child, who needs immediate reporting to the police. But I have lived in Ghana for the last six months and I did not find myself shocked after hearing that question. “He lives somewhere here. Yes, his name is Franko.” Then I guided her to the appropriate house and the girl left. My neighbour Franko is a very popular person in the town and he can be always seen on his motorbike heading somewhere. It can be anything ranging from helping women's singing groups or running errands at the Chief's house. It was obvious that he has helped the girl at some point of the time and girl has started calling him as her father.
Family relations here are somewhat complex in nature. Families are almost always extended with the polygamous nature of the man-woman relationships being common. Children grow up in the families with many types of elders around. When somebody calls somebody as father, he can be a real father, a step father, an uncle, an external benefactor to the family or just some big fatherly figure in the person’s life.
During my first month in Bongo, a friend called Aidan once introduced his brother Malik, who washes his clothes and was also going to wash my clothes henceforth. I started to use my logic and found out some discrepancies in the information which he had just provided to me. Aidan is a Christian name and Malik is a Muslim name. It seemed to mean that their parents must be following different religions and had given those names deriving from their religions. Aidan had told me that he was not native of Bongo. Malik looked old enough not to depend on Aidan and further he was also not going to any school. It seemed to mean that Malik had no business living with Aidan but he should have been living with his parents and caring for them instead. Giving a big knock to my logical mental linkages I had established, I was told that Aidan and Malik are good friends and neighbours. It was the brotherly relation and not the blood relation between them.
People sometimes stress while introducing their siblings that they are from same mother and father, so that their blood relationship gets underlined. When I am in office premises and somebody asks me, “where is your father?” instead of answering that he is in India, I answer them that he is in office or Bolgatanga. In the office premises, they are referring to my reporting officer as father and not my real father. It is the context that makes the interpretation of the reference easy. I have started to give my usual analytical skills a rest when it comes to the people referring somebody as their immediate relatives.
It was my fourth month here in Ghana and I had got used to these loose terminologies in the human relationships. It was well past the regular working hours, when I had closed for the day and heading for the house. I was passing through the neighbouring office, where one elderly respectable lady, whom I greet regularly, was still working in her office. I greeted her. She looked exhausted. She told me, “Your mother is sick.” I had heard plenty of stories about witchcraft and magic. I started to think, “Is she a clairvoyant? I need to call home now.” She said further, “Oh, my son, I am hot.” It was another shock. But things started to fall in proper place when I heard her next sentence. “I have forgotten to bring my purse and I need to buy some small things so that I can make some soup today.” So the equation was as given below,
Your mother is sick. Oh, my son. = I am like your mother and I am not feeling well.
I am hot. = I don't have enough money.
Looking at her condition and feverish look, I gave her some money. She said in motherly way to me, “God bless you.” I felt nice by helping an elderly woman who was in trouble. “So that is how these loose relationships work. “I think I understand them small small.” I thought to myself.
Once in the Bolgatanga lorry station, I was buying eggs at one shop near Bongo station. There were some discussion about the prices and freshness of eggs. She looked impressed by the fact that a foreigner like me is living in Bongo and knows about the prices and qualities of eggs. We had a friendly talk afterwards about what I do here in Ghana and how frequently I come to Bolgatanga. I told her about my volunteering and my friends in Bolgatanga. While taking her leave, she smiled and told me, “Now you can always buy the eggs from me. Do come next time.” She added further, “I am also now one of your friends in Bolgatanga”. Without thinking much about my criteria for calling somebody a friend, I just smiled and confirmed, “Oh, yes you are.”
A few days ago, the elderly lady who calls me as her son these days, once stopped me when I was passing by. There were some ladies carrying polythene bags full of tomatoes. Some vendor had came near their office and selling tomatoes very cheap. The discussion about tomatoes was in full force. The lady looking at me expectedly, “my son, I did not have any time to go to Bolgatanga this week and I can't make soup without using tomatoes. Your mummy wants to buy some tomatoes.” I did some logical thinking, which I later realized that it was not necessary, except for the fact that I did not want to offend her, but give her some correct response. She looked well. She did not tell me that she had forgotten her purse or lost all of her money. I could relate to the talk of the women who were talking intensely about the freshness and cheapness of tomatoes. I said to her, “Let me think about it. I shall go to the office and see if I can manage to buy the tomatoes today.” “Okay”, she answered. At last, I had escaped from my so called mother.