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.