Marka in Ghana

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The silly Saliminga

It's pretty funny people's perceptions of Westerners, and what we can and can't do. It took me a couple of days to convince my family that I can slice my own bread, as well as pour my own bucket of water to shower. The first couple of times when I went walking around with Zach at night, my whole family was like "You must be sooooo tired!" Zach had heard about drive thrus, and couldn't believe that the white man was so lazy that he couldn't get out of his car and go into the store to get his food. So I can see how they can get some of these idea's in their head!
Almost everyone farms on any plot of land near their house that is farmable and our family has a small plot outside of their home. I was determined to help till, which is usually done by hand, although a small number of farmers have ox ploughs and some have tractors. (All tilling by trackers is done at night though, so that you are less likely to get a flow of people coming to ask you if they can borrow your tracker.) The first night I came home, Zach was almost done tilling the plot he was going to do for the night, and wouldn't let me pick up a hoe. Both him and Edith told me that I wouldn't be able to do it, that my hands wouldn't be able to take it, but I somehow convinced Zach that I would help him finish the plot the next morning. So the next morning I was up at 6am, with hoe in hand. I did about 2 rows, when he told me that I was two slow and that we wouldn't finish before he had to go to school if I didn't give him the hoe. So I handed it back, secretly semi glad because my entire palm was blistered! I continued to weed as he tilled, so that I felt slightly useful. It was funny to see how many people came out of their houses to watch the Salaminga (white person) try and till and then weed. It is definelty hard work though, and it's no wonder that most Ghanians are absolutely ripped! Young children, even as young as 5 often help till, and they are usually much faster than I was! Even the women have huge arms, which I imagine is from either pounding foo foo or just doing everything by hand in general.
The other day I had a huge urge to go for a bike ride, so I asked Zach if I could borrow his bike to bike over to Gambaga just to visit Abel and come back. I had huge resistance to this idea- they just didn't think I could make it that far! They tried every excuse to get me to stay home, from the seat is falling off (which it kind of was) to the pavement is too hot and the tires will melt. I prevailed in the end, and off I went. I chose to wear this long skirt that I had picked up for a dollar at a garage sale the day before I had left for Ghana because it was long and flowy and would allow maximum leg movement as I didn't bring any shorts with me. It seemed like a good idea at the time, however, about half way to Gambaga, going down a hill, my skirt got caught in the spokes of my back tire, wrapped tightly around the wheel and ripped down the side. I quickly stopped and dragged my bike to the side of the road. I didn't know what to do because my skirt was half ripped off me and I was slightly exposed, yet I was literally stuck to my bike. So I laughed and struggled to pull or rip off my stuck skirt for the next 15 minutes, without drawing too much attention to myself. Eventually, a guy on his bike pulled over to help me, and ended up having to run into the nearby farm to get a machete from the farmer to cut me off of my bike. Luckily, I had 1 safetly pin on me, and two hair elastics, which were used to tie up the side of my skirt. I also threw my side back onto that side to cover up any exposed holes. The guy asked for some money to compensate the farmer for the time with his machete, which I was kind of surprised at, but gave it to him anyways. And then I continued on my way to Gambaga! The ladies in the kitchen at Abel's guest house got a huge kick out of my story and also were surprised that I had made the 45 min bike ride and wasn't passed out yet. One of them donated a piece of cloth for me to wear on the way back, thank god! The whole family thought I would be in bed by 8 and was really surprised that I was able to stay up past 10 playing cards. They were even more surprised that I was up before 6 the next morning. (Although when an entire village including all children, chickens, goats and pigs get up at 5:30, along with prayers being blared from the local mosque at sunrise, you've done well to sleep in to 6). Edith asked if I was going to go into work that day, or if I needed to stay home and rest! The whole day was one of my favourites yet, although for my next bike ride I think I'm going to wear some pants.
This week I went into work with Edith for a couple of days when my field worker went into Tamale to submit his reports. She works with a group of 7 women making soap for Nilergu and some of the surrounding villages. It was a project implemented by Oxfam and a local NGO for micro-enterprise development. They make two different kinds of soap: regular balls of soap that are used for washing dishes and hands, and stamped bars of soap that smell nice that are usually used for laundry. It's a great job for these women because they decide their own hours, and they can bring their babies and young children along with them to work. It took me a while to convince them to let me help as they were all afraid that my hands would burn with the chemicals they use (they cover their hands with plastic bags and then with socks). They were also very impressed with my soap ball rolling abilities. I told them I had a lot of practice rolling snowballs at home.

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