telling the story of Bongo

Last I wrote, Anatoli was off in the Upper East doing research on tindaanas, earth priests, and their relationship to the land. A month later and we are both sitting under the shade of tamarind and albizzia trees, talking about ancestors and bush fires, and photographing chiefs and tindaanas in their traditional regalia. This is the story of how Anatoli and I became a part of documenting the history of the Bongo district with the assistance of elder/historian/sculptor/retired school teacher Christopher Azaare, the inspiring Chief of Bongo and his warm and welcoming family.

Chris Azaare (center) and our friend Abel I with the guinea fowl we've received from the Vea Chief

Chris Azaare (center) and our friend Abel I with the guinea fowl we’ve received from the Vea Chief

Anatoli taking notes with Chris and Ishmael

Anatoli taking notes with Chris and Ishmael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before making the decision to geographically expand my research to include the Upper East, numerous conversations with my contacts in Tamale made me think differently about food politics in Northern Ghana. Trees, for one, became a lot more important to my research. While there is a growing mango and cashew industry in the Northern Region that is of interest, I have become even more intrigued by the role of native trees like shea, dawadawa, zaaga (whitethorn)and the presence of sacred groves in supporting food production activities.Shea and dawadawa trees both are used directly in the preparation for foods. The shea nut is processed to extract oil that is then used for cooking. Dawadawa is used as a healthful flavoring agent for stews: “dawadawa is good for everybody” I was once told.  Both of these trees are commonly found throughout the savannah and interspersed among farms.

Zaaga trees in Namori

Zaaga trees in Namori

The zaaga trees and sacred groves serve different, but very important, functions in the production of food. The zaaga tree, featured below, appears dead and leafless during the rainy season. Yet when the rainy season is coming to a close, the tree’s leaves begin to emerge and communicate to the knowing eye that the rains will soon cease. Sacred groves are patches of forests believed by traditionalists to be where their ancestors reside and, therefore, must be revered and protected. Since Ghana has lost 90% of its original forest cover, these sacred groves tell us the story of what Ghana must have looked like before rampant deforestation. While many Northerners practice both traditional religion and Christianity or Islam, some religious leaders are telling people that these places are not sacred and that nothing will happen to you if you enter. We have been told that this is leading to the destruction of sacred groves as the trees are being chopped for firewood and the forests littered with refuse. Soothsayers in communication with ancestors and many of the tindaanas we have spoken to attribute the incidence of drought as a consequence of the destruction of yabatias (ancestral trees).

 

 

 

Sacred grove

Sacred grove

What I have been examining in my research with Anatoli in the Upper East is the knowledge base that people draw upon when faced with different agricultural challenges. When there is drought or infertile soil, how do farmers address these problems? Do they draw upon experiential knowledge? Or do they look to scientific expertise? While the Northern Region has more entrepreneurial farmers with stronger ties to the global food economy, farmers in the Upper East still practice traditional agriculture. Whereas farmers in the Northern Region generally look to “Agric” (the Ministry of Food and Agriculture) to tell them when to sow and harvest and which seeds to plant, many farmers in the Upper East save seeds and rely more on experiential knowledge and the tindaana’s (earth priest) communication with the yaba tia (ancestral tree) to know when to begin these farming activities. The Upper East is a site that has been determined by policymakers to be “deficient” and in need of agricultural modernization. Yet many of the farmers and opinion leaders I have spoken to have expressed wariness regarding the use of modern agricultural technologies like tractors and fertilizers, due to concern over the impact on the region’s fragile soils.

Magnificent baobab tree, Bongo

Magnificent baobab tree, Bongo

The Bongo district, just outside of the regional capital of the Upper East, Bolgatonga, is a beautiful part of the country where massive baobab trees, rocks and red earth characterize this savannah landscape. The town of Bongo, and more specifically the Chief, Bonaba’s palace, has become a second research home because of the incredible hospitality of Bonaba and his family. Bonaba is the paramount chief of the Bongo district, and has considerable influence and authority in the Bongo district. He has used his power to issue a district-wide ban on bush fires. Bush fires are ignited in order to clear the bush after farming, catch bushmeat or rid the area of undesirable snakes and insects. Bonaba attributes bush fires to a decline in soil fertility—as the grasses are burnt and removed the soil is prone to erosion as the wind blows away the topsoil. He also identified bush fires as eliminating a once common grass, the vertivagrass, which supported peoples’ livelihoods in the region. The vertiva grass is used for basket weaving, a major source of income for people in the Bongo district, but now because of the destruction of these grasses they have to import them from Kumasi in the South. Bonaba says that although enforcement is generally difficult, people are beginning to witness the benefits of the 5-year ban as the quality of the soil has improved.

Chris Azaare with a sculpture of his mother

Chris Azaare with a sculpture of his mother

Christopher Azaare has been conducting research on tindaanas, the chieftancy and the history of the Bongo district (among many other things, he is incredibly prolific!) since the early 1980s. We got in touch with Chris Azaare through my fantastic research contact, Bakari Nyari, Chairman of the environmentalist non-governmental organization RAINS and Director of Public and Vested Lands in Accra. Chris is working on collecting this historical information so that it is not forgotten. As we’ve been told by many of our informants, traditional knowledge is oral and many of the bearers of this knowledge are dying. Chris has not only been working to publish histories of the Gurense people, but also has been building his own museum by himself! A man of many talents, he has also been creating the sculptures like the one you see here.

We are helping Chris achieve his aims by assisting with typing and publishing his written work, photographing and printing pictures for both the Chiefs and tindaanas we have visited as well as for Chris’ museum, and by covering what I will term the “intoxicants budget” (the Schnapps, aperteshie, pito, and kola nuts we buy for the traditional authorities and elders that we visit). Typing and printing Chris’ written work is mutually beneficial for both Chris and Anatoli—Anatoli has been learning a tremendous amount about the Gurense people he is studying and Chris gets his work typed and printed for free. Because of Chris’ 30-year dedication to this research, we get special access to these traditional authorities and elders. And because Chris wants to have their photographs in his museum, they all don their best outfits for me to take pictures of them!

Chief of Feo

Chief of Feo

Anatoli and I with the tindaana of Balungu

Anatoli and I with the tindaana of Balungu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we visit the chiefs and tindaanas, we normally go via motorbike. Anatoli rides with Chris, gripping the back of his slow-moving Honda antique, and occasionally having to hop off when the vehicle gets stuck in the sand. I’ve been able to ride with Abu or Ibrahim on Abu’s much more comfortable and capable motorbike, but at the end of the day, despite the relative comfort of this bike, my ass hurts from the many, many bumps and I am caked in dirt. When we arrive at a chief’s palace or a tindaana’s home, it is customary to take off your shoes (either to show respect to the chief or to protect the delicate earth in the tindaana’s home) and sit under the shade of a tree.  We are then typically offered a plastic chair to sit and a glass of water that is shared among us (I take a long time taking a short sip). Chris serves as our interpreter (in addition to being our teacher) and informs the traditional authorities and elders of the reason for our visit. Our interviews are recorded in both Gurene and English (and also in donkey, guinea fowl, rooster and baby goat since the contributions of these animals are very prominent—sometimes overpowering—in the interviews). Having three different sets of questions has contributed to the richness, and length, of these interviews. Chris asks questions concerning the ancestral lineage of the tindaanaship or chieftancy; Anatoli asks questions about land ownership and the traditional roles of tindaanas and chiefs; and I ask questions about the harvest and how to address agricultural challenges. In this way, I have learned not only about farming in the Upper East, but also the way by which traditional knowledge shapes relationships to the land and impacts farming practices.

Anatoli with Chris on the Honda antique

Anatoli with Chris on the Honda antique

Me and Uncle Musa

Me and Uncle Musa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bonaba has been very supportive of our research with Chris, and has sent us to some of the villages in one his personal cars, driven by his son Ishmael, a prince. Bonaba has been eager to see a history of the Bongo district published so that school children in the area can learn about their history. Bonaba also invited us to be his special guests at the annual Azembenne fire festival that took place at the end of November. On the first day of the festival, he welcomed us inside the family compound to witness sacrifices to his father’s and grandfather’s shrines.

Bonaba reading the Bongo history

Bonaba reading the Bongo history

We later learned that when Bonaba was speaking to his grandfather’s shrine, he was recalling how his grandfather, a freed slave, returned to Bongo with a white man, Captain Nash. He was telling his deceased grandfather that the white man had returned (he’s referring to us!) and was here in the family compound. We felt very special to be included in his communications with his grandfather. A ram, as well as several guinea fowl and fowl, were sacrificed on the earthen shrine of his grandfather. Lots of blood and feathers ensued. As we watched the sacrifices being performed, we were served pito (an alcoholic beverage made from sorghum, brewed like beer and served warm and fermented, bubbling, in a calabash) and sat next to his father’s ancestral tree that sprung from the grave of his father. Akane, Bonaba’s sister, is the master pito brewer.

Pito brewing at Akane's

Pito brewing at Akane’s

Our Bongo family: Akane, Joyce and Uncle Musa

Our Bongo family: Akane, Joyce and Uncle Musa

Before the night’s fire festivities, we were brought into the family compound where we were served a delicious roasted guinea fowl prepared by Bonaba’s sister Sheila. When we thought that was all, Joyce came by with a bottle of French wine (!) and Sheila arrived with plates of dirty spags!! (For the uninitiated, “dirty spags” is what my Italian-American stepfather calls spaghetti prepared with anchovies and garlic). It was a riot to be treated to this lovely Italian second course enjoyed in the middle of a traditional earthen compound! After dinner, we then went out to the entrance of the Chief’s palace were the fire festivities were about to begin.

 

 

 

 

 

Azembenne fire festival

Azembenne fire festival

Part of the purpose of the sacrifices is to ensure that people stay safe during the fire festival. Once I understood the way in which fire travels during the festival—through bushels of dried stalks of grass tied tightly and then passed one lit bushel to another—and then is swirled around the top of your head a few times, I was very appreciative for the protective rituals. Exciting and mildly terrifying, fire is passed along towards the riverbed in honor of the first settlers of Bongo who used fire to drive away the Busansis from the area. In one of the most exciting nights in my stay in Ghana, we marched the streets of Bongo in a procession of drumming, chanting and dancing. It was an unreal experience.

On the following morning, we returned to the Chief’s palace to see the Muslims read the Koranic predictions for the year. This gathering of Islamic leaders, elders, chiefs and the Bonaba’s family made for a spectacle of print and color as everyone wore their special festival regalia. Chiefs and elders were adorned in smocks of stripes of many colors, women wore textiles in gorgeous, vibrant colors. Later in the afternoon, people gathered to hear speeches given by the Bonaba and the District Chief Executive and listen to local Fra-Fra musicians perform.

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On the day after the festival, Anatoli and I returned to the Chief’s Palace in the morning to thank Bonaba for his incredible hospitality before we returned to Tamale. Upon arrival, we were brought into his personal compound where Bonaba was sitting and drinking with his traditional council and listening to reggae. Not even 10am yet and we were brought two tall Club beers (breakfast!), and got to chat with (the normally very busy) Bonaba for over an hour. We got insights into his views on development, the importance of education, his environmentalist community-based organization Green Bongo, and he played for us his favorite Jimmy Cliff song that warned against politicians (“fancy talkers”). Meanwhile, the powerful Chief of Medicine, Ba Na So, who we had met the day before, ordered a guinea fowl to be prepared for us. Talk about special treatment!

We have since returned to the Bongo district and delivered the photos to the chiefs and tindaanas. It was a very special experience watching them admire their photos. The Chief of Vea, upon receipt of his photo, exclaimed that “I should have no problem getting a second wife. There is now no disputing that I am a handsome man!!” and kissed his photo. By the end of the week, we had been given three guinea fowl, two cocks, guinea fowl eggs, a bag of groundnuts, and a round of drinks to thank us for our efforts. Fortunately the owner of the guesthouse did not find it too odd for us to arrive with a live fowl for him to cook for us!

Vea Chief receiving his photo

Vea Chief receiving his photo

One of the last trips we made was to visit Ba Na So, the Chief of Medicine, in Bongo Soe. We took the trip with Spooner, Bonaba’s son, and Uncle Musa, who is one of my favorite people to talk to. In preparation for our trip to Ba Na So, we picked up a six-pack of Guinness Foreign Extra-Stout (tastes really foreign, not at all like a Guinness if you ask me). We had been told that Ba Na So possesses special powers and that he is a very effective traditional healer. Ba Na So does not charge people for his work, but when he heals the afflicted they give him what they feel is appropriate. Well, if the car, fancy liquors, and the many horses, goats, cattle, and fowl that have been given to him for his work are a reflection of his abilities, then he surely must be effective. While we are waiting for Ba Na So, we are sat in front of a large earthen shrine with a leafless tree growing out of the center of it. One of the limbs of the tree is wrapped in rope and on top of the tree a white egret is perched, staring down at us. Around the base of the shrine is an astonishing amount of bones, feathers, blood, brass bracelets, and large shells.

Anatoli, Uncle Musa, Ba Na So and I

Anatoli, Uncle Musa, Ba Na So and I

We sat with Ba Na So inside a well-decorated, modern room with comfy couches for nearly an hour as we asked him about his work. He was surprisingly open as he told us how he had inherited the spirits from his father, who was a traditional healer, when he passed away. He told us how people from all over Africa come to him to be healed. He treats people using the roots and herbs that he forages in the forests and the knowledge of the spirits that tell him how to treat the different ailments he encounters. We are told by Uncle Musa and Spooner that if we had come during the week we would hear the spirits murmuring to him. It was Sunday, however, and this is the day when the spirits leave him. We then asked about the tree in the middle of the shrine. He says that the tree is a “medical record” and that the rope that is wrapped around the tree limb marks every sacrifice that has been made to heal a patient. When a sacrifice of an animal is performed, rope is wrapped around the neck of the animal and stained by the blood of that animal. The sacrifice is necessary for healing, as the ailment that brings the patient to Ba Na So is the sign of a spiritual affliction. The spirits want to take this human body, but the sacrifice of an animal, if done by a healer like Ba Na So, can be offered in replacement. Ba Na So tells us that he works alongside doctors that respect his abilities to treat ailments that cannot be treated by Western medicine.

The "medical records" and shrine

The “medical records” and shrine

In the beginning of our visit I had gotten the sense that he was studying us as much as we were studying him. I believe he must have decided we were cool because we were invited into the special room where he sees his patients. Anatoli, Uncle Musa, Ba Na So and I all crawled inside of this little room with a shrine covered in white feathers in the corner, bottles of fancy booze, and a warted calabash full of money and cowrie shells. Ba Na So then offers us some Scotch that we pass around. After taking some Scotch, we exit the little room. We are then presented with a guinea fowl that we attach to the motorbike and are thanked for our visit.

Our research trips have been utterly fascinating and eye-opening. I feel very grateful to get the kind of access we have enjoyed with these bearers of traditional Gurensi knowledge.  We are now headed to Burkina Faso for the New Year where we will visit Ouaga, Bobo and Banfora, enjoying fabulous Burkinabe music and the beautiful natural surroundings of Banfora!

Anatoli and I enjoying some pito

Anatoli and I enjoying some pito

Happy New Year!

–Jacqui

 

 

 

 

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Cooking in a foreign country

The nearly three months we’ve been here have passed quickly, and I now realize that I am about a third of the way through my Fulbright experience. We just returned from a trip to Accra where we got to meet the other Fulbrighters and fly (!) to Accra. (We normally take the 12-14 hour bus ride, and while seeing some of the Ghanaian and Nigerian movies can be fascinating, by the seventh film –filled with loads of drama and screaming–I am really itching to get off the bus). Here is a photo I took of some villages outside of Tamale from the plane. You can see how village compounds are designed to create an intimate space in the center that the individual rooms open up into. Also notice the mix of earthen architecture with the shiny (almost white in the image) zinc roofs.

It was a real pleasure meeting all the other Fulbrighters—a lovely group of friendly people with an obvious enthusiasm for learning about other cultures. While I didn’t get to meet all of the student grantees (two had not yet arrived in country), the two I did meet were doing interesting research. Anna is based in Kumasi doing research on innovation and stagnation among what she terms “technical artisans”—the network of auto-mechanics that are able to put together tro-tros piecemeal, fit engines inside of cars they weren’t designed to fit, and generally working with whatever resources they have. Monica is also based in Kumasi doing research on mother’s perceptions on malaria prevention. After our orientation, we were brought to the residence of the Deputy Chief of Mission, Pat Alsup, where I got to meet Ghanaian Fulbrighters and made some excellent research contacts at USAID while drinking wine and eating KFC chicken wraps (wrapped very tightly in patriotic colors) and samosas.

It has been wonderful to be settled into our new place. We live in the extension of Mary and Dr. Salifu Mahama’s residence that has its own kitchen, living room, master bedroom, bathroom and spare bedroom. The compound has beautiful trees and a palaver hut and though there are walls the place is still very much a part of the neighborhood. Mperba (the word for “Auntie” in Dagbani) is one of the reasons for this; she helps the Mahama family with cooking and cleaning and lives with her family a short distance away. When we first moved in I offered Mperba some pasta we had prepared. She smiled and said in her broken English “you are my friend.” It was awesome.

My new friend Mperba

Our street is an unmarked dirt road, like many others in Tamale. Getting around by car is normally by way of mentioning shared taxi routes (like “we live past the Tipoli last stop”) and by landmarks (“by Flemish spot”). The few streets that are marked are the major roads leading in and out of town. The neighborhood is fairly quite during the day, the relative silence interspersed with cries from baby goats and sheep, or the cattle that sometimes roam in large numbers down these streets. Along the dirt road are several small shops that sells things like eggs, seasoning packets, laundry detergent, rice, biscuits, minerals, and groundnut paste.

Our street

Some of the neighborhood kids

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Martha and her shop, “Big Dreams”, where we buy our eggs

At around 6pm you begin to hear the call to prayer echoing from many places around Tamale. Our local singer sings with heart… This is normally my call to begin making dinner. Then at around 7:30pm every evening, when I’m normally washing the last dishes, we hear this adorable chorus of children singing. We haven’t yet figured out the why or where but can certainly attest that it is a regular occurrence.

Cooking in a foreign country is a fun challenge—trying to figure out what kinds of comfort foods you can make (and with what modifications), what local dishes you’d like to learn (I really want to learn to roast a guinea fowl and be able to make jollof rice and palaver sauce), and what you’ll just have to do without until you get back. Since we’ve been living in Tamale, I have been observing what foods you can find in the supermarkets and local markets in town. We then strategically used our last two trips to Accra to pick up those items you can’t get in Tamale—stocking up on Indian and Italian spices, pasta, lentils, dal and couscous. So far we’ve made Anatoli’s Spanish Tortilla (a great success!), pasta with garlicky tomato sauce (one of the best and most doable options as tomatoes and garlic are easily accessible all over), breakfast burritos with homemade salsa (sadly our Accra tortilla hook-up, Koala supermarket, failed to deliver on this last trip), lentil soup with carrots, “Salmon” in tomato sauce Bulgarian style (“Salmon” in Ghana is actually mackerel. I thought it odd when we went to a cold store to be offered tilapia and salmon as I associate salmon with cold water and the Pacific. It was also rather small for salmon and smelly. I then looked up “Ghana Salmon” and aha! realized that it is indeed mackerel, which I don’t totally love but worked really hard to make delicious. The Bulgarian recipe, however, was a success!), pasta puttanesca (minus the olives), rosemary potatoes with fried egg (an old college stand-by), fried zucchini (local corn flour worked really well), labne with tomato and cucumber salad (we brought back some labne—delicious—and other cheeses on this last trip since we flew), french toast, and a tomato and onion omelet that we eat every morning. So you see we eat a TON of eggs, tomatoes and onions. And lots of potatoes, they are my favorite “fancy food” as they come with quite a price tag.

“Salmon”

While Anatoli traveled to Bolgatonga a few weeks ago to do research on tendaanas, “earth priests”, I stayed in Tamale and joined the women I live with in making shito, a spicy condiment sometimes referred to as “black stew.” Mary’s eldest daughter, Evelyn, was headed to back to her boarding school in Sunyani and Mary was preparing her “school supplies.”  When Mary invited me to come with them to town to go shopping for school supplies I envisioned picking up notebooks and clothing. Nope. School supplies, in a country where people love good, spicy food, is shito, a not-very perishable (shito lasts three months with no refrigeration and just the  occasional re-heat if prepared properly) condiment that can make even the most bland cafeteria food tasty. I was told that “all mothers send their kids to school with shito” and those working mothers that don’t have the two days to prepare it buy it at the market. But homemade shito is the way to go. Preparing shito is probably the most labor-intensive cooking I’ve ever been a part of. Even with the work of Mary and Mperba (who labored the entire time), Evelyn (who helped at least half the time), and myself (who put in at least a couple hours), the process took seven hours. Talk about mother’s love!

The cooking began at about 10:30 in the morning. The first steps are to peel and cut the onion and garlic, peel and cut the soaked ginger, and pound the smaller dried fish. The small fish that are found all over Ghanaian markets are “fried dry” so they are able to keep without refrigeration and are frequently used to flavor stews. Mary pounded the small dried fish in a large wooden mortar and pestle until it was a powder. Evelyn prepared the onions and garlic. Mperba and I rubbed the ginger peel off with a dull knife for over an hour, leaving my hand with a burning sensation. The garlic, onion and ginger were then put in the blender separately and spices—including rosemary, allspice and Italian seasoning that were added to the pureed garlic.

Ingredients for making shito

Then the fire was prepared. Because it was raining we had brought the stove inside. Although Mary has a gas stove in a modern kitchen set-up, she uses this stove because the other is “not big enough” for the cauldron she will use to cook the shito “dry.” I also suspect, after watching how long you have to stir the stew, that the traditional stove is more comfortable because you can sit as you stir for the requisite hours of preparation. Mary poured about 5 liters of Gino vegetable oil in the metal cauldron and waited for it to boil before adding the onions first.

Mary stirring shito

Meanwhile, Mperba began the lengthy and difficult job of pounding dried chilis into a fine powder using a wooden mortar and pestle. She added a little bit of oil before beginning to prevent the chili powder from flying and covering her with a spicy residue. I asked to help and pounded the chili for maybe ten minutes. Mperba pounded the chili for two hours! Serious work.

The onion, garlic, ginger, are added and then cooked until “dry.” Mary then adds some concentrated tomato paste. The ingredients are continuously stirred and cooked until all of the moisture is released. She adds the dried fish, additional seasonings including the ubiquitous Maggi crevettes, and chili later. Larger chunks of dried “Salmon” are then added once the stew has a thick consistency and dark brown color. Mary probably was stirring this mixture for a steady four hours to make the shito dry and be able to keep unrefrigerated.  The result is a fabulous spicy, salty, fishy, flavorful stew that is a flavor “pick-me-up” for even the most uninspired cafeteria cooking.

It is now nearing the end of harvest time in Tamale. The groundnuts (what we know as peanuts) and many yams and pepe have been harvested. The maize is just now being plucked and threshed. Green beans, Bambara beans, onions, and tomatoes are looking good, as the surplus leaves the village plots and heads to the Tamale central marketplace. In my next post I will share more photos and findings from village visits during harvest time. Until next time!

–Jacqui

Anatoli the pirate farmer

On settling in

It is August 22nd and we’ve been in Ghana about a month and a half.  Having traveled many times before at durations of this length, I can say that there is something surely different from six weeks traveling and six weeks in the start of a nine-month journey.  The length of time ahead of you can be overwhelming—not in the sense that it is unimaginable to spend that length of time in Ghana but that the friends and family that make your life so wonderful will be physically out of reach for that many days.  At about the month mark, I was hit by these feelings—distance, time had emotional resonance.  Thank god for telecommunications.  The USB modem, cell phone, and Skype have certainly shrunk the distance somewhat and help me settle in.  Yet the housing search was proving difficult and Anatoli and I were ready to have more space.  The guesthouse at TICCS, where we have spent the last six weeks, has been a wonderful temporary place—a beautiful place with lots of plants, an affectionate kitty and great people that come by to visit—but it is just temporary.   In the search, we were shown either houses that would make great sets for Nigerian movies or abandoned lots better suited for rice farming (that is, they flood).  We were tired of telling agents that we really didn’t need a four-bedroom house with a living room, two bathrooms, giant gate and space to park six cars.  On other occasions, we grew uneasy when clear signs of flooding were being brushed off as just “a need for new paint.”  And the prospect of fully furnishing a house—especially as a siliminga where the prices given would be always over-inflated—was a major source of stress.

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Here’s my usual reading spot at TICCS with my little buddy Tom-Tom.Image

The room.

A trip to Kpegu Bugurugu outside of Tamale with our friend Daniel was a nice break from the housing search.  It was great to return to the village and present the community with pictures we had taken in January.  I will never forget the look on the Chief Imam’s face as he studied adoringly the photos of him with his children.  Zaachi, the youth Chairman and a traditionalist, who was quite distant the first time we met him, was thrilled to see us again.  For dinner the community fed us generous portions of delicious rice and beans, spicy koko (porridge), freshly slaughtered chicken with T.Z. and groundnut soup.  Seriously one of the best meals we’ve had in Ghana, prepared with simple ingredients in an outdoor kitchen without the benefit of electricity.  Finished the evening with a motorbike tour of Kumbungu.  The moon was bright that night, illuminating the flight of bats and casting baobab and mango trees in a gorgeous glow.

While I had big plans to start my work as a “serious” farmer this trip, after our morning trips to the Chief and the Imam to thank them for the delicious meal, it was nearly mid-day by the time we made it to the farm.  (African farmers are clever and know to avoid the hottest times of day—they get up at daybreak and work until about 1pm, then rest until about 4pm when they return to the farm).  You can see my hard work of fifteen minutes of farming below.  We then visited various plots where Mr. James, our host, showed us the different crops they grow and some of the problems they’ve been having with their crops.  The community grows abundant maize and groundnut, as well as millet, yams, beans, okra, gourd, pepe, rope plant and tomatoes.  The women harvest and process shea nuts on the floors of their compound.  Neem and mango trees are other beneficial trees the community relies on.  Next trip Mr. James promised to show us where they fish.

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Daniel and I with the Chief Imam’s family. Notice the way that little girl in the pink is checking me out. Some kids get spooked by the white skin.

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Dinner preparations at dusk.

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Hoeing.

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Goats! 🙂

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The path out of Kpegu Bugurugu

On the return trip we skipped the tro-tro ride and got rides with Daniel and Mr. James on their motorbikes. (Though the last ride was quite eventful as it involved a passenger stopping the tro to pick up three goats, one was placed on the top of the vehicle and two were passed through the small opening in a window, tied with some plant material and placed on the floor by Anatoli’s feet.  The poor baby goats let out cries as we hit every bump on the road, and there were many). Upon our return, we received a call from Dr. Salifu, a professor at the University of Development Studies who we have been working with and who was assisting us in our housing search.  Dr. Salifu had offered for us to stay in the extension of his home.  Initially, we had declined because at the time the place did not have a kitchen.  Well, apparently while we had been searching for a place, Dr. Salifu and his wife had been building a kitchen and a spare bedroom!  Dr. Salifu took us to the place and the feelings of stress just melted.  The place is beautifully furnished with a master bedroom, spare bedroom, two bathrooms, kitchen, two wardrobes, two desks and two couches.  And, unlike so many others, the place was CLEAN.  No dead birds in the sink.

We said yes to the Salifu’s offer and will be moving in on September 1st.  (The place had been rented by two other PhD students until the end of August by a previous arrangement).  I realized that part of the feeling of homesickness was also because we had not made a “home” in a while—we’ve been traveling since May 30th and haven’t cooked since then.  We eagerly await our move-in where we can unpack and make some meals once again!  In the meantime, we will be traveling the super scenic route to Accra where we will pick up our residents permits.  On the way: a night in Kumasi, a few nights at the Hideout Lodge on the remote beach of Butre, a few nights in Cape Coast and then onto the crazy capital!

–Jacqui

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Bye bye TICCS, it’s been great!

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a snapshot of life in Tamale

Upon reviewing my journal from the first trip we took to Ghana in January 2012, I found this entry of first impressions of Tamale, Ghana. I’ve typed it up unedited. It was written during the second week in the country—I hope it will help you imagine the place where we now live…

Reflections January 10th, 2012, Tamale:

smells: burning trash; night-blooming jasmine at TICCS; diesel exhaust; pepe and onions; dried fish; maggi; nescafe; groundnut; grilled plantain; smoked chicken; raw goat and lamb at the market butcher

sounds: bats at night going *beep beep*; birds at TICCS of many different songs; sound of motos; horns of taxis; call to prayer; music blaring at the market perhaps some Asunto music; Ko, the resident African grey, making the sound of a car horn, the sputtering of an engine; loud and animated conversations in Dagbani; the wailing of my kitten friend begging for food; the chirping of geckos; the sounds of traffic; the warm greetings while passing by, “Desba”… “naa”; the sound of the wind; the cooing of doves

sights: the gorgeous lush trees; the red earth; the not-so-nocturnal bats; the gorgeous brightly colored cloth; the incredible balance possessed by nearly everyone here, balancing any number of things from sewing machines to sunglasses, tiers of charcoal, and any matter of fried of food, sachets of water, sachets of koko, and often done with a baby tied with cloth to the woman’s back; taxis, trucks, tro-tros and motos; herds of wandering goats and lamb with their droppings and hoof prints embellishing the soil; the good roads and the bad bumpy roads; the numerous NGOs; the children’s smiles and waves; the barber shops and hair salons, internet and cell phone cafes; weaving through the marketplace where any manner of things are crammed into the space—spices, cloth, toys, cement, fetish items, designer knock-offs, fresh meat, dried fish, produce, old tires and car parts, shawls and shoes, cosmetics, diapers and hot food; doves in pairs of two; savannah grass; too much trash; plots of land burning for bush meat; cement block schools; mud huts with the thatched roofs

tastes: smoky hot pepe; groundnut; sour koko and banku; deliciously sweet pineapple juice; lager—Star or Club; sweet plantain; spicy okra; oddly familiar T.Z.; oily chicken wing just slaughtered; strange sweetness (though not in a comforting way) of pure water sachets; salty taste of rice and beans; stews with Maggi, tilapia; kenkey and hot sauce—our late night savior on New Year’s Eve; fried egg sandwich with margarine on toast; super tasty samosas and franky rolls; extremely bitter and crunchy kola nut that makes water after taste sweet; rich palm oil; yam chips

touch: dry, dusty air; sweat on my skin; close contact with fellow passengers on tro-tro and taxi rides; feel of the dirt road—bumpy with my head bobbing; high fives of small children; slippery banku; tearing water sachets with my teeth; the weight of my over-stuffed pack; the bites of mosquitoes; the visits from flies; the occasional grabbing of my odd white skin; the wind and dirt as a truck closely passes us by while walking; my tired feet after a long walk from the village; the dirt and gravel that gets caught in my flip-flops; the wooden chairs at TICCS; the highly effective fan that keeps us cool at night; the cold showers; the plastic-covered seats in James’ room; the kiss from the horse; the warm and lingering handshakes, sometimes concluded with a snap

–Jacqui

Greetings friends!

Anatoli and I send you greetings from our Accra oasis–the Afia Beach Hotel. It feels wonderful to be back in Ghana again–while I know I have not given many of you the best explanations of why we love this country so much and why we desire to spend so much time here–I will be here for 9 months and Anatoli for 7–I think it is because it is difficult to use words to describe the energy of the place, the warm smiles of the people. However, hopefully with this blog we will be better able to describe Ghana and the many reasons why we find this place and the people here so enchanting…

Anatoli and I are both here to conduct dissertation research to complete our PhDs in Political Science (mine is with an emphasis in International Relations and Environmental Politics, Anatoli’s is Political Theory and International Relations). We have both, quite miraculously, been able to obtain full funding (!) to support our research in Ghana: I have received a Fulbright grant to support nine months of research in Ghana; Anatoli has received departmental support and a Dean’s Teaching Fellowship for the Spring (which is why Anatoli will be returning to Baltimore a couple months before me). I am obliged to tell you that the views here expressed are those of my own (and Anatoli’s when he posts) and not those of the U.S. Department of State or Fulbright Program, though that is probably not a surprise to those of you that know us well.

In Ghana, I will be researching the debate over the cultivation of genetically-modified (GM or often referred to as GMO) crops in Africa. The debate over GM crops is a global one and is one in which proponents and opponents of this new agricultural technology often make highly inflated claims: GM seeds can be conceived on the one hand as the “technological savior” or on the the other as the “terminator seed.” That is to say that GM crops can be presented as the means to address hunger and the effects of climate change, or as undermining social and ecological resilience through patents and the reduction of biodiversity. In the African context the debate is further intensified as the stakes are, in many senses, greater. Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to experience more of the negative effects of climate change than nearly any other part of the world: irregular rainfall and drought hit hard in regions that already experience food shortages and famine. The introduction of smallholder farmers into a volatile global economy may further increase farmers’ economic vulnerability. And to further complicate the picture, industrial agriculture is widely recognized as being a major contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions that exacerbate climate change.

All this is to say that the debate over the cultivation of genetically-modified crops in the African context is multi-faceted–perhaps the one common thread expressed by many is that there needs to be improvements in the practice of farming in places like Ghana. What different actors think these improvements should look like is at the core of my research. On the one hand, you have interventions by organizations like USAID that want to expand access to biotechnology and GM crops in particular. On the other hand, you have other organizations like the African Biodiversity Network that want to reinvigorate the use of traditional knowledge by smallholder farmers across the African continent. In this sense, you have many different interventions from a variety of actors to improve agricultural practices and mitigate the effects of climate change. My research, primarily based in Tamale, capital of the Northern Region of Ghana, will be focused on how farmers view the agricultural challenges they face and what kinds of coping mechanisms they employ. How do these farmers respond to the interventions of external actors in their lives?  The research will be conducted using the method of participant-observation. What this means for our blog followers is you can look forward to pictures of me farming (!!) cassava, millet, peppers and other staple foods enjoyed by people in Northern Ghana.

I look forward to sharing with you my experiences in Ghana. It promises to be a most exciting adventure! Anatoli will post soon a description of his fascinating research on earthen architecture and ecological sensibilities in Northern Ghana. In sum, when we come back to the U.S. expect that we will not only be closer to finishing our PhDs (at long last! 🙂 but will be able farmers and mud hut builders 😉

Warm wishes from Ghana….Jacqui