Sunday, February 19, 2006

Rural farming and wise goats


Last Tuesday I went and spent a day and night in a small village on the outskirts of Tamale, called Kambonayili. It's a farming community of roughly 207 people, where they grow crops like peanuts (called groundnuts here), yams, and maize. I was taken in by a kind and friendly farmer named Ibrahim, who spoke some English (and was quite excited to learn more!). I spent the first afternoon with some of the men of the village, shelling peanuts, which were to be processed by the women later on. So we sat in the shade of a mud-clay building, protected from the brutal heat of the afternoon sun, and I tried mastering the art of peanut shell removal (which I got pretty good at). I also entertained the local kids, who were pretty excited to have a foreign visitor among them. My whole visit actually ended up being with the men of the village, who stayed pretty segregated from the women, so I really didn't get much insight into their lives.

That evening, after a dinner of TZ (a starchy ball of paste made from flour of sorghum or other grains, which you eat with a soup or sauce), we sat around outside as the sun went down. It was really quite tranquil outside -- Kambonayili is off the power grid, so there weren't any traffic lights or blaring CD players to distract us. I stared at the stars as they emerged, and Ibrahim spent a good hour and a half reading through my "Dagbani for Beginners" book, reading out English sentences and their Dagbani equivalents. I was reminded of time at the cottage back in Canada (near North Bay), sitting outside and watching the sky in the evening, surrounded by trees and fresh air. At one point, some kind of insect ran into my shorts, only to emerge a few minutes later. It was a fairly large spider that would run a few steps, then hop a few times, then repeat. It dashed/hopped off into the bushes. If anyone can look up large hopping Ghanaian spiders, and tell me if it was highly poisonous, I would appreciate it (although maybe I'd rather not know).

The next morning people awoke before sunrise for morning prayers (Islam is the predominant religion in this area), and after breakfast it was time to start working the field. Ibrahim, his younger brother, another young farmer and I all walked roughly twenty minutes to Ibrahim's yam farm. It's the dry season, so there's not much growing now besides some grass and weeds, which need to be removed before planting season begins. So we all got down into the dirt with hand-held hoes, and hacked away at any greenery around, stacking it into piles.

It was pretty extreme work. After a few hours my hands were blistered, my throat was parched and my energy levels had basically dropped to zero. Keep in mind that temperatures go up to around 40 deg C at this time of year! Thankfully we had a slight breeze blowing through every once in a while -- I don't think I've ever experienced so much relief from a gentle breeze before.

But this experience really drove home how difficult farming is in this area. I was exhausted after one morning, but the next morning Ibrahim and his brothers will be up again and out in the field, and they will keep doing this. Imagine how disruptive an illness can be to this type of livelihood -- farming requires huge amounts of human exertion. If a farmer or his family fall ill at a critical time, then the fields will not be tended to and they run the risk of losing a crop, and thus a significant amount of food and/or money.

Ibrahim was, at least relative to his village, pretty well off. I have included a picture of him sitting proudly on his motorcycle in his home. I now have a much better appreciation for the type (and difficulty) of work that has gone into earning his standard of living.

As a thank you gift, I gave him my "Dagbani for Beginners" book. I think he'll get a lot of use out it, and I'll pick up another one to make sure I can keep learning the local language.

I am settling into Tamale now. I've gotten used to the goats that wander the streets (I was told that they are wise so they will not be stolen or hit by cars), the cows, the bicycles racing through the crowds of people (sometimes motorbikes too), constantly being honked at by taxis (white people are seen as pretty viable customers), and being greeted by every child I walk by. It's a town that full of a lot of life, and there's definitely a ridiculous amount of stuff left to discover.

I have included some pictures from my time in Kambonayili, as well as a picture of the aftermath of my hair removal surgery.

Thank you to everyone for the comments you've left!! I appreciate them all. And it looks like I have a lot of support for this pink bike idea... I should also mention that almost all the bikes in Tamale are women's bikes, so I would be riding a pink girls' bike with a basket. I'm up for it. (Sorry, Dad.)


Steve-O said...

Next time you find a spider crawling around in your clothes, you may want to take a picture of it. Or kill it, and keep it as a speciemen. Could come in handy, should it actually be poisonous. I did some Googling of jumping African spiders, and there seem to be a lot. It wasn't the size of a dinner plate, was it? Because then it could have been a tail-less scorpian. Those sound like they could be dangerous.

Hopefully pink bikes give you magical hipster powers that drive away poisonous spiders. Speaking of hipsters, The Deadly Snakes are awesome. The band. Not the animals. If you see deadly snakes, try to avoid those too. How a propos.

Uncle Bob said...


You have been damaged by the high temperatures. Hydrate or die!!! You indicate that you have received a lot of support for the "Pink Bike" concept. IMHO this is the wrong kind of support, the kind of support that is bound to bring you to ruination. Beware my young friend, beware!!!

Be safe!!!

Uncle Bob

Gail said...

Eeek... giant jumping spiders in your shorts and paste balls for dinner! That's it Luke - I want you to hop on that little pink bike of yours and come straight home right now! Love - Mom

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