Friday, April 07, 2006

Mosque building and the hardness of fruit

In an effort to integrate into my community, I decided to help out with a local community project: mosque building.

Sounds as bit strange, I guess. There is a new mosque being constructed in my neighbourhood – right next to the old one, incidentally. It’s funded by a woman who lives nearby, and being built by the men who live around it. I can’t really imagine this happening in Canada – I’m trying to picture all the men in my Canadian suburb kicking in to make a place of worship. Then again, I can’t imagine all the homes in my community in Tamale picking a day on which to sell off all their junk out in front of their homes, so I guess every community in the world has its particularities.

So on a Sunday morning, I found myself out on the mosque grounds, wearing my trusty Bolga hat, praying (how appropriate) for a gentle breeze, and shovelling concrete. Right now they’re laying the foundation, which involved shovelling two types of sand together from two big piles (one coarse, one fine), then mixing cement into it, piling the mixture up in a separate pile, then pouring water into it. This is all done by shovel and bucket. The concrete is then moved by wheelbarrow, and dumped onto the foundation.

The men at first kept insisting on helping the white guy with his tasks: encouraging me to take a break, or stealing my bucket away from me to cart water. But after I repeatedly turned down their offers, and indignantly re-stole my bucket, they let me do my thing without interference. And it seemed to earn respect. Now all the guys in the community know me as the “saminga” who kicked in to help. I caught a taxi home one evening, and the taxi driver asked me if he’d seen me working on the mosque the other day. I told him that was me, and he was very impressed – so my actions have had pretty widespread results. I want to be seen as a member of the community, and not just a strange outsider, and this seems like a solid step in that direction. Although I still get stared at a lot.

I’ve included a picture from my trip to Togo. This trip wasn’t actually planned. Last week, I was in a city called Gbankurugu, which is on the border of Togo. I was there to interview the members of the District Water and Sanitation Team, and after our interview, they asked me to have a mineral (pop) with them. I suggested we go to Togo for the mineral, since it was right next door and I wanted to practise my French (Togo is a former French colony), and add another country to my “visited” list. So we drove down a rutted road, barely passable, bumping and lurching along for almost 15 minutes, before finally arriving at the border. The border actually had a really nicely constructed customs building, demonstrating that infrastructure development in Ghana isn’t all happening at the same pace – you can’t really drive any merchandise across the border, since the roads aren’t there, but you can definitely get inspected by the nice customs facilities.
The guys I was with got out of the truck and talked to the border guard, then came back and told me that the border guard wanted us to go to immigration, which was somewhere back up the road. I didn’t have my passport with me, and had been told I wouldn’t need it – the border supposedly isn’t very strict. So instead, I asked if I could just walk around the barrier separating Togo from Ghana, and have my picture snapped in Togo. When the border guard saw this happening, he resumed talking to the DWST men. He then waved us through – apparently the men explained that we just wanted to check out Togo for about an hour, and we promised to come back. Life is pretty easy going here a lot of the time.

So I got to go to a small village in Togo, speak French to a few people (including the guards to the town, who were having their hair cut by the side of the road), and bring back this funky looking fruit. I’m don’t actually know what it’s called – if someone can find out, I’d appreciate it. It’s about the size of a large coconut, and comes from a tree that looks a lot like a palm tree. It’s bright orange, and has a hard outer shell. The way I was taught to eat it is to bash it against something hard, then tear the shell off with your teeth, and then do your best to pull out some of the stringy insides. They’re quite sweet, but eating it is a lot of work. The person who taught me how to eat it said that it’s “hard as a monkey’s anus” (pronounced “eh noose”). This is my new favourite expression. Posted by Picasa


Bruce said...

Great post Luke, and good for you for pitching in to help out. That is the best way to gain the trust and respect of the people you are living with. Good on ya!

Anonymous said...

Luke, shovel and bucket, was someone watching the moisture content of the concrete? You could get some serious cracking if you use too much water. Send more pics.


Laura said...

according to your lonely planet ghana link, ghana is %60 christian and only %15 muslim. Are you in a particularly muslim area? And what do they need a whole other mosque for if they already have one?

Mark E. said...

Luke, not too sure on the type of fruit. Tried looking it up, but couldn't find anything to fit the description. All I could find was a fruit called Aikee, but its pear shaped...

mmmm... stringy insides...