Tuesday, June 26, 2007

An Enskinment In Black and White

I’m back from my farm stay in the Upper East. I’ll post pictures and stories from that soon.

For now, here are a few photos from a ceremony I attended in my neighbourhood. I was invited out by my friend Chief. He’s an honorary chief in this part of Tamale, and also a local magician, practising traditional magic.

He invited me to this ceremony, which was part of the preparation for the “enskinment” of another chief. Enskinment refers to the animal skin on which the chiefs will sit. When they come to power, they’re said to be enskinned.

The ceremony consisted of a huge crowd of people, in the open centre of which danced at least 10 or 15 men. They all wore the traditional smocks of Northern Ghana, and danced to tomtom drums.

I decided to experiment with black and white.

My friend Chief, before the ceremony.

My friend, Chief.

The celebration grounds.

Dagomba dancer.

Dagomba dancer.

Dagomba dancer.

Dagomba dancer.

Dagomba dancers. They bang metal rods in time to the music.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

On Water

Here are some pictures of rain – that elusive, destructive, life-giving bundle of hydrogen and oxygen. The south of Ghana has had some serious flooding recently – at least 7 people in Accra died due to it. But the North is now in full bloom, with corn stalks shooting from the ground and trees glowing a vibrant green, providing food and giving life. Rain here can destroy or it can build life – it’s unfortunate that its life-building capacity isn’t more evenly distributed across the year.

I read an interesting article recently claiming that the water needs of every person in the entire continent of Africa could be met if only rain could be fully utilized – that’s how much falls from the sky.

Looking outside during a thunderstorm here, it’s not hard to believe. The rain is an incredible thing here. Drizzles are almost unheard of. The weather is binary here: either there’s not a drop of water, or else there’s a deluge, a painful, violent downpour that crashes to the ground and forces its way like a herd of bulls downhill through the streets.

Northern Ghana gets 950mm/year of rain. Compare that to Toronto, which sees 819mm/year. It’s not a paucity of water that’s affecting Ghana – it’s the distribution. This water all comes to the country over a period of roughly 4 months. The rest of the year, there’s scarcely a drop to bring life from the ground.

So if the water in northern Ghana’s one rainy season could be harvested, stored for use throughout the year, it could solve the people’s water problems.

But, like many development solutions, what sounds like a simple idea has complex implications.

Some of the problems I’ve heard are:
1) Infrastructure cost. It costs money to dig huge pits, line them with concrete and cover them, as well as installation of troughs and piping for rain water harvesting. Generally systems make use of tin roofing to channel the water to the trough – but tin roofing, in the poorest of communities, is also scarce or non-existent (thatch roofing is much more common).
2) Even if the above are all in place, the water still can’t be considered potable without some kind of filtration device – although it could still be used for agriculture and washing. But potable quality means additional money, and (often complicated and costly) maintenance.
3) Communities are most likely to make use of water that is easily accessible. If rain water is being harvested in the rainy season, the community will likely use that instead of having to walk to a distant source. Wouldn’t you do the same, too? But the problem is that the stored water disappears instead of being saved for later (for dry-season farming, for instance), and when the dry season comes, the community members -- generally women and children -- have to make the trek to that distant source.

I hate to present only the problems, at the risk of painting an overly-negative picture of Ghana’s water problems. So let me say that, on the plus side, there’s still a big donor interest in groundwater. For instance, NORWASP (a Canadian-funded water and sanitation project) was supposed to wrap up last year, but had leftover money. They’re now using this money to rehabilitate over 500 old boreholes, which draw water from the earth.

That, coupled with a comprehensive hygiene programme and the formation of community-level groups to maintain the pumps, can mean a huge increase in the community’s health. And this is a solution that’s not dependent on a source as fickle as the rain.


In other news, I’ll be out of contact for the next week, as I’ll be heading up to the Upper East for a village stay. I haven’t done one since coming back in February, so it’s high time I reconnect with rural Ghana.