Sunday, June 25, 2006

Congratulations! Mazel Tov! Nitizurusung!

[Naturally, "Nitizurusung" means congratulations in Dagbani...just to clarify]

Since arriving in Ghana, I've had the pleasure of attending 2 weddings and 2 adorés, with more to come! Adorés are baby-naming celebrations, and are obviously not spelt that way here - however, having been unable to find a spelling that looks anything like the way it's pronounced, I improvised. There have been a few funerals held in the community, but none of which have been connected to the family I'm staying with so I have yet to be invited. I suppose that sounds a bit morbid - to be awaiting a funeral invitation. However, having heard that they are wonderful celebrations, complete with traditional music and dancing, I am extremely interested in attending one.

The weddings were not at all what I'd expected. Truth be told, I'd anticipated some sort of traditional orchestra - complete with a variety of local drums, wind instruments...etc. And of course, the traditional dancing that would naturally accompany such music. So, I suppose in that respect I was somewhat disappointed. Although, perhaps "disappointed" is the wrong word to use - but I'm getting ahead of myself, talking about the music and dancing!

Both the weddings I attended were Muslim weddings - firstly, this means that they begin on the Friday, and go on through til Sunday night! On the two different occasions, I had a chance to partake in the various stages of the wedding. The first wedding was in Tamale, the bride being a good friend of Sadia, one of the secretaries at my office. Incidentally, Sadia is getting married in August so I have another wedding to look forward to!! We went only on the Sunday to pay our respects to both parties - and I emphasize both parties, because the bride and groom celebrate and entire different locations! (in this case, it was a 15 minute cab ride between the two places).

We began at the groom's home: in the interior of most compound houses that I've seen, there are stones set into the cement floor - these are used to prop up pots of various sizes over fires when cooking. In the interior of the groom's compound house was an assortment of foods being prepared in gigantic pots by the women, with a number of people sitting around, conversing, already eating the steaming food. Children were walking all around, offering minerals (by this I mean bottles of Coke, Fanta, Sour Lemon spritzers, etc.) Of course, no alcohol was served seeing as this was a Muslim event.

Outside, there were 2 separate seating areas. The first was under a canopy that appears to have been erected for this wedding. The second was a large gathering of chairs under a nearby tree. And between the two, an entire sound system was hooked up - a boom-box (complete with the necessary cassette player) was connected to two very, very large speakers and the music was simply booming across the entire area! While once in a while there were more traditional, Ghanaian songs, the majority was old music that I was familiar with. Some was even music that you could presently hear in any club in Toronto or Montreal. It was interesting hearing some old tunes that I could sing along to! It was a very relaxed environment - everyone just sitting around, some food being served or sold (mainly some women came by selling fruit for the occassion), and enjoying the music.

The atmosphere at the bride's was very similar, although consisted of a smaller crowd. And there, unlike at the groom's where only children were dancing, I had the opportunity to dance with some of the women. Once again, very familiar music and nothing traditional whatsoever! Except the clothing, that is. Some of the women had the most beautiful locally taylored outfits on - while walking around Tamale one can often see men and women adopting foreign styles of dress, traditional wear (and extravagent, elegant traditional wear at that!) is usually worn to these occassions.

But nothing was to compare with bride! She had on a stunning ensemble in cream, dotted with gold - and a rich, crimson and gold head-dress on to match. She looked positively radiant!

The second wedding I attended here, in Tolon with my sister Khadijah. We went on both the Saturday night and the Sunday - the Saturday night was such an occassion!! When we arrived, they were setting up a sound system (a whole DJ hook up, complete with two huge speakers). They also had 2 fluorescent lights arranged to illuminate the "dance floor'', which was indicated by a ring of plastic lawn chairs (already occupied by children of various ages). We entered the compound house to greet the bride and her family. I then had the pleasure of seeing the ritual washing of the bride. The married women in her family washed her thoroughly, while all the female visitors gathered around - and then the singing! One would start up a traditional song, and the entire group would chorus together. The washing process and accompanying sing along ended, and everyone exited the compound in time for the dancing to start.

As opposed to any occassions I've ever attended in the past, the dancing was done only by one group of people at a time with everyone else just standing around watching. Each group would approach the DJ and request a song, and then go on to dance as the song began. The dancers ranged from some religious groups, with a more traditional style - to young women, whose style I just couldn't imitate (they have a way of moving that my body just hasn't been able to pick up) - to some young men and adolescents in their ghetto dress, dancing the way a guy might in a Montreal club. Naturally, being the only Saliminpaga ("white lady") at the celebration, I was asked to join almost all of the dancers. The DJ approached me a few times to go dance alone and teach them my styles - but I didn't want to be in too much of a spotlight (with well over a hundred people watching me), so I gratefully declined any group less than 5 or so people. It was a great time, and definately one of the later nights I've had here. While I turned in late at 12:30, the dancing continued on until the morning!

From dancing at the weddings, to knocking hips with Mariama (my second mother) in the house - I've come to really appreciate what a great tool dancing is to bonding with other people. Khadijah has become such a close friend since that first night at the wedding when we really had a chance to bond, and has been an invaluable cultural informant!

Just a quick note on adorés, the baby-naming celebrations that take place 7 days after the baby is born: the first I attended was a lot of fun - food and drink served; the men sitting separately, talking and playing Owari (it's a game with stones, played in a carved wooden box of 12 shallow, semi-circular depressions - it is a game that I once played as a child, having a set that I believe was brought over from South Africa; surprisingly, it's played on this end of the continent as well!). The women are all together, some crooning over the new child and all congratulating the mother. This is the celebration part; as to the actual naming of the baby, I don't know if there is any ritual associated with it, but if so I did not have a chance to see it. At one of the adorés, I didn't even actually get a chance to see the baby!

Monday, June 19, 2006

This little sheep went to market...

Having attended university in Montreal, I've encountered some absolutely horrendous potholes. Montreal brought new meaning to the joke that Canada has only 2 seasons: winter and construction. Although, try as they might - with endless work being done to improve the roads - the potholes persist! For those of you who have had the pleasure of driving in Montreal, I'm sure you understand what I mean.

And yet, the roads are paved. End of story. The Montreal potholes cannot even begin to compare to the road conditions I've seen here. Particularly when travelling outside the city, where I'm sure you can understand, the roads are most definately not paved. Imagine a compacted dirt road, just big enough for 2 tro-tros to squeeze by one another (I can vouch, having seen it happen. However, one did have to slightly drop into the ditch on the side...). But anyway, we are imagining this dirt road: in the north the earth is a rich reddy-brown, but although compacted, the road is still susceptible to physical erosion. Seeing as the rainy season has begun, torrents of rain cut through the soft earth, leaving crevices and small craters that are devestating to a small vehicle passing through. Even without the rain, the sporatic flow of traffic raises the dust and causes it to settle in almost perfectly spaced ridges along the centre of the road. So now picture the red-dirt road, dropping off to shallow ditches on either side - with ridges along the centre and potholes dotting the edges.

And then, unless you happen to own a motorbike, the only real way to get around (I'm speaking about distances that are generally too long to bike on a daily basis) is the tro-tro, or lorry as it's called here as well. I have possibily alluded to tro-tro rides in a previous blog, but for the purpose of this story (yes, it is a story!), I will reiterate the experience. Tro-tros are about the size of small vans (but with more windows...usually). In the back, there are normally 4-6 rows of seats, and on each row up to 6 or so people can be squashed in. The busiest tro-tro I've been on, carried a grand total of 40 or so people. This number is extremely surprising considering the state that the vehicles are in. Having gone through many a winter in Canada, I've witnessed the deterioration and inevitable rust that awaits any vehicle where snow and salt are concerned. However, not a single one of the tro-tros I've seen would be permitted to operate in Canada. The seats on the interior are of a rusted, metal framework - complete with jagged edges and squeaky hinges. The exterior is no better - the same rusty, jagged edges lining the windows and door openings, and many a time with a U-shaped metal rod used to secure the door in place when closed.

So, now combine the above images of these dilapidated vehicles upon weathered dirt roads. Granted the entire vehicle shakes quite violently (particularly over those central ridges), and despite the heat of so many people packed in close quarters with little ventiliation, the passengers are kept in their respective seats due to the sardine-like arrangement. Even so, every metal part rattles in unison, creating an almost deafening din - not unlike what I imagine it would sound like to be in one of those food processors I've seen around. At times it is entirely impossible to converse with the person beside you!

This is my transportation to and from Tamale. Although it sounds like a terrible experience, I've met some of the most interesting people on tro-tros, and have come to appreciate their undeniable rustic charm (and since your entire body bounces along uniformly it is possible, even if not necessarily easy, to read a book en route). But I'm diverging. This story is about one of my first tro-tro rides in Ghana. I was on my way into Tamale for a wedding, and since it was a market day, the tro-tro was packed. And I mean packed - with both people and cargo; the roof of the vehicle was heaped with wares to be sold in town.

We had been driving for maybe five minutes, rattling along until we hit one particularly nasty pothole. Duly, the driver adeptly swerved around it. It was at this point that I saw a streak of white sailing past the window to my right, followed by the loud *thud* of a sheep hitting the ground! One of the men had tied the legs of his sheep, and I'm assuming it was on the way to the market to be sold. Naturally, we stopped to retreive the now slightly bruised goods before continuing. Since the sheep appeared to have undergone no further damage than a simple bump on the head (I'm surprised it was still alive, to tell you the truth), the entire tro-tro burst into peals of laughter! An eventful ride already...

But alas, this same sheep was to be yet again the centre of our next disturbance! Perhaps ten minutes after making its remarkable escape attempt in hurtling itself off the moving tro-tro, the sheep was once again brought to our attention (granted, the failed escape attempt is my own personal speculation and it's entirely possible that the sheep simply fell). While everyone had a good laugh at this next occurance, it was the man directly to my right who was the most affected. You see, there was suddenly a curious liquid dripping down from the battered roof, that was sagging under the weight of its load. As it turned out, the unfortunate sheep had chosen to relieve itself on the tro-tro roof, and its urine was subsequently leaking into the tro-tro and onto the aforementioned man. Needless to say, the entire mess was cleaned up, seats were shifted slightly, and the sheep went on unnoticed for the remainder of the journey.