Saturday, February 20, 2010

Just Life, Just Death

In Rural Ghana...

Escaping Accra, again, this time stuffed in a crowded car between my brother and grandmother. We roll across the dirt, the broken highway, the speed bumps and potholes and into greener mountains, rolling hills, heavy skies and cooler breaths. Out into the village.

It was a different world there. But so comically reflective of Ghaliwood- Africa Magic- that I recognized it somehow. I was on the set with the same old women wrapped in cloth in the cement compounds painted blue and light pink, goats, chickens, naked children weaving through. Saw the men drinking palm wine, which they always do too much of in the films, and got to see the process of "tapping" palm trees, a term thrown about quite often, always to my confusion. The Actually it was a Togolese man who explained it to me, and he only spoke French, so there I was wracking my brain to understand him, and surprisingly I got most of it... The tree is felled and you "coupe, coupe" the branches till it is smooth, then notch a little hole out of which the sweet, thick, whitish wine drips from for about a month, filling plenty liters. When fresh the drink is not so potent, very sweet and lovely- traditionally drunk out of a calabash- very cheap- completely natural. When it sits for a few weeks the alcohol goes up, and if it is distilled, which they also do locally, you get Ghana's Gin and it is pure alcohol used for mixing. There is a local drink which is the pure stuff flavored with roots and herbs and voodoo (kidding) to make a shot to knock you down. (Too bad I didn't get to try that one, hehe.)

Went out to farm expecting of course nice flat rows of tomatoes and cassava... well, we never got
out of the forest. Cocoa, plantains and bananas shade the growing pineapple, cocoyam, and yam, and they out in the sun the cassavas grow with particular long (tall as me) branches crowned by distinct thin leaves.

The cassava is grown by planting this stick, whereas the yam and cocoyam are planted like potatoes, using a sprouting eye. Pineapples are grown by simply chopping off the spiky top and sticking it in soil, and
cocoa trees are grown from seed and nursed in the village before planting in the forest. They all also grow wild. The thing about farming like this, in the trees, is that any passerby can come and harvest your crop... this is beneficial for voodoo masters becasue they get paid to administer charms to protect people's farms- it may seem like a joke to us, but it's completely legit here.

The village life was noticeably hard. We fetched water in the morning for our bath, and tea and household needs, me and the young ones. Fortunately for this village they had a pump just in close to
the houses so we only walked five minutes to get there... but this was a small village. We cooked eggs and tea on a little coal stove and bathed with one bucket. This was the village my whole host family (Dad, uncles, aunts and older cousins) grew up in, this was their place, their home, their childhood. It is pretty incredible to see just how far they have gotten- living in this house, with a pool and three cars in the drive.

So the point of it all was a funeral, but for me that ended up being just the excuse. I saw a dead body for the first time and was at a burial, which was a Christian burial and nothing very "traditional", and went to the party which was just a big gift giving ceremony to the family of deceased... In the middle of it the clouds blew over, dust whipped our faces and funeral dress- all black and red- and the heavens broke sending all the old and young dashing back to their houses. I didn't witness any strange or interesting Ghanaian funeral rites, except for the whole fact of the matter, that hundreds of people, mostly old, had come back to their home for the event. The person who died was an elder, so even those who did not personally know him came, which I think I could say is pretty different from home. So overall the funeral itself was just a bunch of watching from the outskirts as elders greeted elders and gifts were given to the family..... my experience was about being in the town.

So. Life. I saw a woman the other day carrying a load of plastic baskets as tall as she was on her head. It was fatter than her too- the bundle that is.
Three Elements. Labadi Beach, December
I walked to the AFS office the other morning instead of school becasue we were going to the embassy...

Le Matin

On the trotro, small girl, wide eyes on her mama's back, neck craned around to stare me down. No smile. No frown.
I walk down past where the hoards are yet sparse,
walk and buy some
coco a millet porridge, poured in a bag with sugar. 2o peswas. Walk small bit further,

buy a bowfloat- fried corn dough, sweet sour, 30 peswas. I now have a full meal for just about 35 US cents...

Thin World. Volta Region, January
Walking faster in anticipation to the beat of a rumbling stomach... past cripples, hands stretched for coins, coins which I have to spare and do. A man asleep on the cement, disrupting the growing flow of foot traffic, his few 5 and 10 p. pieces scattered about him. I hope he isn't dead. Cross the street- moving with the flow of business men

and women, uniform clad youth like myself, and early sellers. Shake off the 4 year old Sudanese refugee clasping my wrist. This child's skill thus far in life is being able to identify those who might have some coins or loose pockets and latch on to them. They are trained not to cross the street, not to be aggressive, just to implore with dirt rimmed eyes.
Circle Overhead. Accra, January
I pass a man selling gum, lollipops, Mentos, and greet Goodmorning. He replies, Good morning, and have a nice day. Thank you, and you too.
Then he looks at me, as I look back, smiling, his lips- Receive it.

Receive it. Receive it. It came into me, and I did, but what does it mean? Receive the day, receive my blessing, receive each moment, receive the sun rays... like a poem or a riddle it played through my head, walking past my reflection- green with white flowered dress down to my knees, brown sandals, black rubber with hot breakfast inside. Past a small girl's face pressed up against the glass, squished nose, this is the world, past woman in her compound in one long
ntoma piece of cloth, cup in hand, toothbrush scrubbing. Past morning, past frying doughnuts, past steaming rice
and bread and egg and up to the little white and blue AFS.
office to sit and take my meal in the cool of morning, the quiet behind these walls, a different day beginning.

Looking Down. Cape Coast Castle, January
Everything is spinning down, zooming down at top speed, me with my hands off the handle bars, feeling the wind trying to grasp at it to slow. I'm rather uncertain about going back. Obviously it is not a question so much as a feeling... of sadness and disbelief thinking that this will ever end. Walking to buy credit the other night- sunset time, cool air, bats overhead I felt the satisfaction of being home. Deep fulfillment comes, not from always the gogogo, the seeing this and that and leading the super-life of one who is passing through, no, though that can bring some sort of satisfaction. But in that moment, it was the feeling of being home, of living real life, down time, normal old going to buy credit for my phone. And I relished it becasue so often I get caught up in trying to do the most, be the most, say or see or show the most. So often I equate living with thrill, but strolling along that road I felt normalcy suddenly take on a whole new significance.

And finally, though it is not entirely related, here reads a passage from one of my favorite books, The Prophet.
Shrimp. Volta Region, January
"And an old priest said, Speak to us of Religion.
And he said:
Have I spoken this day of aught else?
Is not religion all deeds and all reflection, And that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul, even while the hands hew the stone or tend the loom?
Who can separate is faith from his actions, or his belief from his occupations?
Who can spread his hours before him, saying "This is for God and this is for myself; This is for my soul, and this other is for my body?"
All your hours are sings that beat through time from self to self.
He who wears his morality but as his best garment were better naked.
The wind and the sun will tea no holes in his skin.
And he who defines his conduct by ethics imprisons his song-bird in a cage. "

There, something to chew that should be thoroughly digested by the time I write again...