Another Day in Tamale

I have to make four confessions…
July 25, 2007, 12:51 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

First, I’m not sure exactly what this statement implies about my dance skills….but I have to admit that the majority of my dance lessons have been given by a blind, seventy year old Dagomba woman. Does it help that she has really rad tattoos? In fact, Mama Adisa is one of the most interesting women I have met so far. For at least two months I didn’t realize she was blind. She moves around our compound with the confidence and ease of any person with two good working eyes. Her eyes twinkle and her face creases into a grin when you speak to her. She laughs and dances when she feels the need, yet oozes a sort of caring that only a grandma can. While she only speaks Dagbani and my Dagbani remains less than perfect we share more jokes together than anyone else in the household. Just the other day, I was rummaging in my bag inside the women’s hut and had forgotten to greet Mama Adisa, so she started waving a stick at me and saying “sheee shee” because she thought I was one of the family hens. We had a good chuckle over that one. Another time, when she was patiently teaching me words in Dagbani I confused the word for bread (panu) with the word for vagina (pani). This became a hilarious joke for a good month. Every time there was a lull in conversation, Mama Adisa would say ‘Wunnam, Pani!’ and laugh her big belly laugh (Wunnam is my local name). One way or another this joke managed to spread to all the households in the village due to the mischievous work of Mama Adisa.

Second, I have recently placed termites at the top of the list of my most desired foods.
Seriously. Greasy, salty, crunchy and delicious, termites are the potato chips of the Dagbani village. Scarce enough to make themselves a much sought after delicacy, these small winged insects only come out a few times during the rains (at which time they are trying to mate, I do believe). If you are lucky enough to have a light source close by when this mating is taking place, forget the camera, run for the nearest bucket of water and start catching! In fact, several days after first trying the delicious termite snack, one of my sisters in the compound told me to hurry up and get a bucket because the termites had come again. With a full bucket of water in hand, and all excited with anticipation I rushed to the light source only to realize that she had simply been pulling my leg. I thought I left jokes about my gullibility in Canada, but clearly not. There’s nothing like being told your going to eat termites, and then realizing that the dream will never come true.

Third, last week after my morning bath I reached back to scratch my neck and found none other than a piece of slimy TZ.
TZ is the local food here made from a mixture of maize flour, cassava flour, water and lots of elbow grease. After vigorous stirring over hot coals this concoction turns into a semi-solid cream colored paste that provides the starchy backdrop to various soups that are then poured overtop. TZ is referred to as ‘sam’ in the local language, which literally translates into ‘food’. You haven’t eaten if you haven’t taken your TZ. Sorry, for the short cultural interlude. Anyways, while the discovery of a lonesome piece of TZ on my neck might say something about my bathing technique it also made me feel like I could now, at least partly feel like a true Dagomba. Dagomba people eat so much TZ, I believe they do in fact to find it in unusual places. It’s even used as a local substitute for glue!

Fourth, somehow there is so much relief in the fact that life and work are so tied. Sorry for the abrupt change of pace, readers. This blog post is far from perfect, but, as I’m slowly coming to accept, Ghana is a place that does not foster perfection. After spending another week in the village, this time planting my maize farm, I found so much comfort in farming. It’s not often that you can look up after an hour of work and see the tangible outcomes of your hard labor. While physically demanding, farming is somehow intellectually calming. Its simplicity is grounding. You farm to live and live to farm. You wake up every morning with your family, farm your crops and experience the exact same ‘daily life dramas’ that any other person does, the world over. People gossip, laugh, have spoilt children, are crazy and have babies out of wedlock. Babies are born; people are married; things die. You eat when there’s food and somehow manage when there isn’t. You share with your neighbor and dance in your compound. Just like the extreme weather here, life seems to pulse and thump with vigor and slack in strength at the flip of the coin. There are no cushions here, there are no fall back plans: this is simply life.

In the end, this is the case for everyone, but so many remain adamant in trying to convince themselves otherwise. They make up 10 year plans, marry their first love and go into the profession their parents chose. With all this planning and detailing of their lives, I worry sometimes that people forget to live and never let themselves feel the bumps, dips and experience the peaks. This week my body re-inflated with the new confidence that comes with a reminder of what life is about.


3 Comments so far
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Hey Liz,

Good to hear from you again. Short stories are always fun to read!


Comment by Darcy

came across your post (and Gillian’s) while trying to get updates on the late rains situation there.
Our family (also Cdn.) lived there in Tamale ’til end of ’05, and much of our hearts remains with those there.
di paa asama — its not an easy place. This is humbling. Then like you we found a richness in the inter-connections: work & life, and especially people. Whereas back here in “civilization”, often leaves me feeling disconnected.

Curious as to your name wun-nam, sounds like ‘God made’ — are you sure of the ‘-t-‘?

Comment by suhuyini chris

liz, this is a beautiful post. i think what you say applies particularly well to our hectic lives as students, when it is so easy to get wrapped up in homework and job hunts and we forget to simply enjoy life as it passes by. thank you for this reminder. i will have a better day today because i read this post.

i hope you’re having a great time and learning lots. as i find out more and more about A2N from ben, i feel that i can appreciate your placement more and more. it seems like a pretty remarkable organization, and i hope you are finding your place! write again soon and give us an update.

love erin

Comment by Erin

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