The first night in Tamale ended with a tour of the town. At first glance it is a town that closes down for the night but when you look closer you find pockets of activity collected around a favorite spot. The night started just across the street from the house. The entrance to a tomato patch is the nightly hangout for Sadat, Walisu’s younger brother and his group of friends. Their nightly activities revolve around the drinking of a strong Chinese herbal tea called Atiya. It is drunk with sugar out of shot glasses while it is still boiling hot, so the drinker has to suck in small amounts with a large amount of air. To the passer by this sounds extremely odd. After that the next stop was a barbershop owned by a friend where we played cards—a simple game of trump that with a large amount of beginners luck I was able to well. The next stop was across town at a spot (bar) owned by another friend. Outside of the bar was a young girl who was sick out of loneliness for her father who was travelling and when Umasi the owner of the bar called the girl’s father so she could talk to him her only response was to nod her head.
Tamale is a dark city with many areas unlit but it is a wholesome darkness that simply expunges sleepiness and nothing sinister. This feeling is felt most when passing by the areas of the town that are still forested—there are also long sections of central boulevards shaded by old trees. There are still vendors selling food by the light of a small lamp but they are fewer and clustered closely together at junctions and street corners--this gives the city a much more intimate and friendly feel; except for the melon sellers who appear on the side of the street along dark sections sitting among piles of watermelons. My favorites are the orange sellers because as you drive along you catch the scent of citrus as the peel the zest off of their fruits. Eating the oranges is a most rewarding experience; the top is cut off and you first suck out the juice before tearing it open and eating the rest. Deliciously refreshing on a hot afternoon.
Today involved a trip to the central market to buy groceries. Once again I plunged into a tightly packed maze of people. This was largely a food market and the most common items were tomatoes and peppers, onions, rice and beans, and fish. There was also a large meat sections where huge chunks of beef were for sale next to whole goats with the heads hanging along side. These were the items we purchased, minus the meat—no whole goats yet, maybe for Thanksgiving. And as I write this I am sorting out bad beans and Walisu is dicing the tomatoes, peppers, and onions and then grinding them together with the local pestle, a solid wooden tool in the shape of an hourglass.
However the day started out badly with the discovery that Walisu’s bike had been stolen, the Great Hadjin was gone. This was huge news for the community—theft being very rare—and the news spread around with neighbors and friends arriving to mull the matter over. If it does not turn up we will have to think of something because it is his lifeline to the more distant communities. Sadat has a scooter but it is not well suited to the rutted roads and water crossings.
The morning's activities started with a visit to the preschool down the street with a bag full of school supplies. By the time I arrived a couple children had asked if the white man was coming back and one father upon dropping his son off asked about me saying his son had said that they had “received a white person.” To help the kids remember my name they suggest I teach them a song to go along with it. This caught me off guard to say the least but I was able to adapt “The Wheels on the Bus” to “The Wheels on the Bicycle” and after several renditions by me a few of the kids were catching on and I left with the promise that they would work on it. So I now hope to be greeted on the streets with “Mr. Jeremy” and “The Wheels on the Bicycle go round and round, round and round, the wheels on the bicycle go round and round all the way to school.”
The majority of today was dedicated to buying the supplies needed to repair the large crakes in the school. A mason surveyed the damage and reported that 3 bags of cement, 12 cinder blocks, and 2 barrels of sand were needed to complete the repairs. So the first item on the agenda for Walisu and I was to track down tricycle to pick up and convey the materials to the school. The first one we found, the front of a motorcycle mated to a small truck bed said it was not powerful enough so we were sent to find a more powerful one. The one that finally arrived was of Chinese make, looked very sturdy and appeared to use an engine pulled out of a 19th century textile mill. Next came a scavenger hunt across Tamale in search of the goods; involving waiting for afternoon prayers to end before buying the concrete and unearthing a pile of sand hidden beneath rocks and branches. Then it was out to the school. Both the tricycle and Sadat’s scooter made it across the water crossing but the tricycle did become stuck once in the soft ground. By the end of it all we were both exhausted.
I also bought a 3G modem so I will be able to consistently update the blog.