I am starting to fall into the rhythm of life here in Tamale and am enjoying many of the sights and sounds that I see around town every day. Tamale is a sprawling town but not crowded and urban but rather suburban—the city simply expanded out into rural communities that still keep their rural lifestyles. I am staying in one such community; Kalpohin village. It is where Walisu grew up and where he started what turned into RUSODEF—The Kalponi Cultural Tour which was focused around a woman’s group that processed Shea butter, pottery making, and traditional weaving.
The morning starts with the morning call to prayer at 5am. There is such a great number of Mosques in the area that the morning call to prayer, like school lessons and singing, takes on a call and response between them with some starting earlier or later than the others. This is also the case with the roosters who attempt to outdo both the other roosters as well as the Mosques, with the roosters taking a much more casual approach to their traditional job with calls being continued into the mid morning—well past sunrise. During this time the rest of the community begins waking up and making morning sounds. My bedroom window looks into a courtyard and the first sounds coming from it are the scratching of a broom across the floor and the metallic clink of charcoal as the first fires are started. After this comes the chattering of children as they get ready for school.
Then as I travel through Tamale and other areas a host of sights meet my eyes. Hundreds of uniformed school children heading to class—some on foot, some piled on to bicycles and motorbikes and others stuffed into taxis with only their heads visible. The groups of young Muslim girls riding to school wearing their long headscarf’s and sitting sidesaddle on the back of their friend’s bicycles is a very stunning sight. And as one travels farther outside you battle against an oncoming current of students and workers flooding into town. But you also see women heading out into the rural communities with bowls balanced on their heads and piled high with soap, toothpaste, flip-flops, and other household items to sell in the villages. On one outing I passed through a community where young boys were driving donkey carts loaded down with barrels of water or else piled high with their friends. And if you are lucky enough to travel into the country side on a Sunday you will be able to witness the weekly ritual of laundry—where hillsides and trees next to water sources are brightly decorated in the colorful clothing of the washers, and while the women are busy with their washing the children amuse themselves in the water.
And all of this is set against the phenomenon of Africa time where 9:30am means 11:00am or noon. This attitude towards time is also reflected in greetings; there are different greetings for the morning afternoon and evening, and the transition is greatly blurred which adds a rather whimsical element to greetings.
There is also one street in Central Tamale between one of the main Mosques and the market where children lead old blind women through the traffic begging for money which the children collect in a bowl and then hand over to the women who tuck it into the folds of their clothing as they shuffle to the next car or motorbike. The first time I witnessed this scene it caused me to take a step back and wonder—for one there are few beggars on the street and then in Africa, where it often seems that you are only working to get the lucky few a better life, to witness a blind beggar who’s only support comes from a small child one understands the huge amount of work that needs to take place. When people ask the question “Can the whole world live like America or Europe?” I don’t think about cars, T.V. or fast food but rather education for the blind or special education programs in school—one of the other saddening sights is that of a child with obvious learning disabilities either out of school wandering the streets or in a classroom completely lost and ignored by the teacher—only seen as a hindrance to the other children. There is a whole side of life that we take for granted that isn’t even imagined by most Ghanaians. When it is a struggle to provide even basic education and care, those who are worse off are often left by the wayside. In a country full of signs advertising a multitude of education and development projects the only one I have seen related to the disabled is a billboard in Tamale urging people not to beat “Street Retards.”