The Ghana Tree

My journey to Ghana. An account of what I see, learn, feel, and experience. My Story and the Stories I come across.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Pocket Knife

The first afternoon that I spent in the village of Gburma I once again took a nap underneath a tree on a narrow and unforgiving wooden bench. When I went I lay down I was surrounded by several goats and a few chickens; when I awoke I was surrounded by a group of kids recently home from school. And while I was asleep they had taken notice of my pocket knife—I was soon asked “what is that?” indicating the clip of my knife. I usually avoid this question and the false answer that it is a pen usually suffices but I decided to indulge this group, so I pulled the knife out and opened the blade. This sent the group scattering and laughing. Upon their return they asked me what I used it for and in response I drew my finger across my throat; this set them running even further. This group continued to pop up wherever I went in the village: they went to my training sessions at the school, they stopped by after dinner, the next morning they loitered around before school when I was working with the women’s group, and they stopped by after school and dinner. And they always asked about the knife, which I would only revile when they weren’t paying attention, sending them tumbling over each other.

Before my nap Walisu dropped me off in the village, after another long ride on the motorcycle, and then returned to Tamale. I did my introductions with the village Chairperson and meet with the Chief and the leader of the women’s group. I also went and visited the school and met with the teachers there. By the time this was over Walisu had returned with man making a movie for SNV—the Dutch equivalent of USAID. Walisu works with SNV quite a bit as they have several projects focused on cultural tourism. I gave what I felt was a very bizarre interview which also involved me walking around my compound and standing in different places; I am interested to see what becomes of this. After this a visited some more compounds with Walisu informing parents to send their kids back to the school for the training. We then walked to the school and waited for about an hour as kids arrived, left, arrived again, or were sent to find more children. I really want to target the older students with this training, especially the older girls, but these are always the ones that seem to miss the message or decide not to come. The training did go good and we agreed on a time for the following day. Tessert for dinner.

After a fitful night of sleep—just a mat on the floor—I woke up ready for the training with the women’s group. And after Walisu, the Chairperson, and his assistant, visiting all the compounds we started an hour late. Once again a beautiful collection of brightly printed cloth, old soccer jerseys, headscarves, and kids peaking over shoulders collected in the shade of a tree. The training went well again with the women periodically clapping and standing up to say thank you on behalf of the group.

That afternoon we once again headed to the school after visiting several compounds and the Chairperson announcing the training over the Mosque’s loudspeaker. Once again however, the majority of the students were late. Now I have mentioned Africa Time before as a sort of forgivable quark but at times it really gets to me. They seem to use it as a readymade excuse for always being late, and the part that really bothers me is that they are completely aware of the fact and often apologize ahead of time—every Chief I visit asks me to be patient when I work with them because they are often late or slow when doing something. But I feel that when the first thing I do in a community is ask what time should we do the training that they should show up at the time they say the will. I could understand if I just picked a time without consulting them but I let them pick the time, so I always wonder if they know that they’re going to be late when they set the time. Anyways once the training did start it went very well, largely thanks to Walisu’s enthusiasm in teaching. By the time it was over people were standing on desks and laughing and we positively spilled out of the classroom and on our way back to the village beat up a cloud of dust and would have rivaled any political rally or riot with kids running and falling, fights breaking out, somersaults and cartwheels being performed, and kids breaking off from the group and as far as I could tell just taking off running into the bush.

That night as I ate another bowl of Tessert, and thanks to a late moonrise, I was treated to my first good view of the African starts—albeit familiar ones since I am still in the Northern Hemisphere.  There was also a good amount of satellites moving across the sky and it made me wonder what these people I am staying with think they are.  It made me for a moment realize that to people like this there are countless unknown and fabulous things the world—travel through the heavens must still be just as unimaginable as it was for the Greeks.  This was also a “cold” night with my host family pulling on coats and continually drinking tea out of thermoses. It was probably in the low eighties. This is why I am not sure if the boiling of water was due to my training or if they were just heating it up for washing—I hope it was because of me.

The next morning I completed my training with the women’s group and once again presented them with a bag of medical supplies and a box of soap. The second day of training is always rewarding especially when you see that all the kids have pants on and a few even have sandals resolutely tightened onto feet—after the first session of training I also usually see groups of kids washing hands with soap in a group. After this I worked on the one bicycle that was donated in April and then went to meet with the Chief again. He was once again very thankful for the work I had done and stressed the importance of basic health. He was also very proud of the three women(wives) from his compound that attended the training. As I was getting ready to leave the Chairperson presented me with a big rooster from the women’s group in honor of the work that I had done. So I set off on the back of the motorcycle holding a live rooster and trying to balance on the bumpy roads with my large backpack.

The rooster will be consumed tomorrow alongside a very expensive Turkey for Thanksgiving. Along with another American volunteer I am hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for a couple other Americans as well as some Europeans.

 First day of training. Probably talking about Soap.
 My room. Did not sleep the best.
 Presenting the medical supplies.
 Working on the bike. I do more than just change flats but Walisu seems to think this is the most exciting part.
 Being presented the rooster. I am just glad it didn't attack or poop on me on the ride to Tamale.


  1. Another great post.....
    Hope you have a fine Thanksgiving, maybe we should have given you some cooking instruction after the mechanic instruction. Just received a couple of fine pies from your folks. I guess we all have something to be thankful for.
    Be well...


  2. Teresa Venable McMillanNovember 27, 2010 at 5:53 PM

    Jeremy, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog! I spent Friday after Thanksgiving at your Uncle Bob's house and got to visit with your parents; who are obviously very proud of what you are doing and shared your blog web-address :) I went back to the beginning and ma now up-to-date!
    In case you've forgotten how we are related, your Grandfather Bill and my Father Don were your Dad & I are first cousins. I'm Uncle Don & Aunt Carol's oldest daughter Teresa and I'm sure you remember my younger brother Barry. I LOVE to travel and love to travel vicariously by reading blogs by more adventurous travelers. My trip to Macchu Pichu a few years ago has been my most adventurous trip but we stayed in local hotels and used a hired driver & guide for our trip. In Lima they have something similar to TroTros but we were too scared to attempt them! Our hired car with questionable brakes in the Andes was adventurous enough for me! I liked your story about "stars" and I'll share a little story that might also help you and your folks as time passes. My husband Brian emigrated from Scotland to British Columbia, Canada with his mother at age 16. Although he's happy now it was not a move that he chose to make. When he was desperately lonely and missing his best pal, who was like a brother to him, he would go outside and look at the stars and it made him happy to know that his pal Bill had looked at those same stars...kind of a "stellar hug". Forty years later he still comments occasionally about the "warm & fuzzy" feeling he gets knowing his pal Bill sees the same stars...they talk about it when they have the rare opportunity to see each other.
    Keep up the good work and the great job of explaining who, what, why & where you're at!

  3. Hi Jeremy, This is Cozy Venable Palmer, Teresa's youngest sister. I live in Texas. Teresa shared your blog with me and I, too, am up to date now on all your posts. I'm wondering how your Thanksgiving dinner was with the other volunteers. No doubt it was different from what you're accustomed, but I can think of some similarities, too. You were with like-minded contemporaries thankful for the opportunity to be there and thankful for the freedom to be there. I'm looking forward to reading more. I LOVE the pictures.