Without anything planned for Saturday I decided to drive my motorcycle into the bush and see where I would end up. The route was to continue past Kulaa and Walisu had informed me that there would be a river crossing and at least one village. At two o’clock I picked up Katie—the American volunteer from Thanksgiving—and we set off. Katie lives right next to the road that leads to the villages that I work in but she had never been down it before. As we set off we dodged taxies, bicycles, motorcycles, walkers, sheep, chickens, and a herd of cows but as we continued down the road the small shops along the road disappeared and we saw fewer and fewer people and those that we did were mostly farmers or their wives walking to and from their fields. After passing through Kulaa we continued downhill into a valley and bounced along a heavily rutted road showing the recent end to the rainy season—this valley is completely flooded in the rainy season and the villages on the other side almost completely cut off from Tamale. The river was located at the far end of the valley and we made it across the water and up the steep bank where three women waved and offered us some water.
Out of the flood plain we were now in a more wooded area and the narrow red road threaded its way through the trees, its only traffic women carrying water on their heads and groups of farmers riding slowly along—all with a friendly face and greeting. We soon arrived in the village of Moya and were greeted by running and waving groups of children shooting “Hello Saminga.”
Leaving Moya we continued to climb out of the valley and soon the plateau opened up before us but then disappeared again hidden by twelve foot high grass on either side of the road—now a single dirt foot path that bounced across the ruts of recently wet areas. We went along for some time on this road and eventually came upon a small sign that simply said “Chisugo” with an arrow below. Following this we soon came upon a group of women harvesting rice in a field and were once again greeted with smiles.
Winding around a corner we came upon the village. A village that was as different from the ones I stay in as they themselves are to Tamale. Chisugo is located in a thick grove of trees and its compounds are not walled but instead clustered around the large trees. We chose this as our turn around spot and as we stopped for a drink next to a compound we were greeted by a group of young children—this greeting was different as well; instead of screaming “Hello Saminga (white person)” this group came up one by one bent down and said “Antidre;” the local greeting for “Good Afternoon” And while I am sure they know of and have maybe seen a white person before you got the impression that we were a rare appearance and instead of greeting us as different or outsiders they simply greeted us as they would anyone else in their small village.
And while this situation might seem wonderful—especially since we had not seen trash or a plastic bag for quite some time—but the fact is these kids are a very difficult thirty-five minute trip by motorcycle (which they don’t have) to the closest primary school and over an hour to the nearest secondary school or hospital. It’s hard to imagine any meaningful change happening to this community for hundreds of years—maybe a health care worker stopping by or a farm extension worker checking in—by far the most important development being the bicycle.
Heading back through the alternating trees and tall grass we were surrounded by various types of birds and the path ahead of the front wheel was always host to scrambling lizards of different size and even a bandicoot—a small hoping squirrel like rodent that lives in the bush. Just past Moya we were admiring this scenery when we came around a corner and dived into a section of deep and loose gravel which grabbed the front wheel and sent us flying. Luckily the cause of the crash also saved us in a sense, the gravel provided an amazingly soft landing pad—and I provided one for Katie. After dusting ourselves off we realized that we had crashed on the only populated stretch of road and two stunned farmers were stradleing their bicycles and staring at us so we quickly piled on the bike which was also undamaged and set off down the road. After a short time we stopped and did a more complete check over with the only results being a small scratch on my left elbow and the realization that we had just crashed the motorcycle.
The rest of the trip was enjoyable with a stop at a wooden bridge crossing a stream and going off in a different direction which while tempting did not get the better off us. After a two and a half hour trip we arrived back in Tamale very dusty but with smiles on are face and saying, “That was really enjoyable” followed up by “And we crashed the bike.” And a new appreciation of rural communities that left us wondering what was past Chisugo.