darkness below the candle…

As it is becoming the norm now, I started writing this entry nearly a week ago when I returned to Tamale from my latest “exploratory visits” to a few villages in the western part of the Northern Region in Ghana. But for no particular reason, it has taken me a whole week to post it here. Without further ado let me narrate my experience from my latest trip.

After being away from the “connected” world for ten days or so, I was thinking I would be overwhelmed by the amount of email waiting to be downloaded over a slow connection. I couldn’t have been more wrong (and very happily so). I only had about 50 and half of those were newsletters from various affiliations which I don’t bother reading below the subject lines (I read subject lines however, and that too with a certain amount of hope that they might be offering something interesting – almost always to my disappointment of course!). Of the remaining half, a dozen or so were “info-email” addressed to “all” from the administrators at the university/department, which I ignored obviously. So remaining dozen or so email were actually not too bad considering I hadn’t checked my email for more than ten days!! I think the holiday period has begun so I guess I shouldn’t be too worried about going out in the wilderness for a few weeks without missing much in the way of correspondences.

Anyway, what I was am planning to write about regarding the title of this entry is actually not just about the light and darkness, literally, but also metaphorically. Let me elaborate. Have you ever happen to be at a place where you cannot get a mobile signal (“no network” or “out of coverage area” in technical speak) but you are literally below the mobile phone mast (or tower if you prefer)? Well, thats exactly what happened to me when I was on my latest trip to the western part of the Northern Region in Ghana. I was doing some background research at a village where there were quite a few mobile phone masts, but whenever I was just around the area below the mobile phone mast, I didn’t get any signal on my mobile! So I was forced to extend the “darkness below the candle” saying to mobile phone signals – “no signal below the mobile signal mast” so to speak!

Well, another strange sight in this part of the Northern Region (and this place I am talking about is right on the main highway connecting NR and South Ghana to the Upper West) is that the village and a small market town nearby, where we stayed for two nights, had all the electric wiring fitted, including meters, only that no electricity was flowing through those wires. In fact in many houses the wiring had become defunct due to the lack of use – and I was told that most people in this area had been waiting for 12 good years to get electricity – that is most of the wiring (mains and household) was done almost 12 years ago and they have been waiting all these years for the electric currents to flow through those wires! And to make matter worse, the main supply line (the high-tension lines) of the electricity for the Upper West region passes right through this area! Darkness below the candle indeed…

I certainly found the western part of the NR in Ghana more interesting than Tamale, like I had the Upper East. Although hills (if they could be called as such) are not as high or as steep as in the UE (I guess you could probably call them hillocks), the ups and downs as you travel through that landscape, most with thick vegetation (probably thicker now being the rainy season) provides a great scenery, and certainly compensates for a large section of the dirt road that one has to travel to reach Bole from Tamale. I received such a hospitality, especially in the villages I visited, that I hadn’t thought I would even in my dreams. At times it was all too overwhelming – like that time when the elders in a village, where I spent a couple of days observing their livelihood practices and talking to them about their way of life, said they would give me some land, build me a house to live in and provide a few young men to help me farm!! And I have to admit I struggled to find words to thank them for their hospitality, kindness and generosity so overwhelmed with emotions that I had suddenly become.

with Yipala elders
The elders and I

Another interesting thing that I observed (as I have been for a while now) is how much connected people here in the north are to each other. The little market town with all the electrical wiring but no electricity flowing that I mentioned above happened to be a town (or rather a village back then) where my assistant had spent a few years as a kid. His maternal grandfather was the chief of that village and although he hadn’t been back there for 10 years or so, as soon as we arrived there, many people recognised him and came to ask questions about him as his family. He also remembered some of his friends, particularly one girl, who it turned out he asked about as soon as we arrived in the morning (I didn’t know about this at that time – firstly because of the language and secondly I was apparently eating my breakfast when he went out to ask about this girl). Anyway, after finishing the day’s work, when I was walking back into the town in the evening, one woman comes to me and asks where my friend was. I just stood there wondering how she knew I had a friend with me (and she asked by his name of course!), and before I could utter a word she explained that he had asked for her in the morning and she had received the message only after we had left the town. It turned out my assistant and this girl were classmates at JSS (junior secondary school) over 10 years ago. My assistant came around to meet her and they started catching up on their years spent apart (in their local language of course and I had to find some other way to make myself busy!). One good thing for me about this “reunion” was that I got to eat nice meals for lunch and dinners over the days that we spent in that area. My assistant certainly got more than good foods though, which I need not elaborate here.

On my last trip I also had quite an experience visiting different traditional chiefs in the area, including the Paramount (chief of the chiefs!). Since this entry is already getting long with my other babbles, I will write about that some other time. As for these days, I am back in Tamale planning for my upcoming trips, and getting some paperwork done while here.

Apart from the times spent travelling to villages here in Ghana and meeting peoples and talking to them, albeit via translators, I probably enjoy the time I spend cooking the most. Somehow it has been the time of relaxation, some sort of therapy – cooking therapy! I still haven’t been able to get all the ingredients (mainly spices) that I would have liked to. However, as they say every constraint brings opportunities, and having to make do with what I have managed to get has certainly given me enough opportunities for experimentation in my cooking and in using what little spices that I have managed to get. In fact only a couple of days ago I came to know about a store that might have the spices that I have been wanting to get. So I’ll check that out sometime today, hopefully there won’t be any disappointments.

Its been raining a lot since early morning today (actually just clearing up now, just in time for me to go out to town for shopping!). I have been reading about rain and flooding in South Asia in the Beebs, focussing particularly on the flooding in Nepal, especially after Darren wrote in to ask if my family were safe back home (thanks a lot Darren). I had phoned my mum the week I was in Bole and she was complaining about too much rain and flooding in Nepal. But of course my village, lying on relatively higher grounds, was not affected by the floods, and I didn’t think it was that serious a problem then. Now I realised she was actually referring to the devastating floods in southern Nepal. Here in Tamale, people were praying for rain until a couple of weeks ago, and it seems their prayers are being answered now.

Oh, please check my photoblog for more images from my trips. Very hard to get high resolution images uploaded, but I have found an ingenious way of publishing more images on my photoblog now without having to make daily trips to the internet cafe, so expect a bit more regular updates!!

3 thoughts on “darkness below the candle…

  1. Mr Poudyalji!

    It seems that you had a fantastic time in Ghana, eating local foods most of the time. Good for you that you didn’t keep up with your vegan diet! Hospitality in West Africa, especially in rural areas as you describe it, seems extraordinary.

  2. I really like the photo with the Elders and you in it. It’s so “National Geographic” in a good way. Seeing new sights that will never appear in a travel magazine.

  3. u must b having a really great time! well, maynot be a bed of roses all the time but it’s definitely “national geographic” type. waiting for more updates!

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