DAY 11 THURSDAY 30th NOVEMBER 2017. NAVRONGO, GHANA
The slightly tall stories of the man who rode two months and many miles from ‘London Proper’ on a motorbike, “ALL the way! Eh!”, to Navrongo, always confer on me a sort of superhuman status that makes me laugh. “Twice!” Always adds Wechiga. “Two good times!” Now that everyone is a motorcyclist – hmmm, of sorts – here, they consider the feat even more remarkable. It can be such a fun introduction.
This was market day once again, it rotates every third day in Navrongo. Wechiga and I were to go in the morning but somehow we never made it. Our days go by pleasantly, doing the small chores of travelling or neighbourliness and chattering away. Rhoda phoned to tell us of an exhibition of crafts in town that we might like, a small initiative by a private NGO who appeared to be just a couple of Swiss and German families trying to encourage better standards in craft work. There’s a conundrum at work here: better quality costs more in raw materials and takes longer, but no one has money to buy. Poorer quality, but the ‘ethnic’ look attracts the middle men. So it is that I see low quality basketwork from Bolgatanga hanging outside the trinket shops in Totnes at scandalous prices like £30 or £35; baskets bought in bulk down here for maybe £3 or £4 or less, and people buy them either because they think they are helping Africans or because they like the ethnic, handmade look. A young woman, called Georgina, had baskets on display the quality of which I haven’t seen anywhere. But how would I get one home and, frankly, what would I do with it? There were fine Kenti cloth weavings too, beadwork, clothing, smocks, handmade soap and an array of colourful items, including an amusing sculpture made entirely from discarded sandal soles. One woman had invented a way to weave into baskets some of the millions and millions of used plastic bags that litter the ground in every direction.
When I travel in Africa I see the futility of the efforts we may make in so called ‘developed’ countries to clean up our planet. We tinker with charging for harmful plastic bags, while Africa is submerged by the waste, stuck to every stick and thorn, eaten by and strangling the cattle, entering the food chain and for ever polluting the soil. We tinker with vehicle discharges, put fines on polluting engines, then export the worst polluters to Africa, where they blast filth and poison for decades to come. We have warnings and excitement about the overuse of antibiotics, issuing restrictive advice to our doctors for the weakening effects of the best wonder drug invented by man, that makes complex surgery possible, while in Africa everyone buys antibiotics over the counter from untrained pharmacists when they get a cold or any small ill. As the ‘developed world’ understands the dangers of smoking, the evil tobacco companies just peddle more and more of their nasty wares to Africa, where health provision is so low and no one will sue them for their cynical profiteering. The recent exposure of plastic granules in 92% of water samples tested around the world makes no waves here, where single use plastic bottles are the ‘new’ hygienic way to sell drink, and anyway the Coca Cola Corp have a stranglehold on the continent already. Any attempts we make to fiddle with all these pollutions are doomed to failure if such huge swathes of the world don’t even understand the concept of a food chain and what is happening to it. Thinking too much is a bit depressing here in Africa!
Rhoda was one year old, hanging on Akay’s hip, the day I arrived at the family house, her sister cowering behind the old lady’s leg, half fearful, half inquisitive. Rhoda’s 28 now, married to Godfrey, a quiet, steady man, says Wechiga. She is visibly pregnant, but no one will mention it – the excitements of new pregnancies are not celebrated in Navrongo, no announcements made. Wechiga heard by chance of his new grandchild, when Rebecca had already given birth. Perhaps this lack of celebration of birth – so unlike the noise made around death – originates from the old days when infant mortality was so high? I only hear of births in the family in conversation with Dennis, using his monthly 15 minutes of free air time for an international call!
‘Becca is beautiful. A most striking young woman with fine features and attractive dimples. Now she is mother of three month old Cyril (where DO they get these names?). Babies so small don’t interest me much, but my little playmate, Faith, is great. At five, he is smart and endlessly talkative. We picked him from his primary school on Wechiga’s small motorbike, riding away three-up to take a couple of beers in quiet bars, where he imbibed two bottles of sugary pop. Maybe that’s what made him so active later when, with a full stomach of plantain and beans (‘red-red’) on my roof, he was hyperactive and full of fun. A grand little boy, old enough to make sense, young enough to let his imagination rip in play, Wechiga’s ‘pensioneer’s child’, as he has been called!
DAY 12 FRIDAY 1st DECEMBER 2017. NAVRONGO, GHANA
The first Friday in December is a public holiday: National Farmers’ Day, an initiative to encourage farmers and the day on which is announced the National Farmer, and all the regional winners of the annual contest, with prizes from a new house, through pick-ups to smaller local rewards. Today is also the date for several, up to at least ten, Wechiga says, local funerals, so it’s noisy enough at night that it may turn into an earplug night. Sirens blare from fire engines and ambulances, there’s fake drumming everywhere, extreme-volume amplified ‘music’ that is mainly engineered bass beat rhythms and very boring. Making noise all night is a feature of funerals; big money will be spent this weekend. Many of the corpses have been stored two or three months in freezers down in Tamale. These days vast, lavish funerals are planned to show wealth more than respect. Mortuary bills alone would have kept the deceased in comfort during their waning last years. Sons and daughters ‘in abroad’ gather for these hideous events, having often ignored their elderly relatives, living in meagre conditions for years.
The old custom, by which I mean just 25 years ago, before the arrival of 24 hour power, freezers and embalming, was to get the body buried within a day or two – coffins unnecessary – and then perform the ritual funerals over the next months and even years, funerals rites being in complex extended stages.
I have seen tombs better and more commodious than the houses the dead inhabited, that would be better used as water tanks and in extreme cases could be swimming pools! Death ritual has now, like much else in modern Ghana, become a race to keep up with the Joneses, to demonstrate family wealth (that’s more often non-existent) and pomp and pride. The Catholic church does nothing to discourage this habit and makes big money from special masses and thanksgivings, lavish burials in the increasingly sprawling graveyard behind the discotheque cathedral and the now-reclassified old mud ‘basilica’.
As I write (on Saturday morning: I am too tired from the heat to write at night here) little Faith is drawing beside me. We are sitting on the cool concrete-formed benches in my round house, cool from the night. It WAS an earplug night. I awoke at 3.00 and decided I’d never get back to sleep with the repetitive bass beat drilling away at the night. I had woken with a fast beating heart to a loud explosion, another ritual that punctuates the nights of these huge funerals. Happily, the Adamba funerals are low key affairs. Perry has a very good family decree that the dead of this family should be in the grave within no more than a week. Akay, Adamba, Uncle Gwea and Grace are all buried nearby beneath the family fields and the burials took place as soon as the families had been notified.
Wechiga is his old self, the congenial fellow I remember so well. We spent our entire day sitting with his friend and second cousin, Ignatius, a well informed man who kindly converses in English while I am around. He’s a teacher, son of Wechiga’s cousin Cletus, whom I remember from the earliest journeys, but who went off the rails and abandoned his family, to end up dying in an Accra slum. In the years he was away, his family of small children lived with their grandmother in one mud room that Wechiga and his ‘brothers’ built. Now Ignatius has built an admirable bungalow next to the remains of that simple, charitable compound that the older brothers kept going for a few years as the children grew. The old grandmother, Abuga, is long gone and now Ignatius himself has at least four children. He has walled his yard with a five foot block wall and grows many trees, keeps fowls and enjoys the peace of his own hard efforts. A very decent man. A peaceful day spent talking politics – Brexit still an item of wonder, with Trump in the same brackets of political amazement: “WHY!!??? Eh! It’s even crazier than Ghana politics!?”
DAY 13 SATURDAY 2nd DECEMBER 2017. NAVRONGO, GHANA
Demon drink struck tonight. After a pleasant, cheerful day wandering about Navrongo with my old friend, he disappeared in the early evening to one of the many funeral houses. Mary and I called him back for his supper but he returned and instantly fell asleep beside his supper bowl and snored like an old drunk, unfed on the roof beside me. It turns out to have been a bottle of drink that I could not bring myself to drink in the afternoon, mixed with a calabash of fairly innocuous pito – sour local beer made from millet. There are only two or three sorts of beer in Ghana, made by a couple of major industrial breweries. The most popular is Club Beer, the old Ghana beer, but it seems to me this year to be sadly light and watery. They tamper with the recipes often. I prefer to drink Castle Milk Stout, when I can get it. From South Africa, it’s made under licence in Ghana and owned by the ugly multinational SAB Miller. In another cheating-the-people measure, Castle has been reduced recently from a bottle size of 625mm to a mere 500mm yet the price remains the same.
Wechiga suggested I tried another drink in the afternoon, which I thought to be another sort of beer. It turned out to be a disgusting concoction: ‘fruit flavoured alcoholic drink’, contents carbonated water, sucrose, alcohol and flavourings, mainly with E numbers. God knows what form of manufactured ‘alcohol’ they put in it to make up the 6% strength. It was utterly disgusting and I just couldn’t drink my bottle. Now no African that I know likes waste of booze or food, so Wechiga poured the rest of my pint bottle into his beer. A calabash of pito at the funeral house mixed badly and the rest was a spoiled evening.
At least I can forgive him this morning when he tells me it was not hard liquor, the unclassified strength home distilled stuff, called apoteshi. It kills so many people in this town, especially at this season when men have little to do and funerals are rife. Unemployment is high, male responsibility is low, drink is an attractive diversion. Ill health, accidents, family discord and abject poverty are the results in so many cases, often only alleviated by early death. Alcoholism is one of Africa’s major social problems.
Well, the rest of the day was fun. We managed to avoid most of the funeral activities, calling only briefly at one crowded compound to meet an old friend up from Tamale. You are expected to be seen at these lavish events, despite the fact that in a crowd of hundreds it seems unlikely you’d be missed! Most of these guests have to be fed. It used to be that the local community came together to cook quantities of local food but this has given way to outside caterers or packaged take-aways in polystyrene containers and the ever present plastic bags. Many ‘mourners’ come for what they can get, food and booze. Traditional drumming is now rare, replaced by gigantic speakers and a computer deck relaying mechanical music: repetitive, tedious base beat rhythms pounding out, where the local drums and whistles used to shrill and throb. When pride seeps into these traditional rites they lose much of their meaning and become shallow displays undertaken out of duty. This weekend, funerals are all over town and now loud hammering bass thumps and roars from every quarter. Next weekend will be worse, when there is a ‘society’ funeral that will attract big political figures from the south and all those who think themselves anyone in the whole country!
Itiel’s smaller brother, Jonathan, named after me almost five years back, has been terrified of the white man, despite taking such an interest in my comings and goings that he has hidden behind the house many times to watch me covertly. Encouraged to come closer, he would scream and wail. Until this evening. Now, suddenly, we are the best of friends and he clambered all over me as I watched Mary cooking supper over her charcoal and fire of sticks in the yard of Wechiga’s house. Doubtless, from now on he will shadow me with his brother and little chatterbox, Faith.
Wechiga has been constructing his own block for the past four or so years. He has now roofed four rooms, basic rectangles of handmade concrete blocks with thin shiny zinc roofs. One room is now habitable, the next one used as a store at present, for water tubs and household items, the third for a huge mound of dried corn cobs, and the last will be his hall. They are connected by a covered space, where he keeps his motorbike at night and where Mary can cook in the rainy season. Building is a slow process in this economy, even with a white brother outside Ghana, and he has to be patient. Patience comes easily to Africans through necessity. One day perhaps he will have a fenced yard around his house, his chicken shed and covered work area. The bath house is a few sheets of zinc five feet high in a square outside, where we bath down under the sun. Water is now piped to a tank outside Perry’s sprawling rooming block nearby, from which Mary has to fetch the small family’s water in containers I can hardly lift. She pushes them on a bicycle the two hundred yards. Time was, though, when all the women of the house would carry large slopping bowls of water from a well more than half a mile distant. Then there was a well about 500 yards away, later, the well that I paid to be dug just outside the compound, then latterly a bore hole 300 yards in the other direction. So water by tap just a couple of hundred yards off is progress indeed.
DAY 14 SUNDAY 3rd DECEMBER 2017. NAVRONGO, GHANA
At 6.35 this morning I was awoken from fitful sleep by an insistent knocking on the door of my little round house. I arose, somewhat irritated, to find smiling Faith at the door. “Uncle, I am looking for the broom,” he said, all innocence as he pushed past me. “There it is,” I said, pointing to a long-handled Chinese sweeping brush, one of millions that have infiltrated Navrongo where people always bent to sweep with hand brooms. “No, Uncle, I want the one-one broom!” The small boy’s inventiveness was spoiled by the fact that he had stepped over the hand broom made of individual grass stalks tied with a ribbon, to beat at my door. Of course, all my five year old friend really wanted was an excuse to wake me on Sunday morning! It’s impossible to be angry with such curiosity and such big five year old smiles and ingenuousness. The ‘one-one’ broom!
I’d had a bad night with catarrh again. It happens to me often, especially when I travel to Africa. The dryness of the air is as bad as of that air con, which causes it whenever I get to USA. The roof of my mouth felt as if it had been sandpapered all day until I could take some pills, bought at a small pharmacy: ‘Dosage: as prescribed by the physician’, haha! ‘Do not store in above 30 degrees’, haha! These drugs are sold over the counter by untrained salespeople, stored in a shack made from a shipping container that is like an oven. The air temperature outside is at least 35 or 36.
We did nothing of much use the whole day. I couldn’t spend such a calm, unproductive day anywhere but in this intense climate, with my old friend Wechiga, sitting calmly drinking bad beer beneath a spreading mango of a quiet bar. It’s funny how many people still recognise me, or know of me in Navrongo. Many people stop their motorbikes (for no one walks any more) to greet and in the evening we were walking slowly home when a ‘Mama Camboo’ passed and a woman’s voice exclaimed “Eh, Navrossay, you are back! Welcome!” as the Indian tuk-tuk whirred past in a pother of dust. Neither of us had the slightest idea who the passenger was, but it is fun to be well known and special to be made so welcome.
The Indian style tuk-tuks, three wheeler scooters with a superstructure that covers two hard, bouncing seats for passengers, got their local name from the Ghanaian president, under whose regime the vehicles were brought to the country a few years ago: Joe Mama – as in ‘Mama Can Do’, now popularly ‘Mama camboo’. They are everywhere, along with the ‘Motorking’ motorbike trucks from China and the millions of small motorbikes, mainly, it seems, from Dubai. Walking is now inferior, in this town in which everyone walked everywhere just a few years ago. With loads on their heads, they would march mile upon mile to distant family houses or to bring their wares to market. Now the pervading scent of Navrongo is of leaking petrol and exhaust fumes. Children are ‘picked’ to schools on parents’ motorbikes and mopeds, the market lanes are choked with smelly machines and life has changed. Now everyone needs money for petrol…
The biggest difference between life in West Africa and East and southern Africa is certainly in hygiene and sanitation. In Lesotho, a poor country (but my favourite), a view of the expansive green hillsides is usually punctuated by hundreds of shiny zinc pit latrines, however poor the grass-roofed homes. It’s the same all over the east and south of the continent. However mean a dwelling, it has a decent, clean, well kept pit latrine. Here in Navrongo the worst few minutes of my day is my visit to the pit latrine that I caused to be dug outside the now long gone family compound, for the seven to ten inhabitants. I felt that a family with a white man should set an example and it became the only pit latrine in the area, where most people ‘free range’ and disease is facilitated. The surrounding bungalows now have septic tanks, but the big rooming house, occupied by perhaps twenty people, plus Wechiga’s small family, all use the old pit. It is almost full and I shall refrain from description. Small children are still to be seen ‘free ranging’ all around the decreasingly small fields and amongst the increasingly numerous houses. There are two broken down lavatories in the big rooming house, but no one bothered to carry the buckets of water needed to flush them, so they are disused. ‘Free range’ is still the toilet of choice. I date my acceptance in and of Navrongo life from my first evening in the old compound with Wechiga back in 1989. We didn’t know one another then, but I felt nature calling and realised I had no idea where to go. Having a piss was easy, but now..? So I knew I just had to ask. “Wechiga, where do I go for a shit?” I asked. He looked at me, slightly surprised, then waved his arm at the bare fields all around the compound. “Why, anywhere…” That, I felt, as I squatted between the stumps of the harvested maize field was where my adjustment to Navrongo began!
Not a pleasant feature of Navrongo life at all…
DAY 15 MONDAY 4th DECEMBER 2017. NAVRONGO, GHANA
Wechiga and I took to bicycles while his small motorbike was fitted with a new tyre. We rode to Nyangua and Paga, the town to the north at the end of Ghana, twenty-plus miles on a one-geared bike too small for me. This we did in the noonday equatorial sun. Mary was incredulous at the feat, for she is of the ‘pick me there’ generation and forgets how her grandmothers would walk for so many miles. She insisted on washing my sweaty tee shirt for me; I always do my own washing on these journeys, my shirt, pants and socks, in the shower or bucket wash down.
She set about washing. “Hey, be gentle!” I admonished, “that shirt has to be washed at least 45 more times before next March!”, for I carry only two tee shirts. I always remember a woman on the roof of a hotel in Bogota, Colombia, wrenching my shirt from me when she saw me washing so tentatively. When she had finished bashing, soaping, and squeezing, that shirt had shredded and had 44 holes in it! The joys and disadvantages of travelling micro-light.
We rode to the outlying village of Nyangua to visit the first and perhaps best of all the ‘projects’ I undertook in Ghana, mainly with the help of Biddenham village and a Bedford Rotary Club. The very poor village was attempting to maintain a school under a government provided steel shelter on poles, a ‘pavilion’ as they were called, and in a ruined mud block they had built for themselves. I brought money for the village to mobilise and make blocks and cement for floors and walls beneath the steel roof, enclosing three classrooms, a small office and a store. The village came up trumps and a year later they had a rudimentary school of which they were very proud. The village’s self image had risen and there was a new confidence about the place, for they had undertaken this work as a community. Because they now had a storeroom, the catholic church sent them food for school lunches – just provisions for basic rice and stew. More children attended school because families could see their children fed. The school prospered. That was all in about 1995, I suppose. I went back maybe in about 1999 and embarrassed government officials, belittled by some complete stranger from overseas, had built a second block of three more classrooms and they had, at last, a proper school and increased education in Nyangua. It was a great success story for me and for some years I became ‘Naygua’s white man’, to be greeted at every Navrongo market by hordes of uniformed schoolchildren and their parents.
Now, of course, all the old protagonists are dead and gone, reminding me how early so many rural Ghanaians die, and the story has faded from Nyangua’s people. But the school is still there, attended now by 223 children from kindergarten to Primary 6. What’s even more gratifying is that 300 yards away, Nyangua now has a Senior Secondary School! I doubt that would have happened without the £2000, I think it was, that I brought, and the determination of the village people, the chief, PTA chairman, assemblyman, and the head teacher, all of whom were in charge of the project. The current headteacher, Agnes, knew nothing of the story of the founding of her school. “Oh, furniture is now our problem!” She exclaimed, showing me broken desks everywhere. “We have been writing, but no one comes to help…” Typically, the desks are largely mendable, but in Ghana, mending is seldom an option: they must be replaced by new. A good handyman could repair the majority of desks, but he’d have to use drill and screws in the old hardwood, not the two inch nails that would inevitably be used. “How many of us have drills?” asked Wechiga rhetorically.
Weary but satisfied we continued back to our mango tree beer bar via Paga, most northerly town in Ghana, where is the border to Burkina Faso. We probably ride about 22 miles in all in the burning sun. A couple of beers were very welcome. Night-time temperatures perhaps fall to 30 degrees, but the days still climb to the high 30s. I am still drowning in catarrh, my usual uncomfortable penance for change of climate and the intense dryness of the air. So sleep, even in the eleven hours I seem to spend on my hot bed, is difficult, even with the window shutters pinned back by sticks and the old curtains caught up. Life’s not easy in Navrongo.
DAY 16 TUESDAY 5th DECEMBER 2017. NAVRONGO, GHANA
The last three or four days have been a struggle against the worst catarrh/ cold I can remember – since the last one, this being my Achille’s heel. I was in bed, exhausted and fractious, by eight last night, tossing and turning in desperate need of sleep, deprived the last three nights, my head bursting. Finally, about 2.00am the tide turned and I fell asleep. I am up late this morning after twelve hours on my bed – rested at last, still with the residue of cold. Wow, a battle! There was a short time in the late afternoon that I admit I felt my age and sacked all the cheery five year olds and their chatter so that I could lie on my bed and rest. Unheard of! Afternoon rest?
The Tono Project Area is the large irrigated region to the west of town. It was created many years ago by an early post-colonial government to bring employment and fertility to this dry northern land. By damming one of the branches of the White Volta, a lake was formed and concrete channels built to bring water to about fifty square kilometres of now wonderfully green land. It’s a relief to all the senses to go out there, where water burbles in channels refreshingly and the eye can rest on expanses of waving green rice, ready for harvest. Individuals rent garden spaces and smaller plots, while the commercial famers grow on bigger farms. In the past I have worked there with Wechiga and the family but it’s a while since he had his dry season gardens or farms. Once he entered the government service as a carpenter at the training college, where he’s now maintenance crew foreman, his farming time was limited. When I was first in Navrongo, he was a subsistence farmer taking carpentry contracts, mainly for roofing frames. Soon he’ll be a retired government worker. Maybe then he will start farming again, beyond the depleted fields, now mainly growing ugly bungalows, around the old family home. Wechiga knows a lot about growing crops and keeping animals, lessons learned from the life around him.
We puttered to ‘the canals’ on the motorbike, complete with new tyre. I doubt I could find my way there now. I used to be able to take a bicycle and ride out to join Wechiga, knowing the narrow tracks between old mud-built compounds and family fields. Now they are all subsumed beneath strangers’ bungalows – for land is cheaper in this region so many have set up distant ‘second homes’ far from the cities. Crudely built grey concrete blocks with zinc roofs, the aspirations of modern Navrongans, are everywhere, sometimes still attached to the crumbling residue of the old mud compounds and wide dusty informal roads now bring battered cars and the legions of mopeds and Chinese motorbikes that are apparently necessary to move any further than a few hundred yards in modern Ghanaian life. In the past, every compound, with their organic development and soft brown smoothness, contained at least a couple of good looking conical grain stores with grass woven hats. On today’s journey I spotted only four.
Everywhere we meet with greetings, “Eh! Navrossay, you are back!” Navrossay, you may remember, is the name given to me at that New Year Party in 1990, when all the drummers came and the old men presented my with my two big traditional smocks and a new name they could remember. Navrossay means ‘Navrongo has accepted you’, and it really has. The welcomes are given with a warmth and integrity that is charming and that has brought me back so often to this dusty West African town.
DAY 17 WEDNESDAY 7th DECEMBER 2017. NAVRONGO, GHANA
In 1998 the two pound coin was minted. I had one in my pocket when I came to Navrongo that year and we cemented it into the step of my small round house to mark its completion. Many were scandalised that I should waste such a big sum, but now it’s the only way, without my travel journals, for us to identify the age of the building. I took what was then the traditional plan of two overlapping circles – a sort of squashed together figure of eight – that I had admired in some of the old compounds we visited. The inner, round room, was always used as the chamber, and the crescent shaped outer one as the entry or small hall. I diverted a bit from that and made the bedroom round, sweeping the outer curves into two straights, making the hall about square with a couple of curved sides. Instead of earth, which takes so much maintenance, we built from concrete block, with the roof a layer of concrete laid over zinc sheets on some sturdy 6X2 hardwood joists. There are seven small shuttered windows, a large vent in the bedroom ceiling, a single door and steep steps to the flat roof, were we sit of an evening, private behind the low wall in the starlit air.
When we built it we made two mistakes, one of which we couldn’t have known. The one we should have known was that I was building in a slightly boggy area that is puddly in the wet season – and part of my design, since I wanted headroom inside but to keep the squat proportions outside, was to dig down about a foot and then build up the seats and bed and a ring round the bedroom in cement. Another small mistake we made was to do the roof cement in two mixes, and there’s always been a crack across the neck of the building. In the rainy season the roof leaks and the floor tends to puddle, anything up to four or five inches deep. Of course, I never see this, as I always choose to come in the dry season, when the house serves its purpose admirably, the thick cement walls and ceiling keeping the interior delightfully cool through the day, although it does retain heat longer at night than the ugly zinc roofed blocks around now.
It’s now almost unique. In 25 years no one has rebuilt to the Navrongo vernacular style and my house is a quaint anachronism. It’s also much admired and often the way Wechiga leads strangers to his house. Now he has painted the outside white for me, it’s even more noticeable. There’re no women left who know the traditional painting techniques of which I was so proud in my house’s first years, after local women gathered and painted it in black and white triangles and shapes. The last time I wanted to upgrade the outer look, I had to direct the work myself, as the painters we had gathered for the day had no idea how even to start to paint a traditional round house like their mothers and grandmothers. Those things belong to museums (there is a small ethnographic museum by the mud cathedral) and old pictures already.
The mistake that we couldn’t then have known about was that we put it outside the old organic mud compound that I first came to know, thinking that one day it might get subsumed into the main compound. Of course that idea went out of the window with the bathwater when the compound was razed and replaced with the red zinc roofed square rooming block dominated by Perry’s blocky two storey, tinted window, multi-stairway structure, complete with large plastic water tank on the flat roof. My house is left alone, dwarfed by that block, faintly odd, with mopeds rushing by the windows and cars on the new dust road that sweeps past Adamba’s groundnut fields. If we had known that Wechiga would one day build his own block, we could have moved it east fifty yards and it could have been included in his eventual walled compound. “Oh, I look at your room and wish I could pick it and move it!” he exclaims sadly.
Still the funny white man’s house serves its main purpose as my dwelling for a few days in the year, and the flat roof is still popular – the only one now for a mile around – for drying Wechiga’s crops or for relaxing in the evening in the heat of the hottest season. Wechiga still enters to rest on hot afternoons, where he can be unseen and assumed to be away from home.
If we could have seen the future, we’d have done things differently, but that’s life…
On another market day, we did errands and sat under our shady mango bar with beer and conversation. My old friend certainly hasn’t let me down this year. He is his old cheerful and kind self. Still drowning in unpleasant catarrh, we don’t get a lot done in a day, in the still intense heat, but we enjoy one another’s company as always. Probably the next time we are together will be in 2019, when he’ll visit me.
There’s a lot of indignation around town about the murder of one of its sons down in Kumasi this week, a young man who, it appears, has been sacrificed – along with others unknown – to serve the late Queen Mother of the Ashanti kingdom in the next life. We think these beliefs are those of five thousand year old pharaohs and ancient kingdoms. It is still believed that she should be buried with the heads of several ‘servants’, although the practice has been ‘officially’ banned now in the 21st century. The king of the Ashantis has a home in the Home Counties near Henley on Thames, no less, and is a big apron in the masonic world, yet here are his subjects – who almost certainly all profess to be catholic and god-fearing, committing wilful murder for a belief from ancient African myths and story books. Beneath the surface, Africa can still be shocking.