Rain, Rain, Go away, and come back another day.
Is not a song that is sung here. And for good reason.
The interesting and most valuable lesson I have come to learn, has shown itself only through time. As the seasons changed from Rainy to Dry, from Dry to Rainy, I realized the most important lesson. Water is life. This may seem obvious, and is not a new concept or idea or breakthrough. But this realization is something that I can only hope to explain from my experiences in the Northern Region, Ghana.
Around April I remember sitting in my house in Zabzugu, I looked outside and saw the black clouds rolling in over the Togo Mountains and the brightest stream of blue rain that I have only ever seen in Ghana. My aunt and I are chatting on the phone as the wind picks up and blows the sand around me. I hurry inside and close all the shutters. The rains are coming. The very first rains of the rainy season.
That was a long time ago. The rains have come and gone. Farmers have tilled their lands, planted their crops and left the rest to the rain.
There was an increased amount of discussion around the level of water in the dam in Aksombo. The dam is life in Ghana. This is the power source for Ghana, and even for parts of Burkina Faso. Except the dam is not filling. The dam is in the southern part of Ghana and in order for it to fill to a level sustainable to power the country for the next year, it needs to rain, not in the south, where the seasons are different, but here in the north. In the north where it only rains for 4 months of the year. The level has reached a dangerous low. The rationing of electricity will continue, but now more frequently. “Lights out” or no electricity every other day instead of every 4 days.
What will we do if it does not rain and fill the dam? How can we work without lights? What will we do?
The rain has stopped coming, blowing over the North like a tease. It's dark clouds and light winds blow past.
July 20th. It must rain by July 20th. What does that mean? Why July 20th?
If the rain does not come before July 20th, farmers will not plant a second harvest. They will be afraid to gamble with the rain and lose their very costly inputs into the plot.
If there is no second planting and no second harvest, "This will be serious" I am told. It will mean that there will not be enough food to feed the country. The northern region provides the country with most of its grains - maize, cowpeas, and vegetables! And the South provides plantains, fruit (bananas and coconuts), and cassava. Without the Northern Regions inputs “we will all suffer”.
The communities have taken to praying for rain, as well as fasting in order for their prayers to be heard. It works in some parts of the Northern Region, but no serious rainfalls are heard of.
July 14th my birthday party happens! The other EWB volunteers and some friends get me a cake. I blow out the candles and wish for rain.
July 16th my birthday! I was pretty excited to go swimming for my birthday. My guilty pleasure, in a place where water is turned on once a week. I instead get the rain I wished for. It rained! It rained for 5 hours. Everyone is excited that it is finally raining. But for some farmers the rain is too late and their crops are already burnt dry from the suns scorching rays. I fill my bucket from the drops rolling off the metal roof of my room and fall asleep in the cool breeze.
July 17th. It rains again. Very heavily. Once again we rejoice. As I travel back from a nearby town, I watch as farmers walk down the paved road to their farms miles away from home. I watch farmers relaxing under trees, and farmers hand ploughing their plots. A second planting. A second harvest.
One day I get stuck in a store for hours with no lights while the rain washes out the streets and fills the gutters. I wonder if it will reach the dam.
July 18th. It rains heavily. Again.
July 19th. It rains again.
July 20th. It rains again.
July 21st. It rains again.
July 22nd. It rains again.
I watch as the maize which is planted behind my friend’s house grows taller then me and I slide around in the muck. But now questions are racing through my mind: when will the rains stop. Will it drown out some of the crops? Will there be enough rain the rest of the harvest? Has the water reached the dam? Are my priorities wrong (electricity vs. food!)
In a series of events including opening of a dam in Burkina Faso, extremely heavy rains and general flooding across Western Africa, parts of Northern Ghana are now flooded. Coincidentally this falls the same time as I leave to visit Singa, the village in previous posts.
I had no idea what was going on. I just accounted for localized flooding and an increase in the rivers water level to get to Singa. Instead we met small streams that crisscrossed the roads, where upon entering into the water, the whole vanful of passengers held their breath, eyes-widen, or like the lady next to me - grabbed hands. Motorbikes were lifted and carried by young strong men who seem to have come out to assist passing riders.
We reached the riverside. It was a lot closer then I remembered it during the dry-season. This time, it had flooded the houses closest to the river bank. Yet the atmosphere was still the same. Ladies selling food and water, at the new rivers edge.
I entered a canoe with another lady bringing back provisions to the village. The first time I came to Singa it took about 5 minutes to cross the water, and about 20 minutes on the back of a motorbike. This time, I could not see the other side, or even guess where it was likely to be. I could only see tree-tops.
We glided along through a maze of tree-tops that I would never be able to follow back, and during the 2 hours or more to reach the village, it rained off and on. I saw flooded houses, the very tops of maize crops, ants nested together on thin grass. It was exciting to see, pretty adventurous. A bit of high risk.
I reached the edge of a path and got down, and walked about 5 minutes into Singa. It was a great arrival, in that people recognized me by name, and I remembered the way to the house without fail. During the village stay I did not put much emphasis on the effects of the flood other then the impacts on farming, harvest, a few fallen mud houses and of course drinking water. But on leaving, we set-out said good-bye and I left with a few women and children from the village heading back to Tamale. I assumed the canoe would be where it dropped me the previous week, only to naively find out the water had receded so we would have to walk. How far will we need to go? Snakes!?! Depth? My bag? My stuff? Toilet! Sun? Burning? All rushed through my mind.
We began walking and soon a woman carrying a baby half-dipped into the water on her back and a bag of rice on her head glided past me in the water and picked out the areas where I might fall.
I am not sure at what point, but I looked around me, I could only see water, damaged crops, men pushing bicycles through the water carrying loads, children with bags on their heads in chest deep water. I thought about how ridiculous this all was.
Then I asked how often are they doing this?
We must have walked hours in the burning sun with no shade, little food and no water. I was going back to my home in Tamale, wet and tired, but these women, children and men would be coming back on this same path after this long journey, after waiting for the canoe in this risky water, after traveling in a passenger car, after buying goods to bring back or selling peanuts for peanuts.
All to do it over again.
Water has never affected my life so much in so many ways.
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