Dancing into the night

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Africa » Ghana » Volta » Lake Volta
April 26th 2007
Published: April 26th 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

Chief ZackChief ZackChief Zack

My favorite person, household head and Chief of Singa leaves for the dancing event

Dancers in Singa
"Kristy! It's been a long time."

I greet Chief Zack, never has he approached me to greet me. He is a chief, and as tradition goes, he is supposed to be greeted first, normally lower then him with your hands closed. I don't really apply to these rules but try my best to show respect. He is one person that I trust and respect fully in Ghana. I admire him and his life. I only wish I had more time to learn from him.

He tells me about an NGO that will be hosting a cultural dance of sorts. Red flags start popping up in my head, with visions of white people coming for a "village experience" as they travel to a different place everyday for 2 weeks, throwing a party in each place.

I agree to come as I am intrigued with the idea of seeing where this family comes from, still lives, and holds the chieftaincy. I am also ready to challenge these westerners approach and well see some dancing!

To Singa we go - I have decided to go with Amshawu, Chief Zack's younger sister and her child Windnam (both which I spend a lot of time with!). We board a tro-tro (or passenger
van) and wait a couple hours for it to fill, while sucking on some mangoes. Finally we are off. It takes about 2 hours or more to reach the closest village to Singa on a very rough road with large trucks carrying sand from the river banks.

We get off the trotro and carry alot of luggage filled with food and water down to the river. At the river I see the pumping station which pumps water for all of Tamale (some 300,000 people) and realize the water pipe I saw along the road was the supply pipe. After taking that course on water supply and distribution in university, I decide it's really too small. No wonder we have a water problem in Tamale.

Some small kids are splashing around in the water, and I put my dirty feet into the water and wash my arms off. I look over to another young girl doing the same, and realize that she has scars from guinea worm infections. I immediately get out of the water, asking if it is infected with guinea worm. "Yes!" How do you get it. Oh god. Whew. Apparently standing in the water will not do it, but drinking it will. I look over at the kids splashing around, in water up to their chins and frown. Right. Guinea Worm. Still a problem.

My mind shifts to the canoe approaching. A small but long wooden canoe, filled partially by water. We load the canoe with all our luggage and about 6 people. We take off and I look into the water brimming the sides of the canoe like I can see through it - looking for Guinea worm.

We reach the other side, only to realize that there is no one waiting for us and 1 motorbike. Singa is another 10 miles. Somehow I end up on the back of the single motorbike, sitting behind the man who is driving, a very large Ghanaian woman, and then me and my backpack of course. Perfect. The sun beats down on my as I try not to let my feet fall to the ground as
we bump a long what is not a road, and sometimes not even a path.

As we roll into Singa and I can barely hold on, I see the "Salamingas" or white people. They seem to have a tractor to pull them around, looking at trees. They all turn their heads and watch as this 3 person motorbike speeds by. I wonder what they are thinking, and smile.

I arrive in Singa at the Chief's Palace, which is a normal compound house, slightly larger then the rest. Chief Zack is exiting the house on a horse with eloborate materials and an umbrella. There is drumming and a large following of young and old. I can not greet him, as it is tradition not to stop the Chief as he is leaving the compound.

I enter into the compound to meet the many wives of the family I have grown so close to, meeting them and many of their children over the last ten months. I am welcomed with
open arms and excitement of me finally visiting them and Singa. I am to sleep in Hardi's mothers room. We bathe and get ready to go out, but they (all the mothers) decide that I should dress up!! That's right, I had already planned a nice dress, but Hardi's mother digs through her suitcases filled with materials, until
Scary Dancers! Scary Dancers! Scary Dancers!

I did not hear where they were from, but children were running away from them!
a shiny pink stripped clothe appears. Traditional Dagomba clothe. It is bascially 3 pieces of material. They wrap the first around my waist, the next they fold over my shoulder and the last they tie around my head. I feel a bit nervous that it will fall off as I walk, but take the challenge of being part of this family.

The atmosphere around these Westerns is friendly, but when I really get down to the real feelings, people seems confused why they have come, what are they promising and why should they trust them. Some are not interested and others are very curious. I am guarded and ready to defend and challenge. I walk through the main part of town and eyes are looking at me. I greet back in Dagbani, and they realize I am definitely not part of the group of Salamingas.

The festivities are about to begin, and I greet Chief Zack and his elders infront of the crowd that has gathered. I do so by kneeling down very low, and in Dagbani. He laughs, as this would never happen in our house. I flash a smile recognizing that we have a secret that no one else knows. I sit with the elders, with my family. I feel part of something bigger, and realize that this is part of my community, my extended family. This is what people meant
about being part of something bigger. It is not just an individual achievement that is respected here but the success of your whole family, community and tribe, everyone
working towards the same goal. It finally sinks in, as I see it unfold around me everyday.

The event begins. Chief Zack says a few nice words and the District Chief Executive greets the Westerners and encourages that they work together for the betterment of Singa. I respect that he has come out to this difficult to travel to community on a weekend. Then, the leaders of this group give an eloborate speech that would be way more appriorate in my opinion to Westerners... all done while being filmed with one of those large fluffy microphones. I will not cut the speech into pieces here, but I held my tongue at the time and got others opinion about it. In summary, it was alot of talk about alot of things that sound all nice. But in the end who asked for these things - it was not the community for the most part, many things are not achieveable in most of these people's lifetimes nevermind even at all achieveable!! I am
frustrated and on a mission to challenge all of these promises. I take a deep breathe and realize that this is part of being a development worker. Is to challenge others ideas, as well as mine. I agree I will get feedback from others, and present that to them, but also learn more about their mission.... or I will at least try.

Then the dancing begins and I am having a good time with Amshawu, Achiri and Baba Alhassan. I have never been witness to such a great event of dancing and music from some many different areas and countries. People were there from all over Ghana, Burkina Faso and Niger. I was definitely impressed.

Afterwards, I met up with some of the dancers from Niger, and they invited me back to their place for tea. I had to turn it down, as I was supposed to be back at the family house for
dinner. I was dissappointed but am excited to spend some time with the family here.

I go with Amshawu to pump water from the borehole (which the NGO installed - one point NGO). As I sit with the women waiting for our turn, we speak Dagbani and I feel like although I stick out, its not like the white people staying just behind the borehole, in full sight, being a bit culturally inappropriate. The women make fun of them and I feel like I am part of the group and laugh. I realize the importance of integrating with the community. You get to let go and get in. It's amazing. The learning I have experienced from getting into the culture and understanding people's ideas and feelings has given me a totally different perspective.

I spend the rest of the weekend enjoying time with the family, visiting people in the community with Amshawu, and trying to push the Westerners idea about development, what
are they doing here. Is it the RIGHT thing? How do they know.

I fall asleep under the stars, sleeping in the middle of the compound with everyone sleeping on mats around me.

I dream about EWBs approach and realize that we are humble enough to question our own approach, but strong enough to challenge others to really answer difficult questions. This
weekend I value so much that EWB has encouraged, coached me on and stands solid on - those being intergrating with your community, understanding of rural poverty, and how to ask
good questions.

Now the rest has been left to this NGO.

I can only hope to have a positive influence on NGOs.

I decide that there is no better place for me. There is still work to be done.


18th May 2007

amazing experience
hi kristy, can hardly wait to hear more of your stories, experiences and challenges. see you in just three weeks, we miss you and love you. come home healthy, no guineu worm infections please. love mom
19th May 2007

Hey Kristy. Hearing your story makes me feel proud to be a part of EWB, and it makes me proud to have a friend like you. And you looked soo pretty in your clothes! Enjoy the rest of your stay in Ghana!
21st May 2007

Hey dear!!!!!!! just wana say....hmmmm dont knwo what exactly... it just feels like saying something when reading ur journals!!!! just keep up the great work ur doing dear admire u for that am very proud of u kisses and hugs
23rd May 2007

great blog kristy! i LOVE the way you challenged the other development workers, but not in an "i'm-right-you're-wrong" kind of way, but a "what can we both be doing better" kind of way. beautifully written entry! can't wait to see you in a couple weeks! :)
29th June 2007

Great Story!
Hi Kristy! I just wanted to quickly say, it was AWESOME to see you in Waterloo and to get caught up. I also really enjoy reading your blog... In fact, tonight I went and heard from a SYDE 03 grad who went with CIDA to Tanzania for 2 years, and turned a year's worth of blog posts into a book, which he was selling to raise money for the org he worked for. Pretty cool idea, if you're so inclined... Looking forward to getting you more involved with the chapter next term. Have a good summer!

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