We Left Tamale Today

IMG_6510Soboba, Ghana—May 8, 2014. We left Tamale (Tam-a-lee) today, passed the God Willing Electricity shop, the Flowers, Fragrances & Food Colors shop, passed flame trees and the New Life Clinic, the Lighthouse Chapel, the Evangelical Lutheran church, and at least two mosques. Posters in the median of the main road admonished all to Shun Bad Citizens, or, one more faded billboard, weak-looking and hard to read, advised “A friend with AIDS is still a friend.” The stalls lining the road occasionally had stacks of colorful cloth, or mangos, or, in the case of the Mr. Charles Motor Fitting Shop, blank and empty windows with cars presumably sitting in the gloom.

It was another bustling morning. Cars and bicycles and motorcycles, Motor Kings with gaggles of women wrapped to their children in the gorgeous prints and patterns of Northern Ghana rode like fluttering bouquets in the small, square truck beds, getting on with things. It was 7 a.m. and already 90 F.

Here’s what I have noticed while in Tamale: the kind, generous and inquisitive people here do not sweat visibly even when the air is still and hot. They have strong teeth. You can see their lovely smiles flash even riding by on a busy street. Soda and beer caps used on glass bottles are bitten off lacking an opener. Senses like hearing seem stronger, too. Even with motor noises or wildly clicking ceiling fans, soft voices are heard across the length of a room. Not by me. I keep leaning in to hear well. And, I use can openers.

I am here to help a team administer a survey on agricultural issues. Ghanians from the area are trained to go into villages and ask questions in the local language—Anufo, Konkomba, Dagbani, Gonja, Hausa, Frafra, or Mamprusi—ranging from who makes decisions about food crops and access to seed, to what their houses are made of.

Yesterday, I spent six hours sitting in the village of Kpalisogu under the shade of a Neem tree. The heat sapped all need for quick movement, yet the work of the village continued. The wash was hung, men rode by on bicycles with six-feet-wide bunches of wood across the back wheel while other men played ludu, a dice game while sitting in a shady spot outside a ring of huts, and young boys darted into and out of their cluster. Dice clacked periodically while chickens rolled in the soil trying to get to the ash mixed into the ground which kept parasites away. Blue-winged slight, pigeons bobbed past, guinea fowl, too.

About five tiny, sprite children, dashed into and out of my line of vision all afternoon. Voices of older children rose and fell reciting school verses in unison in a mud-and-plaster building nearby. Their cacophony was similar to children’s voices in my Missouri home, or anywhere. Women walked with some internal rhythm marking their pace, the cut of their clothing accentuating their form. Sometimes they had bowls of fruit or large containers of water on their heads. The man that rode the next bicycle past was wearing an American football jersey with Favre across the back.

Just being here, riding past Tilapia stalls and cell phone stores and grain exchanges: an amazing thing.

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About ninafurstenau

Nina Mukerjee Furstenau teaches a Food and Wine Writing for the University of Missouri Science and Agriculture Journalism program and the MU School of Journalism School. Her book, Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America's Heartland was the winner of the MFK Fisher Book Award and Grand Prize Award for culinary/culture writing and designated as a Kansas Notable Book. She has also written Savor Missouri: River Hill Country Food and Wine, celebrating Missouri foodways. Her essay, "And Then There Was Rum Cake," appears in the 2017 anthology, Pie & Whiskey: Writer's Under the Influence of Butter and Booze. Ms. Furstenau was in the Peace Corps in Tunisia from 1984 to 1986 and then began working life as a journalist and publisher/editor of three construction magazines beginning in 1987. Ms. Furstenau and her husband launched and published these magazines and two others until 2001. She was a month-long resident at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont, in 2008.
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