Dance the dance of Garimata

IMG_6285 March 10, 2014, Nasong Village, Ghana—The Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Ghana logo might have been the reason the children kept singing what sounded like “faher!,” at the field van. That seemed right since after they got a good look at the abronis they began calling, “sister!” Dr. Lindsey Peterson and I, newly anointed nuns, waved and smiled each time. On rises, the view was broad and beautiful. Red dirt, rich in iron, marked the road and the mounds for tubers in the yam fields. Not far off, a stretch of trees away, was Togo.

On the way, we stopped in Soboba at the Resource Center for Physically Challenged Persons parking lot to give out the surveys to the enumerators. While we waited for our CRS driver Joseph Anao, two ten-year-old brothers, Wisdom and Hamas, stopped by to talk with Lindsey. They were on the way to the market to get rice for their mother. Lindsey gave them a Lara Bar, they pulled out lightly fried tofu on sticks alternating with grilled onion to share with her. Eureka! Tofu in the village. Soy was in play here. Maybe we wouldn’t see the protein deficiency in children common in other regions.

We moved on to Garimata village. The children remembered us from our tour the day before and double the number gathered—today, some are in dressier clothes. Rap-style music is playing and Lindsey sways a little as she stands. The children begin to sway. She taps a foot. Many feet tap. And so it began. A dance fest in Garimata. Seventy children and some older teens twisting and smiling under a spreading tree. Soon, our project manager at CRS, Phillip Atiim, tells the kids to do their traditional dance and the rap music is gone. The kids begin to do a song, first the boys then the girls in response, and they dance into a line. The line merges into a circle and they dance like they farm: the girls make a hoeing motion bent at the waist; the boys use their arms more vigorously while standing upright. The rhythm of their song, the back and forth, rises and falls. I have to take stock a moment: those are huts behind the children, that’s red, red dirt.

The littlest ones tire and drop where they may, taking a nap right in the middle of the action. The older ones begin to break into groups. The dance over, they start to play aware (a-war-ee) a board game in the cities, but here accomplished by making six scoops in the dirt and finding groups of like-looking small stones. All of them want to stay close by, in case other entertainment arises.

Phillip Atiim comes over and we begin to talk about what village entertainment is like normally. He pauses: it’s not like it used to be. There were large compounds when he was young, the elders sat with the youth and told stories. Nowadays, families prefer smaller units and large family groups don’t gather each night.

Phillip and Joseph begin to remember a story they call The Hare and the Guinea. They laugh as they tell it, almost unable to go on. In the hare and guinea story, if anyone gossiped, they would be eaten as punishment. The hare decided to scheme to get the guinea to gossip so he would be eaten. He knew where the guinea walked each day, so one day the hare sat on top of a rock and began hoeing it. The guinea stopped in amazement and said, “What are you doing hoeing a rock?” The hare said he was making his field ready for harvest.
Instead of racing off to tell others that the hare was a little nuts, the guinea just shrugged and smiled. The guinea in the meantime, told the rabbit he was going to have his hair done in rows and began preening. The hare was amazed, since guinea’s have no hair on their heads, and he ran off laughing and telling the story. The rabbit was eaten.

Phillip and Joseph loved the story. Two unbelievable tales, two sneaky animals, a backfire, a moral, all warmed with the memory of elders and village evenings. Damn fine storytelling.

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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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