Trouble came on a motorbike

The Chief looks on while the enumerators get to work.

The Chief looks on while the enumerators get to work.

IMG_6265Soboba, Ghana, May 9, 2014— The women were already in the room when the U.S. team arrived in the morning. Patience and Comfort and Bernice and Alice and another Comfort. The men would arrive later—Wisdom and Bruce and Joseph and Assam and Christian, among others—and we began the training. These folk, twenty teachers and extension agents in all, administer the surveys painstakingly conceived back in Mississippi and Missouri by the researchers there, two of which, Dr.s Kathleen Ragsdale and Lindsey Peterson, were in the room in the sweltering heat.

It was a deep blue room. The windows fluttered with red and cream and blue Ghanaian designs. There was no white background for the power point, so chewing gum was chewed and used to stick up large sheets of white paper. The wind blew down the paper and the power point was tried against the blue paint. It was good enough.

Then tape was found and the white paper was put back up.

Bernice stood and pointed at her watch.

Seven hours of training later, after much discussion, lots of questions, and many strident corrections by Bernice, we agreed to meet in the morning to start the surveys in Ngambo village. We were to greet the chief first, then the team could start.

The chief and elders of Ngambo sat most of the day under a thatch pergola with a couple of animal skins drying across two of the cross-timbered ends. We walked over. The chief leaned forward and welcomed us.
Dr.s Kathleen Ragsdale and Lindsey Peterson then made a short English speech—a reminder that the team had come by in March to request working with Ngambo; a reminder that the project was on soy innovation and measuring for other agriculture factors like soil health and crop choices, women’s empowerment and micro loans; a declaration that we were happy to be there and a request for permission to start going into the village huts to talk to the people. One of the surveyors translated.

“Analatoon,” thank you, we said, in Konkomba. The Chief spoke in Konkomba: they were honored to be of help to Ghana.

“Analatoon.” We bowed this time.

Formalities done, we went to the nearby trees where nineteen freshly trained surveyors stood waiting to start in pairs. No one knew Bernice had ridden in early on a motorbike.

She was a teacher and had her salary held for a year now. This was because she was outspoken about a politician and then that politician was elected; he was friends with her supervisor. She was now so deeply inside a hut compound that no one knew she was in Ngambo at all. We counted heads. One short. Then a shout went up, Bernice, finished with her first two-hour survey in one hour, was on the move and sighted.

The team went out to the huts and we waited for the completed surveys under the trees where bats hung upside down fifty-feet above our heads. Chickens took their chicks on walk-about for good bits to eat. Ghanaian mixed-breed dogs slept, goat kids ran, piglets went darting over and through piles left here and there, and short-haired sheep that resembled goats until you looked closer ambled.

A villager with long, long legs walked up with a pan of dirt from a termite mound mixed with teak tree leaves and poured two piles onto the ground for his flock of chicks. Termite mounds here reach eight-ten-twelve feet tall in the fields and resemble craggy mountains. This villager had lured a termite town near the village so he could have access to termites for his chicks each day. He clicked his tongue until the hens brought the babies around. The long-legged Ngambo man stirred the dirt piles with a stick. The hens and chicks chirped and pecked feverishly. Anytime a chick from the wrong family ventured into a pile, the hen shooed it quickly away. Group unity was held as paramount.

In the meantime in the human world, Bernice had powered through her work without waiting for her partner, and thankfully the chief did not know proceedings had begun without his official word. After a long and sweltering day, the team finished day one.


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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