Thursday, October 21, 2010

When i went to Wa ... (Last Half of the account)

In the canoe on the Black Volta, approaching the bank, at Lawra
Uncle Dan and the 'gondolier-boy'  - on the Black Volta tributary, Lawra

So we arrived at Uncle Dan’s friend’s place. Francis.
Francis was to be our point of contact for the assessment for the firewood-alternative project.

He made a living by running a small bar and canteen in his compound, and I remember particularly liking the fact that the compound spread into a green green expanse of bushes, baobab and acacia trees which seemed to be 100 years old, and the little dirt road which connected to and from his village, Yargpelle. It was an unfenced compound which blended into an Eden-like surrounding … I felt at any moment, a waterfall would appear to my left, and butterflies would burst out on my right.
There were indeed, birds chirping and singing in the trees nearby, and every now and then, his chubby little puppies would waddle into the bushes and hide in there to gnaw a bone in peace.

It was around a small plastic table on this “compound” that we at and bared our hearts to each other.

I spoke of how all my life, I had never set foot in that part of my country, neither for work nor for pleasure, and most Ghanaians regard them as another country altogether, hardly bothering to learn about them and understand them …
… and how my NGO was often disturbed by news of firewood issues and scuffles amongst their people, knowing how it is their main source of fuel, and also the main cause of deforestation, a situation already making mince-meat of the existence of their brothers and sisters in the other Upper and Northern regions.

I and my assistant were there to lay the foundations for training the women and interested individuals in making briquettes to replace the firewood, and also to give them a source of income because it could easily become a commercial venture to anyone determined enough.

Francis, our host, thanked us, and said his friend and brother, the prince of Tuori, a neighbouring village would speak on their behalf as ‘most worthy’ … Prince Joshua, a.k.a God (indeed they know him more as God than Joshua) .

God told us how his women wake up at dawn each day, and leave home by 5am, out to look for pieces of wood, twigs, and burnable plant life and materials. If they are very very lucky, they will get a log of two.
I cut in and ask, but this place is very green and has quite a number of small trees. What has stopped them from plucking a branch here and there?

God replied, no one is allowed to simply wander onto someone else’s compound or land and pluck off branches or cut trees, no matter if it’s a vast unwalled field. The penalty is dire.
You can only pick twigs on the boundaries, or in the gutters, or on government lands, but even then no one is allowed to cut the trees on said property.
Some people have to resort to cut a tree or 2 on their own compounds or properties in the leanest periods, or for money … but any idiot can see that the trees are diminishing, and there is higher and higher demand for firewood.
So, he concluded, they leave at dawn and usually arrive late morning with whatever they found, and come and cook, farm, tend to the house.

He also told us how pito-brewing also consumed a lot of firewood, and how the wealthiest people were pito-brewers because it sold very well amongst the people. He mentioned that very often, most women sold the best finds of firewood and logs to pito-brewers, because they needed the money more … and that the situation was getting bad.

We then told him how briquettes work, and together we decided on January 2011 as the best time for the training to be given the women, because it would be just after the harvesting period, and the women would be idle and mostly jobless, there would be a lot of post-harvest leftover to use for briquette combinations with cow dung, animal droppings, food peelings, etc. and the atmosphere would be ideal for the training.
In a recent telephone conversation, he has asked me to take one more trip there in November/December to see the women in the village and ascertain the training location before January … things are not easy for them.

In some chit-chat which followed later, we asked him if there was anything else they needed, so we could see if we could help, and he said, “Clay-mining. It’s killing the people. It’s so dangerous, and I lost one of my mothers (his father, the king, has several wives) to it.”
Well, he said. There was a part of the Black Volta tributary which runs through Lawra nearby, where the people extract clay and use for pottery and pito-containers, gourds for chilling water and drinks, keeping food cool, etc. Selling the clay and/or the pottery also brings good income, so most of the women take to it as well.
The thing about it though, was that the clay layer was several feet underneath the top sandy layer, so the miners often dug little rabbit-like holes into the earth to extract the clay.

These rabbit-holes often lead further and further under the superficial loose layer of soil, and many a time, it comes crashing down for lack of support and stability –which would be impossible in that kind of situation. And because the miner is often a woman, and often jammed into the narrow tunnel with no turning space, much more enough air to breathe, if the weight of soil which comes crashing down is very heavy, they suffocate to death or are crushed and choked to death, especially if unable to be pulled out in time.
It was such a crash which killed his ‘mother’, and he is always worried about the fatality of the job.
But due to the amount of money it brings them, they will never stop.

Can we get a machine which will be able to do the drilling beneath the top layer to the clay and get it out for the women?

Sure, there are machines like that, and if not, one can always be fashioned in some of the ingenious metal workshops in Ghana, we say … but how do you power it there at the bank of the tributary, and how reliable is the power (electricity) supply to that part, we ask.

Power it? He asked. And shook his head with a smile.
Do you have good supply of power in Tuori?
Well, things are normal there … we have no electricity, he says easily.

And as our jaws hung wide open, he rested his case with a swig of his Guiness. Drowning his frustrations in drink? No, he’s being Michael Power – strong.dark.powerful.
Gooodammmit! Politics is something, ain’t it?

Whatever happened to honour, keeping your word, seeing to the priorities of your people?
Why were there not factories, processing industries, lively tourist industry, service providers offices, culture and heritage vending supermarkets, several ventures scattered throughout the region?

The people I met in Wa, Jirakpa, Lambussie, Lawra, Tomblibli, Bebli, etc … are very hardworking people. They do not even see themselves to be poor … all they know is that life is hard, and they are suffering with inadequate/complete absence of transportation, insufficient meals, enough money to cater to their health and physical needs, etc.

They are beautiful people, and astonishingly very honest – I have been told of how if you leave something lying somewhere, you are most likely to come back and see it still there, how the Fulanis often infiltrate them, rape their girls and women, steal their livestock and agric, mess up things, and create a bad environment for them.

They speak very very good English, and speak it with a fascinating lilt.
They are fluent in more than 2 other local Ghanaian languages, and are very resilient.

When our crew drove down to Lawra, after our meeting with God, Joshua and co, we passed by the Black Volta tributary (Lawra), and met a canoe returning a woman and her baby to shore.
She had gone over to the “French” (Burkina Faso) side of the tributary for firewood, as most of the women did too, and had returned empty-handed.

The first thing she did when the canoe struck land, was hop down into the water, scoop some up with the calabash she held in hand, and give it tenderly to her months-old baby … who drank it, and she tipped the rest into her own mouth.
The water was brown, very very unclean!
But that was and is their life … is this a great divide or what?
Especially to think that I would stand in some fancy supermarket back in Accra, and bitch about a bottle of sparkling water not being cold enough, giving the shop attendant stress about it, especially since the 0.30p markup on the price out to account for well-chilled water, innit?

I was ashamed and disgusted with myself … ashamed and disgusted that this beautiful district and town, with its surrounding villages was so neglected, its large potential for tourism (it is soooo beautiful) is also ignored.

I still wanna be a billionaire so freaking bad … and when I go back to train them in January 2011, it is with the hope and intention that I would contribute more than a widow’s mite to their development and betterment.

The Okyeame network of Ghana has donated GH800 cedis so far to the project, and some of their members have pledged a bit more … if you wish to donate something, anything for this training, you’ll be much appreciated.
If you wish to volunteer physically to this project and come along with me to train the women, send me a message or call me … and I will give you the terms and conditions.

Either ways … I’m doing this.

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