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Simon in Tamale

Simon (ICAS)
Mobility Foundation, Ghana

After the mild chaos of my first few days in Ghana, week 2 saw me fall into a fairly steady routine - up at first light, 5.45 (the family are up earlier for their prayers), run or practice Taekwondo-do in the small window of time where it is light but not too hot. Breakfast, shower - cycle to work for 8.15. Sit talking to the staff for half an hour or so (it would be very rude here to go straight to your desk and start work - relationships are way more important than this 'efficiency' thing that British workplaces aspire to). I have been working on a manual of financial procedures whilst overseeing their accountant redoing their financial records and producing budget to actual reports for their major project. So it's not all play. 

Lunch is bought from just outside as it's too hot to walk far at that time of day. At the end of the day I cycle home in the relative cool of the evening, before it gets dark at around 7.00. Most days I sit out for a short while with the local men, who assemble at Musah's house as he is a senior figure in the community (and yes, it is just the men, the gender divide is pretty strong out here). They drink green tea, brewed in a metal pot over a charcoal fire. They drink it very, very strong and with lots of sugar. Kind of like a tea espresso I guess. It's a bit of an acquired taste but I'm working on it, and the fact that I sit out with them is important. At dusk the family go to pray and I head inside to begin another round in my daily battle against mosquitoes. I think I'm getting the upper hand. I now have a long sleeved top, long trousers, long thick socks (locally bought and covered in snowmen - I did mention this to the family, and they had no idea what they were). All of these have been sprayed with mosquito repellent for cloth. I have a mosquito net, liberally coated in the same spray. I use body spray on all exposed areas.The windows have mosquito mesh (as there's no glass) and the door has a curtain behind it to cover the gaps around it. And I spray the room with Raid. They seem to be getting the hint as I have been bitten much less recently, but they were pretty slow on the uptake. 

The only major exception was the Saturday when Ghana played Germany in the World cup - I sat outside watching on TV with the family and their friends (about 20 in total). For those not following the football, it was a 2-2 draw, but during the second half Ghana did briefly take the lead, and everything around me went mad. People were hugging, shouting, running in circles, taking their shirts off and waving them in the air, screaming, high fiving, jumping and cheering. Similar sights and sounds were coming from all around the local area. Sadly Ghana lost their other two games and were dumped out at the group stages, but it was fun while it lasted. To briefly make a serious point, there have been major questions asked here about the large amount spent by the Ghanaian government on the world cup compared to other comparable countries, given that economic conditions here are not great. 

Sadly I seem to have rambled on too long to give a detailed discussion on food and language, so they will have to wait. But I did promise an introduction to Grandma, and that I will keep. As a bit of background, age is very much revered here, so the only surviving Grandparent is a hugely respected figure. Like some older people in other countries, she has some very strongly held views and is happy to air them. 

The combination means that she says whatever she wants and no-one dares to challenge her. The first time we met, she welcomed me, and then asked how my wife could let me leave her and the children to come here. When I explained that I didn't have a wife she looked thoroughly shocked (I'd like to think this was due to my dashing goods looks and obvious charm, but it may have had more to do with cultural norms). She then promised to find me a wife, to correct this failing on my part. I'm still not completely sure if she was joking, but no-one was laughing. Time will tell. The second time I met her was just before the start of Ramadan, so she asked me if I would be fasting with the family. I declined politely, and she told me that I should because it is good for you. The conversation then went roughly 'what is your name again?' 'Simon' 'hmm, well from now on I will call you Mohammed'. And she has, much to the amusement of the rest of the family, who were laughing this time. Frankly as a force of conversion Jehovah's witnesses have got nothing on Grandma. I should note that the rest of the family have applied no religious pressure at all and are a model of devout faith without any suggestion of forcing their views on others. Islam, Christianity and traditional religions co-exist in pretty good harmony here, probably better so that at home. 

Finally a note on the north-south divide. Sitting out one night with the men, I asked about the weather - it's rainy season here, but it had only rained once in the first week. They replied that even the rainy season does not always bring much rain. Life is tough. Of course, it is easier in the south were they have the cool coastal breeze, and two rainy seasons, not one like in the north. People in the north calling southerners soft because of their gentler climate - where have I heard that before? 

Next time I will actually talk about food and/or language, and I'll also describe how in three days I was involved in three very different types of religious practice.
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