Every once and awhile the generosity of strangers can floor you.
The community of Fishula is a 15-minute drive outside the bustling regional capital of Tamale. Despite the nearby streetlights, restaurants, colleges and swimming pools in Tamale, Fishula’s water comes from a dirty well, there is no electricity and worst of all, an entire generation has not received any formal education.
Politicians in Ghana will often use distance as an excuse for depriving rural villages of basic services but clearly that wouldn’t fly in this case. I travelled to Fishula with a district assembly member and Maxwell Suuk, a reporter at Diamond FM.
When visiting any rural village in Northern Region it is customary to go and visit the chief to pay your respects. He usually lives in one of the larger mud huts and if he is Dagomba – the majority of chiefs in this region are – you enter, squat and clap your hands quickly and gently and say “naa…naa…naa” over and over again.
You inevitably are asked to offer kola. In the not-too-distant past, this actually meant a kola nut exchanged as a symbolic gesture, but with the influx of NGO’s to Northern Ghana and as modern comforts slowly seep their way into villages it usually means cash, especially if you are visibly Western.
I sat quietly on a goatskin waiting to be asked for kola. I huffed and puffed internally – at times I felt like a walking ATM. Pleasantries were exchanged in Dagbani for what seemed like an eternity and as Max tried to wrap things up I could sense he was anticipating the same thing as me.
Suddenly a procession of men entered carrying a heaping bowl of groundnuts, a bag of guinea fowl eggs and a huge duck. It was a knobby, red, ugly duck that screeched and flapped as it tried to scramble lose from the man’s sturdy grip. I stared in disbelief at Max as it became clear the chief of this incredibly poor community wanted to offer us gifts for coming to hear their plight.
I put up my hands to protest. The district assembly member mumbled under his breath to me: “you cannot refuse, you will insult him.”
My mind began racing wondering how I was going to carry the struggling duck as effortlessly as this man from Fishula. I couldn’t smile at Max, fearing one of us would burst into laughter.
We thanked him for the gifts and asked the man to carry the duck to our Tamale-bound taxi and stuff it in the hatchback. It squawked and kicked as we laughed the whole way home. I called my Ghanaian host family to tell them I was bringing home a surprise.
The following day my grandmother yelled for me to come outside. She wanted me to come see how well she had roasted my poor friend – here in Ghana animals are rarely recipients of generous treatment.