Monday, March 2, 2009

Observation in the dry season

The dry season brings with it spectacular views.
Look closely and you will understand what these people are all about. Observation is key.

It’s the dry season right now. The break between the last two rains was about 100 days. This is not unusual. Just the seasonality of the weather. And with the changing of the seasons comes a change in what people in Ghana do. The rainy season was an intense period where people worked long hours often sleeping on their farmland. It seemed there was nothing else on people’s minds except ploughing – planting – weeding – harvesting (a lucky few who have the resources and good access also thought of fertilizing and applying pesticides). During the dry season everything changes. People resort to other sources of income.

Making thatch is a popular past time for men.

What do they do? Answer: Anything they can. Some are more remote so their options are limited. The most common activity is collecting wood and making charcoal. This is evident from the dozens of bags that are stacked along the roadsides waiting to be purchased. The women in my household are a bit luckier – they live next to an urban centre so their options are more varied.

Preparing massive pots of food for one of the many celebrations which are had during the dry season. This takes advantage of the surge of income people have post-harvest and a bit more time.

The celebration: The head of my household becomes the 'chief of the young men' for Kanvilli community.
Memunatu and I pose during the chieftancy celebration.

This is why every week I’m surprised by what the women in my household are up to! There doesn’t seem to be an end to the small businesses they run. First it was selling boiled sweet potato at the school near my house, then it was processing a local seed into a paste that women use for soup (dawadawa), next processing peanuts to separate the oil. Both the oil and the by product are sold. Last week I joined in on processing shea nuts into butter. The process is long and complicated. I’m privileged to join in as the trade is mostly passed on from mother to daughter. I stepped in and joined the other young apprentices at the most enjoyable part – when water and air are added to the butter and it is stirred vigorously until a white creamy butter seemingly emerges from the brown fudge like substance I’d been stirring for the past half hour. My master took her job seriously and made sure I learned the proper stirring technique, even it meant embarrassingly highlighting my poor technique in front of the group.

The shea butter packaging centre located near my house.

Profile of another women during the dry season. Her name is Victoria Anamo. She is a widowed mother of 7. Four of the children are not hers but are from her late husband’s first wife. Victoria spends the dry season building her home. This season she is adding a wall – total cost $300 or one month’s salary. As the head of the household and single income earner the responsibilities to provide for the children all rest on her. Yet Vic doesn’t give up. She’s a strong and intelligent women who has even become a leader and role model in her community. Other women come to her for advice and help in times of need. And Vic’s generous nature provides.

Vic prepares a meal for myself and Shea Loewen, the volunteer who stays with Vic.

I got to know Vic because she is a MoFA field staff. Although she’s not trained in agriculture technologies, her natural ability to guide people and facilitate discussions makes her a talented field staff. She, like the women of my household are hosting a Canadian. It is because of this that I am able to understand Vic as a human being.

Vic and Shea hanging out at Vic's palace.