October Episodes

[Updated: Nov 3, 2013]

Honouring the Girl Child and Mothers

The business college (actually a private senior high school) that is one of the several projects run by the client organization I am partnered with recently celebrated their 10th anniversary. The theme was “honouring the girl-child and mothers” and was a full Saturday event of impassioned speakers (mostly men), endless photo ops (I even made it in a few times), “cultural displays”, cake cutting (but not eating), and honours for the top performing students at the college. In attendance were the 300 or so students, local dignitaries representing the traditional authorities (chiefs) and real authorities (police and politicians), women elders from the community, religious leaders and anyone else who happened to wander by.

Overall this was a pretty interesting insight into Ghanaian culture, particular the emphasis on titles, hierarchies, elders and gender issues.  The later was partially acknowledged during the event when the speaker pointed out the completely one-sided gender roles that systematically favour men over women for educational opportunities while simultaneously adding the onerous burden of nearly all the domestic toil onto women and girls from a very early age. This celebration didn’t seem to do much to address these issues, but was quite heartfelt and sincere nonetheless. Played against the obvious admiration and respect given to elderly women it seemed slightly incongruent. The cultural displays, singing, MC-ing and other antics were fantastic and made sitting in the heat for several hours well worth it.

[Video coming soon when I get a good connection]

Video below:


Sala Leha is the Muslim Ghanaian equivalent of Eid al-Adha (“Feast of the Sacrifice”) which commemorates Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) willingness to sacrifice his son for Allah (God) and marks the end of the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in the Islamic Calendar. The family I’m living with is fairly typical for the Muslim majority of Northern Ghana and this celebration (one of only two in the calendar) was taken very seriously indeed.

While technically Sala was supposed to fall on the 15th of October this year (see Wikipedia for details on how this is determined), we ended up using the 15th as prep day and doing the actual celebration on the 16th. More or less, the prep work consisted of the men of the house procuring several appropriately sized and coloured ruminants and tying them up at various places near the compound so that the neighbours could see them. Being fairly well-to-do, our group ended up with three rams and a bull cow donated by various relatives. Curiously, none of this meat seemed to be on the menu for the actual sacrificial feast, but after some weeks delay it has since started turning up in meals. Meanwhile, the women (and me being given a token task of cutting carrots), set to work preparing a wide array of rice and vegetable dishes, a tea made from honey and hibiscus flowers, deep fried yams and plantains, roasted peanuts and an epic number of chicken hotdogs imported from Brazil. The men, close at hand, were nonetheless too focused on the epic 6-1 victory of the Ghana Blackstars over the Pharaohs of Egypt in World Cup qualifying to take much interest in the prep work.

The day of Sala started bright an’ early with new clothes for everybody and elaborate preparations getting ready to go to the Mosque for prayer. To my surprise, I was very warmly invited to attend the Mosque, but unfortunately after much delay in preparation, we ended up arriving just after the prayers had ended. I was a little disappointed, but no one else seemed to mind missing this ostensibly important aspect of the day. As we sat in the car waiting for the crowds to disperse we became an island in the middle of river of amazing, riotous colour and a celebration of all things cloth and clothing. Everybody from babies with full makeup, to little boys with Arab head coverings, to teenagers rocking bright pink and yellow suits, to grandmothers with flowing robes, scarves and every piece of jewelry they owned was out seeing and being seen. After watching this inverted fashion show, we made curt, perfunctory visits to a laundry list of friends and relatives to snap photos with the kids and exchange invitations to their various celebrations.

Back at the shack, two of the rams and the bull met their demise in the back alley behind the compound following the traditional Halal slaughtering methods, (but not much in the way of safety and sanitation). This aspect of the ritual was carried out by the father of the family with the kids all hovering nearby. The actual butchering and cutting up of the animals (rather unceremonious) was done by hired hands who looked as though they had been at it all morning at various locations around town. Preparations for the big feast began again in earnest and by 4:30 everything was ready. To my surprise, instead of serving everything at the house in the shade, all the food and chairs were brought out to the roadside and set up next to the swarming traffic and exhaust fumes. While I had been in the compound, a mass of 40-50 able-bodied young men had materialized around the food and within about 15 minutes had made very short work of the all the labour intensive preparations. The women, back at the compound, meanwhile had their own little party with some reserved food and a few bottles of Fanta each and looked to be having at least as much fun as the men. As quickly as the crowd of dudes outside emerged they vanished leaving a wake of dirty dishes and upturned chairs. By sunset it was all over and the final prayer was called.

Looking forward to the next celebration which takes place at the end of Ramadan next year.


Beach life in Winneba

EWB hosts regular quarterly retreats for the long-term staff in Ghana to get together and discuss strategy and updates from Canada and other countries. This fall’s retreat was in the quaint beachside town of Winneba about an hour west of Accra. Despite the 14 hours of travel one way, including a white-knuckle tro-tro (minibus) ride, the three day retreat was absolutely amazing. Having arrived in Ghana a month ago and quickly setting to work getting practical things done, I hadn’t yet had a chance to get excited about the inspiring and beautiful parts of the country. Laying on the golden brown sugar beach in Winneba, eating ice cream out of a bag was as close to perfect as I’ve experienced in Ghana or anywhere else in the world for that matter.


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5 Replies to “October Episodes”

  1. Thanks for sharing, Jonathan! The rice and bean dishes look delicious–are they? Glad you had a few days of repose at the beach; something to take your mind off the crushing activity of the past month.

  2. Great storytelling. Your open-ness to new experience plus your sociological insights add up to a capacity to be where you truly should be and be effective in this work. I am a female very proud of your empathy. The cultural exchange will help this world better understand and get much more accomplished than army boots on the ground. Blessed be son and thank you for being you.

    1. Yeah not saying our N.A. approach is better but sometimes the outside perspective sees things clearer. Good thing is that everything is constantly changing.

  3. We witnessed the Eid al-Adha sacrifice this year here in urban Penang, surrounded by modern high rise living. An odd setting for such a scene!!!

    On trips out and about in Ghana, I remember visiting a hill station on Mount Afadjato, least ways I think that is where it was. It was a bungalow built and used by the Brits in colonial times as a retreat from the heat, so to speak. The views from the mountain ridge are amazing. The bungalow had a fire grate complete with chimney. An odd installation in the tropics, but come night time you needed a fire, unbelievably. Worth a visit, if you get the chance.

    1. Sounds good David! Mount Afadjato is in the east and a bit far from my stomping grounds in Tamale, but I hope to make at least one trip out to the Volta while I’m here.

      Eid in a city would be interesting indeed, there are definitely some practicalities that make it easier in the country.

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