Monday, May 18, 2009

A Day in the Life... puberty initiation ceremonies, power outages, electrical fires and garden showers...


Having just returned from a well appreciated mini-holiday in Germany with a one day Dubai shopping stopover, I returned back ‘home’ to Ghana over the weekend. Back to the ‘expat life’.

Sunday morning we headed off to Somanya, a village about 90km out of Accra that holds a series of annual female puberty initiation rites ceremonies – called Dipo. (A more culturally sensitive and detailed post with photos to follow). My good friend had gotten us an official ‘obruni’ invitation to come and observe.

So the day started in true Ghanaian style, dodging church traffic and hawkers, through a maze of roads, avoiding road construction and trotro drop offs – and this was a Sunday!

Armed with full bottles of Voltic water, we were all set and arrived in the village just in time to realise we all needed to pee. Uh oh. This is not a desired state to be in, arriving as an obruni in a village in Ghana. You can’t just straddle the gutter unnoticed as others can... and the chances of finding an actual flushing toilet with – gasp – toilet paper - were slim. Luckily one of us had been here before and knew a trustworthy ‘spot’ (Ghanaian roadside restaurant). This one was indoors, WITH a toilet AND toilet paper. No flowing water though, but two outta three ain’t bad. We ‘dashed’ the waitress a tip for saving our butts literally, and headed to the ceremony.

It was about a million degrees in a tight little dilapitated compound, writhing with about 20 times the bodies safe for such a space, and we pushed our way in.
We emerged three hours later, after having offended half the village TWICE through some daft and semi-serious cultural faux pas, having nearly passed out from heat and over-crowding, and having witnessed quite a spectacle – shot gun salutes and all!
And with that we headed back to Accra, conscious not to be caught on the roads after dark...

As we came into the city we realised the entire spanse of Accra was bathed in darkness. ‘Light off’ is the affectionate term... A few spots of light here and there, accompanied by the deafening din of diesel generators led our way.

At home we followed the usual procedure, flashlights in hand, switching over to the generator. Only this time the lights danced and whirred and flashed and the
generator answered with a few gasps and sighs. And then in a millisecond the flames had lashed out and jumped fast – one of our trusted voltage regulators in the socket had turned into a hot orange melting fire block. JW calmly shouted orders, “Bring me a wet cloth, quick!”, and “Bring me a broom! Quick!”. And Q and I did as we were told. And within a minute the fire was out. The computer room had been reduced to a smoky, stinking grey cell, with a blanket of black ashes everywhere. The white wall, now mostly black, branching out in a fan pattern from above the socket.

We spent the next hour testing what had caused the generator to ‘misbehave’, and then started cleaning away the evidence of the fire. With all the windows and doors open, the smoke had cleared and everything was now in order, apart from the bloodthirsty swarm of mosquitos that had come in, taking advantage of our vulnerable position...

Then Q wanted his hair done – this involves a straightening chemical treatment from a box that I smear on his head every couple months, in the name of his vanity...this treatment tames his wild locks, and we’ve got it down to a science, but as the chemicals involved are actually quite serious, it must be rinsed out at just the right time or... or I just wouldn’t want to know. Visions of hair clumps and singed scalp come to mind.

So as Q headed up the stairs to get the gunk out, the generator started playing it’s tricks again and after a few coughs and spurts it died. And there was Q – up in the shower, in the dark, water having stopped (being powered through a pump it’s dependant on the electricity). Panic. Plan B was put into motion immediately. I instructed him to squeeze his eyes shut and get a towel. Marched him down the stairs, through the darkness and out the front door. We have a water tap that runs out in the garden, under the mango tree and mess of bouganvillia that is not dependant on the power from the house. He crawled under the trees, turned the tap on full blast and proceeded to rinse and rinse, down on all fours, knees in the dirt, the white chemical mixing with the mud, making a greyish sludge out of the garden. With the moonlight as our guide, I passed the special shampoo and conditioner down, one by one, until the job was done. Emergency averted.



Just then the power came back and the neighborhood came to light and to life. Great.
Exhausted I headed up to bed, stopping for a well needed shower. But on entering the bathroom, four – yes four – giant cockroaches decided to peek out from under the dark dank hole they occupy under the tub. Instead of my usual scream and evacuation, I decided they needed to simply be dealt with. It was that kind of day. I calmly got my weapon – RAID (Fast Acting) and let them have it. Half a can of it. I left the room feeling quite satisfied with myself and came back soon after to find them writhing uselessly on their greasy brown backs, limbs jerking wildly from the nerve toxins I’d subjected them to.

Another day in the life was over. The next day, Monday – back to work. With the memories of the crisp cool air, German perfectionism and view of the Alps in the distance fading faster than my cockroaches would succumb to their punishment...
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7 comments:

One Fly said...

Enjoyed this post. Have you been to the top of Krobo Mountain?

The pale observer said...

Have you been to Ghana? I actually haven't gotten to the top of Krobo mountain...

I see you have my friend Kajsa's blog, Rain in Africa on your blogroll... do you know each other??


I checked out your blog - great :)

One Fly said...

I do not know Kajsa except that I linked to her during BAD. I come and visit you and several other bloggers in Ghana.

I enjoyed your post because this was where I spent a lot of time as a PCV in the late 70's.

Lived in Juapong and Senchi Ferry.

I see some things have changed in all those years but it's still the same. Afica will remain just that.

Ah the Krobo's. The stories I could tell you. One quick one was just before I left country was in Kpong just as it was getting dark. A guy from Koforidua was literally shaking in his shoes because he couldn't get a lorry out and heads were being taken because one of the chiefs had died.

I never did that smart ass post about Kinda Sleazy Rice being a Krobo. At least she's gone.

Samo on water-toilets and paper.
Used the the Graphic more than paper. Things were a real mess back then.

See you Holli,
tb AKA One Fly

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Obibini Bruni said...

If all you had to do is urinate, I do not understand why you needed to waste water with a flushing toilet. Especially that you should have known full well that water is not exactly an excess in Ghana and there are urinals everywhere in Somanya (I can confirm that, as I know Somanya very well).
http://obibinibruni.org/

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