The Ghana Diaries #5

Sunday, 28 November 2010 at 20:32

I love Markets, I'm no shopaholic but I love to browse and be right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of any Market anywhere I've been in the world so far! The markets tell you so much about the place you're in, the people and how they live.

There is a Market in Duayaw Nkwanta at the 'Station', the area commonly referred to as 'Town'. It's busy and seems to thrive. The busiest day is Friday. I'm told that it's always best to go early cos that's when all the people from the Village take their stuff to sell – then they leave. Even in this Village, the Market is big with stalls of every description. Lots of stalls selling toothpaste? Then there is the amazing range of foods: Yam, Casiva, Peppers, Onions, Fish of all varieties – mostly dried. Eggs, hard boiled and not, lots of shapes and sizes of sweet loaves of bread, (its quite hard to find bread you can eat with savouries), Pineapples, Oranges, (green to yellow here) and Plantain – that’s Banana to my friends in the UK but here it is cooked before it becomes what we would call ripe, it may be fried, (like chips/fries), or boiled or roasted to eat with stew or soup. Lots of tomatoes and tomato paste and other spices and ingredients goes into these stews but I'll talk about food later, I've still a lot to learn.

There are stalls selling provisions – such as coffee, sugar, salt, soap powder, cigs and nearly all of those sell chocolate and other drinks, (the local Milo is good), also tins of Sardines, Pilchards and sometimes Tuna and Baked Beans . . so even with limited facilities you can find something familiar. Stalls that just sell bars of soap – used for everything – and buckets, mops, bowls and plates etc.

There are many clothes stalls but also many that sell 'cloth' – material. The women wear brightly coloured cloths wrapped around them the way we would wear a bath robe, and it makes so much more sense, they are cool and comfortable. The popular dresses/clothes in beautiful bright colours that many Africans wear are made by local dressmakers. You can have an outfit made to measure in the style and colour of your choice at a very reasonable price.

The dressmakers will have permanent shops and indeed in every Market I've been too the stalls are set up around buildings that house small supermarkets, electrical and hardware shops, pharmacies and the like. It takes you a good while even to get round everything in this relatively small area – but here is nothing compared to Sunyani, the nearest big town about 20 minutes drive away!

I don't know how many times bigger the Market is there but it's BIG. Getting around all the places to shop in one day would be like trying to have a drink in every pub in Newcastle in one night! You walk to the station at Duayaw Nkwanta and either get a Taxi or a Trotro. 1 Ghana Cedhi in a Trotro, 1 Cehi 40 in a Taxi. They won't go until it's full, a Taxi will probably fill up quite quickly, say five or ten minutes, but at least fifteen people will be squeezed into a Tro tro so you could be waiting thirty minutes or so!

I learned early on never to run out of money completely, there must be at least twenty banks in Sunyani, eight of them have ATM's that take Visa cards, but a member of staff from the Orphanage came with me one Monday morning as my guide to where I could buy the things I wanted and not one of those eight cash machines was working. I had enough to get us home and buy essentials – but it fell far short of the shopping trip I'd planned. There is more variety both in the Town itself and the stalls . . I'm still only familiar with a small part of it – and the big treat for all Volunteers is Melkom, the European Supermarket that seems to have a branch in every big town. I visited the branch in Accra, and that sells much more than the branch in Sunyani but still you can pick up many things you are missing from home, even if they aren't quite the same. They generally are on two floors, one for edible stuff, the other for hardware, household and electrical. It is however quite expensive, and as you start to find your way around the markets you can very often find what you want, or something very similar for less money on the stalls.

The main Market day in Sunyani is Wednesday, and if I need to go, I like to leave home at 7 30 or 8 am, when lots of folk are headed in that direction so the Taxi fills up quickly, and you have the advantage of being able to grab what you want before it gets too hot and too crowded.

Then last week we went to Kumasi. This is in the opposite direction from Duayaw Nkwanta and it's a 2/3 hour drive. So myself, Layla, three other Volunteers and four children boarded the Trotro – then another five or six people got in and the driver! Believe me sardines in tins have more space and road safety isn't what it is in Europe . . but it makes for an interesting journey . . I mostly got over any fear I had during my visit to India, where cows wander up the dual carriageway towards the oncoming traffic, women ride on the back of motor bikes side saddle wearing Sari's and nobody wears a helmet. But the danger is in fact very real, there are many accidents, you just don't think about it, if you did you'd never leave the house!

Kumasi has the biggest market in West Africa – I'd read this and I can quite believe it. It will take me at least six visits before I can find my way around I think, but it has to be seen! It would take at least a full day to even come near figuring out everything that is sold there, but the sheer size and volume of people means you just get swept along in the crowd and it's difficult to stop. You really need to be with someone who knows where they're going until you get used to it.

After we'd seen all we wanted to see in the Market, Layla took us to the Culture Centre. Here you can buy all the things you usually associate with Africa, carved masks, elephants, drums, jewellery and prints of African people in traditional garb going about there daily lives or dancing etc. This is a place not to be missed. I hope to get to know it – and Sunyani much better while I'm here.

So . . about the Healers I've met. I had expressed an interest to Imoro, this is my work, and I wanted to get to know my African – or at least Ghanian counterparts, and find out how they worked, whether they were interested in talking to me and discussing our respective methods . . and not least of all to find out what the attitude would be if I decide, (as has been suggested to me several times), to practice here in Duayaw Nkwanta.

On a Friday morning at 8 am Imoro picked me up at the house and we went to see a Healer in a neighbouring village. Imoro told me that it is known that there are many Spirits in that area, and that originally, before plans changed, it was where he had planned to build the new Orphanage . . but I also have to say that I have felt very powerful and protective energies at work around the house they currently live in. This isn't surprising now that I've discovered that there is a shrine/sanctuary of some sort almost immediately, (well about 500 yeards I'm told), behind the house where any visiting Healers/ Workers . . or indeed anyone at all can go and pay their respects and make an offering. I haven't managed to do that yet, because again, I'd like my first visit to be with someone who knows the local procedure, but I hope to visit soon.

The Healer in Dumor made me very welcome, though I didn't see him. I was told before I entered that he is often in three places at once so I might not see him but I would hear his voice. There was a cue of people waiting to see him. We exchanged greetings and he asked me why I had come, and I explained as above. He bade me welcome and said he would 'follow' me and help me with my work. I really appreciated this. He asked early in the conversation if I could see his face, when I replied 'no', he laughed and said I was very genuine. He gave me holy water to bathe with and asked me to return in one week. The only thing that amused me was being handed a microphone with which to speak to him that wasn't connected to anything! Nevertheless he was warm and friendly, and as a stranger coming into his domain and expressing a desire to work and to learn about Ghanian Traditions, I really couldn't have had a better reception.

I went back to visit him the following Friday as arranged. This time he asked me to pray . . and recite the Lords Prayer, (Christianity is big here), and whilst these are not my beliefs I didn't mind too much. I had the feeling it was as much about protection as anything and afterwards I bought a bottle of his Olive Oil, (used mainly for blessings here), with instructions to rub it on myself after bathing or before leaving the house, and his continued assertion that he would work with me and teach me whatever I wanted to know. I couldn't have asked for more and I left on a high, feeling inspired and accepted.

But I had another lovely surprise in store! On the way home, Imoro told me that his Uncle, from his village in the North of Ghana, had been on his way home from Kumasi where the King there, (apparently the most powerful King in Ghana) had had need of his services. He had been told I was here so had broken his journey to come and see me, and was waiting for me at the Orphanage – I felt honoured, I was delighted.

Poor Imoro worked hard that day lol. His Uncle, Malem Baba being his official title as a Healer, Psychic and Clairvoyant, (his name is Seidu), doesn't speak Twi, so he had to translate for us, from the language of his village, to Twi, English and back again – but we managed.

I told him I was delighted to meet him and thanked him for coming to see me and was greeted warmly and enthusiastically in return. I said much the same as I'd said to the Healer in Dumor that morning, and he also said he'd be happy to teach me. He explained that he'd had years of training in the Islamic Tradition but also inherited abilities from his Grandfather, that in fact he is also a Witch . . now this was fascinating. I'm Pagan myself but I've learned of the 'Witch Camp' here in Ghana where many have been sent who are said to have used their abilities to harm others – but that's another story for another day, and a day when I will have hopefully visited this place myself.

I decided to talk to Seidu as openly and as honestly as I knew how, and with Imoro's help explained that I firmly believed that Religion and differences in Culture and Belief had been used as an excuse on too many occasions and for far too long to hurt and control people, and that all of us who have these abilities should be talking and even more importantly listening to each other. We should be sharing our knowledge and working together rather than fragmenting it and working separately. He agreed wholeheartedly and seemed pleased, so I offered to return to the Orphanage a little later with my Tarot Cards, and he nodded enthusiastically.

I did so, and he studied them in fascination, then asked me for a demonstration. He seemed impressed with the Reading I gave him, and then got his Cowry Shells out, the local tool of divination. Here these practices are Ju ju, but it seems to me that a lot of people have denounced it in favour of Islam or Christianity. My Reading was also accurate. He showed me several other pieces of equipment that he uses in his work. But then he handed me a blank sheet of paper and asked me to describe what I 'saw'. I studied it and described the images that came into my mind, and did the same with a second sheet, and Seidu clapped his hands and seemed very plaeased . . we were obviously well and truly tuned in!!

Unfortunately, during the few hours I spent in his company, the feverish feeling I'd had since that morning got steadily worse and I really had no alternative but to excuse myself and come home . . and I was so disappointed at having to do that but it's been years since I felt so ill!! I had a raging fever and when I got in I collapsed in a heap on my bed till next morning. When I woke it seemed to have almost gone, but I was having serious coughing and sneezing fits and as much as I wanted to return to the Orphanage I couldn't take the chance of continuing to spread whatever infection I'd managed to pick up, so reluctantly I stayed home. I worked on my laptop, had a long conversation with Gareth and Kate so felt much better. In the evening, I sat playing music and drinking Schnapps quite happily.

Next day I was delirious! I had slept for hours but woke when I heard banging on my door. Everyone was worried about me, but being used to just dying quietly in private on the odd occasion that I'm ill, I was at a loss as to how to deal with so much kindness and caring! I had to excuse myself and crawl back into bed though, I just couldn't stand upright. When I woke up, people were sitting watching over me while I slept! Added to that they had brought me cartons of fruit juice of every description, oranges, water melon and food. They'd brought the fan back that I'd returned to the Orphanage and plugged it in beside my bed. They'd seen the mosquito bites on my arms and ankles, (and the coughing and sneezing it had been discovered was an allergic reaction to repellent spray), so they had bought a plug in repellent. The other Volunteers had replenished my supplies of sugar etc and brought me coke, and my elderly landlady was at my door every meal time with her granddaughter to serve me a freshly made meal, until I told her I really couldn't eat any more. They pointed to the Schnapps bottle in alarm when they first found me ill, and that was the only funny moment in the whole affair! I explained that I always have a drink at weekends, even in Ghana, and that I'd been ill before I drank it, so they said 'ok, but no more just now, it will dehydrate you' . . but obviously I had no intention!

Then they tried to persuade me to let them take me to the Hospital, but I said no, I would rather have Healing from Seidu. Within a few hours he arrived with something he'd made and told me to drink some and bathe myself with the rest. Layla helped me with the latter, I didn't have the strength to move. He said he thought the infection was airborne, and that my strength would return the nest day.

He was right, it did! It's an experience I wouldn't care to repeat but nowhere in the world could I have been better taken care of, and I was overwhelmed, but very grateful.

Seidu had to leave next morning but he had already invited me to go and stay in his village for two weeks or even a month so that he could teach me 'everything he knows' and also learn from me. I had showed him how I use my Healing Abilities and I think we both realized there was a wealth of precious knowledge and gifts to be shared. My gifts I could say were' if not inherited from at least discovered because of my Maternal Grandmother. I was so delighted to have met him and talked with him, this was part of the reason I came to Africa, and I was reminded of that so strongly when I was in his company.

So, when he left, it was with the understanding that before I leave Ghana, I will go and stay in their Village, with Imoro. It is hotter there and I'm told – and the roads are hard . . but I wouldn't miss it for the world!!

Hopefully, the next time I write, the whole Mum's Love Family will have moved into their new house – finished or not!

I think the lead up to Christmas will be busy!

To be continued . . .

Copyright Rosa Montague