Walk with Me

Dear Nii Kpakpo,

I woke up from my sleep, I didn’t sleep last night because I was with the guys, and decided to take a leisurely walk through the labyrinths of the back roads in my hood to see how the community I live in and around me usually spend their Saturday afternoons.

I have hardly gone out walking on a Saturday since I have lived here. It’s usually movement in a car to a wedding during the day or another social engagement. But to gallivanting through the streets just to observe, don’t think I have.

So I set off from home and went through the back way. Your sister tells me that we have a presidential dinner tomorrow and I have to get a haircut. So today as I walk round, I look out for barbering shops along the route although I have seen some boys gathering at one particular ‘container’ which I think is a barber’s shop. Where else will boys boys congregate like that?

But before i set off I have to get some cold water to drink in the shop right behind the house. This woman has very cold iced water but gradually she’s proving unreliable, like many other businesses in this region. Thriving businesses are not reliable because owners work at it at their own leisure and not at the convenience of their clients. Her shop was closed. I walk on.

Just past the Telco mast on the street behind my house I find the first barbers shop. It is a kiosk with an old swivel chair and a mirror and a typical Ghanaian barber shop interior. Linoleum carpet on the floor, a fan blowing in the wind and cover cloths hanging on the window sill. Some guys sit outside the kiosk playing cards – gin rummy I think. I think barbering shops are the most prominent place to foster youth hangouts in a particular location especially for male youth.

I walk past them and continue on my walk. I walk past the small courtyard mosque (most folk will pray in the courtyard mosques they make either at home or in their communities and use the main mosque or the central mosque for Jumat prayers on Fridays.

Nii Kpakpo, I noticed something very interesting with the politicians here. It kinda makes sense to me why some of them try to justify the fat salaries they are claiming. You folk in Accra will not understand but here in these parts the member of parliament provides every need of the society because that is what is expected of him to do. Albeit his not being able to cater for everybody in his constituency, he has to do as much as he can.

On my gallivanting tour I came through the community I noticed that the MP had done as much as he can in the form of social amenities. These include a branded public toilet. Branded only means that the MP makes sure that the people remember that it was his goodwill that provided it so he has it emblazoned on every available wall space ‘Provided for the Community by Hon. Blah Blah Blah, MP for Tamale Gallivanting Constituency.’

Kpakpo, I always expect to see a motto or slogan such as ‘service to people’ or ‘making the community better’ but oh! The slogan or motto is always missing and I think none of them wants to adopt something that they can be held accountable for. Oh Ghana Politics!

The most shocking of the items i saw provided was not only the tents the people sit under all day to just chat, play cards or oware but even the benches had written boldly on the seat, not the side, the same thing that is written on the toilet wall.

And here I’m wondering that whilst the people ate sitting on the benches, who notices that they were also donated by the MP. I happened to notice on this particular day because apparently there was a program elsewhere and one of the benches was abandoned or rather I should say empty.

Further past the public toilet and the political ‘apata’ (as I have come to call all the political sheds in the savannah) I approach one of the numerous mosques and there is live and loud music and noise. It is a traditional Muslim wedding. Weddings up north are very colourful with the different groups of the friends of the bride and groom wearing same colourful clothes.

Nii Kpakpo, here in the savannah it is a big deal for wedding guests to obviously show their affiliation to the couple and how best to do this than by dressing. The man’s friends wear very colourful agbadas and brown leather boots and they usually arrive in a convoy of motorbikes.

As for the girl’s friends and relatives, some of them or most of them dress the same way the bride dresses at every time. Sometimes a bride will change her clothes about four different times and in all that, there are some people who will still be wearing the same cloth with her. What this means is that Muslim marriages are expensive to the participant who has to first be abreast of the different types of clothes the bride is going to use.

But the result is a colourful ceremony of action, music and dance.

Walking down the street I walked past the photocopy shop that also acts as a meeting point for the elitist boys in the community. I call them the elitist because unlike other people playing oware and cards, these boys play scrabble. They have 3 different scrabble boards and the games go on concurrently. I stop to watch the games for a while and it’s interesting to see the kind of words they have on the board. I have known people who played scrabble and were good at it but they did to understand half the words they played. They only studied the scrabble dictionary so they can win games.

But these guys are the real deal. They are well educated and I love the conversations and discussions, on various topics and subjects, that go on whilst they play the game.

Just across the street from them some older people play oware and draughts. It is a clear dichotomy of the priorities in the age gap. What i learn from this obviously blatant juxtaposition is that you don’t let your surroundings and established systems stop who you are or stop you from being better than it is. These young elitist could just have followed suit with their elders playing draughts or oware and talking politics but they play scrabble and discuss topics of world interests.

Nii Kpakpo, as here is a predominantly Muslim community, the activities are mostly settled around the Islamic religion but it is somehow to see the religions interrelating with each other. Just down the next street is a Christian wedding reception. The reception is held by the Catholic Religious Interrelation Centre.

Yes they have a centre like that here and it’s located in the heart of the Muslim community I’m gallivanting through now. The same place also doubles as the research centre for religious studies in the whole region.

It is interesting to see that even at the Christian wedding reception, traditional based music permeates the atmosphere and even some of the dances are traditional dances coupled with the currently trending alkaida and azonto dances.

When one of the local dagbani tunes is played by the deejay, (there is a music industry here solely dagbani but draws heavily from hip life which also draws from hip hop) a crowd jumps up to move to the music. Interestingly the hip hop song is heavily laced with traditional drum beats of the savannah and this dictates the dance moves that almost look like damba festival dance.

Doing a local dance to a hip hop tune? I find it quite amusing and interesting especially since it’s not happening anywhere but at a church function.

Papa Nii after walking out of the wedding reception I keep walking down the street past the banks. There is a policeman at the ATM who wants to withdraw some money but obviously in distress. Could it be that there isn’t enough money for his purposes or he’s lost his PIN number. Well he obviously looks distraught but I find it very amusing. Well, after all Kpakpo, whatever amount he wants, he will get it on Monday on the streets during his tour of duty for the day.

Oh life!

I shout out hailing to him ‘oh abaaan! Yes boss!’ To which he doesn’t respond but it only increases my amusement as I walk on.

In recent times there have been calls for buildings to have disability ramps and just across the main hospital road, at the point where I cross is this ultramodern building in its final stages of completion and upon observation of the entrance i didn’t see any Ramos for the disabled. I don’t want to even think what the inside is like if even on the outside there is no ramp for the disabled. Maybe somebody has to take the city authorities on to make sure that public buildings are disability compliant.

Kpakpo, right across this plush building are some trees that look ordinary from a distance but when you look closely have some resident mammals. These trees so remind me of the 37 Military Hospital area. There are bats on these trees in large populations and I noticed sometimes some youth come to hunt for them with catapults. There are bats in the savannah too.

My route takes me past the regional police headquarters and on a weekend it’s somehow deserted but always there is activity going on within these walls. However I spy some people playing volleyball at the court at the back of the office building. These people are passionate about their sport and it’s interesting to see how they use the exercise mad the healthy competition that they indulge in. Both men and women take an interest in the sport but they have quite a bit of an uncertainty to let outsiders in. But that is only human any3mi.

Finally I approach my destination. Kpakpo I haven’t told you where I was heading in the first place. Usually on Saturday evenings, the young men head out to the youth home, which is a cultural centre, to play an all star basketball game. On this day, because of the gallivanting, I’m not playing. But then just before I get to the centre I notice that there is an ICT centre and it’s really a state of the art centre with wireless connectivity and all. This can be a good place to do some research work for me.

Usually when we hear of facilities in the savannah we think that savannah facilities are not up to par. We are not in the backwoods anymore. Activities and facilities in the savannah are comparable to any facilities anywhere in the world inasmuch as the environment enables.

Nii Kpakpo, the game by the boys was worth watching. I have seen some of this boys learning and noticed their progress in the sport and in their personal lives. Some of us serve as mentors to these youth and it has been quite fulfilling.

Well that is the end of my walk and I am glad that you came along with me to the basketball court. Hope we can walk again through another community on another day soon.

This is how I’m spending my weekend, not to mention the. Presidential dinner organised by the Bible Society to raise funds for the organization. I have shaved my head sakora for that one. I don’t want them to think me ‘bush’ when I attack the food with my fingers.

No cutlery for the African in me.

Anyway, Nii Kpakpo Thompson, your sister’s birthday is tomorrow and I have to go plan what to do. Will tell you all about it when it’s over. But you know I will not tell you what happens behind closed doors in the dark lest you disown me. (Laughs)

Your Cousin in law
Savannah Boy


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