It can almost be guaranteed that when misfortune falls upon you in Ghana it comes in pairs. In fact, I believe that somewhere there is a saying to that extent. Regardless, it proved true this week. Thursday and Friday the city shut off our water as part of the water rationing programme which helps to ensure that most areas of the city are at some point in the month provided with running water. I used to be quite incredulous when our water was turned off, but now that I understand that logic I feel a bit guilty for my previous frustrations. In Tamale there is a fixed amount of potable water available for the city, and because this amount is less than that which the city requires, not all of the city’s pipes can be served simultaneously. In order to attempt some margin of equality, the city authority strategically rations the available water, alternating the areas of the city being provided with service. Now clearly this system is biased towards the more affluent and built-up neighbourhoods, which is why I can expect to have running water at my house for the greater portion of every week. What I had never considered before I understood this system though is that for the few days every month that I am unable to shower from the tap, some families which are not usually able to can. So while it is still a burden, it is much easier to stomach knowing that there is a purpose.
Unfortunately the two days without water were immediately followed by two straight days without electricity (though luckily only one night). This time around power outages are not nearly the disaster that they once were for me, since I came to Ghana this time equipped with a laptop with a functioning battery. So even in times of power cuts (though this weekend’s was due to strong winds) I can continue with my work. It certainly makes things less stressful for me knowing that I have a 7-hour reserve battery supply.
The weekend however was not all misfortune. I actually had two very exciting experiences. On Saturday I gave myself a mission to go to the central market with my camera and to walk around NOT taking pictures. My idea was that because people in the market generally do not like having their picture taken, I would go around clearly in ‘tourist mode’ but instead of just passing by, I would sit and engage with people only taking photos when invited. I started by entering the market from the Western side by where the traditional smock makers have their shops. Predictably people at first only spoke to me to admonish me not to take photos, or to merely greet the white guy. However, one smock maker named Mohammed invited me to sit with him. The two of us spoke for more than 20 minutes about his smocks, where and how he learned to sew them, and about the different types he makes. After our conversation, seeing my camera he then invited me to take photos. Having his permission granted me the opportunity to really frame the shots I took, and to make multiple attempts when necessary. I then went on to repeat this process a few other times, sometimes in the end taking photographs, and sometimes just enjoying the conversations which resulted from taking the time to engage with people. My biggest success of the ‘mission’ though was when the fetish seller called out to me. Seizing the opportunity I joined him and his friends at their stall. After a long conversation which traced his family’s journey from Nigeria to Ghana more than 80 years ago, I began to inquire as to the purpose and uses of the different fetishes. It was fascinating to learn about the different items and their uses, it gave me a glimpse of a world that I hardly even understood existed. In the end not only did he invite me to take photos of him and his stall, but he let me photograph his wares as well!
My favourite photograph is of his dried alligator heads, though I never didquite understand for what they are intended to be used.
The other really interesting thing I did was on Sunday. My housemate Mohammed invited me to accompany him to the palace of the Chief of Jisonayilli. A big ceremony which will take place over three days is being held there. Yesterday’s ceremony consisted of a huge drum circle and traditional dancers. It was great going with Mohammed, because while I have seen such things before, having somebody who could explain the exact significance of each of the dances, and even of some of the particular dance moves was fascinating.
All in all it was a great weekend, though a bit hot without the fans!