#6 Ghana, Feb. 18, 2001

Dear Everybody,

This is a good way to spend a Sunday—not much is going on in Ghana except a million long, loud church services.

Ah, those gravel roads—this time to Yendi, a sleepy little ‘end of the road’ town east of Tamale. I had walked to the taxi stand to ask them where to get a tro-tro to Yendi.

“Take a taxi for 500 cedis to the hospital; there you can get the Yendi car,” I was advised. The ‘Yendi car’ turned out to be the usual stuffed minibus and I got the last (aisle) seat—they go when they’re full, so we were on our way. This particular red dust on this road seemed to really stick to me. When I used my hanky to wipe my face, it was like dermabrasion.

Finally I arrived and looked for the Lonely Planet recommended ‘Police Guesthouse’ in which to stay the night. Nobody around. I went for breakfast and returned. Found they were full. A man directed me to the Community Center, which the Lonely Planet didn’t mention. I got a nice (relatively speaking) room with bath for $5.25. I told the manager that I was interested in meeting the YaNa of the Dagomba.

“I’ll call someone from his palace to come and talk to you so that you can explain what you want to talk to the YaNa about—perhaps the culture or the traditions of the Dagomba.”

That sounded like a hint to me so when the ‘palace man’ came, I told him that I was, indeed, interested in the culture and traditions of the Dagomba and had already been to the Ashanti. Then for good measure I said that I was preparing to write a magazine article on the Ashanti and the Dagomba (well—maybe I will). All of this had to be interpreted by the hotel manager as the ‘palace man’ didn’t speak English. He apparently found me a worthwhile visitor, as he said that he would go and get the YaNa’s secretary who would come to meet me at 12 noon.

At 12 noon the ‘palace man’ returned and said the secretary would come at 2:00, interview me and then I would accompany him to the palace. At 2:00 the ‘palace man’ arrived with the secretary. The secretary was well dressed in an African yellow print tunic and pants and greeted me extensively in English. The conversation moved along slowly—lots of preliminaries and pleasantries. Eventually I explained why I wanted to meet with the YaNa. The secretary was agreeable—he said it could be arranged.

“But madame, it is customary to bring a gift to the YaNa under these circumstances, either in cash or in kind,” his voice was hushed and confidential.

“What would be an appropriate amount of cash? I asked.

“An appropriate amount would be 100,000 cedis.”

Let’s see, that’s $15. I nodded in agreement.

“And another 100,000 cedis for the elders,” he added.

I think I had nodded a little too quickly. But well, we’re trading one little scam for another, here.

“Oh, I’ll have to go and count my money to see if I have that much.”

I wasn’t kidding about that—I had taken only my day pack on this overnight and had left my backpack at the hotel in Tamale. I had taken two thirds of the money that I had, which was a considerable wad of bills, but upon counting it, there were only 275,000 cedis. Actually this was plenty, but it’s weird to be running around the back woods with only $40 and no banks here! Let’s see, I needed 35,000 for the room, then food and transportation—yes, it’s doable.

When I came back and said that I had enough money to pay the 200,000 cedis he said that we would now go to greet the YaNa at the palace, and that I could have the interview tomorrow morning at 8:30 AM.

“Oh, and one other little thing; it is customary to bring a bottle of some spirits to give to the YaNa,” he confided. I said that I would have to bring that in the morning, as I would have to buy it later. This was agreeable and we set off—both of them driving motorbikes with me on the back of the ‘palace man’s.’

Off we roared to the palace! It was about a mile down a dusty, red road. There was a large compound of circular huts with a big terrace covered with a tin roof in front of two huts that were painted white.

I was told to sit on a ledge and remove my shoes (as did they) and to give them the money now. This I did, and I think I detected some exchanges of looks and stifled grins!

“We’ll announce you to the YaNa,” said the secretary, as they entered the building.

They returned shortly and led me into the building in which were tied two horses (keep in mind that I’m walking in my stocking feet!) and on into another room which, I guess, was sort of a throne room. It, too, was a small circular hut with about six ‘palace men’ sitting on the floor in front of a huge pile of animal skins topped by a carpet on which reclined the YaNa.

He greeted me effusively, shaking hands several ways for a long time, welcoming me. The secretary sat down on a bench in front of the YaNa and motioned me to sit in one of several upholstered chairs around the perimeter. The secretary and the ‘palace men’ all sat with their backs to the YaNa, facing me.

As the YaNa made the speeches of greeting and I responded, saying how pleased I was to meet him, etc., the ‘palace men’ began applauding by making snapping/popping noises by using the fingers of one hand and the palm of the other. I don’t know how they did it, but it had a very exotic sound.

While the YaNa did speak English, and chimed in now and then, the secretary did most of the talking. He also said that it would be best if I put the questions for the interview tomorrow morning in writing. I said that I would.

After we chatted for a bit—the YaNa wanted to know how old I was—they all expressed surprise at ’65’—“then you’re older than all of us!” the secretary noted—more popping applause—“but you still look strong!”

“I AM strong!” said I—more applause.

I also had to explain about the weather in Minnesota (a meter and a half of snow); the secretary interpreted all for the ‘palace men,’ and then I was dismissed. Back through the horse stalls, back to the terrace and my shoes, back on the motorbike and back to my hotel.

I had been downtown earlier (between 12 and 2) and had seen a ‘spirits’ store. They only had gin, so I bought a bottle for $1.25, and then bought a few pieces of paper on which to write the questions.

Later I walked back to the palace to give the questions to the ‘palace man’ and stopped to chat with some of the YaNa’s wives and children. I could tell they were his wives (he has ABOUT 25, I learned in the interview) because of their shaved heads.

 

 

I took some photos—they were cordial but knew very little English. I deliberately didn’t bring the gin (yes, the ‘palace man’ asked) to be sure I would get the interview. By now, I began to believe that I really was writing a magazine article!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next morning I had breakfast on the street—a rather good fried egg sandwich and a big plastic mug of tea—yes, I saw the water boiling, but how clean was the mug?! The boy frying the eggs (business was brisk) just dumped the shells on the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Off to the palace! There under the tin roof on the terrace sat the YaNa in a lawn chair. Again he greeted me enthusiastically. I presented the gin. The secretary had my list of questions and began answering them without consulting the YaNa. I asked about their traditions, festivals and culture, how they preserved it, how the YaNa was chosen, how many wives and children, etc. Two questions were not answered but deliberately skipped, “How do you relate to and work with the civil government?” and “What’s the most difficult thing about being the YaNa?”

The secretary described the five festivals including the Guinea Fowl festival. The YaNa and others catch guinea fowl, defeather them and whip them, all the time singing and asking the guinea fowl why it denied the Prophet Mohamed water when he was thirsty and asked for it!

The YaNa has “more than 90” children. The Dagomba are experts in Africa with communicating by using the ‘talking drums.’ He said their traditions go back about 800 years; that there are about 2,000,000 Dagomba with 600 chiefs, which the YaNa presides over. The YaNa was chosen 27 years ago by the ‘kingmakers,’ a group of elders. And so on.

At the end of my interview, since they had asked about my children, I whipped out my photo of my family. They were entranced! The YaNa pronounced me the head of a large tribe! (Popping applause) So now you know all you ever wanted to know about the YaNa of the Dagomba in Yendi, Ghana.

Back on the tro-tro to Tamale, and back to my hotel.

The next day I got another tro-tro to Bolgatanga, but this time the road was asphalt and smooth, and I sat between a 12 year old (small) girl and a slim young boy—comfort!

Bolgatanga is the regional capital of the north, but pretty boonedocksie. It has quite a bit of craft work, and I did go so far as to talk to the Post Office about mailing a box. I decided against it, though, as there were not enough things to fill a box that I really wanted. I found a great place to eat—Madame Rakia’s. Had fufu one day (again!) and jollef rice, chicken and salad the next day. I’m so hungry for veggies—it’s difficult to find them being served.

The English pronunciation in Bolga (as it is called locally) is odd and somewhat difficult to understand. When I asked a person in a ‘communications’ storefront (telephone, photocopying, etc.) if there were an Internet facility in town, he told me there was and gave directions. He said the name was “Dutch comb” (it sounded like). When I found it, the name was ‘dot.com.’

Another surprising thing—I rarely smell much BO—and with all this heat! In the humid areas I wondered if it was because of all the sweating—maybe THAT MUCH sweat washes away the bacteria and they don’t have time to stink! I began to think that I had become so used to it that I probably couldn’t smell my own stink either! But as I went north (of Kumasi) the humidity eased up a lot—it’s very dry here, and now I do get a whiff on a crowded bus now and again. So perhaps my theory is correct.

The market in Bolga takes place every three days so on Saturday I attended. What chaos! It was the most disorganized, spread out, dusty, unappetizing market I’ve ever seen—and I’ve seen hundreds of markets! So I perused the small regional museum and then headed for a tro-tro back to Tamale.

When I bought my ticket—well, there isn’t any ticket, you just pay the money—and went to ‘check’ my pack (that’s really elevating what they do), I told the boys that I wanted to see where they were putting it. They urged me to board the tro-tro, but I insisted on seeing my pack into the back end (an enclosed area) because I was hoping the place wasn’t too filthy, or that I could have them put it in a relatively clean and safe place. They were too fast for me, and I really didn’t get a look at where it went, as the one boy was just locking up the back end when I came to see. Oh well, hope it’s there, and not too greasy or filthy when I get off.

The good news was that the tro-tro was almost full so we left within five minutes; the bad news was that I got an aisle seat with no backrest. Oh well, only two and a half hours.

Guess what greeted me when I went to claim my pack at the end of the ride—three goats! There were THREE GOATS in the back end! No, they didn’t, nor did they eat my pack, thank God! Just a couple of dusty hoof prints and some white goat hair to wipe off.

The word for ‘tap’ beer is ‘bubra,’ and let me tell you, it tasted GOOD after a journey like that, as did a shower and shampoo. When I was drinking my bubra later that afternoon, two little boys (about five and seven) sat down at my table and after the customary, “Good af-ter-noon,” enunciated very clearly, they motioned for me to give them my beer! I am greeted at least 20-30 times a day with a “Good Mor-ning Madame” or “Good Af-ter-non Madame” by all ages and both sexes.

Well, that brings you up to date—if all does go well I shall take a long dusty, gravel road tro-tro ride to Makongo, then a ferry across a finger of Lake Volta to Yeji, and then catch the Yapei Queen, a lake steamer. It’s a 30 hour trip south on Lake Volta (a huge lake made form the dammed river Volta) arriving at Akosombo, near the coast. However, this sounds like the need for split second timing on the connections, not their long suit. I called Accra last week to reserve the one cabin on the boat—it sounded dubious, so I may have to sleep on deck, IF I catch the boat at all! Stay tuned!

Carol

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