Sunday, May 28, 2006

Sisters in the Rain; Megan, Krofiye, and Apoorva - May 20th 2006

We are sitting outside, by the giant boiling vat of palm oil (to make soap; funny, exactly a month ago, I had the structure of palmitoleic acid – one of the fatty acids that comprises palm oil, and most soap made in the western world – memorized. Now I am seeing it boiling on a wood fire surrounded by chickens and guinea fowl.), on a bench, having a picnic. Gari (dry cassava meal), cabbage, onions, pepe, and eggs, we’re eating quietly while watching the darkening horizon – its going to pour. Megan and I make bets – she says it won’t rain in the daytime, Mme. Janet and I say it will rain within the hour.

It starts spitting, and we gather up the utensils, pots, pans, brooms, and firewood, to stow away in a dry place. We cover up the boiling palm oil with corrugated tin sheets and run inside.

Now it’s Krofiye’s job to put the huge shallow metal basins under all the rain gutters to catch the water so we can fill the 400 gallon black plastic tank with water. The rain looks deliciously inviting. I think to myself ‘How nice would it be….. to just strip down to my bra and panties and dance in this spectacular shower? But there is work to be done…’. So I change into my ubiquitous home outfit – one of my wrap around skirts tied like a halter dress – and get to work with Krofiye. Soon, its pouring, and we are getting soaked to the bone, singing, dancing, bailing out all the shallow basins to put into the black tank (turns out, everything in this house, when filled to the brim, leaks. Water spouts beautifully out of unseen holes, like some invisible cowboy has come in the night to shoot small bullets with an antique pistol into every water storage basin we own…). As we work, the rain gets heavier and heavier – it begins to just pour! Quicker than we think, the tank is full. The huge 100 gallon steel oil drum is also full – our work is done! We are laughing, shouting, spinning, dancing Gonja style (stick your neck in and out, like a chicken, while moving your arms and shuffling your feet to a beat that only you can hear -! Voila! You are dancing Gonja style. Or rather, you are doing Krofiye’s version of ancient tribal dancing.) Probably to church gospel music, her favourite. Somewhere, someone is playing ‘My God, is an awesome God, he reigns from heaven above’, with steel drums and Gonja drums, and Krofiye has internalized this forever, as she sticks her neck in and out, grinning that crazy toothless Gramma smile of hers!

We stand under the water pouring off of the tin roof, taking turns to let it hit us full force, better than any shower, any massage therapist, in the world; but the game is to dance while standing there, so I am grooving to old school disco, and she is doing her gospel-chicken dance and in the off times we are kicking water at each other (there is ankle deep water in the courtyard). Soon we are shouting for Megan to join us from inside, inviting her to come play with us, crazies in the water!

Megan comes into our game and we retreat to the lower part of the courtyard, where the sun had hit all morning (the concrete is warming the ankle deep water, perfect for kicking at each other), and my dirty 15 000 cedi flip flops are finally getting clean. We decide to pull out my old skipping rope (a random purchase in Tamale’s equivalent of the dollar store), and continue our skipping game from last night – in the ankle deep water. Oooh! New hazards! Whoever gets to a hundred first wins, and then two hundred, and then skipping backwards, and then skipping like boxers (you know, the one where you go one foot, after another – like running). It sounds like the stupidest game in the world, but I assure you I haven’t had this much fun in years! Now the trick is that while one person skips, the other two don’t count for them – they kick water at the skipper trying to distract from the counting! A-ha!

The water tastes so good, and we stare, mouths open to catch the raindrops, at the sky! Krofiye is holding her nose, hoping she won’t drown like that story about the chickens.. (is it true? I’m not sure. I can’t hold my nose shut like hers, the long stem of my nose piercing will stab me! 2 years after getting my nose pierced, the downsides appear – they should have warned me – you may drown while staring up and drinking rain!)

And we are puddle jumping, with no rubber boots in sight, making large splashes, splashing each other, seeing who can kick more water! We are laughing and singing and I think to myself, if Henri Cartier-Bresson were here, hell – if Jamaal were here, that camera happy kid, this would be a Kodak moment. This would be the perfect translation of everything I have ever been trying to say about Ghana, about Africa, about joy, spontaneity, family. It’s a beautiful thing – to have sisters, crazy ones (just like me) at that, who are ready at the drop of a hat to hike up their skirts and jump around in the rains. It’s a beautiful rainstorm, it means Mme. Janet’s akulonku – groundnut – farm next to our house will germinate. It means farmers across Gonja-land will begin to plant yam (cojo), cassava (banshi), akulonku, okru, sorghum. The rain is letting up. I dig out my old clothes line from my now empty hiking bag, and we string it up so we can hang up our soaking wet clothes and change. As we walk past Mme. Janet, nursing Boncat, my little peanut brother, almost sleeping, looking as content, and small and perfect as can be, we are grinning crazy smiles. The rain is dripping down our backs and our fingers are wrinkled and she says – “You have done well. You have done well.”.

Its funny, nothing I have done has contributed to this moment – to this joy, to my two sisters, Krofiye that sprightly little toothless imp, and Megan, calm, placid, smiling, lovely, to my baby brother and Mme. Janet, to rain, and to the quick warmth with which this offbeat family has accepted me as one of their own. They tease me when I run screaming out of my room because of flying ants, they pile extra fish (oh no – not the extra fish!) on my plate to “make [me] fat and beautiful!”, they humour me and won’t slaughter my favourite chicken for supper until I leave (its name? I have aptly called it Favourite Chicken, or sometimes Lazy Chicken because its too stupid to sit on its eggs nicely). And these people, this is why I’m here; this is the Africa that BBC and World Vision will not show you. It is not pathetic, its not full of villages of skeletal people, kwashiorkor and malnutrition, its people don’t sleep in trees or wear only leaves; they are a smiling, joyful, people full of laughter. Even in the smallest village, if they only know a few words of English, those words will be “You are welcome, sister! You are welcome!”. This is the Africa of old toothless Nanas, shelling pumpkin seeds and telling stories, of “Guinness is Good For You” advertisements and Nigerian movies with strong women booming “NO! I will NOT have sexual relations with you!” on a rickety bus from Tamale to Accra, it’s the juxtaposition, however unlikely, of the oldest and the newest; it is resilience, difficulty, pride and wonder.

American Baptist missionaries, who stayed in my courtyard with Mme. Janet, used to wear sunglasses and “taking pictures of the sun”. “Why,” Megan inquires, “would they take pictures of the sun?! The sun is the same in America!”. It is Megan, it is – but something, some small magic tells me that here, it’s a little rounder, a little warmer, a little more perfect, and far more reflected in the bright teeth of ten thousand smiles.


At 1:01 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's something I never understood. Why people here think that everyone in Africa are poor and starving and sad all the time. I mean they live differently than we do, and there must be many poor and starving people, as there are here. But that does not mean that they cannot live a happy life. There are probably a lot more unhappy people here, because we are spoiled and taught not to appreciate the great things in life. How many people go outside to smell the flowers, and to feel the wind caressing through their hair? Maybe we should take a lesson from the people in Ghana and learn to appreciate our lives more.
How old are Megan and Krofiye? It's kind of interesting that some of the people have names that would be considered "normal" in Canadian society, and others dont.

At 11:28 a.m., Anonymous Alex said...

It's amazing how the simple things become beautiful, you've shown me that more and more the longer I've known you.
PS I've taken pictures of the sun here my whole life, it's a gorgeous entity

At 10:03 a.m., Anonymous Raj Narayan said...

Beautiful prose! I can picture all of you playing in the rain. Perhaps my daughters will read it one day and the "A-Ha" moment will come to them when they realize that you do not need TV, video, computer,a basket ball hoop or even a soccer ball to have fun and joy.

Nature (without acid polluting it, perhaps)is the best friend, teacher and playmate one could ever hope to have.

I look forward to reading more of your blogs. Keep it up and don't let malaria (or the anti-malarials)stop you.


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