Monday, July 17, 2006

How far is Brazil anyway?

Baba is 23 years old. Probably Baba is a nickname and his real name is something like Nasratullah Fateh Ibrahimu or something.. that happens pretty often here, but to be honest I don’t know.
He comes to our house often; I think he’s a distant cousin or something, but anyway his house is in Kpembe and therefore it must mean that he is somehow related to us. Every time he arrives, he’ll be riding a new bicycle (with gears, oh.. the extravagance compared to my faithful steed Moushou, a one speed ‘ladies cycle’) and wearing “Tamale Clothes”. Nice pants and fancy sneakers and football jerseys. But to me, Baba is “Areeba Boy” because of the “cat-in-the-hat” style red, gold, and green Ghana flag hat that he always wears. You get it free as a promotion when you sign on for cellular service with ‘Areeba’, a local network, to display their sponsorship of the Black Stars football team.

Baba’s Gonja is plentiful, but his English is meagre. He will of course pepper his English attempts liberally with Gonja words, substituting for his lacking vocabulary. “Mantanso (my name) you are looking very ‘apuskeleke’ today!” In my time in Salaga, I’ve never seen Baba go to work. He claims to have completed “SS” (or secondary school) in 1998.. which seems improbable.. (nobody here completes early, especially when they are 15), and says that his parents give him money for things.

Whenever I bike into town, Baba will be sitting in front of the clothing store that sells football shorts and shirts (secondhand from small towns across North America.. I even once saw a shirt from Dauphin, Manitoba -!) playing cards or watching tele with some other guys who also, seemingly, have no jobs. Any time of the day, Baba will be there.

Yesterday when I went into town, I sat down to drink some water on a bench and Baba wandered over, to chat. We started talking about football, and the upcoming Ghana vs. Brazil match. Baba was supporting Ghana of course, but other than this fateful match, generally Ghanaians are big Brazil fans – he LOVED Brazil. “They are all play sooooooo fine, soooo fine! Especially Ronaldo! I want to go to Brazil!”. I also chimed in, yes, Brazil is a nice country and I’d love to visit there one day too.

“How far is Brazil anyway,” asked Baba thoughtfully, “from here to Tamale? That is far!”. Oh. Salaga to Tamale is 60 miles. At first I thought Baba was joking. Surely he couldn’t be serious. He went on to add “It can’t be further away than Accra – that is very very far… very very far!” Oh boy. I began to explain – Brazil is much farther than that. You have to cross a big ocean to go to Brazil, it is not even in Africa (a fact that Baba greeted is incredulousness I can’t even duplicate..). It was then I realised that Baba had no idea how the world looked; further questioning revealing that he didn’t know whether it was round or flat, or of oceans , or really of Africa or Asia or any continents. Germany, England, Canada, America – they were all far, far, far away somewhere (further than Accra even) and full of only white people and cars.

I went home and asked Mme. Janet – had Baba been to school? Oh, maybe to P6 (grade 6) she replied, maybe not even that.

I don’t know the backstory on Baba, I don’t know why or why not he didn’t complete school, or where his money comes from, or any of those things. I do know that one day (anyway) that money will run out. And then what? Baba is not an enterprising guy, mostly he sits around doing nothing and hasn’t taken it upon himself to learn a trade. What will he do if he has children?

In my two months in Salaga, and the surrounding villages, I haven’t seen even one proverbial “starving child” – World Vision style. What I do see, when I dig deeper, is Baba, and maybe a thousand others (98% of the women in the northern region are illiterate), who haven’t been to school……… somehow, it is more shocking and tragic than I could have ever imagined.


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