Monday, July 17, 2006

Sweet delicious juju gifts..

So, good old Mahmoud. I’m sure you’re wondering what he’s up to, my picture-snapping friend. After a few days of avoiding his calls (I avoid everyone’s calls. The other day my parents were trying to call and I wasn’t picking up because my phone was on silent. Sometimes your “friends” here call every single day and want to talk forever, about nothing, and its annoying. So when I see their numbers, I just put the phone on silent and let it ring.. Plus, anyone who knows me well back in Canada knows that I hate cell phones, and cell phones ringing, and mine is usually off..) he showed up Saturday morning unexpectedly. With a giant bag that I was hoping wasn’t for me.
Well, it was. The bag’s contents: 2 full loaves of bread, 4 tins of carnation evaporated milk (the only milk anyone drinks here – its 9% and orange..but its for tea), and two boxes of tea. I tried to give it back to him, but then in the end just gave up and put it to the side. I was confused, because here, when you come from the city to a smaller town (or from a town to the village), you have to bring bread. “Tamale bread” is better than “Salaga bread”. “Salaga bread” is better than…no bread in the villages. But Mahmoud wasn’t coming from Tamale…With my sisters rapidly gesturing from the corner I realised – oh, I should serve him some. Dutiful hostess that I was, I whipped up some tea, pulled up a bench and was kind of asking random mumbled questions until Mme. Janet and Boncat strolled in.

[Mme. Janet had been in Tamale for the last week, to see the doctor regarding some weird pains she had in her abdomen for the last 3 months. The doctor here said it was “muscle pain” and gave her ibuprofen and weak antibiotics and Tylenol. Anyway, it turns out she has appendicitis and they might have to remove her appendix, and now she’s taking some ultra strong antibiotics and waiting. I’m pretty worried, but trying to act brave because if I worry, then they’ll really panic.. The week they were both gone was sad, because I missed them both, especially Boncat. The house is quiet without his constant chattering and awesomely cute antics. ]

Anyway, they saved me because I proceeded to ask them questions about their stay, and eventually Mahmoud got bored, or something, and left.
Sketchy visitors or no, I was about to open up the tea and bread and offer to everyone (tea and bread is what we eat for breakfast at the house) when Madame Janet shot me a funny look. “Apoorva, the boy’s father, he’s a powerful man. A very powerful man.”. Okay. He’s the chief of the Fulanis isn’t he? Sure, he’s powerful. Plus they have 2 cars…

“No, I mean he is a powerful medicine man. A juju man. I would be very careful. Don’t joke with things. Don’t joke.”. Huh? Ohhhhhh boy. Juju. Clearly I have no intention of “joking with things” anyway as I’ve mentioned in advance…but juju… oh boy. Soon, the advice is flowing – don’t eat anything they give you in their house, don’t even drink the water. Don’t take anything that they give you. Do not go places alone with them. Then the clincher – “Apoorva, wear your other sandals when you go to their house. Don’t remove them.” What? I have two pairs of sandals – the green flip flops I bought here and wear everywhere (you remove them when you enter someone’s house) and my hiking sandals, which I would remove too..but they are harder to take off, I guess. “They will use your footprints – even the dust from your feet – and do powerful medicine on it. They will throw it into the sea. You will love the boy and stay in Ghana forever..”
At this point I’m no longer laughing. As I’ve mentioned before, juju is “very real” here – not in that I believe in it, but that if other people believe in it, you will upset them by being nonchalant.
Then, the clincher. “Don’t eat any of the things the boy has brought. That is, unless you want to stay in Ghana forever…” Damn. So much tea. A week’s worth of milk for the house. But, okay – if it will make them upset, I guess not.

Three days have passed now, and that law has been relaxed: they deem it “okay” to eat the stuff, but they are watching me carefully. In case I start going crazy? I’m not sure for what.. I joke about it lightly, but only with Megan. “Do you want some juju bread? How about some juju tea?”

But the advice still stands. Do NOT go to their house, and if you go, don’t remove your shoes, don’t brush your hair, don’t eat their food or drink their water. Say you’re fasting, say anything…but don’t.

The thing about juju is that it’s the intention behind it that makes it scary. My friend Renee, a Canadian volunteer who is staying in Kpandai (about 40 miles from here) for the last 2 years, she was telling me about a coworker who found some juju things that his wife had put in his room. (What are juju things? I’m not really sure. Sometimes rings, sometimes cowrie shells and feathers and weird bags and amulets made out of goat skin..). He wouldn’t eat, he wouldn’t do anything: he lived in fear. Eventually he left her.
I mean, even when you analyze it from an objective point of view, its bad. I mean, juju may not be real, but your wife wanting to harm you in some way – indirectly or not – is real. Sketchy business.

The thing with juju is that its sometimes the best non-scientific explanation for an illiterate person. If they are trying to do juju on someone and kill them, and then the “victim” contracts tuberculosis and dies, how are you going to explain the germ theory of infection to them? “The man died because of small animals – so small you can’t see them – went into his lungs.” How ridiculous does that sound to the average illiterate villager? They will insist that he died of juju. And in their reality, its very much a reasonable explanation.

Juju persists because of a lack of education. It’s a harsh way of putting it, but “superstitious beliefs” are now in a large part associated with the ‘Northerners’ in Ghana because they are seen as less civilized and developed; especially by the more affluent Southerners. In reality, the rampant poverty here, coupled with illiteracy and lack of infrastructure connecting them to other realities outside of their own, keeps juju alive. Its also a vital part of what in Ghana is called “ATR” or ‘African Traditional Religion’, which many a time seamlessly incorporates itself with local Christian and Islamic beliefs. And I always struggle with that fine line between what is my own disbelief in something, and when does it become a cultural judgement? Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t believe things that don’t have scientific proof, and juju is just one on a long list of those things.
Then there are the points where juju, usually ignored by most volunteers in the country, clashes with the work they are trying to do. The best example of this is “AIDS is juju”. It is not even the foreign volunteers (who are ever vigilant about cultural sensitivity) that this really disarms – it’s the local volunteers and NGO workers. I was talking to a man complaining in frustration about this idea, now confined to small villages, but very much alive. I mean, culture is vital, but if it hinders a group’s progress so much, it too must be subject to change. The man I was speaking to, a reproductive health worker, talked about how most of the time they tried to educate the people about the true causes of AIDS: but some workers had taken a radical approach. They ‘marketed’ the condom as a ‘fetish’ or ‘medicine’ against the AIDS juju. Not my favourite solution (though innovative) considering its not really sustainable, and its long term results may be good, or sketchy.

Its now however been two days since I’ve been eating (and my sisters too) the ‘juju bread’ and I’m still alive and kicking. Maybe the Canadian juju is stronger than they thought ! ;)


At 10:51 a.m., Blogger Кирилл Рыбаков said...

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