Archive for the ‘Megan’ Category

Subsistence and Opportunity

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

The witches’ jewelry has become so popular that they can hardly keep up with demand. Part of the problem is that the women have had to divide their time between the immediate demands of the harvest and the less-immediate but potentially more lucrative demands of jewelry making. The women can bring in a good return on their labor selling the jewelry here, but Melinda, the American jewelry designer who taught them, has offered to show their jewelry along with her own back in the States. There the necklaces, bracelets and earrings these women create can bring in a much larger profit. The problem is that Melinda needs the jewelry to show before Christmas, and the women are having trouble making enough jewelry to send her for the show.

The reason for the difficulty was evident on the day Carolyn (the Peace Corps volunteer who coordinated the jewelry-design project) and I went out to Gambaga with several of the medical volunteers who had taken the day off to help work with the women making jewelry. Getting to Gambaga without a car of your own (which none of us have here) requires walking to the other side of Nalerigu to the “station” where you can find a taxi to Gambaga. They usually fit six passengers, plus a driver and miscellaneous small children into a compact car. Once you arrive in Gambaga, you then walk through the village and a field to arrive at the office of the Outcast Women’s Home.

After making this trek, we arrived to discover that not a single woman had come to make the jewelry. They had all gone to farm. “But couldn’t five or six have stayed behind to make jewelry?” we asked. Apparently not. The minimum wage in Ghana (for people with jobs) is GH2.65, or about $1.86. I’m not sure they make that farming. A single bracelet brings in more than that, if it’s sold in Ghana. If they can make enough to send to the U.S., a bracelet could be worth a weeks’ wages.

For women who have lived hand to mouth their entire lives, their focus is on the immediate need (food) and the immediate solution (farming). And I agree that farming is important. A good crop will provide their basic dietary needs for the next year. The jewelry-making seems less important to them because the benefits are less concrete and will take longer to materialize. Jewelry can’t be shipped to America, sold, and the profits returned overnight. But a little foresight and advance planning could meet both their farming needs and their jewelry profit potential. Most of the women can go out and farm every day. But if a rotation of five women stayed behind to make jewelry each day, they could produce both plenty of food and plenty of jewelry.

We discussed these concepts with the lady who runs the home, and when Carolyn and I returned the next day, a contingent of women showed up, too, ready to make jewelry. They’ve been pretty steady workers ever since. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to send some jewelry to Melinda soon. Then the women should really begin to see the profit from their labors.

Learning to Make Jewelry

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Carolyn is a Peace Corps volunteer who has been working closely with the witches’ village in Gambaga to develop income-generation projects and skills training for the women there. She and Madame Lariba (who runs the Outcast Women’s Home) decided that jewelry making would be a good project for the women to undertake. So, Carolyn wrote a grant and bought some beads. She intended to teach the women (and herself) jewelry design. That’s when Melinda showed up. An artist and jewelry designer herself, Melinda accompanied her OB-GYN husband on a two-week mission trip to BMC in Nalerigu. She wasn’t sure what her role would be, but she was ready for whatever might come.

What came were the witches of Gambaga and a two-day jewelry-design seminar culminating in a show for community leaders. Melinda taught us all how to attach the clasps, reinforce the string, and make a pretty pattern with our beads. All this without being able to communicate directly with the women themselves, as none of them spoke English, and Melinda did not speak Mampruli. One thing she did learn was the big smile a simple “di vela” (that’s good!) could bring to the faces of the women creating the jewelry. Most of these women have spent their lives at hard manual labor, so the creative outlet of designing something beautiful created a real sense of joy and excitement among the women.

After two days of training, leaders in the community came to see and purchase the jewelry the women had made, as well as to offer advice for creating a successful business model. The endorsement of these people was very important to the women’s efforts to insure that their products were not shunned as the product of “witches.”

Each woman was presented with a certificate to show that she had completed her training, and the ceremony ended with refreshments and pictures. The women were truly proud of what they had accomplished.

The Witches’ Village

Monday, November 9th, 2009

One village over from Nalerigu, in the district seat of Gambaga, is a settlement officially known as the Presbyterian Outcast Women’s Home. Unofficially, it’s known as “the witches’ village.” The residents of the home are women from villages across the region who have been accused of witchcraft and turned out of their families. They are sent to Gambaga because local tradition holds that the chief of Gambaga has the ability to nullify powers of witchcraft within his village. When the women arrive, the chief sacrifices a chicken. The way the chicken falls on the ground determines the women’s guilt or innocence. If her chicken falls the wrong way, the woman is then sent to the Outcast Home.

At first I was a little confused about the juxtaposition of the chicken sacrifice with the home’s Presbyterian affiliation. Most Presbyterians I know don’t usually endorse animal slaughter as an effective means of justice. From what I can tell, the sacrifice has been around since before the Presbyterians began running the home. The Outcast Home just takes the women who are declared witches but doesn’t actually have anything to do with the sacrifice itself.

So, how are women accused of witchcraft? Often the accusations come from rival wives in polygamous marriages, perhaps the result of jealousy. Or the accused could have had an argument with someone who later became ill or even died. Occasionally a woman will admit that she tried to put “juju” on someone else, but most women deny any involvement with witchcraft.

The system is inherently unfair and sends the women to live in this camp without any real system of justice. The problem is that once a woman is accused of witchcraft, it’s no longer safe for her to remain at home. Others from her village and even her own family may try to harm her.

The ultimate goal of the witches’ village is to reintegrate the women into their home villages. Sometimes the women only stay for a few days. Sometimes they stay for decades. In the meantime, the women farm communal land for the chief of Gambaga in a kind of sharecropping arrangement, and the Outcast Home arranges practical training and income generation projects for the women. They learn how to make soap and charcoal, which they can then sell in market, thus raising money to support themselves at the home and learning a skill that they will be able to use upon returning to their own villages. Most recently, the women have learned jewelry design with Ghanaian beads. I got to take part in that training, so I’ll write more about that in my next post.

Soccer in Nalerigu

Friday, September 18th, 2009

This week a missionary couple who have spent many long years at BMC are retiring. His father founded the hospital, and the house where Matt and I are living was his boyhood home. There is a bust of his father mounted in front of the hospital. And now the hospital is turning out to honor their years of service. That means a series of sporting events, dancing, food, and much speech-making. Other missionaries are coming from Burkina, Niger, and from the capitol Accra for the celebration. The big stuff happens on Saturday, but yesterday was an excellent soccer match between the hospital staff and the local teachers. The skill and talent displayed in that pickup match made it quite clear why Americans aren’t particularly competitive when it comes to soccer. The field was rutted, and the middle was bare dirt. A couple of goats and one donkey invaded it at one point, and we were bordered on every side by cornfields. But these people could play. When anyone scored, the whole crowd was jubilant.

Oddly enough, it made me quite homesick for a good rousing game of American football. My Rebels are supposed to be quite good this year, and even when they’re not, I love dressing up for tailgating in the Grove and waving my pompom furiously along with the Ole Miss Marching Band, The Priiiide of the South! Ah, Ole Miss in autumn, it’s hard to beat.

But back to the soccer match. The game ended with a tie, as darkness was falling (no stadium lights here) and the mosquitoes were coming out. No one likes being bitten by mosquitoes anywhere, but folks here are downright paranoid about it. Too many families have lost children to malaria to take those little bugs lightly. So in the end both teams went home, not quite satisfied perhaps, but happy with a good game and looking forward to the big party on Saturday.

Leaving Ouagadougou

Friday, September 18th, 2009

The day before we planned to leave Ouagadougou, we took a taxi out to the bus station to be sure we could find it, to buy our tickets, and to find out what time the bus for Ghana left. All of this was accomplished with relatively little difficulty, considering we were in an African city where we didn’t know our way and could barely speak the language. At any rate, I clearly understood that the bus left “a huit heure.” Right. Eight o’clock.

The night before we left we spent hours packing our bags with all of our groceries and souvenirs. The souvenirs had to be carefully packed (a.k.a. wrapped in our clothes) to keep them from breaking on the long bumpy road to Nalerigu. The groceries had to be carefully packed (a.k.a. wrapped up in every grocery sack we could find) separately from the souvenirs to keep them from breaking or, in the unfortunate event they did break, from leaking olive oil or pea juice all over our lovely souvenirs. And we had to somehow carry all this (two large backpacks, a large sack, an action packer and a cardboard box) to a cab and sit with all but the boxes nestled around us in the bus. They were heavy, and I mean heavy. I was worn out when we got them downstairs that morning, and we were already running late. Fortunately we ran into a charming missionary from Niger just as we got to the mission gate, and he offered to give us a ride. We didn’t know how to get to the bus station, and neither did he, but he did get us to a taxi stand where they could take us. We arrived with just 15 minutes to spare and would surely have been late had he not given us a ride.

Ah, but this is Africa. At 10 a.m. we were still sitting at the bus station. The hospital was sending a driver to the border to pick us up, and he was scheduled to arrive there at 10:30 a.m. Fortunately we had bought a Burkina SIM card for my cell, so I called Mona, a Nalerigu missionary who was in Ouaga at the time. She called somebody in Nalerigu, who somehow (we hoped) would get word to the driver that we were coming but were terribly late.

At last we pulled out of the station. Then we stopped for gas. Sigh. Then, yes, we were off. As ours was an international trip, we were riding on a large charter-style bus with room for the luggage and sheep underneath, not strapped on top. There was also a television on which we were treated to the second half of a pirated Chinese-dubbed-into-English kung fu soccer movie. At one point along our journey the bus stopped and then backed up for several hundred yards. Then, the driver put it in park and jumped out. We stared at him through the window for a minute before we realized what he was doing. Oh, bathroom break. No bathroom, of course. Soon half the bus was outside along the road. We stayed put. White people peeing outside attracts too much attention around here.

Finally, after several leg-cramping hours, we arrived at Dakola the border town on the Burkina side. We got our passports stamped out of Burkina, rode across to Paga (a village well known for its crocodiles) and were stamped back in to Ghana for another 60 days. And just across the border we saw a beautiful, mud-splattered BMC truck with our favorite driver, Issahaku, ready to take us back to Nalerigu. It was a moment for great rejoicing.

The last stop on our long adventure came about an hour from the hospital, along the road from Walewale to Nalerigu, possibly one of the worst roads in our part of Africa. It’s dirt, and in the rainy season, huge craters of it just wash away. It’s a neck-snapping, bone-jarring ride. We were well out into the middle of nowhere when we came across a bus in the middle of the road, surrounded by people. It had broken down. When we drove past the crowd we spotted one of our friends, Joyce, with her three young daughters, the youngest of whom is three months old. After much shuffling of backpacks laden with canned goods from Ouaga, we squeezed Joyce, Nina, Naa, and Susan in to the truck cab with Matt, Issahaku, and me. It occurred to us that our late departure from Ouagadougou might not have been such a bad thing after all. If we had been on time, we would have been in Nalerigu before Joyce’s bus ever passed that way, and she would have been left on the side of the road with night and malarial mosquitoes closing in on her little girls. I suppose God was looking at a bigger picture than our timely departure that day.