Learning to Make Jewelry

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

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.

The Stranger

October 28th, 2009

In Ghana, when children are born, they aren’t named right away. Instead, they are called Saana, which means “stranger.” Little boys are called Saando (stranger boy) and little girls are called Saanpo’a (stranger girl). So many children die as infants that it has become a custom to delay naming them to see if they will stay with the family or pass on as strangers.

There is a little Saando in the hospital now. He is the firstborn of young parents, and he has spina bifida, which means that a portion of his spinal cord did not close in the womb and is open to the air. He won’t be able to walk, and if he doesn’t have surgery to close the opening, he will die. This is a difficult condition in America, but here it is completely bewildering to these parents. They are Fulani, a tribe of nomadic herdsmen, and they come from a village so small that arriving at the hospital in Nalerigu feels like a trip to a big city. They have difficulty communicating with people here, as very few speak their language.

The surgery to close Saando’s spine requires a neurosurgeon, which means a trip to Accra. The doctors in Nalerigu have found a surgeon in Accra who is willing to take the case and will even do it for free. But that still leaves the daunting trip to Accra for the family to face. They might as well journey to another planet. They won’t be able to communicate with anyone. There will be tall buildings and rushing traffic. They won’t know a soul. They will go to a huge hospital where their first and only child will undergo an unfathomable surgery. All this for people whose life is the village, mud huts, gathering firewood, and hauling water. They are afraid.

Please pray for Saando and his parents. They are overwhelmed. Pray that they will be able to stand up under this burden and venture into the unknown for the sake of their child.

The Ants Are Marching In

September 23rd, 2009

There’s a short story called “Leiningen Versus the Ants” that Matt refers to often in the presence of African ants. Apparently, a horde of ants descends on a South American plantation, devouring crops and animals as its owner tries to fight them off. What I always think of is the scene from The Poisonwood Bible in which ants invade a Congo village, and everyone must flee to the river (with the crocodiles) lest they be devoured alive. The ants in Nalerigu aren’t that dramatic, but they are persistent and quite strong. We’ve tried all manner of poisons, sprays, and powders to keep them out, but they seem to think our house (which is only one room wide) is an excellent foraging ground and thoroughfare. They’ll hoist their crumbs or dead beetles from our front yard and carry them up our steps, under our door, through our living room and out the back door. If they happen to encounter a stray crumb or a plate left out, they lift whatever they can scavenge and continue.

As a side note, I need to mention that there are also a lot of geckos around Nalerigu, and they like to get into houses. They can be startling when they dart out, but aren’t a big deal. One gecko in our house had a stroke of bad luck last week when he was caught on a doorframe, just as the door (which won’t stay open without a book propping it) slammed shut. His body fell dead and mangled to the floor, where I discovered it. I know I said geckos aren’t a big deal, but I don’t actually want to touch one. So, I decided to wait for Matt to get home and just not look at it in the meantime. I was in our living room a few minutes later when I looked down and saw, to my horror, that ants had descended on the gecko. They had lifted its body and were carrying it across the floor and out the back door. By the time Matt returned, there was no sign that a gecko had ever died in our home. If only I hadn’t seen them carrying it, the ants might actually have done me a favor.

Soccer in Nalerigu

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.