Yesterday was the filming of how a person becomes a chief in the village. Considered a position of honor, the selected male must belong to a royal clan in the village before commencing the rites of passage of becoming a chief. One of the other volunteers is going to make a documentary featuring this ceremony as part of her cultural preservation project in Tafi Atome, I had the privilege of helping her complete the filming and photo shoot. Little did I know that Tafi’s group of chiefs, elders and villagers have been rehearsing endlessly for the past two weeks to make sure that today was a success.
The other day I found out that one of my students from class P 4, named Pyos, has already been selected to be a chief when he becomes of age. When I asked as to why he had been selected at such a young age, one of the villagers informed me that this was done to groom a chief that will carry on the traditions of the previous chiefs for the next generation of villagers in Tafi Atome. All of his schooling and financial needs are taken care of until he graduates from senior high school.
When investigating more about how the selection process of becoming a chief, I found out that this position is often not a desired one amongst men of the royal clans. Although it is a position of honor, it is an unpaid one. Chiefs of the village must carry the responsibility to care for the village and the families in it. Whenever there’s a dispute of any kind, the chiefs are the first to take action before the police even get involved. I can imagine this being a hard thing to do for a young man who has other aspirations besides being a chief.
This brings me to realize that young men such as Pyos and other young chiefs have made one of two choices: To be the chief their entire villages expects them to become and give up on their own personal dreams or leave their culture and rites of passage in the past in pursuit of their own dreams and successes. In this generation where young men and women set in search of their own successes, it is rare to find a person that would chose the honor of having a title and make little to no money over the possibility of being successful and making money.
This is one of the things that separate Tafi Atome culture from our American culture; men and women in the village rather choose honoring their name, their families, and their village and accept their given duties. Men of Tafi Atome, once chosen to be chiefs, honor the decision choosing to never forget their traditions and their people. If given the choice which would you do?
It’s been about a week since we have moved into Josephine’s home, we have moved from Wilson’s home into the home of one of the students from class P6. On one of the first days after moving in, she took us on a walk to her farm to collect firewood. Never had I seen a 13 year old chop down tree branches like this little girl! We joined in the action and helped her gather some of wood ourselves; a chore that seemed hard to us was extremely easy for Josephine. Everyone in Tafi Atome, both children and adults are physically fit to perform such chores as chopping wood that demands a good amount of energy.
As I interviewed more people for my health project, there is a common answer that most people seem to agree on, there is no body ideal in Tafi Atome. Part of my project in Tafi Atome concentrates on the physical aspect of health, one of my questions being: Is there a Body Ideal that villagers in Tafi Atome want to have? Whereas in the US girls prefer a skinny silhouette and men a muscular chiselled body, people of Tafi Atome prefer a body ideal that will allow you to do your necessary daily chores. If you are too skinny, then people in Tafi Atome consider you weak. Not strong enough to carry on chores that require strength such carrying wood, collecting water, walking miles to get to a certain destination. If you are overweight, to the point where doing physical chores is a fatigue you are also considered unfit. Many of the men of are physically fit, thus far I have seen only one villager out of the 2,300 who live in the village that is maybe a little more stout than the rest but healthy none the less. The amount of physical work that people do in this village leaves no room for obesity to become a future concern.
Much of the food staples consist of fats and carbohydrates. Since our arrival, majority of our meals consist of bread and jam in the mornings, and a combination of fried or boiled yams, plantains, rice or spaghetti with tomato sauce or beans for lunch and dinner. Many of the villagers eat these types of foods because it is what grows on the farm and because it is what sustains them throughout the day. Banku with Okra stew is one of the more popular dishes in Tafi, Banku is mashed cassava and plantain dough made into a ball. It’s interesting to see how someone’s environment and lifestyle plays an important part on nutrition and your overall health. Tafi Atome is not a place for the weak hearted but rather for people with strong bodies and good stomachs!
Thursday June 17, 2014
Today was yet another hot day in Tafi Atome, nothing out of the usual. It was a fairly productive day, as I got to work on my school project some more. Being a Psychology major, I wanted part of my project to revolve around the mind. Our way of thinking and emotions are what often influence behaviour. I decidedto investigate what were people’s fears and desires and how these fears and desires are prioritized to influence behavior. I interviewed a few of the kids I teach at school to get the perspective of a child. When I asked about their desires, many of the children told me about their future aspirations in life. Joyce who is 13 years old told me she wanted to be a nurse. Patience, 13, wants to be a future bank manager and Lucky, 11, wants to be a soldier. Aside from future aspirations they also hope to be smart, intelligent hardworking individuals. When I asked them what their fears were, their answers varied from that of other children. Where other children responded that their fears consisted of being afraid of the dark or not having any friends, their answers were purely unselfish and focused on their families. Joyce told me she was most afraid of someone stealing from her family, disrespecting and insulting her family. Patience told me she was most afraid of someone harming and insulting her family, and Lucky told me that one of his fears was disappointing his parents. When I asked which one was a bigger priority in their behavior, they all said their desires are what influence them the most. It is their desire to become someone in life is that propels them to continue on with their education and not let anything stand as a roadblock. I couldn’t be more proud and happy to have heard these answers. I pray that these children someday get to be everything they aspire and more. I ran into Patience on her way home from school, I walked her home and waited for her to change. We then walked back to Wilson’s were we began talking and I decided to interview her. Patience lives in a tiny two bedroom mud and brick house with her Aunt Mary and her four other cousins. She doesn’t allow the material things in life determine who she wants to be in the future. That is what I admire and love the most; the fact that their desires focus on the kind of person they want to be instead of the material things in life they want to have.
Melor vinyewo= I love my children
Tuesday June 17 2014
Today was Child Welfare Care day at the clinic. I arrived early to help Mercy and Leana with the set-up of the clinic. Today we would have women from the village come and weight their toddlers, chart their growth and make sure their vaccines were up to date. I saw Kofi today, he was the first child I carried on my back, and he must be about two months old now. His grandmother was the one who brought him today. He is just as cute as I remember him with big round eyes and curly brown hair. After all the women came and went Leana began to tell about the way health insurance works in Ghana. She explained that every Ghanaian citizen has the option to either get their own private insurance or get the national health insurance. The problem with the health insurance is that many people think that national health insurance covers everything when in fact it doesn’t cover all the medicines that a person may need. I myself have seen it multiple times at the clinic when patients come in and when its time to pay for the malaria medicine they need, they do not have a money to pay. Mercy and Leana are nice enough to allow them to take the medicine home and bill them later. At the end of the month, when it is time for the clinic to send their bill to the insurance, Leana and Mercy have to go on a manhunt to collect all the unpaid medical bills.
By now I have been working almost a month at the clinic, by far; malaria has been the epidemic striking Tafi Atome. Spearing no victims, both young and old come in with the same symptoms: high fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and headaches. Treated with a simple 3 day dose of pills, Ghanaians treat it as it were a common cold. Every time a patient comes in with any of the symptoms I test them for malaria. The test is a simple first response strip that determines if a person has malaria with a couple drips of the patient’s blood.
There was a toddler patient who came in a couple of weeks ago with a few of the malaria symptoms. The only thing to do was to give him the proper dose of medicine and send him on his way home. Looking back on his medical history, the boy was diagnosed with malaria previously 7 times, and he was only 2 years old. Leana later labelled each diagnosis as “simple malaria.” All I could think about how much of an oxymoron ‘simple’ and ‘malaria’ were.
My topic of today are the women of Tafi Atome. All beautiful, all hard working, all women to be admired. Walking with Melissa, Denver and Nelson through the village today i noticed one thing in particular, the ladies of tafi NEVER stop working. Whether its carrying gallons of water or branches on their heads, making cooking oil from plants, nursing their newborns, or cooking dinner, the hustle never stops. Where as we americans have running water, a grocery nearby, can order take-out, these are all resources that tafi women must do without. During our trip around the village, we had the opportunity to meet a few of Nelson’s family members. His grandmother, aunties and baby cousins. One thing i liked most is that he talked highly about the women in his family, admiring the fact that they are strong caring women that continue to keep his family legacy strong. On our way back home, we made a few more detours and interacted with a few of the women in the village. A couple of them were hard at work, sitting outside extracting oil from nuts. Another woman was sitting down mixing and smashing plaintains with herbs to make a medicinal remidy used to heal anything from cuts to muscle aches. All of them were equally inviting and receiving of our presence in their homes and welcomed us to the village. Nelson introduced us to his friend who had recently had a baby boy, he introduced us to her and her mother. Denver, Melissa, and I got the opportunity to carry the baby as the women of tafi traditionally carry their children, on their backs strapped down with a cloth. Amazingly the babies grow acostumed to their mothers back until they are able to walk on their own. This is something I will most likely be trying with my 3mnth old niece as soon as i get back to the states! I love the closeness and bond that this forms between the child and the mother. Nelson’s friend seemed younger than me, which got me to realize that I have seen a few teenage mothers around the village. Teenage pregnancy seems to be a growing problem in the village and Emmanuel suggested we talk to the teenagers about sex education. In tafi culture its taboo for parents to talk about sex with their children. This is because they belief that by talking with their children they are spoiling them and in a sense consenting to pre-maritial sex. We hope that forming a girls class where we can talk about everything and anything can get the girls comfortable enough to talk about this topic. We not only want to focus on sex education, but also confidence building and women empowerment. Talking to Nelson, a villager, he explained to us that when teenage girls get pregnant and more than often they are left to fend for themselves. The child may bore the fathers name, but partakes in no rearing of the baby, many times the fathers themselves are also school boys who can’t support their own selves. This is when the mother’s mother steps in to raise the child. The baby grows up calling the grandmother “mother” and the mother “auntie,” until the real mother is grown enough to take care of the child herself. One teenage mother I have seen and interacted with is Perfect. She’s shy, yet defensive and always caring to her 9 mnth old baby boy Daniel. She carries that bundle of joy everywhere, even today in our after school activity club as we began playing red rover she would gently jog over with her child strapped to her back. Daniel is of a beautiful brown complexion, curly black hair, with long eyelashes that encompass a pair of bold brown eyes. No matter what obstacles seem to hit, there is no other option for these women but to keep moving forward. Phenomenal Woman….. These are the words that through my head as I see the women of the village. Both young and old these ladies are taught to be their sisters keepers, their mothers helpers and their fathers legacy. The girls I’ve met thus far are phenomenal each in their own way, some a little tougher than others, some a little sweeter than others….yet all the same, they make up the girls of today and the women of tomorrow.
We met the chiefs of the village this morning before school. Only eight of them were present. As visitors we had to bring a drink offering. By drink I mean we brought 3 bottles of whiskey and a Baileys. Very much pleased, they sat in front of us explaining their roles within the community of Tafi Atome. They shared their opinions about our projects in the community and welcomed us. The drinks of course did not go to waste, the eldest chief opened a bottle up and poured some libation. To those who do not know what pouring libation means, it is a tradition established before Christianity was established in this village, it is a way of drinking and offering a prayer to the gods. The eldest chief poured a long shotful of whiskey, did a prayer in Ewe and poured it to the ground. He then poured another full shot and enjoyed it himself. The bottle was then passed on to me, mindful of the fact that school was to begin in an hour I opted for only a few drops. After drinking it we pouring the rest on the ground. We continued this until everyone finished pouring libation. The Chiefs said since we had finally poured some libation, tafi atome was now our home. In fact it was to be our first and only home, we could now marry in the village. The Chiefs suggested we finish our schooling and return to tafi promptly after to do such. Tafi atome being such a calming beautiful place,I already consider this my home.
Today was the first day in class after Monday’s holiday. The headmaster decided to place Phoenix & I in charge of a 4th level class; the teacher and the usual volunteer helper, kiki, were out recovering. The children were loud and overbearring at times but we managed to review material. We went over multiplication and division. Calling kids out one by one I began to reminisce of my days when teachers used to call me to the board. Phoenix and I made sure our kids knew the answer, if not we taught them in front of the whole class. We had a few kids who were willing to help out and show us the their usual routine. Mary was one of the girls who stood out the most to me. Although all the children were great, Mary was different in the way she acted in class. She seemed like the big sister that would get the other kids in line if they misbehaved. She would also talk in Ewe and translate in english for me, this facilitated my day . As I saw the sky get darker, i hoped it would rain so we could be able to replenish our water source.
Like the sound of a million marbles hitting the floor, the rain pounded the tin cealing drowning out my voice. Once the rain hit, even the most behaved little one was tempted to jump out of their seat. There was nothing left to do but to dismiss our lecture time in the precense of these sudden waterfalls. The children began to teach Phoenix and I games and old nursery songs, after a while even I could help but join the fun. Once the rain deceased it was back to bussiness. One thing I noticed was that the kids loved to touch my hands. When i asked Mary why, she told me they were facinated with how soft my hands were compared to theirs. And here I was thinking that not even vaseline could fix my rough hands. All the kids lined up their hands next to mines. Comparing textures they would pinch my palms, prick my fingers, to them it seemed as if my hands had never seen a day of labor in all my years. In my mind I wanted to refuse that comment, I was proud of the fact that I had worked every year since senior year of high school. Even now in college, I pride my self on the fact that my job is one of the things that make me an independent young woman. I forget the fact that my hands have not seen the same labor that these children’s hands have seen. My hands dont have to go fetch water from the nearby stream various times a day, my hands dont have to do construction on the weekends nor do my hands do chores everyday. Within a matter of minutes these children who know nothing more than my name were able to tell me my hands life history. As we were being dismissed Mary taught me what “echemiak be” meant, it means tomorrow we shall meet. Although we differ in lifestyles, they still manage to accept me with innocent bright smiles and expected me to be there same time same place tomorrow.
Arriving in Ghana a few days ago has already been an experience, adjusting to the time change was a little tough the first couple of days but I’m doing just fine now. The weather is hot, hot, hot….We arrived to Tafi Atome only yesterday and already I am falling in love. In love with the children, the simplicity of life and the people from the community. As we walk around the village all the kids stop to greet, shake our hands and happy to know our names. We are staying with a wonderful man named Wilson, the host who decided to host 8 interactive FSU students. I am really happy to have a house full of NOLES! Today’s series of events involved us waking up at 6 to begin making bricks for the children’s home that is going to be built later on in the summer.All hands were put to work, and we ended up doing a great job; Joe, Latika, and Crista would be proud to have seen us in the grind! We are due to meet the chiefs tomorrow morning and am pretty excited! Till next time!