Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Nothing can go wrongo in Bongo

I am now nicely settled in our digs at Bolgatanga, the regional capital. It's not metropolis, but it does have a few internet cafes, decent hotels, and even a few nightclubs (as discussed last post).

The place I'm staying is called the "Comme Ci Comme Ca Hotel." To me, calling your hotel the "So-so" seems a bit unambitious, but the place is actually quite nice. I think it was designed for honeymooners and other romantic vacationers at some point in the late 70s or early 80s. The rooms are inside a giant conical structure that is supposed (I think) to look like a traditional local dwelling. While touring around, I've seen a number of the traditional homesteads and they are very cool looking indeed. They build the frames with tall grass and then apply dung or clay in layers, letting the sun dry it out. It's a similar process to the adobe huts of the American Southwest. Each family lives in a compound with multiple circular huts connected by a low mud wall.

Last Friday, our team first visited the two towns where our group is working: Bongo and Walewale, small district capitals with populations of around 100,000 each. For reasons I don't totally understand, Bongo is much, much hotter even though the towns are closer together. We visited both in succession Friday afternoon and I am convinced that Bongo was at least five degrees hotter than Walewale. Bongo is slightly further North, so it's closer to the Sahara. Bongo also has large rock formations in the middle of town which, according to locals, reflect a large amount of heat. The town authorities, with funding from some NGOs, have tried to re-forest the town in an attempt to create some shade and respite from the scorching heat. Unfortunately, trees take time to grow, so it will probably be a while before that happens.

Our daily routine here is fairly laidback: we get up and have breakfast around 8 am, travel to our respective towns (I chose Walewale, for the thermal reasons noted above), do some interviews, and then debrief back at the hotel. Yesterday was government and NGO interviews. Today we did visits to the villages; I spent the morning at a place called Unguru. We met first with the Paramount Chief (which is a government-sanctioned title given to traditional leaders of sufficient importance) and got his blessing to chat with the villagers. The people in Unguru were charming and warm, and most of them welcomed us into their households so we could ask them questions about the healthcare they weren't getting. The best part of the visit was definitely the kids: pretty much the cutest thing I've seen in a long time. Yes, even if you include the baby goats they have around here. One of them took a shine to me and held my hand most of the morning. Me and Saira:

I asked one of our guides what sort of Islam most people practiced at the central mosque. "Orthodox," he replied. "Oh, as in Sunni?" I asked. No, he said, "Sunni isn't the normal type. I mean orthodox, as in Tijaniya." Tijaniya is an Islamic order or brotherhood which is generally classified as Sufi Islam, a third branch of Islam which does fall into either Sunni or Shi'i. Because Tijaniya is relatively uncommon globally, I found it strange that he viewed as the mainstream type of Islam, but I suppose that it just shows that 'mainstream Islam' means very different things to people in different places. Or 'mainstream' in general, for that matter.

The pace of work in the Upper East is amusing. I've been trying to track down some documents from the local hospital for the past couple of days. Yesterday morning, the official in charge promised me the report and asked me to get it from a subordinate right then and there. But the subordinate was still in Tamale and wasn't expected back until Tuesday at some point (apparently this is common practice for government employees traveling for the "weekend"). When we finally tracked down the guy he insisted that it would take him hours to print the report because the needed to find paper and fix the printer, and he insisted that we come back the next morning. Similar delays happened when I tried to get a different report from the facility next door: people not answering their phones, missing meetings, feigning ignorance about things that you discussed the day before. It's mostly just amusing for the time being, but probably pretty annoying if you have to deal with it all day. I will probably blog later on about the impact of uncertainty and bureaucratic laziness on the economy -- it is definitely a huge roadblock to getting anything done, commercially or otherwise.

Other strange things -- a pair of overheated local donkeys had figured out how to turn on the tap at the hospital with their necks, in order to take a bath. The nurses chased them away and screwed the tap tightly, but the donkeys came back again to try.

Also, I saw a woman selling tofu on the streets of Walewale! A girl was carrying a huge plastic container of the stuff on her head. The only thing that would surprise me more would have been a walking sushi salesman. Although, given the way that fish gets treated in this part of Ghana, I'm not sure I would buy any.

1 comment:

  1. I wish I could have seen you with those cute lil' kids. That would have made my day. xx