31 March 2011

Life and Death in Bolgatanga

Ok, I know I have been a very poor blogger to date, but I promise to do better.  It’s March 13th and I’ve been in Ghana for one month, and in Cape Coast for three weeks. 
Last weekend I went to Bolgatanga, which is a short trip from the northern border with Burkina Faso.  It’s incredibly hot, all the time, so you are constantly sweating.  More expressively, one operates with a lovely sheen of sweat painted on one’s body, like an extra layer of clothing that can’t be removed.  Except with a nice cold shower…but those big black water storage tanks heat up during the day so your nice cold shower becomes a nice hot one.  The water temperature actually peaks at exactly the time one most feels like a dunk in a vat of ice cubes, but so goes Bolga.   Another fun Bolga shower fact: the mosquitos enjoy making their home here. Showering becomes an exercise in hypervigilance, launching preemptive strikes against all that alight on smackable surfaces whenever possible.  An alternative best practice is staying completely under the stream of water at all times, which can be very, very tricky (but anything is possible with proper motivation).
On Saturday, when it was still early enough for the water temperature to be hovering between tepid and vaguely warm, we heard the drums and music of a funeral going on in the community.  We went over with our cameras, wary of being rude but intrigued enough to risk it.  Now, funerals in Ghana are much more lively than weddings, and are typically an all-day event.  The family’s time for crying has passed with the burial of the body, and this is a day for socializing, for celebrating the person’s life and for rejoicing in his or her transition to the afterlife. It is a testament to social responsibility, as family and community is expected to help – by showing up, or by contributing some small amount, and preferably both.  If you don’t help, you might get ignored the next time you try to organize a funeral.  And you know that day will come.
Despite all wariness on our part, people were exceptionally kind and welcoming, and generally enthusiastic about photos.  One gentleman bordered on insistent, but who wouldn't be happy to oblige:

A group of children ran up to me and demanded, “Snap! Snap!” Then hovered around the camera to identify themselves.  Truly, thank god for digital camera screens, because what kid doesn't like seeing his or herself in a picture.
So we, the funeral crashers, listened to the traditional music and drumming and stood fairly transfixed by the dancing.  Below, you see the perhaps the most notable woman - for her skill in dancing and traditional dress (red and black are funeral colors, by the way) - really, she was almost impossible not to look at, and the only woman amongst men.   
please note the curlers. that's my favorite thing about this picture.

In retrospect, the only thing that could possibly have distracted me from the dancing would have been sheep* butchering.  And guess what?  There was sheep butchering.  The meat, including the sausage I saw being made, would be eaten by the funeral guests later as part of the celebration.  It looked like an intense amount of work, but a practically perfected process.

*Yes, I know, looks like a goat. I have asked this question several times, and been told "Daabi, daabi, daabi (No, no, no). It's a sheep." So, sheep. But they taste like goat.

We left the funeral appropriately sweaty and with feet covered in red dirt.  I went home for a hot shower.  And that’s it for a Saturday in Bolga.


  1. How truly amazing it is for me to see the photos from Ghana, knowing that you, my dear, are the one taking them. I remember you as a little girl on a trip in Mazatlan, walking through the open markets, eyeing the hanging meat. You wondered what it was (chicken supposedly) but maybe it was cat. Now, here you are many years later looking at what you are told is a sheep, but still wondering if it's true. Just flashed through my mind.

    Still- love the photos and love that the people are open and receptive and open to you.

  2. My name is Dennis Leclair from Kelowna BC. Today, I received from Andrea, my confirmation for consideration for two positions. Andrea has also forwarded the position descriptions and related info that included your contact email. I will be completing my telephone interview with CUSO on January 5th. Prior to this interview, I am gathering information related to these positions and you and your associates are my first contacts.

    I respectfully request that you provide "general" information related to your experiences and initial guidance for a potential newcomer to CUSO. I have provided my professional website for your review and my Canadian Forces tribute site to bring a flavour of Canada your way.

    I hope you all have a great holiday and I appreciate your time. I am looking forward to reading your responses. Below I have included a part of Andrea's letter.


    Dennis Leclair

    250 808 3313


    Part of the message from Andrea

    Dear Dennis,

    Thank you for your application to Cuso International. We have done an initial screening of your application and based on your skills and experience believe that there might be a fit with the Teaching Methodology Advisor placement in Rwanda or the Teacher Support Officer placement in Ghana. You have been shortlisted for these placements which have a start date of September 2012 and a duration of 12-24 months.


    Andrea Bacsfalusi
    Volunteer Program and Recruitment Advisor /
    Conseillère, Programme et recrutement de coopérants-volontaires
    44 Eccles Street, Suite 200, Ottawa, ON K1R 6S4
    Tel. (613) 829-7445 ext. 272 / Toll free 1-888-434-2876 ext. 360