Sunday, 19 May 2013

There is so much that can happen under a mango tree.

By Megan Prydun, 2nd year MDP student

Today we were invited to Kperisi, the community we will be working in predominantly. Wayne and the Chief of the area organized an elaborate traditional welcoming ceremony celebrating our arrival and future work with the people. We arrived in a jam packed van full of University of Winnipeg and UDS students. We were greeted by the ‘Assembly Man’, the local government representative of the area. He led us to a mud and stick building with a design on the front differentiating it from surrounding buildings. The room was filled with Chiefs, community leaders and elders, and Tindambas or land-owners. Tindambas are the descendants of the original people who occupied the land, while at some point in the distant past, others have moved onto the land. Greetings and the shaking of hands are symbolic and extremely important in Ghanaian culture. Each member of our party shook the hands of the recognized men inside. We were offered water, another Ghanaian custom when meeting someone, and explained our purpose for coming to Kperisi. The Chief accepted our purpose- to learn from the people of Kperisi and share with them some of what we know. 

Next, we were led to the Prince of the community’s home. We slipped off our shoes to enter the hut. Inside an elderly gentleman sat comfortably on a sturdy chair. Chairs arched around him in the shape of a horse shoe and we shook his hand before taking a seat. The Assembly Man explained that this Prince is the oldest member of the community and holds much knowledge and wisdom. Because of this, we shake his hand and honour him. After this we are led to the traditional healer’s hut. He is known throughout Ghana as the man who fixes bones. We are told that people come from as far as Accra to have their bones healed and that people who have seen Western doctors often visit the traditional healer later to receive better results. We are led to a small, hot room where a man with a bandage around his thigh is sitting with two members of his family, a pile of unused wheelchairs and walkers are stacked in the corner. It appears he broke his femur and is recovering after receiving help from the healer. On the day his bone was set, a chicken’s leg was broken. It is believed that when the chicken’s leg heals, so too will the man’s leg be healed.  A proud community member flashes a hand written notebook at us, leafing through pages and pages of the names of people who have sought services from the healer and where they have come from.

We are led through narrow dirt paths between mud and stick homes, to a fourth and final house. Some leaders are already there waiting for us. We remove our shoes again and shake each hand. Another sachet of water is presented to us. This is where the spiritual leader of the community practices. Although Kperisi is predominantly Muslim, the community is considered mixed, respecting both Islamic and Christian faiths. Regardless of belief system, all communities respect the guidance of the chosen spiritual leader. The Imam fills a calabash of water and pours it out upon the ground in four dips of the bowl. Water is life no matter where you are. He murmurs prayers to appease the ancestors under his breath. We watch in stillness.

And then we are moving again, this time toward the towering mango tree shading rows of community members with its reaching branches. The men and women sit in separate sections around the tree. The women sit with children sprawled all around them, wrapped in colourful swaths of cloth. There are empty chairs waiting for us to fill them. Music, hand-made drums and pipe flutes, flood the air. People are dancing, gyrating their bodies in ways that confound me. Suddenly I am up on my feet, community members cheering for me to join the dancing. I imitate their actions, pathetic, but honest in its attempt. My feet shuffle to the rhythm as my hands move in circles. A women rushes towards me and drapes me with her yellow head scarf. The fabric covers my head and billows around my body as I cling to the white embroidered flowers stitched on the edges. There is a beautiful breeze. A group of us dance toward the row of Chiefs and leaders seated before us. I mimic the movements of my new friends. Leaders begin pulling out 1 cedi bills and place them on our foreheads; they stick from the sweat trickling down our faces. This traditional act of honour brings laughter and cheers from the crowd and we continue dancing.

The next several hours bring speeches, from leaders and from us. We express our deep gratitude for the warm welcome and share some of ourselves with a people who have showed us so much of them. After more dancing and prayers, we are whisked away from the crowd to a hut in the heart of the village. A traditional meal is waiting for us, TZ, a thick cornmeal that kind of looks like mashed potatoes, and cassava leaf soup. We wash our hands in bowls of water before using them to eat the meal. A week ago I was in Winnipeg and now I sit in a small village in northern Ghana. The moment is surreal and I am filled with such gratitude it is difficult to express in words. As the celebration comes to a close and we drive away, the dust kicked up from our tires swallows the village and I am left with the feelings that come from a warm Ghanaian welcome.

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