Sunday, January 16, 2011

Day 15

A Death
Saturday was a day notable in particular, because two very different experiences were juxtaposed in the span of just 12 hours.  In the morning when we got to site, I noticed the usual local workers (Shani, Sadat, Zack, etc) were not there.  This was surprising, because they were always there by the time we arrived.  I couldn’t figure out why.  The mystery was solved at the morning meeting.  John Adams (the factory manager) informed everyone that Zack’s mother had passed away the night before.  i can imagine that losing a parent at any age is difficult; however, I really felt for Zack because judging by his baby face he couldn’t have been older than 18.  John said after the meeting we would all go over and pay our condolences.

When the meeting was over, we (about 15 in all) slowly migrated over to the village.  I saw for the first time what was beyond the point where we had always turned off the main road.  We arrived outside what I guess is considered the center of the village, where several of the PHW factory workers who live in the village greeted us.  We exchanged the customary Dagbani (the predominant local language that is spoken where we are) morning greeting of despa (“good morning”) and the customary response of naa (“I agree” or “Same to you”).  While the greetings were like any other day, there was an unusually solemn tone. Then we waited for a few minutes before the mayor of the Taha village came over and greeted us.  As usual, John acted as our cultural intermediary conveying our intentions as well as presenting a small donation towards the burial costs.  The mayor led us through the village to a hut before signaling with a wave to enter.  Before entering the mayor took off his flip flops adding them to a pile outside the door.  When we tried to take off our own shoes, he shoed us off.  Traditionally, shoes since they get quite dirty in this dusty country are taken off before entering a household.  The mayor allowing us to keep our shoes on was him demonstrating a sign of respect for us as visitors.

The hut was similar to the others in the village from the outside with its compacted clay walls and thatched roof.  Inside, there were a dozen or so of the village elders (all men, of course) sitting down on mats on one half of the structure.  We all got down in a crouch to be at their level another important custom to indicate deference.  John, in Dagbani, introduced us.  One of the elders expressed their appreciation for our visit and our condolences then encouraged us to go back to our “very important work” at the factory.  john and another one of the workers stayed behind for the morning until the burial was complete, while the rest of us returned to work.  Interestingly (and foreign to me) was the fact that while we were paying our respects we did not see Zack or anyone else I could recognize as members of his family.  Instead we interacted solely with the leadership of the community.  I would imagine this custom stems from a belief of the village being more of a collective, holistic unit instead of individual families living next to one another.  While I don’t know definitely if this belief is true, if it is I do appreciate this community centric view.  I can only imagine what Zack and his family is going through, and I feel for their loss. I guess one small silver lining  is that it allowed us all to see how another culture grieves and handles death.  I personally thought the custom of the entire factory paying condolences was very kind and encouraged closeness among the workers.

A Night out on the Town, Ghanaian Style
On the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, we went that night out with some Ghanaian friends to the Tamale night club - Royal.  Iyad picked us and Amin (a Ghanaian friend we have made and previous PHW worker) up in his truck to hit the town.  Royal is off of the major thorough fare that runs through Tamale; it is 3 lanes in both directions.  However at night, there is little traffic so people literally park in the lanes.  We arrived at the club, and Iyad parked the truck in the left most lane. After we paid our cover of 5 cedi each, we walked down a short hall way to enter the club.  The club felt similar to a small, run-down establishment you would see in an American city.  It was darkly lit with black lights with a DJ both and a laser light show, even the occasion strobe light flashing.  Initially it felt like a flashback to my middle school years, because all the music were American songs from back then.  Sadly as the night went on, the American music was replaced by more local rap/dance tracks. When we arrived at 11pm, it was pretty deserted.  There were about 5 guys, including one dressed as a cowboy (don’t ask me why), breaking down some moves on the dance floor.  Notably, the bar only served beer, ciders, and other non-alcoholic drinks.  There weren’t any mixed drinks or shots on their menu or any visible handles of hard alcohol.  Over the 2 hours or so we spent there, Royal slowly started to fill up.  By 1 am or so, it was pretty packed.  We clearly started the party… or more likely didn’t get the message that places don’t start getting good until late.


  1. thanks for this post Zac. I really enjoyed your interpretations of their customs. I wonder if we will ever find out if your assumptions were right or not? Did you like the music they listened to that wasn't American? I couldn't tell what you thought of it.


  2. Wow,Zac--what an amazing experience you are living! I don't think anything changes one or better to say, adds to one's understanding of life and humanity and living, the way that traveling to an unfamiliar place and letting yourself get absorbed by it, does.This will serve you so well, honey, and expand your horizons and enhance your vision, too. Thanks for taking us on this journey with you (through your blogs). By the way, I just read all your entries in one sitting. Can't wait to see you in person when you're back in Boston and we can have a real conversation about your adventure. The only problem is I don't know if I can get the image of that horrible worm out of my mind! Oh, there are also two people uncle John and I want you to meet: Janot and Pablo, husband and wife, travel the world for the UN and the Red Cross working on this immense clean water issue. We'll set up a you, Nannie