We recently took a 12-hour excursion up to the northern region, known in Ghana for its poorer education and economy, to see Tamale, or as I have nicknamed it--Hot Tamale. The temperatures during our trip stayed in the high-90s with its "Real Feel" in the mid-100s. We left Thursday morning at 4:30 a.m. and arrived that evening at a little rest lodge, complete with a Jungle Bar and rope swing.
We visited a local mosque the following morning and then traveled to observe the charitable Dr. Abdulai at his free clinic. Dr. Abdulai quit his well-paid job as a doctor approximately 20 years ago to create a clinic where the services are free and the homeless and mentally ill cannot be rejected. The clinic survives purely on donations, and his love for his patients is contagious. When a mentally ill, older woman interrupted the discussion, he gave her his chair and invited her to say hello despite her inability to communicate with the students. The woman beamed with joy and acceptance though her words were mute. In response to whether patients prefer to stay at the clinic or their homes, Dr. Abdulai answered: "When people feel loved on their terms, they will want to stay with the person who loves them, always."
That night, we rode on the back of pick-up trucks to visit diviners (fortune tellers). For 2 cedis, our futures were predicted and our nights were spooked. My divination: I was born under a good star. I will travel a lot after college because of work that will earn me great recognition. I will always be relatively safe in my travels, so I don't need to worry. I also don't need to worry about my schoolwork because I do fine. I will do some sort of philanthropy. My mom loves me very much, and I need to recognize her work in raising me. I carry my siblings close to my heart, and they and my father have forgiven me for misunderstandings in the past. I will fall in love when I return home, as long as I don't go for the first guy. I will eventually have two strong boys. And, best for last, I need to pray to whatever/whoever I believe in every Thursday night before I fall asleep. No, I did not tell the diviner that I was born on a Thursday, that Thursday night is special to me, or that it is my night to go out. And as for easy guesses, I'm pretty sure he's never heard of "Ladies' Night."
The following day, we traveled to the upper-western region. (We somehow found a way to convince the border police to let us walk into Burkina Faso--no passport, no money.) We arrived at a former slave camp in Paga after noon and toured the desolate land. Like the slave castle in Elmina, the space itself fosters intense emotions. But here, the overbearing heat adds to the historical senses. We walked by bowls that were carved by hand into the stone boulders and the rock on which slaves were chained and beaten as punishment. Some local men performed a song formerly drummed by slaves as part of the forced entertainment of the inhabitants. The lyrics were intended to celebrate the slave masters' generosity and provide false hope for their future.
After the slave camp, we traveled to a secluded section of a village to visit the widows and observe their basket weaving. In rural areas of Ghana, widows are asked to stay and sleep with their former husbands' brothers. Those who refuse are forced to flee and create their own, new livelihoods. The widows welcomed us in, danced a little and showed us their beautiful baskets. We offered used, donated clothing in return for their gracious welcoming.
Though a giant tire burned off our bus, leaving us stranded at a small fill-up station for about an hour on the way home, the overall trip was very enlightening and a wonderful chance to appreciate a unique aspect of rarely exposed Ghanaian culture.