Billows of red, dust trail behind our car as it barrels down the dirt road.
We’ve been traveling for over an hour into the bush to visit with family and the Elders of the Nanton village.
Family is all-encompassing in Ghana and good friends are often called uncles, aunties or grandfathers, and grandmothers.
When you’ve been away in America for some time, (some family members consider a couple of months a very long time) it’s necessary to see all your family and when I say all, that means a large number of people; consisting of immediate, extended family, friends and friends of friends. Even people that may not know you, greet you as family.
Over time, I realized that this figure of speech is primarily about unity, being connected beyond any social structures. These terms of endearments were more about our shared humanity.
I’ve come to understand that most people in Ghana have a deep sense of connection, the web of life linking us together, no matter our perceived differences.
I heard stories of the Dagomba tribe and the reoccurring theme of being each other’s keeper with each living being on this planet has its purpose and place. We must look after each other; the animals, humans and Mother Earth.
It’s not only a necessity, it’s part of being on this earth, living a full life.
As our car maneuvers around large potholes in the road while the radio blasts Macasio, a well-known Ghanaian rap singer from Tamale.
I gaze out my window and notice rice paddies and fields of green maze rushing by while the farmers tend to their crops.
Small villages consisting of mud huts pop up near the roadside as we venture on.
Chief Suale stops by the side of the road to buy some refreshments when children wearing bright, yellow school uniforms see us. Intrigued, one young girl walking with her brother stops, smiles and waves to me.
Sanega, hello! How are you?
I grin, wave back and respond:
Alaafei. Ka di bei wula?
Which means: I’m fine. What’s up?
By the way, sanega means white person.
An expression of surprise washes over the young girl’s face. She didn’t expect me to reply in her native language of Dangbali. The young girl grins, then giggles as she nudges her brother. They scamper off to class.
A storefront along the roadside has a large crowd gathering to watch the World Cup games. Even though the Black Stars of Ghana did not qualify for this year’s World Cup, many are still avid fans of the game.
Crowds spill out onto the street as people squirm, jockeying for their spot to view the match on a tiny television screen inside the shop.
We ramble up a hill where the large, sacred baobab tree stands. Often referred to as the Tree of Life, the baobab tree proudly towers above; beckoning us into the center of the village.
Its massive trunk is around five feet wide and large, cyst-like knots punctuate its exterior.
There is a deep sense of wisdom the baobab trees exude and this particular one at the center of the village is no different.
I catch my breath and gaze up towards its limbs as they continuously reach upward; grounded and yet moving upward towards the light.
Magic is another aspect of the baobab tree where some believe spirits make their homes in these magnificent giants. Suale shared with me how one of these magical spirits helped him when he was a young boy, but that story is for another post.
Meeting with the Elders
We park our car and soon thereafter, children from the village rush towards us to say hello, extend their greetings, or simply to stare; usually at me.
For some, it’s the first time seeing a Caucasian person. Some of younger children are fearful when I come into view, believing I’m a ghost.
It happens in the bush since foreigners rarely venture outside of the city limits unless they are working for humanitarian organizations.
A group of children race towards me. Their beaming smiles and inquisitive eyes express their excitement. I converse with them in the little Dangbali that I know when one young girl takes my hand, leading the way towards a large, round hut known as the meeting room in the village.
We saunter over towards the meeting room to greet the elders, which consists of a large one-room mud hut with no doors, simply two entryways: one from the outside and one from the inner compound. Animal skins and woven mats are on the floor for sitting and the roof is intricately woven with dried reeds and hay.
One of the Elders grabs a blue chair for me. News travels fast and more Elders are filing into the meeting room as curious children peer in at one of the entryways.
We exchange greetings and Chief Suale in rapid-fire dangbali, converses with the elders more in-depth about what’s happening in the village and what is needed. This is how it’s done: the Elders voice any concerns from the people and the Chief of that village does what he or she can to solve any issues or problems.
Once when meeting the Nanton Elders, we helped shuck corn while conversing over tractors. Tractors are a hot commodity, especially out in the bush. They also are very costly. Chief and I listen hearing their concerns.
Having a tractor will not only bring relief to many in planting crops quickly, but it can make a difference in children receiving an education.
At times, children are pulled out of school in order to help with the planting and harvesting of crops. Soon, the child falls behind in school work, which ultimately leads to them dropping out of school. Having a tractor is one of the possibilities to remedy this vicious cycle.
After discussing the needs of the village, it is time for us to visit Olu, a teacher at the Nanton School. We say our goodbyes when one of the Elders asks us to wait. He returns with a gift of a dozen guinea hen eggs, a thank you for us coming to visit.
This generous gesture touches my heart. The people of Nanton have been profoundly gracious towards me on this trip.
School of Nanton
After meeting with the Elders, we venture a few miles down to the school and ring Olu, one of the teachers. We park by an open field where some adults are playing soccer and upon seeing us, Olu trots off the field to our car.
We greet each other and I hand him a new soccer ball. Olu grins and exclaims:
Wow! The children will be very happy. Napag, we appreciate you. Thank you!
Olu sprints back to his soccer game and we set off down the road to visit the Secretary of the Regent Chief. There are more visitations, conversations, and interactions to ensure everyone is being looked after and taken care of within the community.
Small gestures such as these mean a great deal. You never know how an act of kindness will impact someone or possibly an entire community.
After all, isn’t this what life is all about? Honoring one another and being a beneficial presence on earth as we travel on this extraordinary path called life?
The sun descends towards the horizon as we set off for to the city of Tamale. As Chief Suale and I cruise back to the city, I roll my window down and the cool breeze engulfs our vehicle. Today was a very good day.
I’m grateful for my role as Napag, and my work in Ghana. My experiences and interactions with the people fills me compassion, humility, and gratitude. It’s a blessing to be able to serve in this way.