Fire, Festivities, and Fufu

So what is Christmas in Ghana like?

This year, I spend Christmas in Buagbaln, just outside of a small town, Saboba, in the Northern Region about 3 hours North-East of Tamale. My friend Mina has been living there for the past four months or so, with a man named Elijah and his family. They were wonderful, welcoming me into their compound and making me feel at home when I arrived in the early afternoon on Christmas eve, after a day of good-byes in the village of Sanbooli. For the past week, I’d been doing a village stay, living with another incredibly hospitable family, to see what rural Ghana is like.

When I woke up on Christmas morning, the sun was just rising. It felt like any other morning in Ghana – the sounds of goats crying, pigs roaming around, and the shouts of people greeting each other. The sun doesn’t get too intense until later in the day. When it’s low in the sky, there’s so much dust in the air that not much of the heat reaches you, but by noon it gets HOT. Dana offered me some tea (or rather, sugar with some tea in it) and some bread, which I ate as I contemplated Christmas in Canada. There was no Christmas tree, no eggs benedict, no stocking, and my family was not there to cluster close together in the glowing tent-like aura of the Christmas tree. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t reminiscing of what would be going on in mornings a half world away, as I sat on that wooden bench and drank my tea.

Typically, fufu is not served for breakfast, but it was Christmas, so an hour or so later I was eating delicious fufu and fish with Mina. As a Christmas present to Elijah, Mina had purchased two puppies, so most of the day was spent watching them fall over each other and nap, often in someone’s lap. These dogs were adorable! (check out this video – it will exceed whatever cute-threshold you have:

Now, I’ve spoken of fufu before. It takes some getting used to, but I’ve grown to really like it. When I was down on Cape Coast for New Years, there was about a week-long period when I was just CRAVING the stuff. Every time I thought I’d finally get my hands on it, I’d be thwarted by the rest of the crew, who for some reason I just can’t comprehend, really didn’t want the stuff. I’ve been eating it for about a month, and they’ve been eating it from between four and eight. Logically, you’d think they’d want it four to eight times as much as me. I just don’t get it.

But Saboba fufu, pounded by Dana (Elijah’s wife), is the best fufu in Ghana. The texture is perfect, soft but not sticky, the taste mild but present. You never find any un-pounded yam chunks in Dana’s fufu. Her soup complements it perfectly, and when you slide it into your mouth, your senses are infused with hot peppers and fish. Truly delicious. So getting fufu for breakfast was a great treat to get Christmas kicked off!

I was just finishing up breakfast (the fufu breakfast, not the tea-bread breakfast) when there was some commotion near the entrance to the compound. I’m not quite sure how it started, but one of the sisters had a calabash full of water and was chasing one of the other children. Elijah tried to break it up, getting damp in the process, so he equipped himself with an even larger calabash and started chasing the sister who apparently started it. She ran and decided the white man would serve as a useful barricade, and before I knew what was going on I was acting as a human shield as a man with a bucket of water bore down on me! I dodged out of the way, grabbing a calabash of my own, and tried to soak the girl who so unashamedly tried to use me as protection. My first Christmas water-fight!

Later on, Mina and I headed into town to get haircuts (successful, and much less dramatic than previously… I went for the buzz) and some Nescafe (unsuccessful). I made sure to put on some sunscreen before heading out. Sunscreen on Christmas! Other than that, it was a mostly uneventful day: we played some Frisbee, napped, read a book, ate a delicious lunch (rice with pork), a delicious dinner (more of Dana’s fufu and pork), and called a lot of people back in Canada.

By the end of the day, I’d eaten far too much delicious food, spoken with family and friends, and relaxed. In the morning, I’d been stuck on what Christmas was like in Canada, but by the end of the day, I was fully enjoying Christmas in Ghana. I was missing people, yes, but this was blunted by having at least spoken to them, and I was spending time with new friends, in a new place, and as I fell asleep, I fell asleep feeling loved and happy.

So what about New Years?

After Christmas, we headed south to Cape Coast for New Years. It was a week spent sitting on a beach, frolicking in waves, spending time with new Canadian friends and generally living the good life. We went fishing one day, which was very interesting; in a long canoe with a kicker on it, we headed out and to the West quite a ways. When we got near the fish, you’d know it as they churned up the surface of the water wherever they were. I’ve never seen so many fish! Working with a few other canoes, the boats would form a perimeter around this school of fish, taking turns cutting through it while trailing fishing hooks. We pulled in 18 fish over the course of the day (14 tuna and 4 king-fish, if I recall correctly), and ate like KINGS the whole of New Years day.

New Years Eve was celebrated at the lodge we were staying at. Each of us had brought some traditional clothing, so we were fully decked out like “big-men”, and danced and celebrated to the best of our ability. A bon-fire was lit, a count-down was shouted, and 2011 was rung-in in fantastic fashion.

And then?

The group parted ways two days after that. Mina and I headed North to Kumasi, where we had some bench-marking trips. Honestly, Kumasi deserves a post entirely devoted to it; the city is CRAZY. There’s so much going on here, so many people, and so much money! I’ll try my best to compare and contrast it to Tamale sometime soon.

After many weeks travelling around, a village stay, Christmas in Saboba, visiting old slave castles, relaxing on a beach for New Years, and a half-week in Kumasi, I’m glad to be back in Tamale. It’s time to really dig into the work I’ve come here to do, to really start trying to learn Dagbani, to integrate and explore. I’m excited to spend some solid time in one place! Since I’ve arrived in Ghana, it’s been go-go-go; it’ll be nice to finally slow down and wrap my head around why I’m here.

I had a lot to say, and didn’t want to take too much space to say it. Before Christmas, I had a village stay that I can’t wait to blog about, and I’ll get to it in the next few weeks! What do you want to know more about? Leave any questions below.

And a quick bonus: The Sunset on Christmas.

Kinda like the Eye of Sauron. Or something.

Sunset over Saboba

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5 Responses to Fire, Festivities, and Fufu

  1. Chelsea says:

    Hey Dan!
    Great post! It was so nice to hear from you on Christmas. We were thinking about you at new years!
    Can you give more details about clothing? Describe what the ‘big men’ clothing was in more detail, I have no idea and am interested. Do you have any pictures? Also what do you wear and locals wear for day to day clothing? Does it change very significantly as you travel from town to town?
    When you say its hot how hot is it? Do they take siestas there?
    Keep going strong Dan!!

    • Hey Chelsea!

      I was definitely thinking about you guys at New Years too! Hope you guys gave’r twice as hard to make up for mine and Lewis’ absence.

      I am a little at a loss for words in describing the big-man clothing. The traditional chief garb for the North is called a three-in-one. It includes pants, a shirt, and this MASSIVE… cover… thing. It’s like a bedsheet with just a whole for your head that you throw over yourself. I do have pictures but not on this computer – I’ll post them asap. Words won’t do justice.

      CLothing between the north and the south is indeed pretty different. The clothing in the South is way more westernized, while you see a lot more cloth and traditional smocks in the North. The clothing you see varies quite dramatically, with their being Western cloths and cloth clothes. Again I’ll try to get some photos, but basically picture a long loose almost dress for guys with matching pants, made of “lace” (a kind of cloth, not lace you’d find in Canada). Women often wear dresses made of bright tie-and-died or printed cloth often with matching head scarves. It’s all quite colorful.

      Some people do take siestas! But it’s not a cultural norm like I hear it is in some countries. It’s more like people locking their doors and napping under their desks. Not so different from Canada, actually…

  2. Brianna says:

    Hey Dan!
    I have been enjoying reading your posts- glad you had a good christmas and new years. That is great that you have learned to love Fufu- I didn’t during my six weeks there last year. I couldn’t get used to its texture and the slimy soups it was served it. When you do return to canada I have discovered a great little ghanian restuarnant in Whalley Surrey. Although I did not have fufu there (instead ate red red, ground nut soup with chicken and jalloff rice) I am sure that they would have great fufu too! It felt like I was sharing a meal with a families house in ghana!

    Keep on posting updates!


  3. Belinda says:

    With all the travelling and eating a variety of food, how you are doing health-wise? I met a lot of APS and JFs at National Conference. The conference was amazing by the way and I was thinking a lot about you while I was there.

  4. Alaya Boisvert says:

    Dan, thanks for sharing these wonderful updates. It’s always touching to read about someone who’s away from their loved-ones for the holidays, learning a new ‘language’, seeing beauty in difference, and absorbing a world of possibilities in an entirely unique context. Sending a very Happy New Year to you and your Tamale neighbours.

    “Time is a companion that goes with us on a journey. It reminds us to cherish each moment, because it will never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we have lived.” –Jean Luc Picard (who knew el capitan was such a philosopher 🙂

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