The drummers were about six in number playing drums of different shapes and sizes but well organised in a way to produce the sounds and rhythms that compelled anyone listening to tap their feet, nod their head shake the body, or actually get up and dance. The dancers arranged themselves in lines and each dancer had a white handkerchief in each hand. I was one of the dancers. We bent forward moved our feet and shook our bodies according to the rhythm of the drums. The singers stood behind the drummers singing in different harmonies. Any music-loving person would have realised that they sang their parts of the song with perfection. Added to this was the brass band. They had trumpets, saxophones, trombones and all types of wind instruments. They also played their part so that the brass band music blended with the singing and drumming to create a perfect cultural display. As we moved and danced to this perfect harmony, the brass band would, once a while, play a series of notes and then the drummers, singers, dancers and those watching would shout a big “Hey!”. The brass band played another series of notes and everybody shouted again, but this time it was so loud that it woke me up from my sleep.
It was all a dream. In reality, I was in my bed. The only part of the above narrative that was true was that there was actual drumming, brass band music, singing that I could hear come from the window of the room where I slept. This was in Tsrukpe in the Volta region of Ghana. I had spent the past few days with my colleague Gershon Adzokpa in the community doing a workshop for project workers. I enjoyed this cultural display earlier in the evening before retiring to bed at about midnight. I then dreamt that I was back with everybody else and was part of the dancers. This was part of the hinterland of Ghana that became part of my normal life as a development worker. Indeed every development worker should be prepared to become part of the normal life of people in the hinterland. Most of the people who need development support are not in the cities.
These people have their traditions and cultural performances that can be very rich. Many development workers tend to disassociate themselves from these cultural amusements and entertainment and rather focus on their task of providing development assistance. It is important for development workers to do whatever they can to integrate and be part of the entertainment and cultural activities of the people they seek to help. This helps them to further bond with the community and better appreciate their way of life. Failure in this area can make proposed development assistance very artificial and far removed from reality.
In 1988 I left the town of Bawku through the east with Sanatu Nantogma, the public health nurse for Tamale sub-office of World Vision International, and her baby after visiting school construction projects in the Missiga area. I drove through Garu, on the Bawku-Nakpanduri road, and into the valley at the foot of the Gambaga Scarp. The climb to Nakpanduri at the top of the scarp was a very slow one. The road was full of steep climbs and sharp turns. It twisted and turned sharply here and there as we went up the mountain. Indeed, this is one of the most dangerous roads in Ghana. It had signs of possible falling rocks from the high escarpment on the right. Then a market truck appeared in front of us. There were two young men with wooden blocks in their hands walking behind the truck. This meant that the truck was moving up the mountain at walking pace. The young men were ready to use the wooden blocks to chock the tires of the truck in case the engine failed. I followed them carefully for about half a kilometre. When I got the opportunity I hit the accelerator of my car and we went past them and breathed a sigh of relief.
We drove to the Nakpanduri at the top of the scarp and down again to the Jilig community, which is to the east of Nakpanduri, where we had a meeting with the community members. The meeting lasted from 7:00 pm until about 9:00 p.m. We then had to drive back up the scarp and down towards Tamale before daybreak. The road from the community to the top of the scarp was not as smooth as the earlier road we had taken from Bawku.
This time there were gulleys caused by constant erosion of the road surface. I had to manoeuvre the car, a Peugeot 504, to drive on the ridges on either side of the gulleys to avoid seriously damaging the car.
From the Nakpanduri we drove through the night through forests that were known to harbour all types of which wildlife. The lights of the car cut through the night darkness as tall grass bending from both sides of the road brushed against the car. The drive to Tamale, through Gusheigu, finally ended at about 4:30 a.m. Sanatu and I had just come from a part of the Ghanaian hinterland.
The challenge of travelling through difficult terrain and landscapes in order to get to the hinterland and back is a normal part of development work in Ghana and indeed the rest of Africa. Anybody who wants to do development work in Africa should be prepared to confront the different difficult landscapes and terrain that need to be overcome to get to the different communities that need support.
I drove the Nissan patrol four-wheel drive out of the Cantonments offices of World Vision International followed closely by a similar car driven by Robert Djangmah and headed for the Accra-Kumasi road. Both cars carried World Vision’s development workers. We drove all the way to Nkawkaw and turned right and climbed the Kwahu mountains. This is one of the scariest mountains to climb in Ghana. As one drives up the mountain there is a steep cliff on the left-hand side of the road and on the right a seemingly bottomless gulley from which one can only see mist or clouds. One of my colleagues in the car said he kept his eyes tightly closed. We got to the top and started the first descent to the other side of the mountain. We then drove to the Volta River where we waited for a pontoon into which way drove the cars and where carried to the other side of the river. At this point, we were in the famous Afram plains of Ghana.
The drive to Donkorkrom took about an hour. We were received by an enthusiastic host of development workers and shown our rooms. As we settled into our rooms, mosquitoes hovered around hungrily and most likely aware that we were fresh food for the night. We were there to facilitate a development workshop for leaders of communities where World Vision had projects. The generator that provided electricity for the centre where the workshop was organized would be switched off at 8:00 p.m. to save fuel. Any planned activities, therefore, had to be finished before sunset.
Thinking and planning for the provision of social amenities such as schools, health facilities, water sources and other social infrastructure to communities that need them is part of the development process.
However, it is important to note that these communities may be very difficult to reach. This underscores the need for the procurement of appropriate vehicles for these trips. Even after getting to them, we may be confronted with challenges that are very different from those in the city. It is the ability to cope with these difficulties in the hinterland that makes for successful community engagement.
Four Nissan Patrol 4WD vehicles turned off the Accra-Aflao road towards Big Ada. As we entered the town we were directed by the leading car to park our cars off the road. We then walked in between houses to the Volta River where big motorized canoes were waiting for us. We proceeded to board them. We were all staff of World Vision International. The staff who could not swim expressed concerns about the impending journey on the river especially since no life-vests were given to us. But their fears were allayed by a confident young man who would be piloting the canoes. With hindsight, life-vests should always be used in these situations in case of any incidents during the trip. The journey on the river must have taken about 20-30 minutes and then we were on the island of Pediatokope. This is one of the several islands in the Volta estuary that can only be accessed by motorized canoes. We had gone for the opening of a school building constructed with the support of World Vision International.
If development is limited to places that can be only accessed by roads. Communities such as Pediatokope will struggle to benefit from any external assistance. Meanwhile, I have heard of teachers who risk their lives daily on canoes to go to such islands to provide their services to pupils in these communities.
I sat on the bench in front of Naaba Abraham L Bayelim Kanbe, the traditional ruler in the Duusi community in the Upper East Region. We were discussing priority development projects for the community. The chief and his people spoke Talini and I spoke Kusaal. But we understood each other perfectly well. Out of this discussion, emerged the construction of the Duusi primary school with support from World Vision International.
I have sat down with similar traditional rulers various places such as Jukwa in the central region, Moglaa in the Northern Region, Kpasimkpe in the North East Region, Ahamaso in the Oti Region etc.
While doing development work in Ghana, it is imperative to have a good working relationship with traditional rulers. They are the custodians of the land and the culture of the people. Nothing gets done in their traditional jurisdiction without their blessing. And they must be treated with the utmost respect.
I sat in the passenger seat of the Nissan patrol vehicle with a CD (Diplomatic Corps) registration plate belonging to the US Peace Corps. The car was driven by John Mason a Canadian wildlife expert. We were cruising at about 100 km per hour between Techiman and Kintampo in the then Brong-Ahafo region. We branched off on our right and drove eastward for nearly 12 km. Then the purpose of our visit to this community started to manifest. Monkeys swung between branches, some of them crossing the road without caring about the approaching vehicle. We entered the community of Boaben-Fiema. We sat down and had a long discussion with the chief and community members and witnessed how the community members lived in close proximity with monkeys from the nearby forest. From the forest, monkeys came along into the community looking into pots to see what leftover food they could get to eat. They had no fear of the community members. This is a monkey sanctuary that could be developed into a tourist site and that was the purpose of our visit. I’ve never seen so many monkeys interacting fearlessly with humans anywhere in my life. It taught me that no matter how Ghana has been urbanized there will still be patches of communities where interaction between humans and wildlife will remain untouched. The Mole Game Reserve in the Savannah region is another place with an abundance of wildlife and little interaction with the human population.
My next blog is entitled “Miraculous Deliverances”. I very much appreciate the personal messages phone calls and comments on these blogs. Please keep them coming as they significantly help me to write the other blogs.