The cynic in me gets a slap in the face

Every once and awhile the generosity of strangers can floor you.

The community of Fishula is a 15-minute drive outside the bustling regional capital of Tamale. Despite the nearby streetlights, restaurants, colleges and swimming pools in Tamale, Fishula’s water comes from a dirty well, there is no electricity and worst of all, an entire generation has not received any formal education.

An elder in Fishula shows Diamond FM's Maxwell Suuk the well they use for drinking water

Politicians in Ghana will often use distance as an excuse for depriving rural villages of basic services but clearly that wouldn’t fly in this case. I travelled to Fishula with a district assembly member and Maxwell Suuk, a reporter at Diamond FM.

When visiting any rural village in Northern Region it is customary to go and visit the chief to pay your respects. He usually lives in one of the larger mud huts and if he is Dagomba – the majority of chiefs in this region are – you enter, squat and clap your hands quickly and gently and say “naa…naa…naa” over and over again.

You inevitably are asked to offer kola. In the not-too-distant past, this actually meant a kola nut exchanged as a symbolic gesture, but with the influx of NGO’s to Northern Ghana and as modern comforts slowly seep their way into villages it usually means cash, especially if you are visibly Western.

I sat quietly on a goatskin waiting to be asked for kola. I huffed and puffed internally – at times I felt like a walking ATM. Pleasantries were exchanged in Dagbani for what seemed like an eternity and as Max tried to wrap things up I could sense he was anticipating the same thing as me.

Suddenly a procession of men entered carrying a heaping bowl of groundnuts, a bag of guinea fowl eggs and a huge duck.  It was a knobby, red, ugly duck that screeched and flapped as it tried to scramble lose from the man’s sturdy grip. I stared in disbelief at Max as it became clear the chief of this incredibly poor community wanted to offer us gifts for coming to hear their plight.

I put up my hands to protest. The district assembly member mumbled under his breath to me:  “you cannot refuse, you will insult him.”

My mind began racing wondering how I was going to carry the struggling duck as effortlessly as this man from Fishula. I couldn’t smile at Max, fearing one of us would burst into laughter.

We thanked him for the gifts and asked the man to carry the duck to our Tamale-bound taxi and stuff it in the hatchback. It squawked and kicked as we laughed the whole way home. I called my Ghanaian host family to tell them I was bringing home a surprise.

The following day my grandmother yelled for me to come outside. She wanted me to come see how well she had roasted my poor friend – here in Ghana animals are rarely recipients of generous treatment.

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About Megan Ainscow

Megan Ainscow has longed to do the kind of journalism that can make an impact in communities where the voices of the marginalized need to be heard. Megan lives and breathes media. She worked for three years in FM radio. She has freelanced for several university and weekly community papers. She has interned at Global Television in Montreal. While on exchange in Paris, Megan spent six months working with Peter O’Neil, European Correspondent for Postmedia and following that spent nine months working at a financial newswire in Montreal as a reporter and broadcaster. To satisfy her desire to engage in some kind of human rights advocacy, since November 2009 Megan has been a volunteer on the communications subcommittee for Human Rights Watch. Since beginning her journalism degree at Concordia University in 2004 she has been following Journalists for Human Rights and decided this year the time had come to shake things up and apply for an overseas position. Megan is heading off to Tamale, Ghana located in the remote Northern Region to work at Diamond FM.

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