Tamale feels more like the countryside than a city of 500,000, at least the area where Mike and Hannah live. Our hotel/guesthouse if off a main road – quite a winding ways off via red dirt road. Mike and Hannah also live ‘off’ this main road, along various paths, past derelct barn-like structures, goats, guinea fowl and many huge mango trees. It is extremely rural feeling, and difficult to find anything because there are no addresses or particular path markers. It’s also quiet. There’s still tons of rubbish everywhere.
And schoolchildren, some as young as three, in crisp uniforms who all shriek, ‘Salaminga, Hello!’ at us. Hannah interprets: Salaminga means white person – so we are being accurately identified. Often they say ‘Salaminga Byebye’, without meaning they want us to leave. We pass a mother goat with 2 kids who look like they might have been born earlier in the day.
For lunch we go to a restaurant very near Mike’s apartment. Mike calls ahead to order an hour and a half in advance. We wander across the grass and red dirt to the restaurant. We’re the only ones there, and this seems to be often the case. We all wonder how they survive on so little business. We eat fried rice and burgers – very tasty.
I’m super impressed by Mike’s mastery of Dagbani, the local language. Dozens of languages are spoken in Ghana. Hannah, who livd in Bolgatanga, 3 hours north of Tamale, doesn’t speak any Dagbani, but Mike chatters away with locals as we pass. They all call him Mista Mike ‘Where’s my good friend Mista Mike?’ asks Azuma, our taxi driver.
Both Mike and Hannah talk funny, or rather they talk like Ghanaians – in English but oddly constructed. Mike says the constructions resemble that of Dagbani. For example, Hannah asks ‘Are you having ketchup?’ meaning ‘Do you have any ketchup?’The response is ‘Yes, please.’ They tend to add please as a polite way of saying yes.Instead of saying Good afternoon as we would, they say Good AFTernoon – and in asking questions the voice drops at the end of the sentence rathering than rising. We’re beginning to get the idea and it is a little easier to understand. People are very friendly and delighted to learn we are Mista Mike’s parents.
It is wonderful to have Mike guiding us along – perhaps a foreshadow of how things will be when we are in our dotage? He is so comfortable here and so helpful in giving us instructions about what to pay, how to behave etc.
We take taxis almost everywhere – even ‘dropping taxis’ that take you door to door are very cheap. There are also ‘sharing taxis’ which you can pick up on the main road and travel within a certain zone for less than 1 cedi (about 50 cents.) The taxis tend to be pretty rattly affairs but they get us to our destinations.
A couple more downpours yesterday – climate change is clearly affecting Ghana; it’s unheard of to have rain in March. The mosquitoes are coming out too. We apply bug spray obsessively.
Today is Ghana Independence Day and we planned to attend the big celebrations in downtown Tamale, but didn’t rush to get there as Mike said nothing starts on time in Ghana, if they say 9AM, they won’t start till noon. WRONG. When we got there, sweating profusely at 11:00, it was all over. We met some EWB friends of Mike’s, did a few errands and started to feel incapacitated by the heat, all of us beet red and drenched, so we went to a restaurant called Sparkles for lunch, where it was still hot but fans and something vaguely like an air conditioner took the edge off. There is only one other occupied table thought the place has an excellent reputation. At the end of lunch, one of the children from the Muslim family with whom Mike lived for 8 months in the country came to meet us. Mustafa is 16 and started at boarding school in Tamale about 4 months ago. People have to pay for secondary school and many do not attend for that reason, so it’s a big deal that Mustafa is at school. He talked about it at some length, and although it was hard to understand a lot of what he said, it was not a very happy picture he painted.
Caning has been abolished (thankfullly) but for some subjects Mustafa has no teacher. Still he must pass the exams to move to the next grade and is told he should buy the textbook (which he cannot afford) and teach himself (even though he pays school fees that are very difficult for his family to cover.) He wants to be an engineerbut because a required course for the engineering stream was full when he started school, they put him in general arts instead, which he doesn’t love. So while Mike and Hannah were very pleased to know he was now in school, one wonders how helpful it will really be to him. He is clearly very attached to Mike and in the taxi ride home, he happily almost sat on Mike’s lap until we dropped him off. ‘I have no other friend like Mista Mike,’ he said. We will go to meet his large family on the week-end.
Tomorrow we are off to Mole National Park. Will they be having animals? We are hoping they say “Yes please.”