On the third morning I boarded the bus to head to Torgorme Village for an overnight cultural immersion.
Onboard with us was a Brazilian lady who founded a non-profit organization called Beesgaya, I believe that how you spell it. She reminded us of a good fact, and that is service projects can also be catered to the wealthy in the developed world as well. For example one of her projects is in Naples, Florida where she is helping people to go from exclusion in society to inclusion, such as autistic or diabetic people who aren’t very well accepted or catered to in their communities.
Our journey took us eastward toward Togo, we were heading to the Volta region of Ghana. Along the way we passed the Accra plains and saw some baboons along the road, they come from the Shai Hill reserve which we would visit the next day. We drove near the Togo Mountains which go from Ghana to Togo. We also drove across the Acus Dam, constructed and managed by the Volta River Authority, it is a hydroelectric dam with water that originates in Burkina Faso to the north and another dam further down the river provides drinking water.
The villagers of Torgorme are Ewe people, one of the 46 ethnic groups in Ghana and Ewe is one of the 9 linguistic groups in Ghana. When we arrived into the village the children came running out of school to greet us, we were lead into the village by a drumming troop lead by the elders, and this is customary for guests who must be lead into the village by the elders. We got off the bus and were surrounded by children! We made our way to the village square next to the library, where chairs were set up for us to sit face to face with the elders and chief and mother queen. Two men sat in chairs that were in front of the elders and chief, they were symbols of authority and carried ornate staffs, so when one wants to talk to the chief one must go through these two men. On the left side of the elders were the mothers and teachers of the village, and on the right were child dancers and drummers.
Then began a long procession of dances and rituals. We began with a welcome address, and then a traditional warrior performed a traditional prayer for us. I believe he used alcohol to bless the land and sky, as it was murky white liquid that he poured out of the bowl, some kind of rice wine I presume. Then we were treated to various dances performed by the children and one dance performed by the local comedian/ teacher. An elder woman also performed another prayer ritual where she had a bowl with herbs and water in it and she bless us and the land and shook the bowl until all of the water had dripped on to the land. After this first medley of dances and rituals, the first few groups of semester at sea members went up to receive their African names. Along with getting our names we received small pots with our English name and African names painted on them to help us remember, the pots were made locally and is the main product of Torgorme, and also a bracelet from another village that specializes in jewelry. After more dances performed by students, it was my turn to receive my name. I was a Tuesday born, so my first name I think is Obla (accented a), which means Tuesday, and my African name that the locals gave me was Mawutor which means God’s Own. After a lot more dancing, the children invited us to dance with them! Once again it was tiring, but it was so fun. One child pulled on me to dance with him/ her, I can’t remember which, and I did, and in the end he/ she asked for a hug and I gave him/her a hug! That was the first moment where I was really touched by the people of Torgorme, and it was the first of many more similar moments to come. All the dances were performed with lots of energy, and some students had body and face paint, while most wore brightly colored fabrics as they danced. There was one dance where a 2-3 year old joined in and he was quite good though he could not really keep up with the rhythm of the dance, nonetheless it was a joy to watch! We also took a group photo with the elders and chief, this was where we witnessed how the children were disciplined, the curious children wanted to surround us again (after all we are as much of a tourist attraction to them as they are to us), but the teachers used twigs to whip the children away from the group photo!
Then it was lunch time. We drove out to a nearby country club of sorts where we had some local foods. One of the yummy foods was grounded cassava with corn beef; it went well with everything I ate. More on Ghanaian food later.
Local Economy/ Arts and the Children of Torgorme
After lunch we went back to the village to learn about the local economy, which revolved heavily on the pottery. We watched the women make the pottery from clay retrieved from nearby lands. It was nice to see that the whole process was very natural, no machines, everything was from the resources available to them. They added water to the clay, to create the doughy clay we are familiar with and then from ground up they create the pots. They either use cloth of a leaf to design the opening of the pot, by simply swiveling the leaf of cloth around until the top has a small indent. The paint is made from red clay and kerosene. It protects the pot. The pots are then heated in a mound of dried grass to solidify the clay and paint. Then some parts are burned even more to become black. They have various uses, I believe the black ones are suitable for storing food and water, while the red ones are for other uses. But it was great to see them make these pots in the most traditional and natural of ways possible. We then watched some local men weave cloth, though this is not the main product of Torgorme, they do make it, and it was not too bad (I bought a few). We also headed down to the river banks to watch the men fish, either by casting the net far out from a boat or by casting it out from the shore. Turns out the man casting from the shore got all the fish. While we watched the fishing there was a woman who was doing laundry along the river, she had a few buckets and one was soapy water where she scrubbed and cleaned her laundry!
While we were touring the village the kids were constantly around us.
They were most curious about our cameras. We took photos and showed them, and they all wanted to know how to take pictures so we all taught them how to use our cameras. One kids who taught was named Prince, and some of the best photographs from my trip to Torgorme were taken by him! I could totally see him as a NatGeo photographer one day! As we walked, many of the kids wanted us to hold their hands, and they would often fight for our hands! It was really a surreal experience for me I think, I never really experienced anything quite like it in my life. The kids were just all so curious, happy, innocent, and cute! It was so much fun to teach them photography, take pictures of them then show them and hear them giggle at their own pictures, and it felt so warm to hold their hands and walk with them. Before departing with our hosts the Brazilian lady whose name is Lulu, wanted to record a video to post on youtube. She had the kids dance with peace signs going up in the air and then after a few minutes of just the kids she had us go in and dance with them. She wanted to add the song “When Love Takes Over,” to the video, so check in the next couple of day on youtube for a video called “When Love Takes Over Torgorme,” and you are welcome to laugh at my bad dancing but are even more welcome to smile at and feel the joy and love that was felt during that moment.
My Host Family: The Rojee Family and Torgorme life
After our tour of the village, we met with our host families. I didn’t realize it but my host was with me the whole time during our tour and gave me additional insight to the local community while the guide was talking! His name is Wanda Adokpa, his family name is Rojee (I hope I am spelling this correctly). Wanda took me to his house where I dropped my bag on my bed in a room that was lit by a blue light bulb, I assume it was some sort of mosquito repelling bulb. He then gave me a tour of his family’s land area and we walked around and through some of his neighbor’s lands. There were three main houses in Wanda’s family’s land. Most of the houses were made from stone bricks and covered with cement and with steel roofs, but there were clay huts with thatched roofs in each plot of land as well. The kitchens were very basic, a mud stove on the ground where wood fire is used to cook the food in steel pots. The domestic animals roamed about freely, there were chickens, goats, and cats, there were hardly any dogs. I saw some of his aunts preparing food, one was washing maize and barley, one was peeling and cutting cassava, and one of Wanda’s cousins was cooking some kind of vegetable. I also saw some of the char grilled fish that they laid in the sun to dry.
As we walked everyone said hi to Wanda and he said hi back, I could tell it was a tight community and we did learn that the community really values family, much like the Chinese do. We then made our way to the main square/ library area where I asked if I could look at the school. School was out so there were no students in class, but many kids followed us there because the kids were following all of us as we walked around the village. The students learn English, Ewe, math, science and other basic subjects. The classrooms are very basic, wooden tables and benches, and a blackboard and open windows. They start school at around 2-3 years old, and go till about 19 or 20, and depending on economic situations some go to private school and some attend the one I toured which is a government school.
We then walked passed an incomplete church was has been under construction since around 1990, the structure is complete just not the doors, windows, paint or other ornamenting. It is used as a community center, and is where we had breakfast and dinner.
I then witnessed the process of heating the clay pots. Many pots were heated in the mound of dried and burning grass, some were taken out and set aside and kept red while others were burned again in another pile where the smoke and ash coated the pots in black.
It was then time to head back home, I had previously asked if they were going to make Fufu, a local Ghanaian dish that is almost exactly like Mochi from Hualien or Japan, and they said after my walk they would be ready to begin preparing dinner so I could watch and learn. Before the meal preparation began, Wanda took me into the trees next to his house along the river and climbed a cocoa tree and get some cocoa fruit. I tried it before in another place, and I was a bit afraid of contracting some bug in my system so I kindly said I was not hungry when he offered me to try it.
Then arrived the time for me to watch and learn about cooking in Torgorme. I was told Ghanaian food takes a while to prepare as it has a lot of stews. Indeed we spent the rest of the afternoon cooking! It was great to see the whole process. Wanda’s aunt, Eunice, and mom, Benice, were the main women who were cooking. They went to buy cassava and freshly caught fish from nearby. Wanda used a wooden stick to retrieve some plantains from the plantain trees. Aunt Eunice peeled the plantains and cut and peeled the cassava, placed them into a pot and added water. She started a fire in their clay stove and boiled the water until all of the water had evaporated. Meanwhile Benice began cutting and gutting the fish and placing it into a pot of water, adding canned tomato sauce, and a grinded mixture of tomato, shallots and a few other things which was added to the boiling fish stew. She cooked the stew atop a steel stove using coal to heat it, with a fellow 3-5 year old helping her fan the fire. While the plantains and cassava (the two ingredients for Fufu) were being cooked, aunt Eunice showed me how they paint the pots the only part of the process I never saw earlier. She added water to the red clay which has already been mixed with kerosene and then dabbed a cloth in the mixture and coated the clay pot with it. Then she created a small fire and showed me how they burned it, she stopped it though because she was not ready to heat the pot just yet, she just wanted to show me.
Finally the water evaporated the pot was removed from the stove. Aunt Eunice brought out the Tatsi and Etu (accented u), the pot and the pounder used to make Fufu. She began to pound the cassava then she pounded all of the plantains, and then she began to mix the pounded plantains with cassava and pounded them together until it achieved the sticky chewy consistency of Mochi or in this case Fufu. I then asked if I could try and she gladly let me. It was really fun to pound the Fufu but I also realized just how strong the women are because it was quite a workout for the arms to pound the Fufu hard enough. I was amazed at how close her hands got to the pounder as she folded the mixture after each pound, I almost thought that I accidentally pounded her fingers one time! It was so much fun and I just starred at the pounding process because it was that amusing. Once enough Fufu was made and the fish stew prepared by Benice was ready, they offered it to me. I took a bit of Fufu plain, and it was delicious, then I took another bit and dipped it in the spicy fish stew, and it was just as delicious. This combination was called Fufu Deshi. It is a lot more sticky and less chewy than Mochi but they are essentially the same thing just made from different ingredients. Aunt Eunice taught me some Ewe by teaching me how to saw various tools and furniture in Ewe, but I can only remember Tatsi and Etu because I was so involved in the Fufu, but she enjoyed teaching me and I enjoyed learning from such a cheerful lady.
Wanda then took me to the riverside at sunset, where he explained to me more about local architecture and construction as I had asked him about it earlier. While doing so he also took a shower, and no he did not go naked he just showered in his underwear which served as his swimsuit. He took a bar of soap, some net which he uses as a scrub and showered in the river. A while some women were getting water in big buckets from the river and balancing these buckets on their heads and climbing up the stairs and walking around town like this. They all had great posture because of this! I asked Wanda if he knew how to do it too and he said yes. He also knows how to fish and build the houses, just like all the men and boys in the village need to know, by the way Wanda is 18. He explained to me that the foundation of the houses is a mix of sand and soil. Then the stone bricks are laid to form the house and is then covered with mud or concrete and painted, and the steel roof is attached. The stone bricks come from the neighboring areas. The clay houses are built using the same clay used for the pots, and the clay is made into brick shaped and placed on top of each other then dried in the sun. Thatched roofs are then placed atop of the structure. These houses are all rectangular in shape. Wanda said it can take anywhere from 1 to 3 years to build the houses depending on a family’s financial capabilities. And when a man needs to build a house on his land the men in the village come together to help him, as there are no written records of how to construct the traditional houses so they all come with a shared knowledge that is passed from generation to generation.
Before we left for dinner, aunt Eunice asked me to wear her necklace and for Wanda to take a picture of me with the necklace. She then told Wanda to tell me that I could wear it for the night. Later that night when I returned home with Wanda, I returned the necklace and when I came back from a bathroom trip Wanda told me aunt Eunice wanted me to keep the necklace as a reminder of the Rojee family. I was very touched by this and told them that I would never forget them, and it’s true, I really will never forget the Rojee family for their genuine hearts and warmth and hospitality!
After cooking with the family, it was dinner time for me and the rest of the SAS people, so Wanda and I went to the church building where we waited for our dinner. It turns out that our dinner was delivered and prepared by the same country club where we had lunch. Before dinner the local comedian/ teacher came in with the kids to do a bit of a slightly perverted comedic show for us and the locals, well I say perverted because there was a slight sexual innuendo in it, at least that’s what we all assumed and it sure did look like it. During dinner I learned that the villages in the area all had their specific and distinct products depending on the available resources. Torgorme specializes in pottery, fishing and farming. While a neighboring village called Somanya specializes in Jewelry, this is where our bracelets and aunt Eunice’s necklace come from. I also learned that thank you in Ewe is akba (accented K), I had been saying Medasay, which the people did understand but it was not thank you in Ewe.
After dinner, the villagers started a bonfire, and the drums were brought out again and the kids began dancing. Before we knew it we were dancing with them! It was so tiring, and yet the kids never seemed to be tired they just kept going at it. It was so much fun, and once again it felt so happy and warm to have fun and enjoy life with the kids. We danced until we got tired. The kids taught me some local dance moves as we danced. Soon Wanda and I began walking home, and his younger brother or nephew grabbed my hand and we walked home together through the dark under the bright starry night. Wanda had sprayed my room down when I first arrived at their house with insect repellent, and the windows had mosquito nets and like I said before I am certain the blue light was a mosquito repellent light. There were two mattresses, one on the floor and one on a bed frame, I believe I was supposed to be housed with another SASer, but that never happened. Wanda however, being the kind man he is, decided he would sleep in the room with me that night. Before going to bed I whipped out my flash light to go to the bathroom, and when aunt Eunice saw this she told Wanda to bring a small bucket into the room so that I wouldn’t have to go out with my flash light in the middle of the night. The room was cooled by a electric fan, and Wanda asked me if I needed a blanket or cover, but I didn’t quite understand his question at first so I said no. Until I realized that the sheet which I thought was a blanket was actually the sheet to cover the furry quilt covering the mattress. So I slept without a blanket, and it was fine, I managed to go into deep sleep for 2-3 hours then wake up then go back to deep sleep throughout the night. It was not too uncomfortable nor was it super comfortable it was just enough to allow me to rest up.
It was a wonderful day, and I was sad that the next morning I would have to say goodbye to Wanda and his family.
To be continued…..