Posted tagged ‘FraFra’

“Never forsake your motherland.”

May 8, 2023

Today is lovely, bright and warm. The sky is so blue it almost defies description. It is 65° and will get warmer as the day gets older. My windows are open. It is time to blow away the winter and fill the house with the sweet smells of spring. I am glad for today as tomorrow will be cooler.

When I lived in Ghana, my home, Bolgatanga, was almost as far away from the capital as you could get. I knew before I left staging in Philadelphia where I would be posted because the remote postings were the first filled. If you stayed in Accra for a while and then you were taken to Bolga, you’d think you were in a different country. The lush green of southern Ghana had disappeared and been replaced by the open savannah grasslands of the north. Bolga had one rainy season, a magical time when the brown fields came alive with green shoots and grasses, when the dusty roads were hardened by the rain. During the dry season, my lips chapped and my heels split from the dryness. The water was rationed, often turned off for a day or two so I took bucket baths. My students cleaned the school compound every morning regardless of the season then spent the day in classes. At night, they often visited me.

I was closest to my FraFra students. I sometimes think it was because they were from Bolga and were as resilient as the fields. The dry season for them was just another part of life to be endured while the rainy season was to be celebrated. The FraFra dances were exuberant, energetic, with quick movements filled with joy. Women traditionally danced the pogne with moving arms and stepping legs. Often the dancers were accompanied by clapping and singing. I tried a few times and almost fell over each time.

I knew, on my first trip back to Bolga in 40 years, I’d find my FraFra students, and I did on my first night back to Bolga. The word was spread that I had returned and students came to my hotel. I recognized them all. The only two missing were Franciska Issaka who was living here and Grace Awae who was in Accra. I was so sorry to miss both of them. When I got home, Grace called me, and we reconnected. It was the same with Franciska, and she came to visit. It was amazing to me that one of my students was in my house.

On the next visit, a year later, Grace met me at the airport, and we spent every day together. It was the same on the third visit, the one with Bill and Peg. Grace and Bea Issaka sat with us every night at our hotel. It all seemed so natural sitting at a table in Bolga chatting with friends.

I felt at home in Bolga each time I returned. My feelings, my love for Bolga and for my students, had never left me. They flooded my heart. I always think I got the best posting in the country among the most amazing people.

“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.”

September 27, 2012

I want snow and cold. They will be cause for hibernation by the elderly whose cars will then lie fallow in garages for the season. Yesterday was the worst. I spent what seemed like hours behind a driver going 20 then up to a high speed of 25. The line of cars behind me stretched for miles. Finally the driver turned right and went through a red light to a parking lot beyond. I figured he thought the light was optional. I breathed a sigh of relief until I caught up with the car in front of me, a car from Florida. That one was going so slowly I swear two walkers passed it on the road. I even think one of them was using crutches. A detour did me in as every car had to go my way. The one in front of me put brakes on at every curve, however slight, and took my exact route home. The cars, again, were massed behind me. We could have been a parade.

Rain is expected starting today then through the weekend. The sun was bright earlier but is now behind the clouds. It’s warm. I stayed outside a while and checked out my front garden. The mums planted last year have blossoms. I saw white, yellow and  deep rust buds. My flowers are close to adorning the garden.

My daily life is almost back to normal. Last night I lasted until after 11 then woke up this morning at 7, the latest I’ve slept since my return. It is difficult to believe that a week and a half ago I was in Africa. Sometimes I even find it difficult to believe I actually lived in Africa, a place so different than here. When I’m there, every day seems perfectly natural: shopping in the market, greeting people in FraFra or Hausa, eating with my right hand and enjoying goat or plantain or rice with a few rocks, well, pebbles anyway, and constantly sweating from the heat. When I’m here, all of that seems more like a dream, something I conjured from a book I read or a movie I’d seen. But it isn’t: all of it is real, every wonderful day of my adventure.

“To the solemn graves, near a lonely cemetery, my heart like a muffled drum is beating funeral marches.”

February 18, 2012

I screamed and ran but tripped on something. I knew I couldn’t save myself so I covered my head with my hands and waited for the end. Luckily it didn’t come. Whatever was in the sky was harmless; it even felt warm, almost welcoming. After a while, I removed my hands, shaded my eyes and looked upward. There was a round, bright ball in the sky. I was awed.

Today is sunny and warm and beautiful.

When I was in Ghana, I went to two funerals. One was for my student, Margaret Atiah, who was a FraFra, a member of the local tribe. The other funeral was for my principal’s husband. They were Ashanti and lived in a huge house near Kumasi. He had died in Rome, and we sat on the porch of her house, Mrs. Intsiful and I, waiting for the casket.

The funerals were so very different. Margaret’s was tribal, traditional. She was carried, wrapped in a grass funeral mat, by relatives, all men, up to her family’s compound in the hills. The men ran carrying her body over their heads. We, the mourners, followed. The body was brought into a compound where the women shaved the hair off Margaret’s body. They believed that because you came naked into the world, you also leave naked. Margaret was to be entombed with her parents. She was considered too young for her own tomb. After the women were finished, Margaret was wrapped in the grass funeral mat which covered her completely. She was then carried to her parents’ grave. It had already been opened. The pieces of pottery which had covered that opening were on the grass to the side and would be replaced over the cover when the funeral was finished. A naked man went into the tomb and waited. The grass mat was held over the opening and her body was dropped inside to the man. I was told he would place her beside her parents. There was no ceremony the way we know it. The tradition was the ceremony. Her daughter, who was about five, had had her head shaved in mourning for her mother. The family gave us a goat so we could eat together as a school family and remember Margaret.

The second funeral was far different. The casket had a porthole which showed the man’s face; it was placed on his bed in the middle of the room. The rest of the room was empty. We mourners circled the casket. Many people moaned and screamed as they walked by it. The sound of grief was constant. His son screamed Kwabena, Kwabena, his father’s name, over and over out a window. At one point, as I was standing to the side, a man came up to me and said he thought white people were amazing. He said there was sweat on the upper lip of the deceased making him look alive. I didn’t bother to explain.

When the time came, the casket was placed in the back of an open hearse, and we walked behind it to the cemetery. Prayers were said, and the body was lowered into the ground. We then walked back to the house. Food was served and people danced and sang. Death was celebrated.

Living in Ghana gave me experiences beyond measure.

%d bloggers like this: