Yesterday, I made my first landlord-renter transaction ever – 180,000 cedis… roughly $20 Canadian! It’s hard to believe that I’ve paid more for a CD or a single fancy dinner than I’m paying to live and eat with a lovely family for 3.5 months.
Mr. and Mrs. Zarkari
My host parents seem to be quite prominent members of the community with their various endeavours and activities – more on that later. Mr. Z speaks English and we’ve eaten quite a few breakfasts and dinners together so we’ve had the chance to chat a bit. He’s a sweet man with great hopes for his children, who are all currently in school or waiting on results. Mrs. Zarkari runs a provisions store and normally doesn’t come home until 9 p.m., about the time I’m tucking in the bed net, so we’ve haven’t spent very much time together. Coupled with the fact that she doesn’t speak English, the few times we’ve breakfasted together have been relatively quiet affairs. They’re a lovely couple with six children, five of which live in the compound with us.
Born just over two months after me, Ayisheia is the oldest daughter. She just finished Junior Secondary School and is waiting on her final results to see where she’ll be attending Senior Secondary School. With their mother at the store from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Ayisheia does the majority of the cooking, but shares most duties with the other older siblings. She’s quite intent to treat me like a first-class guest for the duration of my stay, something I hope to sway throughout the summer. With no school or work on Friday, African Union Day, we decided to do some laundry. Watching my poor technique, she rewashed every article of clothing I threw in the bucket!
Turning 17 in a few days, Ussif is the oldest son of this couple, although Mr. Zarkari has a 23 year old son (who doesn’t live here) with another woman no longer a part of their lives (I think… didn’t really want to pry). Ussif has been the most helpful in my quest to learn Gonja and also about their family and the way they live. He has promised to take me to see the family’s farm and their cattle, something I’m quite excited about. Like Ayisheia, he just finished JSS and wants to go to Tamale for SSS, but that will depend on his test results (which I’ll be here to celebrate in August).
At 14 years old, Tahira speaks the best English of anyone in the household and, with Ussif, has been my closest friend thus far. She’s a fairly quiet girl but when she smiles, the room lights up. She enjoys school (currently in her sixth and final year of primary school) and math is her favourite subject – brownie points from me! She took me on a bicycle tour around Salaga and I hope to spend much more time with her.
When told that Suleman wants to be my husband, I replied that 7 years old is too young for me! He is also in primary school but hasn’t been around the compound that much so I don’t have any fond memories of him yet.
Like any two year old boy, Muzachir loves to play with bugs, dead or alive, and eats more than I ever thought possible for a small infant to ingest. My favourite memory of Muzachir thus far is him chasing Ayisheia around the compound with a butter knife, presumably because she wouldn’t give him any more bread to eat.
You may notice that I’ve only mentioned five children while I said there are six. There is a 10 year old daughter, Ramatu, who is currently attending primary school in Kumasi, the city where their mother is originally from. And while I’ve “profiled” the five children who born to this couple, it often feels like there are at least 15 children running around the place and I think there may be one or two who actually live here... still a bit confused about that one. People talk about a sense of community and I never really understood what that meant until coming here. While we were washing clothes, some neighbours walked into the compound and just dove in and start washing with us. The same thing happens during meal preparations and definitely the consumption of the meals as well!
I also mentioned that my host family is involved in a number of income generating activities, summarizing: the provisions store (which they plan to expand); the farm (used for both subsistence and commission) where they grow yams, cassava, maize, and rice; the cattle farm; two large trucks that get rented out to people who need to transport goods between cities/towns; and an 8-bedroom compound (being built) that will be rented out. With all these different activities, the family is relatively well off. The children attend private schools, though this doesn’t carry nearly the same meaning as it does in Canada. Tahira showed me their schools on our mini tour and it definitely doesn’t look like the students are paying to attend, but she says the curriculum is much better at the private schools than the public schools.
The compound, located near the new market (which is currently just a block of wooden stalls but become a bustling market every six days), is in excellent condition. There are six rooms, two of which are split into a living room and bedroom (one for each of the parents). Of the other four, I occupy one room, one is used for storage, the girls are in one, and the boys are in the fourth. There is a “kitchen” type area, two stalls for bucket showers, and a household latrine, a relative luxury since the majority around these parts practise “free range” – basically relieving yourself in a field or behind a nice bush.
On my second night here, Ayisheia knocked on my door and told me to come see myself on tv! I threw on my flip flops, rushed to the tv room (the living room part of Mr. Z’s quarters), and found Ussif and some other neighbourhood kids gathered around a super corny 1980’s kung fu movie. It was in English, though the accent really threw me off (sounded Australian mixed with American), and there were both Caucasians and Asians running around the screen transforming into “Nin-jas” (according to the label on their headbands). What?! I’m not sure if there was an actual plot but there seemed to be different stories being told with varying degrees of seriousness. One involved the search for a sacred ninja manual while another showed a girl being chased down and beaten (thankfully, they didn’t show the rape, though that was implied). The latter concluded with the rapists being captured and sent to jail while the former ended with the lead moustached ninja taking a sword to the chest. After this one, we enjoyed a Japanese ninja movie (I think they were disappointed that it wasn’t “my people”) and a Nigerian film called “Women in Power” (though I almost fell asleep several times during this one and didn’t stay till the end). I’ve been told that many Ghanaians enjoy Harry Potter when they see it because they can relate to the magic thing (juju is still heavily ingrained in Ghanaian beliefs) so maybe I’ll try to find a copy in the market. Last night we watched "Banlieu 13," a movie from France dubbed in English. I have to say, it was actually quite a good film with some excellent plot twists and sweet action packed fight scenes - a good break from the other dumbed-down ninja films!I think I’ve taken enough of your time today, so I’ll just end off with a few photos... http://picasaweb.google.com/ewinchiu/20070526HostFamily