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  • Writer's pictureThe Old Farmyard Forceleap Farm

Chief and reality

Traditions still holds sway here, and custom demands that you must visit the chief of any community you visit, to introduce yourself. Without checking in with the Chief, if anything happens to you in that community, you may not be able to count on his protection and assistance, which you may well need! So, early one morning we trouped off to the Chief’s Palace. The Mamprusi tribe rule this traditional area of Mamprugu, which covers about 5 districts in Northern Ghana, with their Paramount Chief (king) being based at his capital at Nalarigu, about 30km East of Langbinsi. The Chief of Langbinsi has an important traditional role within their kingdom, as the military leader, he is tasked with leading the troops into battle. The old chief, (whose fighting days were definitely well and truly behind him!) had been the chief here ever since I first came to Ghana. He was a great character with a twinkle in his eye, and for those who have been to my house, he is the subject of the portrait by Nancy Cadogan in my hallway. Sadly, he died last year, and a new chief, who I have yet to meet, has now been appointed in his place (or “enskinned” as they call it here). We arrived at his house and were invited in by his spokesman. You take your shoes off, pay a small tribute and then enter, immediately squatting down and clapping and saying “Na, Na, Na,” while you stare anywhere but at the chief (I usually choose the floor), until the chief invites you to sit. Introductions were then made, and the boys tried their few words of Mampruli, much to everyone’s delight. In return we were given some Kola nuts and a guinea fowl, which Toby (as first born or senior brother) had to take possession of. The chief was very friendly and wanted to know all about my association with Langbinsi and James’ family, and about my farm at home. He was a former agric officer, and so James already knew him. We had a very pleasant chat, although I could see the boys beginning to drift, as the temperature began to build, and they got a bit bored. He welcomed us to Langbinsi and said that, as he was newly enskinned, he intended to visit all the institutions in the community, so would come to the boy’s school before long, as well as the Agric station.

As we left the chiefs Palace, Toby still wrestling with his guinea fowl, a discussion started between the boys on possible pet names for the bird. James sounded genuinely alarmed at the prospect of not getting the guinea fowl straight into a cooking pot. So, he soon quashed any pet idea, “No Toby, the guinea fowl is going into the soup!” “Oh!” said Toby.

When we got home Toby was fascinated by the process to do just that, and sat with the boys in the yard, as they plucked and prepared the Guinea fowl.

The boys continue to impress me with how well they have coped with things.

That is not to say that any of this is easy for them, and I do not want to romanticise our experience here or leave the impression that we are on some sort of exotic holiday in Africa.

There have been tears, tantrums, homesickness and quite a lot of bickering or fighting, and this has created some challenging parenting moments for me!

Much of the boy’s time is spent being quite hot and bothered, or at least not very comfortable, and eating the same meal repeatedly is monotonous, but there is nothing else to eat that is not too spicey for them, so plain rice it is, again! But this is exactly the experience I wanted the boys to have here in Ghana.

I think many parents in the UK (including me) are really concerned about the apparent increase in the levels of anxiety, mental health and behavioural issues that seem to be afflicting our youth. But it is not until you come to somewhere like Ghana, that you are left wondering if the amount of choice we are presented with day to day is really good for us? It is crazy, just look at any supermarket aisle. How many types of cheese biscuit do you really need? This is exacerbated by an increasing expectation of instant gratification. Ostensibly, I guess choice is great, but I wonder, how well equipped our young kids are to cope with it? Does it really make us happy? With nearly everything being produced throughout the year, there are no seasons to prepare or look forward to. Added to which most everyday items are produced cheaply and efficiently by big companies, and they come ready for us to consume. In fact, that is our only role, to consume and then demand more! We are completely removed from the manufacture process. So, you don’t need to think about how things are made, let alone know how to do anything for yourself. But here in Ghana, I watch with some degree of admiration as people cook everything from scratch, be that prepping a chicken from a clucking bird to soup, taking grain to the mill to make flour and then pounding fufu. But they also know how to make all sorts of other day to day things, (and if they don’t know their neighbour probably does). They weave and sew, make their own building materials, make simple tools or local remedies for common ailments and everyone trades. Most evenings the kids in our compound make sweets, soap, soft drinks, spring rolls and even small toys that they swop or trade at the school in breaks, or from the house in the evening. But our kids, unable to range further than their front garden, and never entrusted with a knife, let alone a machete, by over fearful parents, are only given their freedom to explore a virtual world.

They watch mindless TV shows, explore and build mystical online worlds, but are prevented from engaging with the real world they live in, after all it might not be safe! They don’t know how to do anything! Therefore, it is not entirely surprising to me, that people seem to be becoming increasingly entitled and selfish, as well as dependant (or maybe I should say a bit useless) and I don’t think people are any happier as a result? Basically, we are creating some very needy adults!

Please excuse my rant, but it is the reason I am here, as like most people, my kids are growing up in that system and are very used to having it all. It is difficult to buck the trend when you are in the system, so bringing the boys here is all about showing them that life is not necessarily like that. You can’t argue over what comic you are going to buy, if there are no comics! I want to encourage them to begin to appreciate what they do have, and realise the difference between what they need and what they want. But this is not a comfortable way of achieving it! It is a dramatic reduction in their standard of living, I keep telling them to pretend we are camping! But we live in a mud hut with a tin roof. We have intermittent power, with only 2 sockets, one which is permanently taken up by the fridge. There is no running water to the house and so we must get drinking water delivered to us in small plastic sachets, and then use the communal barrels in the middle of the yard for everything else. Baths are bucket showers which are cold, and I have to spray all the rooms for mosquitos every few days, and then remove any dead cockroaches that crawl out of the cracks in the walls as a result. The animals wander about and carry fleas, ticks and flies and they poop in the most inconsiderate spots! Last night a donkey decided to park itself by my window and screeched at me every hour, until the local mosque got cracking at 4.30am, just in case I had dropped off. There are no binmen here, and so you have got to deal with all your rubbish yourself, including burning waste plastic and all the used loo roll, as that can’t go down the loo. And the heat is full on, especially from around 10am – 3pm.

So, it is not very romantic, but as I see them learn to light a fire, or knock mangos out of the tree with a long stick, or watch Toby getting the sheep in, or Mikey learning to wash his hands after going to the toilet with a plastic kettle, I guess they are picking up some of these things. I hope it will empower the boys, giving them an insight into living with less.

The rainy season is supposed to petter out in September, but the rains are still going, and so we have had rain every few days, and a couple have been really tropical down pours, which are very exciting to the junior contingent. Toby has taken on the responsibility of going and getting all the sheep into their pen when it is about to rain, and then he gets all the buckets lined up under gutters so we can fill them from the roof for toilet water. He often insists on staying out in the rain and getting absolutely soaked, but I can appreciate why. Before the rain, the temperature soars, as does the humidity, and then the wind builds, whipping up the dust and blowing rubbish all over the place and rattling any loose roof sheets. And then, the temperature plummets about 10 degrees, as the rain lashes down. I am sure, in Toby’s mind, staying out in the rain is instead of swimming! All the Ghanaians think he is quite mad, but it provides an entertaining sideshow.

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Oct 15, 2023

Alice you are a fantastic mother, rearing these two young boys, who will no doubt mature well, thank you in later life for educating them naturally to how others less fortunate than ourselves, live , breathe. understanding the dangers that others live. They are extremely well privileged boys. I am so proud that zi was able to be your Nanny many years ago now. Take care xx

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