A Day In the Goat Market.. A Chapter from #TamaleChronicles

So I spent the day at the livestock market in Tamale. It was a really interesting experience.  Traveling from one place to the other in Tamale can be a very tricky business if you are new to the city. Usually you can take a minimum of 2 taxis to your destination – one to the main and central taxi or lorry station (depending on where you are going) and the other to where you are actually going. However you could travel in a roundabout way if you don’t know your way about town. On some routes there are no taxi stops or destinations but you might find taxis halfway on these routes. This means that you will have to cover half the route on foot in order to take a taxi the rest of the way.

The first time I went to the market, I took a roundabout route and realized after my transaction that I was back where I started and if I wanted to go back home I had to go via the same route I had arrived. This to me was unacceptable. I realized it would even have been easier and more convenient for me to walk to the place rather than resort to even taking a cab (and also saving me some coins). Thus began my trekking all over the big city of Tamale and also the birth of the Tamale City Blues. Everywhere I went and as much as possible, if I didn’t find it inconvenient, I walked the whole way.

Residents of Tamale have a saying they usually tell people who seek directions from them – ‘oh it’s not far, it’s right in front of you or it’s right here’. They say this because basically they Tamale residents have no concept of distance because they ride motorbikes or bicycles almost everywhere they go so distances are short for them. The first time it happened to me was in 2001 when I came to visit my then girlfriend, who was a national service person in Tamale. We were supposed to go take her service ‘allowa’ (national service allowance) so we could ‘chill’ small so a couple of us decided to go to the municipal offices where the cashier was purported to be to collect this money. The thing was that being new in town, we did not really know the municipal offices and we were at the Russian Bungalows. These are suburbs in Tamale.

Inevitably we had to ask for directions to which we were told it was ‘right here’. Not knowing any shortcuts we actually took to the main road as we were directed–‘just follow the cars to the main road and just keep going, you can’t miss it’. We ended up walking for just over an hour just following the road as we had been told before getting to our destination. Being the typical Ghanaians that we are, we had waited till the last minute to set off since we were sure to get there to collect the ‘allowa’. Imagine our anger, frustration, disappointment and dismay when we were told the cashier had left for the weekend and that we were too late.

It happened to me again quite recently when after watching a training session of the local first division team Real Tamale United I decided to walk to the Tamale Polytechnic which I knew was in the area. When I asked for directions after walking for 25minutes, I was told I was almost there and to keep walking. I got to the polytechnic campus 35 solid minutes later all sweaty but I had had a fun walk because I had my camera and had taken some interesting scenic shots. Since that time, whenever I ask for directions and I am told I am almost there or I hear ‘it is right here’, I morph into the typical city slicker that I am and stop the nearest available taxi and jump in. Taxi fares are relatively cheaper in Tamale.

Walking the streets of Tamale has opened my eyes to so many socio-cultural practices of the Dagomba. Furthermore, being a socially reclusive city, it has given me a lot of opportunity to see and understand why some people especially in the south have the kind of perspectives they have about the people in the north. Even some of the people from the south especially Accra who work here live very rigid routine lives from home to work then back home, church on Sundays then maybe an occasional outing with friends once in a blue moon.

Folk usually stay indoors and with the residents, by 8pm the whole town is nearly deserted. You cannot reconcile the city center of during the day to the city center after 10pm. Tamale being a metropolis, the only trace that can be related to the activity of the day is the filth that is left behind in the streets everyday. It was not like that but with Tamale expanding and becoming a city center that is to be expected. Folk stay indoors because there is nothing much to do than watch television and this kind of fuels the belief down south that people in Tamale stay indoors because it is dangerous to be outside since the Dagombas are violent. That is absolutely false!

The Dagombas are very passionate with whatever they do especially when it comes to expressing themselves. It is not uncommon to hear raised voices in a normal conversation between two natives and when an argument or debate gets heated, there is an offchance that one party will try to outshout the other and an onlooker might be tempted to think that it’s probably a fighting match. It’s usually not. It is just their way of making themselves heard over the din of their opponent and they are a very loud people. I always ask why is it that other people do the same thing and its okay but when people of northern origin raise their voices, they are branded violent. Let’s leave it at that for now.

I have had some very interesting experiences (some I have shared) and met some very interesting people in my excursion to Tamale. There was this one time when I was stranded in a no taxi area and I stuck out my thumb to any passion vehicle with the mindset that even in Accra nobody will stop for you and how many people really know what a thumb out meant especially in the backward place.  This to me was an European concept and I honestly didn’t think it will work in this ‘ backward’ place. To my utter surprise, every time I have stuck my thumb out in Tamale, I get a positive response where usually the driver gives me a lift to wherever I am going without recourse to the inconvenience it is causing them.

This brings me up to another point about the people of Tamale.  They take the Ghanaian hospitality to a whole new level not just for Europeans and white people (as we do in Accra) but also to their fellow humans no matter who you are. There was this one time that I got a lift on the back of a motorbike of a very pretty lady who drove me all the way to see one of my girlfriends. No questions asked. My first land lady Aunty Muni owns a supermarket that was just in front of the house and she encouraged me to take anything I will need to ‘feel at home’ since I was new to the town and now settling in. she insisted I take as many items as I need and pay when it was convenient for me and made my stay as comfortable as possible with meals in between. Somehow I could not take advantage of her too much since I was not brought up to take charity from people but to work hard for what I wanted in life.

But it was at the feet of Aunty Muni, in her supermarket, that I learnt a lot of the Dagomba customs and cultural practices. She is a very interesting person to know and proved to be a wealth of information. Auntie Muniru has lived in Tamale all her life and she has ventured to Accra only once although she got as far as Kumasi. Her reason for not going Accra is that it is too noisy. She has a sister who only goes to Accra during the ban on drumming and dancing prior to the Homowo because she finds Accra too noisy. At almost 60years old, Auny Muni has never been to Accra and she only sees Accra on the television and she sees the crowds and it scares her. She went to Kumasi a few times and wanted to go to Accra but she was told that the crowds in Accra are bigger and more noisy than in Kumasi so she told herself that she will not go to Accra since she can’tstand not only the noise but the crowds. However she has property in Accra that is being taken care of my relatives who send her money and regular reports of how her supermarkets are doing in Accra. Her children are all very well educated and now she lives with relatives from her village that she is taking care of because her children and family are scattered all over Ghana and abroad. I found her an interesting respondent to my questions.

So back to my day spent at the livestock market.  I took a shortcut I had discovered over the weekend to the market and within a few minutes I was there. I met with the man I had been introduced to earlier to buy the goat from and we decided to wait a while since I was expecting some friends I had called down south who had expressed interest to let me purchase some goats on their behalf since I was on site. With Christmas in the offing, goat delicacies and the smell of goat will waft through many homes and we didn’t want ours to be exceptions. So I waited for confirmation of the money to buy the goats on my phone. I get notifications in my account whenever there is a transaction. I told the guy about it and he gave me a curious look. I took it for granted. Furthermore since I am quite tech savvy, I decided to browse a bit whilst I waited for the confirmation of the transaction so I whipped out my Techno T9 and all hell went loose.

Another common feature in Tamale is the proliferation of phones of all kinds but the most common phone that you will find anybody using is the Techno model T9 phone.Me and a couple of friends went out to have fun and that was when we noticed that most of the people in the pub had this particular type of phone so we jokingly did a table by table survey. Very few people had any other phone – there were 2 Blackberries, a couple of Samsungs and LGs, Nokias mostly but the majority of the local people at the pub had a Techno T9. Why that model in particular I have always wondered to this day.

Anyway so I whip out my phone and I start browsing and these men are fascinated by the way I use my phone. They are talking to each other in Dagbani about how I keep laughing and just tapping away at the phone and finally my ‘friend’ comes up to me to ask  me what am doing with the phone. I show him my internet connection and he’s blown away. One of the men whips out the same phone model and asks me how he can also use it the way I am and I tell him to go see his service provider to configure it for him. I take the pains to show them how the internet can be beneficial to their business as they can put their contact on Google Trader especially at a crucial time like this when it’s Christmas and people will need livestock to celebrate. We also delve into rearing methods and the best feeding techniques as found online and they were impressed. After that, almost everything I did, I had a man on my shoulder or one craning his neck to see exactly what I was doing with my phone.Finally the transaction goes through and I get the notification and I give the go ahead for the goats to be prepared for slaughter.

It is very interesting how in the market place everything and everyone is connected to each other. The lorry station is in the middle of the market, the cloth sellers are there, the banks are near the entrance (no ATM machines in sight though), the animal feed sellers are near the livestock sellers, the butchers are behind the livestock sellers, the agro chemical shops are mixed in there in plain sight to the farmers from the villages who get down from the lorries and the timber market is across the street. All these are connected to each other in the market economy.

After selecting the goats for slaughter, the goats are taken across the street into the timber market where the livestock ‘assassinators’ are. These are the people who slaughter the livestock. They slaughter the animal and prepare it by burning the hair off it etc but they don’t cut the meat into several pieces. They deliver the whole to the owner who then will employ the services of a butcher to divide the meat into the required desired pieces. I noticed that there were several women gathering wood shavings and sawdust from under the machines at the various wood working sheds and upon inquiry was told that these women came from the villages every day to collect these shavings and sawdust and pieces of wood to use as fuel for domestic cooking. When they are done collecting for the day, they just board the lorries back to the villages until the next time when they required more wood shavings and sawdust.

These processes take time so whilst I was waiting for the goat and in between browsing the internet using my phone, with the men on my shoulder, I tried to get into conversations with whoever joined me on the waiting bench and they were many. One particular conversation got my attention and I will share it here. This man, obviously a livestock farmer, came to sit beside me complaining bitterly about the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor in the society and especially within the northern region. He raised some very serious issues and made some very interesting remarks though visibly illiterate, he was not aware of the seriousness of the issues he was raising.

In his statements, he made the analogy that inasmuch as the government was trying to promote agriculture and industry by helping the small scale farmers and producers, it is very unfortunate that some ‘bigmens’ had sabotaged or hijacked the whole project and idea in the sense that since these ‘bigmens’ had the money and the means, they were depriving the small scale farmers of what was due them so they the ‘bigmens’ could keep the small scale farmers under their thumb (in their control). This is how he purported it works; when the allocation for distribution was made, supposed to be given to the small scale farmers as loans and subsidies, these ‘bigmens’ bought the products outright since they had the money and the means and kept the subsidies for themselves and later resold it to the peasant farmers. This therefore deprived the peasant farmers of improving their lot and standards of living when they needed the government assistance to do so since the ‘bigmens’ had  intercepted what was due them. He used himself as an example that sometimes in the rainy season, he  needed to raise the ground of his animals and improve their housing and government sometimes allocated materials for this for small scale farmers or provided them with loans so they could better improve the conditions of their work. However, these loans were not given out and the materials to so that when the animals became threatened, the livestock farmers were forced to sell them cheaply to prevent any  further losses and it was then that these ‘bigmens’ intervene and buy out the livestock and provide the money for  their upkeep including improving their housing conditions and feeding.

What this means is that the poor peasant farmer is forced to tend his own property, which is his no more, for this ‘bigmens’ and I could understand the man’s frustrations. How is it possible that something that was very much his due now comes to him but he has to lose ownership of his livestock to be able to access it? The government subsidies and loans provided for the small scale peasant farmers and small scale industry are being sabotaged and astutely managed by these few ‘bigmens’. I am no journalist but I shudder with trepidation to think what information will be dredged up when an investigation Is launched into this story. The present government of Ghana has a new plan that falls under the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) which is aimed at trying to bridge the development gap between the northern and southern regions but what happens to the standards of living of the peasant people of the northern regions whilst we focus on development. What is the use of this development if they can’t access it? These are just a few thoughts that came to mind, as this peasant farmer was ranting about his beef with the ‘bigmens’ of the north. I am just passing through.

So in the end our transaction is done and my ‘friend’ the goat seller will not let me take a taxi to my destination which was to put the meat I had just bought into a deep freezer so it could be frozen and put in an ice cooler whilst I conveyed it to Accra when I was ready to leave. This is an example of the kind gesture I have spoken about earlier in this piece. The deep freezer was offered to me by one of my parents’ friends who lives in Tamale and owns the Nim Avenue Hotel located at the Russian Bungalows(check it out any time you find yourself in Tamale). He not only offered his deep freezer but also offered to provide the ice chest cooler for the transportation of the meat to Accra.When I said I needed to buy sandal gifts for my friends in Accra, he even took me to a friend of his who is a sandal maker in the production district in the Tamale Zongo and not to the retailers in town. Imagine his surprise when me and Baba Meggueda, the sandal maker, shook hands and greeted each other warmly. I had met him on one of my walks through the Zongo on a quest to find the sandal production area of Tamale. This is the height of hospitality in the Tamale metropolis and the Northern region.

So we tied the meat to the back of his motorbike and off we went. It is interesting the way the motorbike is used to do everything in Tamale. I have seen folk buy a set of living room furniture and carry it home on their motorbikes. I have witnessed carpenters buy plywood and supplies and carry it on a motorbike whilst riding pillion. I have to admit it is scary at times to see these things and think of the implications but one soon becomes used to it. The motorbike is the main means of transport in Tamale for the ordinary person. Me at the back of the motorbike was a scary as well as fantastic experience especially when the riders behave as they do when they scream at each other like we drive in the south. Imagine having my heart at my throat every moment of the way of our 25minute journey weaving through the traffic. What a ride! Words cannot adequately describe the experience.

This story is just one day in my daily experience through Tamale speckled with bits and pieces of history of other visits to provide background so you can understand what I have to experience every day in Tamale. There are so many experiences in my interactions with people In this town such as the Telco cashier who is prepared to leave her secure job and accommodation in Tamale so she can go to Accra to learn how to be a hairdresser whilst sleeping with 14 other people in a single room drawn by the lure of the big city. There is also the effect of the thick dagbani accent on both the Twi and English languages and the insinuations it sometimes cast. Sometimes ‘corn flakes’ can sound like ‘conflict’ when a sales girl says it back to you or my goat seller friend offering me, ‘masha’ slices of ‘wata million’ (watermelon).

I hope you have as much fun reading as I had writing this piece and with time I will tell you about the different people I meet on my fun trips and travels through Tamale and the rest of Ghana.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: