One week ago the weather in northern Ghana made an about face, bringing a conclusive end to the regular farming season. The pervasive heat, humidity and occasional rain shower of October and early November resulted in a steady temperature of 89.5 degrees in our room, not the most pleasant conditions for sleeping. At these temperatures bedtime conversations tended to degenerate into “move over, your leg is touching my leg,” even among us affectionately married folks.
But, those days are over! The sudden advent of dry breezes from the Sahara to the northeast is bringing refreshing cooler nights and somewhat lower daily highs. The upper atmosphere is vaguely hazy with desert sands to varying degrees during the day, blocking some of the sun’s intensity. We are now scrambling to locate the chap stick. This season in sub-Sahara Africa is called “harmattan” and us Oregonians find the lower temperature a welcome change, in spite of the dryness and dust. Ghanaians on the other hand “fear the cold”, defined as temperatures in the 70s. Many of those discarded down jackets you gave to the Salvation Army are now being used by people with icy hands on 75 degree mornings in West Africa.
The change in weather marks the beginning of traditional harvest festivals in Ghana, which leads me to reflect on the differences in how we celebrate Thanksgiving vs Harvest Festival:
American Thanksgiving-Holiday at the end of harvest with emphasis on a large number of people sitting to eat a large amount of deliciously prepared food, followed by watching TV/talking about professional football.
African Harvest Festival-Holiday at the end of harvest with emphasis on an entire village joining in syncopated clapping with the women dancing, men playing drums and shaking calabashes while also dancing , followed by groups of children of all ages adding their own drumming, and then repeating it all. In a major departure from American culture, food is not part of the celebration.
This year, seeing as how we are somewhat deep in the heart of Africa, our harvest celebration consisted of the highly entertaining drumming and dancing option. At 3:00 pm Saturday we traveled by moto on a dusty 12 miles of mostly decent, though unpaved, road for the best harvest festival in the Nabdam area; the Sakote Harvest Festival. In addition to the usual entertainment, the remote Sakote village is particularly well known for the “Sakote Boys,” a dancing and musical group of fantastically strong, flexible, athletic leaping men drumming/singing/playing flute and 2-string guitar, that travels all over Ghana to perform.
We were not disappointed, the two white people were greeted in the most friendly manner and immediately given front row seats. The village drumming and dancing were exactly the kind of African cultural experience that I would hope everyone could have at least once in their lives. It was simply superb in every way.
As dusk approached, we meandered north and west on the moto, back to our home in Kongo. Along the way we passed a contented family of five, also headed to their home, but in a donkey cart. The palpable sense of affection and harmony among the parents and children as the father guided the donkeys along the trail seemed to truly exemplify the spirit of a Thanks giving that comes at the end of a decent harvest.