The Seasons Come and Go:
Impressions of a Peace Corps Tenure in Ghana
By Christopher M. Burns '95
Chris Burns '95 is an agro-forestry and sustainable agriculture Peace
Corps volunteer in the village of Tongo, northern Ghana. He manages
a tree nursery with six workers; they raise seedlings to sell to farmers,
businesses and local organizations. In addition, he works with farmers
to improve techniques of farming in brittle environments and implement
land conservation measures. As he notes in the following edited excerpt
from a much longer reflection on his time in Ghana (available upon request
to firstname.lastname@example.org), Chris
took part in St. Lawrence's Kenya Program in 1993.
African life, peaceful yet busy, wakes me instantly. I bend over the
rail to catch the sounds of horns, people and animals, the sights of
colorfully clad women in perfectly patterned cloth, with everything
imaginable -- from headpans overfilled with carefully balanced tomatoes,
to brooms, sewing machines and five-horsepower generators -- on their
heads. Small boys are pulling donkey carts with only three good tires;
men are loading tro-tros and buses for distant vicinities. A deal for
fertilizer goes down next door. Taxi prices are negotiated on the street
corner. Oranges and bananas are being hawked for mere pennies, groundnuts
for even less. Bicycles, by far the most common mode of transport, glide
past, swerving left and right, narrowly missing daydreaming bystanders.
The wind sways gently through the neem trees. I strain my nose to pick
up smells, but there are none. I strain my eyes to catch a glimpse of
my Tongo Hills in the distance, but buildings and a thick morning haze
block the view . . .
My mind wanders to December 1993, to a similar vantage point: a different
balcony on the streets of Mombasa, on the other side of this great continent.
Although I can no longer recall specifics, the day is forever engraved
in my memory, more so in my dreams. Coconut-sized mangoes sat in piles
on the side of the road, their yellow, orange and red hues beckoning
pedestrians. Most would stop to buy some, unable to resist the temptation
of the sweet juices hidden beneath the peel. Electronics shops, bookstores
and auto-mechanic bays lined the congested street. Murmurings of Swahili,
Luo and other Kenyan dialects drifted up to the second floor of our
cheap hotel, in lazy ascent, much like the smoke from meat roasting
below. From my balcony I reveled in the kaleidoscopic events below.
I'm compelled, but not eager, to return to work at the keyboard in
the fanned room. Dreams of yesteryear will have to wait for the next
respite, a different balcony.
Sixteen months into my 27-month Peace Corps stint in northern Ghana
have allowed me to live the law of the African land in its true glory.
I have not felt as much at home and at peace in a foreign land since
my Kenya semester days of seven years ago.
For over six long months -- from October to early May -- the land dries
up like a forgotten sponge on a kitchen counter. People dry up too,
for there is little to do in a farming community when one cannot farm.
Instead, they look to family and friends for social support. The hot,
dry season (once the Harmattan winds vanish in late February) becomes
the funeral season. On most nights, drums, music and dancing catch the
midnight air. Day in and night out, villagers gather to praise their
loved ones who have passed on to a "better world," in their
minds. They do not mourn, but rather celebrate life with a grand party,
something our culture could stand to learn.
Finally, we get an answer to our prayers. Florae break through the
soil with parched tongues outstretched, like baby birds waiting for
a morsel from their mother's beak. Tree roots awake from their hibernation
and turn an ear toward the sounds of raindrops and thunder high above.
Piglets and kids frolic in the carousel of spinning rain.
The village was alive with life, more than I had ever seen on a non-market
day. With hoes in hand and seed in tow, the farmers toiled in their
fields, sowing the early millet. The dank, damp feeling of yesterday's
rain embraced us like a halo. And the workers moved and circled their
hips to the beat of the hoe and the glimmer of hope for a bright harvest
ahead. I carried on with my daily routine, harboring images of the day
growing behind me. When I finally reached home, I danced my own little
dance, to myself, and also hoped for a fruitful season ahead. It's an
amazing thing, rain. Let's hope God never stops crying.