A Dead Chicken, A Basket of Corn and Thou

From Estero to Africa

Thursday, July 23, 2009
By Kathryn Taubert
Church in the Village is a three-hour affair, with a minimum of two collections, lots of music, dancing in place, ritual and more contrasts.
Ghanaians are well-dressed, in spite of poverty. They make most of their clothes. Tommy Hilfiger in the Village is a rarity. Large pieces of cloth artfully wrapped around the body, layered for decoration and shocked with contrasting head scarves (women), are as appealing as anything you’ll see in back home. I don’t know how they mix and match the plethora of colors and prints they do, but they are masters at it.
Before arriving I was told to bring modest, cool clothes: baggy safari, easy-pack cotton stuff. But next to the Ewe’s beautiful outfits I look like I’m the one who just stepped out of the jungle. Combined with their marvelous posture from head-toting cargoes, the young and old are at worst attractive and at best absolutely stunning.
Everyone dresses for church in form-fitting or exotically draped and modest, colorful clothing, including the men. It’s the one day of the week when most rest, as well as dress to impress.
But the reality of their condition is never far away from the discerning eye. Multi-colored triangles of leftover cloth hang as pennants on strips strung across the sanctuary, interspersed with old satin gift bows. (Nothing is wasted here). It’s surprisingly festive, if less than chic. There are a few rows of sturdy, donated pews in which a group of older women sits weekly. Other seating is handmade, rough-hewn, terribly uncomfortable benches with rail backs or old plastic garden chairs on the bare concrete floor.
During Sunday’s sermon, I noted a colorfully dressed elder in the front pew go quietly from her seat to the base of the pulpit, to adjust the dead chicken in a bag next to the basket of un-shucked corn. Coming or going to market before church, she placed her wares near her in the front row. No one seemed at all disturbed by this tiny scene. The Minister continued his sermon, the congregation nodded and responded appropriately. I figured if it didn’t bother them, it shouldn’t bother me (although disturbing images of that chicken’s last moments lingered.)
And little kids with big knives. Those “crocodile tested” machetes are everywhere. I passed a forge in the Ho Market where they were made and displayed. The length of a two year old, it’s not uncommon to see a child carrying one, as the tool of choice in Kloe. A man splitting huge bamboo stalks for fencing. A woman cutting corn, slicing cassava. And little kids, handling these weapons since practically old enough to walk, chopping grass around school yards. There are no power mowers in Kloe.
Since when did so many of us become afraid of knives and animals and truly physical labor? I can’t imagine an 8-year-old in the USA with a machete. Of course, we don’t need one. But something is lost, methinks, in independence and self-sufficiency when we become so dependent upon others to do for us. It’s human nature to want to leave the drudgery to others if we can afford it. But isn’t it ironic? So many folks disparage the “poor African” (or Mexican or Honduran) who is “on the dole” and can’t live as we do.
But what would happen if suddenly there was no one else to mow our lawns, bring chickens to market, shuck our corn, fix our plumbing, change oil in our cars? What, indeed, if there were no more lawns, groceries, pipes or cars?
What we gain in “progress,“ we lose in self-sufficiency. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. When kids barely out of toddler stage are capable of safely handling Very Big Knives in one part of the world, what does it say about the fact that kids in another can’t even clean their own rooms?
If an Ewe kid got lost in New York City, and a USA or European city kid lost in the jungle, which one do you think would do the best? I know who I’d bet on.
Maybe we can learn as much from the Ewe as they from us?

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