Submitted by Mathew Porter
On Saturday the 21st of August, we had an appointment at the Fulani community for 6 AM to meet up with the ladies and children to help them with some of their needs, along with Nurse Lydia, Jane and Angela. We had asked them the previous visit to think of issues that they have, that we might be able to help them with - ideally things to do with women and children. We all started by about 6.30, the ladies had been up since 3.30AM, preparing food to be eaten by 4.30AM as this is the Ramadan season, and most of the community are taking part in the fasting. This actually meant that they were very free from 6 going as no food to prepare till evening time!
We had an attendance of about 6 or 7 ladies, mostly mothers, all under 30, and about 8 children hustling around, with a couple of men-folk around but not taking part. Nurse Lydia did very well at getting things underway and is also someone who believes that education works both ways. It's more about sharing information!
We went ahead and asked them what they wanted to talk about - and Ajira, a young, unmarried lady, piped up that she wanted to know how she would take care of her husband! Very forward looking indeed of her! The ladies here don't have much that goes on in their lives apart from husbands, children and cows, but I think the question showed how dedicated they want to be to their spouses. I think Nurse Lydia who is not Fulani, but originates in the south of Ghana, was also quite surprised at this - but very willing to share her experience with them. I understood about 1/3 of what was said, had 1/3 translated for me, and guessed 1/3 from people's reactions.
The advice ranged from not gossiping about other women whilst being idle in the house, keeping busy with jobs and chores, making sure everywhere is very neat and tidy, providing a variety of foods dishes, to taking care of the environment around the house. It turned into a bit of a lifestyle talk really - the Fulani version of an Oprah show.
For those reading this in a society where women have been empowered and jobs in the house are unisex, this may be hard to understand, and would seem chauvinistic - but in a village life, their has to be jobs for the women and jobs for the men. Its not fair for the women to be asked to catch a cow with a lasso (which does go on in the kraals (paddocks)), and the men wouldn't take the time to make sure that the nyiri (maize dough dish) was smooth and not lumpy - and in these societies where there is a division of labour, each sex has to accept, embrace and carry out their tasks for their survival. Some jobs, such as picking up the rubbish around the house, which is an issue, don't seem to have been allocated as yet, and probably have to be classified as jobs for women, children and the men!
Nurse Lydia introduced some new ideas as well - such as exercising regularly. I don't know how many calories walking to fetch and carrying back water on one's head burns, and in an environment where everyday is an active one with no days off, separating work and exercise can be challenging. The concept is new, but important. Poor ventilation in accommodation, and cooking over wood fires everyday can lead to health problems later in life - a bit of cardio-vascular exercise would certainly help to keep lungs in prime condition.
The talk also led to children, and their disciplining. In general, I have noticed that the children are, similarly to livestock, left to roam a fair deal, but are generally well behaved. All the same, a word from Nurse Lydia against corporal punishment, and in favour of reasoning went down well. The ladies were really very receptive to everything. They respect Nurse Lydia - they know her professional position and she is also elder to them - it is as if they have a thirst for more information. Their worlds really are very confined. Most Fulani ladies rarely leave the household - especially once they are married and given birth with a herd of cows outside - so their knowledge is mostly what one would call indigenous knowledge - culturally based, and handed down orally.
It is good that the general question on how to look after one's husband came to children. It is an area Nurse Lydia specialises in, and an area of need as we found out two weeks ago in our last visit. Nurse Lydia talked a lot about increasing the protein in their diet - despite having lots of livestock around, most belongs to other people, and meat is rarely eaten. Traditionally the Fulani take a lot of milk - but this is not always available. During the dry season, sometimes all the milk is saved for calves and some wagashi to bring in income. We suggested that they give their children "weivi" fish - a small fish found in the river that is high in protein - this is a change to their regular diet, so we will see if they take it up. It was also advised to buy milk for children if there is none around - and, similarly, when there is no milk, alternative sources of calcium - shellfish is one option, but it goes against their religious belief. They have a lot of green leaves as part of their diet though - "ayoyo", a leaf found in the bush I have not identified scienfically yet, but am told is good for your health, and also baobab leaves - the nearest baobab tree to them being just inside my farm fence, I can usually tell when this is being eaten for dinner, it is a very nutritious leaf. This is a good aspect of their lifestyle, and shows how it is about sharing information - and it makes their stews very tasty too!
Finally, as the last topic in Nurse Lydia's lifestyle talk, the issue of education came up. Basically, there are a few mothers and children who have some basic education - but none past knowing the alphabet. One boy, Ilias who is 13 is able to read very small, and knows his alphabet inside out (in English!). For some it is due to a nomadic lifestyle they have not been educated - although in Ilias' case, it is thanks to a nomadic lifestyle he has received some small education! For the most part though, the children's mothers have not been to school, and the mothers have not been to school because their mothers have not been to school - although they do understand that is important. We want them to understand though that it is IMPERATIVE!!!
The local school is quite far (5-6km - who would take them, transport costs), and most can barely afford it. I have had discussions about these issues with Alai (Amina's husband, whose house we are having these sessions at), and although there are many possible solutions, right now nothing is being done about it. So I put down there a few months ago a whiteboard and a marker, with the alphabet on it, and had been helping them to learn it a bit - for a while there was an interest - they knew it was important. But at this meeting, we got the board out and discovered that a few mothers knew their alphabet (hurray!), and I think we have got them now to understand that it is VERY VERY IMPORTANT to learn how to read. Ilias is willing to show them, and a another one or two people are willing to teach a bit as well. I had said that once the whole community knew their alphabet we would progress onto 2 and 3 letter words - and I think that thanks to our meetings, Jane, Angela and Nurse Lydia, it will happen a bit faster! The day after this meeting, I went back, and learnt they had had the whiteboard out that evening till 10 PM under a tree, learning by torchlight. That next morning, I spent an hour there, then went again that evening, and the evening after that too, and each time the board was out. So while there is no school there, at least some education is going on, but it is definitely an issue that has still not been solved. But the will is there, and the thirst for knowledge is far from being quenched.
SO! It really was a mammoth session, and we were there until about 11AM on Saturday morning. The ladies where very happy, and we covered a lot. We still have a lot to, and a lot to learn. Nurse Lydia and probably myself will be making a trip there on Friday to find out what herbs they use locally for treatment of their diseases - so another update then from me.