I arrived at site a year ago now, right as harmattan was picking up. A year sure changes perspective.
Last year during site visit at the beginning of November, everything was already dead and dried out. This year, the rain continued on much long than last year (my landlord's wife said it rained up until the day before I cam back from my trip to Accra). Normally, I think the rain ends October or early November. Every time it would rain, I would always ask people, "Is the rain going to come more?" and they would say no. But then the next day or next week it would rain again. It really messed up households because they needed to dry out there corn and sorghum and millet. The transition between rainy season and hot season was pretty painful, and I didn't really know what to expect since I wasn't at site for that transition last year. It was very hot all day and night, nearly as bad as hot season, no relief at any point in the day or night.
So now we're in harmattan- the time when the winds blow down from the Sahara. Which means its getting COOL. Well, at least in the mornings, evenings and nights. And the middle of the days aren't that bad even with the piercing sun- the wind keeps it kind of cool and I am NOT sweating endlessly from every pore 24/7. People here are so cold that they wear full-on snow suits- its fantastic.
The cold nights are the best part I think, such a huge relief. (And all the bugs are GONE, so that and the cool nights compete for the best part of harmattan.) Hot days instantly become not so bad when you have a cold night to look forward to. I remember the first month or so at site last year- needing two layers of sheets at night, and having to where a long sleeve shirt and/or sweatshirt on my morning runs. We're almost there this year. But with dry season comes the mass burnings of fields, of every inch of land that doesn't have a house sitting on it. All the burning, combined with the wind, means that is it constantly, raining ash, literally. I will sit outside eating breakfast or dinner and I'll see these huge pieces of burnt grass flying all around me. And the winds kick up all the dirt, so everything is caked with layers of dust, not to be be washed away until the first rains come next year.
Dry season can also be confusing. Many days, the sky is just grey all day long. So the first thing that pops into my head is "Oh, how nice! Its foggy!" And then half a second later, I remember, Nope, its just the dust and ash. This confusion was worse last year since I hadn't experienced harmattan yet and I desperately wanted to see something I recognized. At home, a sky like this would just be foggy, and harmattan could definitely be just normal foggy San Francisco skies. This year I'm no tricked as much, but I still catch myself looking at a sky that is always reminding me that is is not the west coast.
In other news:
John Mahama is now president. He was the incumbent, in the NDC party, who took over the presidency when the late John Evans Atta Mills died in July. (He actually died the day I left for my trip home to the U.S., but I didn't hear about it until I got home.) The main opposition party was NPP, lead by Nana. And then there are way too many smaller parties to list (NDP, PNC, PPP, CPP....) The election day was actually very quiet, which surprised me. I did hear that the polling places were very calm and orderly, but I chose to stay away. There was a very heavy military presence in the area, all over Ghana, and at the polling stations, so this probably contributed to the calmness. The military guys in the Kongo area stayed at the Mission guesthouses right behind my house; I kept passing them on my morning runs.
Mahama is the first northern president in Ghana. Most northerners seemed to be NDC supporters, but of course that were very excited to have a northerner running for president. Now the John Mahama fabric has come out- I need to get me some!
We also celebrated Obama's re-election here in Ghana. I found out at 4 AM here that he had won, and a few hours later I got several calls from friends in town congratulating me and saying how happy they were. Everyone loves Obama here, so of course they were happy about his win, but I'm sure my friends in Kongo were even more happy because I told then I would them beer if he won. At first it sounded like a great idea, but of course word spread that I would buy these "Obama beers" for people, so I ended up getting a lot. But hey, it was worth it, I was happy and the celebration was nice. Now, if only I could get those six beers and goat I was promised....
(A few months ago, I happened to meet this announcer at the local radio station at a spot in Bolga with Christopher. The discussion got into politics. I avoid politics like the plague, here and at home, but he would not let it go. Funny enough, he was a Romney supporter. I didn't think it was possible for an African to NOT like Obama until I met this guy. Anyways, he insisted I vote for Romney. I basically said, fat chance. So then I told him, If Romney wins, I will buy you a beer. Then he countered that by saying, If Obama wins, I'll buy you a goat and six beers. Christopher was our witness, and we shook on it. Hey, I really wanted this goat and six beers, I wanted it to be official. And I told everyone in Kongo about it, I wanted people to get pumped! But in my head I knew that he would never follow through, as much as I wanted to believe it. So the day after Obama won, Christopher called him to remind him about our deal. Turns out, he would buy be two beers and give me the goat when I go back to America. Bummer. Should have seen that coming. Still have yet to run into this guy again, but now he'll just do best to avoid me.)
I gave out four guinea fowls for the holiday season to thank people for welcoming to Kongo and for being so hospitable. The first went to my landlord, who lets me fetch water from his house and doesn't make me pay. And his wife and kids are the cutest and they are so nice to me. The second went to Christopher's auntie who runs the pito bar. She always gives me free pito, and she and her husband and kids are just so sweet. The third went to Christopher's uncle who has given me lots of guinea fowl eggs and was very concerned about me getting guinea fowl eggs to my family when I went home in July . (Needless to say, the eggs didn't make it out of Kongo, but it was the gesture that I appreciated.) He makes a lot of dirty jokes, but hey, he's an old man, I'll let him, and only him, have his fun. The last went to the chief of Go-seung. He has given me plenty of guinea fowl eggs and several guinea fowl, so I wanted to thank him for the holidays.
Christmas at our Tamale suboffice was great! It was very festive- we even had a little decorated tree and a couple stockings hanging around. All the volunteers contributed delicious food, we had a two-yard fabric white elephant, wrangled a goat, and watched Christmas movies. We had a full house, which was entertaining, and getting into the bathroom to shower or use the toilet was fun! It definitely beat spending Christmas alone like I did last year. But I couldn't stop thinking that for the holidays next year I'll be HOME!!