Wagashe, or Why I Love the North.

We woke up the next morning to a powerful rainstorm, even more intense than the one in Wli, and it lasted, for at least three hours. It tapered eventually, but continued raining until past 8am. I wondered about all of those mud huts. After buckets and buckets and buckets of rain, would they need repairs?

Our hotel was sort of quirky in that I think, at one time, it was very nice, but maintenance seemed to have been pretty light since then. The space was well-designed and bright, but everything, upon closer inspection, was shabby or shabbyish. Which is why it wasn’t altogether surprising that near the end of the storm, Matt pointed out that half of my pillow was soaked by a leak over our heads. Since the other half of my pillow was fine, I decided to ignore the drip, although I did eventually put a towel down because I could hear the gentle drip-splash through the mattress.

Because of the rain, everything was slow to start that day. The markets were sleepy as everyone tried quietly to clear out the mud and water from their shops and stalls. Some used straw, handheld brooms to sweep away the water while others scooped the mud with small plastic shovels. We relished the overcast sky and cooler temperatures. It was probably only 80 or so, and with the lack of sun, it was energizing, rather than exhausting, to be outside.

We went back to the market and saw many tailors and beauty salons- lots of women braiding each other’s hair. We also passed a lot of the “fetish” booths- animal skulls and scalps and skins. I wanted to get a picture but…I couldn’t work up the nerve to risk the bad juju.

On this day, we bought a bunch of street food. Fried sour dough balls, fresh mangoes, and a Ghanaian staple called kenkey. Kenkey is a fermented corn mash, not unlike tamale filling and similarly served in a corn husk, but definitely much sourer. It’s enjoyed with pepe sauce and often sardines, and you eat it with your right hand (like fufu- the crab claw method). Matt loves it- jury’s still out for me, but it was good for lunch that day.

Fried dough balls.

Kenkey with pepe sauce.
Matt demonstrating proper technique.
Sweet, pulpy oranges. A nice complement to the juicy mangoes we had earlier.
We also finally tracked down the food I had most been wanting to try in Ghana: wagashe! The nomadic Fula people make this, and it’s basically fried Ghanaian cheese curds. It was a bit of a mystery to find. After asking many, many vendors, we learned that it was only available for a short time each afternoon, and only in one place. That afternoon, we followed vendor after vendor- “It’s this way!” “Go this way!” “Turn here!”- until we accidentally stumbled upon a group of 60 or 70 Muslims engaged in outdoor prayer in the shade of a small grove of trees. We scrambled wide of the group so as not to disrupt the prayer, and finally, we found the lone Fula woman who was frying up large hunks of fresh cow’s cheese that she pulled from a big bucket underneath her. We bought a cedi’s worth. I could barely contain myself- so salty and squeaky and fresh. Perhaps my favorite of the street foods we tried.
Wagasheeeeeee! Eeeeee!

After our regular and requisite afternoon nap, we headed to the cultural center of the city. We’d found it earlier that morning, but the shops were late in opening because of all the rain. We saw a drum circle and bought a bag from a friend of JFK’s, whom we recognized from the rooftop restaurant the night before. We ended up at a restaurant called Sparkle for dinner. It had only outdoor seating and a mix of Ghanaian and foreigner diners. Matt and I ordered drinks and a rice dish to split (our appetites did not match the portion sizes in Ghana), and suddenly, there was JFK. He had just gotten done with work and asked if he could join us.

Drum circle.

Of course! We really liked JFK. He was a good conversationalist with a chill personality. He was also friends with the manager of Sparkle, who used JFK’s phone to pump music into the restaurant, so we got to hear tons of Sean Paul and even TLC’s No Scrubs. Amazing.
It was fun chatting with him. I enjoyed hearing about his views on Ghana’s politics and culture, Tamale, and the little he shared about his personal life. I enjoyed the debate that ensued when he asked Matt who was more attractive- Beyoncé or Nicki Minaj- and they disagreed on the answer. At some point, we asked JFK about his name- still a little unclear on the origin, but I think his name is Felix and he adopted JFK as a nickname. Anyway, he admires the guy. And then Matt told him that President Kennedy started the Peace Corps (pronounced “corpse,” remember) and that Ghana was the first country volunteers were sent. It was a cool moment because- I may have forgotten to mention this so far- JFK used to work for the Peace Corps suboffice in Tamale. The world felt small-ish.

The next morning, we headed back to Accra. The final impression of Tamale that I want to leave you with is the charming mixture of pastoral and urban, old and new. I hope the next few pictures show you what I mean.

This, at a stoplight.
The last picture I took in Tamale was of this huge termite mound, at least ten feet tall. And then we boarded Starbow, and because it was nearly Easter, the flight attendants passed out chocolate candies from a festive basket. And as is true in the States, I felt sad to leave, because I love the north.

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