Coca Cola Diplomacy

Buckeye Farm Beat

As a volunteer in Ghana, Africa, the editor gets a chance to discuss the situation in Libya with local Moslem farmers.

Published on: November 2, 2011

On the weekends I like to make the long walk to the marketplace here in Tamale, Ghana, where I am volunteering with ACDI/VOCA to improve ag media coverage. I take photos along the way. I still don't have nerve to pull out camera in the marketplace. It is an amazing and colorful sight, but I think I will need to photograph it from a distance maybe inside a car. The market is a charged place -- too crowded a spot to get someone upset about taking their photo. Not that folks here seem to get too mad about much for long. Politics might be the exception.

I am practicing my language skills as I walk. Simple stuff like good morning? How are you? How's work? The people are very welcoming to this and greet me with their bright smiles and reply "Naaaaaa." It's almost a reflex thing. Like with the school girl who I accidentally say "good evening" to at about 9 a.m. today. She gives me a mystified look, but immediately and uncontrollably answers, "Naaaahh."

Anyway, this morning a man in a beautiful African printed robe sitting alongside the butcher returns my good morning and calls back after me. When I stop he hurries up to me and asks where I am from. When I say the U.S., he says, "Come you must talk with our shaman (chairman)." So I am led to a gathering of 12 or so Moslem men in their 30 and 40s sitting in the shade of a huge mango tree.

The shaman is a big strong fellow named Abdullah with a great smile that hints of some humor. He asks where I am from and when I tell him Ohio he points to one of the men in the back and says, "His brother is living in Cincinnati. And I know another man who lives in a C city. It is Cleveland?"

The man who led me however, is not up for small talk. He is very angry about the killing of General Muammar Gadaffi in Libya. The others chime in that they too are angry because Gadaffi has supported black Africans and called for a pan-African nation. Furthermore, many Ghanaians go to Libya to work and send money home "tax free."

Some 17,000 had to flee when the fighting broke out I am told. "He has built roads and buildings for his country," the men tell me. "Our people get good work in construction and welding." They recall when Gadaffi came to visit Tamale in a motorcade. His tall, uniformed female guards walked along the car, and he threw coins out the windows to Ghanaian people who lined both sides of the road for miles.

"Maybe NATO wants to put a worse man in the job," they say.

I let them vent about the role of France and Germany and the poor leadership of Obama for a while. Then we start talking farming, and sure enough they are farmers. I mean 80% of the people in this breadbasket area of Ghana are farmers. So it is no surprise to find them in this group. "But we are only small farmers, they say. "If we just had a tractor there is so much good land here we could provide food for all of our country," the farmers tell me. "If you could help us get tractors, we could pay you back a little each year."

Soon one of them offers to take me to see his farm not far across the street. He is named Salman and with Abdullah and another man also named Salman we walk past vegetable stands, through a dusty courtyard of goats and children, past mud houses with tin roofs, along the deep concrete sewer system to a carefully maintained field of crops in various stages.

It's irrigated vegetable production mainly and now is the end of the rainy season so they are just starting to sow some new lettuce and cabbage crops and preparing rotate a few others. The water sources is a sigot with a hose. They show me everything from cassava to mango to bananas to amaranth to paw paw to guinea corn to a palm plant. They offer me a taste of bitter leaf and explain how it can be made into a soup that will help lower blood pressure and fight malaria. Finally they introduce me to the lady who farms next door. She is out doing some weeding. She is chewing on a small stick and gladly poses for a photo with her neighbors.

PROUD FARMERS: At the farm of Salman Tahaya, left, Alhassan Salman, and Abdallah Alidu show the "paw paw" or papaya tree with its fruit.

GREENS AND SOUP: It's called amaranth here, but you may know it as pigweed. It is used for greens that are eaten raw or boiled for soup.

After the visit and many photos, we walk back toward the mango tree where the same group is still sitting. Along the way we pass a Shell station where I had stopped the day before to buy a Coke. I ask who would like a Coke and they say, we all would. So I buy 15 cokes and a box of "biscuits." We take them back to the mango tree where we talk some more about politics.

COKE SALUTE: The world's problems are easier to deal with after we have shared some refreshment.

They end up toasting me and telling me I should be the President of the U.S. because I am a good man and "our brother Obama has betrayed us." Then three of them climb on the motorbikes and drive me to my hotel. I ride on the back of the Shaman's motorbike. When we get to the hotel they shake my hand and the Imam (Moslem priest) says, "You are our brother." He pauses and asks curiously, "How old are you Mr. Tim-o-tee." I tell him the big number and he gets a surprised look and a grin on his face and quickly corrects himself, "You are our father."

MY NEW SONS: Imam Al Hassan, left, and Shaman Abdallah Alidu were kind enough to give me a ride back here to my hotel following our impromptu meeting under a mango tree.

I am very sunburned from the experience, but it feels good to make a connection. As my wife Kathy wisely notes, several times a day, things do go better with Coke.

Blogging from Ghana, Africa
Oct. 24:
International Alarm Clock
Oct. 25: In West Africa's Fastest Growing City
Oct. 28: Listeners Gather Around Radio North Star