Monday, March 2, 2009

Mognori Eco-Village

Eco-tourism is on the rise in Ghana, and until we went to Mognori eco-village, near Mole National Park, I'm not sure we knew exactly what it was. It is basically an approach to tourism that uses funds raised to directly sustain the communities in which it is based (at least in Ghana). In this instance there are a few key people who oversee guided tours of a working village. This is not one of those Simpsons-like set-ups whereby the locals dress up for tourists, perform, and then go back to the suburbs, this offers a real glimpse of village life in West Africa. It is possible to arrange for home stays in family homes in the village, but we opted for the daytime tour, later returning for the drum and dance demonstration.

Our guide in Mognori was a young man named Moses, who is assisting in the development of the project in the region. He is an enterprising and highly knowledgeable village man who has gone out into the world to get his education and now feels a strong need to give back to his region. His father worked at Mole, so he got a good education at the park school and is now turning his learning into a brighter future for the surrounding communities. He does guided river treks, hikes, and the tour through Mognori. He ended up joining us in Larabanga, where we went to see an ancient mud and stick mosque, because people there can be fairly aggressive in their approach to tourists and he wanted us to be treated fairly. When we departed and mentioned we were going to Wa to see the hippos, he gave us the number of a friend that was a guide in that area, whom he felt we could trust. You get a sense that he takes his work seriously, and he understands the importance of word of mouth, especially amongst "obruni" tourists.

When we arrived, we were greeted by an elderly woman, who was processing gari, a local food that is made from cassava that is grated, dried, then lightly fried. We noted that we recognized her in the promotional posters that we saw around Mole, and then we silently noted that she was wearing the same clothing--the poster was obviously some years old. She was also selling balls of raw shea butter that she had made. Shea butter, commonly used in soaps and lotions, is especially important in this region in the dry season to help prevent and heal dry, cracked skin. Made by crushing and boiling the fruit of the Shea nut tree, it is also a valuable market item for trade and sale.

The average family home in Mognori consists of a mud-walled compound that has a few buildings and an open courtyard. In the open area, the fire will be made, and most of the cooking, cleaning and washing happens. Carmilla and I didn't accept an offer to go inside the bedrooms and I'm not sure if this was because we were shy, or because we didn't want to intrude--or a bit of both. We learned that the intricate etched designs in the mud walls were actually used as calculators and calendars, reminiscent of the Metis sash.

Families are big, even though infant mortality is very high. It is not uncommon for a woman to give birth twice as many times as she has children. Combine this with the fact that there is still a great deal of "traditional" medicine and superstition, along with occasional food shortages and diseases such as malaria, and you begin to appreciate why death is such a significant and regular part of everyday life. Although it is in rapid decline, men can have as many wives and children as they can feed. I am reminded here of Things Fall Apart as relative wealth is determined by a person's crops and harvest, stored in silos like the one pictured above. (I hope this hasn't lit any light bulbs over the heads of all our male friends from rural Saskatchewan! Of course they would be quick to argue that with the state of agriculture, they can hardly afford what they've got!)

On hot nights, families will literally take to the roof and sleep on top of their homes. At the end of the tour we were invited up via a notched-log ladder. We climbed up and had a good look around, much to the delight of the village children. There was a large group of them that followed at a respectful distance (I think they are instructed to do so), giggling every time we did something. Our children, especially Finn, are something of a novelty in more remote areas and mothers will often bring out their youngest children to show them ours. It is not uncommon for first-timers to break into tears at the sight of us!

Later that night, we came back to the village with another small group (and saw a civet cat run across the road on the way!) to see a drum and dance performance at dusk. It was obvious that the young people participating had just returned from a day's work, especially the men who were all but absent during the day tour. We gathered in front of the chief's house (he is pictured above with Bronte and Materia as he loves having his picture taken) and as the sun went down the music grew stronger, signalling to surrounding communities that a celebration was about to begin. There were a couple of long dances that had very distinct roles and steps for the men and the women. We were all completely mesmerized by the experience, though Carmilla and I admitted to feeling a little uncomfortable about this being staged for our entertainment and our cameras.

It would be somewhat easy to argue that, relatively speaking, Mognori is expensive by comparison with some of the other things we've seen and done in Ghana. But, in terms of sustainable development, you can see every dollar spent at work in small but important improvements made to water, to agricultural production, and to the community school. And while school is "free" in Ghana, most poor families in rural areas cannot afford to send their children and lose the labour and income, so some of the money raised goes to offset this. You could also argue that perspective is priceless and its gift will be enduring in the lives of our own children. Actually, I think we got a pretty deal, all things considered.


Joanne said...

You truly have given your children a wonderful gift in exposing them to this village and all the other new things they've been able to experience in Africa! I'm sure they'll never forget it!

susananddoug said...

We spent April 2009 in the Northern Region where our son serves in the Peace Corps. We did eye clinics in Damongo, Larabanga, and Daboya. After visiting Mole our car broke down so we were forced to forego a trip to Wa and instead decided to check out Mognori. What a surprise! It was great. The day we spent with Moses and his people was truly terrific. Such a contrast to Larabanga and other Northern Region villages. They've certainly done tourism right in Mognori, and I recommend it to anyone who travels to the area. You won't be disappointed.

Unknown said...

I wonder if the guy at the hippo sanctuary was Amos. He is one of the guides there in Wecchau near Wa and, while I did not go to Mognori near Wa, I was super impressed with the Hippo Sanctuary. After a year in the Kumasi area, it was a pleasure to see the eco tourism industry seemingly work in certain northern areas.

Nga/Gh4Life said...

I spent January and February in Accra,although my guide fitted an excursion into everyday I am gutted I missed this Eco Village in fact this is the first time Ive heard about it!Absolutely Fabulous report!Sorry I missed this!

Nga/Gh4Life said...

I spent January and February in Accra,although my guide fitted an excursion into everyday I am gutted I missed this Eco Village in fact this is the first time Ive heard about it!Absolutely Fabulous report!Sorry I missed this!