About 15 of us were packed in that wooden structure which served as a bathroom for our dormitory. I was standing close to the entrance of the bathroom, any time I looked in her direction, our eyes would meet and she would smile, and each time I returned her smile though I did not know what exactly she was smiling at. For two consecutive weeks, this routine continued and I was beginning to feel uncomfortable and suspicious she was up to something. My guess was right! One day in the third week, she walked up to me and asked “if I was circumcised”, I said, “No, I am not.” She asked again, “What about my other northern sisters”, and I told her none of us had been through it before but she didn’t believe me. She and others were told that all females from the northern part of Ghana are circumcised. They had heard we are all victims of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and since they have never seen it before, they try to look at our vaginas when we are all bathing together in the bathroom.
I patiently explained to her that not all of us have been through FGM. She argued that her teachers at the basic school taught them that all northern girls are circumcised at birth and married off at an early age to older men, so they believed that some of us even had children at home before coming to school. I was open to tell her about life in the north and even take her there if she was willing to go but it seemed whoever socialized her about Northern Ghana had instilled their beliefs so deep in her and she wasn’t ready to let go of them. Apart from this, my colleagues and I who come from the north and were in the school were often asked questions, which we thought, were weird then. They would ask if it is true that we live in mud houses with thatched roofs and very small doors and windows.
About three years ago, I met up with a friend, an elderly man in his late forties or early fifties, whom had been born and bred in Accra, had been to Kumasi only twice (both trips by air). That is the farthest he has ever travelled from Accra. He wanted to know how people in Wa get groceries such as milk, sugar, chocolate, ice cream, and the like. He was even asking how he would be able to contact me when I get to Wa because he thought there was no mobile network reception or Internet connection there. Then he asked if there are hotels and restaurants, in case someone wants to to visit. When I got to Wa, I took several videos of Wa township and sent them to him via WhatsApp to see how beautiful the town looks. Rather unfortunate we lost contacts, I would have taken him to Wa to see things for himself.
My experience from high school and the experience three years ago with my elderly friend made me wonder how many people are still ignorant about some of these things and have wrong assumptions about us. I have come across those who would ask whether it was true that we sleep in trees, drink and use water from streams and rivers, and also dress in animal skins and leaves. I always thought to myself, “don’t these people watch TV or read newspapers?”
There are still a lot of people who think northern Ghana is just one massive place, and we all speak one language so the moment they meet you and find out you’re from the north, they assume you are from this one place. They also think everyone who comes from the north speaks Hausa and we are all Muslims. Well, that is not the case, there are 5 different regions in northern Ghana and each has their regional capital; Northern with Tamale as the regional capital, Savannah with Damongo, Upper East with Bolgatanga, Upper West with Wa and North East with Nalerigu. In each of these regions, you’ll find different ethnic groups with different religions, and other distinct characteristics. For instance, in the Upper West Region, you will find ethnic groups like the Dagaaba who speak Dagaare, Waala who speak Waale, Sissala who speak Sissale and many more. You will also find Christians, Muslims, and Traditional believers. So don’t be surprised when you meet people from the north who are not Muslims or who do not speak Hausa.
A few years ago if people were behaving this way and asking these kinds of questions, it would be understandable and forgivable. This is because people had very limited access to the internet. These days, however, the internet is accessible to a lot of people so it is easier to search for information about places and people, but unfortunately, we still get to hear some of these questions from people. That is not to say the internet cannot mislead people or give wrong information but it is a good way to start. Other people also feel that it is better to hear from the horse’s own mouth than to read about it, and that is not a bad thing, but it would be nice if such questions were presented respectfully.
I find it appalling when fresh graduates are posted to some parts of the country for national service, they aren’t willing to go because they have heard false stories about these places. These ladies and gentlemen are willing to do anything to revert their user agencies to towns or cities they know. And a lot of people will complain that the north is far, I ask them far from where? And I also tell them their places are far, a lot of them will agree with me and say well, you are right.
Some colleagues from University of Development Studies (UDS) shared stories about how some students who had admission to the institution would carry bags of sachet drinking water, packs of tissue paper and other groceries (if they are carrying water, what else will they not carry) from Accra to Wa or Tamale or Navrongo just because they do not think that these groceries will be available at these places. Many students have turned down their admissions just because of the stories they hear about the north or simply because they felt it is far (but if they are given admissions outside Ghana, they do not care about the distance). Surprisingly when some of these people get to the school in the north and get to know the town inside out, they do not want to return to their homes anymore.
This is not to make anyone who has asked such questions about the north feel bad, most of these behaviours are a result of ignorance. People do not know or are not given the right information. The media in Ghana have been making efforts to project the true nature of some of these areas that people have wrong perceptions about, but I think we still need to do a lot. As individuals, we also need to make efforts to resocialize ourselves. People from the north also have wrong perceptions about people from the other places, but not many of us are quick to mention these perceptions, especially to the people we have the perceptions about.
Ghana is a beautiful country with lots of diverse cultures, amazing people, and breath-taking sceneries. But it’s rather unfortunate most of us don’t get to explore these places in our lifetime, a person from the south is likely to spend his whole life in the southern belt of the country, likewise a person from the northern part. It’s quite better with those from the remote places as education and job-seeking bring them to the cities and sometimes other parts of the country that is far from home but for most of those born and bred in the cities, if not all, they spend most of their life at the same place and all they know of the other regions is stories they’ve heard from people, visuals they’ve seen in the media or social media. I remember that my colleagues from SPRING used to joke about how children of some lecturers in KNUST have never been outside the campus before. They were born at KNUST hospital, they attend KNUST basic school, proceed to KNUST high school, then to KNUST and finally get jobs in KNUST.
Let’s endeavour to schedule touring other parts of our beautiful nation as part of our yearly activities if we have the time and opportunity as this will not only provide us with in-depth knowledge and satisfaction but will also leave lasting memories and stories we could share one day. CHEERS!!!