The first sound, usually, is a rooster crowing. If you’re lucky, it’s in the distance. If you are not lucky, or in the village, it is likely to be right outside your window. If you are in the village, this is followed by other rural sounds. The gentle clucking of chooks may lull you back to sleep, but if you’re starting to get romantic ideas about farmyard idylls, forget them. Turkeys gobbling outside your window at dawn is not something you will enjoy.
If you are in Mensakrom, and possibly other similar villages, however, you’ll soon prefer any amount of turkeys and roosters over the terrible clanging as over-enthusiastic clerics bang bits of metal together in the 4.00am call to prayer. I kid you not. Two different churches. One scored 45 bangs, the other 85. Give me the Islamic muezzin any day, no matter how badly amplified. I’ve only heard it once on this trip, and that was in Tamale.
But back at my place in Kumasi, the religious stuff starts a bit later on. Usually. Except when there’s a midnight or all night service at a local church. But the sound of hymns and drums are generally subdued by distance. In Asuoyeboah, the first sounds of human activity are usually a neighbour’s radio in the distance (DadaK is very firm about what time it’s appropriate to turn on the radio in our house because he doesn’t want me to be disturbed), the creaking and banging of doors as people get up and all the children consecutively come to check if we’re awake (we play dead), and sweeping. It’s the young women’s job to sweep all the floors inside the compound early each morning, with a broom made from the spines of palm fronds, tidying away any of the previous days’ debris that hasn’t already been tidied by livestock or rats: bits of chewed sugar cane, fragments of plastic, bottle tops, onion peels, powdery charcoal.
Gradually the layers of sound accumulate as more people get up. Conversations, the roar of the gas cooker or the crackle of charcoal, water pouring from bucket to barrel, from barrel to cooking pot or shower bucket. Fetching water is also the ask of the youngest women in the family and sometimes Owaruku. ActionMan has done it a couple of times but no-one wants him to – they are afraid he’ll hurt himself, or spill it. It’s pretty hard on the neck and back.
Most mornings there’s the sound of a hand bell when a woman walks up the street carrying a headload of toothbrushes, toothpaste and sponges, followed by one or two of her daughters carrying assorted soaps. I bought a toothbrush from her and I’d like to warn you now, never trust a Ghanaian’s interpretation of what is a ‘soft’ toothbrush.
Sometimes people sing as they go about their daily tasks. I don’t always enjoy this, and ActionMan hates it. But I loved it on the morning of her mum, Obaapa’s birthday, shortly after we arrived, when Treasure wandered around singing the birthday song all day. It was especially poignant as Obaapa wasn’t there, she’d already returned to Australia.
Finally, Akonta can stand the ‘silence’ no longer, and turns on the radio. Good morning-O. And that is the end of the gentle layering of sound. Usually by then I’m awake enough that I can stand it (it’s in the next room to us) and ActionMan has his head under the pillow.
So, that’s more or less how mornings sound between 4.30ish and 6.30ish. In school term everything stars earlier; now we’re in holidays the pace is a bit more relaxed. Variations on the theme include: the period when one of the dogs slept outside our window and snored, snuffled, scratch and occasionally howled his way through the night; the time when someone from Mensakrom urned up early and had a raging argument with someone, about what I never learned; Treasure calling out “Me! Me! It’s ME!” outside my door, with the absolute certainty of three year olds that once I know it’s her, I couldn’t possibly refuse to open the door; and then of course, there’s Jesus.
On Saturdays we get terrible droning gospel until the family leave for church (they’re 7th day Adventists). Believe me, not all gospel is good. A large percentage of Ghanaian popular music seems to be religious these days, and ActionMan and I have both developed a strong aversion to it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because it’s religious that I object. Christians have created some of the most sublime music on the planet. It’s the style. If it’s lively and /or joyful, I’ll even sing along; but there is a certain style of religious music that drones mournfully, and it’s not restricted to Ghanaian Christian music. In fact I believe it is a style that’s been copied from western churches. However Ghanaian Christians did redeem themselves in my eyes when I went to church one day and a group of women sang glorious a capella in a more traditional chant & response style. So please, Ghanaians, remember Sankofa and stick to your roots. Don’t copy the worst the west has to offer!
The other early morning religious experience I haven’t enjoyed has been the madman preaching in our street at 5.00am. Thankfully this hasn’t happened often. I know I’ve made a terrible value judgement on the poor man, but I guess that’s a measure of my annoyance. The first time I heard him was a Sunday, and he ranted in the choleric tones I’ve heard preachers use here, so I assumed he was indeed preaching at one of the many local churches. But after further investigation it turns out that although Jesus featured in his raves, he’s not actually coherent, and one morning I sneaked out to have a look, and there he was, two houses down, preaching to the air. Thankfully, he hasn’t done it very often.
I first drafted this post very soon after arriving in Ghana, because the difference in morning sounds is so marked. In my Sydney flat I’m woken by the hum of distant traffic and birdsong, not roosters and prayers. Admittedly, nesting rainbow lorikeets are not the most melodious of birds, but still – we’ll be home within two weeks and I’m looking forward to hearing them again. (And now I’m back and the birds have left and it is soooooo quiet!)