By Jude Lane
Humanist Service Corps Volunteer
We have officially been involved with this year’s HSC team for three months. I have learned so much about my new country of residence, but I am definitely a long way from feeling at home. This week for my Applied Sentience piece, I figured I would give two significant stories from my short time here. One was stressful. The other was fascinating.
The house here came with pets. We have two male dogs named Sonnya and Kubalor and a cat named Zeus. The dogs have a very docile nature most the time, but can bark and get aggressive if they sense something or someone unfamiliar near the house. They also have no fence. These dogs travel around town, know the neighborhoods, and probably even have a few friends unknown to us.
During our first week or two in Bimbilla, I took a trip to town on my bicycle and Kubalor followed. We were told that we do not want them to follow us to town for their own safety, but we had yet to create a system for getting them to stay. In fact, I did not even know he was with me since he had run behind and I was distracted riding through traffic. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a motorcycle. Everything happened incredibly fast, but it ended with our dog yelping, the motorcycle hitting the ground, and the man riding falling with it. All the sudden everything went insane. I slammed my bike brake, ran over to the man’s motorcycle, and helped him lift it. He seemed okay for the most part, but one foot was badly torn up and he could not stand on it. Kubalor was lying between my feet obviously in a lot of pain.
While I was holding the motorcycle, trying to talk to the man, a crowd started gathering. This crowd turned into over a hundred people. Women, men, and children all forming a circle barely big enough for myself and the motorcyclist and the dog whimpering between my legs. They all started yelling and pointing and waving speaking Dagbanli. I could not tell who was talking to me. I could not tell whether or not the man or the dog was okay. I had no idea what to do and I had three dozen voices around my head. I tried calling the team, but could not get through to them. Eventually a familiar face came to help. I tried talking to her, but with all the noise it was hard to communicate well. I found out many people were blaming the man saying he was going too fast. The man was still limping trying to see if he could ride his bike. Another man came up and told him to go to the hospital. I agreed with the hospital part, but I was still surprised when I saw him get on his busted moto and drive away with his busted foot. But then I got to focus all attention on the dog. Able to find a motorking, a supped up motorcycle with a flatbed made to transport larger cargo, to take us home, we got there and the minutes painfully crept by until the veterinarian came and gave Kubalor medication. Luckily, all ended fine and Kubalor is now well and happy.
I know this story is sad and serious, but I want to show another side to travel and living in another environment. Just like anywhere, things can go bad, but unlike home, one can become completely lost. I was unable to speak the language. I very obviously stood out. I did not know what the customs dictate in this situation. Am I supposed to contact the man again? How does culture play into what will happen to the dog? Will this come off as some kind of bad omen surrounding me in town? Everything worked out okay. But in this kind of situation, I did not know.
On a Friday a few weeks ago, four members of the team took a trip to Kukuo, the nearby sanctuary for accused witches, to witness a pacification ritual that would allow an accused woman to return home. I had not planned on going, but we found out last minute that BBC was going to be there for an interview and story and without anything pressing to do I wanted to see. After a half hour drive, we arrived in the small village. Two BBC people were there along with their Land Rover. I watched as they did their interview with a Songtaba team member and then met the soon to be reintegrated woman, her brother, and the priest. The BBC staged them walking through the village from her home to the shrine and got other b-roll footage from around the village.
Only two of us from HSC would be allowed into the shrine room to watch the ceremony. Wendy and I were the ones chosen. We walked across the town center, reached the door, took off our shoes and any head coverings (they are not allowed in the shrine), and entered. I don’t know if I have ever felt anything so foreign as when I entered that shrine. There was room for about six people, a thatch wall circling the whole thing, and one incredibly small hut connected to one side. On the dirt floor there were a few deliberate looking piles of stone on the right side floor that represent, or possibly are believed to be themselves, the local gods. One of these stones was covered in blood and feathers. I was standing at the back near the entrance. The woman going through the ceremony was standing at the front with the priest and her witness, her brother, holding the chicken she brought for the ritual. The priest took the chicken, did some prayers, which included the woman, to the local gods, and took the chicken over to the stones. He slit the chicken’s neck. After letting some blood drip on each of the stones, he turned around, and dropped the chicken right in the middle of floor, right in the middle of our semicircle. As one could maybe imagine, the animal started flopping around definitely still alive. It ran from the middle of the floor to among the stones, and the priest grabbed it and threw it right back to the middle of everyone where it eventually fulfilled its job and died on its back. (Yes, the local deity apparently requires appeasement come with a face up dead chicken.) For the final step in the ceremony, the priest then took a glass Pepsi bottle full of some local liquor from the brother for the end of the ceremony. After pouring some on each of the stone gods, we were each passed the liquor and are given the option to drink it or pour a little out on the ground. I, along with Wendy, chose the latter.
Never did I dream I would ever get to witness a tribal religious sacrifice. Being in that room, it was all I could do to try and soak in as much of the experience as possible. I think of all the practicality that comes with this process. I try to put myself in the perspective of the people here and understand that they truly believe this ceremony was for a deity, that this woman is magic. A man, a priest, spends his whole life praying and using this shrine. The altar is bloody, the rooms smells like earth, blood, and alcohol. And they truly believe that he is using this physical space to communicate with a spiritual being. This day more than most has magnified the diversity and marvel of this world in which I live.
So what was my point in talking about these stories? Well for one, I wanted readers to get two heavier experiences from my time here. I also wanted to express how life adjustment is not smooth and not always fun. Sometimes it’s in your face or it’s something you never figured you would see in person. But mostly I just wanted to advertise that I might be in a BBC special.
Jude Lane was born and raised in Arkansas. He obtained a degree in Spanish and Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) from Evangel University, and has been working for the past two years as a youth care specialist at a Springfield, Missouri children’s emergency care facility for children in poverty stricken, drug afflicted, or abusive homes. Jude chose to join HSC because he believes in serving with others to help make as many lives better as possible. He greatly enjoys travel and has visited many countries in Europe and South America. Jude loves a good conversation over just about anything.