The project I was working on at the time was trying to see how people who lived neither in the heart of the city, nor in the true countryside, but in the fast expanding twilight zone in between, were adapting to their changing fortunes. There was an obvious switch from agricultural practices to city work, there were changing population structures – older people were being left in the small villages while young workers were finding more opportunity in the city. But there was a more serious environmental problem. Traditionally, cities are founded close to where food can be supplied to them, often on good agricultural lands. However, as the city expanded, those lands would be built on, and the agriculture would be pushed to more marginal lands. As the size of the city expands, the hinterland within which food and material could be supplied would grow, and in Kumasi some claim was made that goods in the market could come as far away as Togo, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. The land that was formerly good agricultural land close by was becoming less used.
The picture was more complex than this, as we found that this so-called peri urban area had become an incredible mix of housing types and small scale, high intensity farming, often producing vegetables, salads and fruits for the dinner table, as well as keeping pigs and chickens.
The biggest threat to these areas though, was pollution from the very reason they were dragged there in the first place; Kumasi. With the enormous expansion in population (both from natural increase and immigration), services such as water supply, electricity and sewerage had failed to keep pace, and subsequently, much of the pollution was heading straight into watercourses unchecked. For many villages, these rivers were the only source of water, and people were having to drink in a soup of dangerous chemicals and diseases.
I think it was when all this became obvious from the three years of research that a whole team of people worked on, I softened my opinion of Kumasi and felt that despite these dreadful environmental and social disasters that were part of day to day life in and around the city, that people were not only coping with them but managing to celebrate their culture as well. There was no drabness in the clothes they wore, and the smallest amount of change towards a western style of dress. Large Ghanaian men in their full regalia were a powerful sight, and women wrapped in Kente cloth from their massive turbans to their flowing robes were even more astounding. The music was great too, one of my few nights out with an Australian lecturer there taught me several different dance styles. I had heard of High Life, but that was too showy, too high class, too Accra for people here. She showed me the simple steps of one style. It took me a while to get it. I am used to Scottish Country Dancing where most of your body is inactive while your feet move around in various steps and patterns. In Kumasi, I was shown how to moderate my foot movements, a simple one two step forward and one two back, and concentrate on smoothly wiggling your hips and gyrating the torso in time with the music. Once in to it, it was quite therapeutic (the bottles of Star helped) and I had one of the best evenings of my time there with Sam.