Obunja was a tough place to work at. It was tougher for me, I think, because I was not mentally ready to be there. Of all my fieldwork days, that day I wanted to be invisible, yet no matter how hard you tried to blend in, you were instantly spotted as an outsider. I remember it was the first time I managed to doze off on our bike trip there (by that time I’d become a pro though, just saying) (and don’t try too hard picturing it, there was three of us on the bike, and I was squished in-between so…well…). I was tired and achy. The sun was too hot, it was too dusty, and my heart was heavy. Obunja was days after Damanko. I hadn’t recovered. My head was reeling.
Where the bulk of my respondents’ households were was quite a distance from where the bike guys dropped us off. That day, I was the only one starting off that far away from where the village begins. I put in my earphones with no music playing…walking…not looking forward to the next set of tombstones I was going to be sitting on to do my interviews…not looking forward to the talismans that hung in the doorways of most households and mud walls smeared with an ‘egg yolk + guinea fowl feathers + guinea fowl blood’ paste (yes, I asked) …not looking forward to flies that made the heat much more unbearable. Sadly, I was not looking forward to home either. If I could run, I had nowhere I was willing to run to. There was no remedy, and I had to pretend to be involved and interested and concerned, and I felt guilty and sad about it, but there was nothing I could do.
Obunja’s interviews thankfully passed quickly. More than half my respondents were all in a multi-household structure, and by 1pm I was first to be done on our team. It was a relief. I walked back to where we were to be picked up later that day, jumped onto one of the makeshift rest areas that most townsfolk in all of the villages we worked in made under almost every shady tree, laid on my back, and was lost in thoughts in no time. I was far off for almost an hour before a team mate joined me, bringing me back. “Oh, one respondent was looking for you,” he said. “I told him this is where we’d all converge so I’m sure he’ll come here eventually,” he added. I wondered who but I didn’t ask. I just nodded. I was in no mood to talk. About another hour later, a man rode up on his motor bike to our rest area and got off. I recognized him as he smiled. I smiled back, reluctantly.
“Agya, metee sε na worehwehwε me” (Sir, I learnt you were looking for me), and he responded in his Kokomba-laden twi “Aane. Asεm kakra na mepε sε meka kyerε wo” (Yes. It’s a little something I have to tell you). I nodded for him to go ahead, after he’d pleaded I take no offence. “Wobaeε no, mehunuu sε asε obi pε sε wogyae akwantu a wowͻ so deda bi ne no hyε akwantu foforo ase, nanso anka εbεyε a, anka antu wo nan baako koraa mfa nni n’akyi” (When you came to my end, I perceived that it seems someone wants you to abandon some journey you are already on, to embark on a new one with them, but if you could, it will do well if you do not take even a single step in following them). A chill seized me, as I stared for a moment. His message to me was like an extension of my thoughts, and I wanted to ask him more, but I simply thanked him and added that I was not going to abandon my present journey. The gaze we shared was a knowing one. I knew he knew what he was talking about, and he knew that I knew. He smiled again, hopping back onto his bike. “Next time you come, I will gift you a fowl,” he said and then he was off.
I do not remember if my team mate had paid attention to the exchange, and I do not remember how it was between us two right after the man went. There were tears in my eyes and relief flooded my spine. I do not remember the old man’s face, but he brought me some assurance that I needed at that time, and someday later I may write all of it in plain words.
Obunja was many things, but most of all a turning point.