Sunday, March 18, 2007

The tree of life

Every morning on my way to work, I walk through a housing project that reminds me a lot of McLaren Boulevard and the Rifle Range – in appearance and in character. The buildings are non-descript and some rundown, but it has a real neighborhood feel. Because the apartments are so small and likely very hot, people spend most of their time on the streets - cooking, sleeping, chatting and playing.

On evening I saw a group of children gathered around a middle-aged man. They had their notebooks opened in front of them, and were listening to the man intently. They all looked to me when I stopped to say hello. “Are you doing homework?” I asked the man. “Yes, we are,” he said. By the look on his face, I realized that I was disturbing the lesson. I smiled and moved on.

Many small neighborhoods and towns have a central gathering spot; the one that has stood out the most for me is the town tree, and this neighborhood has a grand one. About 150-feet high and leafy, it offers protection from the heat. Every morning and every afternoon, a group of men are gathered beneath it playing checkers. They often have three boards going at the same time, tournament style.

A few weeks ago, we visited a small town in the mountains called Amedzope (Janet wrote about it March 5). The “town tree” was the first thing I noticed when I stepped off the bus. There was a group of men – it’s always the men at these spots - gathered under the tree so I wandered over to say hello and escape the heat. It turned out the tree had been planted about 100 years ago when they settled the town. It was the centerpiece of the central square. They had even enhanced the space under the tree by constructing chairs out of stone tablets and fixing them to the ground.

Modern societies – in developing and developed countries – favour large urban centres, places that don’t have the intimacy of small towns and neighborhoods. I become nostalgic when I come upon places that have that small-town feel, those central gathering spots - be they trees, squares or marketplaces. You can find that in a small town like Amedzope and even a big city like Accra, if you look hard enough.

- Mark

P.S. What are the gatherings spots you like best – in your hometown or places that you’ve visited?


Anonymous said...

Another great blog. I am sure all of these places you are experiencing have a wonderful feeling Especially when you see the interaction of the people of al ages.
I guess around here there is the local post office where I meet people everyday. Also the city market and Love, Mummy and Daddythe Kingston Markets.

katie wallace said...

Favourite gathering spot for a Saint Johner: the City Market, of course.
Not to worry, next to nothing has changed in your absence and all your favourite vendors will be there upon your return.

kw said...

ps I should mention there are some new Korean gals selling delicious food. They are cleaned out every week.