Wednesday, December 3, 2008


One of the peculiarities of Twi, the language I'm learning, is that you indicate a small amount of anything (be it work, the size of a tomato, your ability to speak Twi) by adding "cackra" (small) or "cackra cackra" (small small) after the word. That translates pretty easily into English, so Ghanaian English contains innumerable references to "speaking small small Twi" or "Wait here small time" etc.

So, over the last couple weeks I've been doing some small small work (the whole introductory paragraph was just to explain that reference) helping one of our trainers put together a proposal. She is trying to address the problem of the "kayayoo" in Ghana. The kayayoo are young women who leave communities in economically distressed northern Ghana for urban areas in southern Ghana, where they work as porters moving heavy loads around by balancing them on their heads. It's very hard work, requiring an incredible amount of strength and balance, as I found out the day I tried to carry water back to my house on my head. As with mobile laborers everywhere, the kayayoo are heavily exploited for sex and money due to their lack of housing and social support in unfamiliar cities. At the same time, northern Ghana loses another chunk of it's school-aged youth, who are no longer the potentially educated workers that might contribute economically to the upper regions.

After making some suggestions on structure and organization for the proposal, and doing a touch of editing, I met one of the kayayoo in Kumasi last week. My counterpart from Asiri was helping me navigate the lorry station, and before I quite knew what was happening a girl was balancing my bag on her head and walking toward the next station (on the other side of town). She was in her late teens or early 20s, and had very distinctive tribal markings from Northern Ghana, although I don't know any details past that. When we got there they had a short argument about money, even I could tell she was asking quite a bit for moving a single bag, but in the context of what I'd learned from helping my trainer with the proposal it was hard to listen to my counterpart say "no" to her request. She walked away unhappy, and visibly sweating from the effort of carrying my bag in the hot sun.

Things, issues, and people do not say abstract here, they become real very fast. One could make some similar observations regarding different aspects of agriculture, environmental decay, etc. but that's another day.


Anonymous said...


See my comments on your "A Long Delayed Post" from October.

You are my hero!


harleystreet said...

Very effective product. I love it.Well that was a nice post. I liked

Anonymous said...


I recently found your blog when I searched for 'kayayoo' at Google. I am a norwegian girl who in 2009 visit Ghana and worked with a non-governmental organisation which worked with kayayoo-girls. It was very interesting to read, and you write very good!