Obruni, Salaminga, Father…

24 Sep


As the only white dude in town and probably in the whole district of 100,000 people, I enjoy quasi-celebrity status.  Many people in town will have seen white people before (Sarah and McLean from EWB were here for 4 months before me), but probably not all that often.  When I go out to the villages for work, there’s a chance that I will be the first one that children have ever seen.

There are seven major languages spoken in the district and several minor ones too.  In each one, there is a different word for ‘white man’ and I am slowly learning them all.  The most common in Kpandai district are Obruni, Salaminga and Father.  The prevalence of ‘Father’ is apparently because priests were the first white people that many people met.

The only other foreigner currently in town is my new friend Nhial, who is a Peace Corp volunteer from Huston Texas.  He doesn’t stand out in quite the same way, however, as he is originally from south Sudan and he has darker skin than most of the Kpandai natives.  He grew up in a refugee camp until he was 11 and then left f0r the USA with his Uncle (he has a pretty amazing life story).  We had a really interesting conversation  with a woman a couple of weeks ago who asked me whether Nhial is black or white.  I said that he was black and she said that he was white.  I then pointed out that he was in fact darker than her so that would make her white as well, which she thought was hysterical.

Since I am currently still stuck in Tamale where my Vodaphone internet stick is marginally less painfully slow, I will take this opportunity to share a video clip.

It was taken yesterday (Thursday) in Salaga shortly after we were forced to  turn around to come back to Tamale after encountering flooded roads.  We stopped at an elementary school to borrow their photocopier.  It was lunchtime and I got out of the truck to wait while my Director went in to make copies.

Children started to trickle over to say hello, so I pulled out the laminated cards that I had brought from home and began to show them pictures of my family, Vancouver, Canadian animals, ice hockey, maps, etc…  (Thanks again Carissa for your amazing suggestion to bring pictures – I use them almost daily!!).  With the cards I quickly attracted a mob of purple-clad children.


My Director looked amused when he came back to the truck and had to save me from the escalating crowd.  My respect for my Sister’s work as an elementary school teacher grew even deeper that day, as I realized that I have absolutely zero skill with respect to establishing authority and discipline over an unruly group of children.  Hopefully my nightmares will stop soon…     

I am slowly getting used to all of the attention.  On the one hand it’s kind of fun having children calling hello and waving at you all the time, but it does come at the significant cost of a total lack of anonymity.  I wonder if it will be tough adjusting when I come back home and every person I pass on the street isn’t immediately interested/excited to see me. 😉

9 Responses to “Obruni, Salaminga, Father…”

  1. Lorna Young September 25, 2010 at 12:02 am #

    Hi Mark

    Your stories are tremendous – you will have a book full of them when you come back. You are doing the most wonderful thing and I respect you tremendously for your courage and dedication.

    Keep the posts coming!

    Cheers from Canada


  2. Colleen September 25, 2010 at 12:16 am #

    That is an incredible video! I cannot imagine coming back to this after going inside to make a few photocopies.

  3. Gary Watson September 25, 2010 at 1:39 am #

    I’ll be that excited to see you.

  4. Cat September 25, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    Wonderful! You really made me smile.

    Hope you’re keeping busy while you wait to get back to Kpandai. Fingers crossed the flooding clears soon.

  5. Rogayeh Tabrizi September 25, 2010 at 6:05 pm #

    This is amazing Mark! Life around you is so different from here which is amazing..

    What did you mean by nightmares by the way?!

    • markwjabbott September 25, 2010 at 11:02 pm #

      That crowd of kids was getting pretty unrul – almost like a pack of English footall fans! 🙂

  6. MAKAYLA MACKINNON September 27, 2010 at 3:38 am #

    we will make a fuss when we see you in our classroom ( if you do come)
    makayla( mrs. fultons student) goodnight.

  7. Penny October 1, 2010 at 2:36 am #


    In Canada we live so much of our lives behind closed doors, in private but in places like Africa life is lived in the open…public. The public space is used for daily living. It will be strange to be back in Canada and realize that the bubble of privacy exists even when we are on the street in Canada ie in public. So the question is by being different are you stimulating different behaviour in the children or would they gather the way they did with any stranger? Did they surround your Director or just you because you had the camera?

    • markwjabbott October 1, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

      Hi Penny,

      It’s very true that life here is lived more communally and outdoors, but being an Obruni is definitely different. I managed to attract he crowd of kids before I brought out my picture cards or camera and my coworkers joke about how the children are never so excited to see them. 🙂


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