Procuring a goat on the morning of Eid Al-Fitr (the breaking of the fast) was not an easy task. After hours of waiting for the seller to return from morning prayer followed by an arduous negotiation process, I managed to walk away with my very own male goat with an antiqued white coat and black spots. The most difficult part however, was not the negotiation itself. It was giving away my new sweet animal friend whom I had heartily fought for as a meal. Because I presented the goat to the Zongo community as a whole, it would be taken to the Chief Imam as a gift for the breaking of the fast. To try and distract myself from the ominous fate of my little goat-friend, I decided to join the sea of dancing people in the wake of a truck blasting music and carrying a number of men proudly wearing shirts and pants displaying the American flag. While some of my dancing partners wore traditional Muslim dress, others wore jeans and T-shirts – some plastered with the names of their youth group such as “Jallo Boys” and others with photographs of celebrity Muslim leaders. The best part of the celebration though was how many of the men, women, and children remembered me from the past years of working on The Zongo Water Project. Just in the few hours of celebrating, I was able to talk with over twenty-five residents. I couldn’t imagine a nicer way to reengage with the community than during such a festive, important occasion such as this.
Many greetings, dance steps, and photographs later, I joined my friend and colleague in The Zongo Water Project, Hammad Abubakar, at his mother’s house in the Zongo. Despite my hesitation in speaking about work on the day of the festival, he insisted that it was not a problem and that it would be productive to go over the schedule and goals for the next four weeks. We talked about when the entire water committee would meet to discuss the project, how and when we would receive permissions to begin from the Chief Zongo and Chief Imam, who to send invitations to for the opening ceremony, and the kinds of conversations to have with residents to be able to get a better sense of their needs and desires. We agreed that continuing the rainwater collection system implementation was very important and that business workshops to build upon the soap-making from last year could help the residents make a profit. Hammad did also explain however, that the problem is the capital – those who learned to make the soap had the desire to continue, but lacked the funds to start the business. Hammad expressed the importance of having “a partner”, someone whom they could trust and from whom they could perhaps borrow money. I asked whether someone might be willing to make an investment in the business and/or whether the residents could take out a loan, but Hammad explained that Muslims “don’t take interest” and that if they borrow money, the person expects a payment back in full. “Another factor”, he explained, “is that times are hard right now. The economy is very difficult for us. The cedi (local currency) has gone way down.” It was true. Just since my last trip in January, the cedi had depreciated almost three-fold. Whereas before, the exchange rate had been $1 to 2 cedis, it was now $1 to 3.42 cedis. Clearly, this would be a topic we would need to discuss further with the water committee and residents who had participated in the soap-making workshops last year.
Lastly, Hammad and I talked about the third and least developed aspect of the project – a component that would involve education – working with the children to imagine alternative futures for the Zongo community. The moment I mentioned education, Hammad’s eyes brightened and he replied, “The main problem facing the community is education! Education is the way to capture the whole community.” He went on to explain that there had been another American who gave exercise books and desks to all of the schools in Cape Coast and that the Government had been so supportive that they gave her a car with which to do her rounds. While Hammad understood that my mission focused on water, he prayed next time I would bring a friend who could focus on education. This is where our conversation became the most challenging and our cultural wires crossed. To him, the success of education depended upon having these material goods. While I recognized that one needs pencils, chalk, and blackboards to teach effectively, I also tried to explain that The Zongo Water Project could contribute a less tangible, but very important aspect to education - one more focused on teaching creativity, design, and imagining how one’s quality of life could be improved using water. This was a long-term investment in cultivating leadership and agency. From this conversation though, I could tell that I would need to find other ways of explaining the connection between education and the project. Or, perhaps demonstrate the children’s capacity through a tangible project to which the community could respond…what the project will be exactly, I’m still not sure.