Itsy-Bitsy Potatoes

One of my favorite things about going to market is that no matter how many years I’ve lived here I always seem to find something new and interesting.

On a recent market run, I found a small tuber for sale that the Mamprusi call peesa. I found it identified in the Mampruli Dictionary as Solenostemon Rotundifolius with the common English name of “frafra potato.” When I asked those in market if it was a “frafra potato” they all just laughed hysterically. Apparently, they don’t call it that here in Nalerigu and they found the idea of a potato that is Frafra to be humorous.

I did some research and it turns out that though this little edible tuber is primarily found in West Africa, it is also grown around the world – especially in Asia. And it has lots of common names:

  • Hausa potato
  • Zulu potato
  • Sudan potato
  • Madagascar potato (by the French)
  • Chinese potato (by Indians)
  • country potato
  • Coleus

In northern Ghana folks boil them and eat them lightly salted or peel and fry them. The skin is quite easy to remove when preparing them but it is time consuming since the potatoes are so small and numerous.

We’ve fallen in love in these little spuds and despite their size they taste more like American potatoes than yams and local “sweet potatoes.” Since they’ve been in season this past month, we’ve eaten them often. We’ve boiled them with cabbage, sautéed them in butter, fried them as tiny french fries and even mashed them to make creamed potatoes.

Magic Traps

On a recent hike I came across piles of recently harvested beans on a large stony area. Each large pile had a small shea nut tree branch and a piece of dried okra set on top. My guides were Bimoba who spoke no English and a little Mampruli. They managed to communicate that the branch and okra were meant to deter thieves.

I took some photos and came home and showed them to my language teacher. He laughed and identified them as bumbɛriga or magic traps. Magic traps are a whole category of juju that come in a variety of forms. The general idea is that some sort of curse or misfortune will fall upon anyone who steals or harms that which the trap protects.

In this particular case, the superstition is that the okra will render the thief infertile and the branch will cause him to get deathly ill if he ever eats anything with shea nut butter in it.

Earlier this year I also came across a bumbɛriga on a loaded mango tree in Zɔgyiligu. It was in the form of a gourd hanging from the tree. It had a few markings on it and had been stuff with some secret ingredients. The tree owner simply told me it would kill any thieves.

Weiner Schnitzel vom Schwein with the Germans

Recently our friend Nils told us that his favorite European food was weiner schnitzel (Germans eat it with pork instead of the traditional Austrian type with veal). So we got some pork from a local butcher, made cutlets, flattened them out and had them ready for Sunday night.

When he came over we worked together to fry up the meat and prepared a very German meal of weiner schnitzel, potatoes, and cabbage.

Marlen, who had been ill the week before mustered up quite an appetite and surprised us by eating a whole schnitzel herself! Perhaps her illness had some symptoms of homesickness that we helped to cure.

Gbinnya'ari = "Butt Roots" = Laziness

Sometimes other languages say it best. The word for laziness in Mampruli is gbinnya’ari which is transliterated as “butt roots.” So a lazy person is a gbinnya’adaana or “one with butt roots.” They’ve been sitting on their butts doing nothing for so long that they’ve grown roots!

PJS (and not that’s not pajamas)

A 13 year old boy, who years before had a bowel resection for an intestinal obstruction, was admitted to our hospital several times with abdominal pain. The pain was intermittent but severe.  After conservative treatment, he got better, but only for about a week. He then returned with pain, vomiting and inability to pass stool or gas. I decided to operate.

I found an intussusception causing a bowel obstruction. A tumor attached to the inside wall of the small intestines caused the bowel to fold and twist upon itself. I was able to reduce the intussusception and remove the tumor. As I examined the remaining bowel, I realized that he had multiple other small tumors throughout the small intestines. I removed several of the larger tumors, but could not remove all of them.

As I examined the bowel and resected the tumors, I remembered something peculiar that I had noticed on the patient even as he was lying on the operating table waiting for surgery. I had not yet made the connection. He has black spots on his lips, palms and soles of his feet. Together, these findings constitute a syndrome, Peutz Jehger Syndrome.

The good news is that this means the tumors are benign, but have potential to become cancer. I explained to the family that he would have to be examined on a regular basis, including colonoscopy to rule out the presence of any cancers.

He is a sweet kid who lives close by, and always has a smile for me whenever we meet.

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Gambaga’s Bird (Muscicapa Gambagae)

My recent research into Dr. Rudolf Fisch’s 1910 trek through Mamprugu led me to another European visitor’s journals about a visit to Gambaga, Gold Coast (Ghana) in 1901. Lieutenant Boyd Alexander was a British Army Officer who was famous for his expeditions from West to East Africa in the early 1900s. He was a passionate ornithologist and through his travels he amassed a collection of African bird specimens that he later gifted to the British Museum – many of them from Ghana.

Lt. Alexander was lucky enough to discover some new species in Ghana* and he named one after Gambaga since he first spotted it there. This bird is Muscicapa Gambagae or the Gambaga Flycatcher.

In 1902, Boyd published a report in Ibis, a renowned ornithology journal, about his travels in Ghana and the birds he collected. That report first mentions this bird.**

I found his report of the journey from Kumasi to Gambaga to be quite interesting. Here are some excerpts from On the Birds of the Gold Coast Colony and its Hinterland. Read More