This is an expression some people here use that mean’s going out for a beer. “Sharing a bottle” is a very common social activity for men here in Navrongo (this is reflected in the high alcoholism rates) – I’ve shared a few bottles during my time here in Navrongo.
Some days after work I’ll get together with one of my Ghanaian coworkers or friends at a “spot” (read small bar) and we’ll relax, cool off and wind down the day with a couple beers and often some lamb/goat kebobs or roasted guinea fowl. I have to admit that I’ve done so much learning about Ghana and her people by ‘sharing a bottle at the spot’. It’s the place where the cool evening air, chilled beer, and relaxed atmosphere create a setting where my coworker friends and I can be open and free with each other and share experiences from our different cultures and countries as well as ask questions that might not be appropriate for a formal office setting.
I’d like to share one of several conversations we had one evening. I don’t feel comfortable mentioning his name since I haven’t asked if he’s comfortable with me doing so. From here on I’ll just refer to him as ‘my friend’.
Like most people I know in Navrongo my friend grew up in rural village outside of town, and like most boys he had to herd cattle at a very young age. Boys in the village would wander for hours and kilometers following cattle around occasionally throwing small rocks at them or hitting their behinds with a stick to keep them together and guide their direction. As you can imagine walking for hours in the equatorial heat is both boring and tiresome. But my friend was lucky.
His father understood the importance of education and wanted his boy to get an education. In order to do so, his father argued and fought with my friend’s grandfather to allow him to attend school instead of tending to the old man’s cattle. Here cattle are a symbol of prestige and wealth (I also suspect there is some other cultural significance) so even when the grandfather allowed him to attend school, he wouldn’t sell one of several cattle to pay for the year’s school feels. Somehow my friend’s father managed to come up with the money to pay.
As we relaxed after a long day my friend then told me that very few of his school mates from primary continued on to junior or senior high school – most had to herd cattle instead. Then he mentioned something that just seemed to stick with me: he’s one of the only people who went to university from his junior high.
Later that night we saw 2 boys around 8-10 years of age I’d guess who were dancing to the music at the bar. At first I was amazed at how talented these boys were! They had synchronized moves and caught everyone’s attention. In exchange for their entertainment for the patrons, the boys were each given a bottle of coke (and some coins from me). I didn’t stop to think about what these boys were doing here at this time of night until my friend said “those are armed robbers”. It caught me completely off guard, but then he helped me understand that boys like this grow up with little or no guidance and neglect from their parents which can lead to crime and other limited choices. A night of relaxing and sharing a bottle seemed to yield some stark insights in the importance of education in Ghana.