Sketching in the village is not as fun as it might sound. “Go ahead,” says my Ghanaian artist friend, a teacher in the small village. He gestures around the marketplace. “You can draw now.” I sit self-consciously on a shea log and take out my sketchbook. Eyes turn toward me from all directions. The kids come first, then the men, last the women. The scene I am drawing uproots itself, lining up behind me to stare over my shoulder and discuss my sub-par sketch.

“I thought you were drawing too,” I ask my friend. This whole trip was his idea.

“Oh,” he says. “I can’t draw here. Everyone is too distracting.”

This gourd painting came out of my village drawing session. I was sitting in the shade of one of the many market booths, a small thatched roof held up with shea logs, and drawing the chief’s 4th wife, who dished out porridge a few feet away. That was the first time I tasted the local ginger porridge, smooth and extremely tart, with a lot of sugar and fried dough crumbled into it. Two of her small daughters sat on an upturned basin in the booth behind her. This is village childcare, playing in earshot of your mother while she works.

gourd7_big
Around the rim I copied another pattern from the black and white cloth. I had joined a women’s ministry group in my area and one of the women wore a dress with this pattern. The repeated picture of a hen and chicks was appropriate to these women’s groups, which so often dealt with issues of motherhood. I titled the gourd “Akoko Nan”, the title of the West African symbol shown on another gourd, below. The full translation is: “The hen treads on her chicks, but she does not kill them.” It represents the idea that parents must both discipline and nurture their children.

akokonan