Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Free rangers

Definition: Free range is a method of farming husbandry where the animals are allowed to roam freely instead of being contained in any manner. The principle is to allow the animals as much freedom as possible, to live out their instinctual behaviours in a reasonably natural way

From Wikipedia

My first introduction to ‘free rangers’ were the summers of my childhood that I spent in the Jamaican country-side of Trelawney in the very small rural community that my mother grew up in. During those long summer holidays, she would pack my cousin, my sister and I off to our Aunt where we would endure the ravages of ‘country-life’. Some things still resonate with me today:

  • bathing in a bucket of rain water – no there was no running water! – and the agony of just trying to wash off the soap. Anyone who has ever bathed with rain water would know what I am talking about!;
  • going to church on Sundays and all the old ladies pinching your cheeks and exclaiming ‘ what a way Miss I dawta dem get big eeeh?’;
  • the red velvet sofa that we used to bounce up and down on;
  • the old cantankerous mule that was always ‘parked’ by the custard apple tree in the front yard;
  • the duppy (ghost) stories made all the more real by the presence of an old European graveyard that was just across the way embellished with names we couldn’t pronounce and dates of a time that was long faded both in time and on the gravestones themselves;
  • and last but not least the chickens!

Long before this terminology of free range was chic, these chickens used to roam the yard and do as they please. Their clucking was a constant in the background noise of everyday life in the country side.

Recently I have been re-introduced to the concept of free-ranging here in Ghana but this is decidedly of a different sort.

Living as I do on the other side of town, taking a short cut through to the motor-way and then passing on the outskirts of Ashiaman is a must if I want to get to work on time. In the mornings, it is not uncommon to see people squatting in full view of the motor way. At first neither Ashes nor I could understand what was happening. As these ‘squatters’ were usually in the middle of an open field we really couldn’t figure out what they were waiting on. And then it finally dawned – this was a bathroom stop. This in local vernacular is called ‘free-ranging’.

At times it seemed like a rather social affair, comparable to the chickens that would assemble in groups and cluck merrily as they went about their business. It was not uncommon to see two or even more carrying on what appeared to be a perfectly normal conversation under the circumstances. The fact that other persons were walking or driving by, and other free-range domestic animals including goats, sheep and cattle were all in the vicinity didn’t seem to make much of a difference. After all, this like taxes and death, was a necessity in life.

A popular place to spot free rangers is on any public beach. Driving along the Labadi road in the morning you are sure to see ‘jay walkers’ as a fellow blogger once referred to them scurrying across the road to start (or end) the day on what I guess could be best termed a ‘lighter note’.

It’s strange sometimes how much we take for granted, bathrooms being one. There are few public bathrooms, and even fewer still that one would venture in if the need arises. You develop strategies to avoid being in such situations where you have to find one outside the security and comfort of your own - or a friend's home. As one article that I read recently said, human excrement is one weapon of mass destruction we seldom seem to think about. In a report published by the UN last year it was noted that ‘ the common reality is that more than a third of the world’s people – 2.6 billion- have no decent place to go to the bathroom while more than one billion get water for drinking, washing and cooking from sources polluted by human and animal waste’. A startling reality if there was ever one.

Will look - though not directly - at the free rangers in a different light. After all this really isn't just their problem is it? It's everyone else's too.


Nana Yaw Asiedu said...

Brilliant writing on a topic that has been on my free-ranging mind for quite a free-ranging while. I miss these masterpieces but the wait is always worthwhile.

Denise said...

Hi Nana Yaw, you need to give me some lessons on keeping my blog up to date! I always check yours - even though I am 'silent' - and I always look forward to reading something new, not just in updates but also perspectives. I do like the poems.

Maya said...

I'm so glad you brought up this topic, and thanks for making me burst out loud when I read it. Free-ranging is at times hilarious (couple holding hands on the side of the motorway while doing it) but mostly offensive (guy turning round to face me whilst doing it, as I drove up a very narrow road). I feel compelled to write something myself on this...

Maya said...

...that was of course meant to be laugh out loud or burst out laughing...

Denise said...

Hi Maya, never seen the couple scenario but saw one that must have been a close knit family! Should have tooted your horn at the guy, may have caused a reversal of 'fortunes'.

Denise said...

and yes Maya, you should write something on it!