“If you don't shut the place down tomorrow and if you
refuse to come to my party, I will never speak to you again!” Haruna
looks at me without blinking. I see more than this firmness in his eyes.
There's also a ‘Please don't let me down'.
I reassure him that we'll all be there tomorrow. Even if it's a Saturday,
the busiest day of the week. We'll find a way. Haruna shakes my hand and
gives me a firm hug. When I turn around, he starts to dance. He's practising
The following day. Haruna, an adult man with Down's syndrome, who has been
working with us for five years, will be crowned Chief today. A very
important person in Dagban! Hamdia arranged for seven yellow-yellows,
tricycle taxi's, to come and
pick us up. Our whole team will be present at the ceremony. The daughter of
one of our workers has been stationed at the workplace to help the kids who
will come in today. We are all full of anticipation, because Haruna is a key
figure in our workplace. Everyone is present at half past seven in the
morning. We get dressed, put our make-up on and we all feel elated. Haruna
pops his nose around the door to see if we haven't forgotten and decides to
go up front. We follow him and form a colourful procession. We blow the horn
constantly and chant his new name: Kumaihene. We get stuck in the mud, we
are dropped off at the wrong address, and we decide to continue on foot. We
feel excited. Haruna is waiting for us and welcomes us.
We have to wait a couple of hours in the hut of a Sub Chief because last
night's heavy rains are causing a delay. We sing and talk to Haruna to give
him courage and we feel as one big family.
The procession continues its way to the house of the Big Chief. Haruna is
given a symbolic Chief's robe. He asks for the matching staff himself,
because he knows exactly how these things are done. When I look at him
sitting there all brave and full of dignity, I tear up and feel so very
proud of him.
Haruna gets to ride the big Chief's horse and all traditions are
meticulously executed one by one. He is given a rifle and shoots gunpowder
with a loud bang. It would be his job as a chief to protect the Big Chief in
times of war. God forbid it should ever come to that... We dance around him,
wipe the sweat off his brow and let him know we are there. He makes a vow
and after that we all accompany him in the yellow-yellows as he goes back to
the house where he lives with his old mother. Haruna goes up front, sitting
in a carrier moped and waving at people like a true king. What an
I dare you, Africa, to bring on your hard times. To challenge me with your
difficult moments. For today, you've proven once again that those moments
are nothing compared to the way you celebrate life.