Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to a fabulous week in my life. Laugh!
Dozing off under the sparsely shaded areas of an empty parking lot, the dust of the gravel rising to my nostrils, the tiredness of my body overcomes me, and I dream of what Ghana (wiki) was before I knew her; full bodied tropical wetness, suckling sweet mangos from the trees, sirenes pouring cokonut milk in my half open mouth, swaying under sinewy palm trees, admiring golden dusk sunsets and escaping to the shorelines in the star lit passion of night. Instead, this is what I find:
Fleshy upper arms, short legs that don't make it down to the floor, the obese woman doctor behind her desk did not use much sophistication in the Accra Police Hospital. I have malaria, I told her. She diagnosed malaria, no blood test needed. Telling from my scratch marks. I could have done that myself. In fact, knew it but came in for a test. No test needed, obvious, she has diagnosed it. Arrogance is striking. She smiles, I thank her, swear everlasting peace and friendship, this was a quick one.
City is baking hot. This evening I roll into my parking spot, engine sputters, at the Next Door Beach Resort, my favourite place here in Accra for Ghanaian food and drinks, so quiet, evenings with a breeze from the ocean, a bit away from Accra beach road that sees stop and go traffic all day and all night.
Why does my car break down now? I am so tired. My sticky shirt on. The sheets smell of old sweat, the pillow case has acquired a brownish tan, no laundry done since Ouaga 6 weeks ago. I sleep my great sleep under the tree, the breeze is coming in by the open windows going out by the open back door. No need to close it, Ghana is a safe country. Next morning, no power. Car and I, both need a break. I try to move the Landy, but engine gives up after a few hundred yards at the Chinese pizza place, you can smell the Maggi cube from afar. Another morning later I organise a mechanic. He is good, I am told, as usual, many however are butchers in Africa.
One of them John, and he can even operate a spanner, points to the fuel injection pump, we remove it, repair it, refit it, the engine does not start, change the fuel lever pump, the engine won't start. Butchers! Maybe we should have just checked the fuel filter. In hindsight, we are always shrewder. The butchers are not able to resynchronise the fuel injection pump with the engine/in other words put it back incorrectly. And maybe we would not have spoilt the engine when running the Landy down a little slope and pushing it up 3 times trying to jump start it. A diesel always starts, unless something is rotten, I tell them.
Comes Saturday, no fever yet (try to kill malaria early), but I feel I need to confine myself to the quiet of a hotel room, air condition, shower, a bed and sleep and sleep. I sleep for 36 hours. Sunday evening I am better. "So where do you stand on a scale of 0-10, 10 being best/absolute fabulous?" Asks me friend Stephen on the chat. 7 I say, just 7 comes the surprised reply? Well, considering ...
Monday morning back at the Land Rover, the Chinese place, mechanics don't show up. They know they messed it up when refitting the fuel injection pump; and its timing with the engine. Maybe it never was the injection pump in the first place.
The Ghanaian boss in the Chinese pizza restaurant knows a good mechanic, another one. So I wait. I feel better, just nothing eaten for 24 hours. The Chinese pizza place is all day empty, freezing cold aircon, afloat with US pop, 25 year old and way too loud, makes you want to burn down the place. I had Chinese food here before, had pizza here before, opt for pizza again. It comes half cooked, I ask for it to be put back in the stove, they don't understand. I am tired, also of Africa, need change, want to see my children.
I think I opted out of going to Nigeria this weekend when hanging in the ropes. Not up for it, not up for Africa's most populated country (150 million), not now. Asia next? Said this before.
The waiting game. The mechanics, the new one and 2 helpers turn up at 5 p.m. in a nice Mercedes, sounds professional/acts professional, Albert, he "received schooling in England" on Land Rovers". The job will be done, he assures me. His guys can even operate spanners. They take out the pump and promise to come back in the morning. Ghana is said to have some of the best mechanics in Africa and some butchers.
After dark I walk down the road back to Next Door Resort. Some boys cross my path holding up their trophies, dead rats, at their tails, each one. What are they doing with them? Eat them?
Next Door, my favourite at the ocean, though it remains sticky, the breeze hard to come by. I still hope for rain soon. Tonight I go for Jollof rice (reduced in spicy soup) and grilled marinated chicken. Before I have had here red-red (beans and plantains), tilapia (grilled fish) and banko or fufu (whatever dough of ground rice and casava, hard to describe), palawa/palaua (coco-yam leave/very spinach like thick with loads of red palm oil) sauce, all in all Ghanian food at its best. Today this is finally eating after 30 hours. I had rejected the pizza earlier amidst anger 'bout Phil Collins and Lionell Richie. But now I eat so much.
Later back outside the Chinese pizza place, I try to sleep but sweat inside my truck trying to catch the breeze. When I finally sense it, it distinctly smells of burnt hair or fur, have the boys sold their rats to the Chinese cook? crosses my mind. I immediately feel my bloated stomach revolt against the idea.
So are we going to see any rain while down here? 4 weeks not a drop since the hellish inferno in Kumasi. I wish for some rain.
Tuesday, and I have taken all malaria medication, but still feel tired, means I have still malaria? The mechanics come at 12, fit the pump, and the engine starts. But joy is to early, butchers!? At three I call them back when going into town and the engine looses power again and heats up. I wait at the road side just outside La Palm Hotel. My feel level goes up a nudge to 8 while I wait and the cars and trucks go by, the dust is overwhelming, many people come around and chat, exchange phone numbers; one wants to buy the Land Rover, do you have money I ask him?, Euros?, the German medicine students (and one has a Ghanaian girlfriend/a fellow student?), the American (spy?), the vendors, I buy a toy, a present for my boys, a musician, I buy his CD, I buy water, a telephone card, one girl wants my boots, my jeans, my ... Sun sets behind clouds, land inwards. Clouds are a constant feature in afternoons, though the rains don't want to come. My mechanics finally come at 6 p.m. At 7 when we fiddle with spanners and a torch in the dark we refer it to the morning, though I am able to make it back to Next Door and my breezy spot.
Wednesday, when the mechanic who was supposed to come by at 8 a.m. does not show up by 9 I call Ian Webster, an Englishman. This nice Parisian Cameroonian who always dresses in traditional clothes, whose name I have forgotten and who I have been chatting to regularly in French, gave me his number just this morning; "Ian knows Land Rovers".
"You should have started by checking the fuel filter". I thought of it then, but was a bit on malaria; and/but in 4 years in Africa I have never had a problem with bad fuel. Bad fuel, "one filling is usually enough to stop the engine", so goes Ian from Yorkshire, stranded in Ghana for 30 years, one of those few, but I feel he is here to rescue me, he knows Land Rovers and there is a team of 4 mechanics who cannot just operate spanners. So they start taking it all apart. ALL.
So where do I stay on a scale of 0-10. Still a rock solid 7, my friend Stephen! And I even started retaking malaria pills this morning, the usual relapse.
Ghana, Thursday 9th of April, this is silly season, Easter ahead, church or preacher hall services go on for nearly 24 hours at every corner of this very central part of Accra not far away from the Cathedral hill. Very civilised, outside Ian's compound, lots of computer shops/but no working internet cafe/no hotspot around where I am. Most men wear proper shirts and ties, drive new cars, so many, women in usual colorful attire, leaving homes in evenings for church. No one locks his house.
So I listen to these ecstatic preachers' preaches, the guy in the true sense of the word screams his soul out, is possessed rather by the devil it seems to me. Their is this omnipresent reality of evangelising in Africa, pastors are celebrities. The crowd loves it, salvation is never far, hallelujah.
Gospel and hymn singing may stop at 1 a.m. after hours, then restart from a different preacher hall/church at 4 a.m. What have we when I walk around the block? Evangelical Methodist Church calls itself the Prayer Palace Temple (Motto: Let your light shine), one house further the Heroe's Temple of World Centre International Church, where the weak are made strong, the poor are made rich (this must entice people to come), Calvary Charismatic Centre, a church with a vision and finally the celestial Church of Christ.
Is any one of them part of a greater body? The annoy the shit out of me. Relax! I have my laudry done after 6 weeks with Ian's neighbour. I attend the Easter night service in Accra cathedral. This is Roman Catholic. My upbringing. Why not? When in Ghana do like the Ghanaians do. Well I stay, really just for the first 2 hours. It probably goes on for a total of 5 hours. When I leave the lady at the door sends me the evil looks.
And the Landy of course has to wait. Nobody works Friday through Monday. Sunday it looks like it may rain, but sun's back hot and sticky after the clouds have been menacing for an hour, so I down all the beers in Peter's Place, at the ocean. Finally torrential rains come on Easter Monday. Tuesday afternoon they start putting the engine back together. So where do I stand on scale of 0-10?
Slavery and the Gold Coast beaches.
After Burkina, escaping Sahel and Harmattan, this fog of dust that hangs over country and cities. From French to English, from FCFAs to Cetis, from dust to dew, from scrubs to tropics. It does not happen in a day, I sleep on the side of the road till I reach Kumasi. But then humidity strikes, first rain, as powerful as expected, this is the tropics. Now sweat is replaced by condensation.
Kumasi, the ancient hub of slavery, capital of the Ashanti (wiki). But this history seems washed away, forgotten, or maybe more, hidden in the throes of Evangelism.
Then make my way down to those famous stretches of cream coloured sand, crowned by palm trees, blue waters, and sirens pouring coconut juice down my slightly opened mouth. I see them all ..; Green Turtle Lodge, back packers' and overlanders', this paradise lost near Dixcove. Someone once said "the bests paradise is the lost paradise." Who knows? Skirted around the bay near Prince's Town towards Akatekyi village, found a whole stretch of white beach sand to myself, with the greenish lagoon languishing in the back, old palm plantations, me cutting my own coconuts. A day later I have all the Bushmills in Lou Moon Lodge near Axim to avoid paying parking. Finally I reach the most unspoilt, most western point in Ghana, least develloped, breathtaking beach, Sally's Marquis west of Half-Assini, or is it called Sunset Paradise now? Heading back east bound a different occasion, loose myself in several villages till I finally find Big Milly's Backyard on Kokrobity beach, almost inside Accra.
It is the beaches and castles tour, Dixcove, Tokoradi, Elmina (wiki), Cape Coast (wiki). As much as the white sands and blue waters soothe the castles and dungeons of centuries of slave trade (wiki) disturb. The blight of millions of Africans that were channeled under absolute inhuman conditions through the white washed forts of all European nations (Dutch, Portuguese, Swedes, Danes, English and others) remains stuck in my mind's eye.
The facts they say... 15 to 25 Million Africans were shipped as part of the so called Tri-Continental trade from Africa to the Americas mainly during the 17th and 18th centuries. Produced goods such as cotton and sugar then were transported from America to Europe and guns, sprits and cheap jewelry from Europe to Africa to buy slaves. 15-25 Millions of African slaves shipped (half of them would die on the way over due to health hard ships and sanitary conditions) points to another 15-25 Millions that had to die in the course of slave capturing operations/wars against rivalling tribes, slave capturing was a mostly inter African operation. So we talk up to 50 Million dead! At the time, a tribal chief was in dire straights, he had the option to 1.) capture slaves and sell them to the Europeans in exchange for guns so as to defend his people from being captured, 2.) be sold himeself or 3.) be killed. I often wonder what story could be told if the African tribes would have united themslves against the European traders/invaders. What a different history it would have been?
The European slave trading operations were half matched in extent and brutality by the Arab/Fulani who engaged in the cross-Sahara slave trade which lasted at least twice as long. The Arabs were the first to engage in the trade, only to be beaten by the Europeans who soon caught on. Perhaps the Europeans were open to the idea coming from a witch burning and hanging criminals in public places back ground. Eventually at the beginning of the 19th century Britain first abolished and criminalised the slave trade. It however took another 50 years before most shipping from the African coast stopped. Some trade was carried out well into the 20th century.
Ghana, what to do?
Go to the Internet? Where? What write about? About Ghana? What about Ghana? Just go and write an article about Ghana. Boring Ghana. Developed Ghana. Expensive Ghana. The so hard to connect in Ghana. Friendly safe Ghana. Interesting Ghana. Gold Ghana. Ghana of the chieftaincy society. Juju/woodoo Ghana. Christian Ghana. The Jesus Loves You Satellite Church Ghana. US white and black evangelical preachers preaching preaches on outdoor screens Ghana. UK missionaries Ghana. The thousands Chinese Restaurants Ghana. Oil Ghana. Cheap Ghana. No not right, expensive Ghana. Money laundering Ghana. Backpackers', over landers', volunteers', expats', rastas' and prostitutes' weekends' hangouts Ghana. The Reggae Ghana, the Bob Marley bands Ghana (some good, some bad, some ugly). The Jesus Loves You and Glory Internet Cafe. The another Chinese and Pizza restaurant Ghana. Church services on Sunday Ghana (me not being used to everything's closed on Sunday Ghana).
The so little fast food culture Ghana. The Fufu and Banku and Palava and Red-red Ghana. The sweet bread, no baguette Ghana. The no Nescafe and omelet in the morning like in Cote d'Ivoire Ghana. The castles Ghana. The Ashanti Ghana. The slave trade Ghana. The beaches and palm trees Ghana. The sewage smell Ghana. The golden sunset lit palm plantations beaches Ghana. The "In Ghana we (men) do women, men, donkeys and goats" Ghana. Tricksters Ghana. Just another sex trade story? I think he sells you a boy, a girl, an AK47, drugs, his mother, or just a visit to Elmina. This is Ghana.
The market free of hustlers Ghana. The Star beer Ghana (really forget the rest). The sticky shirt, 95% humidity, 30°C at 3 in morning, no breeze Ghana. The mosquitoes Ghana. The tired Ghana. The next malaria Ghana. The no music but church music and hip hop Ghana. The overcast, breezy, nicely tempered at the ocean Ghana. The waves and the sound of waves everyday Ghana. The ocean Ghana, the beach Ghana. Look for the next Jesus Loves You internet cafe. It is not so easy in Ghana. The not so interesting Ghana. Waiting for the rains in Ghana. It is easy in Ghana. It is so relaxed in Ghana. The breeze, the ocean. Ghana is for beginners. Nigeria might be for advanced Africa travellers, but I am not going there anymore, not now. I am tired.
Pipona from Lima, alias C, finally the sirene that would pour coconut milk in my mouth, finally on Dixcove beach.