Accra, June 19, 2009 – Friday
Trip Start Jun 18, 2009
13Trip End Jun 27, 2009
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Where I stayed
Well, I did. For the first time in my life I learned the first-hand definition of „tossing and turning all night long." „Hansonic" hotel where I stayed, at least in the room where I was, didn't have an air-conditioner. What it had was a rusty and noisy fan and you never knew what was worse – having it on or off. When it was on, it was so noisy that the only way I could sleep would be to be put to sleep
The bottom line was, sometimes it’s wise to draw the line a bit above the bottom line. In other words, for just a few dollars more, I would have slept much better. In this particular case, that would have been the difference between the fan and air-conditioner. In Burkina Faso and Mali that difference hadn’t been that crucial. Here in Ghana it absolutely was.
If there was one good thing about it, I learned on my own skin and was now wiser for it. If anything was sure, it was my decision that if ever I arrived in Ghana again, I wouldn’t stay in „Hansonic“ hotel. Not for the life of me.
The breakfast setting was considerably more pleasant than the stay in the room. They have a bar and restaurant in some kind of an annex to the hotel and in front of it is an outdoor space. Nothing extraordinary and in many ways as wanting as the accommodation itself. The floor was covered with plain, unimaginative, hexagonal, concrete slabs which once upon a time may have been coloured
But it was still early and even if the air was as humid and heavy as when I had arrived the day earlier, the temperature was somewhat lower and it was on the whole infinitely more pleasant than two floors up above. I could at least breathe and that in itself was a vast improvement.
The breakfast was a standard fare in Africa with bread, jam, butter and eggs. Nothing you can call a culinary paradise, but at least in that respect I couldn’t care less.
I wasn’t the only one in the breakfast yard. Two tables away there was a group of people, two guys and two ladies, who were white, but when on their own, they spoke a language I couldn’t pinpoint right away. They weren’t all alone, though. Not all the time, at least. They were treated to an eager company of a local guy who at the face of it didn’t seem to have met them just a minute before
At first, apart from my initial curiosity as to where they might have come from, I paid little attention to the group. However, some time later, as some of them got up, went and then returned, and as the black guy did the same, he at one point smiled at me, said „hello“ and asked if he could join me at my table. I could have said no, I guess, but it wouldn’t have gotten me far. By the time I heard his question out, he had already been comfortably seated in a chair opposite from me.
„My name is Isaac,“ he said.
„Pleased to meet you,“ I tried to be polite.
„I’m a driver and a guide,“ he said by way of further introduction.
„Nice,“ I said as politely as I could, but you didn’t have to be psychic to tell that I was less than impressed. I already knew where this was going to lead.
And he didn’t disappoint me. In a minute or two he got down to business and offered me a tour of Accra in his car. I had known even before he revealed his intentions that I’d turn him down, but there was no harm in a small chat. After all, wasn’t it what travelling to foreign countries was all about? So I asked him how much he would charge for such a thing.
I didn’t say anything, and he, without missing a beat, pointed to the four white people two tables away, and added:
„You can join them. I’m making the tour for them, too.“
It turned out the tour would take like two, maybe three hours. As I had already had experience with tours in Africa, it was realistic to expect that a three-hour one wouldn’t take more than an hour and a half, two at your luckiest. And collecting a hundred cedis for that, provided each of five passengers would pay an equal share, wasn’t a bad deal at all
„Why would I have to join them?“ I asked.
„They are white and you are white,“ he said as it was the most natural thing in the world.
„Well, you know...“ I started and then asked him before I went on:
„Where are they from?“
OK, I found out where they were from, satisfied my curiosity and gained a possession of a bit of an entirely useless knowledge. Then I went on:
„Look, I have nothing against people. They’re probably nice. But I didn’t come to Ghana to meet Brazilians. I’ve come here to meet Ghanaians.“
He was caught a bit wrong-footed, clearly not knowing what to say at first
„Besides,“ I added „I like to go on foot.“
This confused him even more. Why would someone want to hoof it if they could have a ride? Particularly if they were white and as such must be able to afford the fare without bobbing an eyelid? I explained:
„That’s the best way to meet locals. How can I meet them if I’m in a car?“
OK, he understood this part. Even if he clearly couldn’t wrap his head around why I wanted to meet locals in the first place. And as a clincher, I added with a grin and a wink:
„Besides, we both know, you’d be ripping me off with twenty cedis.“
At the first moment he was clearly at a loss as to what to say. But seeing my grin and a wink he burst out laughing and said:
„You’re a tough man.“
„No,“ I shook my head
Then he extended his hand and tried to greet me in a local way by way of recognition, a combination of a handshake and a snap of fingers. I didn’t quite catch the hang of it at first, so we practiced a bit. When I mastered it to an extent and we finally executed a passable greeting, he asked:
„Which country do you come from?“
I answered and he exclaimed:
Davor Šuker, of course, being a Croatian attacker on the 1998 World Cup football squad when we had won the bronze medal in France and he had gone on to become the top scorer on that particular tournament. That sporting success, coming at the by far the most popular sporting event on the globe, had probably done more for Croatia than anything else in terms of global advertising. And Davor Šuker had been the most visible face to it
I nodded, not way too surprised that this was his most obvious reference to my country. He wasn’t the first one and probably wouldn’t be the last one whose knowledge of Croatia would begin and end with our legendary centre-forward.
Seeing that he would find no business in me, he soon left. I finished my breakfast and was now ready to start exploring Ghanaian capital.
And Ghanaian capital was a sprawling affair which various sources put between one and a half and close to two million inhabitants, depending on which one you referred to. As population in most non-western countries still swells, I was inclined to believe that Ghana was no exception and that Accra could only be growing by the day. And as such it should probably tip towards the higher figure.
Accra, or a settlement that had been a kernel today’s Ghanaian capital sprouted from, has been around for five or six centuries. Not always a town, of course, it started out as a village, then two, and then a whole scattering on a land in possession of the Ga, a local ethnic group who are still around and probably still constitute ethnic majority in the area
With time, Ghana became one of the first African independent countries, led into independence by Kwame N’Krumah, the guy whose name and legacy I had already encountered. The avenue my Ouagadougou hotel had been on carried N’Krumah’s name. So when eighty years later, in 1957, Ghana finally won independence, it was only natural for Accra to become the country’s capital.
As is usually the case with third-world capitals, Accra become the magnet for the masses and in due time languages like Twi, Ewe and Hause became nearly as common in Accra as Ga
„Hansonic“ hotel was, maybe not surprisingly, situated on Hansonic Road. The Hansonic Road was in many ways very much like what I’d already seen in other parts of Africa. True, it was paved which wasn’t always the case in, say, Ouagadougou but other than that it largely appeared just like another African shantytown with low-rise houses in various states of repair. True, there were those which seemed finished and in a pretty good shape, but at the same time they were sitting next to those which seemed a long way from completion with bare and windowless walls, reinforcement bars protruding unprotected in all imaginable directions and still – already in use. Plaster obviously often seemed to be a redundant category as many of the walls didn’t have any fašade other than grey, naked surface of building blocks which gave them a tired, run-down look.
There was also an occasional tin shack and all around lots of goods for sale, occasionally simply dumped on naked soil by the roadside.
Africa is always picturesque, at least for a European eye, and Hansonic Road was no exception
When I say that Winneba Road in itself isn’t particularly scenic, then I’m basically quite benevolent in my rating. When you start down the road, there’s as good as nothing to see in terms of landmarks. You can’t see a single thing which you can take a picture of and make a postcard. But if you’re a European, and love Africa, then even this utterly boring Winneba Road comes to life in the most colourful way. You just set your pace as it suits you and start looking around. Then you’ll see people pushing four-wheel carts loaded with all sorts of junk, proudly occupying same lanes as any other, and faster motor vehicle. You’ll see „By the Grace of God“ bakery in a wobbly tin shack standing next to an electronics shop, „Alphabet City Sound“, housed in an even darker metal box, offering TV sets wrapped in transparent plastic sheets, loudspeakers as well as audio and video services for „dinner-dance, birthday, wedding and funeral.“ Then there is a yellow-coated shack where you can buy credits for your mobile phone if you’re a MTN subscriber
Side streets to Winneba Road are unpaved and dusty, at the same time lazy and teeming with local life, often jammed with cars both old and new. There are beggars dozing off by the roadside, surrounded by garbage, both in black plastic sacks and spilled around them. There are women carrying all sorts of impossibly assorted clutter on top their heads, and no matter how eagerly you want to see it, it never tumbles down.
There are street stands, i.e. rickety wooden tables, simply covered with checkered plastic tablecloths, where women sell sweets, drinks and simple food. There are sofas and armchairs on sale immediately by the pavement, and right next to them a huge stack of disorderly car tyres. And there are people taking a nap right where their desire to nod off caught up with them, on benches or on low walls, blissfully oblivious to the rest of the world around them.
There are beggars, there are merchants and there are passers-by like me.
Going up and down Winneba Road like this would probably get pretty boring pretty soon if one had to do it regularly, or at least often. But this first day felt like a treat. For all those people out there it was a day as usual. For me, however, this was a free-of-charge, top-class street show.
At one point all those street vendors and shops grew more numerous and crowded, better stocked and somewhat more sophisticated. The goods on offer grew more varied and crowd got considerably thicker. To my left I saw a large and long, two-storied building, size of an entire residential block, painted in yellow and in spots decorated almost exclusively with advertisements for Maggi food products. It was Kaneshie market.
Places like Kaneshie are allegedly spots where virtually anything can be found and bought. However, according to some sources, the Kaneshie was rumoured to have a somewhat seedy reputation of being on the rip-off side, and crawling with crooks. Whether it was a deserved image or not, I was not in a position to tell. All I could tell is that it was impossibly crowded and in places it took an outright determination to keep going. It was that densely populated and bustling.
Well, in spite of its less than flattering reputation, I decided to have a look for myself, figuring that if crime did abound around here, then it should probably be limited to petty theft only. And rife as it may be, which would come as no surprise in such an impossibly crowded spot, for as long as there was no physical hazard, I was not concerned. True, I was fully aware that I stood out in many ways in this crowd. My skin colour, for example. There was not a soul apart from there me who was white. Then my Nikon hanging off the strap around my neck. Both of those things probably gave me more than just a short shrift from more than one shady character around. Who knows, maybe some of them even stalked me. But they couldn’t steal my money. It was impossible to reach in my inner jeans pockets. And I held tight to my camera. So under any reasonable circumstances I was basically safe.
In order to get to the Kaneshie Market building, I had to cross all the Winneba Road lanes. You can do it both on the ground, which given the sluggish pace of the local motor traffic is a thing that doesn’t require any excess courage or physical shape, and by way of a pedestrian overhead pass spanning from one end of the drag to another. I decided to take the overpass.
Only once up there I could take in the full scope of how crowded and congested this Kaneshie area was
The only difference was that on foot I was going to perspire more.
Yes, by now it grew very hot. The sun tore up the clouds and suddenly it mercilessly started beating down, parching every single hair on my head. Or so it felt. Therefore, entering the market building was not just a part of my sightseeing, but also a welcome reprieve from the baking hot day. The inside of the market was huge, comparably dark and cool.
I couldn’t possibly tell if you could really find „everything“ here. But I could clearly tell that it was pretty difficult to list what they did not have
I navigated through the narrow passages of the market’s crammed interior with the first and foremost intention to cool off. The only thing I decided to buy were paper tissues. On such a merciless climate, and if you were coming from where I was coming, you were spending them in unlimited quantities. However, that didn’t prevent one lady on the top floor, who was busy eating a water melon while I was passing by, to offer me her assortment of pots, pans, lids and similar house-wares.
I smiled broadly and said:
„But I am tourist.“
However, she just shrugged, not appearing to make any connection between my status and inability to even consider such a purchase. By the looks of it, she didn’t see a reason why being a travelling tourist like me would prevent someone from handily stocking up on some of her pans and pots just the same
„But what would I do with them?“ I asked amused.
„You can use them,“ she answered coolly and pragmatically.
Of course. What else would one do with them?
Well, I tried explain that it would be impractical to drag them along around Ghana and that I would have to decline her kind offer after all. She took it in stride, and without missing a beat pointed at her water melon, saying:
I thanked her for her generosity, but declined once again. For some reason, after that offer, I felt obliged to ask her if she knew where they were selling paper tissues. Well, I didn’t have to look far. In addition to pans, pots and lids, she sold lots of other, unrelated stuff, among them – paper tissues, too
I roamed around the top floor a bit more, checking with only a mild interest textile stands as well as those with more household items, jewellery – well, trinkets, really - shoes, handbags, cosmetics and so on. I cast a few glances outside from up there through openings in the walls and saw women down in the street sit under huge straw hats behind piles of tomatoes, yams, beans, peanuts and rice, and vessels full of dried fish or meat. At that point I realised this was their life, sitting there every day like that. It was where probably everything for them happened, business, work and social interaction. Maybe that’s where most of them found their friends, too. In other words, Kaneshie market may have been for a large number of people a lot more than just a place where they made their meagre living.
But for me it was just a stop-over. When my inner temperature somewhat dropped, I was ready to move on. So I left the market building, pushed through the crowd and across the overpass again and set out to resume my walking. But before I could get very far, a few guys stopped me, and contrary to the majority of locals, asked me to take a few pictures of them. Of course, I welcomed the opportunity and so we spend next several minutes. When the photographing session was over, one of them gave me his e-mail address with a request to send him the pictures
„Is 'take care’ all you have for me?“
The farther I got from the Kaneshie Market, the thinner the crowd grew. And by extension, after a while down the Winneba Road, it was a bit less fun to walk.
On its lower, downtown-bound end, Winneba Road ends on the Lamptey Circle, which is in effect a sizeable roundabout with a small, fenced park, and a number of poles hoisting red-gold-and-green Ghanaian flags and a statue of some guy with his right hand up in the air in a peace gesture. I assumed it had to be Mr Lamptey himself, or Emmanuel Odarkwei Obetsebi-Lamptey, who had been a politician in times when Ghana had still been Gold Coast.
From there on I turned southwards into the ridiculously busy Abose Okai Road which with a long row of car-oriented stores, mechanic’s workshops, stacks of tyres and similar stuff promised to be a lot less interesting than the one I’d just come from
„Be careful, there are dangerous people outside.“
Interestingly enough, she seemed to be dead serious. On one hand it was outright touching. But on the other, I just couldn’t help laughing. Did she really think it was so risky for someone like me to walk outside as I did? Well, maybe she did. But then again, with reasonable precaution measures, I was a strong believer in the philosophy of „what you think is exactly what you attract.“ And I knew for certain that no harm was going to come my way. So I grinned and said:
„I’m more dangerous than them. See how ugly I am!“
They both laughed and the young girl gave me back the change. Wherever she kept her coins, they were as hot as if she’d just taken them out of an oven
„Do you always cook your coins like this?“
This basically stupid joke made them even happier and once I had drunk my bottle of coke on the spot and left their small shop, they were long waving good-bye after me.
Abose Okai Road was paved. But it was also dusty and the traffic was much heavier here. The shops along the road were the likes of self-styled “glass doctor", who was your “cracked windscreen repairer", stores where you could buy “tyres with muscle” or “purge and diagnose your car” and so on. Vehicles on the road sported as imaginative slogans as apparently anywhere in town, ranging from „God is my witness“ to „fear woman.“ This last one must have had a story or two to tell.
Anyway, with every new step it was obvious that wherever the middle-class and rich parts of the city were, I was getting every farther from them
But I stubbornly went on because I wanted to get to the shore. And on the way there, somewhere down the Abose Okai Road, I came to another market.
Above the entrance to “official” market premises there was a large signboard, letting visitors on that they arrived at the Agbogbloshie Market. And right below it, on the same signboard, there was a plea to “keep it clean and tidy.” But for all the good wishes, on this spot it was always going to be just a wishful thinking. Such a dirty place would neatly fit in, in some of the poorest and most neglected towns and suburbs I’d seen up north in Burkina Faso and Mali.
And this side, just the way it was, compared to what was over there on the other side of the road, came across almost like a pharmacy
Naturally, as if cursed, I went to the other side. The moment I stepped off the pavement I became a subject of everyone’s interest. There was an ankle-deep, dark grey mud there, still very wet and sticky after the rain, mixed with all types of human refuse you can think of. And right there, often without any protection, people had deposited their baskets with goods, which were more often then not filled with – food. This area must have been a hotbed of every conceivable bacteria and disease modern science knew about. And this area must have been an area white people simply didn’t venture into. Unless they were on their way round the twist. Usually, I don’t shy away from such spots. After all, that too is a part of what some countries are. But clearly, and for the first time openly, everyone stared at me. And for the first time I felt unease. Not because someone was hostile. But I simply didn’t belong here.
„What are you looking for?“ one guy asked me.
„Er... I’m looking for someone,“ I gave him the most inane explanation
But Ghanaians are a friendly lot. Much as I was as out of place there as any man can be, while I was wading back through the thick and slimy mud, two guys asked me to take a picture of them. One was a tailor who shared a roadside shop with some potato-sellers under a makeshift corrugated tin roof, and his entire working space entailed a wobbly metal table, a small wooden bench to sit on and a wheel-driven sewing machine. The other was apparently his friend who seemed to be just knocking around without any visible occupation. I jumped on the opportunity, because it was going to give me a chance to take a few pictures and get away with it. People were going to see that I had been invited, so now I was sure no one would come around grumbling. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been so sure.
So I was busy taking pictures even more than otherwise you would have expected, taking a whole hand after they’d offered me just a finger, as it were. Given this chance, I was intent on making most of it.
When I was done, I went on. I left the Agbogbloshie Market behind and not far from there I entered James Town.
Getting to James Town meant getting pretty close to the sea. This was one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Accra, which had first come to life as far back as the 17th century as a community around the British-built James Fort. It appeared to be a pretty lively suburb with a lot of people going up and down, school kids in school uniforms, little shops which sold all sorts of things locals may need in their everyday lives and on the whole there seemed be a whole lot of that everyday life going on right there in the street.
This wasn’t Agbogbloshie Market, but then again, I guess very few places can be Agbogbloshie Market. So, having come from there, being now here seemed a considerable step up. But in truth, I am sure that very few Ghanaians would understand what a white tourist may find charming in a community that clearly isn’t on top of well-to-do list around here. Open sewers, only occasionally covered with concrete slabs, frequent piles of garbage, more than a fair share of beggars and quite a handsome number of goats, dogs and chicken freely roaming this neighbourhood, all this probably wasn’t what you would expect to find on cover pages of travel brochures
Well, I was on my own and if there were risks involved, they didn’t appear to be too big. I could understand, though, just by the looks of it, why James Town might seem a bit less than inviting. Neighbourhoods which weren’t exactly upscale communities occasionally bred people whose sense of regard for the safety of others wasn’t as finely-tuned as an accidental intruder might love it. I will be honest and say that I didn’t receive a bunch of smiles during my stroll there. People did look wary of me. But on the other hand, I never felt threatened, either.
When I took pictures, I did it in my stealthy way, so hardly anyone noticed. And when they didn’t, no one had any open reason to get worked up because of me. Once or twice I asked for the direction and I got a cool, but polite answer. And that was it.
So, as to why a tourist would ever want to come here, it was pretty clear
Post-independence years saw a succession of plans to enhance the city. Some of them included James Town, and others treated such improvements as being in the way of the efforts to develop the central business district of Accra. So somehow the immediate future of the neighbourhood still seemed to be pretty much in balance. In my opinion, it could well use a comprehensive face-lift.
It was so hot that I had to take another break. On the left side of the street, looking in the direction of the sea, I saw a pretty and fairly large church. I was dying for a place to cool off a bit, a bench to sit on for a few minutes and on the whole to have a breather. On the street itself you couldn’t find such a spot. This wasn’t Europe. But this church looked promising.
It was situated in a walled compound right by the roadside, so I entered through its gate. And true enough, in a narrow, but very neat and orderly yard, there were two wooden benches
I was hardly five minutes there when a neatly dressed guy came from inside and greeted me. I greeted back. Then, looking at my camera, he said:
“Don’t take pictures of the church.”
I didn’t quite understand why. Why not church? But I said:
“No problem. I won’t.”
What did it cost me? Nothing, of course. He seemed to be satisfied, nodded and left. And I intended to keep my word. Why not? It wasn’t that difficult after I had already taken all the pictures I had wanted.
And then, after that rest, I arrived at the sea
So I took my camera in my hands, this time not hiding the fact that I intended to take pictures. I hardly took one or two, when a bunch of guys showed up, and asked – guess what? – for an authorisation. After so many such encounters, they couldn’t even amuse me any more. They were obviously just a bunch of local bums who were looking for their fun pestering a lone white foreigner.
At first I just ignored them, going about my business without a word. But they had just started. One of them, probably the oldest among them, said:
„I am the guard of this lighthouse.“
Now, this was a new twist to the familiar plot
„Are you?“ I grinned.
„Yes. And you can’t take pictures without authorisation.“
„Is that right? Well, have you ever heard about a thing called visa?“
He said he had. They all nodded. I was sure they had because a lot of Africans seek to leave their homeland and give it a try overseas, in some of the richer white man’s countries. The moment they as much as start thinking about it, the issue of a visa inevitably comes up. However, I seriously doubt any of them has ever seen a thing called visa with their own eyes. I’d go as far as to venture that whether they have a passport is highly questionable. So on the spur of the moment, I put a little show for the „guard“ and his suite.
„Let me show you something,“ I told him and took my passport out of the secure pocket inside my knapsack. I opened the page where there was the latest stamp, i.e
„You see?“ I said. „This is Ghanaian visa. Issued by your country’s embassy. And it specifically says here that if you are a holder of this visa, it includes all the rights, including taking photographs freely.“
They didn’t say a thing. I think they were too dazzled by the sight of a visa to as much as try to read what the visa really permitted. And I added a clincher:
„As a guard, you should know that.“
Well, as a guard, he would have been a jerk and a feckless dud to admit he didn’t know. So he nodded, confirming that „naturally, he knew it.“
Here, by the lighthouse, I finally saw the sea. Not that there was anything particular about it. It was, in fact, just the grey, murky water of the Atlantic Ocean which was not a patch on what northern half of the Adriatic Sea routinely is
I passed by the lighthouse building and found myself in a dusty side street behind it. It ran right along the beach, separated from it either by a brick wall or some rough rocks, depending on the particular section. The side leaning against the James Town was lined with a row of rundown, dilapidated houses which in many parts of the world would have long been razed. Here, however, people lived in them. So nobody was going to tear them down any time soon.
When I took a few pictures of them, I wasn’t exactly greeted with a round of applause. Women were angry and started yelling in my direction. But it was already too late. Besides, I really meant them no harm.
Down on the beach, I was joined by a few kids who were much friendlier and more communicative, as kids always are. The beach itself was a sandy strip, occasionally dotted with thatched parasols and a small wooden table or a bench under each one. Apart from the kids and me, the beach was all empty. I couldn’t know if it was a usual scene or not. I mean, the day was like an oven and I didn’t know if they were getting any hotter than this in these parts
And then I climbed back up to the paved road in order to continue my exploration, which meant I found myself on the High Street. That was the street that run parallel to the coastline and led from the James Town to the other colonial and old neighbourhood of Accra, the Ussher Town.
But before you really leave James Town, almost right by the lighthouse, there is the other James Town landmark. The James Fort. In terms of sight, it’s not much. And you can’t visit it, either. Unless you’re in for a longer stay there, that is. Which is sort of understandable when you know that it serves a cheerful purpose of state prison.
In any case, it was built by the British in the 17th century on the site of a former Portuguese trading lodge. The Brits obviously thought the Fort would have been underused as a trading spot only, so they fortified it and equipped it for a more sprightly function, which was an attacking base against the Dutch
Right by the James Post I found a post office. As there are people who I call friends and who more than once said they loved to receive an odd postcard from me, and as at the same time I was eagerly looking for another excuse to get away from the outdoors heat, I stepped in. Post office was completely empty apart from two employees who apparently didn’t have much to do. In fact, one of them was just about fixing to start his lunch. I explained I needed a few postcards. The other guy, the one who didn’t have a plate before him, took out a disorderly pack of dog-eared cards and offered them all for me to choose.
And before I could even start browsing through them he said:
„You can come and sit here.“
He meant on his side of the counter.
„Are you sure?“ I was a bit hesitant
„Not at all,“ he said. „Please take a seat.“
„You’re welcome to a lunch,“ the other guy added. I thanked them both, took the seat but declined the invitation to eat. The sweat was literally running down my face and dripping on the desk. Luckily, I had that pack of paper tissues, but it took almost half of my time just to keep this spot where I was now sitting reasonably dry. I mean, someone was going to sit there after me and I couldn’t leave a sweat puddle on the desk.
When my metabolism somewhat slowed down, the rivers I was perspiring thinned somewhat. So I could finally write those postcards. I took it easy and was in no hurry to go back out. At the same time I was chatting amiably with the two guys. The one who offered me his chair was married and had two kids. And almost to my surprise declared himself quite happy with his life in Ghana. He seem to belong to the minority by maintaining that he didn’t even think of emigrating to Europe or the U.S. It was refreshing to hear that there are common people in Africa who were happy with their life as it was
And then, somewhere right after post office, it was where you find yourself in the Ussher Town. Much as James Town centres around the James Fort, so the Ussher Town has the Ussher Fort. They are even next door neighbours. You don’t need to be in a particularly good physical shape, even in this oppressive Ghanaian climate, to make it on foot from one fort to another. Moreover, they shared the same purpose for the large part of their respective histories, so the Ussher Fort has a few prison cells to show off, too.
However, unlike the James Fort, there have been plans to convert the Ussher Fort into a museum. How advanced they were, I had no way of knowing, but even if they say there are no prisoners there any more, it was certain that those plans had not yet reached their completion on the day when I was passing by. But the thing is, if you were someone worth selling up the river, you probably wouldn’t end up here any more.
It was first built as Fort Crevecoeur by the Dutch in the 17th century. Then for a while it changed hands between the builders and the British, going to and fro, until the British finally took its full possession, rebuilt it and turned into a prison
Somewhere around the Ussher Fort, which was located – same as the James Fort – right along the High Street, I passed by a group of women who were cooking and selling food on their little street stand. On of them had a little child in her lap. Seeing me, she called out:
“Take a picture!”
Never the one who would pass up such an opportunity in an African country, I did as she requested. When I finished, she said, proudly pointing at her child:
“He is pretty. Look, he is white like you!”
Well, I had heard before that there was this notion here that the lighter the skin colour, the prettier the person was in the eyes of the Africans. There were many cosmetic products on the market which allegedly helped women shed some dark pigments and they were apparently quite popular
Other than the Ussher Fort, truth to say, Ussher Town had little to show for in terms of historical landmarks. It was just another neighbourhood in Accra whose most interesting and intriguing feature were people. And that’s something you find just about everywhere in Africa. In other words, for all its historical significance, unless you’re a historian, the Ussher Fort is unlikely to dazzle you. That’s why it took me much shorter than I expected to reach The Holy Trinity Cathedral, an elegant Anglican church which is situated on the lower side, the one towards the sea, of the High Street. It was there that I swung north, through Thorpe Road and among a cluster of banking buildings found my way to the Rawlings Park.
Rawlings Park, of course, was named after Jerry Rawlings, the legendary Ghanaian leader who first, with a rank of lieutenant, ruled Ghana as a military leader and later evolved into a democratically elected president
And Rawlings Park in fact marks the southernmost tip of another famous Accra market. This time it was Makola Market. This may arguably be the most famous of all markets in Accra, if nothing else than for the fact that now there are Makola Markets both in various parts of Ghana and the United States. On the face of it, it was a disorderly, impossibly crowded and extremely busy affair. As already expected according to previous information, it was absolutely dominated by women traders who were selling anything you could think of or lay hands on. And most of customers were women. And almost no one was white.
It took a focused effort to push through at its densest section. There was virtually human wall in places which you could get through only with dogged determination. I suppose Makola Market has its fair share of pickpockets and other sorts of petty thieves, just like every other self-respecting market does
So I smiled whenever I heard that, waved my hand by way of greeting, made the caller happy for a second and that was it.
Makola Market lies along Kojo Thompson Road as its central axis in north-south direction, but it is at the same time sprawling over numerous side alleys, both left and right. When I passed its thickest section, and when it was considerably easier to walk, I heard another of those “obruni” calls. This time it was a bunch of young guys, sitting by the roadside on a low wall.
I crossed the street and went up to them
“Hey man,” one of them said. “Where are you from?”
“Europe,” I said.
“Which country?” he insisted.
“What do you think?”
When he and all his friends seemed to be all clueless, I added:
“By my accent…?”
Of course, he had no idea if I had any accent at all. And if I did, what kind of accent it was. So they all started tossing in the names of every European country they could think of. First, of course, starting from big ones – or more to the point, from football superpowers – and then descending towards smaller ones
“Starts with C.”
Now that was a puzzle. What country in Europe could possibly start with C? I could almost see on their faces that they weren’t sure I was not taking the piss out of them. They just didn’t know. So I finally had mercy on them and said:
When I said that, everybody started laughing, as if they were having the time of their lives.
“Of course!” the guy who’d called me exclaimed. “Davor Suker!”
Of course, Davor Šuker…
When I finally left Makola market behind me, it was already three o’clock
Some of the restaurants most recommended by “Lonely Planet” find themselves on or around Kojo Thomson Road up to the west. Life and political career of Augustus William Kojo Thompson for a while ran parallel to the one of Kwame N’Krumah in the period of late colonial Gold Coast times. Kojo Thompson was one of those few privileged Ghanaians who’d had an opportunity to get his education in the UK. When he returned as a lawyer back home right around the beginning of World War I, it was almost natural that as one of the very few highly educated Ghanaians he soon took up politics and kind of neglected his legal practice. His political career ended before Ghana gained independence, and probably on a less brilliant note than he had hoped for, amid serious charges of corruption. But then again, with it he only proved that in his blood he was a true-born – politician.
Anyway, more than sixty years on, Ghanaians seem to have more or less forgotten his corruption legacy and rather tend to remember his merits in fighting the white colonialism
The name of the restaurant I looked for was “Orangerie.” However, it must have been tucked away somewhere aside, where I couldn’t find it and instead I ended up all the way on the Kojo Thompson overhead pass above the wide, multi-lane Ring Road Central. This was the first spot in Accra where I finally got an impression that I was in a true city, and a capital of a country. This was decades ahead from drab, run-down neighbourhoods of James Town and Ussher Town, and an entire world away from repugnant filth on and around the Agbogbloshie Market. I took a few pictures from the overpass, but as I was by now pretty hungry, I decided to check the area more thoroughly tomorrow. Now I just doubled back in search of the restaurant.
But I couldn’t find the “Orangerie” even if my travel guide indicated it was somewhere in the vicinity. But as I was roaming around, inspecting even some side alleys, suddenly I heard someone call from behind me:
“What are you looking for?”
I turned around and saw a woman in her mid-thirties, even if for a white man it’s sometimes difficult to determine a person’s age if they belong to another race
“But I know another restaurant which white people like,” she said.
“Really? Where is it?”
“Not far. If you want, I can take you there.”
My chances to find the “Orangerie” appeared ever smaller by the minute. Besides, I had no reason to prefer one place to another, particularly not before I saw either of them. So if that other restaurant wasn’t far enough, why not?
And really, it was practically just across the Kojo Thompson Road, turning out to be my second choice even before I met this woman. The name of the place was “White Bell.”
It was a pleasant, first-floor spot with a nice shaded terrace
“A drink, maybe?”
She took some local beer.
Her name was Abigail and she said she was working as a nurse. She was divorced, had a son and that was the long and the short of it. At least when it came down to her life. She didn’t seem to be in any hurry, so she was sitting at my table all along while I was dining. I was half expecting her to ask me at some point for some “support.” I know that such thinking was prejudiced, but I guess you just can’t help it after so much time in the streets of Africa where you mostly interact with people of lower economic classes. However, to her credit, Abigail asked for nothing.
After a long day on foot, anywhere between eight and nine hours, I was in no hurry myself
“You’ll pay less,” she explained.
I did as she said and when she arranged the business with one driver, she insisted that I pay up front, so that there was not going to be any change of mind on the part of the cabbie later on. Three cedis was the fare. It seemed more than fair.
I waved Abigail good-bye and took the front passenger seat in a beat-up yellow “Volkswagen.” The cabbie seemed to be a chatty lad who said he was working like this in hope of raising enough money to go to the university one day. He wanted to become a doctor. In every country the difference between being a doctor and a taxi driver was huge. But citizens of only some countries were fortunate enough to get a chance to become doctors – or anything else with a university diploma – based on their merits and abilities, and not on the depth of the pocket of their families
The rest of our ride back to the “Hansonic” hotel passed in a chat about football, the universal language among majority of men. The guy was a “Kotoka” supporter, a club from Kumasi, second biggest Ghanaian city. I asked him if he ever went to see any of the matches live. But he said he usually worked.
And that was it. When I returned to my hot and humid room, it was completely dark outside.