My daughter’s lovely friend/chosen family Sam swiftly picks
us out of the airport crowd & directs us to his idling car. We pile in and
off we go: the plan is to first drop our things at the house where we’ll be
spending the nite before we continue up the coast, then stop at a bank to
change money, and finally off to find food.
We drive down streets whose traffic rivals l.a. freeways and
whose drivers could be featured survivors in nascar events, much to my
grandchild’s glee. Pedestrians contentedly mingle in and out, competing with
scooters and taxis alike as more vendors earnestly hawk their wares heaped on
top of heads held high, trying to sell us, as we zoom by or sit at the rare
intersection, everything from glistening cold drinks to cellophane-packaged fried
plantain chips to attractive soft brown chairs with finely woven backs and
seats or the infrequent gleaming soccer ball.
Although there is air conditioning in the car, we all
protest the cold and opt for rolling down the windows to experience fully the
fresh air, novelty and excitement of Accra’s streets, despite the thick diesel fumes and enduring
heat. Sam turns off the boulevard and squeezes into the last space in front of the bank that shares the
parking lot with a colossal church whose bulk and blaring opulence rivals those
mega monster churches in the u.s.
Sam, whose thinly disguised distain and deeper sorrow echoes
my undeclared feelings, explains that Ghanaians just l o v e their churches. We
witness a dazzling sea of incredibly colorful decked out joyful humanity rapidly
escaping out of the huge double-doored mansion of a church. In the wake of striking vivid
Ghanaian fabrics, vibrantly contrasting silks and lace, and formal suits, I am dismayed
to spot little 4, 5, 6 year old girls tagging along in oppressive heels and tight lacy
dresses. I witnessed the same high-heeled shoes deforming young church girls’
feet when traveling through Mexico.
Sam does not allow us to give him any U.S. dollars but
instead hands over $387 cedis he has retrieved from his bank – Ghanaian money:
3.87 cedis for 1 u.s. dollar. Again, we are in a country where our money goes
almost 4 times farther than all Ghanaians.
I know this unequal value of money criminally favoring
foreigners is the reason most tourists and certainly every ex-pat are occupying
space and exploiting resources of this country. I feel the familiar wave in my
gut of nausea and disgust and knowledge of u.s.ofa. privilege, and reaffirm my commitment
to consciously trying to minimize the empire within that I shoulder as
naturally as babies balanced on mothers’ backs.
We head out for a mile or two until Sam turns off the main
paved 2 lane thoroughfare and steers down the bumpiest road whose red dirt echoes that of the earth in Georgia, thru a
community of various houses, store fronts, and lots empty except for the
occasional little band of goats or wandering chickens.
Here and there children also play along this dusty dirt path,
racing bald tires or dribbling stones; women stroll along with babies on backs
and/or bundles on heads; most men seem to walk individually or together in twos
or threes unencumbered.
Unfazed by the sporadic pedestrian, deep ruts, screeching turns,
or brutal lurching of the jeep, Sam steadily approaches a newly built very modern
building perched proudly on the corner and adorned in lovely shades of gold,
brown, orange, and olive green, like the painted ladies in SF. The house is surrounded
by a matching high solid cement wall with an ornate metal gate where a tall,
thin man materializes when we are still a good 30 yards away, ready to slide
open the gate as we get closer.
How he knew we were coming right at that moment, I don’t
know. Sam didn’t call him and neither did we. It seems people in Ghana pay
attention to things, see things, know things in ways I can’t explain. I’ve
witnessed similar attentiveness, many decades ago when I first went to Baja
California in Mexico – before it was overrun by u.s.ofa. people – and more
recently a few years ago in Senegal.
Our rooms are quite luxurious with overhead ceiling fans,
large firm beds with cotton sheets, and even a little mini refrigerator. The floors
are smooth earth-toned marble tiles and there’s lots of beautiful glossy dark
brown wood doors, window frames, and inlaid ceilings and walls. And off to the
left, a full bathroom complete with sink, a tub with a shower, a flushing
toilet with the required small swinging-cover garbage can – a delicate reminder
for tourists to deposit toilet paper in the can and not the toilet bowl.
After warm welcomes from our hosts and dropping off our
bags, we head out with Sam again. He takes us by a restaurant that offers pizza
and sandwiches – we immediately nix that saying we didn’t leave the u.s., fly 10 hours and come
to Ghana to eat pizza. We want ‘local’ food.
Sam is pleased after incredulity passes and he confirms we REALLY
want Ghanaian food. He takes us to another place not too far away that serves
food we’ve mostly only read about. We sit outside shaded under bright red umbrellas at tables covered with green, yellow and black cloths as we delight in eating bowls of light soup
with fufu and banku and fish and chicken, and for the vegetarians, plates of red
red, plantains, and chichinga – all for less than $5 a person with drinks and
pineapple for dessert.
Again, Sam does not allow us to pay.
Fully sated we head to the marketplace. Vendor after vendor
line both sides of the expansive 4 land boulevard and booths make a double line
on the sidewalk, proffering everything from cell phones to vegetables to mounds
of shoes and stacks of clothes to smoked fish and mangoes to fabulous cloth and
carved statues, furniture and bags of water or cold sugary drinks.
Womyn, babies snuggled on their backs, little or not so little bodies wrapped tight in
bright happy cloth, lace thru the crowds with huge bowls on their heads, some
of them so tall I cannot see what is inside; others balance plates shaped like
silver metal saucers on their heads piled seemingly precariously high with mountains of smoked
fish or bananas or ice cold drinks. Men also weave in and out with belts
suspended from their shoulders like pet snakes or pushing wheelbarrows loaded
with coconuts and a sharp machete ready to slice off and puncture the top of
the shell for thirty cents each.
In anticipation of tomorrow’s journey, we load up on mangos,
yams and plantains along with a couple smoked fish and several large bottles of
Before heading back to the house, Sam drives us around Accra pointing out museums and small
farms, additional markets and malls, and a large lake where wild tilapia are
caught by local fishermen. In the states neither my daughter nor myself eat
fish, especially farm-raised fish but here in Ghana we will get a taste of wild
tilapia and end up indulging as much as we can!