Accra: Zoo

Accra He leaps from the bars of his cage to the concrete floor. He slaps his hands on the floor and spins around. I leap from the limb of blame to the pool of complicity.

He has a toy parrot in his office that squawks whenever the noise hits a certain level. His squawks are usually triggered by laughter resulting in yet more laughter.

He moves toward us like a predator spotting vulnerability. We become increasingly nervous but do our best to seem at ease. He tells Henry to delete all the photographs from his phone, advising him that he is lucky that the phone is not confiscated. A member of the military then tells us that he would have happily shown us around Flagstaff House if we had only come earlier in the day.

“When the mind lies, like god you relinquish your nervous heart.”

On the way to the zoo his neck becomes inexplicably locked, turned hard to the right.

Accra: Kaneshie Market

Accra This t-shirt says “I was there.” Or perhaps it says “someone I know was there.” Or perhaps it merely says “I wish I had been there.” It is the sartorial equivalent of name dropping.

I buy a hand-made shirt in Kaneshie Market, an investment in the tokenization of Ghanaian culture.

Chris asks me to buy a Bonnie Raitt t-shirt for him at the concert. He doesn’t care what it looks like, only that it must be white. He is looking for something to wear when playing squash and the club has an all-white rule for squash attire. There are white shirts at the merch table but the black ones are so much nicer. I buy a black t-shirt for Chris.

As a thank-you gift Juliana gives me a batakari, the traditional top from northern Ghana. Apparently there is a program encouraging Ghanaian men to wear batakaris on the first Friday of every month. This is the first Friday of November.

It is hot and humid and crowded. The smells of fresh produce mingle with body odour and open sewers. Animal parts of all descriptions lie on slabs of wood, bleeding into the dirt, covered with flies.

Accra: Shangri-la

Accra The Shangri-la is known for having the best Chinese restaurant in Accra.

The Shangri-la is torn down and replaced with a modern hotel and shopping mall funded through Chinese investment.

We return from Ho to find that there are no rooms at the hotel where we have been staying. We take temporary refuge at the Shangri-la.

Although there are palm trees throughout the city there is something about the palm trees in the compound that makes them seem like an artificial Disney affectation.

We spend an evening researching parasitic worms in the internet cafe.

“You haven’t asked me what my name is!” Then she points at her name tag and I learn that her name is Cleopatra.

Accra: Choco Pain

Accra Henry used to live in Dzorwulu. It is a neighbourhood where many Nigerians and Ivorians live in walled residences with private security guards.

“I’ve seen you before,” she exclaims. “I was here eleven years ago,” I respond.

Seeing a cake decorated with Jack-o-lanterns and bats he asks me what Hallowe’en is.

We have raided the mess hall for a late evening snack. We smear sweetened peanut butter on processed white bread and feel like we’ve never tasted anything so good.

We are up at dawn, gazing out across the lake, eating instant oatmeal out of mugs, feeling like breakfast has never been better.

“A good meal will make you sweat. A great meal will make you cry.”

Accra: Osu Cemetery

Accra He teaches me to embrace all of life’s experience with strength, integrity and good humour. He now knows that he is days from his own death. He has gathered all of his most cherished friends and loved ones to say a final goodbye. There is humour and love and even joy. But I am overwhelmed and know I will never rise to adversity the way he has modeled it for me.

It is rumored that they are exhuming bodies and burning them in order to resell the graves for 300 Cedis.

He leads us into the crypt where there are boxes stacked haphazardly for as far as we can see in the dim light. Randomly he removes the lid from the occasional box, invites us to look inside, sometimes lifting a skull for us to admire.

Accra: Jamestown

Accra Two young men approach us and ask for our email addresses. I suspect there is some nefarious reason they want them but I feel it would be more dangerous to refuse. For some reason it doesn’t occur to me to provide a false email address.

There are twenty boxing schools in this neighbourhood.

There were missionaries active in Ghana from as early as 1828. Their legacy is indisputable. The waitress asks me “Did you go to chuch this morning?” When I tell her I did not, she responds “I couldn’t go to church because I had to work. I thought maybe you could share the Word of God with me but you have nothing for me.”

Our favourite outing is to walk from my grandfather’s house to the lighthouse. We play on the rocks, in awe of the Atlantic waves crashing in, until the surf gets big enough to thoroughly soak us.

Accra: Oxford Street

Accra We are walking up Oxford Street, the most commercial part of Accra, and I am thinking about how sick I am of eating the same things at our hotel. I suggest to Robin that we find something to eat before heading back to the hotel. She says no, she doesn’t want to. I fall into an unreasonable snit. We hardly talk as we head back to the hotel and to our separate rooms. I end up ordering room service.

“Why are you so humble? I have never known an older person to be so humble.”

It is, perhaps, a comment on our capitalistic society that there is comfort in a heavily commercial environment. I know what’s going on here. I know how to play this game.

I recognize her just as she turns down another hallway. She must catch me out of the corner of her eye because she doubles back and greets me with a bright smile and a wave.