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.
The Accra Zoo is now located in the Achimoto Forest. When we had visited the Zoo it was located on land that has since become the site of the Presidential Palace known as Flagstaff House.
Henry advises me to leave my phone in my bag. He offers to take a few photos on my behalf. The guard at Flagstaff House 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.
On the way to the zoo my little brother’s neck becomes inexplicably locked, turned hard to the right.
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. I buy a hand-made shirt.
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. I struggle to fit my head through the opening, feeling awkward. 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. Adomako takes my picture as I sweat profusely.
We return from Ho to find that there are no rooms at the Nogahil Hotel where we have been staying. We seek temporary refuge at the Shangri-la. Although there are palm trees throughout Accra there is something about the palm trees here in the hotel compound that makes them seem like an artificial Disney affectation. We hear the Shangri-la is known for having the best Chinese restaurant in Accra so we go there for dinner. We spend the rest of the evening researching parasitic worms in the internet cafe.
The Shangri-la is torn down and replaced with a modern hotel and shopping mall funded through Chinese investment.
There are generally no addresses in Ghana. Or where addresses exist, they are largely meaningless to people. Even street names are inconsistent and irrelevant. Locations are identified by their neighbourhood and nearby landmarks, as in “Kokomlemle behind the Training College.” Emilia tells me that when she orders Uber she has to go through a long description including the colours of houses where the driver needs to turn.
Henry lives in Dzorwulu, a neighbourhood where many Nigerians and Ivorians live in walled residences with private security guards. Henry is my driver for this excursion. Although I had studied the map carefully before leaving we have no idea how to find Choco Pain. We spiral through the confusing maze of dirt roads, stopping frequently to ask if anyone knows Osu Badu Street. Of course, no one does. But someone finally knows Choco Pain and her face lights up with memories of the delicious baked goods.
“I’ve seen you before,” she exclaims. “I was here eleven years ago,” I respond.
As we explore Dzorwulu we are constantly approached by residents who want to know where we are from. Rather than asking us directly, they always start by guessing. Their guesses seem entirely random. “Brazilian?” “Swedish?” “Greek?”
Seeing a cake decorated with Jack-o-lanterns and bats Henry asks me what Hallowe’en is.
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.
Highlife parades down the street as we walk somberly amongst the headstones.
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.
We are looking out on the Gulf of Guinea, trying to spot the equator 600 kilometers away. 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 were missionaries active in Ghana from as early as 1828. Their legacy is ubiquitous.
My cousin Sharon is a missionary in Africa. She comes home to find her husband in bed with a young African boy who he had drugged and raped. Sharon gets back in her car and drives straight to her death. My mom tells me about her suicide. I ask what country they were in. She looks at me impatiently and repeats that they were in Africa.
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.”
We are walking up Oxford Street, the most commercial part of Accra, and I am thinking about how tired 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 on the journey back to the hotel and to our separate rooms. I end up ordering chicken and beans from room service.
“Why are you so humble? I have never known an older person to be so humble.”
We have just left Chicken Republic when the skies release a huge downpour. We dash across the street to take shelter at the gas station. Huddled there it is hard not to recall the recent explosion at the gas station at Atomic Junction. It is curious that fast food outlets and gas stations always seem to be in close proximity in Accra.