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.

The Accra Zoo is now located in the Achimoto Forest. When we visited the Zoo it was located on land that has since become the site of the Presidential Palace known as Flagstaff House.

The guard 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.

On the way to the zoo my little brother’s neck becomes inexplicably locked, turned hard to the right.

Accra: Kaneshie Market

Accra 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. 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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

Accra: Jamestown

Accra 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 is a missionary in Africa. She comes home to find her husband in bed with a young African boy. She 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.”

Accra: Oxford Street

Accra 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 room service.

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