Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ghana, No. 5

Accra Rain Storm
Note: I've been starting each entry with the date to keep myself in check. Since arriving, I've had very little concept of time (in terms of days and hours). It feels like I've been staying at the Afia Beach Hotel for a month. The staff and guests are all very friendly and we've become friends over the (counting....) five days since I arrived. The electricity just went out, a normal occurrence here. Luckily my iPad is charged at 100%.

Last night I went out with Military Mustapha to see the nightlife of downtown Accra that is not normally privy to white sistah from US. (With a giant military escort I didn't have much to worry about, with the exception of his own passes, which I was confident I could handle, and I did--no ironic foreshadowing, promise.)

I had wanted to go a reggae party at Labadi Beach. Ashanti, one of the artists peddling his canvases and jewelry at the beach earlier that day, had told me about.. He saw me collecting shells on the beach and started helping me. "White shells for white sistah," he told me. I knew he was harmless when he referee to me as sistah rather than lady. We had a nice chat and like all the Ghanians I've been fortunate to encounter, we spoke of being nice and accepting each other as brother and sistah, he told me, "you are nice and it is nice to be nice, but it is even nicer to be important, and nice white sistah like you is important to brotha Ashanti because you support my work." It was not long after that that he emptied his backpack, rolled out his canvases and started selecting some items for his new white sistah to purchase for very good price. Ashanti quilted me into purchasing some bracelets, "nice to be nice," he repeated.

White Shells for White Sistah, Courtesy of Ashanti
Military Mustapha insisted that Labadi beach is not real Accra, and he took me on a motorcycle tour of Accra's black market area, I'm thinking it was Dirby Avenue, where the street was filled with people hustling, people sleeping, and older women selling bread. Exiting the black market area and heading north on Nikrumah Avenue, we were heading toward Nikrumah Square, we passed circles of people praying, men selling goods from kiosks, teenage working girls looking for clients--you know, the variety of things that occupy the scope of Ghanian culture from God to prostitution.

We got off at Nikrumah Square (which is where the Loom is located) and dodged the traffic to go sit at an outdoor cafe and club (Military Mustapha was holding my hand, which I didn't fight at this point as I was the only white sistah around). When I use the term "cafe" to describe the location, please don't envision the western ideal: terrace on the streets of Paris, white top tables, espressos. The cafes of Accra are either segmented areas of the sidewalk or kiosk-trailer-some-without-a-roof-type buildings/dwellings. The furniture is plastic deck-style, and has been stained by, well, I'll leave that to your imagination. The ground is covered in all types of glass. Street sellers filter through offering gum, toothpaste, condoms, candy, popcorn, cigarettes, drugs, and so forth, and the street was packed with people, cars, bikes, etc.

We sat down and everyone started referring to Mustapha as "boss man" again, even without the uniform. We ordered drinks and as we waited he asked me if I could ever live in Ghana, "No," I replied. "Why not?" "I can't live without ice cubes." He didn't understand what an ice cube was so we switched to French for a few sentences. "Ah," he said, "But we have." I told him I had not seen any since I arrived. He called over the waiter. Then he called over the waiter from the cafe next door. I couldn't hear a single thing as the music was incredibly loud; there was a DJ and two 5 foot speakers. Women, girls, and men where shaking their hips in the African way. It was great to be a spectator. Mustapha then pulled out his cell phone and made a quick call, "I will get you your ice," he said. Twenty minutes later a boy ran up to us with a bag of two ice blocks. Mustapha requested a cup and a knife, and broke the blocks into pieces, filling a cup with them then pouring in my soda, "you see, we have ice in Ghana."

He was offended when I didn't take him up on his food offer. Considering all the stomach issues I have had I didn't think a Guinea Hen skewer cooked on a pile of coals on the polluted streets of Accra was the best idea. He purchased me a type of root instead, it was cut up into logs. To eat you bite into it and suck out the nectar. It was sweet and I enjoyed it. Mustapha told me that if I get sick in the village to look for this as it is known to be a natural cure for fever and malaria. He then went on to explain that being in the Military you learn all the natural medicines available, and when on peacekeeping missions, you learn those of the country you are stationed in. "When in bush you have no doctor, you must treat yourself." He then showed me two bullet wounds on his left forearm, a number of scares that covered both his forearms, and the place on his head where he took a bullet.

Mustapha is a Muslim from the north, and showed me pictures of his father and older brother (his mother passed away some years back), and his youngest daughter (Yep), she is 5 months old. He has four children in total, all from the same mother, though they are not married- I let this one go.

After 45 minutes I told Military Mustapha I was ready to go back to the hotel and he obliged. I enjoyed the ride back, and though it was dirty and polluted, the air rushing over my skin was a cooling sensation after the day at the beach. We arrived to the night security guard dancing in front of the entrance, listening to music, playing with the "security dog." Mustapha told him, "I like your spirit, brotha." This was the most genuine encounter I had witnessed between him and another Ghanian.

After a few minutes of, "like I told you yesterday, I'm not in Ghana to marry, I am here to be of service to children outside of Takorai and experience the Ghanian culture, I am a very happy, independent female who is not looking for a husband," Military Mustapha backed off and said, "Maybe one day you change your mind, and when you do, you call Mustapha."

Note: electricity is back on. Hello ceiling fan, thanks for working again.

This morning after breakfast I caught a taxi and headed toward the National Museum. I was able to haggle down from 10 to 6 cedi, Yolanda would have been proud. Walking into the museum I was out of my element, funny as I work for one. The woman at the front desk was annoyed by my arriving and wanting to purchase admission and a photography pass--funny as I was the only patron in the joint. I crossed through the turning gate and my self-guided tour began. The building itself was designed by Sir Denys Lasdun, architect of London's National Building, and was built in 1960. It is An open foyer with smaller gallery pockets circling, and had the building been maintained by western standards it could rival, in space, any ideal western museum.

The exhibitions were scattered with no real attention to interpretation or education. I chuckled when I came across a sign on a glass case holding some "artifacts" that read "we cannot tell the good from the bad because of pretense and hypocrisy." Huh. That aside there was a great collection of arts and crafts, objects from other West African nations, traditional scene installations, a reproduction of Marcus Aurelius, and mannequins positioned in traditional dance moves. It was a combination of Madam Tussaud's, Museum of Natural Science and History, Art Gallery and fun house.

Toward the back of the museum i wandered into a room where the "Third Fadjr International Festival of Visual Arts" was taking place. Again, I was the only person in the room, which was filled with examples of Persian art. I was delighted (for those of you who don't know, I'm obsessed with Persian decorative painting). The last part of the festival was a hallway filled with works by young artist from around the globe. It was amazing, and a serendipitous experience when reflecting on my goals in Ghana and the ideas and musings of a global art community, which brought me here in the first place.

Note: I forgot my memory card and could only take 5 pictures using my legit camera, the rest are on my iPhone, which means I won't be able to share them with you until my return. (Travel note: iPhone was stolen two weeks later in Esiama--memories lost forever.)

Exiting the main building and roaming the grounds, I came across an open building filled with pictures of children and a larger than life trunk. The building, with no signage in ready view of what was going on and no one in it to offer explanation, was filled with wisdom from the children of Ghana to be shared with the children of Ghana in 2057. It was the most amazing part of the museum. At the end of the exhibition I was able to read that the larger than life trunk is filled with the wisdom and creations (some of the children were photographed with pictures of their own creations or objects they thought necessary to include), locked and loaded, and the museum will reopen it in 2057. Some of my favorite captions, note that misspellings are direct copies from the labels (all misspellings above and below this are authentic type-o's as I continue to adjust to the iPad):

"Our leaders past and present, I edge you to aspire to be like them."

"Never forget to make a little music in your lives. I present you this maracas."

"Check out my fan made from found objects. I hope future kids will also be resourceful."

"Roots, barks and leaves have been replaced by chemicals - I hope we will go back to our roots by 2057."

Finishing at the museum I had intended to head back to Labadi Beach for more fruit salad and shell collecting--I even had on my bathing suit top for easy tanning, but the clouds have rolled in and I'm expecting rain at any moment. And yes, I plan on having a full blown Toto moment blessing the rains in Africa while I stand on the rocky cliffs of Accra's coast looking south over the Atlantic. And to those who questioned why I packed my raincoat, now you know that it was in anticipation of this very glorious, 80's-tastic, magical, musical, weather-engulfed moment.


Man in Surf, Rain Falls
UPDATE: the rains have been blessed and two hours later they continue. Glorious. At the start of the storm I went down to the cliffs and stationed myself in one of the huts so I would be sheltered as the impending dark clouds rolled in. I was soon joined by Joan, an older woman from Vancouver Island. We have had passing conversations over the past few days. Joan and her friend, Poli (I think) have been traveling all over western Africa searching for fabric weavers. Poli has a shop back in Canada where she specializes in African fabrics. Joan and I were amused that we were the only hotel guests watching the storm roll in, "island people are different," she said.

Afternoon Darkness, Rolling Rain Cloud
After our chat which covered island culture through American fundamentalism and foreign romance (she was curious to hear of any updates regarding Military Mustapha, leading me to conclude that word travels fast in these parts), she went up to her room to join Poli. I decided that some photos of me in the rain, blessing the rain, and enjoying the rain were necessary and with no one around I could set up my camera on the timer and give it a go. I looked ridiculous, I'm sure. But I was totally digging the moment: speeding to a spot, hoping I was in the frame, dealing with my mess of hair--I'm sure I was a ridiculous sight. After the last frame clicked a rumble of thunder caught me off guard and I slid in the mud: the red, clay-like mud that is sticky and slipping and an accident waiting to happen.

I laughed as I hit the ground and was amused by the new red stains on my white linen trousers that I had just scrubbed the night before in the bathroom. I've become an expert hand washer. Luckily, with no grip and most of my finger tips burnt off (scares from my days pre-Ghana on Nantucket) I can't really feel the scalding hot water and my hands don't mind the endless scrubbing and rubbing.

Mud Slide
At the moment: Dry. Fresh clothes. Clean face. I'm back at the Tribes Bar and Restaurant for my last lunch with the friendly staff. Kofi, a young waiter, just came over to thank me for the Nantucket sand and shell bag with my address card in it. He likes to stay in touch with his favorite American travels, I'll be his first female contact in the US, and he is not interested in marrying me.

© Habit & Style, 2013.

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