In a way, it is a lot easier for me to get to see everyday life in the city of Accra than it has been for Liz. After all, she works during the day, and it is a different proposition for a single, very noticeable woman to go out in the ill-lit streets in the evening than it is for a guy to go out during the daytime.
She has walked a bit when she had a specific place to go such as the gym, but not wandered about just for the sake of nosing around like I have.
Having said that, I’ve not been out of an evening except when driven, so I’m curious to see what the nighttime is like here.
So, feeling slightly smelly since I’ve only been able to wash in water from the bucket, I head out. Immediately around the apartment, it’s very quiet. A few people are sitting outside in the (relative) cool of the evening, chatting or sewing. One of the tiny one-room beauty businesses has a customer, the girl is doing her hair. They’re sitting outside too.
The goats and chickens are still wandering about busily or lazily depending on individual temperament.
As I get nearer to the main street of Spintex Road, things begin to liven up. Food stalls are busy, and many establishments I haven’t seen open before reveal themselves to be bars or snack bars. Traffic is almost completely gridlocked.
I decide against the “Hook Me Up” Lounge, which doesn’t sound like the sort of place I want to visit. Maybe it’s just a singles bar (not what I want anyway…), but maybe it’s something a little shadier.
I wander for a while, just taking things in. Some people are just wandering, like I am I guess, others are dressed up for a night out.
I end up in the bar which I found on my previous outing. It’s a friendly place, but looks a little different in the evening. There’s a British football match on the TV. It’s a big TV, much more state-of-the-art than you usually expect of things here. But they do LOVE their football. I’d tell you who was playing, but as I say, I take no interest in that.
It was by now very dark, and there were no lights in the bar so the audience could see the TV more clearly. I couldn’t see how many people were ranged around it – dark people in a dark place, after all. There was a lot of loud cheering and other encouragement – the fans seemed equally divided between the teams. I sat on the other side of the bar.
Those who know me well will remember that, if I go into a bar, and don’t become involved in a conversation or (less likely) engrossed in the TV, then I’ll sit and read. Currently I was deep in the History of Ghana.
But here conversation is impossible (everyone else is deep in the footie) and there’s not enough light to read, so I only stay for a while before heading back to the apartment.
Next morning, Yelbert has brought us a huge container of water from somewhere, bless him, and left it on the doorstep. I can barely drag it into the apartment.
Later in the day, someone has managed to arrange for a tanker to come and replenish the water tanks. This involves parting with some cash, but I’m happy enough to do that. Much of the day is taken up with packing and preparations for the return home. Sorting through papers, deciding what food will last until Liz gets back, tidying and cleaning, that sort of thing.
I take a little wander, I visit the little store around the corner for a couple of things to eat, and I return to the apartment. Most people I see are in go-to-church clothes, either because they’re on their way there or on their way back.
Every so often I hear church singing. It’s more enthusiastic than we Brits are used to, and involved clapping too. Brits tend to pretend to sing, or mumble quietly. I’ve always thought that if God wants us to praise him, he’ll probably think more of people who do it happily rather than as if they’re slightly embarrassed.
That evening I venture out again. I visit a place I’ve walked past often enough, but not been in before. As I approach it, I’m hearing a number of happy conversations, which tempts me to go in. This is a place which has a menu outside that promises all sorts of things, but every day (if you walk past at the right moment) the real menu is revealed by a chalked notice … “foofoo ready now.”
Inside it’s a small bar/restaurant, about the size of someone’s front room. there’s a really friendly atmosphere – I think many of these people are family. For the first time, either going into, or walking or driving past, anything which looks at all like a bar, there are a lot of women here as well as men, relaxing. I think some of them are related to the girl who seems to be running the place. A small girl, maybe three or four, comes over and talks to me, shows me her phone, and her purse which featured “Dora Explorer”. She was amazed I was familiar with Dora.
After getting her mother's permission (or the girl who was in charge of her, anyhow) I give the small one the set of colored pencils I brought in case I got a chance to do some sketching (that’s not gonna happen now, and we have tons at home). She rewards me with the biggest smile ever.
After a while, and some fairly-clear conversations (despite the language/accent problems), I decide to move on.
I find a bar which looks quite pleasant from the outside, but which has always been dark during the daytime. I don’t think I passed it last night, or if I did it wasn’t open yet.
Inside, it’s brightly lit, and has several pool tables, all in use and with a queue of people waiting a turn. I consider adding myself to the queue, but decide against it. I do enjoy playing pool, but I’m pretty awful at it – and seeing the standard these guys are playing to, I’d only embarrass myself. I realize that I’m paying more for a beer here than I’ve done anywhere in Accra before (it still only works out at about $2.50 a beer). For the second time tonight, this place has several females in it. But, um, they seem a little underdressed, and a little friendly (not towards me, I’m the weird white guy reading a book). After one rather nervous drink, I head to the place where I watched the soccer last night for a final beer, where I am greeted warmly, and then back to the apartment.
One thing which has surprised me this weekend is that there is no fuss at all about the upcoming Ghanaian Independence Day on Monday - 60 years to the day since they became independent. I've noticed a couple of posters, normal commercial adverts with an added line of congratulations, and there's a logo on some TV programs - but I see no parties, or decorations, or anything else. Initially when I found out that I was going home on Independence Day, I was a little disappointed - I wanted to see how it was celebrated. The answer seems to be, hardly at all. I think there will be some dull speeches from politicians, but I was expecting a lot more fuss.
Next day, Yelbert arrives to take me to the airport. I bid farewell to the gatekeeper and his lady, and we're off. There is some confusion at the airport about where to go, and where the bags go, but nothing like the fuss that arriving in the country entailed.
It's a long and tedious journey home, involving a trip from Heathrow to Gatwick in the middle, for reasons which I won't trouble you with, but eventually I get home. Liz is delayed for a few days in the UK, her Mum is unwell, but we still have a fine time with son and daughter before everyone disperses again - daughter to college, Liz back to Ghana and son (after a little longer) to Philadelphia.
I'll be adding a little more to this blog in a day or so, wrapping things up with some final thoughts of mine on Ghana generally, and after that I'll probably add some photo galleries.