This morning I woke up with a singular and very simple mission: Get some credits for my phone, buy a bar of Golden Tree chocolate and veg out on the sofa/bed and cackle with my friends while they work.
That mission turned out to be impossible.
I’m accustomed to Ghana being the land of “no”. No water. No electricity. No Jobs. No money in the system. But NO chocolate?? Yeah. Let that sink in. Now come with me as I guide you through the roughest 45 minutes I’ve spent in Ghana so far.
In Ghana, cell phone usage is on a pay per minute plan. You get these little scratch off tickets, enter the number and you have a new balance. There are 3 billion wireless plans to choose from: MTN, Kasapa, Tico…too many for me to list. My sister bought a Kasapa phone while she was here 2 years ago so that’s the one I use. I’ve never bought minutes for her phone, but it looked simple enough. So off I went this morning to a yellow kiosk boasting all the credit plans on sale.
“Good morning,” I said cheerily. “Can I buy 3 cedis Kasapa please?
The girl with a short perm selling the credits lowered the volume on her radio and turned down her mouth.
“No please. It’s finished.”
I was stunned.
“Finished! Ei. Ok. Do you know where I can get some?”
She pointed down the road.
“At the umbrealla.”
I looked where she was pointing. There was no umbrella.
“You mean where that man in the green shirt is?”
“No. No. The umbrella. This way.”
Now she was waving her hand left to right and right to left – kind of like when the stewardesses on the airplane are pointing at the emergency exits. Basically, she meant keep walking until you figure out what I’m trying to say.
“Okay. Thank you.”
It had just rained this morning, so the potholes in red clay road were full of murky water. My flip flops slurped with every step. On my right, I spied a man sitting at a desk with a tarp on top. His painted sign said he had MTN and Tico.
“Good morning!” I greeted optimistically. “Do you have Kasapa?”
He sucked his teeth and frowned his face in disappointment.
“No. I don’t have some.”
“Oh. Do you know where I can get some?”
His companion pointed me further down the road.
“You can get some at the junction,” his compadre instructed.
I had already been walking for 12 minutes. The sky looked as though the heavens might open up and pour out more rain, and all I wanted to do was get home and make my bloody phone calls.
“The junction!” I cried.
“Oh. This very junction here. Where the tree is.”
The tree was only 100 yards away, so I felt much better. That’s one thing I love about Ghana. If you can’t get something at one stop, go 50 feet in either direction and somebody else will be selling what you need. It’s the same way with churches. I slogged on to the tree.
“Good morning,” I said cautiously. “Do you have Kasapa?”
I did a little break dance.
“Great! I’d like to buy 3 cedis please.”
He pulled out a bent up scratch off card that had already been scratched. I looked at him quizzically.
“My brother. Let me tell you. If I get home and this card has already been used, I’ll come back oh.”
“Oh! It has not been used. Do you have your mobile?”
I told him I didn’t, it was in the house. In the end, I took him at his word and began the long process of navigating mud, trash and other unforeseeable perils on the red clay road back home. As I walked, all three people I had previously encountered asked if I had “got some of the credits.”
“Yes thank you,” I said.
At the top of the hill, I had a sudden epiphany. I’d have some chocolate as well. I mean, what’s better on a rainy than some chocolate? Some Golden Tree with groundnuts inside would transport me back to my youth. I spied yet another kiosk just passed my dad’s house. By now I’d been walking 25 minutes and was perspiring profusely.
A little boy had been left to mind the store. He asked me in Twi what I’d like to buy. I told him in slanged Twi that I wanted to buy Golden Tree. He looked confused. He said they didn’t have some.
“Heh?” Now I was confused. My eyes darted around his kiosk because I was sure he was wrong. Nothing. I turned and walked to another store front that looked better stocked. The plump middle aged woman who owned the shop took my dashed hopes and ground them into powder.
“Oh. Hmmm. These days, there is no chocolate in town oh,” she said in explanation.
“Why ever not! This is Ghana! We export cocoa!”
She suggested I try another kiosk around the bend. Before I trudged off, she said she would call her friend to make sure she had some. Negative. Her friend said she would not be ordering some until Valentines Day.
This is September.
As it turns out, Ghanaians do not have an appetite for Golden Tree chocolate, and store owners can end up with cases of the stuff in stock for months without a single say. Suddenly, my dad’s request for Snickers made too much sense. Bet you if I sold the bite sized candies from AMERICA at 30 cents a pop I’d have a line around the corner. Ghanaians’ affinity for all things foreign is really troubling sometimes.
By the end of my 45 minute odyssey, I ended up with a 1.5 liter bottle of Coke, some ginger snaps, sweaty thighs, a broken heart, and a promise from the shop keeper that she would see what she could do about getting me some chocolate. I felt like Christopher Columbus. No, I had not ended up in India, but it was the next best thing. I would just pretend the Coke and cookies were Indians even though I was clearly sitting on Native American soil.
Fantasy is a fabulous thing.