Sweat, Ice Water, Sleep

It’s hot in this country. I sweat. I drink loads of water. I have trouble sleeping.

Today marks a week I’ve been in Ghana. I have to confess, I didn’t think I was going to make it. By day 4, I was ready to tuck tail and run back home to Atlanta. I had several factors leading me to concede defeat: 1) My eldest was just not adjusting to the change well, and spent every waking moment since we got off the plane (literally) saying she wanted to go back to Atlanta. 2) I still can’t figure out how to get from town to my dad’s house. 3) I forgot, ever so briefly, my role as a child to African parents. That lapse in memory led to stony silence and 4 days of personal discomfort for my part. And 4) I missed my husband terribly – more than I expected to in such a short span of time.

But this blog isn’t about the sad/negative stuff. Who wants to read about that anyways? You’ve got your own issues. Why don’t you take your mind off all that and let me tell you a tale of 6 cities merged into one: Accra the megatropolis.

Accra has its own soundtrack, and it’s the same one that has been left on repeat for donkey years. To every conversation, there will be background noise consisting of swallows, roosters, crying children, the rumble of a taxi or a trotro and some woman screeching a gospel hymn in soprano when she is clearly an alto. The sound track to Adenta (a town that forms part of Accra’s megatropolis where we live now) is slightly more unique, however.

Every night, a pack of feral dogs fights outside my father’s gate. They snarl, yip and eventually end their fight with a chorus of mournful howls. Other dogs in the area of course join in the refrain. As I lay in bed, I imagine the fight must have ended with one dog viscously eating the other. An hour later, a family of bull frogs croaks until about dawn. Then, the resident cock crows the signal that it’s time to wake up. Someone outside begins to sweep the street with a stiff broom. It is at this time that the local malaam will make his call to prayer. A torrential flood of Allahu Akbar!!‘s fills the air. Not to be outdone, a pastor at one of the 15 or so churches that dots the road to our house will preach non-stop from noon to midnight over his megaphone. All sorts of prayers permeate the air, and depending on your fancy, you can find and join a congregation harassing God or pleading with Him to hear and entertain their supplications. Ghanaians don’t really just talk to God. He is either revered and approached softly, or advanced upon like a volcano that must be shouted at/over to be heard. It doesn’t matter though. God is still ignoring them. The roads are still bad, the politicians are still corrupt, and many people still have their visa applications to come to Amrika bounced on a daily basis. It’s sad, but kinda funny.

A man from Akropong lives in the house just behind ours. This man must–as a matter of need – eat fufu every day, twice a day. So great is that need that several of his house help have run away over the course of the years. Pounding fufu is back breaking, painful work. There is a reason that it is reserved for special occasions, like Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas duck. Even now as I type, a rhythmic dum dum dum interrupts me.

Getting through this week has been difficult, as I said, because I’ve had to relearn many things since my last visit. Unlike all my other returnee friends who have a gaggle of maids and drivers to attend to their every need, it’s just me, my dad and my kids at home trying to muddle through our days and night together. The first domestic challenge I faced in that week was ironing.

I don’t where all these irons in Ghana come from:- Korea, China, Singapore – who knows? – but they all have one thing in common. They have two settings, namely OFF and MELT YOUR GARMENT. In preparation for a wedding I was attending, I actually melted my lace dress, even though the setting on the iron was set on low steam.  I watched in horror as a sticky goo where my neckline used to be lay before me on the ironing board. I was confused as to how that was even possible, but I wore the dress anyway, and hoped that my American blubber would cover the singed fabric.

Next is negotiating the gate to our house. If I ever am successful in reaching this gate after venturing out for a day in town, access to my house will be denied me for 10 minutes or more. The gate is padlocked to keep out intruders. That’s not a problem. The problem lies in attempting to open said gate with a rusty key fitted into a rusty lock. My dad has an endless supply of WD 40, but it doesn’t make a difference. Something about the melding Ghana’s air and metal is just conducive to rusting. In the moments spent trying to enter my house, I will cough incessantly as my lungs are cloaked with gray smoke as someone begins burning trash. Someone is always burning trash in these parts.

Lord, please don’t let me forget TV. TV in Accra is hilarious. Every morning, politicians get on the air to pontificate and tell a gaggle of lies. They then accuse the opposing party of lying as well. The only bit of useful and pragmatic information I’ve seen on tele has come from the mouth of a Nigerian educator, and they (as a nation) are supposed to have the reputation for corruption and lying. The soap operas are still the same as well. All the scripts are over acted, the value of an actress still lies in how quickly she can produce visible tears, and the sound and picture quality is atrocious. But there are subtitles for all pieces done strictly in local vernacular. That’s a nice touch.

This week, things are looking a lot more positive and I’m beginning to generate amusement in watching my people instead of despair. Like the man at a reception I attended who was decked in a ¾ length suit that was clearly too large for him (the hem of the coat rested below his knee), who accosted a waitress ferrying savory bits of food around on a tray and made her stand still while he popped whole bits into his mouth, never pausing to chew. Hmmm…proof that a fine suit does not make a ‘gentro man’ out of you!

Sights that are familiar to me are a wonder to my four year daughter. She proclaimed just two days ago that she wants to learn how to carry things on her head so she can sell them in the middle of the street. Her grandfather and I got a big chuckle out of this. Silly girl. That will never (ever) happen. My friends have all been laughing at me since I announced that I want to go to South Africa to teach. Can you imagine their guffaws if I one day inform them that my college educated girl is a yoyi seller at the airport?

A small girl shouts “Oooo shame!” to her compatriot. Her shrill interjection into the steady humdrum makes me smile inwardly.

Next week, I go to check out jobs. I hear people in Ghana don’t like to pay for work. I would say this isn’t true, but I still haven’t been paid for an article I sent to a magazine months ago. It’s no sweat though. Akwaaba to me!