8:30, Campo de' Fiori
On Tuesday I awoke before six, a slight improvement over the day before. Richard was still feverish, but slightly better and restless, so we both went to have breakfast at the White Bell. We were the first ones there, at 7 am, and had to wait about fifteen minutes before a girl came up the stairs from the house below and opened up the kitchen. I had an omelet, Richard asked for fried eggs, the kind that retain a clear distinction between yolk and whites, and we both ended up with virtually the same thing, plus chips (french fries, being in a former British colony) and a good-looking salad, which we didn't eat because we were still listening to the doctors. They had no orange juice, but something even better: pure pineapple juice, no additives, in a bottle. We looked forward to enjoying more of that in the coming days. Across the street we admired the sign on a small bank housed in one of the better-conditioned buildings: "Blessed Lady Savings and Loan." Richard was very interested in checking out the Niagara, so we went over there, where the night clerk, still on duty, recognized me and greeted me like an old friend. As the Avenida still had no water and Richard wanted the best chance to get better as quickly as possible, he decided to spring for the luxury, first wrangling a suite with terrace for the same price from the owner, a loquacious Arab from Dayton, Ohio. Back to the Avenida to get our things, then, to my eternal shame, a cab ride the quarter mile or so back to the Niagara. Once ensconced in our lavish accommodations, Richard settled into the huge double bed, and I set off to do what I do best, which is take a long all-day walk all over the place. My first destination was the Prestige office, thus repeating the previous night's journey. To tell the truth, it was pretty much the same scene, and because of the insane traffic almost as terrifying in the daylight. I neither saw nor heard of accidents involving cars and people, and I found that incredulous; if I ever get into a New York cab and see on the hack license the name Kwame (a name unique to Ghana, which means born on Saturday), I'll know I'm in good hands. Finding Opera Square was no problem, and a brief scan across a rubble-strewn vacant lot led my eyes to a sign reading Prestige Tour and Travel on the third floor of a wide four-story motel-style building that appeared to be standing only by the power of some miracle, with entrances to the small offices via surrounding terraces. When I entered the Prestige office I asked for Joyce, and several people pointed to a small back office and waved me in unannounced. I introduced myself and showed her my Prestige itinerary and told her that Emelia had invited me to see her. She was friendly enough, though not in a real Ghanaian way. I told her the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of my ticket and what I wanted to do about it. I wish the ensuing scene had been captured on film. Joyce asked to see the ticket, removed the coupons from the envelope and began slowly shuffling them, looking first at one then at another. But it was clear, from her look and manner, that she was seeing absolutely nothing on the ticketsher only thought, I am absolutely sure, was "How do I get out of this? How can I get rid of this guy?" And looking around the office, which resembled a fly-by-night livery cab operation, I saw the trappings of a Saabre system, but was also certain that it didn't work. So I decided to let her off the hook, and suggested, "Do you think it would be better to take care of this when I get to Rome?" and she lit up immediately, "Yes, yes, better in Rome, because, you see, blah blah blah." I did find it irksome, however, that I couldn't get a map of Accra out of them. I like to have maps of wherever I go to guide my walks and as a souvenir later on. I never saw a map of Accra in Accra, apart from the not-too-serious sketch in the cumbersome guidebook. Joyce said the other guy, her partner Daniel, whose card I also had, he would have a map, but he's not here, so you wait, okay? No, not here, wait out there. So I sat in the outer office with several Ghanaians who, like me, were doing nothing. I saw what looked like a magazine on the table: a Spiegel catalogue. I read some of a local newspaper, and was assured that Ghana has a free press from the way the paper lambasted and insulted and accused Jerry Rawlings and his friends of all manner of slimey misdeeds. There was a touching article about a thirty-year-old man with AIDS who became too sick to help support his family so he crawls out on the street to wait to die. Death does not come right away, however, so to pass the time he makes up a song, "Farwell to Life," and starts singing it, and people hear it, and more people hear it, and someone makes a record, and it's a huge hit, and now the man is a millionaire receiving the finest medical attention. On the radio is a talk show, and a caller is asking the host if it's really necessary to speak in tongues and what the hell is that anyway, and the Ghanaians find that all very funny. Finally Daniel returns and Joyce pushes me into his small office. No he has no map, he gave the last one to a guy who is going to pay for one of his tours (apparently, all Prestige/Accra does is drive people around in their little car), and would I and my friend like to take one of his tours around Accra for $25 each. When I told Richard about it later he rightly dismissed the idea as a pure rip-off, and I agreed, and although I had promised to call Daniel back in any case, I figured, fuck him, I gave Prestige over $1600, and Emelia screwed up my ticket, and now they won't even give me a fucking map. I had a hard time communicating with Joyce and Daniel; I had a hard time communicating with most Ghanaians I met. Although English is the official language, and all signs, newspapers, TV, radio, and government deliberations are in English, it is only because they have about a hundred tribal dialects and English serves as the lingua franca. When two Ghanaians talk to each other, it is almost always in either their own dialect or in one of the major ones that both understand, and their English is something far different than we know it.
On the way downtown the sky was overcast and threatening a downpour, and I had already felt a few drops and drizzle, but when I emerged from Prestige it was into bright sunshine, and in the direct sunlight it was very hot. Outside the post office I saw post cards for the first time, and I bought enough cards and appropriate stamps for myself and some for Richard as well. I snuck a few photos of the central chaos, then headed off determined to find the Gulf of Guinea. After clearing some larger more modern buildings housing big business and government, I came upon a small market area across from a large dirt and semi-grass field, and between the two was a wide dirt road, at the end of which wasthe sea.
The first sight of the sea was exhilarating. It always is, but particularly after the crowds and smell and closed and packed-in nature of the centre. At the end of the road one sees first a circle-shaped public lavatory resembling a Jones Beach bathhouse, and next to it a sign for Omeh's Beach Bar. Omeh's was gorgeous. Raj, the Indian from Ghana who I had met at Tony and Lal's Fourth-of-July party, had said that down by the resorts you feel like you're in the Caribbean. I was still a long ways from Labadi Beach, I was still practically in Accra centre, but not far from the intensity of Accra I suddenly found myself in a serene Caribbean ambience. At the back of Omeh's was a row of shacks where they apparently kept their liquid supplies, and between them and the sea stood three thatched-roof ramadas amidst a carefully tended yard with grass and pebbles and an inchoate rock garden and half-used painted, esthetically placed tires. Obviously someone had put much love into making this a beautiful place, and it showed, successfully. Fr Roger's house was peaceful in an empty, protected almost sterile way. This was the first truly peaceful place I had encountered on this trip. I was hoping to wade my ankles into the gulf, but Omeh's ends in a twenty-foot cliff, and although I was sure there was access to the shore I was too happy with where I was and didn't explore that possibility. I dawdled there a short time, and considered having a beverage, but since I had hardly covered two miles so far I was anxious to make a journey, so I snapped a couple of pictures and started to leave. On the way out a quite pretty and svelte woman with Jamaican-braided chin-lenth hair and an interesting green-patterned snug-at-the-center but flowing-at-the-extremities pants and shirt ensemble accosted me in a very Caribbean way: "What you think, you can come into my house and walk around and just walk out?!!" The words were threatening, the style enchanting. I mumbled an apology. She introduced herself, but I let the name slip through my memory. She said she was the owner of the place. I complimented her place and told her how beautiful I found it, and that I had to go but I would come back. Noticing a chalkboard sign indicating reggae music on a Saturday night, I realized that I wouldn't be here the next Saturday, and, although I'd love to be in Omeh's at night, I wasn't sure if at night I would want to go through the shit it would take to get here, nevertheless I asked her if they had music every night. She led me back to the row of shacks, showed me a green door and said: "This is where I live. If you come here and I am sleeping, wake me up and I'll get you anything you want." I again promised to return, and left.
Sunday, 9:30 am, Campo de' Fiori
Walking around the big field and the grounds surrounding the Nkrumah Memorial, which are kept pristine by not allowing any peole in, quickly and intensely became grueling in the uninterrupted sun. Up to now the weather had been surprisingly comfortable with clouds blocking the sun and steady winds providing cooling. But now there was little wind and no shade at all for long stretches. Yet although it felt at times unbearably hot, I would take stock of myself and say, I can handle this. I'd even walk faster to create apparent wind. Past the memorial I found the arts center, where I had hoped to buy a couple of wooden souvenirs, perhaps a pipe. The center of the center was a large tent city with rows and aisles of small stalls all basically selling the same stuff, mostly wood but no pipes. I often resist the kindness of strangers because I despise it when an outward show of friendship masks a strategy for obtaining one's money, so this was definitely not my place. Walking past each stall, a young man would leap out and say, "My friend, my friend," and extend his hand, and if you shake it, he grabs it firmly and will not let go and drags you closer to his junk. It was extremely annoying so I began to ignore everybody and got out as quickly as I could. Next I went through what was almost a public park around the agricultural ministry, which, unlike in western countries where it is a large concrete edifice just like the others, consisted of a collection of farm buildings. The park featured gentle paths through light bush under welcome shady trees, and in the center was a cafe. Time to take liquids. There was no pineapple juice, so I had a most refreshing Fanta. Then I walked on to the Independence Arch, with the NDC slogan, Freedom and Justice, proudly emblazoned on top. I snapped one photo, then a little later found an even better view through the branches of a tree, but as I was aiming my camera a cab drove by and from the front passenger window a man leaned out and angrily and menacingly shouted, gesticulating frantically, "Don't do that! Don't do that!" I said you can buy virtually anything in the shacks and stands of Accra, but not cameras and film, and the only place you see cameras is in stands selling passport photos. The guidebook warns of taking pictures of anything even remotely associated with the military, and states unequivocally that if you take a picture of Osu Castle, the seat of government, Jerry Rawlings' thugs will most certainly cart you off to prison. If you talk to somebody and ask to take his picture, he will gladly accept and ask for your address so he can write you with his address so you can send him a copy. But to randomly snap a shot of a colorful street scene is an invitation to harsh words and angry gestures.
11:15, Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti
Once past the long sun-baked circle of the Independence Arch my intention was to find the main road through the Osu district of Accra. The guidebook map, unfortunately only a memory in my head, indicated that I must go some distance down the Labadi Road until another main road angles off slightly to the north. Soon a wide dirt road did angle off, but since up to now everything that I thought was closer was considerably further away, I decided to continue toward Labadi. The scenery was typically Accran, with the vending stalls and ramshackle buildings and tro-tro traffic and drainage canals, but less densely packed together along a road that ran up and down small gradual hills and around gentle curves. The air was a lot fresher along the coast; although I could not see the water, the sea was apparent in the air. Walking in the sunshine was tortuously hot, then reaching an intermittently placed tree provided instant relief. On and on I walked, seeing several streets leading northward at the wrong angle but no sign of any large buildings or indications of greater commercial activity to the north. After a couple of miles I came upon a post office, and considered asking someone how to get to, uh, damn, I couldn't remember the name of the street I was looking for. That's just as well. My strategy for obtaining geographical familiarity with a strange city, which has served me well since my teen years, is precisely to get lost and then spend the rest of the day finding my way back through every street, alley and byway. I reasoned that I was surely too far east by now, and I could just continue to the Labadi Beach resorts, but my heart was set on Osu, so I backtracked about a mile and then headed up one of the northward dirt roads through a shantytown that was surprisingly clean and neat and well kept, then tacked up northeast and northwest half-mile blocks in a pattern that logically should connect to either my road or the Ring Road, and eventually off in the distance I saw a stream of quick moving traffic and soon I was on Cantonments Avenue. All along Cantonments were small but more modern and better-constructed buildings housing small restaurants and "supermarkets" (we would call them convenience stores) and gas stations and all the trappings of a western suburban commercial strip, including a perpetual state of traffic jam. Outside a clean modern glass-paned building I saw entering a taxi two white girls with ice cream conesboth a rare sight. (I was reminded of Fr Roger's comment about western visitors who want to "eat like Africans." He strongly discourages this nonsense, because they are not Africans, and they'll get sick, and all they'll remember of Ghana is fever and diarrheajust as when he travels to the US or Canada, he will get violently ill if he eats ice cream.) There were also a few attractive-looking night spots that I would have liked to hang out in had they not been so far away from where I was staying, and an Indian restaurant. Outside a Lebanese-run convenience store where I bought a Pepsi and a large bottle of water a little girl approached me begging (there are millions of poor people in Ghana, but very few beggars), and when I gave her a coin her mother instantly dispatched her siblings to seek their share. When I reached Ring Road I turned westward to follow it back to my neighborhood. On the side of the busy road was an actual walkway carved from the bush and thoroughly shaded by thick trees, and it was a pleasant several miles past Sankaara circle and many nice housesit was good to see that not all Ghanaians live like those in the Accra centre. I stopped in a forex to convert $40 into 84,000 cedis. The largest note they had was a 2000 (the largest I ever saw was a 5000), so I walked out with my pocket bulging with a thick wad of paper notes, just like a Ghanaian businessman. The last mile and a half was grueling, because the walkway ended and I had to walk down the side of the pavement with the hot sun and the onrushing traffic and directly into a brisk wind bearing a lot of dust. I passed the Alitalia office, but figured the best place to extend my ticket was at Fiumicino. Shortly after 3 pm I arrived back at the Niagara, with my legs achinga great feeling that I had not enjoyed in a long time (it takes a lot to make my legs tired).
3:00, Piazza Popolo
I found Richard fast asleep in the bedroom. This suite was a great idea, because I could sleep on the couch in my own room, close the bedroom door and blast the air conditioner to my heart's content without disturbing Richard's fever. I took my second shower of the day to wash off all the sweat and dust, then chilled out a while, letting the television keep me company while I started writing post cards. I started to take some pictures from the terrace, but the camera jammed up again. Richard got up for a little bit, and I started getting restless again. We were contemplating a trip to Kumasi on Thursday, so I decided to take another jaunt to find the STC (government-owned bus line) station on Ring Road some distance west of Nkrumah Circle. All around and beyond the circle it was packed with street vendors and there was much active hustling, particularly as there is always a huge traffic jam around the circle and kids are running up and down the road hawking goods directly to waiting drivers and passengers. It was not very pleasant dodging the thick stream of bustling hustlers and the canals and the garbage, and back here in the centre there was again that all-pervasive, sickening smell. I found the STC and noted the schedule and fare information, and reversed my journey. At the hotel Richard was sleeping again, so I wrote out the rest of my post cards and relaxed. Around 9 pm Richard finally emerged from the bedroom a new manthe fever had broken! Now he was anxious to go out to dinner and hang out and finally see some of this city, and I was now qualified to be a guide. We went around the corner to the Eclipse Club, a small enclosed outdoor bar up the hill on a side street, dimly lit, with Black American music, just like the White Bell, and also poorly populated. Richard ordered eggs, again trying to explain the concept of somehow keeping the yolks intact, again unsuccessfully. I just had some chips and a cold refreshing Star beer. In much of the world, if one were constructing a paved patio on a hillside, the earth would be dug out to make it flat, but this is Ghana, where they find nothing wrong with hills and no reason to disguise them, so all the tables are slanted and every chair facing a different direction is on a different angle, yielding intriguing sight lines. I like the concept. After that I take us to the White Bell, and warmly greet my old buddy the waiter, and after hanging out there a while I insist that Richard check out the scene at Nkrumah Circle. Since we are approaching it from the south, we first walk in and out of the Piccadilly, just so Richard can say he's been there, then stop to have a drink at the next, quieter bar north. We get some drinks from the bar, then a man invites us to sit here, then sits down and asks for money, and when we are resistant he starts repeating over and over again, "I'm begging, I'm begging," until I give him something. I go to the bathroom and return to find a sad, ugly, pathetic prostitute begging Richard to take her home for 2000 cedis (less than $1), and Richard just gives her the money. Nkrumah Circle is a lot tamer tonight, many of the stalls are closed or closing. Richard purchases some hard-boiled eggs and goes back to the hotel, and I decide to check out the Miracle Mirage Disco up the hill on Farrar, but it is closed, so I go back to the White Bell and work on this journal. I ask them for a beer to take back to the hotel. OK, but please please please please bring the bottle back.