Friday, June 5, 2015

Just a 4-hour dash to Accra—plus engine stalls—as the morning light rises from the east. Soon we’re in the city, and it seems to take forever as the bus stops here and there to drop off passengers. It’s all dirt roads into the bus terminal—you’d think the city would see the sense of paving such heavily trafficked roads—and there was a wild rainstorm here last night, so everything is mud and standing water. As I’ve noted, the stall frequency increases.

About 6, 2 hours late, we pull into the terminal. It’s covered with runny mud, right where we need to unload our luggage. I decide to find the taxis immediately so they’ll take care of it right off the bus, without its having to sit in the mud. I get 1 immediately, and he gets 2 more in short order. 9 people, plus luggage, going to Osu (the part of the city where the guest house is). We negotiate a price—they ask for 50% more than the reasonable price that Timothy has given me, and I tell them that’s their bruni (white person, in Twi) price; I won’t pay it. They argue. I tell them to unload the luggage; I’ll find somebody else. (The place is swarming with taxis.) They take my price. I tell the drivers that I’m the only one who knows where we’re going; we’ll have to stay together in traffic. If we get separated, we’ll meet at the Osu Papaye. They all know where that is.

Good. Gershon in one car, me in another, Michaela in a third, and everybody else find a seat. Off we go.

I’m in the station wagon, which has most of the luggage. My driver protests that he should get more. He’s right, of course; he loaded it all. I smile and say, “I give you 5 more. You’re a good man.” He’s happy with that. A buck and a quarter.

Since we’re so late, traffic is up in the city, and getting to the house takes a while. But get there we do. I call for Muhammad. No response. Timothy told him we’d be here by 5:30, and of course we’re quite late, so I really can’t complain.

I hop the fence and let the crew in off the street. We look for Muhammad; can’t find him. We drag our luggage down the drive to the house. It’s locked. Hmm. Then 1 of the kids points back up the drive, where Muhammad is standing at the gate, looking puzzled. I call his name; he turns and smiles. I apologize for jumping the fence and ask for the key to the house. He goes to the mailbox and pulls it out, with the paperwork. Well, dumb me. Shoulda thoughta that.

We pile our large bags downstairs in the lobby and tramp tiredly upstairs to the 6-bedroom apartment. Seems like we were here just a few days ago.

I tell the kids that I recommend they all take showers; that bus was likely crawling with all kinds of exotic microorganisms, especially on the floor. We get to it, and while that’s ongoing, Gershon and I head up to Lara, the neighborhood grocery store, for some things for breakfast today and tomorrow. Shelf-stable milk and a large box of cereal; couple of boxes of fruit juice; and a couple of fresh pineapple. And a giant Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bar, for the girls. But not for breakfast.

On the way out of the house, I notice a little plaque that says that the backup generator system for the house—and when you lose power as much as the folks in Accra do, that’s an important step toward stability—was donated by the folks at LeTourneau University. Good for them.

We’re done with showers and breakfast by 9:30 am. Now to spend the day in Accra. We’ll eat lunch and supper out there somewhere, and the kids want to go back to the vendor stalls on Cantonment St. to get some things they weren’t sure about on the way in. Timothy has told me about a market nearby, and Cynthia’s husband, Enoch, has volunteered to show us around some. Lots of options.

Enoch shows up around noon. He was in the block class I taught in Wa 2 years ago; he and Cynthia have moved to Accra so he can further his education. He’s familiar with Osu, where we’re staying, and since we’ll be walking—we can’t all fit into his car—he can make our peregrinations more efficient.

After the usual financial preparations—forex and ATMs—we start up Cantonment St. toward the restaurants. There are several possibilities, but we decide on one with some variety. There’s a food court of sorts right across the street from the booths where we got some fabric and souvenirs 3 weeks ago, which serves chicken, pizza, and ice cream. The crew hears “pizza” and is instantly interested.

We order what we want and set up a large table where we can all eat together. Enoch shares stories of the ministry and Wa and his life with Cynthia. And we laugh a lot.

And then it’s out into the maelstrom. The vendors remember that we were there before, and the fact that we’re back gives them renewed hope for profit. They gather around, showing, urging, pleading, pressing. We look at some things and develop the ability to ignore others. There are several marriage proposals, of course; if wouldn’t be a day at the souvenir stands without them. There’s a lot of buying. Up and down the row of vendors we go, always surrounded by a flock of other vendors with product in their hands. Their technique doesn’t make a lot of sense; at one point there are 3 vendors hawking sunglasses, and we’re saying “no” to all of them; here comes a fourth, same products, hoping that we’ll buy from him instead. I consider educating him on the concept of market saturation, but I don’t think it would make any difference.

Some of these American kids are pretty good at dickering. Emily is interacting with a Rastafarian who sells jewelry, among other things. He has some earrings she’s interested in. She offers 15 cedis; he comes down to 20. Nope. 15. He offers 17 and thinks he has her. She reaches into her purse, pulls out 15, and, smiling, presses the notes into his hand. 15. He looks at me. I raise my shoulders in an expression of resignation. Will you be happy with 15?

He takes it. As we walk away, I lean over to Emily and say, “Nice technique there. If you put the money in his hand, he’s not going to give it back.” “I know,” she smiles. “My mom taught me that.”

These kids don’t need my help.

Enoch tells us about a mall a few miles away, but he looks at the traffic—Cantonment is what the traffic reporter in Boston would call “stall and crawl”—and says it would take 45 minutes to an hour to get there. He needs to be somewhere else at 5; that’s not going to work. So we decide to spend the rest of the afternoon right where we are.

In due time we walk the mile or so back to the house. We gather in the driveway for prayer with Enoch for him, his wife, and their future, and we take some photos, and Enoch returns to his responsibilities. We head upstairs to drop off our purchases and get a bit of rest.

Our evening is open. I tell the crew we can have supper anywhere we’d like, and I note that a few are regretting that they didn’t purchase this or that souvenir. We won’t be back here, I tell them, and this is probably the best place for a reasonable variety of choices at very low prices, and if they see something they’d like, and can afford it, they ought to get it. I don’t mind taking ‘em back over ground we’ve already covered.

Next to where we ate lunch we saw a seafood grill and sushi bar that looked relatively upscale and was open only for dinner. We decide to go back there, stopping along the way to head off later regrets by picking up the things we want.

We’re at the restaurant by about 7. Monsoon, it’s called. We climb a couple of flights of stairs, where the greeter takes us to a large table in the center of a rooftop terrace. It feels like a completely different city; we’re above the bustle and grime of the street, surrounded by neon lights shining down on the frenetic selling going on down below.

They have several menus—sushi, teppanyaki, seafood grill. It’s pricey, but mid-range by American standards. This is an opportunity to show off the diversity that is Africa. I tell ‘em to have fun and order what they want.

One gets crocodile; several get seafood, others beef, some Asian, some more traditional. I get the seafood platter, with mussels, whitefish, calamari steaks, prawns, and a small lobster tail, accompanied with a white lemon sauce. Nice plate, though the Bostonian in me notes that most of it is overcooked. We enjoy the outdoor environment as night falls and the neon signs provide most of our light. The terrace has pretty much filled up. It’s all white people, mostly Europeans. At these prices, the Ghanaians aren’t going to be customers. There’s a divide here between the locals and the expats who are working for NGOs here or doing business. The expats want the touches of home, and they can afford to pay for them.

We pay the bill—15% tax, 15% tip—and head downstairs and home, with a gaggle of vendors following us, holding out products we don’t want, trying to engage, harassing anybody who looks weak. It’s not unlike a lion pursuing the smaller, weaker eland, looking for an opening to take him down.

On the way we pass a Shop-Rite, a grocery store based in South Africa. I decide to take a bit of time and show them in. It’s a modern grocery store, just like one you’d find in the States. Large produce sections, aisles and aisles of choices. To people accustomed to the markets—which are every bit as large but have a very limited variety of products—it’s hard to believe we’re in the same country. Tonight is our return to modernity for a few hours.

Back to the house, with devos and a logistics meeting about tomorrow’s flight. Because of the flight schedule, the time of day spent on the ground (mostly when things are closed) and the meal schedule (or lack of it) on the flights, we may get pretty hungry on this leg of the trip. We can’t take food through security (at least liquids or gels, and produce, which customs will not look kindly on), so we’ll be limited to what we can get inside the secure zone of each airport, and we’ll be there in the middle of the night, when most shops will be closed. And we can’t drink the tap water. So we’ll have to get what we can, when we can. From takeoff to final landing is less than 24 hours, though; nobody’s going to starve to death. We’ll see what happens.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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