Thursday, June 02, 2016

We stop a second time around 2 am; from the time, I assume we’re in Kumasi. It’s the Shell station where we took the little girl in to the store with us on the way up. Several of the kids get something, from fruit juice (Jojo) to Pringles (Bethany). On the way back to the bus I note that they’ve opened the cargo door, and I can see the goat, who seems to be doing fine. Then back aboard.

I manage to doze off for a couple of hours—remember, it’s The Long Dark Night of the Soul—and wake up as we’re coming into the northern outskirts of Accra and the daylight is beginning to appear. It seems to take forever until we pull into the bus terminal at the Nkrumah Interchange. I’m the first of our group off the bus, and I’m immediately accosted by a man in a uniform shirt. Taxi? One nice thing about being white in Africa is that you typically get very good service. Because all white people are rich, you know.

Yes, I need 3 taxis to the Papaye Chicken shop in Osu. He rounds up 3 drivers in a flash, and as we identify our luggage coming off the bus, they help us wheel it across the lot to where the taxis are parked. He’s off giving orders, and the drivers start loading the luggage into their cars. Um, we haven’t negotiated the price yet. I ask the nearest driver, How much? 30 cedis. I go to a second. 35. He said 30 over there. OK, 30. I finally chase down the boss and ask him. 30 per driver, 10 for me. 25 bucks for 3 taxis across town? I could probably negotiate some—especially since they’ve already loaded our luggage, and in the past it’s gotten pretty dramatic results to negotiate for a while, shake your head, and say, “Unload the luggage!” But 25 bucks is a fair price. OK. One male team member in each taxi.

We caravan across the city—about 3 kilometers as the crow flies, but crows don’t fly here—and arrive at Papaye Chicken, 3 blocks from the guest house, where we wait a minute for the 3rd cab to catch up with us, then turn onto Abebresem Street and up to the guest house. Muhammad meets us at the gate. Just after 6 am, and we’re moved in.

The guest house rooms are all full today—there are 2 of our usual six rooms on the top floor already occupied, so we come in quietly, find a room for everybody—girls on the kitchen end, guys on the living room end—and I suggest lying down for a couple of hours until the others start to stir. I set a very positive example.

I come out at 8 to meet the occupants of one of the occupied rooms sitting at the kitchen table. They’re the Junges, ABWE missionaries returning to the States after 10 years in Ho, over on the Togo border. They know the story of Jojo’s uncle Tim being murdered on the other side of the border in Togo. Their daughter is a recent BJU graduate who teaches at Hanalani Christian Schools in Hawaii, along with a couple of Africa team alumni. Small world. The Junges have a day or two of business to take care of here in Accra before flying home.

I need to get a piece of paper to Kathy Bristol—something about transfer of license on the lorry, which she forgot to sign, or signed the wrong form, or something. So I need to find out which apartment she’s in so she can take care of it before her flight tonight. Since the Owens aren’t back from Wa yet, I go downstairs to look for Muhammed to find out where Kathy is. At the bottom of the stairs I turn the corner, and there she is, just in from buying some water at the Lara Mart. So we take care of the paper transfer. I tell her the team would like to buy her lunch if we can get together around noon. We’ll see if that happens.

Then down to Lara Mart myself for breakfast stuff—a combo pack of Kellogg’s—can’t lose with that—and a couple liters of boxed milk. There. Breakfast.

Back to the house, and Sarah and Bethany are up, so the three of us have a bowl of cereal. And then I remember: wifi! And in the same building! So I sit on the living room sofa and upload yesterday’s blog entry, complete with photos, just like that.

By 10.30 am everybody’s up. I ask them how they’d like to spend their day; I note that we’d like to drop back by here at noon to pick up Kathy for lunch, but otherwise we have all day and a flexible schedule. I suggest going to the beach now, and 4 of them agree; Lora and Jojo opt to get more rest.

It’s about a 15-minute walk to the beach, south a couple of blocks and then through a slum. This is probably the most intense poverty they’ve seen so far. Most of the folks out in the bush live simply, but we can’t really say they’re poor; they have enough to eat and to wear, and they have shelter from the sun and the rain and a place to sleep. Here the situation is different: people come from the bush to the city, seeking the economic opportunity that a city brings. But they don’t count on the much higher cost of living in the city, so they end up squatting in slums and doing day work to eke out enough to eat. This isn’t really a lifestyle with any upward mobility, so people just stay in the slums or end up returning home. You see this all over the world: Mexico City, Tokyo, Cairo, Nairobi, Cape Town. It’s truly heartbreaking.

We walk through the slum for about 10 minutes to the beach access. At first it looks like any other beach: the stretch of sand, the breakers, a rocky jetty or two. But as you get closer, you see that everything is just covered with trash, and the water is a dull brown out to at least a kilometer from shore. (I tell one team member that the clear demarcation line out in the water is the equator, and for a second he/she believes me.) You have to walk carefully; I tell the team, You stumble, you fall into some trash, you stick yourself, you’re HIV positive, just like that. We sit on the rocks, far enough back that the spray of the breakers doesn’t reach us—somehow raw sewage spray isn’t that attractive—and I talk to them about resources and the use or disuse of them. In a developed country, this property would be worth millions of dollars per lot, and thousands of people would be earning a good living off it. Here it’s a slum. There are resorts along the Ghanaian coast, but few of them. There is opportunity to be exploited, but you can’t do that without a capital infusion, and people aren’t going to risk that kind of capital without a more reliable prospect of return. Nkrumah was a communist, and if investors need to worry that the state will nationalize their property, or that corruption will bleed all the profit out of it, they’ll put their money someplace more sensible. And you, if you had money, would do exactly the same thing.

Like any human system, there are problems with capitalism too. But it hurts to see so much suffering when solutions are available.

We arrive back at the house around noon, so we pick up Jojo and Lora and Kathy and head up the street for lunch. My idea is to go to a food court that offers good variety at reasonable prices and clean prep. Kathy says she thinks the place is out of business, but we walk down there anyway and find that she’s right, so we head back to Papaye Chicken, which is probably the most popular restaurant in the area. (You tell cab drivers your location by working from the nearest Papaye Chicken joint.) Everyone notices the A/C when we walk in and head upstairs to the seating area. Right away we find a table for 8 and settle in, with Kathy sitting in the middle so everyone can hear her.

I confess that buying her lunch wasn’t an entirely altruistic act. I want the kids to have some time with her, to get a sense of her philosophy and approach. This is 40 years of bush medical experience, in 2 West African countries. We order our meals—Papaye Chicken is popular for a reason—and listen to her experiences and thoughts, the students peppering her with questions. You really can’t buy times like this.

After lunch, as we walk home, I show them the local Shop-Rite. Shop-Rite is a South African company that is building Western-style grocery stores all over Africa. We step through the entrance into air conditioning, bright lights, and a “normal” supermarket, just like at home. This is Africa too, though it’s nothing like what they’ve seen so far. Africa is a diverse place, even within Ghana. And no jungle here.

Home for an hour or so of rest before we step out on a completely new adventure. I’ve heard there are a couple of malls in town, and I figure it’s worth a try since we have the rest of the day. About 4 we hail a couple of cabs and negotiate a price to Accra Mall. Traffic is heavy, so it takes about 45 minutes to get there, but we find what anyone in the US would recognize as a mall. It’s smaller than usual for the US, maybe 30 stores total besides kiosks, and just 2 anchors, a Game (like a Wal-Mart) and a Shop-Rite. But bright, clean, modern. There’s a coffee shop at the main entrance, and immediately the Crew, who’s seen nothing but Nescafe since we arrived, thinks that’s just a great idea. And it is.

The mall is U-shaped, and we can walk the whole thing in about 15 minutes. After the initial survey I turn them loose. Groups of at least two; nobody wanders off by himself. Meet back here in 1 hour. I head for Shop-Rite, because I love grocery stores, but especially because I love air conditioning. This one has a sign in the door—Sorry, the A/C is broken.—so that visit doesn’t last long. Most of the kids are in one store with some very nice African clothing, at higher prices, of course, than what they were seeing in Wa. We make a few purchases.

Reassemble at the meeting point for supper in the food court. We decide on the nicest restaurant there, call Le Must, with a broad menu—from grilled lobster to pizza–and reasonable prices for its class—the most expensive item is 70 cedis, or about 17 bucks. Four of us order steak with mushroom sauce; Bethany orders a pizza, Jonathan orders shrimp, and Jojo orders steak with pepper sauce. The mushroom sauce is white, to my surprise, but it’s tasty. There are few flavor combinations better than grilled beef and a good mushroom gravy. I’d say that’s just my opinion, but if you disagree, well, you’re just wrong.

Meal, including tip, is 600 cedis, or between 20 and 25 bucks apiece. Pricey for here, but we won’t have a meal like that again until Cape Town. I’ve learned over the years that for American kids to thrive, especially in a developing culture, sometimes you just have to give them meat.

After dinner we step out into the parking lot and find a couple of cabs, negotiate the price, and make it back to the house much more quickly that we came out. Team devos, with quite a bit of discussion about the changes that the new location will entail. Then packing of the footlockers again, showers, some connection time, and to bed.

During a trip downstairs to organize the footlockers for the morning departure, I notice 4 men and a teen-aged girl—who turns out to be the daughter of one of the men, an American pastor—in the apartment Kathy just vacated this afternoon. They’ve just come in from Nigeria, helping national pastors, and are planning to spend several days up country here doing the same thing. We talk for several minutes, sharing ministry philosophy and experience. You learn a little bit from everybody you meet, and connections for the future are a rich resource. They’ll be leaving at 6 am; we’ll head to the airport at 8:30.

Since connectivity is questionable for the next 36 hours or more, I’m sending out the journal before going to bed, which will be early evening back home. So some of you will be reading parts of this entry before we actually lived it.

Whoa. That was deep.

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Dan Olinger

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

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