Monday, May 28, 2018

We stop at the Shell station in Kumasi, the one with the minimal facilities around back. I use it; the girls pass.

Then it’s the long last 4 hours into Accra. The crew sleeps pretty well, or seems to from outward appearances. I spend the night trying to get comfortable, as usual.

We hit the outskirts of Accra a little after 4, and the bus stops a few times to let people out. At 4.45, a few minutes early, we pull into the Accra VIP terminal. I tell everybody to take our time getting off; we’re not in a hurry, and it’s easier to find our baggage if everyone else has gone ahead of us.

When we disembark there are brokers waiting to connect us with cabs. We have 8, with luggage, I tell them. Can we fit in 2 cabs? No, you’ll need 3. As I suspected. How much to Osu? 50 cedis per cab. Less than we paid for the charter on the way in. We’ll take it. Men pick up our 50-lb suitcases, put them on their heads, and head off through the parking lot at high speed. The broker gesticulates wildly and shouts orders in Twi, apparently arguing with some of the cab drivers. Soon Audrey and Karen and I are left getting into a cab with a bunch of our bags in it. Where’s everybody else? Where are the other 2 cabs? It’s chaos.

Not to my liking; I’d prefer to count the bags and, more importantly, the people into each cab before it leaves. But my experience here tells me that these men are efficient and accurate, so A & K and I jump in the cab, and away we go. Soon we pull up alongside a cab with Cam and 2 of the others in it, and a few minutes later there’s a cab with the other 2. The drivers are caravaning, loosely speaking, through the early morning streets. Our driver is moving right along; I tell him we’re in no hurry, but apparently the cabbies are, so here we go.

In a ridiculously short time we pull up at Papaye Chicken, the landmark I gave them, and I direct them around the corner to the guest house. They honk loudly at the gate. 5.04 am. While the gatekeeper is rousing himself from sleep, I recount everybody—8, good—and tell them to find all their bags before I pay the cabbies. When they tell me the bags are all here, I hand over the 150 and thank the men for a job well done. A little later the gatekeeper swings the gate open, and here we are.

Find the key at the box by the door, and upstairs to our suite. We gather in the sitting area, looking pretty much worse for the wear, but all awake from the few minutes of chaos we’ve just experienced.

I assume we need to sleep some more? Yep. OK, then. The store doesn’t open until 9. Free time to shower and sleep till then. Everybody have enough potable water to last 4 hours? Yep.

Good. Room 1. Drop the bags on the floor. Turn on the ceiling fan. Sleep.

At 7 somebody starts hammering on the door. I think it’s hammering next door. Construction. That’s OK; I slept a little. Later I find out that it was someone hammering on our door—I suspect the guy delivering the bagels we ordered for breakfast.

The shower works, and it feels good. The rest of the crew is still asleep. Time to blog and read before the stores open.

At 9 I head out to get water. Mohammad at the gate tells me about the bagels, which I deliver upstairs before leaving.

In Wa a bale of 50 half-liter sachets costs 3 cedis. At Lara Mart here in Accra, a 1-liter bottle costs 5 cedis. That’s why not a lot of people move from Wa to Accra, even though the job market’s better.

Back at the house, the crew is up, eating the bagels. They tell me the chocolate-herb one is pretty weird. I don’t try it.

About 10 we head for the shops. One last shot at souvenirs and gifts for supporters. With the sunny weather (it was rainy the last time we were here), the hawkers are more active, and we have a busy time at the booths. Everyone wants to sell us something—look! White people! 8 of them!—and everyone’s busy dealing with someone displaying an armload of wares. Most of these folks know me by now, so I don’t have to say much to get them to leave me pretty much alone; I smile and point to “my friends,” and away they go.

The kids are buying the things they want—clothing, paintings, carvings, jewelry, whatever suits their fancy—and they’re bargaining well. Flavia seems to be particularly deft, smiling, offering so much and no more, but all of them find that walking away works well for moving stalled negotiations. Soon they have bags of loot and smiles on their faces.

On the way back I drop into Shop-Rite with them. It’s a South African company, a grocery store that resembles Publix in the American Southeast, well lit, large, colorful, bustling. It’s the kind of thing they’re used to from back home, but nothing like what they’ve seen for their time in the Upper West. This makes Melkom look like child’s play. I tell them, as I tell every team, “This is Africa too.” It’s a diverse continent, one that defies stereotyping. My hope is that for the rest of their lives, they’ll snort when they hear someone refer to “the African jungle” as though that characterizes the rich cultural and geographical diversity of this continent.

Back to the house, where we drop our purchases and make a brief bathroom stop before heading out for lunch. On the street, we flag down a couple of taxis—Cam and 3 girls in one, me and 3 girls in the other—and head to Accra Mall. It’s a half-hour drive in heavy traffic, where we meet up at the coffee shop, “Second Cup,” just inside the main entrance. I tell everyone to get whatever they like, and they each get some fine (cold) beverage—iced coffee, slushy, shake. I get a decaf mocha icespresso, and we sit at a table in the mall seating area, enjoying the high-end treats, something they’d take absolutely for granted back home, but which they couldn’t get at any price in Wa. Then I tell them to enjoy the mall, meeting back here at 1 pm for lunch.

Accra Mall is not large—U-shaped, maybe 15 stores on each side, with an anchor—a Shop-Rite on one side, a Game (think Wal-Mart) on the other. They spend most of their time in a little knick-knack shop, with carvings, wallets, and other touristy things. I cruise the mall, keeping an eye on them but mainly just decompressing and enjoying the A/C. The feeling here is noticeably different from the Upper West, as it would be anywhere in the US, where the rural areas are different from the urban. There’s a different look and feel, different priorities, even a different attitude among the people.

At 1 we meet as planned, and I walk them up through the food court to Le Must, an upscale restaurant. The greeter directs us to a round table in the center, which seats the 8 of us perfectly. He hands us all menus, and again I tell the crew to order anything they want. There’s a rich diversity on the menu, averaging perhaps $20 per person—unimaginably expensive for Wa, but not at all unusual here in the capital, home to all the embassies and thus the expats, who have varied tastes and, most importantly, money to spend. Next to us is a table of young women, enjoying their lunch and talking loudly. Flavia immediately recognizes that they’re speaking Portuguese and walks over to engage them. Sure enough, they’re Brazilians, wives of diplomats, out having a good time for lunch.

The crew orders beverages—a lemonade with crushed mint leaves that’s just delicious; a cherry milk shake, a rich limeade, San Pellegrino—and we all taste everyone else’s drink and enjoy the experience. Then we order lunch—beef curry, steak with vegetables, steak with mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes. I order grilled lobster, which turns out to be half a dozen langostinos, split and fire-grilled with plenty of garlic and butter.

We can’t miss the difference between this city in Ghana and the more rural one where we’ve spent the last 2 weeks. Yep, I say, this is Africa too.

About 2.30 we’re done eating. You all have spent a few minutes seeing what’s here in the mall; want some time to do some more serious shopping? Yep. OK, then; meet at Second Cup at 4. Have fun.

The time flies. As we regather, I ask what they think about supper. Will we need to eat? How much? Back to Papaye Chicken, or cook at the guest house? They want to cook. Spaghetti. Flag a couple of taxis back to Osu, then pop into that Shop-Rite for the necessary ingredients. Back to the house.

We have 2 hours of daylight. Want to see the beach now, or tomorrow morning, or tomorrow afternoon, after Brigitta flies out? Now. Have enough energy for a little hike? Sure.

Out the front door and down the street south a couple of blocks to the ocean.

The beach is what we would call undeveloped. There’s a slum there, the poorest area that they’ve seen on this trip, and the beach is covered with trash. I tell them to be careful; you stumble, you fall into a pile of trash, you put your hand down to catch yourself, there’s a needle there, congratulations—you’re HIV positive. Not a strong possibility, but a possibility. Pay attention.

We work our way westward along the beach, noting the greenish color of the sewage-polluted ocean. I tell them that the color line 200 meters out, easily seen from the beach, where the polluted water stops, is the equator; one of them believes me. I shouldn’t do stuff like that.

We reach the area where the fishermen park their boats; several boats are being pulled up the beach by their crews at the end of the day. Several of us jump in to grab a rope and help.

Further west to the edge of Osu Castle, the former seat of Ghanaian government but now just a tourist site. By now we’ve gathered a group of children from the slum, holding our hands and following us along. One of them, a girl about 7, comes over to where I’m sitting on a concrete wall, steps close, and pulls my arms around her. I hear her say something to her friends in Twi, including the word baba, “Daddy.” I wonder if she’s telling them, in childlike make-believe, that I’m her Daddy. I wonder what her story is. I wonder.

Soon we say goodbye and walk north through the slum toward the guest house. This is the poorest area the students have seen on this trip—far poorer, in fact, than the bush villages outside Wa. I regularly note that people in the bush are not poor: they have enough to eat every day, something to wear, a small house or hut to live in. They have everything they need. They don’t have a lot of big plastic toys of the sort Americans think they need, but they are not poor. Here, however, the situation is different. These are squatters, living in shacks separated by tiny dirt pathways, occasionally raw sewage running alongside the shacks. These people are poor, and the hygienic conditions are nearly unlivable. We work our way through the “village,” winding between shacks, greeting adults and children, imagining what people are thinking when they see the 8 white people coming through single file. That doesn’t happen every day.

Back at the house, we’re not hungry yet, especially after that lunch. I’ve been up since 7, with minimal sleep to start with, so I opt for a nap and ask them to wake me at 7. Brigitta happily turns the light on for me at the appointed time, and they all enjoy the look of a team leader who’s been hit by a Mack truck.

While I was sleeping, they’ve been preparing supper: spaghetti with canned parmesan sauce and boneless chicken chunks browned and added to the sauce. Also a plate of fresh pineapple and another plate of fresh starfruit.

Right at home in the kitchen, and everything’s tasty. Finish with a bang.

Afterwards we have our last team meeting. I talk to them about repatriation issues, both in leaving Ghana and in returning to the US (or Hong Kong, for Brigitta). There are issues commonly faced, and it’s important for them to be prepared and to think through how they’ll deal with those common issues.

Then I give them my analysis of their work. This has been a unique team in two ways. First, it’s the briefest team I’ve ever taken, just 2 weeks plus travel days. I was expecting more difficulty with team cohesiveness in that short a time, but they’ve given no evidence of that. Second, they’re the youngest team of the 7 I’ve taken, and while they’ve shown the energy and occasional craziness that I’ve expected, they have not let immaturity interfere with their tasks; they’ve stepped up and done what needed to be done, facing difficult and unexpected challenges well. I commend them all.

After the meeting they want to watch a downloaded movie on Brigitta’s Mac. They’ve certainly earned some entertainment time. Me? I’m going to bed.

Tomorrow we head home, and the next day we arrive. Looking forward to seeing our loved ones once again.

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Dan Olinger

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

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