Sunday, January 27, 2008

still catching up...


Words don’t have the energy to describe the kinship I feel in being here in Ghana. It’s daunting to see the love I’m getting from people. More than a few times I’ve been stared at with curious smiles. Maybe its because they think that Dante or really Daty, who is traveling with us looks a little like Wyclef Jean;
maybe I just look as if I belong and polite smiles are customary.

We’ve been staying at Aretha’s family’s house in Dansoman, in West Accra. It’s a mix of upper middle class and poor right next to each other. Damn near right on top of one another. The house, or rather compound as it appears and is referred to, is on a dirt road with a lot of similar style compounds.
It’s a large property. I am quite comfortable. Either her uncle or a driver takes us around. Taking a cab also seems to be an option. They’re plentiful and very cheap. Her 23-year-old cousin waits on us and acts as guide. He serves food, boils water for bathing. In our pursuit to film; he holds bags, cameras, etc.

Ghana in a lot of ways reminds me of Queens. But with poverty poured all over it. Driving through has been the most revealing.
There are people everywhere. The traffic rivals LA at rush hour and I think I’ve seen maybe one traffic light so far. Hailing a cab has never been so easy. They’re really everywhere. People drive with mania that will make you hold onto whatever you can. People cross the street anywhere. This is much different than anywhere I’ve been. There’s this constant feeling that anything can happen. I saw a man almost fall off his bike right in front of a car that would not slow down, I saw a man’s bicycle run into another, including what saw at the airport, I’ve seen many heated and passionate arguments.

For two days straight we’ve had to spend hours at the Kofi Anan center trying to get our media accreditation for the Africa cup. This has to be the most unorganized situation I’ve ever been in. There were people from all over Africa: Ivory Coast, Namibia, Morocco, Egypt, Senegal, South Africa, etc, shoved into one room sweating yelling at one another in different languages. The other thing is that I don’t think I’ve been in such a concentration of black men ever. There's definitely energy in the air and Ak47’s.

people here really is no sense of space. A few bump past me without saying excuse me. I try to keep my cool. Everyone was just anxious to grab his or her badges a go. When they speak to you they speak with they’re hands and in aggressive tones. I kept finding myself steadying myself for something about to jump off but it never comes.

The other curious thing I see is men holding hands as they walked. I heard about this but to observe it is another thing altogether. It is so prevalent and frequent that it makes me wonder what kind of brainwashing had I gone through that I couldn't even conceive of what truly appeared to be a natural thing here.

Oh and in the morning I can hear the birds communicating with each other…





Yesterday was crazy. I woke up early to write and was soon joined by Aretha and Daty outside on our balcony where we ate breakfast and talked about the pervious night. Daty who is from Liberia but lives in NY, called a childhood friend of his who is also from Liberia but lives in Ghana in a refugee camp.
Her visit was a bit mind-blowing. When offered something to eat she quickly said yes because she was really hungry. She’s lived in the refugee camp for 11 years. Eleven years, I said needed to make sure I heard her right. Damn. She told us that they make them pay for some basic services like using the bathroom. The help from the UN is only existent in the media. She said the most help comes from the NGO’s, the non-governmental agencies. It reminds me of the young woman we met at the airport who actually got hit with the stick the security guard used to beat the Ghanaian man with. When the stick snapped it flew backwards and hit her. We comforted her a bit afterward because she looked frazzled. Daty and I struck up a conversation with her. She was traveling from Alaska. She had just finished high school and was coming here to Ghana to volunteer to help teach elementary school in the refugee camps. The thought of her traveling all that way stuck with me. I know I wasn’t thinking about anything remotely close to that in high school, after high school, college not even now. And to think about the woman from the refugee camp, how she said if it wasn’t for the NGO’s she’d not be able to survive. If it wasn’t for this girl who got hit by the security guards stick. Wow… through the entire BS that has corrupted American culture I can still have a slice of optimism about the world.  

After Breakfast we decided to go check out the first match of the Africa cup of nations. Ghana v. Guinea. We actually got there too late for the game because of ride issues, so we ended walking around and taking shots of the people around the stadium. It was very much like being at the Caribbean day parade on eastern Parkway.

We then hitched a ride to the cinemas, which is an old building much like most buildings in Accra. It had some benches and a screen that was showing the game. As we drove through town, everywhere you go you see people surrounding televisions viewing the game.
It is beyond being a national pastime.

Watching the game on a large TV screen with the locals was much more fulfilling than being at the stadium at the moment because what happened when the referee’s whistle went off and Ghana had won was beyond comprehension. Dancing in the streets literally. Music came on from unseen sound systems on EVERY corner in Accra for a far as you can see people were dancing.

We hailed a cab to head into the thick of it to get some shots. The cab was stopped in its tracks by a dancing mob that had ventured into the street. A woman lay on the hood of our cab. People were blowing plastic horns, jumping to the beat and dancing, a lot of people. It was a sort of beautiful mayhem, emphasis mayhem. After getting through that then switching cabs because the original one just broke down, we chilled at a dance party that broke out in front of the National museum the headed over to Osu, an entertainment district with nightclubs, restaurants, internet cafes and people, lots of people. The elation over the win is big. There is a competition amongst the countries here that if it wasn’t for football things might get violent. And speaking of violence there is that sense that something might happen again in the air. A car accident, a fight, something. I think I might be looking for it as much as expecting it. I have my eyes peeled constantly. We decided to leave the mob, get in a cab and head over to our spot that we had been frequenting because the food is good and they have a pool table, the Honeysuckle on ring road. I know my way around now. The Honeysuckle is an Irish pub believe it or not owned by Dave, who, by the way, recognized me from OZ. He’s Lebanese, Ghanaian. Evidently there’s is a big population of Lebanese here about three generations deep.

But back to this cab situation.

When I got in the front seat I looked at the driver. There was this unsettling look on his face. His eyes were glassy and he stared straight ahead in a blank sort of way. He began driving, creeping through the dancing crowd. At some point he seemed to get impatient wit them and put his foot on the pedal hard enough to jerk us forward and make people jump out of the way. He would stop just short of hitting people and they were yelling at us and hitting the car. Then he just swerved the car at a higher speed then he should have and I heard a thump and saw some kids jumping out of the way. He didn’t slow down or anything, he just kept on going. I looked at him in shock. As we got further down the road the car stopped in traffic and then it happened, the fear I had been sitting with ever since I saw that man get beat at the airport. The driver’s side of the car flew open. There was a cacophony of angry words in Ga, one of the languages spoken here. Um… I could tell it was nothing nice. Before the driver was pulled out of the car, he turned to me and said, “Take the key”. What? He had the car keys in his hand and was giving them to me so that the mob wouldn’t take them from him and take his car. We got out of the car as fast as we could and of course I didn’t take his car keys.

The driver kind of got off easy. They brought the boy that he had hit with his car back to hit him and he did. A hard, opened hand slap to his chest and that was it, Justice. then the driver was off. We caught another cab and looked in his eyes before we got in.


Things to get used to while staying in Accra:

The smell of gasoline and burning plastic

Fearless, damn-near reckless driving by everyone


Being asked for money

Being hustled for money

Kindness and over-politeness

Birds literally talking to each other in the mornings

Dogs singing and howling at night (really loud. I had no clue what it was the first night. Crazy)

Roosters cuckooing all day long.

Oh and things stopping, period- when the black stars are playing.


1 comment:

jenifu said...

Wow Mums. Amazing! it's jeni Fujita...i just read the whole thing. CURAZEEE!! I LOVE the woman with the blue bowl on her head. she's special. And The billboard about If it's not on, it's not in. wow. one woman one man. one~ness.