|Solace Spot, 3rd best chicken and chips in Cape Coast|
It’s much too obvious to say that you never know what you’re going to get, in Ghana, or anywhere, at any time. I’ll just say that as the proverbial outsider looking in, I am bound to notice a certain richness of randomness and dichotomy of experiences.
Still, I do have a happy routine, a comfortable familiarity with my days. Every morning, right around 8:30 a.m., Godwin picks me* in the UCC Library van. Usually, I’m not ready. If you know me well this does not surprise you at all. By ‘not ready,’ I mean that yes, I’m dressed, but I have so far neglected my makeup and my coffee is either 1) in a semblance of a travel mug I picked in the market, or 2) in a regular mug that I will hang out the van’s window until we’re through the major bumps in the road because I’ve forgotten my semblance of a travel mug at work. Godwin finds this somewhat amusing, and wonders why I don’t drink my coffee at home before I get in the van. It’s such a good question, really. I say good morning, we do the special handshake that we’ve developed, and ask after each other’s health. Also a regular in the van is one of UCC’s security guards, Godwin’s friend, on his way home from a shift. We occasionally pick UCC staff along the way, but our primary purpose is to head (hurtle?) through downtown Cape Coast, or Koturakraba, to the newspaper stand. We are there for the Library’s daily papers.
*Um, I don’t get picked ‘up’ anymore. Just picked. If I’m talking to you on the phone, and I say this by accident, just ignore it, and accept it as part of my adapted vocabulary. Like ‘enye easy.’ So don’t throw a wobbler.
It’s a lively journey. On the way, we drive through a police stop for taxi drivers. Supposedly, the police are stopping these taxis to check for safety equipment, like mandatory fire extinguishers. Not really, though, in reality. The police are instead collecting GHC 1 or 2, just depending on the mood, the day, the je ne sais quoi. They don’t bother with anyone they can’t collect from, like a UCC Library van, not even to maintain the illusion of safety management. One of the police officers is Godwin’s friend, so Godwin pleasantly blows the horn and waves as we pass. We laugh and shake our heads at the example of corruption in action. Godwin asks me if the police do the same type of thing in the United States, and I don’t know what to say. I tell him that the setup doesn’t generally happen, but that there are plenty of other examples of corruption – they just take different forms. I also take this opportunity to tell him how to lie his way out of a ticket. It is an art form, after all, and everyone should appreciate art.
A note on the blowing of car horns. In Cape Coast, and perhaps Ghana-wide, blowing one’s horn is an integral piece of the driving puzzle. Generally, the streets are slightly too narrow to accommodate cross traffic; in addition to all the mandated maneuverings, there are simply a lot of people to contend with, mucking up an already crowded picture. Sidewalks are relatively uncommon, or are already occupied. If you don’t blow, alerting people to your presence, it’s almost rude. Basically, it translates to, “Keep walking exactly as you are doing/don’t suddenly stumble and fall in the middle of the road where I will be forced to run you over/move a little more to your left, without falling into the open gutter, preferably, since I’m actually quite a nice person and don’t want anybody to fall in a gutter, they’re really disgusting.” Godwin is GREAT at this. The day that the van’s horn deteriorated, from warble to wail to weighted silence, was a very bad day for him. I offered to vocally simulate the horn, or just straight up yell at people out the window, but he didn’t take me up on either option.
|CC's main sewer line|
|edge of fishing community, cc castle ahead|
Around the bend at the Cape Coast Castle, high walls shining dirty white in the morning glare. A few isolated outcroppings of fisher people are here, sitting on upside-down buckets, folding and fixing giant piles of net, with centuries of history to lean against. I always want to take a picture, but it’s rude not to ask, and fisher people tend to have traditional religions – and are therefore much less likely to want their pictures taken. And we’ve stopped, right in front of the Baobab Café, Shop, and General Tourist Destination. They have drip coffee and vegetarian chocolate cake, so this is a real hotspot. I’ve bought all your presents here. The ones that I haven’t mailed yet. Don’t worry, I’ll get to it. Maybe this weekend! Godwin climbs down and crosses to the news stand, where piles of papers are on display. We get the Daily Graphic and the Daily Times. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, we pick the African News or African Business magazines. Those ones are really good.
|view from the post office|
Most days, we take the slightly longer route to the University that runs along the coast. Coconut trees angling slightly toward the sea, coarse sand, fishing boats and a pounding blue Atlantic surf. Again, this is Godwin humouring me, the passenger, perching above a sensitive engine. But I think he enjoys this part of our drive as well. He grew up just down the road in Elmina, a town that presses against the ocean like it needs salt to survive. Which, of course, it does. Then suddenly we’re taking a left into the University and passing beneath the gates. From there it’s a long road up a low grade hill, grass cut by machete and widely rooted trees on either side, until we get to the Library. And then it’s ‘yebehyia echina’ to Godwin and off I go, into work. That’s ‘see you tomorrow,’ but watch my spelling.
Can I possibly appreciate all of this? Can I even process it all? The random and the routine? Will I be able to store this away? Because I guarantee that at some point during this drive to work every morning, I will be struck by … well, a moment… and think, “oh my god, I love my life, and I couldn’t be any happier.” Now that I’ve got that, can I keep it?
How many times have I heard that ‘life is a series of moments’ quote? I think it’s a bit crap, excuse my language (please, if you know me, you appreciate the mildness of that statement). I’m into the moments, I applaud them, I live by them, I love them. I've had so many "moments" in Ghana that I could never possibly explain them all, not so that you would catch that rush of delight or awe. Or, face it, anger or upset. But I think that binding those moments together is what keeps them and us from getting lost, like wayward lines in a net. So pull up a bucket. Gather your mending. Then lean back against those dirty walls, lean on everything you've learned so far, and do your most graceful work. Are you getting me, as a Ghanaian might say? Yes? Then tie it all together - the 'you' on that bucket, with the moments, the memories, and the history - and nothing will ever slip away and be gone, not in truth.
And have a water. It's starting to get hot again.
And have a water. It's starting to get hot again.
|The danger here is overthinking these kinds of episodes. Such as Obama's face and |
child labour going hand in hand. How about, sometimes, shut it, and have a water.