Today was a breath of fresh air. All of it. It started out on a high note, dipped down to the lowest valley and then evened out at sea level, I guess you could say.
I wake up after nine hours of decent rest, naturally. The birds chirp into my window and I come to consciousness before six, like every day. It never fails. In my head I always hum a little Jack Johnson: “Wake up slloowwww.” And I try to stick to this motto every day. What good is it, jumping out of bed, getting your heart racing so early? I take my time. Open my eyes. Smile. Stretch. Lie back down on my side and think about happy things. Sing a little more Jack. Stretch again. Stare at the ceiling. And then I start to pull back my mosquito net. It’s time to start the day.
Every morning I make ProNutro, which is basically like cold porridge. Delicious. And I fire up the kettle and pour myself a nice hot cup of instant coffee. I throw a banana into the mix and bam! I’m ready to go.
I’m riding the tro-tro to work. The sun is shining. The birds at singing sweet things to me. The wind is blowing through my freshly washed hair. I smell the citrus of road-side orange sellers, peeling away at their juicy fruits. I practically skip into work. My French is getting better. As well as Twi. Things are looking up.
Until one nasty, little bastard (excuse my French) waltzes into our school like he owns the place. He’s selling perfume. As he enters out classroom, my phone, of course, is resting on the table in front of me. He sets his collection of perfume down and starts to show me and Sammy his wide varieties that we should buy.
“I don’t have money. Friday, come back,” Sammy says. The seller agrees and leaves.
It took me about seven minutes to realize my phone was missing. And Sam’s. Yup. That’s right. He stole both of them. A thief disguised as a perfume seller. Can you now understand the need for profanity?
But the reactions are what made everything okay. Every kid. Every teacher. The headmaster. We all congregated together, talking about what we should do. And then, just like that, we were all off, sprinting down the polluted alleys of one of the biggest slums in Ghana. Asking shop owners, women with their children, girls carrying water. “Have you seen a perfume spray seller in a pink shirt???”
Even though we didn’t have any luck, I can say that my day got better. On my way home I started talking with a local man about my situation. He offered to pay for my tro-tro back and then even flagged down and paid for a taxi.
“May goodness follow you from here on,” he said as I exited the cab in front of my house.
And that’s the thing, for every “bad apple,” there are hundreds of good ones.
So being phone-less, I decided to try the internet café up the road to tell friends and family not to waste their time or money calling. The link was down. Okay… I caught a cab to the next closest internet café. About two miles away. He dropped me off, and I entered the little shack on a clean, but dark street.
“The lights are out,” he told me.
And that was it. That was just too much. Salt on the wound. I cracked. Crashing down on the pavement step next to a boy under an umbrella selling phone minutes, the water works began. They offered me water. Han-kerchiefs. A chair. I refused them all.
“I’m sorry. It’s really not a big deal. It’s just.. my whole day has been this way.” And I spilled my whole story right there on the concrete step. Their reactions were priceless. That’s the thing, thieves are pretty rare here, but when you find one, people are so completely disgusted that they would do just about anything to catch them.
“Where?? HERE? I go now. Tell me where!” The owner of the internet cafe shouted to me.
I held back laughter. After pulling myself together, we started talking. The boy selling phone minutes is Francis, a 22-year-old, hopeful banker, about to start at university. Not the most talkative of characters, but very sweet. A bushy, bright green tree stood over us, swaying in the moonlit breeze. The floor was like a mosaic, textured, smooth and colorful. Cats were everywhere. Francis told me they were tame. It felt like a soul-filling summer night.
A group of women called me over to them and invited me to eat with them. Kenkey. Basically a big lump of sour, sticky mush wrapped in a corn husk, dipped in spicy sauce. You don’t chew it; you swallow it down straight. It sounds disgusting, and believe me, I was grossed out the first time I ate it, but for some reason it’s… good. After a couple tries. Maybe an acquired taste? Either way, it was one of the nicest gestures ever, and a very common one here in Accra.
I wash my hands and stick my two fingers into the mush, grip it with my thumb, roll it into a little ball, dip it into the sauce and plop it in my mouth. On the dish, next to the Kenkey, is a whole, eyes and all, roasted fish.
“Eat fish,” they tell me.
After just ten minutes with these women, I can see that they’re all family. Sarah is the cook and seller, who makes Kenkey all day, along with some other Ghanaian dishes, and sells it from the roadside. Rebecca is her niece, a 19-year-old with a fellowship at a local college, studying economics. Her aunt, Nitishia? or something like that, insisted that we become friends. After talking to Rebecca for a while I realize why.
She lost her mother just a couple weeks ago.
“What do you do in your free time?” I asked her.
“Nothing,” she tells me.
“Nothing at all? No music? Art? Going out with your friends?”
“I don’t have any friends to go out with,” she says.
My heart just goes out to this poor girl. Her sweet and light-hearted disposition would never cause me to suspect a life like this. And now I realize… that night? The internet wasn’t out on accident. Are there any accidents even? I was delivered to that place for a reason.
After being invited to her mother’s funeral on March 20th, and making plans to come visit again the next day, Nusua, the owner of the café, walked me to the junction. He explained to me more about Rebecca and her mom, who died of unknown causes at just about 40 years old.
“I wouldn’t know what to do if I lost my mom right now,” I told him.
“You cope. You can’t bring her back. So you just learn how to live and move on. That’s what she would want from Rebecca. But she spent weeks crying and moping. Wouldn’t get out of bed. Wouldn’t eat. Just today and yesterday she has gotten better. Small small.”
Arriving back to the gates of my house, I talked to our guard, George, who rides a bike every night to our house to work. I’m borrowing his bike tomorrow night to ride back to the neighborhood and spend time with those people. This is what I’m here for. Experiencing real Ghana life. The little things. The girls who lost their mothers and the nights kids spend playing football in the streets. The women who make Kenkey for a living. The wanna-be bankers selling phone cards on the corner.
Real life. Real people. Real love. Ghana.