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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

An International Human Rights Day at the Beach

On International Day for Human Rights, a Sunday, we met Henry at La Beach. The entrance fee is 20,000 cedis ($2.50) and we didn’t realize that Henry would need his fee covered by us. He also mentioned that someone had tried to take something from him illegally but it was one of those conversations where meaning is lost in translation and further questioning takes you nowhere. When I got up to meet Henry at the front gate a Nigerian boy named Douglas took his chance to sit down with Miia. When I returned he invited us both to his house and asked for my phone number, which people do a lot here, and in some cases (including this one) they end up calling you daily and nightly. Douglas left us for a while before returning with his elder brother, Wisdom, who had a serious case of bigmanitis, which was further agitated by inebriation. He took great delight in haggling with a mask vendor in front of us and insisting he had no more money to pay, before pulling out a giant wad of cash with his rolex hand to make his purchase. He warned us to be careful who we are friendly with and strutted off looking for lesser peacocks to recruit or subdue. Before the day was out we saw Wisdom involved in a near fistfight with Foolishness.

In Douglas’s case the phone calls came during free call hours, after 11 pm and before 7 am, and they started the same day I gave him the number. Eventually Miia put a stop to it without even offering any excuses; I was humbled by her assertiveness. It’s a shame that the first Nigerians we met here turned out to be slimy scammers because that is the stereotype many Ghanaians have of them. Fortunately we will have ample opportunity to meet other Nigerians who deflate the stereotypes.


Have you ever wondered who buys all those weight-loss gimmicks you see on television? Wonder no more: it is the Captain. He even has the vibrating belt, over which his money gut sweats all morning while he watches the news, before doing walking laps of the house with Sarah, and several minutes on the Nordic track. After observing this spectacle over instant coffee we hopped in a cab with a philosophical hopeless romantic driver who listened to nothing but Brian Adams and was thrilled to learn of the superstar’s Canadian roots. “I have all his cassettes, except the ones that haven’t come here yet – they always take so long to reach Ghana.” He was egalitarian on the issue of race. “Most people see you white they’ll double or triple the price for you,” he said. “But me, I charge the same for white, black, yellow, whatever.” For his equal rate he drove us all the way to the dentist, where my tooth was granted a temporary stay of execution and given daily saltwater swimming privileges.

I wish pickpockets were as egalitarian as that driver, but I’m pretty sure I was targeted for easy pickins. We were rushed into a trotro by an overenthusiastic mate (the guy who takes the money and helps the driver). I sat in back and Miia went up front. The guy in front of me handed back the change to the guy beside me, and somehow it got dropped. I helped to pick it up and he dropped it again; I helped again and he dropped it again. “Maybe you can get it yourself,” I said. It was then that I realized my cell phone was halfway out from my Velcro pocket. I jammed it back in and shoved myself away from him, but I was so scared to make a false accusation I let it drop and when he moved up to the seat in front of me I figured the phone must have just slid part-way out, as can happen with shallow pockets in a crowded vehicle.

When I got out of the vehicle, the same guy, who wore a full-length turquoise African print, let me go by him, which is in itself unusual. His accomplice, the original change dropper, had also moved up a row and when he got out he dropped the aisle chair (which can swing up to let people out) down in front of me so I had to stop and pick it up again. It was then I felt Mr. Turquoise’s hands all over me like an overeager teenage on a first date. I slapped his hand away and shouted “get your hands off me!” He climbed down from the bus after me and I glared but said nothing. I realized, only after he’d left the scene, that he had succeeded in nabbing about 30,000 (maybe $4) from me. It’s not a big loss, but I hate being targeted like that, double-teamed, mildly invaded.

Miia took it even harder than I did and went hunting for the guy. We found a turquoise-clad man nearby and I think it was him, but he denied having been on the bus with me and told Miia she was beautiful. I decided it better to just leave it be than confront possibly the wrong guy over 4 bucks. We walked through the market (where several men have tried and failed to pocket my possessions) and grabbed another trotro homeward and thanked the gods for the survival of my tooth against all odds.

That night I tried banku (fermented corn and cassava beat into a gooey paste, like fufu but fermented) for the first time, and was surprised to find it more palatable than fufu despite the fermentation.

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