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Tuesday, April 03, 2007


We greeted Conor at the airport with primeval excitement. Dacosta accompanied us and escorted Conor from the airport [civilians are not allowed in the airport unless they have a flight] to where we waited outside the velvet ropes. All of Ghana had been swept clean, refurbished, and decorated in the gold, green and red for his visit [or possibly the 50th anniversary].

Conor got an immediate taste of Dacosta’s honour. He took us to the airport taxi stand and they gave us a high price. Dacosta was so offended by whatever the driver told him he marched away with us in hot pursuit and the airport officials calling after him, “soldier, soldier, 30 thousand okay?!” My guess is that they suggested to him a jacked up price and a split of the extra with him for his complacency in duping the whites. He is incorruptible.
We got up at 5 am on Independence Day to beat the crowds, but didn’t manage to leave the house until close to 7:00 because Mary and Kwaku wanted to take advantage of the fact that the neighbours’ water was flowing and fill up. We took two taxis to Independence Square at the south end of town, on the waterfront. It was me, Miia, Conor, Kwaku, his girlfriend Vita, and Mary. We pushed through the crowds just between two chief's ensembles, hoisting their rulers on the royal carriage high above their heads to the cheering crowds. Somewhere along the line we lost Mary [who is Kwaku’s 19-year-old cousin]. We pushed our way into the VIP invite-only area, assisted by our white skin. When the police demanded Kwaku’s invitation he said, “I’m with these white people; please let them in.” And they did. White privilege strikes. The cops did their best to control the massive crowd of tens of thousands, but were clearly in over their heads. At one point I saw a cop argue and refuse entry into the stands to one guy while about 50 other guys ducked in behind the cop’s back. Eventually they just gave up and let the masses pour in and sour the space of the rich; we all cheered together in the end.

Independence Square is large enough to fit a few American football fields in it and is surrounded by stands, which were freshly painted in Ghana colours, filled with Ghana fans and citizens, also in Ghana colours, waving Ghana flags. Then came the diplomats, presidents, and figureheads, with their aids and guards chasing after tinted cars, identifiable only by their flags. Whereas the chiefs had gone through the crowds, these guys whipped right around them, to the head of the square, where they hid in the shade of the tarmac with the media.

Then came the hardware: armed soldiers of both genders and all departments, uniformed school children, tanks and trucks, performing routines choreographed using the same Ghanaian colours. Planes and helicopters did flyovers and the crowd went nuts, frenzied in delight. What joy to be Ghanaian today!! Everyone danced and sang traditional songs for Jesus, even the Muslims, until the cops started swinging their sticks, hitting some, who laughed in response, but cowered away the next time the stick came out.

Speeches were given but not heard; the speakers hadn’t been changed since 1957 and looked straight out of a M*A*S*H set. When all the soldiers and world leaders dispersed, the motorcycles roared from the nearby streets and did tricks for the crowd as more cops waved more sticks to beat the crowd back. Some got hit by sticks; some by bikes, nobody seemed to mind much, the tricks were worth it.

When the crowd cleared out we headed for home – found Mary on the way. She was smiling and had had a great day on her own, then used the money we paid her for helping us around the house to pay for a trotro home, and a haircut, and was planning to go see a concert but changed her plans to accompany us to the house and show us how to make fufu, which started with peeling cassavas with a big knife – lots of hacking away, she made it look easy. Anyway there were no serious injuries. We pounded first the boiled cassava then the boiled plantain, then pounded the two together. One person rotates the mush, the other pounds. Coordination/ rhythm are important. We were slow to learn, Conor got whacked twice, once by Mary and once by Miia. Toward the end we were getting better, but Mary never stopped laughing. “I never thought I’d see it,” she said. “Ghana is 50 and the white people are making fufu.” It was delicious, but a week later Kwaku made some and it was so much smoother, so much better.

The next morning we became even more Ghanaian by fetching water. Miia even carried it on her head, and by doing so was able to carry twice as much at a time as Conor or I. All our neighbours lined the streets to point and laugh, and Mary seemed embarrassed, whether by us or the neighbours I’m still not sure, but she practically begged us to let her do it herself. We refused because the work went four times faster, even if we spilled a little.

These experiences gave Conor and me an idea: Oburoni TV, where the white guys do typical Ghanaian things on cable TV. I think Ghanaians would find it the funniest show on primetime.
Bossman was in a good mood when I introduced Conor to him, and he told us both the story of how his father had been a dental surgeon, quite well off, until certain generals took over the country and drove out the rich, and their money too. An interesting development strategy. Bossman’s dad was embarrassed to be Ghanaian then, and Bossman grew up with a certain shame that lingered until the generals surrendered power just over a decade ago. Now he's back but he understands why people leave Ghana to try to use their talents elsewhere. He just wants them to send their money for development. He hired Conor part-time.

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