Thursday 6 July 2006

Accra Shuffle

I set off from Will’s Cantonments residence, carrying my brand new camera bag over my shoulder. In it, my loaded camera, 2 lenses plus some filters and spare film. First stop, forex on Oxford Street. As I come out, I make friends with a chap who wants to sell me a boy bracelet. He tells me his name is Black Africa and he knows someone living in Coventry. The bracelet is made of 3 different metals and signifies ‘Unity’, an important theme in Ghanaian art and craft. I thank him and tell him I have no money, despite 1m cedis burning a hole in my bag, and that I’ll pass by later, which I don’t intend to do. Not very nice of me but I don’t, as a general rule, wear jewellery.

I head south from there past the Noble House Chinese restaurant, with Heritage curry house upstairs, down to Independence Arch and Black Star Square. From there I continue in my flip-flops along the dusty pavement past Usher Fort, an old slave fort that currently stands unused and on to James Town. There I’m hoping to get pictures of the fishing boats and what is frankly a squalid township on the coastal side of Accra city. I recall it vividly from my last visit when I was struck by the bustle, the colours and the sheer poverty.

James Fort was converted into a prison at some point and a sign makes it clear that loitering and taking pictures are not allowed in its vicinity or that of the lighthouse but in theory it’s ok to snap away once you’re out of sight of it.

There’s no escaping I’m the only white face around here. I can’t pretend to belong, as I did in Argentina. There are a lot of eyes on me and I feel uncomfortable.

Here is a very basic way of life, marked by small stalls selling veg or smoked fish, children playing in the street and fishermen mending their nets. Lunch is eaten sitting on the pavement around a metal pot. A mother washes her young child in the stagnant stench of the gutter.

A pair of very small boys are playing football on the pavement. One kicks the ball and slices it off to the right past me in the direction of the road. I stick my foot out to stop it and the balls bounces back into the field of play and between the posts of the opposition. The oppo objected as I walked on but the other little footballer raises his hand and as I lower mine he gives me 5 and a broad grin.

Despite spotting a few photo opps, I didn’t have the bottle to get my kit out. The camera stayed in its bag. I don’t want to attract extra attention with it in my hand or around my neck, let alone with my eye to the viewfinder.

My new flip-flops have caused my feet to bleed (ok, they’re a little rubbed) so I catch a taxi back to base for lunch.

I spend the late afternoon planning what to do in the coming days. Probably head off along the East coast plus move on from there to the Volta region. Will is planning to join me at the end of next week for a saunter into Togo.

In the evening, I experience more expat life at the quiz night in Champs bar, part of the Paloma hotel ‘complex’. We come fourth by one point but I maintain that we were robbed. Sunflowers was definitely not painted by Monet, as the panel suggested, but by Van Gogh. Monet was obsessed with poppies mostly. Like my Murphy’s, I’m not bitter.