So here I am in Ghana in the middle of the night with no one to meet me because the London Heathrow to Accra flight is twelve hours late.
“Irie, Rasta man!”, says the tallest of the taxi drivers trying to handle my luggage outside the gates of Katoka International Airport.
“We Ghanaians love Jamaicans second only to Reggae,” says another.
“Not surprising,”, says his smiling friend – squeezing my hand and snapping fingers. “Our ancestors were taken there many years ago. You are welcome!”
Three hours later, and still reeling from culture shock, I’ve given up searching Madina in the darkness of night for the road to the house of my old friend Kwesi with whom I have come to stay. Ogled from the back of the car by two of my three new best friends, I can’t help but think that if I had been riding in a taxi in the middle of the night with three complete strangers in England, Jamaica or America, I would probably have been robbed of my luggage, camera equipment and travellers’ cheques by now. Instead, I’m counting the stars in the yard of the bar at The Ebony Hotel, Pig Farm, as recommended by my friendly taxi driver, Amadu.
The night is hot and the stars are many. One especially bright is hovering above the head of a man sitting on a stone in the corner of my vision. He is slim, tall, and blacker than the night with a face old and wise as the ground beneath his slipperless feet. He wears a silver-blue gown of a material that makes him sparkle like the moon in the darkened sky. Resting on a prayer mat at his feet is a shirtless man of equal blackness, fanning himself from enveloping heat and the kiss of mosquitoes. I have a sudden urge to read the Bible, then on second thoughts; perhaps the Qur’an would make more sense here.
Two men beside me are talking very loudly, but I don’t understand what they’re saying. Not even enough to know if they’re talking about me. Another man has joined. They are definitely not talking about me – at least not now. They seem not even to notice my presence. Am I a ghost, a mere shadow of my former self?
Children enter with two barking dogs. The atmosphere changes:
“Good evening,” they say one by one.
“Good evening,” I smile.
Then as quickly as they entered, each one leaves. The dogs follow. Two of the three men are still talking actively. A forth man joins them as a fifth enters to sit alone. “You are welcome!” they all nod to him in unison. “Medasi!” he replies and orders a beer.
The stars are many and the night is black. Light from the hotel’s kitchen windows cast shadows twisted across the yard. Could I live in this place? Amongst these people? Learning their ways and languages? Two couples to my left are retelling the story of The Chief’s New Clothes.
“Eh! … Until a small boy came and said, ‘The King is naked! The King is naked!’ … You know small boys have much to learn!”
After ten minutes, they have finished discussing “Women’s Liberation in Ghana” with the two men concluding, “Women do as much work as men,”…but from what I can see, women are the backbone of Africa. And with that thought uppermost in my mind, I return to my holiday-reading.
During the 1980s, it is said, Ghanaian politics went through remarkable transformations from revolution, through the adoption of a draconian economic reform programme, and the eventual return to democratic government in 1992.
In Big Men and Small Boys: Power, Ideology and the Burden of History in Rawlings’ Ghana, 1982-1994, Paul Nugent covers the entire sequence of events, situating them in the broader historical context and offering a sustained explanation of what occurred. Since the eighteenth century, he argues, a central theme dominating Ghanaian politics and society has been the relationship between wealth and virtue, and Dr Nugent offers an essential explanation of the ways in which this theme is still predominant today and can be seen in what I like to call the ‘big men-small boy syndrome.’
Can I live in this country “a small boy” and my own man? I would like to run The Mole Game Park in Damongo. I wonder if the current big man could fix it–President John Evans Atta Mills? I wouldn’t ask for much–just a twelve-month trial period; a self-contained bungalow, food, transportation, a budget–and some small commission on increased sales. I know I could send profits shooting to the stratosphere.
The stars are out and bright tonight.