God’s Own Countryby Jon Monsoon / 02.06.2009
To walk down any given road in Accra (the capital city) or any other populated area of Ghana is to elicit a flurry of vocalised team guesswork from the locals as to your geographical origin. You’ll get “Yo American dude!” or “hey mano, you Italiano!”, “Eh eh Englishman!” or simply a less-inspired mumble of “Espanõl” or “Portugal” or “Mexican man” or even “Amsterdam”. If you’re white and out on the town in Ghana, you’re open to all kinds of public scrutinies, most of which are just good natured fun (outside of the air conditioned malls, foreigners are few and far between on the pavements of West Africa). However, stop and engage a guesser and make mention that you’re from “South” and the ribald demeanour changes. You can see the mental plug switch flip. Beneath a giant grin it’s all “Bafanaaa Bafanaaaa!”, “Let’s Go 2010!” (Yes, MTN is truly “everywhere you go”, especially in the poorer African countries) and lately, lots of “Yeh love Jacob Zuma!” accompanied by brotherly fist-bumps and those complicated thumb-popping handshakes that very few white ous can manage properly.
Team Mzansi PR has been doing its job in Ghana. Fact is, the average Ghanaian local got ‘nuff love for a brother from another mother if that mother was down South at the time of your birth. And that will get you a lot further than the next dazed-looking, sunburnt American missionary or do-gooder volunteerist purely for the fact that you are, skin colour and make of sunglasses aside, part of the tribe, an African. It’s refreshing to be treated as such, especially from a nation that really should treat all whiteys with suspicion, having but been slavery’s own Pick n’ Pay for 400 years. And therein lies the strange and unpredictable beauty of travel to Ghana. For any South African traveller, bored with the ravaged corals of Mozambleak and the poor-man’s Mauritius that is Zanzibar, Ghana offers a myriad of attractions, none of which this author can recommend as being worthwhile paying to see, and by that I only mean the best things to see in Ghana (like in most places, come to think of it) are those that cost nothing. Mahala, as it were. Such as the fantasy coffin makers of Teshi, who will construct a coffin for you in any shape you wish to be ferried to the afterlife in. Their humble and ramshackle workshop / showroom, a 20-minute taxi ride outside of Accra, contains colourful giant rooster-shaped coffins, a camera-shaped coffin, a Habanero chilli pod coffin, a mighty roaring lion-shaped coffin, assorted fish-shapes (for kiddies), a petrol tanker-shaped coffin, and a coffin that Elvis himself would not sneer too hard at. All quite wonderful to behold.
There is the depressing Elmina Castle on the Cape Coast, original home to the world’s slave trade. The manic Makora Market, with its bewildering array of knock-off Puma gear, kitchen variety Tupperware, counterfeit DVDs and ginormous live snails, and the Cultural Centre Arts market will truly test your patience against the never-ending hustle that seems to characterise so much of Ghanaian life. Everything has its price and you better be prepared to haggle or at least take being brazenly ripped off in the good faith with which it is intended (you = foreigner = walking ATM.)
Next to the fact that MTN probably owns Ghana (at least judging by the number of yellow umbrellas and road-side airtime stalls you will encounter, like said earlier “everywhere you go”), the casual visitor is sure to notice the proliferation of shop names that owe their origin to the Big G, Allah, or J.C. himself (or some chick called Grace, doubt it’s Jones, though.) Lotto stand, hair salon, shebeen, barber shop, bus, taxi (Tro-tro) and car: nothing is sacred, or rather put: everything is sacred. God is everywhere, especially bringing blessing and profit to business. The result is hours of priceless window shopping and mirth galore for us obrunis (literal translation: “whiteys”) of heathen persuasion. Start your day in Accra perusing the latest high street fashions at “God Did It All Fashion Centre” or marvel at the latest cuts in the window of “I Can Do All Through Christ Strengthened Me Fashions,” or be the envy of family ‘n friends with something from the “God Bless You Modern Fashions.”
Fancy a bit of a new ‘do’ before the disco? Who needs Scar when you have “Watch and Pray Hair Salon” or the “Clap for Jesus Hair Clinic”? Looking to get that upgrade on your old cellular device to match your new Ghanaian look? Look no further than “God & Sons Mobile Telecoms!” If your Vespa is in need of a tune-up (or an exorcism) just nip along to “God’s Own Motors” or “Jesus Saves Mechanics.” They’ll have you on the road (to redemption) in no time! If it’s just a wash n’ go you’re after, aim straight for the “God First Carwash” and wash your sins away. Whilst waiting for your valet, catch up on the news back home at the “Only Jesus Can Judge Internet Café and Fashion Salon”, or you might try the “Only Jesus Business and Barbering Centre” down the road. Feeling peckish (or at least divinely unsure)? Then I recommend a stop at the “If God Say Yes Snack Shop” for some fresh Fufu (a local dish of meat, sauce and giant sticky dumpling, eaten with your hands) or you can opt for the less commitment intensive “Jesus Cares Snack Spot”. The dishes at the “God is Great Take Aways” are divine too; for the adventurous there is always “In God We Trust Fast Foods.” If you want to stock up on some homely essentials, there is the “God Will Provide Supermarket” and for the DIY enthusiast, there’s the “Bride of Christ Aluminium Works” and the “Blood of Jesus Electricals” outlet, where the lowest prices are heaven sent! I took a stroll past the “Peculiar Child Academy” and wondered if I might’ve done some time there as a yout’ myself.
Heralded as “Africa for beginners”, due to its relative safety (really, crime is minimal here), Ghana is like a fat stripper – what you see once you’ve peeled away the lycra (the last three meters between the airport door and Accra), is what you get. It is hot and it is sweaty, any time of year. Sorta like Durban, but with way more soul.