The university was poor – the combination of being an educational establishment and being in Africa doubled its lack of cash. You could see that when envisioned and even originally realised, UST was to be a shining example of African innovation and sparkle. The spaciously laid out parkland gave the right tone for serious, thoughtful contemplation, the large 1960’s designed buildings showed the scale at which they wanted to operate at with a vigorous and optimistic architecture, and all the supporting facilities, such as the staff club with its meeting rooms, bar area, TV lounge and snooker table were all there, but apart from the TV (fixed on one channel) and the barman, little worked in there. Most of the staff there did not work. I had a struggle to set up my meals in the staff quarters. For the first couple of nights, Kingsley tried to find me something to eat. As it was still term time, several ladies from the surrounding suburbs came into town with huge iceboxes crammed full of hot food, called chop. They served you a kind of buffet, much of which was disgusting. There was rice, undercooked and heaped into obscene piles, there were scrawny pieces of chicken with no meat between the tough skin and knobbly bones. There was salad that was very limp and suspect. There were boiled eggs (the best part of the whole deal I thought), and a few other vegetables which were passable. They heaped stuff into thin clear plastic bags and gave you a plastic fork. It only cost a few cedis, so I suppose it was a good staple for the students, but I could never quite stomach it. Without travelling several miles out to the city, there was little alternative. I’d had some dreadful experiences with the local food, the fou-fou; a kind of dough that sat in different kinds of soup. You were meant to pick it up with your fingers and work the soup into the goo, then slurp it up. The fou fou was not a problem, it was the usual starchy staple, but some of the ingredients that went in to the soup triggered off my stomach. The piri piri sauce in particular caused me so many problems that one afternoon in Accra I had to spend within three feet of my hotel bathroom, any further and I would not have reached in time. Never have I had more fluid diarrhoea, and with the prospect of a four hour journey to Kumasi the following day, I had to take three Imodium tablets to stem the flow.
So I was having problems with the food even before I arrived in Kumasi. Once there it seemed to carry on. Then my boss in Ghana, Dr Quashie Sam came up with a solution, the staff club had a kitchen that served lunches, I could come to some arrangement for them to serve me my dinner at 7 each evening. It took me two days to track down the chef in the staff club, two more days of wandering the halls looking for these women serving up fried botulism. Finally, though, we came to some arrangement, and apart from one night where he “forgot” that I was coming and I wandered around a darkened canteen trying to find anybody to get me some sustenance, I did get food. It was marginally better that the chop I got from the ladies, but was limp and uninspiring. I tended to eat alone in a large, brightly lit room, laid out as if for some conference with tables arranged in a square. A few glasses and a jug of water were on the side for me, but apart from a decent tablecloth there was nothing to merit in there. I would gobble the food down as quickly as possible and head back through the dark lane to my guest house. I would sometimes enjoy a beer upstairs beforehand, though; Club, Star and ABC were the three brews available. Club and ABC were the usual fizzy pop that passes for beer worldwide, but Star was a really nice drink. Brewed locally in Kumasi, it was strong, rather sweet and had a similar taste to some German beers I knew. Every night the bar man would ask “Club or Star” and I would say “ABC”. Next night “Club or ABC” and I would say “Star”. Next night “Star or ABC” and I would say “Club”. Next night he finally cottoned on and said “Club, Star or ABC” and I would say “I’ll have a Guinness please”.