Occasionally other visitors would pass through and I would crave their company for a few hours in the evening. One man I particularly remember was a freelance development consultant who did a lot for the World Bank. He scared me stiff one night with stories of working in Lagos, stories that showed me what a green traveller I still was. I was aware of Lagos and Nigeria’s reputation, the muggings, the corruption, the large rusty needles ready to ply you with cholera vaccine if you didn’t lubricate the machinery of a bureaucracy with a few greenbacks. He told me he just put the twenty dollar bill inside the passport with his landing card now to get on his way through the airport. He also told me of how he was told never to trust his driver into town. I knew of the stories of taxi drivers taking innocent visitors the wrong way on the long drive into the city, stopping in a dark alley way, robbing them there and then of all their belongings and leaving them on the streets, and if you were lucky you were not knifed. But he said that you could not even trust a driver who held up a World Bank sign in the airport arrivals. Muggers had got wise to the fact that almost every day someone working for the World Bank would be on the plane from New York or London or Amsterdam, and so would stand there with a sign. The tired traveller would be glad to find someone come to collect him and would get in the vehicle, only to be stripped of all worldly possessions a few miles off in a dodgy shanty town. So now he was given a set of ten agreed questions by the WB office in Lagos, and only if the driver answered those questions correctly would he know it was safe to drive off with him. As I sat there growing more terrified of the idea of working in developing countries, I wondered why I had craved his company. On reflection, though, he was particularly erudite and I still remember much of our conversation that night. He made the stark staff club almost civilised.
After a while, I began to hate my monk like meal times downstairs and persuaded them to allow me to eat in the TV lounge. I watched the turgid Ghana TV news but at least it showed me there was life outside this weird campus. The university was near dead. When I arrived there were plenty of people around, but they were all revising for their exams. They left the day they finished and the whole campus became a ghost town, just a few researchers and a couple of gardeners seemed to populate the entire site.
Little details began to intrigue me. I would know every tree on my walk to the office, and would have to hold my nose as I passed the mangoes that were in full fruit, so much so that the lecturers’ children who lived on campus could not collect the fruit fast enough and the sweetly stinking excess would be rotting away on the ground. I would always take a look in the little streams that ran through the campus, and was amazed the day a seven foot snake was floating mid stream under the small bridge I was on. I watched the cassava being harvested from the small field across the way from the guest house. I was mesmerized by the formations of the huge thunder clouds that grew and withered above me in just a few minutes. I would watch the procession of locals pass by the front of my veranda, some on bikes, most walking, the occasional one with the goat. I would watch the caretaker of the guest house, Kojo, go around his routines, I would say hello to the guard who looked after the guest house at night by sleeping with his feet up against a pillar. I started to watch the cracks get larger in the plaster on my ceiling.