Ada and Kwaru were sometimes pests, sometimes amusing. We would sit and chat. Every morning, the routine was the same, I would rise and shower, and come into the kitchen area to make a cup of coffee with powdered milk, cut some bread, spread some jam and sit down to watch the only channel on TV, some cool dude from Accra play the same set of pop videos every morning, which was interspersed with some of the dullest adverts on TV. The programme lasted only half an hour, but almost always covered my breakfast. There being nothing else to read or watch (a new station was going to arrive three months after I left Ghana, but up till now, non satellite based TV was restricted to this one channel), the routine was the same. Sometimes Ada and Kwaru would come in before they went off to school and try and make some conversation. With Ada this was quite interesting, but with Kwaru, it would revolve round a smile, a “Hello” and a begging hand saying “Woork man”.
After breakfast I waited for the LARC Land Rover, from one of the institutes in the university I was working with, the Land Assessment Research Centre. Rarely was it on time, and this was quite frustrating when I was ready to work hard in the institute, preparing programmes, running training courses or presentations. There was only a limited amount of time and sometimes it was frustrating to wait twenty minutes before the vehicle arrived. Occasionally I started walking to the Institute; often I was caught up with only when I was over half way; on one day I was at the Institute, half an hour late, soaked to the skin with sweat and annoyed. I would always make sure that I was ready, a constant battle against them would force me to make sure they never had an excuse like “I was here but you weren’t there”. Always was I there at the right time, computer clasped in one had and haversack over my back with today’s papers in it.
Perhaps I never found the root of the psyche of the Ghanaian, as I never found the resistance to help operating stronger than in Ghana. Usually, a smile and a bit of persuasion was enough to get what you want in a place, or at least a bit of money oiled the way to a compromise. But in Ghana, the sands shifted the wrong way. People would say they would do something and then not, or the system would find a way to wriggle out of an agreement. One of the most frustrating phrases was “I’m coming”, just as the person you wanted to talk to disappeared out of the room not to be seen for another three days. Of course sometimes people’s disappearances had a perfectly logical and sometimes jarring reason. It was not unknown for lecturers to turn up for work after a three days absence saying “Oh, I had malaria” or “My eldest child died last night”.
Malaria was a serious problem in Ghana as it is throughout much of Africa. I was conditioned to taking copious quantities of prophylactics, dousing myself in deet and covering myself in clothes to avoid being infected. I took a mix of Chloroquine (two tablets once a week) and Paludrine (3 boxes full every day). After a nasty experience after a trip to Ivory Coast and Kenya, I avoided Lariam, the wonder drug of the 90’s. I never ascribed it at the time, but was unusually depressed on my return from Nairobi. Normally my mood would swing after a trip – the feeling of being back in grey mizzly Chatham was rarely good, but at this time, I was particularly low for a long period. I happened to be in the canteen at NRI one day soon after when a couple of women started chatting about feeling depressed and how they associated it with Lariam . I immediately made the link and vowed I would never take it again. I had got away lightly. I had not had the hallucinations. One woman had spent several weeks in Uganda and had taken a course of Lariam. She was staying in a hotel which had the usual set of strange pictures around the walls, including one of a panther. She got very worried when she woke up one night, crying and watched the panther get off the painting and walk up and down at the foot of the bed.
Whether Ghanaians having three day bouts of malaria or even relative problems were excuses or reality, I was never to find out. All I knew was that my attempts to make progress were twirled around people’s fingers at will. Again my naivety at being on my own for the first time on a trip worked against me. I got upset when I found out that there were alternatives to the way I was trying to work – for example when I was able to go out one night towards the end of my trip with Kingsley, and we went to a chicken and chips place on the cross roads near the entrance to UST. When we’d eaten and it was one of the better nights for Kingsley’s conversation – we talked more of life in general and what we were wanting to do rather than what scam Kingsley was trying to get into. At the end of the night, we were sitting on this open terrace overlooking the main road, hustle and bustle going on even at this late hour, and I said, I wished we could have done more of this, getting out and seeing the life of the city. Kingsley chastised me and said if he had known he would have taken me out more. Finding out he would have done more if only I had persuaded him earlier on only heightened my depression at the place. My feelings were broken when we heard a dull thud outside the restaurant. At the junction of the road, a woman was knocked over and killed by a fast moving car. The combination of poor street lighting, lack of reflective clothing, dark skins, dreadful driving and road sense had caused another fatality on Africa’s roads. A throng formed around the dead woman, a lot of shouting and anger ( I thought the driver was going to be lynched there and then). The rest of us looked on from the road side or restaurant. No ambulance or police turned up, and the dead body was removed in a few minutes and the scene returned to its normal self as if nothing had ever happened.