I talk often at the number of chance occurrences that have happened during my time abroad; one day you are contemplating passing another weekend with a good book or more work, when someone turns up at your door and takes you to the beach, or walking, or lion safari, or sailing, and the whole weekend becomes an adventure. It never happened in Ghana once I left Accra. And it seemed that any attempts I had to make entertainment for myself were doomed to failure. There was a promise to take me up to the national park to the west of Kumasi. There was the promise of a weekend in the Cocoa Research Institute to the south of the city. There was the chance to mix with a bunch of people who met up at the Sir Max Hotel in town on a Sunday, swim in their pool and unwind. None of them ever happened.
One of the times I looked forward to the most was my weekly visit to the British Council office in the centre of the old town. I had tried for a couple of weeks to send and receive email through the UST system. Quashie Sam had a terminal set up in his spacious office and I got a connection through and emailed NRI’s connection several times. Only one of the messages ever reached and none of their’s ever got back. The only way I knew this was that faxes were sent to the Vice Chancellors office and I might get a message about four days after they were sent. This was no good. Email was still in its infancy then amongst most people, and its existence in Africa was incredibly novel. So novel it never really worked. Nina Chachu, who ran the British Council office in Kumasi, had offered us her email and other services if we needed it. In the good old days when NRI had been part of the UK government, people were able to use the Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates to send things back and forth with the regular diplomatic bags that kept the Foreign Office in touch with their outposts. There were some hitches in this process, some officious FO staff would refuse to send some items of personal nature, demand a lot of paperwork to be done or just try to wield the little bit of power they had as hard as possible to feel good. One particularly obnoxious lady in an African country was so obstreperous that she was known by the local aid workers as a diplomatic bag herself. Now NRI had been privatised and came under the auspices of a humble university, these services were not open to us, and we had to use Fedex, DHL or any other carrier to expensively transfer goods around. Fortunately the British Council came to our rescue and in many countries became a useful business centre to help us communicate back home.
Nina Chachu was a lovely lady, rather large, round and wearing the typical flowery flowing dresses one would expect of an expat, she was like the country school headmistress, rather formidable at first sight, she turned out to be incredibly accommodating, but you knew if you crossed the wrong lines you were going to be in trouble. She ran the office with incredible efficiency, the like of which I saw nowhere else in Ghana. Her upstairs rooms were clean, cool and tidy, new computer and photocopying equipment was everywhere, plugged in and working. Her staff were courteous, knowledgeable and helpful. I was embarrassed to have to keep using the facility but it was the only chance I got to check the email and return messages. It was here I learnt that a month after my return to UK I was to go out to Sri Lanka, a thought which cheered me up no end (although in the back of my mind, I was wondering whether I ever wanted to go abroad again after this trip).