Week-end Trip, Day 4 — returning to Accra

I wasn’t sure how this day was going to end, who would be returning to Accra, who was staying, and when we would get home. Yesterday, when I was waiting around with the girls, Ruth said she was staying here with her mother, while Anna said she was going back with her father. I had heard nothing of this other than the brother-in-law that Emmanuel disliked so was planning to return with us today, the family would not have him, they said.

That first day, on Saturday when we were going to visit Vida’s sister in Ayem, Emmanuel and his father-in-law got into quite a discussion about Cory, and at one time I remember him shifting into English saying “You are a bad father!” Things got very tense, and I was looking forward to see how this worked out. Cory was of course, back in Mpoho at the “Guest Lodge” and so they could talk freely, with Vida and myself and the girls in the car. When we go there all was smiles, and we dropped him off, and picked up some new passengers.

It seems like every time we got into the car, the passenger list changed. People would be added, subtracted, and I got the feeling that I was their driver. It is OK, I know I’m being used, but I’m using Emmanuel too. I’m seeing things, and getting to visit places I would not normally get to visit as a white man. I’ve taken about 600 pictures and not once been hassled, or had to dash somebody or buy a permit to take pictures.

In Africa they say, it is allowable to have friendships based on mutual assistance, or to the mutual benefit to each part. They don’t have to be based on friendship, and I feel a degree of that during this trip. From time to time I have to put my foot down and say, no, but mostly I’m along for the ride, or really to drive the ride.

Today the plan is to go to BOPP, the giant palm oil processing plant in the area. It is an hours drive there and when we arrive we learn that there is no one there to approve the plant visit, so we are turned away. Emmanuel decides to visit the home of his ancestors, and we spend a few hours creeping our way through the town of Banso. He just doesn’t get the whole car thing I think sometimes, or doesn’t understand the danger in it all. At one point we’re driving down this road, I’m being really kind here, it is really just the space between peoples homes, and the ditch that runs through town, he is directing me here and there, and while I’m being very careful to creep along at 5 KPH, it is rough road, and when he wants me to turn down yet another “road” I balk. “We can walk, “ I say, but that is not really the point is it. The point is to arrive in a car. Later I explain to him that in Accra, I will park the car and walk a half hour just to avoid driving on Oxford Street, a busy street near us which is always and all times is a traffic jam. It is a concept that he has clearly new to him. I’m figuring out that cars are not so much about transportation, as they are for arriving in, or more clearly to be seen climbing in and out of, and I’ve had enough of it. We park and walk, and get there a whole lot faster (and safer). Ah, cross-culturalism. I’m also cranky because we’ve been without water now for the whole morning, he came in my room and collected my water, and so I’ve been without, it is really hot, and he doesn’t like it when I run the AC. At the next stop I ask for a coke, anything, to drink as it is almost noon and I’m sure not going to be drinking out of the water bottle he has been sipping on all morning.

We get to the great uncle’s house–by walking–and finally sit down, and again we are asked, what is our mission, Emmanuel goes into it with great detail and when they are about to shake hands, I add, “and there is nobody chasing us, so you don’t have to hide us under your bed.” The room erupts with laughter. You get us, obrunie, I can see it in their eyes. I’ve been in about five Ghanaian village homes this trip and am beginning to see a trend. A typical room is about 15×20 feet and divided in half by a floor to ceiling sheet. Behind the sheet is a double bed and there may or may not be a window in that part of the room. On this side of the sheet there are five wooden chairs, a table for the TV, and a coffee table. The chair cushions are covered with a bright blue covering that often has some biblical saying or concept, like God is Great. The bed also serves double duty as an overflow couch, but people sit on the sheet divider. It is a compact yet highly functional arrangement. Cooking is done outside on open flames or charcoal, but I am not sure where they eat. I am guessing outside.

WHAT IS YOUR MISSION?

When the cokes are finished, we say good bye and head off to the Guest House, when I see the twin spires of a catholic church, Notre Dame of Ghana I nickname it. We drive into the church yard, actually a school yard and I get out to take pictures. It isn’t long before the headmaster is out there asking me what I am doing, thankfully he doesn’t ask my mission, or I’d have to go into the whole narrative thing, instead I explain I would like to take pictures of this church building because it has an unusual structure. Actually, I’ve ready taken several, as I have learned that sometimes people like this get all authorian with me and ask to see my credentials, or permit, or some other ridiculous documentation, but none of that is happening today.

He says “The man who built this church, he has kicked the bucket long ago.” I smile at the headmaster and say, “Now that is not an expression I have heard in a very long time, kicked the bucket.” He beams, and together we talk about the building and walk to the front to take more pictures. It is an echo of Notre Dame, smaller, and made out of concrete and I see they have just restored it, or the inside of the building. I wish I knew more about it, but I feel like he needs to get back to his headmastering. I look inside the open air building and see the altar is on the opposite end of the church from the spires. I’m about to ask more when Emmanuel shows up and gets all possessive about me, like I’m HIS obrunie.

Ghanaians can be so rude to each other, or at least it sounds that way to me. I’m having this nice conversation with the headmaster, learning about the building and then Emmanuel walks up gets ugly with him. I’ve seen him do this other times like when we were getting the car inspected, and the process wasn’t working perfectly. He gets ugly with they man in charge, and I want to say, just relax, don’t make things more difficult for us. Too late, now he is upset with us. I’ve seen this in other places, like when the appliance guys showed up to install the washer and didn’t bring the right equipment to drill into 12 inches of solid concrete. The Ashesi guy gets ugly with him, and all but calls him incompetent. Maybe he was, but the next day, that washer is installed and perfect. Maybe it is a cultural thing, or motivational thing that I just don’t get, but I know it makes me uncomfortable, and I feel shows a distinct lack of respect for the other person.

We’re back in the car now, and after picking up a new passenger, we get back to the guest house about 11:30am. Vida is nowhere to be found, again, and so Emmanuel calls her and says to me “Please, she is coming.”

“Please… is coming” is an expression that could mean someone will be here anywhere from 10 minutes to three hours. For example, when the guards leave their post to pick up some dinner, they say “Please, I am coming,” they say as they are leaving the yard. When I was here in 1968, the expression was “I go-come,” but you don’t hear that much anymore. So after he has told me she is coming, I suggest to Emmanuel that he pack up so we can leave after lunch. I’m already packed up, so I sit down and entertain his girls, and then go take a nap. Big Mistake. I wake up and the house is just as it was an hour early. I’m trying not to be all uptight about things, but I keep thinking “Please, she is coming.” I remember him saying, it could mean 10 minutes or three hours, and now I guess it means the latter, and so I text message Emmanuel. “Time to go,” I write.

All day long he had been telling me how we were going to get on the road early, so I wouldn’t be driving in the dark. Not driving in the dark left a long time ago, and I’m starting to get concerned. Well, lunch is rice and a wonderful cabbage-okra stew, and then we’re packed up and on the rode by 3:30. It still means we’re gong to be pulling into Accra about 8:30pm, three hours after dark, and while I know these roads, I still don’t like driving after dark on them. Mostly I’m concerned about what the passenger list will be, will Vida come home, will Cory be with us, will the girls be split up?

When they arrive, they are very apologetic, but all smiles with each other, as whatever the Warwa was, it has changed into Jojo. It is good to see them getting along, and the whole way back they talk in Twi. It has the sound of people who love each other, and I’m glad things have worked out for Emmanuel. He managed to make it home with his wife, children, and not his brother-in-law. I have got to hand it to the guy, he did well.

Prologue – they say that cross cultural friendships like this are difficult at best, impossible on average. There are just too many differences to get over. I think Emmanuel has done much to accommodate my western-ness, meeting me more than half way, and when you think about it, the week-end was pretty amazing. I didn’t get sick, I ate typical home cooked Ghanaian food, and got to experience village life. Well, sort of.

The next few days after we get back are a little weird. He has been BMOV (Big Man Of Village) for a week-end, and now he returns to be a day guard. I’ve been his driver and charge, and now I’m back to being his boss, and the transition feels strained. Yet he seems happier than I’ve seen him in weeks, and it has to be nice not having the constant irritation of his brother-in-law.

The most common question I’ve been asked upon returning: “Was it fun?” Hmmm, fun, interesting, once in a lifetime experience, cross-cultural, yet but when I think of fun I think of skiing, I think of a long week-end with Suzanne in Seattle, I think of anything to do with Austin, but Mpoho, fun? No not really, still I’m glad I went and feel blessed for the opportunity.

See more picture of the week-end adventure

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