Saturday, December 14, 2013
This morning I woke up early, split a loaf of fluffy white bread and a tin of Milo powder with Mr. K, and around 8am we headed together towards the main road in the rain. I wore my ankle-length purple skirt and cropped black elastic shirt, and couldn’t help remarking how I looked decidedly more conservative than most other women. (Mr. K had said to wear a skirt, but I only have Oman-friendly, i.e. floor-length, skirts with me.)
I also couldn’t help feeling immense relief as we walked by other members of the community. I may be an obruni, but Ghanaians don’t look at women’s bodies like pieces of meat, a simple observation but one that is absolutely not true everywhere. You’re just a person; your sexual purity and/or consumability doesn’t really come into the question. It’s hard to prove this assertion, admittedly, and racialized power dynamics intersect to complicate gender relations here as well. Nevertheless, it is an impeccably distinct feeling that you get, the way men’s eyes do (or do not) linger up and down certain parts of your body when they see or speak to you, humiliate you non-verbally for having curves or breasts, long arms or round cheeks. That is why one feels so empowered wearing an abaya in some parts of the Gulf. You reclaim your humanity (and intellect) from the otherwise governing assumption of corporeal shame. Anyway.
We jumped onto a crowded trotro (public taxi van seating 16) and for two cedis apiece (it used to be 50 pesuas, ya Allah quelle inflation!) rumbled west towards Community 10, Tema. We wandered through the fish market there for awhile, stopping to look for paint (I wanted to paint the continents on the concrete walls outside the school, currently there is only Africa).
The paint was too expensive, so we headed to the Community 4 market, but it was pricey there too (8 cedis/litre) and it was already 10:30am so we needed to get on with our day. We took a third trotro an hour more into Accra, transferred in the very big market there to a fourth trotro that would take us to the paper factory on the far western side of the city in the Accra industrial quarter.
The thing about this trip, is that Accra airport to Community 25, directly, should take no more than 60-70 minutes. And downtown Accra to Community 25 should take only two hours. However, when you’re using trotros, they won’t leave the market until the whole bus is full, and once they leave they are liable to stop at any time to pick up more passengers. So the trip into downtown Accra took closer to four hours.
While I recognize that robbery, particularly of foreigners, is quite common in such sprawling open markets (in any country), I felt no fear, unlike I recall from when I first visited three and a half years ago. Robbery is such a minor crime, in a way, at least in its isolated, non-violent form. It can usually be prevented by being careful and attentive, and even when it cannot be prevented, it is mundane. It involves the unjust confiscation of a material thing, which, while morally frustrating, is, at the end of the day, a finite event involving a material object. Many other violences are more elusive, and enduring.
(Kids unloading the paper at Manye)
We finally arrived at our destination, a paper factory that makes the cardboard six-pack boxes for bottles of Guinness and Savannah, a hard cider popular in Ghana. The factory was owned, unsurprisingly, by a Lebanese man, whose son, it turns out, goes to LAU Byblos/Jbail, an hour north of Beirut, with my friend Luc!
(N.B. As an over-generalized rule of thumb, Lebanese mafia/businessmen tend to control West Africa, Indian mafia/businessmen tend to control East Africa. I have found that many of their families were the ones to initially occupy these regions on behalf of the French and British Empires, respectively, who, after plundering Lebanon and India, sent veteran colonial subjects who “knew the drill” to go administer new territories.)
Anyway, the nice Lebanese man sold the factory’s unused scrap paper (of all shapes and sizes) to Mr. Kabutey at a “good price.” However it was quite a lot of paper and we had brought no truck to deliver it back to Manye. For about four and a half hours, Mr. K negotiated prices with passing truck drivers, and finally got one to take us, and the paper, back all the way to Community 25 for the “best price” of 120 Ghana Cedis.
Because my presence with him would artificially inflate the asking price, I sat during these hours (partially hidden from view) two blocks away, behind the counter of a wooden snack cart. Mr. K knew the owner, who was not there, but her son, Micheal, who was running it for the day, kindly welcomed me to sit with him. We passed the hours easily, shaded from the sun, listening to Rick Ross, debating the morality of homosexuality (*sigh*), and discussing the pros and cons of different styles of kente cloth. When I left, he even refused to let me pay for the passion fruit Alvaro soda malt I drank!
In any case, Mr. K ultimately hired a truck – a 1967 Ford which, I kid you not, had no floor in the cabin – which took us and the paper back safely for the hour and a half drive to Manye. I must say it was truly epic driving in that van, our feet and my purse resting up on the dashboard, the only thing on the floor were the (hanging) gas and brake pedals and the stick shift, nakedly protruding from the engine below.