Kumasi, June 26, 2009 – Friday
Trip Start Jun 18, 2009
13Trip End Jun 27, 2009
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Where I stayed
"Amis Wonderland" hotel
It took me a while to even pick up the threads of where I was and make at least some sense of my whereabouts. When I realised I was in bed, and then that it was all in Kumasi, I thought something must have gone wrong outside. Why would otherwise anyone knock now? Teetering on my feet, my vision still rather dim, to put it mildly, I tottered to the door and unlocked it. There was a young guy outside. Extremely friendly and chatty.
„Good morning," he said cheerfully. „I came to see your air-conditioner.“
Sleepy and dazed as I was, yet I intuitively knew that this was preposterous
„Yes,“ he said, not so sure any more.
„Not now,“ I said. „Can’t you see I’m sleeping?“
It seemed as if only now he became aware of the fact that I might have been in bed when he’d banged on my door. As if people in Ghana, or Kumasi at least, never slept between five and six in the morning.
I was about to close the door on him, but he wouldn’t give in just as yet:
„My boss told me I should be with you all the time,“ he said.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. And I couldn’t believe my ears.
„With me? Why?!“
„To help you.“
„Help me what?“
Fresh out of the bed and much earlier than I had planned at that, I was in no mood whatsoever for such a guff. So before he could even think of an answer and go on with this inane rot, I said:
„Look, I was sleeping. Did your boss tell you to wake me up this early, too?“
He stared at me with a look that was pretty close to being blank and I shut the door on him without a word. Then I went back to bed. Probably pretty exhausted from the day before, rather uncharacteristically for me, I fell back asleep again.
When I later woke up naturally, I set out carefully into the new morning, on a tentative lookout for signs of lingering illness
The guy who had knocked on my door earlier in the morning was nowhere in sight now. As if he’d evaporated. So much for his boss’s order to „always be with me.“ I’ll never figure out what was going on in his head at that moment. But I’d bet his boss had never said such a thing.
I recounted the whole anecdote to Francisca. She too expressed serious doubt that the guy had ever received any instructions of the sort. By the looks of it, this was forever going to remain a mystery.
I asked Francisca if she had asked her boss for a permission to have a lunch downtown with me. She said that she had not had a chance to talk to him yet but that soon she’d do it
„You can always say I need your help to buy the bus ticket for tomorrow,“ I added. She said she’d tell her boss that, too.
After the night’s rain, the day was again wonderful and sunny. As I felt much better this morning, by extension I was taking the heat much easier. It wasn’t draining me nearly as easily as the day before. I set out on my walk with much vigour and was happy as a tot that I could again devote my attention to the things I was seeing around me rather than to the things going on inside me.
It’s not like the life in Ghana gets into the high gear as soon as the people wake up. But then again, you never have an impression in Africa that life ever gets into the high gear, for that matter. They always seem to have a handy a way of slowing things down and no matter what they do, no matter what time of day, you always have an impression that they’ve just taken a breather. And that’s always so, in the crowd or outside of it.
So this was just another morning as usual with shops along the main road already open, but nobody in much of a hurry to do any more business than strictly necessary. I was by far the fastest-moving creature in the district. The place didn’t look much different than when I had first arrived, but it didn’t matter much. I was just in for a walk to stretch my muscles and the real thing was going to be downtown anyway.
And yet, such walks always reward you with something to see. This time it was a mixed herd of goats and cattle, which materialised seemingly out of nowhere. In the light of the fact that this was a city, albeit at its outskirts, I couldn’t help wandering where the herder was taking his animals. It’s not like there were any open spaces for them to graze. At least I couldn’t see any. But they all seemed to go wherever they were going with a clear purpose, those humpback longhorns, black-and white flap-eared goats and the herdsman behind them.
It was too good a sight to pass up. I just had to take a few pictures of it, hopefully as secretly as possible. However, even at a risk of the herder noticing it, I couldn’t let it go. If it got him steaming, I’d deal with it afterwards.
But my fears were unfounded. Not only my pictures didn’t tick him off, but as he probably never realised I was taking them, and yet had noticed my camera, he stopped and asked me to have a few pictures of him taken now. With and without the old herd. Of course, I duly obliged and so we parted as best of friends. Before he left, he asked me how he could have those pictures. I explained that this was a digital camera and I would advise him to give me an e-mail address. Not entirely to my surprise, he didn’t have any and wasn’t exactly clear as to what I was talking about in the first place. Then I told him that there was this thing called Internet – which he’d heard about – and that if he went to any Internet café, someone would help him open an account and then I could send him pictures there. He nodded as if he understood.
Where was I staying, he asked. I pointed at the signboard which was conveniently placed just a few meters away from where we stood and said:
„There. In this hotel.“
He nodded and left.
An hour and a half after I had left the hotel, I returned to pick up Francisca and take her downtown, provided her boss had given her the permission to leave. Actually, they were both there when I showed up and the old guy appeared all too happy to provide me with „help.“ Given the fact that this „Amis Wonderland“ hotel never seemed to be overbooked, I guess this was his way of fighting for every client.
While Francisca disappeared to change, the owner and I chatted. He asked me about my future plans and I explained that the next morning I was leaving Kumasi and heading back to Accra as I had a flight back home next evening. Today I had to buy the bus ticket for Accra and attend to a few more things in town. Thus the necessity of Francisca’s company fully explained, she and I left.
Of course, when you are with a local, they never charge you as much as when you’re on your own. That’s the rule of the game and after a while you learn the ropes. This time it was no different. Francisca was with me so the fee was neither four nor five cedis, but only three. I wonder how much they would have charged her if I had not been around at all. But that’s an academic question, anyway.
One way or another, we found ourselves downtown. It was my intention to first do some sightseeing, as yesterday I had not been in the best of shapes, so I wanted to make up for it a bit today. And that’s how it started. But very soon for some reason it occurred to me to check if Francisca had eaten anything today at all.
It turned out she had not.
So I took pity on her and asked if she was hungry. She wouldn’t appear too eager to go straight to lunch, but she couldn’t convincingly deny it, either. It was easy to add it all up, so I just dropped it all and took her to the „Vic Baboo’s“ again.
During our lunch which dragged on quite a bit, we went on about this and that and I realised that Francisca was quite a smart girl. Another one of those countless underprivileged Africans, she could never dream of going to university and that was obviously a shame. I was confident she was fully capable of graduating, if only given an opportunity. Instead, her dreams revolved around just two things. One, possibly finding a better job. In translation, better paid. Which was pretty difficult in Africa if you didn’t have a university degree. And two, finding a good husband.
„I pray every night to God,“ she said „to give me a good husband.“
And I? What could I say? I could blabber out something sloppy along the lines of „yes, I hope your prayers will be answered“, which would be for all intents and purposes just a shallow display of an empty and condescending compassion. Or I could shut my trap and say nothing. Which felt much more appropriate. It was much too easy to dole out I-hopes around. It cost nothing. But Francisca’s humble wishes and prayers were simply way too honest to soil them with sticky tosh.
Right there and then I felt almost guilty for having all the things in my life, which were really nothing out of the ordinary in my part of the world, but which Francisca in all likelihood would merely be able to dream about until the end of her life. This lunch I was buying her was really nothing. I was fully aware of it. After a while she might not even remember it any more. But I was glad I could do at least that.
At the end of the day, we didn’t do much sightseeing. She obviously wasn’t rushing out to leg it around like I usually do. And I had no heart to push her. Besides, from my point of view our chitchat was rather interesting. Not everything is in sightseeing, anyway. This too was a process of learning about and understanding local culture. So we stayed on and talked. I was just too curious to let it go now when she fully relaxed and talked freely.
Later we did buy that bus ticket, and did a few more things, but nothing on a grand scale. Some time in the afternoon we simply decided to return to the hotel.
Francisca gave me to understand that she had immensely enjoyed herself the evening before when I had taken her to the Internet café. When I realised that, I suggested we go again after her work. I didn’t have to use much persuasion. In retrospect, I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been her intention all along, to go there. Only, being a woman – in translation, being much more cunning than we men would ever be – she just found a smart way to make it look like it was my idea. Which is probably how it all played out. But I didn’t feel manipulated. In fact, I was just happy I could do one more little thing for her. Even if in the long run it wasn’t going to change her life a single bit.
The evening was almost a carbon copy of the evening before. After our time in the Internet café had expired, we went out only to face the heavy rain again. So once more we had to wait.
And when I returned to the hotel, I discovered that the power grid had given in to whatever overload it had been exposed and apart from a few candles in the hotel and my torchlight, we were in complete darkness.