Friday, December 01, 2006


Remember the recent commercial that goes through the price of various items, all leading up to what the experience itself is—and the tag line is PRICELESS. Well, I had several priceless moments during my visit to Accra.

One of the first came after my first full day in Accra. It had been a busy full day, and with the heat, returning to the hotel and its lovely pool was so welcome. After going out to dinner at a Ghanaian restaurant and then returning again poolside, my daughter and I sat sipping a drink and taking in the cooler night air. Soon a band began to play across the pool. They played music in the high life style—a soft melodic jazzy type music featuring brass. But this group was singing all sorts of pop tunes. It got to be quite funny listening to the morphed pop tunes, and given the accent of a Ghanaian singer who learned English as a second language, the words didn’t always come out just right. For example the old classic “Que Sera, Sera,” the line “the future’s not ours to see” came out “Future not ours to see.” When the main singer struck up “I Believe in Miracles” we were primed. When he sang that constant refrain, it actually came out “ I Believe in Merkel.” Sort of a theme song for the German chancellor. Priceless.

During my second day in Accra, we visited Makola Market. This is a sprawling market near the city’s center with all manner of stalls selling seemingly everything: cloth, glass beads, food, water, plastic ware from China, dishes, mattresses, shoes, dresses, open containers of various grains, little bags of spices. People were everywhere, walking, selling, shopping, some sleeping. And soon after we began walking around, we heard Christmas carols playing—What Child is This? At one point we passed two separate street preachers with their own loud speakers blaring away. Also church music blared through the speakers. I was struck with the shoppers who seemingly paid these preachers no mind, even as they hummed the Christmas carols that were playing. The entire scene—priceless.

One afternoon we planned to head out to Labadi Beach in Accra. Our plan was to watch the sun set over the Atlantic. There are several beach restaurants selling refreshments, and they have chairs and tables for patrons. We settled on one, then watched and waited for 6 p.m. Since Accra is very near the equator, the day is almost precisely 12 hours long. We sat reading our books, sipping on our drinks, snacking on plantain chips and ground nuts sold by a vendor. And watched the waves crashing in. This is not a calm beach with easy swimming. The few swimmers do not venture out more than a hundred feet or so. The undertow is extremely strong, so swimming is not recommended. Like so many places in Accra, this peaceful scene was disrupted by multiple vendors—selling jewelry or nail polish, drums, or paintings. There were also several extraordinarily athletic young men who kept kicking a soccer ball back and forth. The sunset itself was almost anti-climactic, a pale sun slipping behind the clouds. However, the priceless moment was about to come. We decided to leave a bit ahead of the quickening dark—so we asked for the bill for our drinks. The bill for 24,000 cedis, so my daughter gave the young man 30,000 cedis and asked for change. He said he didn’t have it and would have to go get it. He disappeared. Five minutes, then ten minutes went by; then fifteen. By now, waiting for change has become stand on principle. Finally the young man returns with the change—and announces to my daughter that he should keep it for his trouble of having to go get it. Priceless! Incredulous, she said NO!

The final priceless moment occurred in the Centre for National Culture. Close to the Makola Market, the Centre sells various arts and crafts of Ghana. This is a walled in section of the city with the craft stalls laid in a part grid, part random fashion. All the vendors are anxious to sell, and beseech you to come see their wares—kente cloth; all manner of jewelry, made from beads, stones, pottery, wood, silver, gold; carvings of animals, salad tongs, ingenious stools, phallic symbols, mother and child; games; basket of every shape and size. And everyone is calling—hey, stop at my shop, stop here. They call my daughter “sister”, and (I assume because of my age) they call me “mama.” In one stall, the man asks my daughter—is this your mama? She says—yes, can’t you tell? The man says—no! your mama, she is big; you small. Happily for me, I am the right size here! Priceless.

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