IMPORTANT NOTE: This article is part of a 12-chapter series on my trip to Africa: Ghana was the sixth country of twelve African nations I visited in December of 2016. It’s best to read the chapters in order, as they build on one another. To see countries number one through five, please go HERE. It’s best to read the stories/countries in order.
Ghana was the one and only country on this trip of 14 nations that I would travel to overland, by car. Check out Togo on the map, and you’ll see that its capital, Lomé, is but 10 kilometers from the Ghana’s line. It only took about ten minutes for Kokou (my driver) and I to arrive at the border in his Nissan Sentra with air conditioning that was probably two years overdue for a refill of Freon. Interestingly, it took Kokou much longer to cross the border than me. “Formalities,” he explained, as went from office to office at the border, to have his paperwork processed. Forty minutes later we were on our way.
I thoroughly enjoyed our drive through the countryside of Ghana; it turned out to be such an unexpected treat in so many ways. We rolled through several small villages and I never lost my enthusiasm for seeing the ladies carry various objects on their head. Up until this point, I’d seen plenty of baskets of fruit and even household utensils and bottles of soda, but it was in Ghana where I was wowed at the ladies with wooden and glass boxes of chicken on their heads. At least I assumed it was chicken.
Being in radio, I love listening to the local stations when I travel—especially internationally—where I get a break from the usual Justin Bieber and Ryan Seacrest of home and get to hear what the rest of the world listens to. I love hearing radio stations in other countries; not just the music, but the DJs, the promos, even the commercials. So I was disappointed when Kokou offered to play his “American” CD for me. Of course I had to be polite and accept his gracious offer. He was trying to make me feel at home, and had no idea that I was thoroughly enjoying his local radio station. How could he have known that “American” music was the last thing I wanted hear while in Africa. I was instantly bummed, but I knew saying yes was the right thing to do.
However, the marking on his disc looked like it read “Slow Jams.” Could it be?
I was in awe when the first track started playing, and in under two seconds I knew it was Blackstreet’s “Don’t Leave Me.” I turned it up and Kokou and I spent the next few hours jamming out to artists like Alicia Keys, R. Kelly, Michael Jackson and 3T. When K-Ci & JoJo came on, that was it…it was time for Carpool Karaoke!
At times I tried to put my seat back and catch some snooze time, but I was enjoying the music and scenery too much to keep my eyes closed for more than two minutes. We also had to show our ID to the police at a handful of checkpoints along the way. Ghana seemed serious about their security! The nap wasn’t meant to be.
The drive was awesome for the first three hours, but the last two sucked. We hit bad traffic in Tema, and were at a standstill for a majority of the remaining two hours. Traffic was worse than the 405 freeway at 8AM, and the sun was winning the battle against this Sentra’s failing AC. We simply sat and sat and sat. Then sat some more. No Slow Jam in the world could ease the frustration of just being at a standstill for hours under the African sun…it got pretty maddening.
We arrived at The Accra City Hotel just in time for me to put my bags down, freshen up, and shoot out the door for my 2PM city tour.
The Tour that Didn’t Happen
I walked about a mile in the blazing African heat, wading through masses of pedestrians and folks hawking goods on the sidewalk. I’d left my sunblock in Togo and could feel the heat searing by face. I finally approached the meeting point for my tour: Ussher Fort. No relation to the artist Usher, Ushher Fort was constructed in 1649 by the Dutch and is currently being restored.
It was 2PM, the meeting time for my tour, but my guide was nowhere to be found. The fort itself looked pretty abandoned and a security guard told me no one was allowed in. I told him about my tour and he had no idea what I was talking about. So I’d wait. I leaned on the building, my back against the wall to take what little cover I could in the three inches of shade, as I waited for my guide to arrive.
It was hot and miserable. I was drenched in sweat, my feet were sore from walking, and my body ached from the long car ride. My carefree vacation attitude was quickly turning into annoyed and downright pissy. 2:05. 2:10. 2:15. 2:30…no tour guide! As I hugged the side of the building for shade, I observed the locals. One kid caught my attention.
He must have been about four, no older than five. Dark skinned, shaved head, wearing flip-flops and shorts. He was across the street, playing all by himself. It took me a few seconds to focus in on what exactly he was up to. I squinted my eyes under the blazing sun and tried to figure out what he was doing with a black plastic bag on a string. And then the breeze kicked up, and the bag sailed up into the air like a kite. Wait a minute—this was a kite! His kite.
The time and the waiting suddenly became a non-issue. I wanted to watch this child’s skills.
I instantly remembered flying a kite for the very first time. I must have been about his age, too. Mom took me on vacation to San Diego, and taught me how to fly my new kite on the bay. I remember the feeling so vividly, and the excitement of feeling the wind tug at the string for the first time, and seeing my kite fly higher and higher. I witnessed and even felt this same feeling in the boy’s face, although his plastic shopping bag was struggling to fly higher than his head. Nonetheless, he never gave up. He’d help the little kite up and then take off running, trying to give flight to the crumpled bag. At times he was successful and he’d let out screams of joy. Other times the bag nose-dived straight to the sidewalk. He didn’t care, and he never gave up. He’d pick that kite up and attempt flight again and again, until it was soaring as much as physics would allow it to. I took out my iPhone and snapped some pictures, and then video. I never got tired of watching this. So many emotions came over me during his kite show: first I thought, “neat!;” impressed with how innovative the boy was. Then I was overtaken by a feeling of overwhelming of gratefulness. Then, the sadness came. I was taking pictures of this sweet child on an $800 iPhone and he didn’t even have a $15 kite to call his own. How could life be so unfair?
It was now 2:40PM. It was clear my guide wasn’t showing. And I was glad. I’d take a different kind of tour today. I hailed a cab. I was off to find a kite.
You’d think finding a kite in a city of 2.3 million would be easier, but this proved to be one difficult task. I sent my cabbie, Charles, all over town. First it was to my hotel to grab my money, then off shopping for kites. I even pulled up a picture of a kite on my phone and told him this is what I needed. 15 minutes later we arrived at a big store. I went in, only to discover it was just a grocery store. No kites or any kind of toys. Then it was on to a bigger store: another grocery store. This one had a few toys, but no kites. A worker there told us to try LaraMart. We did. No kites, no toys. I soon got the feeling Charles was as clueless as I was when it came to kite shopping in Accra. I kept asking, “Don’t you guys have a ‘toy’ store here?” He seemed confused. How could a city this big not have a toy store, I pondered. It didn’t make sense to me.
An hour had passed and it would be dark soon. I decided to head back to store number two and settle for some of their toys—no kites, but this was the best option I’d seen.
I picked out the two best remote-control cars I could find. There wasn’t much of a selection of toys at all, but I remembered at that age, how cool these cars were to me. My hope was that the boy might enjoy one (or two) as well. So I grabbed two, we found batteries, checked out, and then it was off to deliver the goods.
We arrived back at Ussher Fort, and parked; but the boy was nowhere to be found. I’d hoped to find him still running along the street with his little black kite, but this wasn’t the case. No boy, no kite. My heart sunk.
We approached a lady working at a roadside stand and showed her the photo of the boy. She’d remembered seeing him, but couldn’t tell us where he’d gone. I looked down at his photo on my phone to note his outfit, before Charles and I approached a group of kids playing in a vacant lot. No luck there either. I wasn’t sure if the kids knew who the boy was, but right away they knew something was up. Charles and I walked back out onto the street to ask someone else, and I noticed the kids had stopped their soccer game to follow us. There was now a happy mob of kids following right behind us—not sure why, but they were now attached to us. They seemed curious why a gringo like me was looking for a kid like them, I’m sure. Finally, we found a lady who told us she in fact knew the boy, and proceeded to lead us into an adjacent neighborhood, taking a left into a small opening that led us straight in to some sort of windy alleyway with tiny houses all around—a sort of urban village. It was the kind of place I certainly wouldn’t have ventured in on my own, but I felt safe with the lady and my cabbie, and of course the troop of children following right behind us.
The next thing I know, the child’s parents came out of the doorway of a tiny shack, boy in-tow. They all looked very bewildered; I’m sure they were curious why anyone–especially me–was “looking” for their child. The cab driver help introduce us all to each other. I didn’t know what exactly to say, or how to say it, but I basically managed to blurt out how impressed I was with the boy’s kite-flying skills, and I wanted to leave a Christmas present for him. I was a little nervous; after all, I was a total stranger and I didn’t know what they would think of this gesture. Luckily, they seemed very pleased with the whole thing and accepted the gifts. I didn’t hang out long…I wasn’t there for a photo opp or for any “recognition.” In fact, I make fun of people who do good deeds just to post them on facebook, that’s lame. As much as I would’ve loved to take video, or snap pictures of the boy holding his new toys, I didn’t–that’s not why I did all this. I just thought the young man would get a kick out of using a professional kite–and since I couldn’t locate one, a couple cool cars. He seemed pretty happy to receive them, and I did get to learn his name: Rasad. His smile and a handshake meant everything to me and was certainly a fair trade for the cars.
Oh, and I never did hear back from the tour company about why my guide was a complete no-show. But that’s okay. I’m pretty sure that no tour would’ve beat the experience I had that day in Accra. I planned a tour. God had other plans. I’d say things worked out just the way they should have.Africa