Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Duke and I Do Accra

Today Duke and I had to run errands. I needed to book our tickets for the next vacation (Spring Break Safari! Woohoo!), get an extension cord, get two lamps for the (too dark) house, get fire extinguishers for the big house and the boys' quarters.

We left the house at 9am, just in time to get caught in a massive traffic jam caused by the President (of Ghana) heading for the office. In order for that to happen, traffic is stopped along the route as he passes, which isn't that big of a deal except for during the two minutes traffic is stopped, it backs up on the main arteries, all the feeder roads, and into the neighborhoods. Then traffic is allowed to go again and it's chaos. Everyone is late, everyone wants to be first, no one wants to let anyone else squeeze in/by/through. The trip from our house to Liberation Road is about 3 miles. It normally takes 5 to 10 minutes. This morning it took 40. Eek.

Finally we broke free onto Liberation Road (a major multi-lane artery through Accra) and headed to South African Airways office. The very kind woman (with gorgeous eyes!) happily made my reservations and then asked me to return next week when the ticket printer would be working. Booking each vacation is a new adventure in patience. Since I usually flip on the computer, type for twenty seconds and book online with the click of a button, I'm getting a crash course in patience, Murphy's law, and some other less charitable virtues.

On to Orca, the sort-of department store near the beach where we have found the only reliable supply of lamps in Accra. Homes here all have plenty of overhead florescent lighting, ours included, and most people don't see the need to supplement that with incandescent lights. We find the bright white lights difficult to spend a lot of time under though, so we have put lamps in most rooms to provide a warmer light than we get from the overheads. Unfortunately, the lack of demand makes them hard to find, and what you can get is usually 60 watts or less. Difficult to read by at night, especially when the power is being piped to the house at a revoltingly low voltage...(Usually we have to squint when we have been hanging out in the ECG supplied light and then one of us flips on the generator so the lights are on full power. Eek! Brightness!). So today I got another small lamp for the office desk and a halogen lamp for the dining room to replace the 100 watter that was in there, which I moved to the easy chairs for reading purposes. Hopefully that will eliminate the worst of our lack'o'light problems.

Then we drove into Africa. :-) I love when we do this. Duke gives me little courses on how Africans live, which is way more interesting than how Obronis live.

In order to get the three fire extinguishers I wanted, Duke planned for us to go shopping "locally" which means going to a place with wall to wall shipping container stores (usually named something like God is Great Auto Supply or He is Risen Hair Salon) and talking to people he knows who will make us a deal because they have little or no overhead and won't "cheat" me like the big Lebanese run stores (MaxMart, Orca, Koala) who charge "really high prices" because they have "air condition, lots of employees, and fancy displays"...sez Duke. And of course he's right, but what he doesn't see is how impossible it would be for me to shop his way- I have no contacts, and my skin usually makes me subject to the "Obroni tax" on foreign morons. But having him take me is smooth sailing. We drove deep into a neighborhood I had never been in before and ended up on a narrow one way street with a solid layer of parked cars on one side and hundreds of "auto supply" stores on both sides. Anything you can think of from hub caps to spark plugs was on offer. Steering wheel covers, alarm systems, batteries, jacks. Anything. I'm serious. Duke takes me to his chosen container store and sits me on a nice little bench out front while he tells his friend what we want. They talk (in Twi, of course) and finally the guy disappears for a minute while Duke explains he has gotten the price down from ¢200,000 to ¢180,000 apiece. The guy comes back with one extinguisher and it's exactly what I need- multi purpose, small enough to lift. So we wait while another guy disappears to get two more. Where they go, where they get the extinguishers from, I haven't a clue. I'm sure some trading of some sort was going on that I couldn't see from my comfy little bench.

Then we get in the car and head for Central Accra to get the stuff necessary to make an extension cord (you can't buy them here- they have to be made from cord and plugs. Again, no demand). Central Accra is a nightmare of traffic and congestion at the best of times and today Duke wasn't optimistic about our chances trying to get in and out, so we drove up to the edge of the city center and parked.

On the sidewalk.

In front of an Office Supply container store.

Duke shoos me out of the car, takes me down two steps to the front of the store, speaks to the proprietor in Twi, and she promptly grabs a lawn chair for me, sets it up in the shade and offers me a seat. While I'm doing this, Duke runs (literally) around the corner and down the street, headed out on a mission to get me an extension cord (or the makings thereof). He has taken the equivalent of four bucks with him. (n.b. I can't go with him, for the same reason I can't push my own grocery cart, carry boxes of bottled water, move furniture, etc. It's simply a given that white women are pretty fragile. And no matter how many times I am exclaimed over for carrying my own groceries or for moving a sofa, the facts don't change and I'm regularly deposited while a Ghanaian does the legwork/heavy lifting.)

The woman who owns the store apologises for the fact that her store is hot(!). I assure her that it is actually very nice in the shade and that I sweat no matter what. She waits a minute or two, then fetches a nice piece of white cardstock that she gives to me and insists that I use to fan myself. Duke has asked her to take care of me and she is afraid I'm going to collapse from the heat while under her care. This kind of thoughtfulness and sympathy is so common, I worry I'll start to take it for granted. Not so far though- I'm continually touched by the genuine goodness of the Ghanaian people. I'm really relaxing into some good people watching from my storefront lawn chair when Duke returns (again running) with the perfect extension cord- it's eight feet long and white! Absolutely perfect. And he got a deal on it and hands me back a bunch of money from what I had given him. We thank our store owner with nothing more than a smile and hit the road again, headed home, missions accomplished.