It’s a beautiful night in Ghana and the moon is very full. Immodestly so. What need has a moon of modesty? She has already pledged her love. “I will follow you though it turn me in circles all the rest of my rocky dry days.”
I am sitting nursing a less and less cold beer at a local spot, at the junction. In Accra. These eight days I have sampled four of Ghana’s beers and I like this one. It has bitter local herbs and I am drinking it with a little sack of ripe plantain chips. I went back over to the lady nursing her child who bakes eight different kinds of chips and sets them out in little crisp cellulose bags. When I reached for the plantain chips she said, “Have you tried this one? It is ripe plantain. It’s better.”
My first morning we went strolling through the hot dusty streets and, in my case, the jet lag, and found a lady selling mangoes from a bowl, who sliced me one, and a lady selling fat ripe bananas, and a woman with a tiny stall roofed in tarpaulin who fried up rice and beans with a headless fish and a curling slab of beef skin. She served it wrapped in a banana leaf and then two plastic bags. The beef skin quivered, nearly transparent, and I stared at it a long time before putting the corner very gingerly in my mouth. Oh, no.
Jet lag is gone now and I am subsiding into this beautiful world. The moon is squared between four overhead wires and I gaze up, rustling the crisp cellulose bag with my fingertips, thinking of nothing at all. A man drawing a cart behind him heaped with yams stops to talk across the narrow garden bed to the spot’s owner. “How come you never buy my yams anymore? You buying from the other guys?”
“No,” he says, “I will buy them soon.” I have watched this man, so relaxed under his awning of pink and white bougainvillea, tending his garden with a pointed stick to loosen the soil and a jar of tap water. The yam vendor creaks on and a man I don’t know, as I know nobody in Ghana, comes over the road and joins his friends. He says, “Good evening, madame. How are you.”
“Good evening, sir. Thank you, I am well. How are you?”
And he says, “You are feeling at home.”
I raise my hand. I let it drop with its palm up and open. “It’s so beautiful here. I’m so happy. Your wonderful city.”
Can one fall in love with an entire country? This one has.
I came here on my second evening when the object of my visit was at work. I drank a cold beer and tried out the plantain chips. The owner of the little beer terrace invited me to share his table. Another man was sitting between us and he began drumming on the table’s edge, a rapid, complex rhythm, with his two stiffened fingers as though they were blades. I said, “Are you a musician?”
And he said, “I hope so. I’ve got a couple of albums out.”
Such a creative, thriving, diving, cormorant city. And so noisy. Wherever I go it is to a concert of honks and toots as every passing cab driver tries his luck. I joined Uber, with some nervousness, never having used it before, and was offered lifts in immaculate cars by drivers named Ernest, Ebenezer, Divine, Lord, Sumaila, and Wallestine. I spoke to a man on the street whose t shirt said LOVE and the O was the shape of Africa. “I love your t shirt.” “Where are you from?” And as we got talking he offered,
“Let me give you my phone number. We just live in that house over there, the blue gate behind the plantain palms. If you need anything, or if you ever get in trouble or need help: you can call me.”
This genteel, educated culture. This overwhelming sense that I am walking amongst gods. The tall, fit, gracious, courteously and warmly smiling people. Their patience and kindness. The sense that I’ve been right all along, and in our spoilt countries we have forgotten how to live. That these people in their exploited country are holding out something we are too miserable to grasp. Racism is envy. I have always known it and now I see it everywhere.
The night passed serenely around us and I finished my beer and got up. My drummer acquaintance was at the next table. “What were you writing? A poem?”
“Oh,” I said, touching my bag self consciously. “I was just writing about the moon.”
He tipped his head back. “I hadn’t noticed it.”
“Powerful moon, tonight.”
“Eh,” he said, “Yes: it is full.”
And I said, “Yes, and the crimes of passion and incidents of insanity are spiking tonight all round the world. The moon controls whole oceans. What are we but little seas? Sloshing with seawater.”
“Well,” I said, “salt water. We are mostly salt water. So the moon.”
This is black Africa. The night treads endlessly on the sky. The lighted shop fronts with their sagging awnings and the smoke from the goat gizzard stall and the woman walking by with her fleet of buckets on her head are a world I have not met before and always, always longed for. As we stood there, a young man shot past on his bicycle, dressed all in white. A man carrying on his head a stack of neatly folded bright batiks walked by. “I am waiting for the pineapple woman,” my friend said. “I want pineapple.” Don’t we all. The heaps of fresh fruit, the dried fish, the bright plastic buckets. I have stepped off the planet of Europe and I may be gone some time.