Wednesday, 10 pm, White Bell

While from the plane the terminal appeared primitive but professional, inside the arrival area it was positively decrepit, as if they were moving animals instead of people. I felt hot, sweaty, sick and tired of feeling imprisoned, and then I had to show documents at five different rundown wooden stalls manned by teenagers in ragged uniforms. Particularly irksome was the currency declaration and having to dig through my raunchy pockets and count and show all my money, as well as having to explain several times where I was staying. Fortunately, in the end they had as little interest in me as I in them, so it didn't take as long as it seemed. Once through I had my first taste of Ghanaian hospitality. Of course there were cab drivers and porters hustling to pounce on you and take you under their wing, but when I brushed them off, saying I'm meeting people and heading quickly away, one hustler gently touched me and said they would be waiting over that way, and I followed his outstretched arm directly into Richard's wave in the deep darkness. Richard was with Francis, who insisted on taking my bag, and we walked over to the car where James was working on replenishing the overheated radiator. I was in no hurry, just thankful to be able to walk freely and unencumbered for the first time in twenty-four hours. And to be with friends.

James and Francis are both rather tall for Ghana, slender, well-postured, not shy but not forward, full of confidence and self-assurance and good will, and it was immediately a pleasure to be in their company. I noticed a guard a few feet away in the unlit parking lot with an old-fashioned rifle slung over his shoulder, and as we drove away from the airport area we had to stop so two soldiers could shine flashlights over us. We drive over some fairly well-maintained but disorderly roads. Off to either side, beyond wide shoulders of rutted dirt, were endless successions of shacks and shanties bearing signs indicating traffic in every conceivable manner of merchandise, though only those labeled "chop bar" or "night club" showed light emanating from within. People were milling about everywhere on the shoulders and clustered around charcoal fires in the dirt. And completing the phantasmagoric effect was an assortment of exotic trees and vegetation rising behind the shacks and framed by the milky cloud-filled sky. We pulled off the pavement and onto a dirt road between two shacks. Richard wanted to buy bananas, so James stopped by a dark stand and Francis disappeared to make the transaction. For the next twenty minutes we wended our way at a snail's pace over around and through deep ruts and chasms and potholes and puddles, bouncing up and down like cocktail shakers, past small one-storey concrete houses half obscured by tall grass and lush bushes. We reached a long concrete wall with a wide solid metal gate. When no one responded to our horn, Francis went through a smaller gate and parted the wall from the inside, and we entered the compound and parked next to two small but clean and well-built houses.

Fr Roger was sitting outside the larger, back house with another African, Bishop Paul. I greeted them both, then Fr Roger led me inside and showed me to my room, motioning toward a bed in the hallway outside, "that's for your girlfriend." Next he sat me down before a dinner setting at a large round table with various dishes on a lazy susan. I was not at all hungry, having eaten entirely the three airplane meals out of sheer boredom, and besides it was too hot and muggy to have an appetite. Nevertheless, the same rule of hospitality that compelled Fr Roger to offer me dinner obliged me to accept, so I took small portions of rice, smoked beef in an excellent peanut sauce, and a wonderful salad of cooked cabbage, cauliflower and green beans. The doctor who gave me the shots in New York told me to drink only bottled water, preferably carbonated, and to eat nothing that was not thoroughly cooked, with the exception of fruits with heavy rinds, such as bananas. Fr Roger discreetly mentioned that his tap water was good, and as he was familiar with both our worlds and frequently entertained western guests, and the last thing he needed was for them to remember his homeland only through the prism of fever and diarrhea, I was confident that I could partake of anything in this house. After the repast he produced two bottles of liquor; I asked for a beer instead and got my first huge bottle of Ghanaian Club beer, and we all went back outside, minus Bishop Paul, who had retired. Richard had meanwhile given me the Skin-So-Soft I had asked for, but although I already noticed some mosquitos, I was too tired and lazy and muggy to feel like putting anything else on my skin.

I liked Fr Roger immediately, for his jollity and sense of humor and friendliness, and admired him even more for his philosophy regarding his mission work. He was telling a story about how he had a gang of young men working on his mission center in Bolgatanga. After a few days someone complained to him that his boys were sleeping around with the local girls, some of whom were other men's wives. His response: "Don't tell me what my boys are doing. When a man works hard all day and a woman is cooking him rice, you know the woman is making more than rice. I don't want to know what my boys are doing," and, with a sweep of his hand across the ground, "I just want my terrazzo." He does not preach morals, even though other people want him to. But it is not at all because he is immoral or because he doesn't consider morals important. "My father had six wives, but he was not a bad man—he was a good man!" He loves God, and he loves his people, and he wants to help them. His people are poor, and live a difficult and uncertain life, subjected to an unending cycle of cholera in the rainy season and starvation in the dry season. So first of all he preaches clean water. First, he wants the church to make a real difference in his people's lives, to improve them, to make things better. Next comes hard but productive work, to show them how they can improve their own lives. And only then does he feel he can tell them what a difference God has made in his own life and all the things that God has done for him, the peace that he has acquired and that they can have also. Indeed, Fr Roger talks about God like a personal friend. Again, he told a story of how he was once at the airport in Paris en route to Canada. Being a black African, and therefore automatically distrusted in Europe, he was told that he was required to obtain a transit visa before he could proceed on his journey, and the papers were acquired with considerble difficulty, by which time his scheduled plane was long gone and he couldn't get space on another until a week later. So he found a church and "made a retreat." Instead of being angry or bitter, he happily took the opportunity to spend some quality time with his good pal, God.

It was a peaceful night, muggy but not as hot as I expected. In fact it was the rainy season, during which time the sky is almost always clouded over. This was a particular disappointment for me, because I had never been this far south before, and besides experiencing the sun traversing the northern half of the sky, I was looking forward to seeing the North Star at only 5 degrees above the horizon, as well as southern constellations that one never sees from 41 degrees north latitude. Fr Roger said that if I wanted to see stars, I would just have to return in October. Soon he went to bed and I went to take a shower. There was a water heater, but I declined to turn it on, enjoying instead the bracing cold water. Then I helped myself to another Club and hung out with Richard until after midnight, when I went to sleep. When I woke again I felt very refreshed, like I had just slept a solid eight hours. My watch, however, only read 4:30. I tried to go back to sleep but gave up after an hour and went outside into the prematutinal light to have a cigarette. I noticed that Fr Roger was taking a shower and that Richard's light was on, and through his window I saw he wasn't sleeping either, so I smoked my cigarette and talked through his window, then went inside to his room and hung out making lukewarm tea via an immersion heater that didn't like Fr Roger's electrical current no matter which combination of converters we tried.

Friday, 8 pm, Kotoka

Richard was very disappointed with Senegal, which made me almost glad I missed it. Apparently, fending off the omnipersistent hustler/beggar/thief was a full-time occupation there—and Richard is a kind and generous guy. He mentioned one scoundrel who followed him back to his hotel, and as Richard escaped to the safety of his room, the man said, "I will wait here!" and when Richard reemerged hours later the knave was still in the lobby, demanding to be paid for the time he spent waiting. Also he had apparently eaten too much of the wrong thing, and was now laid up with a terribly swollen ankle. The night before Fr Roger had told us that James would be at our disposal at nine to take us into town, and I was looking forward to that, because although here it was comfortable and care- (and cost-) free, it was far on the outskirts of town and within walking distance of nothing, and there wasn't much to see besides the sky above the walls of the compound. So we hung out.

The house was very nice. In each corner was a bedroom, mine being the largest, with terrazzo floor, wide comfortable bed, desk and wooden closet, and each room had its own spacious bathroom with toilet, sink and shower. The center of the house was a large dining room with the circular table. To one side of the dining room was a small sitting room adjoining the kitchen, and to the other was an outdoor porch protected by a stonework fence and a small garden. The view over a laden table and through the porch and flowers was most esthetic and civilized. The cook, a young kid named Norbert, had laid out breakfast—toasted bread, butter, marmelade, oatmeal, some spam-like spread encased in jelly, orange juice and a thermos of hot water for nescafe. Fr Roger invited me to dig in whenever I felt like it. I was sort of waiting for Richard, but after killing a couple hours going in and out, chatting with Richard then Fr Roger, I finally sat down alone around nine. A car pulled up bringing the bishop back from some official business, and he stepped out of it dressed not in the shorts and t-shirt of the night before but in a resplendent white cassock. Still no sign of James, and nobody appeared in any particular hurry to be doing much of anything any time soon—with the exception of the young men working outside. Besides our house and the adjoining one for Fr Roger's immediate staff, the compound spread out another fifty yards encompassing two other small houses off to one side and in the vast center the foundations for a large new twenty-bedroom guest facility, around which twenty or thirty Ghanaian laborers with picks and shovels were slinging dirt. I felt no guilt about standing around while they sweated in the muggy but still overcast morning. I took some photos of the house and the flowers and a big papaya tree in the back corner, but when I tried to snap the water tower the camera refused to respond. Shit. I had never been a picture taker on any of my adult wanderings, but this time Karen and Lucy had both convinced me of the absolute necessity of a visual record, and already I had seen so many miraculous sights worth capturing, and now this. I somehow managed to make it operational again, but not without opening it and ruining who knows how many frames. At some point the strains of classical music began to drift from Fr Roger's room. After several short chats there, he more formally invited me and Richard inside, where we found him opening a bottle of French champagne. I usually never drink before midnight, much less before noon, but a guest must accept hospitality, so I acquired a nice little buzz. I observed that on this, my first day in the third world, I am sitting in a beautiful home sipping champagne while listening to Chopin, to which Fr Roger responded: "If you wish to sleep with a woman, you must deceive her. I want you to be very comfortable here, so that you will come back again for maybe a month or two. And then I will put you to work. But for now, if you wish to sleep with a woman, you must deceive her." James and Francis finally arrived, but by now Norbert was just putting the finishing touches on lunch. I had noticed earlier that Norbert had an ugly scar on his cheek, which I assumed to be the residue of a rough childhood. But Richard told me that scarring children's faces is a common practice among some tribes, and then I noticed that Fr Roger also had two long scars on either side of his face, and so did many other Ghanaians I would see. Richard cited a classical African short story in which a man is fleeing with his daughter from slave hunters, and when they can run no more, the father takes out his knife and slashes his daughter's face, hoping to render her unnacceptable to the slave traders. This struck us both as apocryphal, but neither Richard, out of delicacy, nor I, out of shyness, ever asked Fr Roger about it. Lunch was incredible, chicken cooked in a black-eyed pea (cow pea, locally) broth over rice with more vegetable salad, and for dessert, while the bishop, again in mufti, and Fr Roger talked shop and local politics, fresh pineapple, watermelon, and, since I had asked about the tree, the biggest fattest papaya I had ever seen. Now I'm drunk and stuffed on my third large meal. I need to walk twenty miles somewhere. At long last, sometime well past 2 pm, we climb into the car and head for Accra Centre.