Monday, colazione

Thursday morning I could not sleep past 6 am, so I went out to buy overpriced water and Refresh pineapple juice from a gas station/minimart. On my return Richard was up and about and we both opted for breakfast on Fr Roger's bananas and green oranges and the instant coffee that Richard had brought, while watching CNN reports on the Gianni Versace murder back in Richard's back yard. It occurred to me that this was just about the only news of the outside world I had exposed myself to so far; I was so fascinated by my surroundings that I had no thought of New York or the rest of the world. We were now set on hiring the car, because by this hour it was surely the only way to do both a fort and Kumasi, and really, in Ghana, one must do both. Thus it was time to ... hang around the lobby and bullshit with Ramas. The Servi guy made himself available presently and we agreed on the $100 all-inclusive for a nice big BMW and driver, who was gassing up as we speak and would be here soon. From Kumasi Richard would be traveling to Tamali, where James and Francis would meet him to take him to Bolgatanga, and because he hates bus rides, especially long ones, he wanted to fly. Try to get information on that. Ramas did his best, and after talking to various people on the phone for fifteen minutes he determined that there was a flight in the late morning, but that you had to pay for the ticket at the Accra airport, you cannot buy the ticket in Kumasi. Ramas knows these people, however, so he continued: "Let me ask you this. If he goes to Kumasi today, can he pay for the ticket there?" No problem. I had him check on the airport departure tax, and was assured that it was included in the price of my plane ticket, and did recall that when Emelia added up her numbers there was always $20 added on at the end. While waiting for the car one of the hotel staff, a small-built, shy young man with pure white but crooked teeth, approached me and indicated by various means that he wanted to do my laundry. Thank you, I said, but though I had some foul clothes in need of it, I'm going away today and returning tomorrow for only a short time en route to the airport. So then he said simply, "I want to be your friend." His name was Edu, and we talked a little as best we could. Richard and I were both packed up, just waiting for the car. Ramas let me stash a bag at the hotel, so I could travel to Kumasi lightly with only what I needed for one overnight. We talked about this and that. Ramas said that in the dry season it is so hot and so dry you feel like your eyes are going to pop out (Fr Roger had mentioned some disease where that's just what happens). Around 10 the car showed up, yes, an air-conditioned BMW, but do not associate those letters with elegance or luxury, for the odomoeter read 240,000 km and it showed. Richard was busy with something, then the driver had to do something, then Richard decided he had to get cedis, then finally around 11 we all got into the car.

9:15, Alitalia offices

It took some work to get out of Accra. Nkrumah Circle was hopelessly gridlocked, each lane being a merger of four others, and everyone on the left wanted to take a right turn and everybody on the right wanted to bear left, but by some miracle everybody eventually got off in the proper direction. Heading west on Ring Road was also slow. Our driver, Philbert, who had a Servitransport business card that read "Phlibert," was buying candy from one of the hawkers, and the transaction was accomplished in stages as we stopped, then the traffic moved so we did too and the kid had to sprint down the road to keep up with us. The car was comfortable enough, and it was a nice toasty day, the kind of afternoon that God created for napping. Richard succumbed to the soporific temptation, but I resisted fiercely, like the infant to whom everything is new and who refuses to fall asleep at nap time because he doesn't want to miss a single wonderful thing. Once out in the country I immediately considered my $50 share money well spent. Lush tropical vegetation was everywhere, many varieties of plants crowded together blanketing the land and occasionally stands of palm trees majestically swayed over the bush.

7:15 pm, Navona

We passed a nice lake, too, and, intermittently, semi-urban towns, villages, even settlements carved out of the bush. Even out here, people were selling stuff, in the remotest places standing on the side of the highway holding out freshly killed animals. The bush settlements were pretty, with thatched-roof huts neatly placed on clean, well-swept red-earth clearings, but as soon as concrete buildings spring up, so do garbage and squalor. Here one clearly sees the difference between biodegradable and not. The roadway was mostly good, but only had two lanes throughout, so a slow-moving truck can impede traffic for long stretches of distance and time. Typical of Ghanaian courtesy, however, drivers use their blinkers to signal cars behind them if something is coming up ahead or if the coast is clear to pass. It was hard to take pictures from the car because the bush was always so thick on the side of the road that half of any shot would be a blur.

After only two hours we arrived in Cape Coast, a filthy town with vultures perched on top of the market stalls. The guidebook said the fort is closed from noon to two, but fortunately it was wrong. The sign at the gate said admission for non-Ghanaians was $5 or equivalent, but that was wrong too and we were charged only 4000 cedis. Before we entered Richard stopped to take a dump in a bathroom outside the main entrance, and while waiting a young man spproached me. In quite good English, Charles asked me for my address so he could write to me and give me his address so I could send him a "raffle ticket," and, surprisingly, bummed some smokes. After a bit I figured that by raffle he was referring to our immigration lottery system. I told him it doesn't work that way, but if he writes me I would acquire some information to pass along to him. (Richard had also met some people who assumed that a big important American like him could bring anybody into the country.) The fort itself was none too spectacular, although it afforded good vistas of the sea and fishing boats plying its waters. But extremely powerful and moving was the dungeon where the future slaves were held for transport.

The entrance to the dungeon was from the roof of the castle, where a rather surly looking young boy was stationed as a guide. He led us down a sloping hallway paved with smooth stones with rock walls and a low rock ceiling with somewhat more spacious areas cut out along the sides. It was quite dark and very hot and dank, with little air circulation, and continued to slope steeply all the way down to the narrow slit from which the West Africans were dumped onto the waiting slaveships. Even for only six people it was barely tolerable. One could imagine hundreds of people here with no light or air or water, sweating, pissing, shitting, sliding and tripping over each other, gravity pulling them down toward the slit, but then desperate to get out of the slit into the open air, no matter what is on the other side. The slit was obstructed by a simple stone shrine, upon which the little kid poured out some liquid while incanting some words in a native tongue. In a serious and somewhat pissed-off manner he invited us to leave money on the shrine, calling it "libation," and who could refuse. When we went back up into the bright daylight, the kid followed us around for a while, looking suspicious and angry. But when Richard took a picture of me with Cape Coast in the background, then asked me to do the same for him, then invited the kid to join him in the picture, the boy raced over and hugged Richard and lit up with the beautiful smile of a normal nine-year-old. There was a small museum devoted to various stages of the slave trade, from the jungle to the notable achievements of Black Americans. Most touching was a description of a slave auction in the new world. I have always considered slavery one of the most abominable evils of history, but I realized that I had always looked upon its victims themselves as an unfortunate faceless mass. Here, of course, everything is told from the perspective of the Africans who were captured and sold. They were people, members of a society and a civilization, with loved ones, family, friends and neighbors who were worried when they didn't return to the village that day, and this particular exhibit focused on the degradation and absolute humiliation the man on the block felt at being treated like an animal, surmising that his main concern looking out at the crowd was if there were anyone from his village witnessing his supreme embarrassment.

The museum gift shop sold film and, of all things, maps of Accra.

8:15, off Spagna

At 2 we got into the car and headed north to Kumasi. Not far out of Cape Coast Philbert got nailed by a speed trap. "Look at your speed!" the cop said as he showed our driver the radar gun. Philbert didn't have any papers, he explained, because he's a tourist driver and his documents are kept at the office. The cop asked for his logbook, then led him away. I didn't know whether to feel ominous. Richard refused to even turn around and look, figuring it would not help anything. I did and saw no sign of Philbert. But less than ten minutes later he was back with a sheepish grin, apologizing for forgetting that there is a speed trap here and saying they made him fork over 10,000 cedis (which we made up for him later). The countryside became even more interesting as we headed into the mountains. I was particularly intrigued by one type of non-Ghanaian tree, who instead of sharing with his neighbors, shoots his trunk way up above the forest and only sprouts branches and leaves when he has the sun all to himself. The last forty kilometers, on a smaller, winding road through small villages and past lonely farms, was especially interesting. Then all of a sudden we were in a big traffic jam by industrial plants and roadside shacks on the outskirts of Kumasi. Philbert said that he had never come to Kumasi this way before, so as we crawled through the traffic it fell to me, the navigator, to figure out based on the rudimentary map in the guidebook where we were and where we should go, which I accomplished successfully, thank you very much. Even in town I called the shots. Once Philbert disobeyed me and pulled over to ask someone on the street for directions. Frequently while walking down the streets I heard people hissing at me like snakes, and I didn't know what to make of it. Now Philbert was hissing at a stranger and I realized it simply means, "Excuse me, sir ..." The stranger directed us right to where I had said we should go. By the time I got lost, we could see our hotel fifty feet away.

The room was a bit shabby but huge; the bathroom itself was half the size of my apartment. I right away went out on recon, finding STC and the times for the express bus back to Accra, which I was pleased to learn was scheduled for 1 pm, giving me all of the next morning to see the sights, as well as a hilly city that was cleaner and smelled better than Accra, but which, at least in our area, the commercial center, was noticeably lacking in the kinds of places we would hang out in after dark, such as restaurants. The guidebook said that the Kingsway hotel often has water problems, and for once, unfortunately, it was right. I was upset, and was slandering the good name of the hotel clerk, who assured us that all she had to do was switch on the pump and we would instantly have water. After an hour, however, we did, and I took a nice cold shower while Richard berated me for sinning against clerk. We dawdled at the hotel for too long, leaving only after eight and only to find that the few restaurants near us closed at eight. The book mentioned a few more places in the "lively area" to the east across the railroad tracks, and I convinced Richard to hike over there. I was getting annoyed with the way he was walking like an old lady up and down the hills, but calmed down when I learned that his recent troubles had left him with low blood pressure and he was medically enjoined from pumping the ticker too hard. I'm glad I started doing tai chi when I did, and I should be charitable to those who do not share my great gift of being able to walk five miles carrying my luggage no problem, which is very useful when traveling. East of the tracks was much the same scene as downtown Accra, though not as closed in or intense. However, the people up here are less friendly. The prospects of finding a restaurant soon looked hopeless, and I ran ahead up the hill for one last vain look. When I came back, Richard said he was definitely being cased until my return. We came back to what by lights and signs and appearance looked to be a restaurant just on our side of the tracks, but it turned out to be a supermarket. Urban appearances are most deceiving in Ghana; if it looks like a grocery, they sell telephones. So we walked north of the hotel a couple blocks (Richard can walk, only slowly) and found a single outdoor bar. We asked the overeager proprietor if they served food, and he said chicken and rice. Nothing else, so we figured he was just going to go into some alley and take it off someone's grill. So we returned to the empty, uninviting hotel restaurant, which we were told stayed open until ten. Inside it was actually comfortable, with interesting pictures and posters on the wall, though we were both exhausted by then and could have been comfortable anywhere, but mostly it was comically entertaining. A thin, very pleasant girl with a shy smile came out of the kitchen and gave us a menu that listed an amazingly eclectic variety of dishes from all over the world. How are the crepes? "Uh ... we don't have that." Perhaps we'll start with the homemade mayonnaise salad. "Uh ... we don't have that either." How about the beef stroganoff? "Uh ..." Richard caught on sooner than I, and decided on chicken and rice, but what's the difference between the fillet and the "Love's Chicken"? The fillet is a fillet, Love's Chicken is a whole chicken. Richard ordered the fillet. At last the girl allowed me to order beef and pepper soup and filet mignon, and I enjoyed my Star beer for about fifteen minutes until she came back out and said, "Uh ... we don't have the beef and pepper soup." Well, OK, I'll just have the filet mignon. "Uh ... we don't have that." Chicken and rice it is, Love's Chicken for me.