9:30, Trinity College

Since the nice girl is working alone and probably from scratch, we figured it would be a while and waited patiently. When Love's Chicken arrived it was not (surprise!) a whole chicken but rather small pieces and a lightly spiced sauce and vegetables mixed in with the rice, and it was very good, my compliments to the chef. Our entrees came with a bowl of fresh, inviting crisp salad. Richard chose to continue to obey the doctors—I chose not to, so I had two fresh crips salads (that night I also chose to stop taking the damn larium). We left a nice tip at the end of our fine repast, then Richard went to the room while I went downstairs to check out the Old Timers Club, once the capital of African highlife music but now so far past its glory days that it was in fact closed. So I went back up to the restaurant where I found the cook joined by her brother and I asked him for a beer to take upstairs. He said he would have to go get it from somewhere, so I gave him 3000 cedis and asked him to bring it to my room. Minutes later he knocked on the door with my beer as well as the "change" we had forgotten on the restaurant table. I explained it was a tip. Sometimes these people are too nice. It occurred to me while drinking the beer that the entire time I had been in Ghana, no matter what I was doing or how much I was sweating, my hair always looked nice and full-bodied, just how I like it. Why? Is it because, although there's lots of shit on the ground, the air is untouched by industrial pollutants? Or perhaps it's the water I shampoo with? My hairdresser needs to know. I was so tired I was fast asleep barely had I finished the beer.

We both got up early. I jogged down to the STC to get a bus ticket, worrying unnecessarily that the bus might be too crowded and I would miss it. Shortly past seven we went across the street to the unjustly renowned Windmill Bakery for breakfast, because the evening before the girl there told me they open at seven. Wrong again. But they have an excuse: their menu lists two eggs any style for 600 cedis (28 cents), and since a single egg on the street goes for 400, it's probably not worth it for them to wake up. So we go back across the street to the second-floor Family Restaurant, run by an old Lebanese gentleman in Muslim get-up with paintings of naked African women juxtaposed with sayings from the Koran on the walls. When he ran out of nescafe he served us turkish coffee, which was awful. And when a Muslim can't make good coffee, you know you're in a strange land. It was actually an intriguing space with a real north African feel, but we were both preoccupied with our immediate futures, Richard's in Bolgatanga and Burkina Faso, mine getting to Italy that night. The events of the previous evening had convinced Richard that there is nothing in Kumasi worth an interminable bus ride, so it was time for him to head for the airport. We went to the room, packed, checked out, shook hands and went our separate ways. Poor Richard: the Asantahene's palace was absolutely the high point of my stay in Ghana.

11:50 pm, Lunetta

I was, even before meeting my new girlfriend Felicia, intrigued by what Richard told me about the Ashanti. Here in Kumasi I wanted to see three things: the Asantahene's palace museum, the National Arts Center and the military museum, which purportedly had memorabilia of the Ashanti war with the British. I had sketched out my own map from Richard's guidebook and the logical route was to go north to the Manhyia palace, west to the arts center, southwest to the war museum then southeast to STC. Heading north from the hotel took me straight to the market. Of course, all of every city in Ghana is a market. I had a fantasy of a leader of a cargo cult in Melanesia who, observing some missionaries, decides that he should spread his own faith. So he asks the missionaries how one gets started in the business, and an old veteran missionary says the best place to start is in Ghana, because the people are so nice, you just go up to the first five you meet and say "Repent and believe!" and, just out of friendliness and hospitality, they'll say, "OK," and you've got yourself a church. So the man comes to Ghana and starts the world's most wildly successful cargo cult, and they pray and all this junk comes raining down from the sky, and ever since then the people have been trying to fence the shit. But in both Accra and Kumasi there are large discrete areas distinctly set aside as marketplaces. Accra has two, and I didn't go into either because the streets along them were wild enough. Kumasi's market was a gargantuan mess, but with just a trace enough of a sense of order that I actually entered its precincts and walked through maybe 5 percent of it. The guidebook said one can acquire kente cloth here; all I saw in the section I covered were shoes, thousands of them, every pair of shoes that had ever been rejected by quality control at Payless. Doubtless other sections of the market were devoted to other types of merchandise, but I had no time to waste. So I went back to the street, which was the same as the market but paved and with cars, and proceeded around bends and up up up the hills to a sign and a dirt field the size of a large soccer field across which was traversing hundreds of adorable children (if the adults are so nice, imagine what they're like when they're kids) in those tasteful tan and brown uniforms who are so fascinated by me, and then I'm at the palace entrance, beyond which is a lush green manicured lawn and beautiful plants and trees. A Ghanaian gentleman who was hanging out with an interracial couple told me that the reception woman would be back shortly. Shortly she was. Admission was 4000, I gave her a 5000 note and she said she didn't have change but would give it to me on the way out. Then the gentleman, the couple and I proceeded as a group to the house. The gentleman started giving instructions; it turned out the handsome, neatly dressed young Ashanti was the museum guide, who hangs out in front until a small group assembles, and then begins the tour. The "palace" is actually a small modest house, where the Ashanti kings lived simply until they built a newer residence and office complex. We go around to the back of the house and sit down in front of outdoor television monitors to watch a ten-minute video about the Ashanti history and culture. They showed the traditional dance of greeting the Asantehene, with barefoot village girls and a calced Okopu Ware II boogeying along, and I recognized in their posture the girl on the postcard I had sent to Debbie. They also had an interview with the Asantehene's linguist, who spoke in the native language, so why is he called a linguist? Still outside we are joined by another interracial couple, a distinguished-looking African man and a German woman and their lovely ten-year-old daughter, and we are shown the official palanquins, on which the king is borne in official ceremonies. After the guide's elaboration he asks if there are any questions. In such situations I almost never respond, but here I'm already fascinated and I really want to know more and more, so I ask the first of many questions. Are other chiefs carried in palanquins also? Yes, but when the Asantehene is present, only he gets to ride.

We enter the house through the study. The guidebook said that many are disappointed that the "palace" is no more than a simple small house. I'm not. By now I'm used to the fact that terminology in Ghana is often irrelevant to function and practice. Moreover, while many of the mundane articles of life on display border on the silly, so does life itself, and the small scale allows you to focus deeply on every small, significant item. In the study we are shown the Asantehene's desk, and his telephone, and in the corner, his filing cabinet with a stack of official documents. There is a bookcase. Although the Ashanti civilization is quite sophisticated and has a very long history, and although the importance of communication is evident in the symbols carved everywhere in stools and on speaking staffs, I saw no evidence that they ever had a written language. So I am not surprised, on perusing the titles, that each book, of whatever quality, would be held as equally strange and important. There were several bibles and devotional tracts, books on world history and African history, mostly of Reader's Digest quality, and an exposition by some forgotten English blade-bender on the game of golf. The first floor was mostly devoted to the personal effects of the previous Asantehene, Prempeh II. Various items were scattered over and around genteel furniture. "These are the glasses in which the Asantehene served drinks to his guests." There were many pictures of Prempeh II, a dignified and good-looking gentleman with eyes of calm intelligence, with various foreign and native dignitaries, including a picture of him receiving his knighthood from the English king, and in many captions "K.B.E." was proudly appended to his name. In one room there was a life-size figure of Prempeh II sitting on his throne. When a new king is officially installed, one does not say that he is "enthroned," because the Ashanti man is symbolized by his stool, so one says instead that the king is "enstooled." However, the Asantehene does not sit on a stool, he sits on a large chair, or throne. Go figure. I ask the guide about things relating to Prempeh I. He says we'll get to him later. Upstairs, we go first into a side room devoted to the current Asantehene, Okopu Ware II. Again, there is a life-size wax figure, and a large photograph that I recognized from a postcard, of the king in full ceremonial regalia, with gold dripping down his shoulders. The guide points out two men at either of his arms, and tells us that they are servants, whose sole duty is to lift up the Asantehene's arms, because the gold jewelry he is wearing is so heavy that he can't raise them himself. In a glass museum case is a pair of somewhat ordinary looking sandals, but these are not ordinary, these are worn by the new Asantehene only at an enstooling. I ask a stupid question—"when the next Asantehene is enstooled, will these sandals be taken out of the case for the ceremony"—because I am struck by the realization that many of the museum pieces we are seeing are living active symbols of a great people. This is a living museum, or not a museum at all. My first glimpse of Prempeh I in the next room was a photograph taken on his way to exile, of a not haughty but truly proud man, taken on a side angle looking up at a head held not defiantly but truly proudly back. (In the next room was a miraculous modern impressionist painting of the golden stool being delivered from heaven to a fortunate Ashanti man.) The image of a white slave-hunter chasing an African through the bush is false. The whites stayed mainly around their castles, and the slaves were brought by rival tribes, such as the Fante, who had captured them to use as trading material. When the international slave trade came to an end by the mid-nineteenth century, however, the British suddenly realized that the Ashanti people in the interior were being left alone in peace, so they had to do something about it, so they moved into the interior to conquer them, and built Fort Kumasi. To add insult to injury, in a despicable provocation deliberately designed to afflict the maximum humiliation, they demanded in tribute the golden stool. When the Ashanti refused, the British arrested Prempeh I, imprisoned him in Elmina Castle for a time, then sent him into exile in the Seychelles. While Prempeh I was in exile, Prempeh's queen mother (whose name I didn't record but which should be enshrined in history) rallied the Ashanti against the insult and besieged the British at the fort, and the war ensued, and, inevitably, unfortunately, the British won, so the Ashanti craftsmen assembled and carved a fake golden stool to give to them. So here's how nice these people are. There is a painting of Elmina Castle. As the very definition of euphemism, the caption reads: "The residence of Asantehene Prempeh I when he visited Elmina Castle en route to the Seychelles." Beside the life-size wax figure of Prempeh I, seated on the throne with full ceremonial regalia, is a crucifix rising two feet from a wooden pedastal with a prominent figure of Christ. Why is it there? Because, while in exile in the Seychelles, Prempeh I converted to the Anglican faith, so the cross is now an official symbol. There were pictures and paintings of this extraordinary woman the queen mother (a position always important in the matrilineal Ashanti hierarchy), both as she was leading the uprising and as a woman of eighty also exiled in the Seychelles. There were also artifacts going further back. Ghana is rich in gold (and the beans that make the world's best chocolate!), the very name Ashanti has something to do with "people of gold," and they had on display the Asantehene's money bags, officially called his "bank," two leather pouches, one with a silver and the other with a gold latch, the former for his silver the latter for all of his gold. Once, the Asantehene sent emissaries to a neighboring tribe, whose chief had the emissaries put to death. So the Ashanti went to war; the inhospitable chief was captured, and now his face rests on the sheath of a sword in the museum in Kumasi. Like the speaking staff, swords too bear symbols of what they are meant to communicate. Like the ceremonial pipe, carved out of metal, not wood, with an impossibly long stem, because it was not smoked—what was important was the proverb carved on its side. On a porch on the second floor were more ancient articles. Lying casually on a grass-woven chaisse lounge was a golden axe. The guide picked it up, confidently, familiarly, and explained that whenever the Asantehene's private guard would find an Ashanti running from battle, one would strike him on the forehead with this golden axe. Afterward, anyone in the village with a vertical scar running down his forehead would be prohibited from achieving positions of prominence; furthermore, such a man's wife is free to divorce him, and even if she doesn't, another man may come into her bed and sleep with her, and the man cannot complain, because he is no longer a man.

The house we were in was offered to the Ashanti by the British as a residence for the Asantehene. The Ashanti declined the offer until they were able to buy it for themselves. On the way out I had first intended to direct my 1000 change toward a tip for the guide, but out of respect for the proud young Ashanti, I chose not to treat him as a beggar and kept it for myself.

I was filled with admiration and respect for the Asantehene. I saw a parallel between the Ashanti king and an Orthodox bishop. Both are vested in all the finery the community can muster, as a sign of collective prosperity, and both are treated liturgically and ceremonially with adoration and veneration, and both in day-to-day life are just nice guys. Richard was correct in chastising my lack of patience over the hotel water supply, but I didn't feel bad about that. I did feel sinful, however, over all those postcards I had sent out—the big fat guy turns out to have been Okopu Ware II himself, and I was writing snide comments and sacrilegiously sending out his image as a souvenir. On the other hand, it made me more confident about taking pictures. If it's all right for you to sell me a postcard of the Asantehene that people halfway around the world can make fun of, then what's wrong with me taking your picture?

Tuesday, 10:30 am, Alitalia

I descended the hill, noticing more upscale vendors, such as a furniture store with chairs and sofas exhibited in various stages of completion with workers carving and upholstering them right there in place before your eyes. The hills afforded panoramic vistas of the market, and I took a couple pictures. I wended my way through the crowds and passed a hawker selling tasty-looking cornbread, then another selling pictures of naked Japanese women next to pictures of sweet Jesus. On the other side of the main traffic circle I ascended another hill and took a couple more photos. A passing man stopped to yell at me. "What you think, you can take pictures of anybody? You think that's right, you think that's right?!!" Hell yes, I thought, but to get rid of him I said I was sorry. "You sorry? You sorry?" I turned my back on him and came face to face with another younger man who was laughing heartily. "No problem," he said, "do whatever you want." The angry man, as well as the angry cab passenger by the Independence Arch, had the flatter face and sharper features of the Ashanti, while the happy man bore the more rounded countenance of James and Francis. I wondered if tribal differences play a role in sensitivity to cameras. I continued past the zoo, hidden behind tall walls, and up to the National Arts Center, a compound of many acres with scattered buildings and settlements devoted to the on-site creation of traditional crafts. There was no central museum or exhibition, but a gift shop with reasonable prices where I purchased a couple samples of kente cloth. They also had a beautiful carving of the four guys intertwining to form a circle for dirt cheap, but it was too fragile to be hauled across two continents. So I packed up my cloth and headed down to the military museum, housed in the red brick old British Fort Kumasi. The 1000 cedi admission included a personal guide—a beautiful, demurely sexy lady in a flowing white dress. I only wanted to see the Ashanti stuff, but I let her take me first through the collection of World War II guns, most of which were captured from the Italians when the West African regiment fought alongside the British in kicking those cowards out of Ethiopia.