3:00 pm, Insalateria
I expressed all of my interest in the guns of the first two halls, which was zero, so we moved quickly, barely stopping for her to give her standard rap, which rarely went beyong what the captions read. Next was the fort's prison cell, a squat tight hole in the stone with no light or air. The guide invited me to step in and I joked that she was going to lock me up and she playfully swung the heavy wooden door closed. Walking in and out of this and other such caves I felt like Odysseus being entertained by Nausicaa, minus so happy an introduction. At last we came to the Ashanti War room. It was actually pitiful, having only some few pictures of the participants, and most of them were of the British. But I was excited to see anything having to do with the Ashanti, and already I was able to recognize the principals, and gladly payed the 3000 fee to take pictures. I lingered there a lot longer than the exhibition warranted. There was a curious picture of some native people standing in a row; the guide explained that it showed the trial of a group of Ashanti who had conspired to steal the golden stool and give it to the British for money. I was shocked and appalled. There was a nice full-length portrait of Prempeh I's queen mother, who led the uprising. Down the hall were some interesting photos recording the history of the West African regiment, including a picture of two Ghanaian officers who had marched so well at the coronation of some English monarch that the British graciously and generously yielded to the native soldiers' long-standing request to be allowed to wear shoes while marchingbut only on Mondays. And still, the Ghanaians don't hate the bastards. There was a picture of the Asantehene's linguist, and the guide explained that he's called the linguist because the king does not officially speak directly to his subjects, but speaks to the linguist, who then conveys his words. There was a series of portraits of the English royal family. The guide pointed to the first and second, giving their names, then, knowing my obvious non-interest, went through the rest with a quick wave and a "blah ... blah ... blah ..." She unfurled the beautiful flag of Ghana and allowed me to take a picture of her with it.
I needn't have worried about making the STC bus, or gotten there so early for that matter, because the handwritten scribble on my ticket turned out to be my reserved seat number. I killed time looking at local newspapers. A National Enquirer-type tabloid displayed a picture of a local sexpot and the caption, "Who says African women aren't beautiful." I saw a lot of beautiful African women; this one wasn't one of them, and I noted that someone had digitally altered the photo to lighten her skin. A story several papers were having fun with was the spread of HIV among pentecostal churches where ecstatic orgies were becoming commonplace, along with the hijinks of their ministers. The Presbyterians had a more modest scandal, two senior officials losing their positions because they had been involved in a fistfight over a parking space outside church headquarters. The big modern bus was no tro-tro, but the seats were cramped and I couldn't blame Richard, who has longer legs, for not wanting to sit in one for ten hours. It had efficient air conditioning, and speakers over each seat blasting local radio stations, at least until we got out into the country. Next to me sat a light-skinned woman with American fashion magazines, who immediately placed her purse between our seats so that we would make no accidental contact and never said a word to or looked at me, which is fine for a person who never minds being ignored by a stranger. The ride should have been three and a half hours, but, as already noted, one slow-moving vehicle can impede traffic for a long time, and there was traffic. The scenery was excellent. Once, out in the middle of nowhere, someone rang the stop request. The driver looked around, what is that for, and a young man came forward and whispered to the driver, and the driver said good idea and pulled over by a solitary shack in the bush and a good number of passengers got out to pee. It gave me a chance to photograph the shack. The ride dragged on slowly and slowly through the outskirts of Accra. At least the radio came back on, and we were treated to a news analysis discussion of the forthcoming Liberian elections. I desperately wanted to get off this bus and walk, but I didn't know for sure how far away we were. Finally I joyously recognized the GCB building on the south side of Nkrumah Circle, and figuring it would take a half hour or more to crawl the last mile to the station, I was about to ask to be let off when we pulled over anyway. I darted around the circle to Farrar, snapped some pictures of the White Bell and the Blessed Lady, and was back at the Niagara hotel.
I had come back, so I was everybody's long-lost friend. I needed to accomplish two things: get my bag back, and ask Ramas if I could send him a package for Felicia and some cash and could he then send a kid down to deliver it, because I didn't trust the address I received. Ramas is not there, however, which complicates both matters. After describing the circumstances of my bag's storage, it is determined that it is in a room to which only Ramas has the key. His younger cousin says he'll be back around eight, and I have to be at the airport way before that, so I ask again, and he goes off and returns with my bag. There are two young, smartly dressed women who work at the front desk. We didn't talk to them much as they were usually occupied in being browbeaten by Ramas. One is very pretty and very skinny, sports a circle of red lipstick in the middle of her lips and comports herself with the professional phony friendliness of an airline stewardess; the other is less cosmetically pretty and less skinny and more genuine. The latter is working alone at the desk now. She asks me where my friend is. I reply that I thought he was making too much trouble in the hotel so I made him go to Bolgatanga. She laughs. Richard would laugh too, having a good sense of humor. But the next part ain't funny. I ask if the hotel has a business card with its address. She pretends to look for all of about one second then says no, then takes a piece of paper and writes downher own name and address. This is most unusual, because the standard procedure is to ask for your address. I write down mine too, and say to visit me if she ever comes to New York. Gladys Offei says, if I write, she will come. Then she says, "So, you are leaving tonight. So, I can expect a letter in one week." I notice that her address has the same simple structure as Felicia's, and I show it to her and she assures me that it is a perfectly fine address. I go to the bar and order a beer to celebrate the return of my bag and kill the hour before it's time to go to the airport. The new menu for the chi-chi restaurant is on the table; not every other word is spelled wrong, but at least one out of every three is. Every ten minutes Gladys finds some reason to walk by me, tap me on the shoulder and say, "Write me." I think she wants a green card.
When it was time to go Ramas' cousin kindly hailed a cab and negotiated a fare of 6000 cedis for me. While he did I found Edu and said goodbye and discreetly gave him a dollar as a souvenir of America. Unfortunately it was my only single, because other guys noticed what I did, and they were also my friends, and they had looks on their faces of "what about me?" but I knew Edu by name. At the airport I gave the driver 8000, leaving me 4000 to spend on Ghanaian newspapers and maybe a drink. I skilfully avoided hustlers outside and managed with some difficulty to find the entrance to the terminal. Once inside, I found an awful, loud, raucous chaotic mess. Every counter said Ghana Airways, so I tried to go upstairs to find Alitalia, but security personnel said I had to go to the medical desk first (why check vaccination certificates on the way out I don't know), and there I was told I needed a boarding pass first. A man in neat dark trousers and clean tucked-in white shirt approached and asked me which airline I was flying on, and in the din and bedlam and crowds I mistook him for an official airport employee. When I said Alitalia he grabbed my passport and ticket and took me to a counter where in small letters under Ghana Airways it said Alitalia. He gave them my papers, they asked me for $20 departure tax, in American money. This was supposed to have been paid already; I felt like I was being stuck up, but I had no choice but to take out my wallet and fork over a twenty. Before the health counter you have to fill out a debarkation card, and the man, who I now realized was just a hustler, started filling it out for me, writing "Ghana" under nationality. I grabbed it from him and told him to leave me alone. He demanded money. I gave him one of my 2000 notes to get rid of him, and he indignantly shouted, "Not enough! Not enough! You could have missed your plane! Not enough!" Bullshit, all he did was show me the Alitalia counter, which I could have found anyway. The cab driver worked hard and had a vehicle to take care of, and he got 8000. This asshole of a beggar and thief made off with my last 4000 for nothing because it was so noisy and pushy and chaotic and I was desperate to have him out of my face. Once upstairs, restricted to actual passengers, I was filled with rage. A half hour ago I was thinking of how to get back to Ghana; now I'm thinking I never want to have to deal with such latrine scum again. A pity that my last taste of Ghana should be so sour.
7:30, La Tavernetta
It was fortunate then that the wait for the plane was so long and I could calm down. On the way to the actual gate we had to go through the dreaded currency control, but the officer was real friendly and it was a piece of cake; one traveler didn't have a card, and the officer simply told him to make sure he gets one the next time. On the plane I found myself seated next to a pig. I will not posteritize this Nigerian native, London resident's disgraceful behavior; suffice it to say I was surprised the flight crew didn't have police waiting for him at Fiumicino. Quite uncharacteristic of me, however, I did not allow myself to be bothered, and although I slept only one hour the flight went by smoothly and quickly, and I got over the official and unofficial robberies at the airport. Arriving in Rome at 5:30 am, I bought an express train ticket to Termini before I studied my map and found the local train, leaving in ten minutes, gets me closer for half the price. Still it was only nine dollars, and private cars are advertised for fifty. From the Trastevere train station I made an easy two-and-a-half-mile stroll to the Campo de' Fiori, found a hotel that was too nice for my needs, but convenient and necessary for the time being, and even though I had virtually no sleep I immediately began walking the miraculous streets of Rome while remaining full of blessed memories of beautiful Ghana, reveling in the best of two magical and utterly different worlds, stopping every few hours to complete this journal.