An index to this series appears at the first post.
[I don’t think of myself as a drama queen, but I believe my behavior qualified for this title on my last full day in Ghana. The nation is full of extremely polite people, and my incandescent rage at the hotel in Accra caused several people to act embarrassed on my behalf, as though I had noisily released gas.]
October 20, 2018
Intermittent black-outs and brown-outs had inactivated the wifi access from the KCCR guesthouse from the time I arrived after class on October 19th. I was very grateful when my host, Dr. Kwarteng, came by the guesthouse to bid me farewell on the morning of the 20th. Emmanuel came to pick me up just a half hour later, and soon we were en route to the VIP bus terminal.
VIP bus from Kumasi to Accra
Upon arriving, a would-be porter tried to grab my larger backpack from the car, but I intervened repeatedly until he went away. When I paid my bus fare, the clerk said he didn’t have my five cedi change from a 50 cedi note, despite a fistful of money. I went back to the baggage compartment, and when he asked me for the 5 cedi charge, I shrugged and pointed to the ticket seller. My bag made it onto the bus.
Premium bus service requires premium decorations!
My bus seat was all the way in the back row this time (I had been in the front on the way to Kumasi). The seats had interesting red gingham / solid fuchsia covers on them, and the tinted windows had some sort of valance hanging above them. My seat had reclining and foot rest options, and the seat belt worked just fine. Once again, I appeared to be the only one using one.
As the bus pulled from the terminal at 8:30 AM. I groaned quietly as a pastor wasted no time in rising from his seat to regale us with tales of hellfire and damnation. He had schooled his voice to produce the maximal televangelist tone. I recorded a minute or two, but mostly I just tried to sleep. After thirty minutes, he wound down his donation collection and exited the bus.
On the run from Kumasi down to Accra, we had one refreshment stop in the middle at the Paradise VIP terminal. It offered not only full bathrooms but also lots of food options. That is not to say that people never peed otherwise. On a couple of occasions, I saw a passenger walk up to the driver for a quiet word, and then the bus would pull to a stop. One of the dudes simply walked into somebody’s front yard, about twenty yards from the bus door, turned his back on the bus, and let loose. I guess it would be preferable to live a bit away from the bus route.
I am pretty sure we did not take the route passing through Saltpond!
The entertainment for this road trip was supplied by a telenovella titled “Enye Me Saa” (another passenger translated this as roughly, “don’t do this to me”). The story line centered on a married couple that was struggling to produce a pregnancy (I’ve read that many Ghanaians perceive a marriage that does not produce children to be deficient). The story line became very dark, very quickly, as people broke into their home and raped the woman. When she became pregnant, the husband became verbally and then physically abusive toward his wife. Meanwhile some relative of hers sought solace increasingly in the evangelical church, but eventually her top-of-the-lung casting out of demons ran afoul of others living in the home. It was really very hard to watch several hours of this unfolding, but I couldn’t really sleep with all the yelling from the characters.
Two taxis make bad life decisions
When we arrived at “Circle,” the major exchange on Kwame Nkrumah Ave, the taxi drivers seemed to have piled in a bunch to reach me at the same time. After collecting my bag, I turned my back on them and marched for the street. They shouted “white man, come back!” and I simply ignored them. Even if I’m supposed to “be nice,” I don’t have to put up with being treated like a cash machine with legs.
Having my biases confirmed about taxis wasn’t not a good welcome to Accra.
I did hire a cab who was pointed in the right direction, though. I asked him before I got into his car what the rate to Oxford Street in Osu would be and he replied 30 cedis. I got in, and after he drove a kilometer he told me it would be 50. I made him drive me direct to my hotel for the 50. It just wasn’t worth arguing further; I had become accustomed to an altogether different level of service from taxi drivers Kofi in Cape Coast and Emmanuel in Kumasi.
What I didn’t realize is that the hotel had a nasty surprise waiting for me. I had secured a reservation via Booking.com at the “At Home Boutique,” the same place I had stayed when I first arrived in Accra. They told me that they were full, though, and they had decided to host me at another hotel they owned, something starting with a “C”. I replied that this was inappropriate, and they just said, “we don’t want you to be disappointed.” They piled me into my third taxi of the day, paying the driver to take me to the other location.
Just a little bit of communication could have made this so much better!
He drove north, closer to the airport, coming quite close to the WEB Du Bois Centre that I had visited before. Eventually he drove into the driveway of a very fancy hotel, the Tang Palace Hotel. I asked him to check that we were in the right place, and he declared that this is where we were supposed to be. I walked into the lounge of this four-star resort and checked at the desk. Of course, they had no idea who I was. I turned, and the taxi was gone.
I become a problem to others while trying to solve my own problems
In limbo at the Tang Palace, with a giraffe skin on the wall
Naturally I asked the front desk to call the At Home Boutique, and they attempted to do so several times. At Home found it convenient to leave their front desk unattended, so we never reached them. I am grateful that the Tang Palace gave me access to the network so I could figure out a plan. Staying at Tang was not a real option; their lower-cost weekend rate was $200 a night. Just the same, the sparkling swimming pool in their inner courtyard caught my eye. My attention kept drifting, though, to a full-size giraffe pelt mounted flat on the far wall of the two-story lobby. My stomach turned. I worked the problem over in my head for about a half hour.
Google Maps saved my bacon. In a close examination of the neighborhood, I found the (two-star) “Congress Hotel” just 800 meters away, and I realized this is the one that the At Home Boutique had mentioned in passing. Despite my aching heel and knees, I shouldered the two backpacks and started marching over there. The taxis passing by could not believe that a white man with an obvious load preferred to walk rather than to ride with them. There was never a chance that I would get in their cars. Soon I had compounded the odd look by balancing the large backpack (filled with dirty clothes, at this point) atop my head, for all the world like the roadside sellers I’ve seen everywhere during the last two weeks. North on Bostal I marched, coming down the hill. Back up the hill I marched east on Ridge. I turned further up the hill by walking north on Patrice Lumumba.
I had arrived, and I’m afraid I let the staff have it with both barrels. When the busboy guided me up three flights of stairs (no elevator) on my throbbing heel, I tried to do my best. The staff comped me a Guinness Malta. I am afraid I exuded “imperious full professor in a bad mood.” Nonetheless, I had reached my hotel room, and after checking in with family, I limped into the shower to cool myself off. The water seemed a bit colored by its passage through the pipes. I am renowned for my insensitive nose, but some smell was vexing my nostrils at the room.
Seeking comfort in food
After such a frustrating day, I was hungry; recall that I was trying to figure out where I would stay tonight when I should have been eating my lunch! I decided to treat myself to dinner at a proper restaurant. Google Maps pointed me to the Imperial Peking Chinese Restaurant, apparently just down the street! I asked the manager about it, and she mentioned something I didn’t catch about getting there. I started walking north-east. It was a really pleasant place to be, even thought the sun was already down (the restaurant doesn’t open before 6:30 PM). I realized that I was in a very wealthy part of town. Many of the complexes have adopted the gated security structure that is so familiar in Cape Town. To illustrate just how exceptional this area is, many new sidewalks and curbs are being constructed. I passed a team of guys who had been pulling branches out of the road as a tree-felling team cut them down. This obstacle on the curb ended up costing me an ankle twist or two as I retraced this route (more below). I was pleased to see several bank branches had ATMs nearby!
As the road began its curl to the right, I saw an eatery at the oddly-named Koala Shopping Centre. I asked a security person for help reaching the Chinese restaurant, and he pointed me to someone else, who waved me into the centre’s private driveway (no taxis allowed except those carrying customers!). In no time I had found a beautifully appointed Chinese restaurant, with all the flourishes one might expect of P.F. Chang’s. I decided I had better look at the prices on the menu before going ahead. Well, they were not so very different from what I might have seen at P.F. Chang’s, too! Helpfully, though, the restaurant took Mastercard, so I was in luck– my pitiful currency collection would live through another cost!
Nom nom nom
I am always carrying a book with me when I come to a restaurant solo, and yet this may have been the first time that the Maitre d’ asked to borrow it! The tome in question was The History of Ghana, and I’ve been really surprised by how many people here are curious about it, not even realizing that such books exist! I saw her thumbing through it, right up to when my food (chicken with cashew nuts and green tea) arrived at the table. Oh, it was delicious. I was surprised by one of the vegetables in that plate (or fruit: was it avocado?), and one of the waiters asked his manager for its identity. Surprisingly, he said it was bok choy, but I do not remember relishing this vegetable so in the past! Happily the Maitre d’ was willing to part with my book so I could read a bit during my dinner.
When the bill arrived, I saw that I owed 130 cedis ($26). I added a 10% tip to call it 143 cedis. In retrospect, I realized that my tip alone would have paid for the two dishes of red-red I enjoyed with the artist near the sports stadium in Accra. I trudged a bit more slowly back to the hotel.
Out of the frying pan, and into the fire
In my food-bliss, I may have attempted to go too far. I explained that since I was leaving in the morning for my 9AM flight, I needed to get the shuttle at 6AM. They replied as though no shuttle existed, even though this is obviously an airport hotel. Perhaps the shuttle driver enjoys sleeping in? I told them to do a taxi, if that’s what was required, and that I wanted them to contract the rate because I am sick of being overbilled for that service.
And then I tried to pay my bill. I remember ensuring that the hotel took credit cards when I arrived this afternoon, and I believe the manager replied that yes, they did. Now the desk attendant told me that they do not take cards due to some vague bank error. I explained that this was at variance with what I had learned earlier. He called the manager, and she told him to tell me that she had told me no cards earlier. I replied that her words were at variance with the truth, because I would have exploded in a cloud of bile had she told me that this afternoon.
I asked what the bill was (204 cedis ~ $40.80), wondering just what the manager had meant by “maximum discount.” My reservation at the other hotel had been booked at $46.75 USD, so I appear to have received a 13% discount. In any case, I didn’t have that many cedis. I told the desk that because of their prevarication this afternoon, I was likely to injure my legs retracing my steps to the restaurant where I hoped to find an ATM taking MasterCard.
Oh, I bitched a nasty bitch as I trudged back up and back down Lumumba St. Taxis that paused to attract my attention mostly got verbal cues to go away, but my naughty fingers were just itching to come out. I am grateful that the shiny, new First Atlantic Bank took my card and spat out an additional 200 cedis. As I passed the fallen branches for my fourth time, I partially tripped and felt my ankle begin to give way. I slowed my pace and became aware that I was trembling (rage? stress? fever?).
When I came to the desk, I apologized for my behavior and handed my money over. The attendant said he needed a moment to get my change, and he had me sit down because I was clearly unsteady. A full fifteen minutes later, my change arrived. I asked about a bottle of water. He took six cedis ($1.20) back and vanished out the door. He returned with a cold half-liter. For reference, I have been paying three cedis for a bottle three times this size. I said nothing but began climbing the three flights of stairs back to my room, obviously hobbling.
When I reached my door, I carded in and the lock flashed green. I turned the handle and nothing happened. I carded in again and the lock flashed green. I turned the handle and put some weight into it. The door did not give way, but my knee did, and I spilled onto the tile floor. “Fine,” I said to myself. “I’ll just lie here.” I certainly had no energy or faith in my legs to do the stair cycle again. I texted Natasha, who was already asleep, but she rallied awake to keep me company. I tried the door again, and sometimes the lock went green, but sometimes it did not respond, and sometimes it turned red! At no time did it budge, no matter how I timed pulling the handle down.
After approximately twenty minutes, a guest from down the hall came back to his room and found me lying there. Good Samaritan that he was, he ran back down the stairs to notify them that they had a guest lying in the hallway. The young fellow came up, and the guest and he carried me between them into my room. The attendant showed that this door latch requires a lift rather than a push down to open. It seems counter-intuitive to me, but that’s how things go.
This day, gratefully, is about to end!