Accra – not Ghana at all really?

23 09 2008

On Friday night I went to a karaoke bar. And it was a proper bar, with beer pumps, a roof, overpriced beer, plasma screen TVs showing the football, pool tables (which I used) and generally everything I’d expect in a bar in London or America. The actual singing (which fortunately started late) ranged from the excruciating to the really quite good. It was all a bit freaky, the clientele were predominately white and I really felt I could have been in London. And I’ll admit, after a year of local bars, I actually quite enjoyed myself. This sliver of the hedonistic west was lodged in Accra which I was visiting in my new role as regional volunteer rep (I also discovered a proper casino, with poker and roulette, but didn’t partake). In addition to sinks of iniquity I also saw other signs of Accra’s wealth. Being driven to the remote hotel we’d been put in I passed a Mercedes dealership and a company providing swimming pools. The mall of Accra is as wonderfully decadent as ever, (admittedly more exciting if you’ve been in northern Ghana for several months) and the abundance of swanky restaurants – including a sushi bar and what I’m told is an excellent Italian joint.

After a year living in the Northern Region Accra seems more and more alien each time I visit. With the traffic, crowds and general mayhem as well as expensive suburbs with nice houses and flashy 4x4s in colours other than white and lacking logos or blue letters, it feels like another country and not Ghana at all. If they wanted to an expat in Accra could remain almost oblivious to the reality of life in the rest of the country.

My reason for visiting this veritable Babylon yet again was not because I wanted to drink beer in a western bar or eat nice food, but because the regional volunteers were having their national forum and we were also there to greet the new volunteers and spend a day with them to settle them in. The day was quite fun, we talked at them for a bit and dispensed a motley collection of wisdom and questionable advice, had a Ghanaian lunch and then we sent them in groups into Accra’s biggest market armed with lists of things to buy. I think most of them found their way out again, and they generally seemed quite cheerful. It is a great way to realise how friendly and helpful Ghanaians really are.

As a holder of a responsible position I felt honour bound to socialise in the evenings with my new colleagues, simply in order to make them feel welcome and not as an excuse to have a beer. It was strange to be reminded of where I was exactly a year previously, although this bunch seemed a lot more confident and ready for Ghana than I felt a year ago. It was a smaller group than I arrived with, and oddly there weren’t any older volunteers. I don’t think there was anyone over 40 amongst them.

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6 responses

23 09 2008
midtwentiesennui

I just discovered your blog and am fascinated with all things Ghana, as I spent a semester there in 2002. I only spent a small amount of time in Tamale and Bolgatanga (there was some instability in the Northern Region during the time I was there) but got a sense of a vast difference between the Christian south and the Islamic north of Ghana.

It seemed to me that while Accra had a lot of western amenities, there were plenty of neighborhoods that were truly ‘Ghana.’ Of course I can see how if you’ve been living up north, Accra feels like a madhouse.

24 09 2008
Tim Little

While there are areas of Accra that are very poor, I’m not denying that, it just that an expat living there could (if they so wished) live a very western life and be unaware of the poverty.

25 09 2008
Andi

I think it’s weird going to another country and discovering it’s like you never left your home at all. My mom is from Chile and when we use to visit my family there nothing seemed hard or difficult. Of course things were different, but they accommodate Americans into their society because we spend the money. I remember seeing a movie and the subtitles we in Spanish! Crazy. Great post!

16 10 2008
keLz

Well, from an outsiders perspective Accra seems like a western land. And even though we try soo hard to attain to the life of westerners it a big mistake looking at our level of development.

For more things accra check
http://www.theaccrajournal.com

17 10 2008
Tim Little

@KeLz – I know Accra has a lot of poverty, but it just seems like a different country to Tamale, and it isn’t just the levels of development but the crowds, the bustle and different feel.

I oughtn’t be surprised though, London feels like a different country to the rest of the UK

20 05 2011
Anonymous

I’m impressed[!|,|;}

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