Gone to (and back from) Ghana

Just returned from an interesting week in Accra, Ghana, where a London
colleague and I were teaching a workshop in scientific publication.

Accra, the capital, is a port city on the Atlantic Ocean, and much
different from the other 2 African countries I’ve been to: busier and
much more prosperous-looking. There’s still plenty of garbage
everywhere–I’m convinced the blue plastic bag is the curse of the
entire planet–and a fair amount of eye-popping poverty–people living
in one-room, tin-roof shacks, with much life lived out in the open. But
still, the roads were paved, huge embassies were everywhere, albeit
behind barbed wire and walls topped with shards of glass, and
electricity and air conditioning were ubiquitous. Which was a good
thing, as it was about 96 degrees and extremely humid.

Items of special interest: Ghanaians have a reputation for being very
outgoing and friendly, and we found this to be true. I won’t be at all
surprised when Joseph, a waiter at our hotel, and Esther, who organized
the course we were teaching, show up in Brooklyn. They both volunteered
that they were coming to visit.

Most Ghanaians are Christian (there is much hostility toward the
minority Muslim population, as Muslims “don’t like black people,” so I
was told), with evangelical Protestantism predominating. Religious
fervor abounds, most amusingly in the names of businesses, such as:

  • Count Your Blessings Veterinary Shop
  • Jesus is Lord Liquid Refreshment
  • Amazing Grace Enterprises (a Coca-Cola stand)
  • Hallelujah Hardware
  • Jesus is my Friend Mini-Market

and so forth and so on, absolutely everywhere.

Capitalist fervor also abounds, with a zeal for selling that would
almost put Americans to shame. We went to the biggest market I have ever
seen anywhere; there must have been 10,000 merchants there (an amazing
sight: cola, poured into big aluminum bowls, with blocks of ice swimming
in it, is sold by the ladle-full, scooped into plastic bags). And you
can buy anything, and I do mean anything, on the side of the road or at
traffic lights. I mean, do you need:

  • sunglasses (carried in huge trays on the sellers’ head–well, most things are carried on the seller’s head)
  • plastics of every description (dustpans, trashcans, buckets, combs)
  • plantain chips
  • large laminated maps of Africa or of Ghana
  • wheelchairs! walkers! massage cushions to use while driving!
  • chewing gum, mints, cigarettes
  • toilet seats
  • Gillette razors
  • drinking water in small plastic bags
  • 3 Granny Smith apples, always 3, stacked on top of each other, in a plastic bag
  • candle lighters
  • caution/emergency signs to set on the side of the road in case of emergency
  • toilet paper

? You can get all these and more, without ever leaving your car. And, my two favorites:

  • a textbook of international business management
  • 3 guppies in a Mason jar . . .

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