Sitting in the nurse’s chair, I await the sharp sting of my yellow fever jab. I hope my first trip to Africa is less prickly. ‘Watch out for the men’, I’ve been warned, they will give you no end of hassle! Although, after successfully deflecting a number of blind dates with my Nigerian friends’ uncles, I’m confident that I am armed with all the necessary excuses to dig myself out of any situation. Plus, I’m visiting Vinoo, a very dear, and very male friend with a spectacular beard, who will willingly conspire.
Two weeks later, we are sitting around a dimly lit, rusty table with some villagers from Frankadua, in the east of Ghana’s Volta region. Sipping water from a plastic pouch, I hope the malaria tablets are also working their magic. I can’t feel or hear the mosquitos, but I know they are there, hunting for an uncovered patch of skin to puncture. One of the Aussie volunteers, Sheena, relays her encounter with malaria “One minute I was fine, the next I was lying outside, in the dark, on the floor, unconscious”… Sheena is on the same medication as me and had been taking it religiously. The locals talk about malaria like we, in London, talk about a cold, but luckily for Sheena, Richard, a local and an absolute gentleman, was close by and came to the rescue. Sheena still spends her evenings with her bare limbs on show, daring the mozzies to have another go. We spend the rest of the evening swapping stories and listening to Richard’s favourite music ‘I no be gentleman at all, I be African man, original’. That is Fela Kuti, Africa’s answer to Bob Marley… and one thing I’ve noticed is that locals refer to themselves as Africans, not Ghanaians.
One of my biggest surprises here has been the men. I was expecting for some reason to be swamped with marriage requests. But Ghana isn’t Nigeria, its a lot more relaxed here. It only took one glimpse of my screensaver, showing the happy couple that I am part of, for a man to graciously retract his interest. Perhaps more out of respect for the man in the picture, than for my unavailable status, but I like to think it’s a bit of both.
The group of young footballers I photographed on the street the other day were equally polite. They asked me to repeat various local words, but having been previously duped into parroting off profanities in other languages, I warned that I was not about to repeat any obscenities. The boys reassured me – “we respect our sisters, we would never make you say a bad word”. What they were actually trying to get me to say were the names of local dishes, the unanimous favourite being a delicacy called ‘face the wall’. It earned its name as a plate for the poor, so people face the wall to hide their guilty pleasure, whether they can afford a better dish or not. Being lunchtime, I decided to go on their recommendation. The stall on the corner of the street only had half a portion left. Its popular then. What faced me on my plate, was a thick, dark, doughy lump of starch, devoid of flavour, somewhat resembling gelatine, floating in a very spicy, oily broth which as per the usual custom, I had to eat with my hands.