An Ode to my Road – a tribute to my neighbourhood streets in Accra Ghana

Oh prettiest road we have ever lived on, as we turn into you we are met with such a exquisite tunnel of green and home is where all the light is at the end. Thank you for your trees that have sheltered me from the Ghana sun as I have exited our compound on my walks. With your knobbly, arthritic looking trunks, you lean into each other creating the most welcoming shelter of leaves. Just like the canopy and passage we create at the end of a wedding, when we join hands with the person opposite us, through which the happy couple must run and start their lives together.

My feet have regularly met with your pavementless dirt roads and your puckered potholed streets that are ever so bumpy to drive on. They remind me of the Desiderata wisdom “With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world”. Despite your exposed gutters drenched with iridescent oily black waste, I have so often only seen beauty. My colour hungry eyes have noticed the delicate pink flowers nestled in the green of a supposedly invasive weed, the jagged angles of the naked lightning bolt tree and the tangled matted vines hanging from branches, that sway gently in a breeze, like the tails of grazing horses.

Oh road with the same name as one of your kind in Durban, I will miss you.

I will miss watching the strong arms of a lady stirring the pot of thick fufu with her long wooden spoon, her body so slight under the umbrella of foliage towering above. The sounds of rooster calls that have reminded me of the one who used to wake me regularly at 3am, so very keen to start the day before the rest of us were ready to! The mismatched chickens cluck clucking along the roadsides and scratching and scrounging amongst stones.  

I have delighted in the freedom I have felt putting one foot in front of the other on your streets. The daily stroll I used to make walking Jack to and from his old school, small hand in mine, the routine of every days with the thrill of new surrounds, the friends we encountered on the way. The hotel sign next door that has made me think of the Marigold hotel movie and the gorgeous glowing bougainvillea that abounds and cascades and decorates many a wall. The bright cerise pink colour fills me with longing for the friends who wore bridesmaid dresses in the same tone at our wedding. The melodic piano music that would reach my ears coming from the house next door or the sound of vibrant Ghanaian drums being played, an African heartbeat pulsating in the road.

The way I used to watch Emma riding ahead on her bike, those strong little legs enthusiastically pedaling, that have grown so much recently. The beautiful tree that we used to pass on our way to tennis, we would watch it changing week by week, sometimes on fire, blooming with red flaming flowers on every branch and other times looking plainer with perfectly formed seed pods hanging from its body. It marked the passage of time when the hours were up to us and the home school days blurred into each other.    

Oh mottled road with shadows from so many shapes and shades of green, and your strange tall trees with branches only growing upwards, I will miss you.

I will miss the quirk and the funny. The misspelt and the crooked. The desire for my iphone to always want to straighten the photos I am taking straight on! “No!” I want to tell it, “don’t correct the beautifully imperfect please, it’s what I love about being here!” The roadside wooden store that I pass while walking, the shopkeeper’s pride so evident in the way she has so meticulously placed her humble array of goods, and the little lacy tablecloth that flutters in the wind. The tray of eggs that rests safely on the table despite wonky furniture angles. I love the prettiness and the attention to detail in its bent and warped way. It feels real and authentic and I’m drawn to this misshapen way of being.

I’m also drawn to the layers of the old and the modern and the abandoned lots where random walls of old homes are left behind, sticking out from the overgrown ground, like tombstones with no names. Whose lives did you house and what did they dream of when they slept? Decrepit buildings juxtaposed with smooth, bright new ones. Ornate heavy gates decorated with Adinkra symbols and delicate patterns that have me wondering what lies beyond their heavy guard. At times catching a glimpse of secret gardens and lavish mansions as these are momentarily opened.  The old refurbished bicycles that pass by or lie resting against the trees while their owners take a break. The green coconuts piled high like the cannon balls at the Cape Coast Castle, with regular stoppers by lifting that quenching water to their thirsty lips.

Oh but Accra I will miss your charm and all that I now find familiar yet still so magical and different from what I had previously ever known.  

As I listen to podcasts or the peep-peeping of the Bofrat man as he endlessly honks his horn, the birds chirping or the constant hum of traffic and life around me, I still need to remind myself which way the traffic is approaching. The surprise and joy I find in this consumer-less place, at the local pharmacy which smells like Saturday morning trips to the chemist as a child. The perfect shade of Clinique lipstick in the only shade they stock, and Cadbury’s dark chocolate, approved by the Queen of England herself, at only 5 cedis a slab this week. The random surprises that the bargain bin holds. Without loads to always entice us, this feels gift-like. It has notes of childhood Christmas mornings. It feels lucky.

It feels lucky to stumble upon the local fabric shop 30m from home, a simple metal container shop with patterns and textures draped across a metal frame outside. My favourite vice right at hand! The batik cloth for sale close by, covered in repetitive bold designs like the fleeting glimpse into a kaleidoscope when I was small, with the tiny chips of bright colours momentarily aligned into a brilliant display of beauty.

The peace I’ve felt stopping and watching birds in trees fervently chatting to one another and the brilliant red and yellow bird we saw last week with the curved black beak. The thrill of regularly spotting the silhouettes of Kingfishers resting on the parallel electricity wires that remind me of my piano music staves. The lonesome white egret who I shared pavement space with for a while and caught midflight on my phone, who ended up looking like a painting on the wall. Frozen in time.

Oh Ghana roads you have made me smile.   

Like the smile I get from Jeanette our fruit lady when I stop for our biweekly order of bananas, paw paw and pineapple whose gratitude abounds for the ‘small small’ money I hand her. Her tenacity and grit for days sitting under her old umbrella don’t go unnoticed, and my heart hurts sometimes when I sense her weariness when I reach her table and she is fast asleep. The man who spends his days under the shade of a delightfully fluffy stumpy looking tree while he glues and mends shoes. Does he wonder where all of those shoes have been and the places they’ve seen? Veronica who is around the next corner who winds her manual sewing machine for the millionth time and passes the days making bright African wax garments to sell with a method of sewing that us privileged can hardly believe still exists.

Ghana you regularly humble me, thank you for these lessons.

Then there is the man who has worn his brown torn t shirt for the last three years with the broken arm that is so tightly and permanently bent along his elbow resting against his back, like the taut wing of a chicken about to be roasted, resting against its belly before being put in the oven. Sometimes he talks to the floor and kisses it, eating the dirt from the ground. He has sat in the same spot month after month and he makes me think of those we have loved and lost in a seeming second, and those who somehow seem immortal beyond all odds. His world doesn’t seem to be ours to understand as the sandwiches and new clothes we have tried to give him seem to disappear elsewhere. He seems happy in the alternate reality of his mind but he fills me with a dread that we’ve forgotten about those who are in a permanent state of struggle.

The surprise of one of the roads with the Lotto man sitting in his small glitzy patriotic hut. The unusual display of strange messages and promises of wealth and happiness, surrounded by pretty pot plants and Christmas tinsel sparkling in the day light. A big bizarre mix of hope and shiny golden luck when it comes to picking the correct numbers, and of course Blessings and Love! Amen 😉

The men who walk around with what look like doors balancing on their heads but are in fact large roof like flat displays of dozens of sunglasses. They stare into my sunglassed eyes hoping that I’m maybe bored of the style I own!

My feet pound on the sometimes tarred, sometimes sandy roads and I pass houses where friends used to live, and I think of the goodbyes we’ve said. The hellos! The “nice to meet you’s”, and the “so amazingly good to have known you’s”, “the thank you’s for the memories”. The “let’s keep in touch’s”. The goodbyes we are still dreading to have to say. I think of the lovely people we’ve been blessed to meet from different parts of the world and I am filled with gratitude for the encounters and friendships.   

Oh Ghana I will miss these moments.

11 thoughts on “An Ode to my Road – a tribute to my neighbourhood streets in Accra Ghana

  1. Hi Uncle Mike,, thanks so much for the feedback! I’m glad I could take you on the neighbourhood stroll and that you could sense what it is like here. I’m also so glad I know exactly what it is like to have a rural Ireland stroll in your home there 🙂

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  2. Em thanks so much! it makes my heart happy that you experienced some Ghana life, just still sad I wasn’t with you xx thanks for the feedback

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  3. Thanks so much Pat, I appreciate the feedback and am glad I could take you on a little walk around Ghana!!

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  4. With a cup of tea in hand I have read this from start to finish. So beautifully written and so many small every day events captured with such poignant detail. I too have shared 5yrs of life in Ghana….wonderful to relive the memories. Thank you Lauren. X

    Liked by 1 person

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