Man wearing mask to prevent Corona, Accra Ghana

The smiling eyes I see on a walk in Accra post lockdown

“Good morning Madames! It’s nice to see you, do you have face masks?” I ask as I approach the group of ladies patiently sorting through large silver trays of ground nuts, most of whom aren’t wearing masks. I want to give them some of the ones I have sewn if they don’t.  

“Yes, we do” one of the lady replies as she reaches down to pick up her bright orange African print mask and proceeds to put it on, struggling to get the elastic around her ears.

Ghanaian lady sorting ground nuts in Accra

“It’s so hot to wear though” she tells me through the fabric that is now covering her mouth. “It’s not comfortable!”. I nod in agreement because it’s 10:30am and my phone tells me it already feels like 36 degrees on this Thursday morning and I’m feeling similarly, breathing through my bright purple one that quickly gets wet with sweat in this sticky humidity.

Behind her on the ground, some happy pigeons are indulging in a breakfast of a big bowl of ‘bad nuts’ that don’t make the cut to get packed into the plastic containers that these ladies have on display on one of the street corners in the Osu neighbourhood. They are always there selling their nuts and are situated at an intersection where the air regularly fills with loud hooting. I’m used to seeing Frank, our driver throw up his arms in annoyance about the small traffic jam ahead, because people stop their cars and buy their tubs of ground nuts and ground nut paste ‘drive through style’ through car windows.

Pigeons eating left overs in Accra

I watch these birds with their mottled black and white feathers with shimmering glimpses of purple and green on their necks that catch the sunlight. They seem to take turns to dive headfirst into the pile of nuts and it makes me think of watching an eager group of ducks sticking their beaks into the pond to reach for the pieces of bread we would throw to them at the Durban Botanical gardens.

My heart is happy in this moment because so much of this neighbourhood walk so far feels lovely and normal. My feet repeatedly meeting with the ground of these roads keeps me feeling grounded and I’ve missed it. In these peculiar times we are all longing for pieces of our ‘normal’ to return.  

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On Sunday night, much to the surprise of many of us living in Ghana who had anticipated a country wide lock down extension, President Nana Akufo-Addo announced that the three week lock down period in Accra and Kumasi was going to be lifted at midnight. He confidently and impressively told us of all the efforts that have been made to improve health care here during this time of being inside our homes, and all the medical equipment that has been acquired to assist with the fight against Covid-19 and the widespread enhanced contact tracing and testing that has taken place. The plight of so many poor and vulnerable people here is dire and they would not survive the pressure of further lock down time, and so with schools and country borders still closed and large gatherings still forbidden we found ourselves going to bed that night not quite sure how to feel, to be honest, but knowing that we were the first African country to have its lock down lifted.

With over 1000 cases here and the WHO telling us loud and clear that we cannot get complacent, it is difficult once again to navigate things when a lock down is no longer in place. It is easy I think to default into more relaxed ways of being because we are all very much fatigued of the restrictions that have governed our days, the confinement we have felt, the longing for friends and ‘braais’ and normal interactions that we crave. We simply can’t function feeling all that anxiety and angst all the time and we are all likely in spaces of the ‘acceptance’ stage of grief after so many weeks of Corona dominating the news and every sphere of our lives. But it is also a strange thing when it is again up to personal decisions on how far you want to try to ‘protect’ yourself and your family from this virus. David and I both have pre-existing conditions that mean that we would very much like our family not to have to deal with getting Corona in Ghana (or anywhere for that matter!). We understandably have concerns over the health systems here that will very quickly get overwhelmed and strained.

Some thought that run through my head in the wake of the news on Sunday are how much socialising with friends is advisable? How many friends are those friends seeing? Do we ask our housekeeper and driver to come back to work now? The public transport is a worry here although the President has asked taxi drivers to comply with rules about social distancing in tro-tros – is that even realistic? Are play dates safe now? How many children are our childen’s friends also seeing? Maybe some think this is overanalyzing but turn on any news channel at any time of the day and there is still enough suffering and doom and gloom about Corona to make you question how much ‘relief’ one should feel when a lock down is lifted. This week I’ve felt that these questions are too much for my brain at times so I’ve largely ignored overthinking them but this is a time when you wonder what the ramifications of the end of lock down will bring in terms of virus spread, and that answer will only be apparent in a few weeks. So again we all live in a grey space currently wondering what is up ahead.

To escape the relentlessness of 5 weeks of ‘home school’ and to get out of my head this morning I laced up my sneakers, packed my water bottle and sanitiser into my bag, donned my cap and mask and headed for the big sliding gate of our compound. I stood in the middle of our road, which was the quietest I’ve ever known it to be on a week day, with only the tweeting birds keeping me company, and I felt myself exhale as I stared in wonder at my favourite view of the trees. This feeling of some sense of freedom will be different but also the same for all of us. It will be the same because it will be that profound moment of relief when you can return to something you love about life, moments that ordinarily sustain you and bring you joy. It will of course be unique for all of us too depending on what we’ve been longing for while we have been locked in. For some it may be the feeling of warm beach sand between your toes and a beautiful view of the powerful waves that have consistently carried on crashing, the smiles of family and friends that are now even bigger without the glass screens between us, or the inviting smell of a coffee shop and the first sip of a delicious warm cappuccino.  

Street in Accra with beautiful trees

I was so thankful for my neighbourhood walk this morning that felt regular and familiar, it made it easy to put Corona stress aside for a while, and if it hadn’t been for the masked faces of many of those I encountered I could have easily forgotten the times we are in. I spotted pretty steps that reminded me of a wonderful trip to Lisbon, gorgeous bougainvillea in the most vibrant shades of coral and pink. I talked to the lady who was washing her yams while other chopped pieces browned and sizzled in the cauldron of oil, “I’m so happy!” she told me after pushing down her mask so that I could hear her, “I started selling my yam chips again on Monday”.

Ghanaian lady selling yam chips in Accra

I myself felt elated to be greeting people on the street, to feel connection with others, to hold up my hand in greeting to those who passed me on the pavements as our eyes smiled at each other. I even had a man stop me to tell me ‘mask to mask’ that he was Pastor Michael and he was going to a meeting and that I looked like a lovely lady (this really had me silently chuckling to myself!! My South African caution had made me take off my wedding ring before the walk not knowing how quiet the streets would be and maybe he noticed that ha ha and was trying his ‘pastor’ pick up line – hilarious!).

I heard the whirr of a few sewing machines and chatted briefly with a lady who was back behind her beloved machine near the ‘Step Inn Beauty Salon’. Two hopeful men were standing quite randomly on the street, trying to sell cell phones? First time I’ve seen those being sold on the side of the road! A man I passed twice was swinging his portable megaphone enthusiastically as he walked and it was playing a loop in a local language all about what I imagine is the incredible cleaning power of the spray bottles that were in a large bucket on top of his head.

Sewing machine of a seamstress in Accra
Streetlife in Accra Beauty Salon

There will be strong opinions on both sides on whether this lock down was ended too soon, there will be positives and negatives in the process I have no doubt. The food sellers I saw today will be able to feed their families again, they are smiling at the return of their ability to provide for themselves and those they care for, in a country where the vast majority live ‘hand to mouth’. There is a big question mark about how we will feel in a few weeks time depending on what happens with the spread of Corona here, but as my friend Johani so wisely said on the night of the Sunday announcement when we were chatting afterwards “It is the best decision for now, the decision is far from perfect, but so is the world”.  

We are humans trying to deal with totally unprecedented times on all fronts, but we continue to cling to hope and our love for the ordinary moments in our lives that make life beautiful. Perhaps we took those for granted and now so sorely miss them. We cling to the belief that we can overcome this together by staying strong and that it hopefully won’t be too long before we can again experience those ordinary ‘marvellous mundane’ moments.

To read more about my walks in our Ghana neighbourhood please see my post An Ode to my Road and if the photo of the sewing machine caught your eye you will enjoy A Shared Love of Stitching

4 thoughts on “The smiling eyes I see on a walk in Accra post lockdown

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