Mohawk Man

It’s week four in Ghana, and I’m feeling pretty settled. The weekend was pretty amazing but I’m getting used to the shock of Monday mornings, often spent reminiscing about the previous forty eight hours. It’s a fairly rainy week. The air is cool and the clouds are grey. I sometimes feel as if I’m back in London, and it’s nice to have these moments of familiarity scattered across the week. The power situation isn’t so good, which means work for Virtue Foods is fairly slow, but I do as much as I can without electricity, focusing on the design work I can do by hand. On Tuesday the team leaders arrange for us to meet at the mall. We need to discuss what we’re going to do for the charity school, get into groups and put our ideas into action. The meeting itself nearly goes disastrously wrong. After half an hour of waiting for a few latecomers, we’re kicked out of the chicken shop we’ve been sitting in so far, so we take to the courtyard in the middle of the mall and have our meeting standing up.

Twenty plus strong-minded individuals is never a good start, and I do my usual chameleon trick and fade in to the background. I know that if I go in with my own ideas, I’ll get too involved and get annoyed when people shout out over me, so I go quiet and observe, waiting for the right moment to swing my oar in. No one can hold the group’s attention for longer than their own opening sentence, and before we can work out how to get stuff done at the school, there’s a disagreement over what we’re trying to accomplish. The original task was to pick one aim, which we all agree should be raising funds for a new building at the school. But some people think more can be done. One group wants to try and improve the sanitation. Someone suggested building some wooden walls so the kids don’t have to share one massive classroom. Me and a few others suggest setting up a small collection of reading books for the children. Everyone agrees that we can try and get it all done, but one of our team leaders is in utter disagreement. He wants us to stick to the plan, but as usual, the plan we’ve been given is pretty flawed. We’re much more likely to help the school by achieving the smaller tasks, instead of trying and failing to raise enough for them to build another school. Eventually we convince him, thanks to a couple of people taking the lead and not taking no for an answer. I join the group of people who want to sort the wooden walls out; after getting the money to come out here, I’m sick of the word ‘fundraising’. And working in an office for nine weeks makes me really keen to put my body to use. Hand me the hammer and line up the nails.

Wednesday is another fairly uneventful work day. There are a few forms I need to fill in for University, and a friend managed to print them off for me at work yesterday. I tick the boxes and sign off, then google maps the nearest post office. It’s next to a little roundabout that’s on our way home, so I seal the envelope and tell Gerald I’ll drop it off after work. So, at the little roundabout, I get out of the cab and spend five minutes looking for some sort of postal sign. I have no luck, and think that it must be disguised as a normal shop. I get my phone out and have a search, then realize that my landmarking was completely off. The post office is on a big roundabout about a mile down the road I’m standing on. Perhaps I should just come back tomorrow, get the taxi to take me a little further down the road? I laugh to myself. Why do that? It’s only twenty minutes on shank’s pony. According to Google, anyway. So I start walking. It’s about 3pm, so the sun isn’t too bad, but its still hot enough for me to break a considerate sweat. I’m walking on the side of a motorway, but there are shops everywhere so the roadside is fairly pedestrian. I take a few snaking turns suggested by Google, and take in the hustle and bustle of all the different shops, going inside a few of them for a better look. Luckily, Google is correct. I reach the post office after twenty minutes of walking, and manage to send my letter with minimal confusion, for a fee a lot more reasonable that I was expecting. The purple ‘Air Mail’ marking and ‘United Kingdom’ in my giant capitals reassure me that there’s a 70% chance it’ll reach its destination, and maybe within a month, if I’m lucky. On the way back a guy says something as I walk past, but when I turn around he looks fairly friendly. I stop for a chat and he tells me he was asking how I was. He teaches me a little language in Twi, like how to respond with ‘I’m fine’, and we talk a little about his mechanic business just next door. We exchange numbers and I tell him I might see him again soon. It’s not a route I usually walk, but who knows?

Since my hair started growing out again, I’ve been thinking it would cool to try a mohawk. Cool or funny. One of the two. So on Thursday I leave work early to meet Ellie, who gave another of the volunteers a trim last week. She’s pretty keen to shave something ridiculous out, but I manage to convince her to stick with the Mohawk. I meet her near her workplace. She tells me to go to Medina, which I do. After getting out at what I think is the wrong stop and wondering around for half an hour, I finally manage to call her and we pick a meeting spot. We go to a Las Palmas for lunch. Anywhere in Accra that you see the big, black and white checkers mean cheap, good grub. We get a plate of plantain each and share a big bottle of beer. What more could you want for lunch? We talk about our first meals when we get home. Ellie opts for a Caesar salad, but I go overboard and plan the whole day, starting with a proper fry up, followed by a Mediterranean feast for lunch and a really cheesy Shepherds pie for dinner. After our plantain feast, which feels lackluster in comparison to our fantasies, we get a tro to Ellie’s host home and get the trimmers out. She’s pretty good, and it only takes three looks in the mirror before we’re both pretty happy. The first attempt is a little too thick, and the second one is almost perfect. But I look at the sides and think ‘Screw #2. Let’s do this properly.’

So we #1 the rest of my head to properly emphasise the Mohawk. I’m pretty chuffed. I can’t decide whether I look like a weird Native American or a Brazilian football player, but either way, they’re not bad looks. Some people will laugh, some people will actually think it looks good, but I’m not really fussed; it’s just a bit of fun.

It gets to around four thirty and I think about leaving. I’ve got two hours until it gets dark, but I’m leaving from a new place and I need to give myself time to get lost if I need to. I thank Ellie for the new hairdo and she points me towards a tro stop that should have a tro headed for Lapaz. I come to the end of the road and stumble into a corner car park. They have quite a few of these in Accra: corners of the road that are flattened, dusty plains full of tro tros and a gaggle of market stalls. I take a brief look at the colourful stalls around me, but someone is already shouting Lapaz at the top of his voice. I cram myself into the second last seat and a man jumps in behind me; another guy is left outside the tro, sighing, to wait for another to fill up. Lucky I wasn’t too distracted by the stalls.

The tro takes me to Lapaz, and as usual, Lapaz takes me to St Johns. I’m pretty chuffed to have done it all on my own, this time even without Daisy. I’m quite tired when I get home and I think about bed, although the mattress is beginning to get on my nerves a little. All the mattresses here seem to be made of foam. That’s not a generalization; there’s a mattress shop on every other high street, and they’re all called Ashfoam, with yellowing sponge falling out through their shop fronts. It’s the kind of bedding that adapts to your shape but doesn’t give much resistance; you just end up sleeping in a crater of your own creation. Hopefully my youth will keep me from doing any serious damage. I get a message from the team leaders telling us to meet at the University tomorrow to collect our allowance for the next three weeks. It’s pretty good news, not just because of the cash, but that we’re meeting at the same place we did training; the second cycle of volunteers will be finishing their training so if I’m lucky, I’ll get to meet the guys who are moving in with us on Saturday. I stroke my new hair as I kick back in our room. Another Monday to Thursday, weekday week is over. Bring forth the weekend.

I leave the house for Legon on my own. Gerald left an hour ago to meet a friend at Uni, so I need to get the campus to pick up the stipend by myself. I think about calling Daisy and meeting her at Lapaz, but the route from St Johns is easier and after yesterday I’m feeling fairly confident about getting around on my own. Within five minutes of leaving the house, a guy clicks his fingers at me, ending with a gun shape.

“I like your hair, man!”

I get into the tro feeling pretty good about my new style, and pay for my stop: Atomic Junction. We come up to a roundabout that feels familiar; all the shops around say ‘Atomic’. The driver shouts out the name of my stop and a couple of people get off the tro, but I know for certain this isn’t the right place. We should be taking a right and then I get off twenty minutes down the road. The tro carries on, on a course I barely recognize. I tell myself he must be taking a different route, with the same destination. After ten minutes I check my phone, and realize we’re heading in the opposite direction to Atomic Junction. I get off at the next stop, and start walking the right way. This is why you always set out earlier than needed; getting lost in the light is fine. It’s getting lost in the dark that’s not good. It’s 12:30, so I have nothing to worry about, and I jump on a tro with a sign saying Atomic/Legon, which is definitely the right direction; Legon is where the campus is. I confirm with the tro tro mate, ‘The University, yes?’, and he gives me the affirmative. I’m still a bit wary on the tro, but I quickly begin to recognize my landmarks once we undo the mile of road the first tro took me in the wrong direction. I realize that the roundabout that felt too familiar was where it all went wrong; I should’ve gone right, but the tro tro took me straight. Eventually I make it to Okponglo, the university stop, and walk through the shady bushes until I reach the training building.

I walk past a large group of the new cycle, feeling especially ridiculous. I’m wearing my dashiki, shorts, jesus-y sandals and my brand new Mohawk. I think about saying something jokey like ‘This is what you’ll like in four weeks time’ but think better of it. I grab my stipend then realize none of my guys are around. I’m told that some of them went to Jamestown to do the amazing day I’ve already had (that they missed last weekend), and that the rest of them (those who went to Jamestown last week) are sitting by the University pool. As Kevin Bacon keeps telling us as he mystifyingly tries to become British: It’s a no brainer. I go to the pool. It costs a fair amount to actually take a dip, so I reserve myself a seat on the benches in the shade. We spend the afternoon just mucking about, drinking beer and playing the odd game of pool. It’s not very eventful, but just for once it’s quite nice to not have to worry about hopping to the next place, or us running out of daylight, or any of that rush. It’s an easy journey home and we have no plans to cram. We just enjoy the sun, the booze and the company.

Aunty Sandra makes sure she looks after us. She often comes in at breakfast and asks what we’d like for dinner. On this occasion I’ve asked for fish and chips Ghanaian style again, so I’m looking forward to dinner quite a bit. The power is out, so we eat it in the dark but it’s still damn good. Hake is definitely making it up there as my favourite fish. Afterwards we go back to our apartment and sit around, not doing much. It’s difficult when there’s no electricity. I lie down in bed and chat with home on my phone. There’s something cool going on at St Johns, because I can hear someone playing classic R&B tunes from the 90’s in the distance. I spend the evening in bed, just listening to the music and scrolling along on my phone. It’s not the most entertaining way to pass time, but it does enough to kill a few hours until it’s time to sleep. After the last few weekends, I’m more than happy for a chilled one. There’s a pool party on Sunday, which should be pretty cool, and Monday is a holiday so the feeling is to take the party into the night. I’m all ready for those plans, but I think that Saturday can be pretty relaxed in comparison. All I need to do is turn up for training, so it shouldn’t be too strenuous at all. I eventually doze off, excited for my first Saturday of doing pretty much nothing. Just watching films and chatting to the new guys.

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