So many things look familiar here.
The main road, pockmarked with potholes. Reddish brown sores on black skin. The sandy gravel sidewalk that constantly, irritatingly surrenders its upper layers. A fine film of dust insinuates itself into the folds of my pants, covers my exposed toes, sticks onto the velcro straps of my expensive sandals, subverting the trappings of another more affluent world. Not a good place for video cameras, recording devices or jogging with headphones.
Even the people look familiar here. I feel like I know them. Sure, they look different. But I recognise the types. I know their life. I know who they are. At least I think I do. But they don’t know me.
The vibrant atmosphere on the streets is irresistible. I am drawn to it. An assault on the senses.
Little boys in rags, playing and fighting on the street. Some of them working. Shoeshine boys, same brush for black or brown shoes, haggling over the special price for the foreigner. Kids who should be learning in school, learning on the street. Ten year olds kicking in to support the family. One of them wants to polish my sandals.
Everything can be bought or sold. The shops spill onto the street. Vendors block the sidewalks taking over from pedestrians. Toothpaste, exercise books, soap, matches, homemade sweets, stale biscuits, fresh bread, wriggling snails and face washers. Toilet paper, belts, exotic beads, exotic fruits and brand new bibles piled on the sidewalk all compete for my attention.
I watch the locals weave their way over empty cardboard boxes, step over gaudy multi coloured new plastic containers, and trip over the piles of bibles. Groups of young students saunter through the crowds sipping homemade ginger beer from little plastic bags tied in a knot at one end. The bags litter the sidewalk, clog up the drains and end up many miles away washed up on the beach. I watch large women haggling over the price of fried fish. Flies not included.
Office workers in stiff white shirts and polished shoes, wait patiently for fresh coconut juice, marvelling at the dexterity of the machete wielding young man lopping the head off the green fruit while juggling it in one hand. I smile as I see little ones dripping with the sweetest juiciest pineapples I’ve ever eaten.
This is life on the street. Throbbing to the beat of the sound systems. Old speakers rattling out the reggae rhythms of Lucky Dube and the High life music of Adani Best.The grooves jostling for attention with the loud haggling, shouting and screaming laughter of the women on the street.
I love the street life and the markets. I can wander around aimlessly for hours. Fiddling with this, picking up that. Smelling the familiar, tasting the unfamiliar. Exchanging humorous banter with the boys following me around, trying to sell me something they tell me I need.
No. My straight hair does not need an African comb. My sandals don’t need a polish. I could buy the cocoa butter, but I’m not sure if it’s only for women. Better not make a fool of myself. Not yet anyway. Plenty of time for that.
I get up and continue my walk home.
I stop to look at some masks. Intricate designs carved into the wood. The young man tells me they are antiques. Only two genuine antiques left in the country he says. He wants to give me a special price because he likes me. I smile and listen to his sales pitch. I look behind him to see his brother carving more genuine antiques and staining the wood with boot polish. He smiles and continues anyway. Gives me his card and tells me I am his best friend as I walk away trying to look serious. His card reads Jonathon Borketey -Carver. Jonathan follows me, inviting me to visit his village. When he finds out I am a drummer, he tells me that his older brother can teach me. “My brother Otu is a master drummer and drum maker and is the best. He will also give you his special drum. Because I like you”. I nod my head, smile and tell him that I too am a master drummer. He looks at me, head cocked, checking me out. Takes my palm in his hand, runs his course fingers over the smooth skin on my palm and bursts out laughing. I don’t know whether to be offended or not. I then laugh with him. We both laugh, slap palms and click our fingers together, the African way. We are now new best friends.
This would happen frequently during my stay here. Apparently Africans are the only ones who can play the drum.