I spent last weekend in the capital city of Accra. Saturday morning, Jamie and I hopped on a tro-tro armed with lightly packed bags and vague but efficient directions on how to get where we were going: circle to the taxi stand to the memorial.
I wasn’t sure what to expect of Accra, but once we got off at the last stop I was immediately greeted by sights and sounds similar to those found on Kasoa High Street. People rushing past each other, people with bowls atop their heads selling any thing you could think of. Fruits, vegetables, yams, pure water, bracelets, even cell phones. We then found the taxi stand, and got in a taxi to Tema station. From there we walked to the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial. I didn’t realize that it was an entire park until we walked to the extensie gate and had to walk around to enter. There were lots of other people there, some tourists like us, and other Ghanaians- mostly school groups. We randomly made friends with one school group, also from Kasoa. Their teacher explained that it was a school for “the vulnerable ones.” They were adorable, and they seemed happy enough, their smiles masking whatever vulnerabilities they had.
The memorial itself was actually very interesting to me, filled with lots of history both about Kwame Nkrumah and Ghana itself. The small museum was filled with pieces of furniture, clothing, letters to his son, and black and white pictures of the man affectionately referred to as Osagyefo – which I was told roughly translates to “redeemer” There is a structure in the center of the park, at the end of a short walkway, with water on either side, lined with traditional statues. It reminded me somewhat of the National Mall in DC. And for some reason there were also peacocks – wandering around the park with no regard for the people there. Lida, Abby, Stephen, and Lena met us at the park, and then we made our way to the National Cultural Center next door. It was full of vendors selling all types of art – paintings, earrings, bags, leatherwords, statues, sculptures, Kente cloth, dresses, shirts, belts, postcasrds, pins, necklaces etc. And I wanted to buy everything. But clearly I could because… budgets.
Afterwards we walked to Independence Square, which was cool to see and to take pictures with the Black Star Memorial. From there we took a taxi to the Accra mall. To my surprise, the mall was a complete reverse culture shock for me. I got out of the cab to stand in front of a young man, wearing three, maybe four gold chains around his neck. To see people wearing shoes that didn’t appear worn, or sandals that exposed feet that were not covered in dirt. To see children wearing clothing that did not need to be mended. To see young people freely wielding their smart phones, and even an iPad or two. And to see name brands everywhere. I almost felt myself shrink – wanting to find a way back to the familiar simplicity of Kasoa, where my feet could be dingy from walking without shame; where a lunch meal would cost GhC 2 instead of 15. It was very strange and definitely a change of pace.
At the mall we met up with a whole other group of volunteer friends – Molly, El, Conor, Chantelle, and Avery for lunch. Afterwards, El left for the airport so said our goodbyes. Most went to a movie, but Chantelle and I wandered the mall, window shopping for things we didn’t actually want to buy, wasting time until we left for the Alliance Francaise for a hip-hop concert she told me about the week before.
And the concert was amazing, and was well worth the GhC 20 we paid. First, before the acts began, the DJ prepared the crowd and I never thought I’d be so excited to hear a beat drop. He played Biggie, and Tupac, and Jay-Z, and Lil Kim, and Kendrick Lamar and Pharrell. It was hip-hop that I know and love – in Ghana, and I didn’t even have to be hype on my own – everybody was. Then as each artist – E.L., Sarkodie, Trigmatic, Wanlov, J-Town, Scientific, Jayso, X.O Senavoe, C-Real, DeeMoneey, Joey B, Cabum, Rumour and others – came to the stage I went through cycles from trying to understand, to realizing I barely speak Twi, to looking around the crowd for social cues, to abandoning the want for translations and clinging instead to the vibes around me. And I loved it. I felt honored to be a part of it – to truly see how music and culture transcend distance and language to create a dialect of their own. It was interesting to see and hear how many of the artists mirrored many of the artists I knew. It was also amazing to see so many people from different walks gather in appreciation. Technically, I was the outsider, but it made no difference.Saturday in Accra. Or that moment you experience Hip-Hop as a worldwide phenomenon. I spent last weekend in the capital city of Accra. Saturday morning, Jamie and I hopped on a tro-tro armed with lightly packed bags and vague but efficient directions on how to get where we were going: circle to the taxi stand to the memorial.
Going into it, I was a little nervous, because I wasn’t sure what my reaction would be. I was telling another volunteer that seeing the Cape Coast Slave Castle for me would be like seeing “The Reason” for so many things: The reason many Black Americans feel uprooted and don’t know why. The catalyst for the birth of gospel music and jazz. The reason for the need of abolition. The precursor to…