Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The journal-ist

In addition to reading material on human rights issues in Ghana, I'm reading a collection of novellas called The Summer He Didn't Die by Jim Harrison. Harrison's from Michigan and has written fiction, poetry and screenplays. The narrator in the last novella of this collection is talking about the main character's view on writing and travel. "He avoided keeping a regular journal except of the most nominal kind. Why turn everything immediately into language? Why not let it rest there among a trillion neurons and see what might wish to arise."

I'm not a journal writer by nature. To this point, though, I've felt the need to recount my days here as faithfully and as fully as I could. But I know that mundane, factual account of my days will bore you and me, so I'll try to be guided by the spirit of Harrison's approach.

A few things stand out from this day:

I went looking for a coffee along a sidewalk packed with vendors' stalls. The pathway followed a busy highway. It was noon hour; the place blazing hot, packed and very noisy. I walked up to one stall that served drinks. The waitress was sitting on a stall with her resting on her arm placed on the counter. I soon realized she was sound asleep amidst the racket. I said hello gently several times. She didn't wake up. I walked away and then returned, deciding I really needed that coffee. I said hello again, and again, and then she slowly woke up. I said I wanted a coffee. She said she didn't have one, but pulled out an ice coffee drink from her cooler. This is the same thing, she said. No it wasn't, I said. I would try and find a regular coffee somewhere else. Reflecting on this now, I wonder what's more incongruous - the woman falling asleep on this chaotic street, or me wanting a hot coffee instead of a cold one on such a humid day.

I went to Internet cafŽ after my futile search for a coffee, and then walked down a busy road toward the JHR office. The traffic moves slowly here at times and street vendors try to sell food, ballpoint bens, and clothing to cars that have slowed down. On my walk I encountered two guys trying to sell puppies to passing motorists. I've handled myself very well since I've been here. No serious culture shock yet, I've managed to keep my emotions in check. For some the sight of these vulnerable little pups being peddled to motorists in this heat, on this busy roadway, brought tears to my eyes.

The headline of the main newspaper read, "AMA IN MASSIVE CLEANUP" AMA stands for Accra Metropolitan Assembly. The local political authority has organized a community cleanup for the independence celebrations March 6. There will be a lot of foreign dignitaries and the city wants to present a clean image to the outside world. This city is a lot cleaner than many I've been to in the developing world. Many of us remarked on this when we first arrived here. But some of the beaches and busier sections are very dirty. Garbage is scattered on the street or sits in piles that substitute for garbage cans. Part of the cleanup involves removing street vendors and their rickety shacks. They are very much part of the street life and economy here, though, and I wonder where they're expected to go. The news story doesn't really touch on what happens to them. It reminds me of when Western cities have forcibly removed homeless people to make way for the Olympics - Atlanta in 1996 comes to mind.

- Mark


Jack said...

I read your piece about getting a coffee and selling puppies on the street. It brought back memories to me why I always picked up "here". Your editorials were classic and I hope you continue to follow the format you have used today.
Thanks for an interesting insight into a bit your new temporary life.

Best regards to you and Janet. It's going down to -16° tonight.

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