Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Lost in the crowd

I met Victor on a street corner in an Accra neighbourhood called Pig Farm; I was standing mesmerized by the chaos around me, trying not to be so oblivious that I got hit by a car that was (literally) cutting a corner.

“This place is a wreck,” he said, referring to the neighbourhood.
To me it wasn’t. Coming from a city that sleeps most of the day and night (I say that with affection), I’m always fascinated by bustling urban neighbourhoods. Pig Farm is consumed with activity even by Accra standards; it’s a haven for people watchers.

Victor said Pig Farm was named after obrunis who had come and gone. “Germans used to raise pigs here more than 100 years ago,” he said.

In the tro-tro station, I watched a fight develop between two women. One threw a handful of dirt at the other, who ran and hid behind a stand selling cell phones. The first woman then picked a really big rock and hid behind a tro-tro, waiting for the other to emerge. I then turned my attention to a woman across the street screaming to be heard over the traffic (you can see her in the picture below, wearing a white baseball cap). I crossed the street and saw that she had a Bible in her hands; she was a street preacher, the first woman I’d seen doing this.

Victor and I chatted as I scanned the street for more action. The two women who’d been fighting had disappeared. The tro-tros and taxis were racing in and out of the station, fighting with each other for passengers. On all four corner of the junction were food stalls, vendors selling cell phones, newspapers, water. Pedestrians were racing across the road trying to avoid vehicles that would not slow down to let them cross safely.

As it turned out, Victor had good reason not to like Pig Farm. He had lost his job as a cook at an area guesthouse a few months ago. His wife and two daughters had moved back to their hometown northeast of Accra while he tried to find work. He was going to have to give up soon, though, he said. “I’m planning to join my family in a month if nothing works out here.”

It was a run of bad luck after a lot of good luck, he said. For 25 years, he’d gotten steady work, and been able to travel too. He was the personal cook of an oil executive in Nigeria for 15 years, he said, and learned to cook a lot of European food; Greek is his favourite because he was able to travel to Athens as a chef on board an oil tanker.

The he moved back to Ghana and worked for 10 years with a construction company; when he was laid off from there he went to work for the guesthouse.

Now that job was done, and he was on the lookout for another. But you can’t stay in Accra for long without work because it’s so expensive, which is why it looks like he’s heading to his hometown to rejoin his wife and children.

The problem with neighbourhoods like this anywhere in the world is that, with so much going on, people like Victor can get lost in the crowd.

- Mark


Jack said...

I'm fascinated with your ease at meeting people. What do you do? Do you stand on a corner looking sad or rich?
Following yours and Janet's antics in Accra suggests that you have a knack for getting strangers to open up to you and tell you their stories.I've enjoyed meeting so many folks through your eyes.
Thanks to both of you.

Janet & Mark in Ghana said...

Hi Jack, I think I must look lost! It's actually easy to meet people here, even in the big cities, if you're open to it. Sometimes I'm like a busy Canadian, with too much on my mind to interact with people. Other times I relax and take things as they come. I was in this kind of mood when I was standing on the street corner in Pig Farm. So when Victor stopped beside me and introduced himself, I was more than happy to chat with him. Conversations like this remind me to relax more, and hurry less - whether I'm here in Ghana or home in Canada. Thanks for the comment, Mark