Sunday, September 5, 2010

Absurdity in Ada Foah

This post has been a long time coming and mostly concerns one particular weekend adventure, rather than an attempt to say something smart about poverty...maybe I'll work something in to justify its existence. On a recent weekend I loaded a tro-tro to Ada Foah, a beachy place two hours east of Accra. I traveled with five Germans, only two of which I knew (and not very well...that's the nature of traveling), so you can imagine how disconcerted they were when a tall, goofy American showed up sporting board shorts, a Stars and Stripes bandanna, and a bright yellow Barack Obama family (yes, the First Family) sleeveless shirt. Oh yea, it was game time.

The occasion was a festival of some sort, and while we never really found out what the purpose was, there were cold drinks, food everywhere, jamming rap music, and as an added bonus people were hoisting the village chiefs up in chairs. It didn't really matter.

Another thing big crowd events bring is pick pocketers, and like most foreigners I'm sure I appear to be sweating dollar bills. It happened when I was taking a picture of the ceremony with my right hand. I felt a slight tug on my right pocket. That doesn't feel natural. I looked down to find a hand halfway into my pocket, and quickly connected it to the person to which it belonged. Without thinking I shoved him almost to the ground. Having been robbed and nearly robbed on multiple occasions over the course of my trip, I had a sudden urge to take out all my aggression on this one punk kid. It wasn't necessary. After finding out what had happened, the crowd, feeling extremely shamed, took out some kind of beating on this kid. Then they dragged him over to the cops. Meanwhile, Julian, one of the Germans I was with, just realized his camera was gone. Apparently it was a group effort.

I was asked to join in the police vehicle with Julian, another German friend, 10 heavily armored Ghanaian police (looked like a riot squad), and the kid who was now pleading his innocence to me, literally in tears. Oh, and this was after those police had roughed the kid up.At the police station they stripped the kid down to his boxers and threw him in jail, pretty much no questions asked. Oh, and this was after these police had roughed him up– slapping, hair yanking, and shoving included.

Two interesting things came out of this. First, there was an overwhelming sense of shame among the Ghanaian people that one of their own would steal. This was as opposed to Mozambique where, having been nearly pickpocketed during the middle of the day on more than one occasion, no one batted an eye. Secondly, the police just seemed like they wanted to assert their authority, show they had power. They didn’t even take the time to get straight that the kid had tried to rob me, not actually robbed Julian. They didn’t care. In Africa and most third-world countries, I’ve become very aware of the need for people with power and wealth to flout it. It doesn’t seem to be as prominent in the States, where many more people have it.

And I can’t talk about robberies without the recent rash of incidents. My friend is now heading home to Canada after multiple robberies (cellphone, purse, laptop, etc.) and sexual assault. My flatmate and her friend had a machete put to one of their throats by a group of guys on motorcycles, which resulted in the loss of everything they were carrying. And these machete-motorcycle robberies have been happening a lot lately.

We told the cops to let the kid go in a little while – he’d learned his lesson. The whole pickpocket incident didn’t really bother me, and it was quickly in the past when I was called on-stage to a Coca-Cola promotion. They said they wanted me to say something about Ghana and Coke, easy enough.

Well that quickly escalated into a dance-off against Julian with two rando Ghanaian girls who were clearly excited to be booty dancing with white boys. This was not in the contract. My attitude for on-stage dancing is a lot like that for karaoke – white boys can’t dance, so let’s not try (my German friend in the crowd actually overheard a local rhetorically ask “Do no white people know how to dance?”).

So instead of trying to look like a passionate first-round American Idol contestant who was clearly riding the misguided encouragement of his or friends, I tried to be silly and energetic (not hard), and just get the crowd into it. They got into it for sure (see crowd reaction pic), but when it came time to voting they weren’t picking up what I was putting down. Julian won the honor of “best of the worst” and an epically annoying Coca-Cola vuvuzela. Thank God I didn’t win that.

I have the full movies of the dance-offs, but I'm saving my last shreds of dignity by withholding this evidence.

That night brought more shenanigans which I won’t go into here and all in all it was a solid weekend, culminating in an entire tro-tro filled with whities headed nonstop back to Accra the next morning. Like most of my weekend endeavors, I was left with lots of memories in stow and little of my reputation still intact.

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