Back when I lived in the city centre of Toronto, my walk home from work could be quite interesting, given that my apartment was located above a dodgy martial arts studio on a main street, opposite the largest Psychiatric hospital in the country. I could bump into a wide variety of eccentrics, intensely chewing on cigarette butts or pacing in ever shrinking circles. In the evenings I would meet ladies of the night on duty, taking shelter from the wind in the stairwell. I always thought it sweet of them to ask "How was work". "Fine thanks!" I'd blurt out and add another comment about the bad weather, but never looking them in the eye or inquiring as to their 'work'... My embarassment for the most part....
Now that I live in Ghana, all traces of embarassment have been washed away by heat, time and a generous helping of in your face reality. I have long ago been hit by the stark truth that everyone is too concerned about their own troubles to focus on my shyness or lack of it.
On my trip home from work on any given day I will see things that Toronto does not have in it's vast list of possibilities or imagination. The cigarette chewing, mumblers would be fascinated, I'm sure.
And now I am never too timid to inquire, observe, absorb.
Yesterday was a work day like any other. Drove through Accra's streets and turned into our 'upper middle class' (a very rare breed this side of the world) neighborhood. We turned off the main paved road and onto the loosely defined cul-de-sac dead end dirt road we live on. As usual, we passed the local boys - some belong to the lady who runs the corner store out of a metal shipping container, and the others seem to have no home at all. They are always amusing themselves on the side road, and bow out of the way as the 4x4 pulls around the corner. We veered into the drive, honking subconsciously at the large looming gate, for the guard to swing'er open.
Except the boys looked more excited than usual, they were dancing around something, and there were flames behind them. So my curiousity won a short internal battle and I jumped ship and went to 'say hi'.
They were all too happy to show me their proud catch - roasting, popping, bubbling and ashen, limbs hardened and extended over the bicycle tyre fire. "It's a goat!" the smallest one, Solomon piped up. The others moved aside to display it. Face up in clenched defiance, the goat burned, singed black, hair gone up in a putrid acrid smoke swirl. It's captors wholly excited and obviously proud. "We'll all chop!" (A Ghanaian slang meaning to eat). "Snap us!" (another Ghanaian term, for take a photo). I happily obliged. I was then cordially invited to join the barbeque which I declined but promised, in that ever hopeful Ghanaian way, "Next time!".
I slipped through the gate and closed that world behind me. The sharp contrast that faces me daily was right at my gate today. The smoke billowed up and over the gate and led me, as if by the hand, to my door where we parted ways again. The smoke, back to it's fire and the laughter of excited children. Me, into the air-conditioned cocoon, where meat is something on the weekly grocery list, bought filleted, without head, tail, legs...normally seasoned and served with an accompaniment. And completly devoid of the sense of pride and joy experienced by the barefooted boys a few metres away...