Thursday, 21 November 2013

My Ghana dat!

I have been to the Ghana High Commission in London approximately two times.

On the first occasion, I happened on an invitation the High Commission had extended to my father for an evening with President John Mahama. As he was away at the time, I considered it my patriotic duty to go in his place, and promptly went off to find a suitable attire in my wardrobe. Incidentally, never having been there before, and most definitely lost and running late, I found the High Commission through protesters gathered across the street from the building, self-consciously chanting, ''Mahama is a thief! Mahama is a thief!'' into waiting cameras. It was the first time I saw the president in the flesh, as well as other prominent members of government including Hanna Tetteh, Harruna Iddrisu, PV Obeng and Nana Oye Lithur. It was June, the height of the election petition challenging the validity of Mr Mahama's election as president of Ghana, and so it seemed to me that the speeches that evening were full of irreverent quips regarding this, and re-hashing of party slogans and rhetoric like we were at a miniature rally. It wasn't without laughs, let me tell you, and the entire evening was pleasant enough.

The second occasion was today when I went to renew my Ghanaian passport. After being processed through the reception and ticket counter, I was making my way to a seat in the waiting area when I heard someone call my name. I thought, no way! Who knows me around these parts, and why the flippity floppin' heck is there no such thing as anonymity in a Ghana-centric place?! I was laughing to myself before I turned the smile in the general direction the sound of my name had come from. And as I spotted the familiar face, I felt my skin infused with genuine warmth.

It was Trevor, a darling old English gentleman who'd adopted Ghana as his second home long before he found even more reason to keep going back: a Ghanaian wife and young children in Accra who won't let him enjoy a slow life in his retirement. The first time we met, we discovered our Accra homes were minutes apart (Mataheko to my Kaneshie), and that he'd left Ghana and crucially forgotten to bring his supply of Tetrapleura tetraptera - that's prekese to the uninitiated, something I had quite a bit of in my food basket at home. My nkwan is not complete without some 'preks'. I am my grandmother's granddaughter after all.

We were chitchatting when my ticket number was called. I made my way to the counter.

''I like your earrings,'' the gentleman behind the counter said by way of greeting.
I fingered the beaded hoop earrings and smiled my thanks.

''You like travelling paa, eh?'' He said, flicking through my passport and noting the USA and Schengen Visa stamps.


''Do you speak Ga?'' He asked in Ga.
I wasn't even going to outdoor my paltry Ga here, but an answer in the negative I could manage. So I said, ''Daabi.''

He gave me a look. ''You should be able to speak Ga.''
I rolled my eyes. ''I speak Twi.''
He cocked his eyebrow. ''I don't speak Twi.''
I cocked mine. ''I don't speak Ga.''
He smiled. ''So we'll have a problem understanding each other then, won't we?''
I flashed him my own saccharine smile. ''I don't think so at all. I understood everything you just said. Let's stick to English, shall we?''

He threw his head back and laughed. I think...I think he thought his flirtation skills were up there with the slick professionals. I was bemused - and more than a little concerned this back and forth would make me miss the plumber and surveyor due at mine in half an hour to see a problem with my kitchen pipes.

Eventually, he stamped my form and told me a date to pick up my new passport. I did a bit of haggling. It had nothing to do with price, and everything to do with surely that's a long time to take to process a simple renewal. Mr Speak-Ga said he'd do his best for me. He disappeared for a few minutes and came back with a new, nearer date. I held my tongue and fought the urge to ask why he hadn't offered me that date in the first place.

He gave me a smile like he knew exactly what I was thinking. Ha.

I shrugged my coat on, bade goodbye to Trevor and let myself back through the reception en route to the exit. On my way in, it had just been the receptionist. Now it was lively with chat and bonhomie, whilst three grey haired men with ample pot bellies sat laughing on the chairs. As I walked through, I made eye contact with each and said good morning.

The last one said, ''Oh, you are a good girl!''

I smiled inwardly. Because whether you are in Ghana or not, there's also no such thing as walking past your elders without acknowledging them with some form of greeting.

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