top of page

We spent three days in Accra, which is probably a day and a half more than you need. There’s not a whole lot to see there, and what there is such a hassle to get to that it’s more trouble than it’s worth. We were based in Osu, in a pleasant enough hotel, walking distance to Osu’s chaotic if not thriving shopping street. There was half-decent food, and on Thursday night some terrific hi-life music at a place called Bywell’s, and what we will delicately call “intestinal adjustment” on the third day - nothing too severe, but severe enough to be worrying.


Then we headed off along the Ghana Coast, with a stretch of idyllic beach in the village of Busua as our final destination. First we hit Cape Coast and Elmina, where European sailors established tiny colonial outposts in the 15th and 16th centuries, and then turned them into transit centers for a trade in slaves. You know this story intellectually, and in my case, I’d even seen it before, but it was, once again, just as jarring, touring the dungeons where tens of thousands died and the lucky ones survived imprisonment in the coastside fortresses and shackled passage across the Atlantic, before they were offloaded and sold as slaves to work the plantations of America.


In the seventies Busua had been a refuge from work, and from the heat and dust and desperate poverty of Burkina Faso. The odd thing was that at that time, the Ghanaian economy had collapsed, and you could barely find salt, sugar, soap, coffee, beer or bread. But it didn’t matter in Busua, because the fishermen would go out early in the morning and come back mid-afternoon with boatloads of fish, which they would cook up in sauces of palm nuts and chili and local spices, and serve over cassava that they grew effortlessly in the nearby fields. Or, on occasion, one or another of the boys in the village would ask, “Master, you want lobster?” We ex-pat tourists and Peace Corps volunteers tried to encourage them - without much success - not to say “master”, but we didn’t much mind taking up the offer. Off would go some pole thin kid to dive into the sea from the nearby rocks, and then bring fresh lobster for which he would charge the equivalent of ten or twenty euro cents. I would lounge around reading and swimming, feeling like I was in paradise.


So now we were back, the economic crisis was a dim memory, Busua actually had a few little hotels, and a huge luxury resort off beyond what had previously been the site of Busua Beach Resort where the village had ended when I was there before. But in truth, almost nothing had changed. The people were just as gentle and hospitable and generous as I remembered them, and if you could now buy basic commodities, you couldn’t buy much else in Busua because there still wasn’t a real shop. You could get pancakes from Frank the Pancake Man, and bags from “The Bagman” (no, he didn’t know that “bagman” had certain negative connotations until we explained), and Pat was able to get a pair of Espadrilles repaired, but Busua was still low key, and nearly as idyllic as it had been 33 years earlier. (Well, not all was so idyllic: we had the strong suspicion that all those burly white men at one hotel were more interested in young boys than they were in getting away from the rat race.)


Ourselves, we stayed in the Busua Inn, a small hotel on the beach run by Olivier and Danielle, a French couple. I’d stayed in practically the same spot when I’d visited all those years earlier, only then, I’d rented the back room of a shuttered store - on account of the lack of anything available to sell - from the erstwhile shopkeeper, a kindly young man named James. The good thing about the Busua Inn was that, as you might expect from a French-run operation, they served improbably delicious food, including a gazpacho that was heavenly, and reliably good red wines. There was also a charming female monkey who had taken up residence in a huge shade tree and who took an immediate liking to Pat and spent some considerable time grooming her and combing her hair looking for nits to pick. The downside of the Busua Inn was that it was sandwiched between an open sewer on one side and a reggae aficionado on the other who incessantly played the same two Bob Marley records (perhaps not coincidentially, they were the same two that had been played fairly constantly back in 1978).


That aside, not only was Busua almost as idyllic as it had been 33 years earlier, but it looked much the same as well, except that where everything back then had been whitewashed, most of the homes and market stalls and kiosks were now painted bright chartreuse, courtesy of an aspiring Nigerian mobile phone company called Glo that was planning a nationwide launch for sometime in early 2012.


Before we’d left home, I’d dug up my old Africa photos, and I scanned a bunch of them, including several with people I'd befriended in Busua. So when we got there, and I realized that the Busua Inn was so close to the shop where I'd lived for a month back in 1978, I showed Olivier the photos and asked him about two of the people in them - James the shopkeeper and a girl named Kawsiba with whom I'd flirted constantly.


That had been a time of carefree and irresponsible sex, before AIDS.  To be appropriately self-critical, it was a time when I was worried enough about the more normal potential consequences of unprotected sex to carry rubbers with me, but stupid and impulsive and irresponsible enough to rarely use them. And somehow I was lucky - except for a mild case of crabs, I never suffered. I bring this all up because I realized that I couldn't really be certain that I wouldn't encounter a coffee-colored 32-year-old who looked like me. And yes, it had eventually moved quite some way beyond flirtation; there was the possibility, even if it was remote, that Kawsiba could be the mother of my child. As we'd prepared for the trip, I’d awakened several nights in a panic, thinking about such things and wondering what I might do if after all these years, I learned that I wasn't childless after all. And yet I'd truly wanted to return to Busua.

When I showed Olivier the photos, he asked one of his employees if he recognized any of them. James, he thought, had died - you quickly learned that death is much more a part of everyday life in Africa than it is in your own life in Europe or America. And Kawsiba - she still lived in the courtyard next door.


The next day she came by. There was no doubt it was her, and she seemd to vaguely remember me. Back then, she laughed heartily, but barely spoke English. And that had not changed. But to my relief, there was no coffee-colored surprise, no reference, even, to anything untoward that might have occurred in the past. Only this, which gave me pause: when I asked her how old she was, she said she was 45 - and that would have made her 12 in 1978. Even then, she had a small child, and I’d guessed she was 17 or 18 (I was 26). But, as they often tell you, there is a thing called African time, and it does not follow the rules of the physical world. And likewise, if you get far enough away from home, the absolutes that seem to govern the reality in which you reside don't necessarily apply anymore.


bottom of page