Memories of Ghana 2002, The PartyINTRODUCTION
It was a hot Saturday afternoon in the first half of July 2002, much like today in fact. My host, the married Ga woman, had organised a birthday party for her young daughter, though the child's actual birthday fell on a date earlier in the year. The entire day and its events turned out to be one of the high points of my historic first trip and sankofa pilgrimage to Ghana.COOKING THE FOOD
The cooking of the food started early in the morning. A lovely gap-toothed young lady (who reminded me of my youngest sister) arrived at the place and started laying out a series of gas-powered burners and pipes in the courtyard. She was 30-something years old and made a living from catering for events such as this and selling her own line of food products. She remains the most professional Ghanaian entrepreneur I have ever personally encountered to date. I watched her as she worked, and even assisted her a little on occasion. She had one single male assistant with her as she cooked, and there were one or two other ladies who assisted with serving the food when the party started, though I am not sure whether they worked for her or not. She paid meticulous attention to every pot, and worked away tirelessly the entire day right up to the serving of the food. A woman like her would do really well if she delegated some of her responsibilities and managed a team of cooking staff. I admired her a lot because I could see that, like me, she loved the work she did.THREE DIFFERENT TYPES OF RICE
She prepared three different types of rice, which you can see in the photos. I also clearly remember how she boiled and then fried the spaghetti noodles until they were brown. Then the broken little brown bits of fried spaghetti were sprinkled into one of the pots of rice to give it a distinct flavour.
1. Three types of riceCHILDREN'S PARTY AND ADULTS PARTY
When my host first mentioned her daughter's birthday party, I was under the impression that this was going to be a children's party. In fact, it turned out to be party of two halves. In the afternoon the children started to arrived, and invitations were even being prepared and sent off on the spot. I remembered my two little friends, the 5 year old boy and his 7 year old sister, and I was able to get them invited at the last moment, which made me very happy indeed. It warmed the cockles of my heart to see them seated there at a table among the other children, most of whom were better dressed probably because they had the benefit of advance notice of the party.
Tables were laid out and there were wrapped presents everywhere. There was much music, dancing, smiles and laughter among the young ones. I felt honoured to witness this happy scene in on a hot July afternoon in West Africa.
2. Children being served the food at the party
3. Children with presents
4. Two children dancing at the partyPOLYCLINIC EMERGENCY
Sometime during the first half of the party, the children's part, a friend came to me saying that his girlfriend had taken sick and had been taken to the polyclinic and asked me to please go there with him. I was puzzled as to why he wanted me to leave the party to go to the clinic, because I could not imagine why anyone there would need me, and I did not even know the girl. But because he was my good friend I agreed to go. The place was not far away and it was getting close to dusk when we arrived.
We entered the ward and I saw the girl laying in bed vomiting into a plastic bag being held by another older woman in civilian clothes who was probably her mother or a relative. Other patients lay in surrounding beds, some with attending relatives, some alone. A single nurse in uniform was in sight, sitting at her desk like her life depended on it. She only moved when I gave the girl's boyfriend 30,000 old cedis which he passed to the older woman who took it to the nurse, who immediately sprang into action. She left the room and quickly came back with a piece of paper (receipt?) which she gave to the older woman and soon afterwards some sort of medicine was administered. Her boyfriend told me afterwards "here in Ghana, if you don't have money, you die".
Though I had seen a documentary and read reports of Ghana's "cash and carry" health care system before I arrived in the country, the magnitude of seeing it with my own eyes was beyond anything TV or the internet could have prepared me for. All this in a country blessed with so many vast but untapped or mismanaged natural resources.
By the time I returned to the party it was dark, all the children had gone home and more and more adults started to arrive en masse. The day's entertainment was about to take a new turn.GUEST OF HONOUR
One of the biggest surprises I got for the night was when the food was about to be served for the adult segment of the party and I was invited, as the guest of honour, to be the first person to be served. To be shown such respect and given such attention speaks very well for Ghanaian hospitality.
5. Me being served first as the guest of honourTHE LADIES WITH THEIR BLING
Everywhere you go in this world, black women love to show off their bling. and in West Africa (the Gold Coast, to be specific), there was plenty of bling to show off. Young ones, middle aged ones and even old ones... as I watched them sitting, eating, chatting, dancing, everywhere there was something glistening, glowing or sparkling in the night. It added a magical touch to the evening as the cool of darkness enveloped the scene.
I remember sitting at a table with a small group of three or four young ladies where a very matter-of-fact conversation sprang up about relationships between men and women. One of the women declared that love has little to do with anything, and that everybody goes into a relationship to get something out of it.
6. Some of the bling on displayDANCING WITH A MUSLIM GIRL
One of the young ladies at that table was a slim, dark, and very beautiful dark Muslim girl. Of course, in such a social setting, I would stand out because I was a visitor from a foreign country, a black man with a white person's accent. I tried to keep out of the limelight but soon some of the other people started dancing and the girls at my table started asking me about that. Back then I was very shy (and still am) about dancing in public so I politely tried to decline the offer.
Still they insisted, and eventually they succeeded. Perhaps it was the gorgeous looks and enchanting smile of that black Muslim girl which enticed me to get up and dance with her. I was afraid of not knowing the Ghanaian dance moves. But my partner convinced me that all I had to do was follow her moves. "You are dancing correctly", she assured me.
I really fell for that Muslim girl and kept thinking about her nice smile and that short time we spent together. Days later I visited her workplace, but it was only then, in the stark light of day, that I noticed the massive marriage ring on her finger. How come I missed that? There was also an uncomfortable look on her face which seemed to be saying "You better get out of here before my husband kills both of us." Alas and alack... some magic lasts for only one night.SHOWERED WITH MONEY
As the party came close to its end, the host's sister came out and danced for the crowd. It was then that I witnessed something which I had never seen before in all my life... some of the guests came forward with cedi notes in their hands and started peeling them off one by one and showering them on the dancing woman. I was amazed at the sight. When they stopped, she stooped down quickly, snatched up all the notes into her skirt as fast as she could, and fled through the door of the room behind her.SHOWING THE PHOTOS TO PEOPLE BACK IN BARBADOS
Some of the photos I have were ones I took myself, others were taken by a Ghanaian photographer hired to cover the event.
I'm really glad that I had the experience of attending that party. It allowed me to show people back in Barbados what life in one part of Africa was like, and many of them were surprised with what they saw. As we all know, Africa gets a larger share of negative press than anything else, which is why, before I left Barbados, one of my little nephews asked me if I would get food when I went to Africa. After seeing the photos, a lot of Bajans here commented positively on how FAT the Africans looked. For me, that is a sort of mission accomplished.
I truly cherish the opportunity I was given to show the food, the clothes and the other scenes at that party in Ghana, as it allows me to educate many here who are clueless about life in Ghana. This is not to say that Ghana does not have problems, but there needs to be far more balance and fair reporting than what has been happening so far.CONCLUSION
That then, is the story of the party of July 2002 in Accra, Ghana, West Africa. As for that party, I give it full marks and that entire day was filled with some of my most treasured memories of Ghana in 2002.
I hope you enjoyed both the story and the photos.
Kwame the Webmaster.