The power and the water have been on and off all week. After the water went out for the first time, I started keeping a full bucket in the bathroom. But when the power goes off, it’s just a minor inconvenience. I can’t boil water or turn on my fan. No problem. So it wasn’t until last night, when the darkness fell, rapidly, that I really took notice. I was sitting on the balcony, eating my bowl of rice in the waning light. In the time it took me to finish, it became totally dark. Small lights began to go on in the windows of the dorm across from mine. I sat outside in the darkness for a few minutes. The group that stands and chants beneath a nearby tree every night began gathering, their voices slowly swelling.
I went inside to chop the vegetables I’d washed earlier for a salad. I chopped in the dark, slowly. I was thinking about the power outages of my childhood. After a storm, usually. We would light candles and gather together as a family in the living room. Those nights had a sacred quality; the darkness brought us together, the candles making a flickering circle in a cradle of dark. I wondered, as I stood there chopping, if Ghanaians here in Accra gather like that in the candlelight, if there is something special to them about nights without power. Or is it too commonplace?
Thinking of the togetherness of those nights of my childhood, I paused in my chopping. I walked down the dark hallway. It looked endless, like a hall of mirrors stretching into black. I knocked on Sarah and Lesego’s door. I told them to bring their bowls. They brought their light. Sarah made some dressing. I chopped more lettuce, cucumber and tomato. And we ate and we talked and then they left.
I was in Madina market when the power went out. I had just purchased a small used refrigerator, which the owners were cleaning for me. I went to look for a few more things while they finished. After about five minutes, I received a marriage proposal, from a surprisingly well-dressed young man. I laughed and told him I was already married, which is generally the easiest way out of such suggestions. “Second husband!” he said, also laughing. “And second priority!” I shot back. We both laughed and I continued on my way, walking into the heart of the market. I was standing in a cloth shop when the lights went out and the fan stopped whirring.
It was my second time at Madina in two days, and my second trip to a market of the day. I had been to Madina the previous day, Friday, at 6 a.m., on an assignment for my class, Drama in African Societies. The five of us met to observe the real-life dramas at the opening of the market. People lining up to catch tro-tros. A church service. Early-morning transactions. A woman sleeping in her vegetables. A man with a new shipment of used clothes calling out, One cedi! One, one cedi!
We even had a little real-world drama of our own…
Mariama (far left) was taking issue with the fact that Zablong (far right) had reprimanded her earlier for trying to buy fish while we were working, and was now buying women’s clothes. (For his daughter, he told us.) Margaret (next to Zablong) and I were amused, while the guy selling clothes (next to Mariama) just kept trying to sell the clothes.
After we finished our observations, I went to buy a small hotplate. Almost on impulse, I also bought a small battery-powered radio, which, I discovered later, has an LED flashlight (“torch,” they call it, like the British) on the end. It came in handy last night, though the fridge and the hotplate were totally useless. The fridge got up to my room thanks to David, a young man who does odd jobs around the hostel. He saw me getting out of the cab, and came over to help. The fridge went on his head and up the stairs and down the hall to my room. I gave him all the cedis left in my wallet. Which sadly was not many thanks to the fridge and the temptations of the cloth shop.
Then I went to take my sheets off the clothesline outside the building. Some Ghanaians have washing machines, but they’re fairly uncommon, and we don’t have one in or near or building. You can hire someone to do your laundry for you or just do it yourself and hang it out to dry. I’m no stranger to washing clothes by hand, especially after my six months of travel with only a few items of clothing. But every time I mention laundry, the Ghanaians I’m speaking to seem amazed. “By hand?! You know how to do that?” As I was hanging my sheets, two guys who were “having brunch” on their porch at ground level called out to me. They were amused by an obruni doing her very own laundry. “It’s your first time, though, right?” they asked, when I told them it wasn’t so hard. One of them, Raza, told me he can’t do it – laundry, that is – so he bought a washing machine to keep in his room. I told him we were now friends.
But when I went back that afternoon, my sheets were gone. My sweater and t-shirt that I’d also hung out were still there, but the sheet and the matching pillowcase were missing, just the clothespins stuck forlornly to the line. Washing them had taken me two hours and I was looking forward to fresh-smelling, sun-dried sheets. Next time, I’ll have to hire David to keep an eye on them. They were really ugly sheets; whoever stole them has terrible taste!
But the day ended well, with a meal with friends in the dark. And it started well too. I met Mel, one of the other Rotary scholars not long after dawn to run together to Dome market. Both of us are registered for the half-marathon next weekend. It was a great run through a part of the city I haven’t been to before, and we ended at Dome, a charming small market full of fantastic fresh vegetables. That’s where I’d bought the ingredients for my salad. Mel’s really great and very interesting. She served in the Peace Corps in Cape Verde Islands off Senegal several years ago, and her husband came with her here to Ghana. I’m excited to get to know her better, and I hope Saturday morning runs with her become another ritual.
And the day started and ended with music. Music is everywhere here, all the time. At 6:30 in the morning, four boys with guitars came to sing outside the hostel, right below my window. And at night, with the lights out, the praise-singers’ voices and clapping seemed to fill the air more than they usually do.
So, the beginning and the end of my day:
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