By Dr. Michael Little
Accra is a huge sprawling city, smaller than Phoenix in size but with a popu- lation of more than 2.5 million people. It is also one of the safest cities in W. Africa. It is not a “pretty” city; red dust from the earth seemed to cover everything, which makes a trip across town truly an adventure. Chaotic it is, cars constantly honk their horns and the streets are always full of people walking, talking, looking, listening and being seen at all hours of the day or night. Because Accra is located near the Equator, the sun sets at 6:30 pm, a phenomenon that I never quite adjusted too. The city comes alive after dark clubs and restaurants do not begin to pulse until 10-11pm. Two popular clubs are Boomerang and Macumba. A type of music known as “Highlife” is popular. Accra radio has 4 or 5 hugely popular FM stations, one of which plays gospel music 24 hours a day. I like to take a walk around Accra early in the morning when the city is quiet so let’s take a walk and I’ll try to paint a portrait of what I saw:
The day awakes slowly, a little groggy with little hint of the commotion that will soon follow. The streets are quiet now. Across the street, a man waits for the Tro-Tro to arrive. A lady follows him slowly walking with her head down; deep in her thoughts, as she too awaits the day to unfold. The morning, at this point, has a dream-like quality about it.
I wonder how the same streets, so crowded yesterday, could be so still this morning? The air is filled with smog and puffs of smoke waif in the distance. It’s not hot yet, quite comfortable, actually, but the morning is still new. The view is reminiscent of a drive that I took many years ago through the back roads of southern Arkansas countryside. An early morning drive with the fields of grass
glistening with morning dew that produced a hazy cast over all that I viewed. I suppose that the same scene can be witnessed in any place on earth, but only at that time before the morning has had her second cup of coffee. Accra, this morning, exhibited the same surreal vision. The only difference is that fields and acres of grass are replaced with streets of asphalt and dust.
The Tro-Tro soon arrives with the destination caller hanging on the door bar with one hand, and one foot on the bottom step. “Central Market… Central Market”… but no one steps forward to board. On board are two or four early commuters staring out of the open windows and looking at nothing in particular. To do otherwise would require too much energy which must be saved towards another day of survival.
A slight wind blows, but it is neither cool nor hot, but is appreciated because it is under- stood that it will soon leave and be replaced by the heat born in the tropics.
It’s really strange to see only a few persons waiting at the Tro-Tro stop, for within a mere hour the multitudes will arrive. I cross over to the other side of the street and walk 200 meters toward the nearest whiffs. What I discover is a man who has built a small fire in some kind of a small metal container and is roasting meat and shucked corn along with a sitting pot of fufu. His outdoor restaurant is taking orders from the early morning commuters as they await their rides across town.
Morning twilight is a special time; it’s the time between the night time but before the sun rises and truly charges the earth and its inhabitants this is especially true of many of the Africa’s largest cities but especially true of the teeming cities of West Africa. At this twilight time men and women can be seen trying
to begin their daily routines but going about it as if in a trance.
I can write this because I have been here after the day begins and the streets become a chaotic and crazy, mix of cars, Tro-Tros, bikes, people of every description, street ven- dors which sell every imaginable goods from bags thrown over their backs or carried in their overloaded hands; pausing only to the red and green pace of the traffic lights.
It absolutely amazes me how many trans- actions occur while the traffic light is red and the street vendors have a captive audience for a few precious moments. But it’s a two- way exchange because the drivers are looking to purchase a newspaper perhaps or a bag of water, or some fried plantain chips, or a cell phone card, or a cell phone charger. Another might need that fancy necklace or a belt.
The women among this mass are the most intriguing because they carry their heavy loads balanced on their heads precariously leaving their hands free to accept cash or to give change.
This hectic scene continues all day and well into the night, way past the 9-to-5 rush hours that we who come from the West experience. The sun has already begun its dip beyond the horizon but the hustle continues well into the night – and then suddenly the streets are quiet again. The night hours have their turn now. The night time is short. The day is not evenly divided between daylight and darkness for the evening twilight hours must also receive their due. Twilight is a time of recovery. A runner must have a time of recovery after running a grueling race; so too must the city have a time to recover from yesterday’s mad dash.
The air is cool at this time, remarkably so considering that yesterday’s heat and humidity reached nearly unbearable heights. One could hardly breathe and both sexes men and women had quit reacting to the sweat that flowed into every crack and crevice of one’s body. No need to front; as the urban axiom goes: “Perspire, wipe, and keep on moving.” Yesterday’s heat becomes a dull memory during these twilight hours.
This is a time to observe the surroundings and the few people and cars who share it with you. It’s a time to walk more slowly than the day time permits. This is a time to be still and to soak in the soul of Africa so distant and different but it also began to feel like home.