The redemption of Ghana's police force
Customs official Nathaniel Otoo shows off his soccer skills in Accra, Ghana. (Photo by Anjali Nayar)
Lome, Togo - Officers of the continent unite! You have been redeemed (in my eyes) by a Ghanaian customs official named Nathaniel Otoo.
Shortly after my trip to Jamestown last week, I was walking down 28th February Road to Accra's Independence square (with my ball of course) and saw Otoo standing at the bus stage. As per usual, I asked if he could show me some of his moves.
I was taken aback when he agreed (I've asked several people in uniform to play over the few last weeks, with no luck), and taken back again by the show he put on. In his tight blue uniform and shiny black patent shoes, he started juggling, moved on to feints and finally to ball tricks. By the end he was doing a wave-like movement with his arms, which made the ball roll back and fourth over his shoulders like some new dance craze.
I stood by smiling and clapping, there was really nothing else I could do. Check out my photo essay.
Getting outta Accra
The following day, I made my way to the Tudu neighbourhood of central Accra for the next leg of my journey, a bus trip to Aflao, Ghana's border town with Togo. After my last bus experience from Abidjan to Accra (the bus left two hours late), I made sure that I was fashionably late.
The Tudu neighbourhood was jammed with traffic. Vendors constantly weave in and out of the gridlock selling everything you can imagine: baseball bat-sized yams - whole, peeled, cut or cooked; cleaning products; even globes and wall-sized maps of the world. If you live in the area, you can pretty much do your household shopping driving home from the office, without stepping into the market.
The traffic is so sluggish that men have time to nip out of their cars for a quick roadside shave. They sit looking at their newly cleared complexions in shards of broken mirrors. And if the cars still haven't moved, there's always the option to pose for a new photo in the open-air booth a few steps down the road.
When we finally got to the station (15 minutes before the scheduled departure time), I learned that bus wasn't going to the border that day at all, no reason given.
"Unless you come back and try again tomorrow," the attendant said. But of course, there was no guarantee that the following day the bus would run either.
Anjali's trip across Africa
View Anjali Nayar - Destination: South Africa in a larger map
The attendant pointed me and my taxi driver to another stage where small vans and passenger cars generally make the voyage. We re-routed three more times through the forced window-shopping, mounds of gold jewellery, buckets of chilli peppers and cheap Chinese clothes, before finding the stop.
The stage was deep in the central market - I'd have to get out and walk. Scruffy men surrounded our vehicle: "Aflao?" they asked, naming the border town I was headed to. One unlocked and opened my door (the taxis generally don't have air conditioning so keeping windows open is generally the only way to escape heat exhaustion). The baggage vultures moved around to the back of the car where my bag and ball were, weighing in on their options.
"Put this on your back and I can help you with the other," one offered. I couldn't tell whether it was the promise of a tip or promise of running away with my bag that fuelled his kindness. I wasn't about to find out.
"I'll bring the car driver here to meet you," said another man, dodging the street traffic as he rushed across to the stage. Several men returned moments later identifying themselves as the driver.
"I am the driver," each announced in turn, with authority.
Backing away, I pointed to the taxi driver: "You, sir, are coming with me."
"I can't leave the car on the street," the taxi driver complained.
"Sure you can," I confirmed. If the vultures wanted a tip, they could earn it by looking after the car.
We jostled through the maze of vendors. The air was thick with fried foods and sewage. Finally, we reached an unmarked van that was headed to Aflao (I hoped). The next minute was a blur:
I paid the taxi diver; I crammed my bags in; I paid the van driver; I got change; I bought fried plantains; a woman took my seat; I was pushed out of the van; I dodged the women selling sodas and picking pockets; I squeezed back in.
As the driver closed the doors behind me, I managed to edge one butt cheek onto the corner of my seat. The rest was taken up by an unusually large woman. Under a leaky air conditioner and with my possessions piled high on top of me (numbing my legs), I was on my way.
Only four more hours to go.
Up next: the rest of the journey and another run-in with a police officer.
You can also follow me on Twitter for more updates.
Canadian journalist Anjali Nayar is travelling across Africa by train, bus and foot (and when necessary by plane), and will arrive in South Africa just before the World Cup. Along the way, Anjali will tell the continent's stories through its favourite sport: soccer.
For the trip, Anjali will bring only the essentials on her back (camera, flip video, computer) and in her hand - a soccer ball. Every day, Anjali will play soccer, whether she's on the beaches of Accra or stuck in one of Lagos' impenetrable traffic jams. Sometimes she'll play with children in the sprawling slums and refugee camps, other times she'll play with adults in the rich diplomatic quarters of major cities.
Through her Destination: South Africa blog, Anjali hopes CBCSports.ca readers will discover Africa and what the World Cup and the game of soccer means to the continent.
About the Author
Anjali Nayar is a Canadian journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. She's reported from the back-alleys of the African continent for the last four years for the CBC, Reuters and the BBC, covering everything from politics to the politics of sport. From training with Kenya's elite runners to cheering on Burundi's footballing president, Anjali uses sport to learn a little more about the world.