September 15, 2006 lia

Taste of what’s to come? Bucket “showers”, Guinness, and rotating power outages

11 September 2006

My friend Sarah made so much fun of me when she saw how freakishly small the flashlight I had brought with me to Peru was.

Seeing that the candles –- my only other source of light this evening since the power has apparently gone out — can also go out at the whim of even the mildest breeze through my window, I’m very thankful for a flashlight that is so small I can wear it as a necklace. As an unexpected gust of wind blows through my window, I know exactly where to expect to find my flashlight.

I came home from my first day at work a mere hour before sunset. After quick bucket “shower”, I took to the “streets” to “explore” – though most of the exploring was done by the scores of little boys approaching me as I took a turn around the “block”.

I came “home” eager to read some of the documents I had brought with me which should better prepare me for my job/life here, only to discover that the electricity had gone out, probably for the rest of the night.

“We’d better drink all of the Guinness before they get warm!”

[guest hotel staff laugh at my “joke”]
“No, seriously. May I have a Guinness?”

It’s quite remarkable how much Guinness Ghanaians seem to drink actually. Last night, when I was picked up by my colleague, the Municipal Planner of the New Juaben Municipal Assembly, the first thing we did in Koforidua was to have a Guinness. Today, my first day at work, and at the house of my other planning colleague he insisted I drink a Guinness while we discussed the framework for the Municipal Development Plan.

“Why Guinness? Why not Leffe Brune, or Newcastle Brown?”
“There’s a Guinness factory in Ghana. Though they used to say that it was ‘black tonic’.”
“It turns your skin darker.”
“I think the lager producers began that rumour.”

So far, I’m already averaging two Guinnae a day, and I actually suspect I’m getting lighter-skinned [though that’s more likely due to the fact that I haven’t actually seen the sun since I got to Ghana].
I was given a Sudoku calendar over Christmans, and have been doing the puzzles and then using the completed ones as coasters for my Guinness. Tonight, as the melting wax from the candles competes with the Guinness bottles for sudoku puzzle coasters, I can barely keep up with demand. Especially with the added obstacle of having to do the puzzles by candlelight.

At 18:45 the chanting begins. I heard this last night too, and what I don’t know yet is that I will continue to hear this chanting every night while I stay in the guest hotel in the poor part of town.
The visual obstacle posed by the bars across my window are symbolic of my own struggle to better know my environment – my six feet of obvious foreigness prevent me from getting any clear, unobstructed view of the world I am surrounded by. They also prevent me from seeing the source of the chanting.

What is all the chanting?My wild imagine starts flying and I’m thankful that at least those same bars that obstruct my view also prevent the locals from sacrificing me to the Gods of Ghana Hydro Power.
So far my work colleagues have been no use at explaining the sounds of the neighbourhood to me.
“Those are provincial noises. When we move you to the guest house, they won’t disturb you anymore.”

But I love the sounds! I only would like to better understand what they are. Where is that drum coming from? Is it a bar? Or just a dwelling? And from the other window I hear bass and people clapping to the beat. Is this occurring in the street? Or should I be drinking my Guinness next door instead of in my candlelit room? And the chattering from the other direction, which has a beat of its own. I can only imagine the source of this life which the bars across my windows and the darkness are hiding. These sounds of the neighbourhood seem be compose of a collective entity – a creature that chants, laughs, and raps by night, and crows like roosters as it wakes in the morning.

Like 100s of parties you are not invited to.

And then a thought occurs to me:Those same bars that are visually preventing me from entering their world also physically prevent me from escaping mine in the event of a fire –- a relative likelihood considering the make shift emergency lighting system the “hotel” staff have implemented in our state of powerlessness. As I sit strategising my escape route, either via removal of the air conditioner [assuming it would leave a me-sized whole via its removal] or through my room door [the most likely source of the fire in question], I add one more to my list of travel essentials.

1. Toilet paper
2. Swiss army knife
3. Freakishly small flashlight
4. Peanut butter
5. World map
6. Pictures of snow in Canada [when travelling to tropical climates]
7. Portable smoke detector